ADT at CES: Gates launches CES with push for PC-TV connection
- By John K. Waters
Attendees at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) received a pre-event
pep talk and some product previews from Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software
Architect Bill Gates, who spoke to a packed Hilton Theater in Las Vegas this
week to open the annual extravaganza. Gates used the CES stage to continue
promoting Microsoft's ''seamless computing'' concept, telling attendees that his
company wants 'to make it easy to have the same information on the devices you
have at work and the devices you have at home.'
Gates' basic pitch is that software is the solution to the challenges facing
developers of increasingly interconnected consumer devices. Faced with ebbing
revenues from traditional PC sales, Microsoft and other industry heavyweights,
such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard, are moving aggressively into the market for
digital home entertainment.
PC makers constitute a greater presence than ever at this year's show, which
a Gartner senior analyst told ADT is further evidence of the convergence of
personal computers with home entertainment devices. For its part, Microsoft
wants to ''bring the power of software to the world of consumer electronics.''
Microsoft's strategy is to provide ''software breakthroughs that deliver unified
digital experiences and make the technology in consumers' lives work as a
During his presentation, Gates demonstrated Microsoft's newest Media Center
technologies, unveiled expanded MSN services, and displayed a growing catalog of
watches based on the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT).
Microsoft debuted the first version of its Windows Media Center software
about a year ago. The new Windows Media Center Extender expands on the original
offering, providing software designed to allow digital photos, movies, and music
stored on a PC to be sent to TVs and other devices. The idea is to allow
multiple users to access different functions from the same PC, Gates said.
Several vendors plan to offer set-top boxes and television sets equipped with
the new Media Center Extender technology, Gates said, including Alienware, Dell,
Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Tatung and Wistron. Microsoft plans to
provide support for the software in its Xbox game consoles, he noted.
Gates showed off a handheld video player, dubbed the Portable Media Center,
which Microsoft plans to market later this year. Formerly called Media2Go, the
device actually debuted at last year's show. Creative Technology plans to be the
first to market with a PMC-based device, which will play movies, music and other
digital content, Gates said. Some industry watchers view that particular
announcement as a challenge to rival Apple Computer's growing strength in the
consumer electronics arena. (Apple unveiled a new version of its enormously
popular iPod portable MP3 player just a day earlier.)
''Five years from now you're going to have a hard time remembering when there
were just audio-only players,'' said Frank Barbieri, Microsoft group product
manager for the Portable Media Center.
Midway through his presentation, Gates was joined onstage by ''Tonight Show''
host Jay Leno. ''Bill and I go way back because we introduced Windows 95
together,'' Leno quipped. ''Who would have guessed back then that this computer
thing would catch on.'' Leno announced that his NBC show would be available
exclusively on Microsoft's MSN Web portal.
Gates entertained the crowd with a send-up of Microsoft's ''Great Moments at
Work'' television commercials, which featured Gates and some 'co-workers'
digitally linking a swarm of devices, including a toaster. The sight of Gates
leaping for joy, mimicking the actors in the real commercials, drew laughs and
applause from the crowd; the sight of Gates dancing brought the house down.
CES is the largest event of its kind in the world, drawing more than 100,000
people to Las Vegas annually, according to the city's convention and visitors'
bureau. This year's show is expected to fill the Las Vegas Convention Center,
with exhibits at the Riviera hotel-casino and the Alexis Park Hotel. The 2,300
scheduled exhibits will cover 1.384 million square feet -- ''maxing out'' the
convention center, in the words of one event staffer. In fact, two of the
Convention Center's parking lots will be filled with exhibits.
The Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Association held its first CES
event in 1967, and a second one in 1978. For a while, the association held two
shows a year -- one in Chicago and one in Las Vegas. In 1994, the group cut the
Chicago show and has continued with one annual event.
According to the association, last year's show drew approximately 117,000
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached