Gates Pushes for Wired Homes

For more than a decade, Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and others in the tech industry have touted a vision of a connected lifestyle, in which digital content can move across devices throughout the home and be taken on the go. It's been a slow march. But as Gates kicked off the International Consumer Electronics Show late Sunday, the industry has come further than ever in delivering on that concept.

"Every year represents a lot of progress," he said in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press.

The improvements have taken many forms.

Building the underlying networks. Developing the technologies to get devices to communicate. Creating the hardware that can handle the digital data. Returning to the drawing board when there were flops. And finally, getting the backing of entertainment sources to embrace this new era of media consumption.

But more work remains, Gates said.

"There's still a lot to be done there, especially when you get into rights-oriented content and how simple that can be made so the creative people are happy with it and yet the flexibility (for consumers) is there," he said.

In his 11th annual speech headlining the world's largest tech convention, Gates highlighted how Microsoft's latest creations and partnerships aim to make it easier for people to navigate, consume, share and manage different kinds of content, whether they are games, movies, family photos, sports or work.

The keynote came as the software titan heads into one of its most significant periods of attracting consumers to its widening portfolio of computing, gaming and entertainment products. Its software has pervaded not only computers, but also cell phones, portable media players, home media centers and even cars.

The consumer launch of Windows Vista later this month is the company's first major overhaul of its operating system since Windows XP was launched in 2001.

Gates discussed some additional features not yet disclosed. Among them is a new "sports lounge" area so users tapped into Microsoft's MSN Soapbox online site can simultaneously view additional sports information, up-to-date fantasy sports data and the latest sports videos.

Microsoft has also teamed with the Nickelodeon and Showtime television networks and Starz Entertainment's Vongo subscription movie service so their Web-based content will be directly available through Vista. Movies downloaded from Vongo can also be played on the TV using Microsoft's Xbox 360 game console.

Sharing the stage with Gates was Robbie Bach, head of the company's entertainment and Xbox division, to highlight how the machine is becoming a home entertainment hub that does more than just play games.

More than 10.4 million Xbox 360 consoles have been sold since the system launched in November 2005. The Xbox Live online marketplace now sells downloadable movies and features more than 1,000 hours of TV and movie content.

During the keynote, Gates also unveiled how Microsoft's computer-making partners have designed new PCs to take advantage of Vista's software advances.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is set to have a new all-in-one computer and touch-screen display designed to fit into a kitchen nook or a family room, letting users scribble messages on the screen or watch a movie. Toshiba Corp. is debuting a high-end tablet notebook that has a secondary display on the front edge so users can read incoming e-mail or calendar alerts even while the laptop lid is closed.

Sony Corp. is planning a new Windows Vista media center that is white and round, meant to look more like an entertainment electronics device than a computer.

Gates also announced Windows Home Server, a software platform that can serve as a beefy repository for a household's mushrooming collection of digital photos, videos, music and documents. The server also provides automatic data backups and allows family and friends to access some files remotely over the Internet.


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