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CES Keynote: Windows 7 Beta 'Now Available'

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Wednesday in Las Vegas by announcing the beta release of Windows 7, Microsoft's newest operating system. Ballmer made the announcement during a keynote address, adding that the general public will be able to download the beta as early as this Friday, Jan. 9.

Prerelease rumors had described Windows 7 as being at the “Beta 1” stage, but Ballmer just called it a beta.

“We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever,” he said, citing various improvements over Windows Vista. His list of improvements included a faster boot time, longer battery life, fewer alerts and quicker access to media.

Ballmer noted that Windows Live Essentials, a collection of online applications, is currently available worldwide for PCs running Windows XP, Vista and the Windows 7 Beta. Another new development is  a partnership deal that Microsoft established with Facebook. Users can now connect Windows Live applications with their Facebook social networking pages, Ballmer said.

In other news, Ballmer said that Microsoft established a partnership deal with Dell to include Windows Live Essentials software on all new consumer PCs sold by the computer maker.

Ballmer didn't talk about the Microsoft Zune mobile device. He said little about Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system, except to say that Windows Mobile “continues to evolve.” A deal newly established with telecom service provider Verizon will enable search functions on phones using Windows Mobile, he said.

Currently, there are 11 different mobile phones offered by vendors that use the Windows Mobile platform. Microsoft's partners have sold more than 20 million Windows Mobile-based phones over the last 20 months, Ballmer said.

Ballmer's general message was that Windows will be “the linchpin” that connects various devices, including PCs, mobile phones and TVs. The Internet cloud will connect these devices seamlessly. Ballmer described this connected experience as “the last mile in creating a breakthrough for consumers.” Natural user interfaces, such as touch and voice commands, will become more mainstream, he added.

The keynote address also included a talk by Robbie Bach, Microsoft's president of the Entertainment and Devices Division. Bach described a few announcements of note to consumers, including the release of the Microsoft video game Halo Wars on Feb. 28, with a demo available on Feb. 5. Halo III will ship this fall, he said.

This spring, Microsoft plans to launch Primetime, a channel on the Xbox Live Web portal that helps people connect with their friends. Bach described 2008 as the best year for the Xbox gaming console since it first shipped in 2001. There are 17 million members worldwide using the Xbox Live service, he added.

Microsoft has a partnership with Netflix on Xbox Live that allows user access to more than 12,000 TV shows and movies that stream in real time, Bach said. Xbox Live is also a portal for music sales, accounting for 80 percent of song downloads, he added. About 60 million music tunes have been downloaded from the portal.

Ballmer and Bach's CES keynote address included a few demos of Windows 7 features, as well as some current Microsoft Research developments. A recorded video of the keynote address can be accessed here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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