Microsoft's Bach on Zune, Natal, and Windows Mobile

The head of the software giant's entertainment unit talks about key efforts in the consumer arena, including getting that movie you bought to play on multiple gadgets.

REDMOND, Wash.--Microsoft has long talked about a vision in which people can buy content like movies just once, and then watch them on a variety of devices. That vision will finally start to become a reality this fall, Microsoft's entertainment unit president told CNET News on Thursday.

The company's Entertainment and Devices unit president Robbie Bach said there won't be one seminal moment when users magically get the ability to take purchased content everywhere. But, starting later this year, some of that notion will start to take hold.

Bach

"I think you are going to see that steadily happen," Bach said in an interview. "It's not going to be a cut-over date...What it is more going to be is a steady pace. You already see us make some things available in multiple places. You will see more of that this fall. You will see more of that next year."

Partly in anticipation of that, Microsoft is rebranding the movie and TV show store on its Xbox 360 to use the same Zune brand as it uses with its PC-based music and movie service. Over time, Microsoft wants Zune content to also show up on mobile phones.

There are two pieces to delivering on that vision: one is the technology, and the other is getting the content owners to offer the needed licensing. In general, it is the latter that is the harder, Bach said.

"All of the things about what you can buy and what you can buy where have less to do with technology and more to do with rights negotiations," Bach said. "We'll steadily make progress on that. It's generally in the best interest of content providers and it's certainly in the best interest of consumers."

On the Windows Mobile business, Bach acknowledged that Microsoft has seen its rivals move at a faster pace.

"If your point is we haven't advanced Windows Mobile as fast as we like, I think the answer is that's true," Bach said. "You are going to see that change."

He noted that Microsoft has shifted a lot of new talent into that part of the business. "We've made a lot of changes on the team in the last 12 months and that is starting to bear fruit."

However, Bach continued to hold off on providing any details on when to expect the version of Windows Mobile beyond the interim version 6.5 update due out on devices later this year.

"If your point is we haven't advanced Windows Mobile as fast as we like, I think the answer is that's true...You are going to see that change."
--Robbie Bach, Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices unit president

"My view on these topics is 'talk is cheap'," he said. "The next thing we are going to show people is Windows Mobile 6.5. There's plenty of innovation in the pipeline."

At one point Windows Mobile 7 was expected early this year, but the product has fallen way behind schedule and is now expected some time next year .

Bach, who demonstrated the company's Project Natal motion-sensing technology for a crowd of financial analysts Thursday, said the technology will help the Xbox better appeal to casual gamers and people who don't even think of themselves as gamers. It will also appeal to the hard-core gamer crowd, he said.

"Even the folks who are hard core Halo or Splinter Cell players, they are also going to want to play Natal games," he said.

The company, which first announced that Natal effort at this year's E3 gaming event, has said Natal will be available as an add-on to the Xbox 360 console. However, it hasn't said when it will be available.

"I'm not planning on being any more specific today," he said.

One thing that will be available this fall is the Zune HD, Microsoft's would-be rival to the iPod Touch. Although I had gotten a brief peek at the product in May, I didn't really get to check out the browser. I played with an updated build of the product on Thursday and was pleasantly surprised to see the browser has the kind of pinch zooming that one finds on the iPhone or in Windows 7. On the down side, I didn't see anything to indicate it will have serious gaming abilities.

As part of my chat with Bach, I did a video interview, which I have embedded below.

 

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