Gates shows off Vista in CES keynote

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates highlights features designed to convince the average consumer that they need the next version of Windows.

LAS VEGAS--After months of touting Vista's geekier side, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Wednesday highlighted features of the new version of Windows designed to appeal to the average consumer.

During his keynote speech at the

Gates began his speech by noting his recent appearance, along with his wife, Melinda, and U2's Bono, as Time magazine's "Persons of the Year." He said there were other strong contenders. "Probably if there had been one more hurricane, Mother Nature would have been on the cover," he said. "For a lot of reasons I'm glad that didn't happen."

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As he usually does at CES, Gates offered his vision of the digital future. His demonstration illustrated a typical day from the future, which began at home with an on-demand video clip and included a look at a map that showed the location of his family members. After heading into the office, he used three large flat-screen monitors to take part in a videoconference.

Finally he headed to the airport with just his cell phone. At the airport lounge, his cell phone connected to a screen and he instantly had a full desktop to work on. The phone could even connect to a nearby camera. "The phone is very different. The idea of a meeting is very different," Gates said.

Gates touched on many of the same points as last year's speech, talking about the increasing role that digital gadgets are playing in everyday life. Since the demise of the fall Comdex trade show, Gates' CES speech has become a virtual state-of-the-electronics-industry address.

A look at Vista
Among the new graphics abilities in Vista that Microsoft showed off was Flip 3D, a tool for easily shifting among multiple open windows and the Windows Vista Sidebar, which runs in the corner of the screen and includes RSS feeds, sports scores and other small applications. Microsoft showed Sidebar in the first preview of Longhorn (Vista's code name), but the feature had disappeared from Microsoft's feature list before reappearing more recently.

Microsoft's photo-editing program--Photo Gallery--allows users to do basic editing, as well as sort photos by date, keyword and other information. The program, which will be built into Vista, appears to be similar to Apple Computer's iPhoto.

Like iPhoto, the Photo Gallery software keeps a separate copy of the photo so users can make changes to their images without losing their original. A new slideshow feature allows users to mix video images and still photos.

Microsoft also showed off a forthcoming update to the classic Microsoft program Flight Simulator to highlight the graphics and gaming power of Vista. The demo included helicopters and flying birds, among other realistic details.

Xbox marks the spot
Along with Vista, Gates is also made his case for HD DVD--one of two competing formats for next-generation DVDs. Gates said Microsoft would offer an external HD DVD drive that can connect to the recently released Xbox 360 game console.

By offering the drive as an Xbox add-on, Microsoft is hoping to win over consumers with a cheaper option than buying an all-new device to play next-generation Blu-ray or HD DVD discs.

Microsoft also said it expects to have 50 high-definition games on the market by June. Microsoft demonstrated the HD games via Electronics Arts' "Fight Night Round 3," which matched up Gates as Muhammed Ali with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as Joe Frazier.

Gates landed some early punches while Frazier started slowly. Meanwhile, the two executives traded barbs, with Ballmer taking the first jab.

"Thirty years I've been training for this opportunity," Ballmer said.

Showing off some fancy footwork, Gates got in his own shot.

"You've got the weight on me, I'll give you that," said Gates, who won the bout after knocking down Ballmer. An instant replay showed blood spurting from Frazier's mouth.

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