The Gates soft-shoe shuffle at CES kicks off the gadget show each year with the same forlorn regularity as a Windows blue screen of death. It's comforting to watch Bill climb up to the stage, but prepare yourselves, people: this can't go on for ever. Gates began his remarks by saying that next year's keynote may well be his last.
This year's keynote didn't hold too many surprises. There was the usual self-satisfied purring about what a long way we've all come, baby, in what Gates is now calling "the digital decade". There was also some quite staggeringly unhip video showing what were supposed to be hip and cool consumers using Microsoft products to have connected experiences.
These scenes had the realism, credibility and conviction of gonzo porn (where do they find these people?) and serve as a useful reminder that money can't buy cool, no matter how much it hunts for it. (Check out the keynote video if you don't believe us.)
The main event was news of a new home server as well as some cutesy Media Center PCs in quirky form factors (round and white anyone?). There was also the intriguing news that Microsoft will allow its Xbox 360 games console to act as a link to its Internet Television service, or IPTV.
As every switched-on Crave reader knows, this is just another move in the complicated game of Twister being played out as different tech industry giants try to reach around each other's technology and establish a dominant position in our digital living rooms. Software makers, hardware manufacturers and service providers all want to own our digital homes, and the Xbox 360 is Microsoft's stealth weapon in the race to control our domestic digital goods.
Gates wants the Xbox 360 to act as a gateway to more than just games, and to make Windows-based computing the cornerstone of the digital living room of the future -- streaming IPTV through the 'box is another piece of the puzzle. Crave couldn't help noticing that over here in the UK BT Vision, the on-demand service quietly announced last year, is built using Microsoft IPTV technology. So will this mean that we'll be seeing BT's video-on-demand content on our 360s?
A nice chap in the BT press office could do no more than make encouraging noises, saying that BT would be providing content for the service "across a number of platforms". That didn't stop us from taking time out of our busy day to muse about a truly connected future in which we can log on to Xbox Live and chat about Antiques Roadshow on our wireless headsets with teenagers in Milwaukee. Remember, you heard it here first. -IM