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Microsoft at CES

By Becky Worley

Here's a summary of Microsoft at CES based on interviews with product managers


The new Treo 700W using Windows Mobile is a good looking phone. I can see how it will help Palm get the phone into enterprise markets, but aside from improved handling of attachments, it offered no huge breakthroughs in technology.

The Motorola Q running Windows Mobile was another iterative product: a thinner version of the Blackberry form-factor, running Win Mobile- again, it's all about attachments.

Tablet- Sideshow

Asus displayed a laptop that will ship in late 2006. It uses new technology called Sideshow that's built into Windows Vista Tablet Edition. Sideshow allows an alternate screen to be built into the case or exterior of the laptop. This screen powers-on instantly, outside of the normal computer boot-up process. The exterior case placement and instant-on functionality allows the user to access data on the go; specifically calendar, contacts, email and music. In one version of the Sideshow laptops, the auxiliary display is removable: you get an MP3 player/PDA that ships with your laptop and automatically synchs because it's a part of the system.

Media Center in Vista

The Media Center edition of Windows Vista is a lot like Media Center for XP- the big change is adding a left and right navigational axis in addition to the familiar up and down scrolling menu. The one change that does make a huge difference is the addition of HDTV digital cable support. Currently Media Center PCs display analog cable signals, but only work with ATSC over the air HD signals and a separate HD antenna. Vista will integrate HD from cable providers using "CABLEcard" technology- basically a third-party set-top box that ports HDTV from the cable company into the Media Center device. Bill Gates also announced in his CES keynote that Media Center will work natively with DirecTV sometime this year. But the big rumor is that Microsoft and DirecTV are negotiating to create native HD support in Media Center PCs. When HD signals from both cable and satellite can be easily received in Media Center PCs, make room for me because I will be getting on that band-wagon.

XBOX 360

4.5 -5.5 million units sold by July of '06. Third contract manufacturer of the console, Celestica is in production now.



The UI in Vista is good looking- as you probably know there are two modes, Basic and Aero, Aero being the UI optimized for high-end graphic cards and more modern machines. Aero is all about glassy transparencies on the toolbars and window borders, animations, icons that jump off the page and rendered graphics in the preview pane. Basically it feels a lot like Mac OS X. MS even have something called Flip 3-d that allows you to visually scroll through open Windows and see each page in a larger format than any of the icons- it's kinda like Mac's Expose, but more structured.


Much has been written about the fact that Vista will not include the touted WinFS search technology, but despite the delays that have kept WinFS out of the new OS, Vista has search plastered everywhere. If you open the start menu (now called the "Windows menu." The word "start" is off the button- it's the "Windows Jewel" button) and start typing, you write directly into the menu's search bar. This search gives you results if the search term is in the file name, text or tag. It also works for applications, so if you hit the Windows key, type "calc" and hit enter, the calculator launches- that is a lot easier than drilling into programs, accessories and finding calculator.

The actual Search Explorer is pretty handy- first the dog is gone; he's off with Microsoft Bob trying to figure out if he was an interface innovation or just a pain in the ass. The major difference in search is the ability to see stacked views and manipulate the search results with greater acuity.

IE 7

Tabbed browsing, built in RSS, search in the toolbar (you can choose your own search provider, although the default is MSN Search).


The most interesting thing I saw with Vista came in the form of something they are calling Superfetch- basically the OS is supposed to learn your habits and pre-fetch your apps into virtual memory. Another Superfetch innovation is an automated hardware add-on that increases virtual memory on the fly; a USB 2.0 drive. You plug in a thumb drive of any size and Vista gives you the option to use the drive as virtual memory. I'd like to see some before-and-after numbers on system speed, but think of the possible benefits for laptop owners in need of memory upgrades.



I saw some definite UI improvements in the home network set-up process. A wizard guides you through the basic steps including a default to WEP security for wireless networks, then when you finish setting up the main computer and attached peripherals (Vista automatically recognizes partner products in their logo program), you insert a USB drive and Vista exports all the settings. You plug the USB drive into another machine you want to add to the network and a script runs to automatically port the settings, security key and network map to the new machine, very user friendly.


Overall CES was a sleeper this year, as evidenced by the fact that Yahoo, Google and Microsoft got the lion's share of media coverage. And we thought CES was a gadget show?? Maybe next year. -- bw



About Becky Worley: Former TechTV and soon to be writer for Yahoo Tech and columnist for, Worley was the "Talk show" host in the Microsoft CES booth. She got to interview most of the Product Managers. Says Worley: "They didn't constrain what I could ask or say, they just asked me to help the consumer understand what the PMs were talking about. The upside- I now know a lot about Vista and what's new for the Q4- '06 release."


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