Baby's First CES (plus the Gates Keynote)

I flew into Las Vegas today for my first official trip to CES. Somehow, I'm not sure how, I've managed to avoid going to the really big trade shows since I started doing tech reviews. I've never been to CES, and I somehow missed out on Comdex back when it

I flew into Las Vegas today for my first official trip to CES. Somehow, I'm not sure how, I've managed to avoid going to the really big trade shows since I started doing tech reviews. I've never been to CES, and I somehow missed out on Comdex back when it was THE show. The biggest shows under my belt were some late '90s iterations of Network + Interop before that show came back to earth after the DotCom crash.

Anyway, forgive any wide-eyed shock and awe I may display that other hardened vets wouldn't bat an eye at. It's my first time.

My first stop of the pre-CES activities was to check out the Bill Gates keynote over at the Sands Expo hall in the Venetian. The press literature I received recommended lining up starting at 3 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. speech. I split the difference, showing up at 4:30, when I found the press line stretched around the corner, down the hall and back again. Kind of like the taxi line at the airport...

A quick digression: Several years ago, some buddies and I went white water (*cough* beef float) rafting. When we came to a fork in the river. We chose the right fork, which took us under a fallen tree (barely cleared it) and into a dead end among the reeds - causing us to spend over an hour trying to pull the raft back upriver against the current. Anyway, ever since, all of us from that trip have repeated the mantra "Always go to the left," (which has the side benefit of helping us to always find each other in a movie theater).

Employing that mantra, I somehow wound up in the 7th row despite my late arrival to the line. Of course, I also discovered why after the speech, as I was probably the last man to make it out of the building.

Anyway, Gates' speech was slightly melancholy and not particularly informative. Since this will presumably be his last keynote address at CES, the star-studded video riffed on what he would do with himself after his last day in the Collective. But it didn't seem like Microsoft really had anything big and new to talk about, so the rest of the presentation was a mix of self back-patting and seemingly faked demos of things they are working on.

Some interesting points of note from the speech:

-Gates claimed 100 million Vista users are out there already.

-He also claimed Windows Mobile added 10 million new users- and Robbie Bach (Microsoft's president of Entertainment and Devices division) followed up the latter point by claiming Windows Mobile is outselling RIM and Apple, which goes against that which we heard here. Although taking the whole year into account (rather than one quarter) and counting phones, smartphones and PDAs could make this a reality, if a slightly misleading one.

Gates talked a little about the consumer devices of the future, expounding on the three elements he feels will be necessary for success in the next generation: high-definition experience, connectivity and a natural interface. This rationale has obviously been felt up and down Microsoft's product line, as these themes are echoed as well in business class products like Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft's Response Point.

There was a pretty cool demo of something they called "Say and See." They mocked up a scenario, where a user with a Windows Mobile device could press a button and say "Movie." The integrated GPS knows where the user is and lists near by movie theaters. The user picks a theater, so all current listing are displayed and then, with subsequent voice commands the user could pick a movie, buy a ticket, and send a text to another user with all the pertinent information. Cool scenario, although I certainly haven't seen anywhere near that kind of integration in any device to date.

The speech ended with a silly axe battle between some Guitar Hero champion and Slash from Guns and Roses (and why do I feel like I had seen exactly this same scenario somewhere else?). Amazingly, Slash hasn't changed his look one iota since GnR first hit the scene 20 years ago. Oh jeez, 20 years? Man, I'm getting old.