LAS VEGAS - Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage at the beginning of the annual International CES expo and announced that the company would release the beta version of it upcoming Windows 7 operating system by the end of the week.
In his Jan. 7 keynote at CES, Ballmer announced that the beta version of Windows 7 would be available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers immediately. Microsoft also plans to make the beta version of Windows 7 available to the general public later in the week.
"We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever," said Ballmer, who did not offer specifics of when a full version of the Windows 7 would hit the market, although some believe Microsoft will deliver the new operating system to replace Windows Vista by the end of 2009 or early 2010.
"Windows 7 should boot more quickly, offer better battery life and have fewer alerts," said Ballmer, adding that the new operating system will also have a better, more interactive user interface and allow PC makers to offer more touch-screen capabilities with desktops and notebooks.
Besides the Windows 7 beta announcement, Ballmer announced two new partnerships that should significantly expand the market for Microsoft's Windows Live Essentials. The first deal will allow users to connect Windows Live Essentials to Facebook. The other, more significant announcement involves Dell, which will now pre-install Windows Live Search and Essentials with all of the company's consumer PCs, as well as its small business desktops and notebooks.
Earlier in the day, Microsoft also announced a deal with Verizon Wireless, which will allow Microsoft to install Live Search in those phones that use Verizon software. The deals with Dell and Verizon should help Microsoft as the company looks to compete against Google for a larger share of the search market.
"Search will become a bigger part of the mobile experience," said Ballmer.
Ballmer's keynote at CES marked a significant shift for CES. For years, Microsoft founder Bill Gates kicked off the show with an assessment of the industry and a look ahead at new Microsoft products. This year, with the U.S. economy in a recession, Ballmer took the stage for the first time and delivered a low-key talk compared to some of his other major keynotes.
However, Ballmer did address the economy and he said that Microsoft would continue to invest in research and development despite the downturn in the economy. Ballmer said Microsoft spent about $8 billion in R&D and he expected the company to continue to invest despite the recession. He added that companies have to continue to invest in the digital lifestyle and now is not the time to retreat.
Throughout his talk, Ballmer talked about the "three screens" that are in everyone's life - the PC, the phone and the television - and how Windows will become the platform for tying all three of these screens together. Ballmer also talked about how the concept of the cloud - based on Windows - will deliver content and services to users, especially in the realm of entertainment and social networking. The deal Microsoft has with Facebook shows the beginnings of this concept.
"Microsoft is transforming what Windows is - from a PC operating systems to a connected platform and experience across the PC, the phone, the TV and the cloud," said Ballmer. "When I think about Windows, I really do think of our marketing of -Life Without Walls.'"
After Ballmer detailed the company's plans for Windows and Windows Live Essentials, Charlotte Jones, the Windows 7 group product manager, offered several demonstrations of how the new operating system will work and how users can combine the newer features found in Windows Live Essentials for social networking and sharing content. In addition, Jones said that Microsoft would offer the new version of Internet Explorer with Windows Mobile later this year.
Finally, Robbie Bach, president of the Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division, detailed the company's efforts around digital entertainment and offered a road map for what to expect from the Xbox later this year.