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Gates kicks off CES in Las Vegas


LAS VEGAS Microsoft chairman Bill Gates kicked off the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Jan. 6 with his traditional opening keynote speech and confirmed rumors that it would be his last.

Gates – a CES fixture who’s delivered a speech at every show since 1998 – is leaving Microsoft as a full-time employee this summer. But he used his speech to tout Microsoft’s recent success stories and his vision for what he called a “second digital decade” in which disparate electronic devices would be connected with simple and unique user interfaces.

“The second digital decade will be more about connecting people and being user-centric,” said Gates. As for the present, Gates said Microsoft’s new Windows Vista operating system is now being used by 100 million people and that Windows Live now has 420 million users. And he noted that Windows Mobile “reached 10 million users in 2007 and will double that in 2008.”

Earlier in the day, Sony Electronics held its annual CES press event and unveiled new products headlined by its new line of OLED (organic light emitting diode) high-definition TVs that are razor thin and produce incredibly sharp pictures. It also introduced a revamped version of its Mylo portable communicator and its new generation of Walkman phones.

But the biggest buzz at CES so far was generated by an announcement made two days before the show began. On Jan. 4, Warner Bros. announced it was switching exclusively to the Blu-Ray high-definition DVD format, abandoning HD-DVD and putting a likely end to a two-year format war.

Warner joined Sony, Disney and Fox as supporters of Blu-Ray and left Toshiba and HD-DVD with just Universal and Paramount. The HD-DVD Group – apparently caught by surprise – cancelled a CES press conference scheduled for Jan. 6. In a statement, Toshiba said, “we will assess the potential impact of this announcement with the other HD-DVD partners and evaluate potential next steps.”

Blu-Ray was already dominating the software side of the business – accounting for about 70% of high-definition DVD sales in 2007 – and Warner’s arrival will increase that lead on HD-DVD. In a prepared statement, Warner Home Entertainment president Kevin Tsujihara cited the format war as a reason for its decision.

“A two-format landscape has led to consumer confusion and indifference toward high-definition, which has kept the technology from reaching mass adoption.” Warner is scheduled to go exclusive with Blu-Ray in June.

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