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CES 2009:

Ballmer: Microsoft building a digital ‘life without walls’

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Justin M. Bowen

CES keynote speaker Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talks about Microsoft’s new technology for the coming year.

Updated Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 | 12:26 a.m.

Wednesday at CES 2009

CES keynote speaker Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talks about Microsoft's new technology for the coming year. Launch slideshow »

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Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer addressed a packed ballroom Wednesday evening at the Venetian on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show, announcing Microsoft’s plans for 2009 and the release of a testing version of the Windows 7 operating system.

Windows 7 Beta will be free for the general public to download from Microsoft’s Web site tomorrow.

Ballmer called Windows 7 “the best version of Windows ever,” promising a faster, simpler Windows and fewer of the security notifications that plagued Vista users. The new Windows also will feature touch-screen components, updated messenger features and a “home group” application, which Ballmer described as an easier way to connect Windows devices.

“We’re putting in all the right ingredients -- simplicity, reliability and speed -- and working hard to get it right and get it ready,” he said.

The opening keynote at CES had belonged to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates for several years until Gates stepped down from day-to-day operations at Microsoft last summer. This was Ballmer's first time making the CES address.

Amidst an economic downturn and CES itself seeing a drop in attendance, Ballmer kept an optimistic tone about Microsoft’s future and the industry as a whole.

“As this recession ripples across the globe, it feels like we've entered a period of reduced expectations, a time when we may be tempted to temper our optimism and scale back our ambitions," Ballmer said. "But no matter what happens with the economy or how long this recession lasts, I believe our digital lives will only continue to get richer."

Convergence of platforms -- computers, televisions and phones -- was the main theme of Ballmer’s address.

The CEO announced a new partnership with Verizon Wireless that will add Microsoft’s search engine, Windows Live, to all Verizon cell phones. The company also is adding Flash support to its partnering mobile devices, giving users the chance to watch YouTube videos on their phones.

A similar partnership has been made with Dell, making Windows Live, which is much less popular than Google and Yahoo, the default search engine on Dell computers. The deal will replace a relationship between Dell and Google.

Microsoft also has formed a link between Facebook and the Windows Live network, allowing users to see updates from the social networking site and others, like Flickr and Twitter, on a single page.

Ballmer used the phrase “life without walls” to describe the seamless connection Microsoft is trying to make between multiple Windows devices.

On the gaming front, Microsoft made announcements on the releases of the cult favorite, "Halo 3: ODST." A free demo of "Halo Wars" will be available Feb. 5 on Xbox Live for fans to test and the official release will be made Feb. 28, three days earlier than the original date. Halo 3 is set to premier in fall 2009.

The CES show floor officially will open this morning, showing off the latest in gadgets and technology, including many of Microsoft’s competitors. Even during tough times, Ballmer said breaking ground is always the key to success in the industry.

“I believe that companies and industries that continue to pursue innovation during tough economic times will achieve a significant competitive advantage, positioning themselves for growth far more effectively than companies that hold back,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the ideas and innovation that drive us forward regardless of the economic environment.”

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