Wednesday night Microsoft kicked off CES 2011 with a keynote presentation that was essentially broken up into four components: Xbox 360, Windows Phone 7, Windows on PC, and Windows on SoC.
Granted Microsoft CEO Steve "Fists of Fury" Ballmer didn't come out and call the next OS build specifically as "Windows 8," we knew exactly what he was referring to while ooooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the fact that the next version is currently running on ARM technology.
But let's start from the beginning, shall we?
Initially this portion didn't seem like the appropriate time to talk about the Xbox 360 motion-sensing peripheral, a topic better suited for E3 2011 in June. However based on Kinect's upcoming new features slated for this Spring, CES 2011 was the perfect time to get gamers all hot and bothered.
However the big focus on this segment was Kinect and Xbox 360 as an entertainment center in the living room, using the motion-sensing technology to navigate through various forms of media without the need for a controller or some other physical device. The company took this opportunity to reveal Kinect support for Netflix and Hulu Plus while also announcing Avatar Kinect, a new feature that mirrors the user's every movement—from waving hands to raising an eyebrow-- by way of an Xbox 360 avatar. Users can also hang out together in virtual rooms called "sets"-- a virtual chat room if you will.
Windows Phone 7
The next segment of the keynote presentation initially focused on Windows Phone 7 gaming. Again, it seemed as if we were sitting at E3 as Ballmer talked about the upcoming Xbox Live features heading to the phone. Fable Coin Golf was revealed for the platform, allowing players to take their virtual mobile earnings and port it straight into the Xbox 360 version of Fable 3. Other new games are on the way too including Pac-Man, Fruit Ninja and many others.
Liz Sloan from the Windows Phone 7 team eventually came out and went over the features and why you should want it. "One of the things that we did with Windows Phone is help surface up all of the stuff that you care about right up to the top so that you don't have to hunt around to find that information," she told the audience.
She demonstrated the phone's dedicated camera button and how it remains active even when the phone is locked. As mentioned in the comment, the OS is designed around Live Tiles for a "glance and go" functionality. There's also voice search which she demonstrated by hunting down "In and Out Burger" for a post-show "big team dinner."
Other features demonstrated during the presentation included the use of Bing, the Hubs features which organizes apps and media into intelligently labelled groups. Naturally she touched base on apps like Bank of America, Travelocity, Fandango and more while reaffirming the platform's gaming abilities in the process.
Also during this segment, Steve Ballmer mentioned that Windows Phone 7 would receive numerous updates to bring it up to speed. "Over the next few months, we will be releasing a series of updates that will automatically be pushed out to our customers, and we'll boost several improvements," he said. "The two most noticeable for Windows Phone users is the addition of copy and paste, and significant performance improvements when loading or switching between applications."
He also revealed plans to finish the release that will make the Windows Phone available on the Sprint and Verizon networks in the first half of 2011.
Windows on PC
Once Ballmer came on stage and replaced Sloan, the Microsoft CEO moved into the third segment of the presentation: Windows on PCs. Corporate Vice President Mike Angiulo quickly took over and demonstrated various notebook-type form factors, one of which from Acer that sported dual touchscreens. An excited Angiulo began promoting Intel's new Sandy Bridge platform with Windows 7 behind the wheel. He loaded up Internet Explorer 9, an animated solar system demo, and showed just how awesomely well both Sandy Bridge and Windows 7 can play together.
"What you're looking at is an animated solar system that's made out of 2D pictures of planets that have been spherized by the GPU," he said, pointing the laptop towards the camera. "It's really calculation intensive. You can see I'm getting 36, almost 40 frames a second on a mobile PC. A year ago, this was completely impossible." It was definitely love at first sight.
Of course it wouldn't be fair to be totally Intel-focused, as he also demoed the popular aquarium demo on the IE9 beta test site on a device sporting AMD's freshly-baked Fusion APU platform. "I can increase the number of fish to 250 fish in this tank, and get over 40 frames a second," he demonstrated. "And we're talking about in a PC that costs less than $500, and is this thin and light. So, that kind of performance on an ultraportable notebook is really brand new and quite impressive."
After demonstrating and showcasing a few other cool form factors, we got a look at the new thinner, leaner Microsoft Surface that has obviously ditched the old-school bulky box with the cameras mounted inside. The new version features a dual-core CPU, a GPU supplied by AMD and "the biggest piece of gorilla glass that has ever been bonded to an LCD ever."
It also features a new technology called PixelSense that uses every pixel as a camera. As seen on the stage, the device could literally "see" what was written on a piece of paper, displaying the hand-written sentence clearly on the debug screen. Angiulo also demonstrated that the new Surface can be used as a table, hung on the wall, and support up to 20 inputs.
Windows on SoC
As reported earlier, Steve Ballmer didn't actually name the next OS as Windows 8, however that's the name most of us have used for a while. We read earlier reports that Microsoft would show a special version of Windows for tablets and smaller devices, however Microsoft officially announced prior to the keynote that the next Windows OS would support system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures from Intel, AMD and ARM-- Ballmer reinstated those plans.
"We're very excited about the full set of partners for the next version of Windows," he said. "NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments are working on SoC designs based on the ARM architecture. Intel and AMD will continue to innovate on the X86 platform, including the new low-powered SoC systems that will be fully supported by Windows, and will include support for native X86 applications."
Mike Angiulo returned to the stage and showed some examples of Windows 8 running on ARM architecture cloaked in the older Windows 7 GUI. The first was an Intel low-power Atom SoC system installed on a development board. Angiulo said he purchased Quicken from the store and installed it without having to make any modifications, and it worked perfectly.
"The same thing is true when I plug in this Windows 7 phone," he demonstrated. "You can plug in a camera, a printer; anything that works on Windows, works right out of the box here. So, a really high level of compatibility, you could see it recognizes the phone, and it's going to start synching. There it goes, it connected the device, and recognized it. So, all of that is working today, and that's one of the really big benefits of the Intel system. "
The next AoC device sporting a disguised Windows 8 was Qualcomm's ARM system called Snapdragon. He showed that the OS ran like normal, allowing him to change the desktop background, manage pictures, launch accessories and more.
He them moved on to Texas Instruments' ARM platform called OMAP and successfully launched a build of Word that Microsoft recompiled to be a native ARM application. He pasted in some text and hit print, sending the document to an off-the-shelf Epson USB printer using a print driver recompiled to run natively on ARM.
After showing the printed text to the audience, he moved over to Nvidia's Tegra platform. Here he showed how fast PowerPoint performs thanks to hardware acceleration. He also demonstrated a demo in Internet Explorer and played an Iron Man trailer in full HD without a hitch.
"So, what you've seen here today is Windows, real Windows running Office, devices, high performance browsing, high performance video, all running on next generation of SoC," he concluded.
Steve Ballmer returned to the stage and summarized what was presented over the last hour:
- Xbox has transformed from solely a gaming device
- Windows Phone 7 is the best new phone out there
- Today's Windows 7 PCs can be found in so many wonderful form factors, from new tablets and convertibles to high-end gaming rigs
- Support for system-on-a-chip means that Windows will be everywhere on every kind of device without compromise; all the performance and flexibility of Windows on low-power, long-lasting devices
"We're entering a new era of technology for consumers where you'll be able to use Windows anywhere you go, from the small screen to the big screen," he said. "It has the gaming, the TV, the movies, the music, the productivity, the social networking, that today's consumers are seeking."