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Notes From a Senior Editor: Journalists Trampled In Mad Gates Frenzy, Public Generally Pleased

Jan 08, 2007, 22:45 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jame Turner)

By James Turner
Senior Editor

First off, some comments about this morning's article. As is usually the case with things I write at 5 in the morning the day after a long plane ride and a major time zone shift, I've already noticed a few typos in the report. Rather than considering them journalistic failings, I'd like you to see them as your own personal treasure hunt. See if you can spot the missing nouns and the verbs with the wrong tense endings.

All I can pledge is that, since I'm dashing these off at a breakneck pace every morning before heading out for my first appointments, that the typos will continue! Don't blame the good folks at Linux Today either, the value of this material is timeliness rather than spotless grammar, so a few grammatical blemishes come along with the territory.

Meanwhile, let's start by talking about the man of the hour yesterday, he who stands as a captain among mere privates, who has created an empire out of nothing, and whom every man wants to be. Yes, I'm talking about Tom Brady. Seriously, I spent the morning writing up the report on Saturday finalizing my schedule, and then watching the Patriots/Jets playoff game, first on the big plasma display in my room (which, oddly, was not HD), and then down in the sports book in the casino while munching a couple of hot dogs. Great game, especially since the Pats covered the spread and netted me a little early Vegas bonus.

Then it was over to the Venetian for the evening keynote. Bill G was set to speak at 6:30 PM, so why was I heading over at 1:30 in the afternoon? Well you can't just walk in to the Gates keynote, first you need to get a voucher, the magic golden ticket that lets you in the door. For press and VIPs, the vouchers were going to be given out at 3PM, and I wanted to give myself time to park and get over there. Thus began CEA's masterful execution of what I'd like to call Operation Cluster F**k.

First off, press had been told to wait in a specific area to receive our keys to the presence of the Great Gates, but when you got there, there was no signage or anything telling you where to wait, just a huge snaking line of the Great Unwashed CES Attendees waiting to get their hands on general admission vouchers. After meandering about for bit, with the clock approaching 2:30, I happened upon a member of the press who already had a voucher. WTF? He told me that the vouchers were being handed out down in the press room, and "were almost gone." So me and some fellow writers go booking down to the press room (land of no cell phone service, BTW) to find the receptionist has a whole drawer full and is just giving them out to anyone who asks. Way to implement a consistent policy, CEA!

So, press voucher in hand, I suddenly have two and a half hours to kill. You see, even though the keynote is at 6:30, you need to be lined up at 5:00 for seating. Yep, you get to sit on your butt for 90 minutes waiting to hear the Great Man speak. I wander some more, get a nice USB drive/MP3 player from a Samsung press conference table, check my email, smooze with fellow members of the press, and around 4:40 head up to the staging area to try to get a good spot so I can throw tomatoes at the Microsoft CEO. I guess a few other folks had the same idea...

Mooo! Mooo, I Say! Mooo!

Mayhem is too mild a term to describe the churning fire hazard that was the multiple lines for the keynote. The choke point for entry was the escalators from the 3rd to 4th floor of the ballroom (the keynote itself was on the fifth). This meant that every living person in Las Vegas seemed to be standing in front of the escalators, facing the security contingent. It got so bad that the hotel security folks threatened "to call off the keynote if you don't clear some space," which may go down as the most empty threat ever issued by anyone, anywhere.

All the press were asked to line up against the wall (the revolution must have come without us noticing), and then we waited. The problem was, new press didn't seem to get the "line up against the wall" message, and filled the empty space back in, thus insuring that the last were first, and the first (and order-obeying) last. The floodgate was finally opened, and people who had gotten into the press group mistakenly suddenly found themselves swimming upstream against a torrent of rabid journalists as they were turned away at the checkpoint. Once upstairs, we found ourselves in... another line. Yes, having been granted special access to Nirvana, we got to stand in another rope line for a good 20 minutes or more, until the doors were opened. At least they served wine and beer to assuage the masses.

You Are Now 90 Minutes From Pirates of The Caribbean Redmond

Once finally in the room itself, we settled in for the Long Wait. In additional to the standard Slide Show On The Big Screen, there were a few live entertainers to try to keep us amused. Most were Italian-style clowns, with one pretty good juggler thrown in for good luck. Unfortunately, there's only so long you can watch a guy juggle...

One of These Things is Not Like the Others... Yes, it's the Juggler, He's Not a Clown

One other thing of note. Remember that mysterious "Digital Freedom" booth at the Innovations event? Well, a variety of slides along the theme of the one shown belong were running in heavy rotation during the preshow. It appears that CEA has decided to make the goal of keeping digital media unfettered a top priority for the year. Of course, the irony of running these slides just before a presentation on an operating system that is going to do more to lock down media with draconian DRM than any before it is sweet.

Finally, finally, the great moment arrived. After a brief trip down memory lane by the CEA President (it being the 40th anniversary of CES) Mr. Gates took the stage to describe how Microsoft is going to give us all "Connected Experiences." As the video that then ran seems to indicate, only pretty people below the age of 35 seem to require connectedness, perhaps the rest of us are to be rounded up agrave; la Logan's Run and zapped by lasers. Of course, this is a blind spot of the consumer electronics industry in general; someone might want to remind them about all those aging boomers.

After years of embarrassing technical glitches previewing cutting edge products, Microsoft seems to have found a way to prevent these kind of goods. Don't show any cutting edge products. That's right, nothing new of any substance was shown during the keynote. Instead, we got basically 60 minutes of Vista demoing. First, we got to see how you can apply canned Microsoft document styles using the new version of Word. Next, we were treated to a virtual flythrough of Las Vegas using the new Microsoft 3D Mapping Software, which looked suspiciously like Google Earth.

Um, Google Earth Got Demoed Last Year...

The next section of the presentation was Media Center again. "Look, we can view HD content. Look, we can watch HD video in a window inside Vista. Look, you can track your fantasy sports stars and be alerted when they make a play on a channel you have available (okay, that's a little cool, but hardly going to cure cancer...) In an effort to demonstrate that Vista is in fact being accepted by the hardware vendors, Bill then highlighted a series of PCs that took advantage of new Vista features. HP will have a PC with touch-screen technology, Toshiba has a laptop with the SideShow window on the back, Sony has a media PC that's... round, and Medion has a UMPC.

Vista, Vista Everywhere...

The next half hour or so can best be described as "Isn't Gaming and the X-Box 360 Cool." We saw a bunch of titles that will run on Vista, part of an effort to revive the PC as a gaming platform. Bill seemed particularly proud of the fact that Halo 2 will run on Vista, which is funny given that it's been out forever, and Halo 3 is due this year. We saw that the XBox 360 can run as an IPTV and view streaming content from Media PCs. And in a genuinely new announcement, the Windows Home Server from HP was unveiled. It's basically a big RAID box that's been made Windows-friendly, so that it can automatically back up all the content from all the PCs in the house, and make it available remotely. So just think, when someone breaks into your Windows box now, they can own all your private content... Of course, in keeping with the Cover-Thy-Ass theme of the evening, this new technology wasn't shown, we just got a commercial about it.

Announcing, but not showing...

The last announcement of the night is that Ford is teaming with Microsoft to integrate mobile devices like PDAs, cell phones, and media players directly into vehicle sound systems. Interestingly, Mark Fields of Ford explicitly mentioned the iPod as a supported device. Thankfully, the integration is limited to the stereo, which will also be able to read your mail and IMs using speech synthesis. I can't wait until the first time someone gets an erotic IM while transporting the kids to soccer practice.

Have You Rebooted a Ford... Lately?

Last year, Bill started out his presentation with a "House of the Future" demo, and the glitches he encountered set the theme for the rest of the presentation. This year, the gee-whiz content was moved to the end, when people were already bleary-eyed and less likely to notice problems. When Bill has to actually demo product without a prompter, he gets noticeably less slick. And essentially what he showed this year is what he showed last year, wouldn't it be neat if your digital world followed you around where ever you went? Yes, Bill, it would be very neat. It also seems to require that your entire digital world run Windows...

It's Time For Cooking With Bill: Today, Decimated Apples in Zune Sauce

After the keynote let out, I dragged my weary butt over to a party at a private house hosted by a bunch of social networking companies. The house itself was not in what I'd call a posh neighborhood, there were several RVs parked out in front of houses and it became pretty clear that the house had been rented sight-unseen. However, they had food, single-malts, and a couple of interesting if not spectacular products to look at.

Everyone Can't Afford the Bellagio, I Guess

Well, I'm already running late for my appointments today. I should have a bunch of real products to show tomorrow, including the OLPC, the South Hall vendors, and the Show Stoppers exhibits.

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