LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft's excitable CEO Steve Ballmer showed off Windows 7 -- the slick, fast, user-friendly successor to the much-maligned Windows Vista -- and said it will be available as a public beta on Friday (January 9).
Unveiled by an intense Ballmer during his keynote address on the eve of CES 2009, Windows 7 will offer better performance on underpowered machines such as netbooks, support for multitouch interfaces, and simplified home networking.
Ballmer said that this would be the "best version of Windows ever" and pointed out features that implicitly acknowledged the problems with Windows Vista.
"We are putting in all the right ingredients -- simplicity, reliability and speed -- and working hard to get it right and to get it ready," said Ballmer.
Ballmer's keynote is his first at the big, prestigious CES show since the departure of Microsoft founder Bill Gates a year ago. He showed no signs of stage fright, bounding onstage in a maroon pullover, rubbing his hands together and grinning eagerly.
Microsoft is also eager to get Windows 7 into people's hands given the negative reaction to Windows Vista, which was widely panned. Released in 2007, Vista annoyed many customers with its hunger for computing resources and its seemingly incessant security notifications. Those notifications were such a defining characteristic of Vista that they were even satirized in Apple commercials. Despite the criticisms, Microsoft sold 20 million copies of Vista in the first month, and there are now an estimated 300 million users of Vista worldwide.
According to Ballmer, Windows 7 will be available to developers immediately, and to the general public on Friday, January 9. It will be a free download from Microsoft's site.
Windows 7 has been widely anticipated since developers got the first glimpse of it at a Microsoft conference earlier this year. Microsoft promises that the new OS will have faster startup and shutdown times, fewer security alerts, and will provide better power management leading to improved battery life on laptops.
Microsoft showed off Windows 7's support for multitouch interfaces, simplified home networking, and easier management of peripheral devices such as cell phones and digital cameras.
In addition, the OS will have an updated Taskbar, new animated desktop effects, context-sensitive menus and a smarter desktop search tool. And it will be svelte enough to run on a netbook with as little as 1GB of RAM and a 1GHz processor, Microsoft has promised.
This is the only public beta of Windows 7, a company spokesperson confirmed. The company did not announce the exact date of Windows 7's commercial release.
Windows 7 is only one part of Microsoft's three-pronged strategy to provide software for what Ballmer called the "three screens" -- PCs, phones and TVs.
"I believe windows will remain at the center of people's technological solar system," Ballmer said, touting the company's efforts in the mobile, online, and home entertainment markets.
For instance, Ballmer announced that its online software suite, Windows Live Essentials, will be coming out of beta as of tomorrow.
The company announced several Windows Live partnerships, including one with Facebook, which will allow Facebook users to share content that they've uploaded into their Facebook accounts with their Windows Live accounts. Similar interconnectivity already exists between Windows Live and Flickr.
Also, Dell will be preloading Windows Live Essentials on its computers, replacing the Google Toolbar.
Ballmer promised a new version of Microsoft's OS for smartphones, Windows Mobile, to come in the first quarter of 2009. This OS will include support for Adobe Flash-based apps, including the video players used on many sites, such as YouTube.
After Ballmer, Microsoft's Robbie Bach took the stage to tout the company's Xbox 360 and Xbox Live products. According to Bach, 28 million Xbox consoles have been sold to date, and there are 17 million active users of the Xbox Live service.
The company will also be releasing two new Halo games in 2009, including Halo Wars, a strategy game that will ship on March 3, and Halo 3: Orbital Drop Shock Trooper.
Wrapping up the keynote, Ballmer and another Microsoft executive gave a demo of a futuristic multitouch application for students that made use of many technologies from the company's R&D labs, including automatic document summarizing and highlighting of key points, organizing notes along topical timelines, and collaborating with other students on a Microsoft Surface-type touch-sensitive table. They also showed what they said was a prototype flexible display, although the image shown on the bendable plastic did not seem particularly dynamic.