CES is off and running with Bill Gates as a keynote speaker kicking things off. It’s a big CES for Microsoft, with the Windows Vista launch in less than a month. His keynote was entitled ‘Connected Experiences’ in which Gates talked about what a connected lifestyle might look like, and a vision for this in the not so far future. By connected lifestyle, he means devices capable of receiving digital content all throughout the home, on the go, etc. Throughout his address, he covered just how Microsoft is working towards this connected experience, and what new products are being created specifically for this.

One such product that would influence this connected experience is the Windows Home Server.  There were rumors it was going to be announced, and sure enough, it was. So, thanks to Engadget, he’s the scoop on the Home Server:

  • Units are headless and embedded only — you cannot buy WHS and put it on an old PC.
  • There is no common web interface.  Interaction is entirely client software based, or done over SMB.
  • It cannot directly stream media to Media Center Extenders, but it can stream media directly to Windows Media Connect-enabled devices
  • It does not use RAID, but instead uses a RAID-like driving pooling system with built-in redundancy.  Expanding capacity is as simple as adding additional drives internally or externally via USB.
  • The client software, which is installable only on Windows PCs manages backups, and supports full disk images and versions.  If your computer crashes, you can pop in a restore CD and it’ll pull the disk image over the network.
  • Your WHS device gets registered with your Windows Live account and is made easily-findable by authorized parties while on the go. You can even connect to it via Live and pipe a Remote Desktop connection to a PC on your home network through this Home-finding Live feature.

At this point, I don’t think the general population will see any need for a server in their home, and I think it will take many years before something like this is seen as “essential.” When it does take off, it will be a great way to organize and keep track of digital photos, videos, music, and documents. Gates also mentioned the fact that the last time Windows and Office were in a synchronized release was way back in 1995. This time around, we can expect Vista and Office 2007 released on January 30th. Another interesting fact, 65% of homes have digital cameras, and 40% of homes have multiple computers, meaning more people have the essential devices to stay connected.

Another highlight from the presentation was when Justin Hutchinson of Microsoft gave a Vista demo.  About 18 minutes into the keynote, he demonstrated using the Xbox 360 controller on a Windows Vista machine to fly around Las Vegas using the Windows Live 3D application- cool! Another cool feature is their Dreamscene, which are full “Motion Desktops.” This means that you can use any video and set it as your desktop background (pictured below).

Another element of connected experiences is connected entertainment.  Robbie Back, head of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Xbox division took the stage to give an update, and to highlight how the Xbox is becoming an entertainment hub instead of just a gaming machine. So, here’s some statistics: Since the Xbox 360 launched in November of 2005, 10.4 million consoles have been sold in 37 countries with 160 high-definition games available.  Also part of Xbox 360 is their Xbox Live online marketplace.  They now sell downloadable movies and features and more than 1,000 hours of TV and movie content.

Just like CES last year, there was a pretty big focus on all of the “to be coming” types of things that would truly create a “connected life.” Bill always mentions the importance of “delivering on the promise,” and I imagine it will be years before actually see the “to be coming” devices made available. Gates says, “We have amazing hardware, love walking the floor, who has the biggest LCD, the biggest hard disk. But we need to deliver on promise of digital decade. Delivering means more than just great hardware.”

If you’d like to view the Keynote, Microsoft has it available, but you’ll need to be using Windows Media Player. You can also view this Keynote via YouTube. It has been broken down into several clips.

News Sources: Read/WriteWeb and Engadget