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CES Slash and Swan Song

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas! That includes Guns ‘N Roses’ guitarist Slash sharing the stage with one Bill Gates.

In an address that marked the swan song for Bill’s perennial role keynoting the Consumer Electronic Show in Vegas, Gates forecasted a number of developments and even poked fun at the new era looming after he reitires from day-to-day activities at Microsoft this year.

None of the deals which Bill announced in his grand finale Sunday night had the gravitas of former CES debuts. Among the most notable was the announcement that Microsoft’s MSN portal will be the exclusive online site for NBC’s coverage of the upcoming Summer Olympic Games. Microsoft’s Olympics showcase will utilize Silverlight media technology to provide live and recorded video of Olympic events, a gold-medal tie-in.

Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Slash made his appearance to promote the best-selling video game “Guitar Hero.” On the parody side of things, Microsoft also presented a video spoofing Gates’ retirement plans, featuring actor George Clooney.

Gates’ speech was held in the ballroom of Las Vegas Venetian Hotel. Bill proclaimed that he envisions a new “digital decade” emerging supported by high-definition video experiences, devices connected through online services, and natural user interfaces such as touch technology and voice commands.

“This is just the beginning,” Gates said. “There’s nothing holding us back from going much faster and much further in the second digital decade.”

During his speech, Gates refrained from mentioning the latest twist in the rivalry between next-generation DVD formats. Warner Bros. last week dropped its support for HD DVD — which Microsoft backs — in favor of the competing Blu-ray format. The move has raised new questions about the future of HD DVD.

Gates and Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, combined to make the following pronouncements:

* The company says it has sold more than 100 million Windows Vista licenses since the new PC operating system was launched about a year ago.

* MGM Studios has agreed to offer movies from its library on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Video Marketplace download service. ABC Television and the Disney Channel also will offer their programs on the service, the company said.

* Microsoft says its Internet Protocol Television technology, Mediaroom, is now in more than 1 million set-top boxes worldwide. IPTV technology delivers TV signals over phone lines.

In one demonstration, Gates showed how Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface tabletop computer could be used to make a purchase. The computer, which works by touching the tabletop, is an example of a trend Gates cited toward more natural interactions with machines.

Gates also showed a prototype device that Microsoft calle the “mobile navigator.” The device stores media content, recognizes its location using video technology and connects to online services to recommend things to do nearby.

However, according to the P-I’s Todd Bishop, it was merely a demonstration of where the company sees technology going. Microsoft doesn’t have any immediate plans to turn the concept into a working product. [24×7]