LAS VEGAS, Nev., Jan. 6, 2000 — Incredible advances in digital technology have transformed the workplace in recent years, and the integration of personal computing technologies into a wider range of new devices is going to deliver similar benefits to the home. At the 2001 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Microsoft is providing a first glimpse at an array of new consumer technologies that promise to make consumers day-to-day lives simpler and more fun. Rick Belluzzo, executive vice president of Microsofts Consumer Division, sat down with PressPass recently to talk about the rapid integration of digital technologies into the home and to preview some of the announcements Microsoft will make at CES.
PressPass: Bill Gates will deliver the keynote address kicking off CES this year. Can you give us a quick preview of what he will say?
Belluzzo: Our theme this year at CES is "Microsoft Brings It Home." Thats because we believe that the coming year will mark a dramatic turning point in the way the average person uses technology at home, at work and on the move. In his speech, Bill will talk about how the rapid integration of PC technologies with electronic devices designed for the home is making this turning point possible. Hell also demonstrate how this is going to improve peoples lives by introducing new ways to communicate, adding greater efficiency and delivering greater choice and control over entertainment.
For example, hell show how a Pocket PC linked together with other handheld devices will bring convenience to household tasks by making it easier to control equipment and electronics in the house. As a result, listening to music, sharing photos, making home movies, or even turning on and off lights and adjusting the heat will be much simpler. Hell also demonstrate how new speech-recognition technology will let you do a lot of that without using your hands. And hes going to show how the latest Windows Media technology will let people share music among a whole range of devices so they can customize the music they listen to throughout the home, in the car and elsewhere.
Bill will also give the audience a sneak peek at the Xbox home gaming console and controller and debut UltimateTV, the first consumer television service in the United States that is powered by the Microsoft TV platform.
PressPass: You say that this year will be the turning point for the use of technology in the home. Why this year in particular?
Belluzzo: One of the most important results of the rapid pace of hardware and software innovation is that technology that was once only found in desktop PCs is now making its way into many other consumer devices -- everything from cell phones to handheld PCs, from music players to televisions. That means that things you could only do sitting at your desk a few years ago, such as email, can now be done any time, any place and on any device. On top of that, you have the incredible proliferation of broadband access to the Internet, to the point where nearly half of American homes now have a high-speed connection to the Web. And now were seeing the introduction of technologies that make it possible to connect devices at home without laying new wires. Of course, 2001 will be a big year for consumers with the launch of a new version of the Windows operating system, code-named "Whistler." "Whistler" will be significant because it will bring consumers the rock-solid reliability of todays Windows 2000 operating system that businesses are using, and it will provide a number of new advancements. All of these changes will converge this year to deliver incredible new experiences for consumers.
PressPass: Beyond Bill Gates speech, what else is Microsoft doing at CES?
Belluzzo: I think one of the most exciting things is our booth. This year, weve built a version of the Microsoft Connected Home at CES. The Connected Home is a completely networked household that ties together approximately 40 devices and services. The Connected Home includes everything from enhanced television services, to digital media in every room of the house, to Internet access in the kitchen. The ability to create this kind of network means, for example, that you can make the blinds go up and down in any room of the house or turn on your home security system from your bed before you go to sleep.
Our goal with the Connected Home is to show how all of these technologies are being integrated into the home and becoming a part of our lives. Well have people demonstrating different tasks and scenarios, so it will be easy to see how all of this technology can become a seamless part of our day-to-day lives. We want people to understand that this kind of home isnt just something thats in the research phase. Its quickly becoming a reality.
PressPass: How fast?
Belluzzo: Probably 70 percent to 80 percent of what youll see in the Connected Home at CES is doable right now. Thats why this is so exciting. You can buy most of the devices -- from PCs to media players -- and most of the software. You can create the same kind of network as well. We expect the rest to be available before the end of this year. And we expect "Whistler" to be a big catalyst for a number of new products and services this year.
PressPass: There seems to be a lot of excitement about Xbox. What are we going to learn about Xbox at CES, and why is there so much interest in Xbox at the moment?
Belluzzo: Microsoft has always been the leader in producing PC-based games, so I dont think its too much of a surprise that gamers are really eager to see what Xbox looks like and to find out what it will do. And what theyll find when Xbox hits the streets next fall is that it is the most immersive, exciting, and entertaining gaming experience theyve ever gotten their hands on. Xbox will offer the highest quality games available. For developers, it will provide the ability to create better games more quickly than ever before. At CES, Bill is going to unveil the Xbox console and controller for the very first time. Hes also going to demo two games that are currently being developed for Xbox.
PressPass: What will Bill Gates have to say about Ultimate TV, and what will it mean for the way we watch television?
Belluzzo: UltimateTV gets its official debut at CES during Bills keynote speech. It is the first consumer television service in the United States built on the Microsoft TV platform. As a result, UltimateTV is going to offer viewers an incredible array of new features that promise to make television viewing much more personal and convenient, while also providing more choices of what you watch and when you watch it.
It is the first system to offer a dual tuner, which lets you watch one program and record another, or even record two programs at the same time. With UltimateTV, youll be able to store up to 35 hours of satellite programming, access the Internet and take advantage of the coming wave of interactive television shows. Youll also be able to pause and resume a live broadcast. In other words, if you are watching a game and want to run to the kitchen to get more snacks, you just hit the pause button to freeze the action and then hit play when you get back.
So what does this all mean? It means that for the first time, people will have total control over what they watch and when they watch it. Up until now, weve been at the mercy of the television schedule. With UltimateTV, you finally are able to watch the programs you want to watch when it is most convenient for you.
PressPass: Whats new in the area of digital music?
Belluzzo: Digital music has seen widespread acceptance by consumers. I think the reason is that the benefits are so apparent and the devices are available and easy to use. Now, with the latest version of Windows Media Player technology, youll see even more of those benefits. Youll be able to pick your favorite songs from your CDs or download music from the Internet, and then take that list of songs and transfer it to different devices such as a Pocket PC or a personal player. And now its all incredibly portable, and the sound just keeps getting better and better.
PressPass: Will Microsoft be highlighting other products or services at CES?
Belluzzo: Absolutely. We plan to showcase a wide range of products based on Windows CE. One example is Car.NET, a wireless computing and entertainment platform that includes computer navigation, Internet and safety applications, plus backseat DVD and video games for passengers. Theres also the Wireless Pocket PC, which will offer the fastest wireless mobile access to the Web through Internet Explorer. And well show off Web pads, which are about the size of a paperback book; and the Internet Radio, which delivers streaming audio, Web radio stations and MP3 files on a single device.
Well also be strongly focused on demonstrating a wide range of scenarios that show consumers just how easy it is to create a network of devices and services that help them get the most out of the technologies they are already using today. For example, well show how you can make phone calls over the Internet for less than it costs to add a second phone line, and how you can easily share photographs with family members using digital photo frames.
PressPass: It sounds like there is a lot of new consumer technology on the way. How can you make sure consumers dont just get snowed under by more and more gadgets that they never quite master?
Belluzzo : I think that is a major challenge for consumers today. There are so many devices, and figuring out how they work together can be very difficult. But thats really going to change this year. Technology for the home is becoming much more integrated and much easier to use. Thats why we built a whole house at CES: to show real people using real devices doing real day-to-day tasks. Were moving from talking about how technology makes peoples lives better to actually showing it. And what youll see is that daily tasks -- from homework, to keeping track of your children, to managing home finances -- become a lot easier.
At the same time, communication is greatly simplified, making it much easier to do everything from sharing pictures with relatives, to finding a great restaurant, to keeping in touch with friends. Finally, youll have better access to quality entertainment, whether its movies, television, games or music. So, for maybe the first time, people will really begin to understand just how important this technology is going to be in their day-to-day lives, and theyll also realize how easy it will be for them to integrate it into their routine. Thats going to be very exciting for everybody.