CES: Ballmer Raises Curtain On Windows 7 Beta

Ballmer delivered the opening keynote at CES in Las Vegas for the first time this year, taking a spot that had been held by Microsoft founder Bill Gates for the past 11 CES shows.

Although the announcement was widely expected, Ballmer appeared more animated than usual in announcing the news. Ballmer said Microsoft's focus with Windows 7 has been to get back to what he called the "special sauce" of Windows that resulted from the "whole industry of innovation" that Microsoft and its partners created around the operating system.

So far, those efforts have borne fruit, according to Ballmer. "We're really excited about the progress we've made with Windows 7, and we're on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever," Ballmer told the packed keynote hall. "We're working hard to get it right, and to get it ready."

Windows 7 will boot more quickly, boast better battery life, and be more reliable than previous versions of Windows, Ballmer said. Although he didn't mention Windows Vista, Ballmer was clearly referring to some of the biggest pain points that Vista users have encountered.

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Ballmer also announced major partnerships with Facebook, Dell and Verizon Wireless, deals that will help Microsoft further its cloud ambitions.

The Facebook-Microsoft deal will let Facebook users feed the digital content they post on Facebook into feeds on Windows Live, while the Dell agreement will see the PC maker pre-install Windows Live Essentials on its consumer and small business PCs beginning in February.

Verizon Wireless has agreed to include Live Search on all of its phones in the U.S., giving Microsoft a foothold in mobile search with the nation's largest carrier.

Ballmer also announced updates to the Windows Live Essentials suite of client applications, which includes Windows Live Mail, Live Messenger, Live Writer, and Live Photo Gallery. Windows Live Movie Maker remains in beta.

As Microsoft continues to develop Windows into a connected platform that spans many different types of devices, the cloud will provide the crucial link between them, Ballmer said.

"Windows is at the center of the technological 'solar system', and we're tying all that information together through the cloud," Ballmer said. "In many ways, connecting all this together is the 'Last Mile' for creating real breakthroughs for customers."

Microsoft also announced that Windows Server 2008 R2 beta is available for download.