Gates' New Vista: Heavy on HD, Devices

"We're all going to have a lot of fun and a lot of productivity using these systems," Gates told the crowd, in his pre-show keynote before the conference officially begins.

Along with several other Microsoft executives who performed demonstrations, Gates spelled out a strategic vision that includes high-definition viewing, mobility, home lifestyle management and gaming -- all centered around Vista, Windows Media Center Edition, Windows Live and its various digital-media technologies.

Gates touted the potential for the forthcoming, now-in-beta Windows Live offerings, working to drive home a message that Microsoft's technology can be the glue that connects personal, real time data from home to mobile devices to the office.

"It's a very simple thing to have all these devices working together," Gates said. "We've taken software, and put it at the center."

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Key to Vista will be a 3D-enabled transparent Windows Taskbar and graphical interface that Microsoft believes is easier to manage and less intrusive than current versions of Windows.

That interface also includes a Windows "Sidebar," which provides news, information and data in a translucent side panel and can updated dynamically via RSS; enhanced drag-and-drop management of files and controls; and a Windows "Sideshow" that can provide graphical and video-based thumbnail previews of applications and content without having to click.

"We need to work across the different devices," Gates said. "The cross-device approach is a very important approach." Much of that, he said, will be driven by Microsoft Live.

Gates' speech was also high on partnership and third-party hardware announcements, including:

* The creation of a new music service, Urge, with MTV Networks that provides online downloads, streaming music and management in a format similar to rival Real Networks Real Rhapsody service

* The shipment of new Palm Treos based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5.0, which provides EV-DO connectivity through Verizon

* A series of new partnerships and ISV support for its Xbox 360 platform, including the enlistment of Celestica as a new contract manufacturer for the devices in an effort to keep up with orders, and availability later this year of an HD-DVD drive for the gaming system.

The Microsoft co-founder drew cheers during one demonstration, when showing off a forthcoming boxing game for the XBox, Gates was pitted against Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in an Ali-vs.-Frasier fight simulation. The 3D rendering of the fight drew raves, as did Gates' knockout of Ballmer in the video version.