Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer plans to announce the official start of public beta testing for Windows 7 at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Wednesday evening.
Beyond that however, sources say, many of the company's other plans for the show are not likely to excite the audience. Instead, they warn technology-hungry consumers that Windows 7 is the most significant announcement they can expect from Microsoft at the show this year.
On the list of other expected announcements is a version of Adobe Flash to run on Windows Mobile due out in the next few months, sources told InternetNews.com. Additionally, Microsoft is expected to peg the release of two new Halo games for Xbox 360 by the end of the year. Also on the list are announcements from the company's MSN Direct business, which provides information to what the company calls "Smart Personal Objects Technology" or SPOT devices.
Unless he brings out a surprise, however – for instance, a significant new partner has been rumored -- Ballmer is not expected to make any earth shaking announcements.
Indeed, one major component of Microsoft's usual CES stage presence will be missing this year. Chairman Bill Gates, who has traditionally given this pre-show keynote for more than a decade, is not scheduled to speak. He retired from full time work at Microsoft last summer.
At last year's CES, Gates shared the stage with Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division, who presented many of the demos. Likewise, Ballmer will also share the spotlight with Bach this year.
Last year, Gates flogged enduring themes of his vision of a totally connected world, including connected individuals. Ballmer is likely to follow Gates's model. While Ballmer is an exceptionally enthusiastic speaker, he doesn't hold the technological visionary status that Gates did.
In terms of other announcements, officials are expected to highlight how successful its Sync voice-activated mobile phone and digital music system has been in Ford vehicles over the past year.
Other keynote speakers this year include Sir Howard Stringer, CEO and chairman of Sony, as well as Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company.
Windows 7 to dominate
This year's rumor mill has it that Ballmer and Bach will not be announcing a so-called Zune phone competitor to Apple's iPhone and Google's G1. At the very least, Ballmer is expected to at least tout an upcoming release of Windows Mobile.
However, CES 2009 will mostly be about Microsoft's early debut of Windows 7 for consumers.
"While people in the tech industry are already familiar with Windows 7, it hasn't really gotten an airing to the general public yet," said one source who asked not to be identified.
That could change, of course, if Microsoft or its cadre of pre-beta testers has found any showstopper bugs that cause the postponement of the beta at the last minute. No matter what, say sources aware of Microsoft's CES plans, attendees will see a lot of Windows 7 in Microsoft's booth at the show.
A version of Windows 7 that enthusiasts cite as the planned beta 1 release – build number 7000 – leaked out to BitTorrent sites at the end of the year.
In fact, Malaysian enthusiast site TechArp.com, which claims some accuracy in ferreting out when important Microsoft products will ship, says that PC makers will get the next build of the system for their own testing on Thursday.
"Microsoft is releasing monthly updates to OEMs on their upcoming Windows 7 operating system …. The next update is scheduled to be released on January 8, 2008," a statement on the site says.
Microsoft is expected to ship the final version of Windows 7 in late spring or early summer. TechArp's report appears to reinforce many observers' belief that Windows 7, unlike its predecessor, Windows Vista, is on schedule.
Additionally, a raft of recent reviews of both the pre-beta code handed out to developers at two Microsoft developer conferences last fall as well as of downloads from BitTorrent sites have mostly agreed that Windows 7, which is based on the most recent Vista code, is already very stable and reliable – as well as faster than Vista.
A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment for this article.