An often irreverent look at some of the week's other CES 2009 news, including covering the Vegas spectacle from the comfort of my own home, Windows 7 public beta, a weird Microsoft song application, Palm Pre, pending Microsoft mobile moves, and much more...

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If there's anything I love more than going to Las Vegas, it's not going to Las Vegas. For the third year in a row, I skipped out on CES, opting to cover the show from home instead. And it's always worked out, though I have to say, if the show keeps getting smaller--i.e. more manageable--I'd consider going again. After all, there's no Cirque du Soleil in my hometown.

Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast Thursday night with special guest Mary Jo Foley. The discussion centered around CES, of course, and I expect the episode to become available over the weekend as usual.
http://www.winsupersite.com/article/Paul/windows-weekly-podcast.aspx

But wait, there more. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Friendfeed and the SuperSite Blog.

Short Takes

Here comes the Windows 7 public Beta
Today, on Friday, January 9, 2009, Microsoft will make the Windows 7 Beta available to the general public as a free ISO download from its Web site. As I write this, it's early in the morning, but the download could become available as early as 9:00 am EST, and since Microsoft is making only 2.5 million copies available, my advice is to download it as early as possible if you are interested. In an earlier briefing, the company told me that there would be four main portals for the download on their site, each based around a different kind of customer, but I think it's safe to say that the main Windows 7 site is the place to check. Get that downloading finger ready, people. Here it comes.
http://www.microsoft.com/windows7

Microsoft unveils new application at CES ... Songwriting software??!?
I often mock Apple for releasing niche products like GarageBand and iMovie because, a) they spend way too much time talking about them in conference keynotes, and, b) because, well, so few people actually use them. So allow me to turn my sarcastic industry lens for a moment back towards Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft has just announced a silly little niche application of its own: Songsmith, a Microsoft Research application that will create music as you sing into the PC. Yes, you read that right. And in case you think I'm either making this up or not describing the application accurately, go see the promo video for yourself. You'll either laugh or cry. Or both. It's unbelievable, and I double dare you to watch the whole thing.
http://tinyurl.com/ohmicrosoft

So much for the Switcher effect: 77 percent of Mac users still use Microsoft Office
You'd think that the less than 4 percent of computer users worldwide who have moved from Windows PCs to the Mac platform would be able to take that final step and divorce themselves entirely from Microsoft. But breaking up is, apparently, hard to do: According to Microsoft, fully 77 percent of Mac users run Microsoft Office on their Windows-less machines instead of competing offerings like Apple's lackluster iWork and the free OpenOffice.org. Man, that's gotta really burn Mac fanatics, but in the end it proves that most computer users--Mac or PC--are more pragmatic than religious. And bravo to that.

Bach: MP3 market is "declining"
Microsoft president Robbie Bach told the "Seattle Post-Intelligencer" this week that the market for MP3 players is "declining." That's bad news for Microsoft because, in case you hadn't heard, the company launched a multi-billion-dollar Zune initiative a few years back and now employees countless Zune-ites in an airplane hanger-sized bunker in its Redmond campus. But wait, there's good news to this shift, too. "I think you'll see some flattening and even declining in the stand-alone MP3 player market continue," he said. "As phones get more capable, as battery life gets better, people's desire to have their music with them along with their phone is certainly going to go up." Oh, so that's OK, then. Microsoft also makes a smart phone platform called Windows Mobile. Oh. Wait...

Microsoft: Windows Mobile will be on fewer phones
The thing is, another Microsoft executive, Todd Peters, told "The New York Times" that Microsoft is the midst of responding to changes in the smart phone market (read: Success of iPhone) by "retooling" and putting Windows Mobile on ... gulp ... fewer devices. Eh? How will that work in Microsoft's favor you ask? "I'd rather have fewer devices and be more focused," Peters said. That way, Microsoft will get "better integration" between the phones and Windows Mobile. Yes, I suppose that is true. Taken the extreme, Microsoft could get the best integration by making the phone themselves. And then they could add the Zune software to it in order to capitalize on that system's digital media prowess and UI navigational niceties. And here's a thought. You could call this thing Zune Mobile.

Bach: No Microsoft phone
That said, Mr. Bach also told the Seattle PI that the company has no plans to make a phone of its own. "Our Windows Mobile strategy is not about Microsoft making a phone, he said. "Diversity is going to be necessary in the marketplace." Which makes me wonder. Is Microsoft's Zune Mobile strategy to make a phone of its own? I hope so. Because the iPhone is eating your lunch, Microsoft. And if you wait until "2009 and 2010" to make the transition to a "more general purpose and consumer phone," as Bach said, the game will already be over.


Microsoft: Xbox 360 will be with us for years to come
Like that creepy guy who graduates from high school but keeps hanging around the school yard, the Xbox 360 will be with us for longer than expected. Microsoft says that's because fewer people want to upgrade their consoles. But let's be serious: Consoles are expensive to develop (well, unless you're Nintendo) and with Sony retrenching for a decade-long recouping of its own bloated PlayStation 3 investment, Microsoft clearly feels it's safe to do the same. So could the Xbox 360 actually end up being a wash financially, if it's kept on the market long enough? I doubt it, to be honest. But I'm more fascinated that, in just a few short years, we may finally get that quiet, cool, and reliable Xbox 360 we've always wanted. Too bad they didn't ship it back in 2005.

Ballmer: "No mas" on Yahoo!
One gets the feeling that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is tired of discussing Yahoo!, but it seems that every time he gets in front of a microphone, someone asks him about Microsoft's failed acquisition of the company. This week, it was Fox News. Will Microsoft try for Yahoo! again? I mean, their stock price has got to be hovering around 33 cents a share these days. "An acquisition is a thing of the past," Ballmer said, no doubt basking in the glow of Microsoft's Live Search recent market share gains. Oh, wait. Well, I'm sure he has his reasons.

Palm finally unveils next-generation smart phone. Is it too late?
And in a final bit of non-Microsoft news, let's cast our attention, briefly, to Palm, which this week unveiled its next-generation Pre (as in "premature") smart phone. The touch screen device runs Palm's next-generation WebOS (as in, "let's downplay the geeky Linux internals), and looks like a curious cross-section of the successful parts of every other smart phone on the market. Palm says it's time for a change and notes that the Mac OS at the heart of the iPhone is a decade old (it's actually at least double that), Windows Mobile is over a decade old, and RIM's Blackberry is several years old. "This is sort of a rebirth of our company," Palm senior VP Brodie Keast said. "It means a lot to us." And you know, it looks cool. I just wish they had gone with a name that isn't reminiscent of IKEA furniture.