An often irreverent look at some of the week's 2004 International CES  news...

Exclusive: Windows XP SP2 Will Include Concurrent Sessions
   Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) will include a long-awaited concurrency feature that will let multiple users connect simultaneously to the same PC. The feature is mysteriously absent in the current SP2 beta release, and how Microsoft will implement the feature and how many concurrent interactive users it will support is unclear, but a Microsoft representative confirmed to me this week that the concurrent sessions feature, called "multisessions" internally, is happening. The next XP Media Center Edition (MCE) version, due this fall, will use the feature to enable as many as five Media Center sessions to remote Windows Media Center Extender devices.

Hell Freezes Over as HP Announces iPod Pact with Apple
   HP stunned onlookers this week when it announced that it will license the iPod from Apple Computer and bundle Apple's iTunes application with select consumer-oriented PCs. Sometime this summer, HP will ship an HP-branded iPod portable music player that will feature a unique blue color, the company told me. Given HP's strong relationship with Microsoft, the Apple deal comes as a surprise. But HP's PC competitors, including companies such as Dell and Gateway, have launched their own digital-music strategies and partnered with other companies to get into the market quickly. Clearly, HP felt that the Apple deal would give it a unique competitive position.

Exclusive: HP Working to Get WMA on iPod
   HP's blockbuster deal with Apple will have one exciting side effect, I discovered today. The company will be working with Apple to add support for Microsoft's superior Windows Media Audio (WMA) format to the iPod by mid-year. You heard it here first.

Proposed Longhorn Name: Windows SC
   I was sitting through yet another Microsoft "seamless computing" presentation at CES with Keith Furman, a Windows & .NET Magazine news editor, when Keith said, "That's what they should call Longhorn--Windows SC, for seamless computing." You know, his suggestion almost makes sense.

Microsoft: Your Digital Content, in Any Room in the House, at Any Time
   Microsoft's plan to have Windows Media Center Extender devices remotely use XP Media Center content (i.e., digital music, photos, movies, and recorded TV) is a good strategy that will nicely obviate the one huge complaint I have with Media Center PCs--they're too obtrusive in rooms such as the den. (After using a Media Center PC in my den for 2 years, I feel reasonably sure that the machine isn't a viable solution for most people. Nevertheless, I can't live without it.) Under the new scheme, which will become reality this fall (and require a new MCE update--don't worry, it's a software-only update), users will be able to put inexpensive, quiet, and reliable Windows Media Center Extender devices in the rooms that have nice TVs and stereo systems and leave those ugly, loud PCs back in the home office in which they belong.

"The Register" Has Some 'Splainin' to Do
   The UK online magazine "The Register" reported on the eve of CES that Microsoft planned to drop XP MCE, just as the company had quietly dropped its Smart Display technology a few weeks earlier. The report has just one problem: It isn't true. Perhaps more damning, XP MCE was the centerpiece of Microsoft's presence at CES and the company's consumer-oriented plans for the next year, and Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates devoted more than 50 percent of his keynote address to the topic.

Portable Media Center Devices Will Blow You Away
   This week at CES, I spent some time with three Portable Media Center devices (from Creative, iRiver, and Samsung) and ... wow. These devices are going to blow you away. Expect prices in the $400 to $600 range, 20GB to 40GB hard disks, and 3 hours of battery life when watching video (the battery life jumps to 12 hours when listening to audio). I'll post a big preview on the SuperSite for Windows soon, but rest assured, these devices are going to be the must-have gift for the 2004 holiday season. 

MSN Provides Free High-Quality Video Streaming Service
   Take that, CNN and RealNetworks. MSN.com is now offering high-quality 700Kbps and 300Kbps streaming video, with content from the Discovery Channel and TLC, NBC News, and a huge selection of other content providers. And it's free. The service isn't just free for MSN Dial-up, MSN Plus, or MSN Premium customers--it's free for everyone. That statement is pretty powerful in this era of subscription-only video offerings on other sites, but MSN Group Product Manager Lisa Gurry told me that Microsoft's Drizzle technology (which Automatic Updates also uses) and the luxury of having a popular site that draws so much advertising makes this offering a no-brainer. Check it out, and see for yourself. 

Microsoft: WMA Is Kicking Butt
   And speaking of streaming video, Microsoft announced at CES that its WMA format is now supported on more than 500 devices, including portable music players, DVD players, personal video recorders, and amplifiers. Furthermore, the company notes, the installed base of portable media players that support Microsoft's Digital Rights Management (DRM) platform now numbers more than 4 million--more than twice the number of iPods, which use a competing DRM scheme.

Smart Watches Ship
   As promised, Fossil shipped its new Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) watches during CES at two stores in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Keith and I picked up two of them to check out the new features. Our opinion is that the watches are cool, not as big as we had feared, and appear to work well. We'll have more information about the SPOT watches after we've had a chance to really see how they work, but our initial reaction is overwhelmingly positive, with one notable exception: How could Fossil ship these watches without the much-needed (and much-touted) vibration-alert feature?

WMV HD Goes Hollywood with 16 New DVDs
   After a successful trial with the Extreme Edition DVD of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" last year, various Hollywood moviemakers are releasing 16 new DVDs in the coming days that will contain special second disks with 1080p Windows Media High Definition Video (WMV HD) versions of the films, offering users an unparalleled video experience. The WMV HD versions of the films, which will ship from companies such as Artisan, IMAX, and National Geographic, will feature 5.1-channel surround sound and require a 2.4GHz (or faster) XP-based PC running Windows Media Player (WMP) 9 Series. The first film, the gorgeous "Coral Reef Adventure," is available now. For more information about WMV HD, check out the Microsoft Web site.

Jobs's Disappointing Macworld Keynote Address Makes Even Gates Look Good
   Lost amid all the hubbub of CES was the start of Macworld Conference & Expo, which opened Tuesday with an unexciting Steve Jobs keynote. Jobs usually kills at these events, delivering a slew of exciting products to a friendly crowd eager to lap up whatever he has to offer. But even the most crazed Apple fan has to admit that this Macworld conference was the lamest since Jobs returned to the company, with few exciting new products. The new iPod minis are cute but predictable--and vastly overpriced. Garage Band, a music-mixing application, targets the smallest possible market. The new iLife application, although interesting, isn't shipping yet and won't be free. Apple didn't present any faster Power Mac G5s, cheaper PowerBooks or iPods, or Apple-branded office-productivity tools, as many rumor sites had hoped. All in all, Macworld was a rather boring affair.

Predictable Open-Source Advocates Decry Microsoft Anti-Linux Ads
   Microsoft's recent ad campaign that pits Linux against Windows has engendered an unintentionally hilarious but predictable reaction from the open-source community, with various Linux advocates crying foul over what they call Microsoft's misleading analysis. The biggest problem seems to be that Microsoft commissioned some of the reports the ads cite, but the company has been upfront about that situation and claims that such funding is a common industry practice. Watching the open-source guys fall all over each other trying to be the first to disprove the Microsoft claims about Linux is what I find really funny. We get it, guys; you don't like Microsoft.

Microsoft Caves, Lets Israel Buy Partial Office Suites
   Israel's decision to stop buying Microsoft software has had the desired effect, with Microsoft caving to the country's demands and letting Israel's Finance Ministry license only the Microsoft Office suite components it needs. Israel had previously announced that it wouldn't purchase any more Microsoft software because the company wouldn't let it license only the software it needed, a provision the country found untenable. As a result, Israel said that it would back the development of open-source alternatives to Office and other Microsoft products.