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Ballmer talks 'post-PC' Microsoft with Windows 7 beta

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Steve Ballmer has stressed the relevance of both Windows and the PC in an increasingly fragmented world of computing devices and web access, while introducing the next version of Windows.

Opening the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, Microsoft's chief executive announced the Windows 7 beta's availability in conjunction with search and Web 2.0 partnerships on PCs and mobile phones with Dell and Verizon.

Missing, though, was the highly anticipated Zune-powered Microsoft phone that many had convinced themselves was coming at CES. Instead, Ballmer talked up uptake of Windows Mobile, with more than 20 million Windows phones sold during the last year.

Ballmer called Windows the "lynch pin" for a "seamless experience" across the PC (where Microsoft made its name) and non-traditional platforms where it's struggling (mobile phones and TV).

"Windows will remain at the center of people's technological solar system," Ballmer predicted, adding Windows is going beyond the CES the audience's likely notion of what Windows has been.

"When I say 'Windows' I'm sure you think about a PC, even though we are extending to the phone and the cloud."

Underlying his optimism, though, was an acceptance that Microsoft has to move with the times, as its founding goal of a PC in every desktop and every home is now horribly dated.

Sounding at times more like Sun Microsystems' chief executive, Ballmer told CES PCs are being outsold by mobile phones. That meant the need to focus on new computing devices while also improving the experience for users on the medium of desktops and laptops.

Turning the landmark stat on its head that there have been one billion PCs sold worldwide, Ballmer said this meant there ae more than five billion people who do not own a PC - meaning market opportunity.

"We have a lot of work to do to make computing more affordable and accessible," Ballmer said. "Netbooks and One Laptop Per Child will continue to democratize computing for the next one billion people."

Ballmer didn't mention the facts that Linux has been making inroads on netbooks, while Microsoft has tried to undercut One Laptop Per Child - also running Linux - with low-priced versions of Windows XP in developing economies.

With this in mind, Ballmer described Windows 7 as - all together now - the "best version of Windows ever." "We are putting in all the right ingredients - simplicity, reliability, and speed and working hard to get it right and get it ready."

Among the features, already discussed and reviewed, faster tasks and start-up times, improved battery life, and fewer alerts compared to Windows Vista. Also, there's the option for touch-based input. The Windows 7 beta is available now to TechNet and MSDN members and will be generally available to all comers on Friday.

Attempting to live the "Microsoft is more than just Windows on PCs message," Ballmer announced search deals with Verizon (the largest mobile phone company in the US) and Dell. Windows Live Search will be shipped on all Verizon phones in the US.

You can hold the crowing Microsoft: Windows Live Search still lags Google in accuracy and completeness of results, meaning this a deal driven by cold-hard business realities.

It's believed Microsoft will share revenue with Verizon from ads shown in response to cell phone web searches. Verizon is getting a guaranteed payment of $550 million to $650 million over five years, an amount thought to be twice what Google had offered Verizon before it went with Microsoft.

Dell, meanwhile, is going back to the 1990s by pre-installing crapware on its machines courtesy of a deal that'll see Windows Live Essentials and Live Search bundled with all Dell consumer and small-business PCs. Windows Live Essentials consists of Microsoft's Messenger, Mail, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Writer, Toolbar, and Family Safety controls.

And in a further effort to prove Microsoft is combining Windows with online services, Ballmer announced some of Microsoft's me-too Web 2.0 services are now no longer in beta - namely Windows Live Essentials. Also, Windows Live users can connect to Facebook and have their Facebook profiles update in Windows Live. ®

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