Microsoft and Ford Combine Products
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By JOHN MARKOFF
Published: January 8, 2007
LAS VEGAS, Jan. 7 — Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, is using the Consumer Electronics Show here to highlight several new consumer-oriented products and to unveil a partnership with the Ford Motor Company to build Microsoft technology into several Ford models.
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The show, the largest trade event in North America, has become an annual forum for Mr. Gates to mix product announcements with computer-filled visions of future Microsoft-based technologies.
In remarks prepared for delivery on Sunday night, the eve of the show, he sought to differentiate Microsoft from other companies by showing how its software products tie together a range of consumer activities including games, interactive television, communications and music. A Microsoft executive briefed reporters on the presentation on Friday.
Among the announcements was the introduction of a hardware upgrade to the Xbox 360 video-game system that will permit the system to deliver the Microsoft interactive television service being offered by partners, including AT&T. The system will duplicate many capabilities of the Media Center version of the Windows operating system, like the ability to record and play back digital video.
Microsoft and Ford are to offer a system called Sync, a voice-activated method for connecting cellphones and media players — like Microsoft’s Zune — to a vehicle. Similar systems are widely available in Japanese and German automobiles. Sync, the first major commercial introduction of the Microsoft Auto software, offers hands-free phone dialing and can read incoming text messages through the car’s audio system.
Microsoft is also introducing a consumer software product called Windows Home Server that will be marketed with several partners, including Hewlett-Packard. It will be an appliancelike device that will connect to a home network and perform functions like network-based backup and media and file-sharing as well as functioning as a Web server. The price will be between $400 and $500, according to Microsoft executives. The product will be based on Windows Server 2003, and not the company’s newer Windows Vista operating system.
On the program with Mr. Gates was Robbie Bach, the executive in charge of the company’s consumer products, to demonstrate game play involving a PC user running Windows Vista competing against a home user playing the game on an Xbox 360. There is no public timetable for such a capability, a company executive said, adding that the feature would not be available for all of the Xbox 360 games.
Another scheduled demonstration involved the current version of the Home of the Future, an installation at Microsoft headquarters with prototypes of home-oriented technologies. Applications chosen for the spotlight were radio-frequency ID tags and displays for the walls of children’s bedrooms using organic light-emitting diodes.