Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave his maiden Consumer Electronic Show keynote yesterday and if it was just as soporific as Bill Gates’ past performances, it mercifully skipped the goofy "future tech" skits that Microsoft’s PR folks used to put Gates through. In a nutshell, the message was "Windows 7, Windows 7, Windows 7" plus the obligatory appearance by Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices chief Robbie Bach to once again whistle past the graveyard and say that everything on his patch was swell.
“I’m thrilled to announce the availability of the Windows 7 beta, which is on track to deliver simplicity and reliability,” Ballmer said. “Windows 7 and Windows Live are part of an incredible pipeline of consumer technology that is making it easier than ever for people to communicate, share and get more done.”
The beta version of Windows 7, Microsoft’s next-generation PC operating system, can be downloaded today by MSDN, TechBeta and TechNet customers. Consumers who want to test-drive the beta will be able to download it beginning Jan. 9 at http://www.microsoft.com/windows7.
Microsoft also announced the global availability of Windows Live, a free suite of communications and sharing applications.
Actually that’s not all the ten thousand different Windows Live applications, but just Windows Live Essentials, the bundle of Windows applications you will have to download to give Windows 7 the same functionality as Windows XP. In which respect there was good news for Dell customers:
In February, to offer a comprehensive experience for consumers to connect, share and personalize their content, Dell will offer preloaded Windows Live Essentials (a free suite of applications for instant messaging, e-mail and photos that complement Windows Live on the Web) and Live Search on a majority of its new consumer and small-business PCs globally.
No word on how much money changed hands, but bear in mind that Dell is paying to put Windows on their PCs so with this deal they are merely getting a discount for also preloading Live Essentials and Live Search. I am sure Microsoft’s lawyers are making sure it is a separate accounting entry however.
Also announced was the Verizon mobile search deal leaked yesterday:
Under a new five-year relationship that covers mobile search and advertising, Verizon subscribers in the U.S. will be able to use Live Search to search for local business and shopping information; access maps and directions; perform general Internet searches; and find ring tones, games, wallpaper and other online mobile products and services.
More succinctly, Microsoft’s Live Search will become the preferred Web search on Verizon mobiles.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft is getting out its wallet to beat Google and become the default search provider for Verizon cell phone subscribers:
Under the terms now being considered, Microsoft would share revenue with Verizon from ads shown in response to cellphone Web searches, with guaranteed payments to the carrier of approximately $550 million to $650 million over five years, or roughly twice what Google offered, these people said.
Separately, Microsoft is negotiating a deal to put its Windows Mobile software in more Verizon devices. The combined value of the two deals could top $1 billion, these people said, though it isn’t clear if Microsoft is offering to pay Verizon to use Windows Mobile, or would allow Verizon to use the software for free.
Verizon is tilting toward Microsoft because the software giant is offering significantly better financial incentives, but the telecom company is still in discussions with Google and the situation is fluid with both companies, these people said.
Everyone enjoys a good eyeball auction since we can all discuss whether the winner overpaid, but paying Verizon to use Windows Mobile? Maybe Microsoft plans to make it up on volume?
Steve Musil observes that, "While mobile search is still a nascent market, Google controls the lion’s share with 61 percent, followed distantly by Yahoo with 18 percent and Microsoft with 5 percent, according to Nielsen figures." so I suppose that if the deal is done as described, it can be put on the Microsoft balance sheet as another of Steve Ballmer’s "big bets." However, a billion here and a billion there sooner or later adds up to real money even for Microsoft, especially when a payday does not seem imminent.
Today, Verizon Wireless opened up its cell phone network with the announcement of an “Any Apps, Any Device” initiative and Microsoft voiced its support via Senior Vice President of the Mobile Communications Business Pieter Knook:
“Microsoft is very excited to see Verizon Wireless make such a bold move to satisfy the demands of wireless consumers. As people’s mobile needs become more sophisticated and varied, they will require smarter and more adaptable mobile devices. We are proud to support any open access that puts more power in people’s hands to connect them to the information they want when and where they want it.”
Most everyone supports motherhood and apple pie, but the devil is in the details and specifically what Verizon is proposing is:
In December 2005 when MTV and Microsoft announced the URGE music service with great fanfare, it was slated to be a major feature of Windows Media Player 11. Before it got launched however, Microsoft introduced the Zune and the Zune Marketplace and somehow the MTV marketing blitz never materialized. Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that MTV is switching horses and merging URGE into a joint venture with RealNetworks (who has its own incompatible Rhapsody service) and with Verizon Wireless handling the mobile distribution.