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Mon 15 Jan 2007 04:00 AM

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Viva Gadgetville

Last week I risked life, limb, and the emptying of my wallet to gather a raft of juicy technological content for Windows Middle East magazine over at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. So aside from my examining more LCD TVs and digital photo frames in one week than is strictly healthy, what was exciting and relevant to users here in this region? The answer is plenty…

|~|R2D2---medium.gif|~|May the rather freaky, knee-high projector device be with you.|~|Let’s begin with the big boys, namely one Mr. Gates’ penultimate CES keynote speech (after which, he warned, he’ll only really be interested in spouting the benefits of antiviral drugs as he focuses more on his charity foundation work). There was enough content in this one talk alone to fill a magazine, most of it punctuated by frenzied whooping from the largely American audience (as, it seems, those Yanks are prone to do). Was what he announced worth the whoops though? Yes indeed, well at least some enthusiastic applause.

Arguably the biggest announcement was the unveiling of the Windows Home Server. Shown by Gates in the form of HP’s first MediaSmart Home Server offering, this machine runs a tweaked version of Server 2003 and is designed to pull all of a family’s digital content together onto one regularly backed up rig, which can then be accessed by any LAN connected or wireless PCs and even Xbox 360s.

Best of all, Home Server includes remote connectivity, meaning your Uncle or Aunt overseas can log in over the net to check out your latest downloaded tunes and flicks.

Windows Server is due to hit markets around the world during the second half of this year, with reference specs having been shunted out to all manner of hardware vendors already (meaning HP’s offering shouldn’t be the only one). Good stuff.

With Vista having now been launched for consumers (in fact, it should have hit some Middle East stores yesterday), Microsoft was obviously in full ‘Vista will save the world’ promotional mode. To help sell it further, Gates and his team also announced some juicy extras.

Windows Ultimate Extras for example are, as a typical American whooper might put it, ‘way cool’. These functionality-adding upgrades - similar to Mac widgets if you will – will start being made available from the end of this month, for free, for users of Microsoft’s butt-kicking high-end Vista version.

Gates showed off a couple of these: a full motion desktop app, 'Dreamscene', and an innovative photo editing tool that allows the best parts of two almost-identical images to be combined, called 'Group Shot'. Oh, he also showed a version of Texas Hold ‘em Poker, though whether that will be made available to Ultimate users in this region has yet to be decided.

There was good news for gamers of all types too. Xbox Live is being tweaked for use and access by Windows Vista users, meaning your kids (or you if you’re a big one) can log on from a PC to compete against Xbox-bashing friends over the world wild web. Microsoft will also unveil an IPTV Xbox version, however this won't hit Western markets until next Christmas and considerin the Xbox 360 still hasn't been officially launched in the Middle East, I wouldn't hold your breath for it to arrive and be officially supported here.

Less hardcore gamers meanwhile – in other words those well-acquainted with Solitaire – are to be given many more ‘Casual Games’ for use with Windows. Nice.

Enough Microsoft then and swiftly onto the rest. Korean product powerhouse LG defied all those industry analysts who suggested that a dual-format HD DVD and Blu-ray player would be too expensive to produce and sell by launching its own such device. This BH1000 or 'Super Multi Blue' is set to retail around the world (yes, including here) in coming weeks for approximately US $1200, which proves most of those analysts wrong (either that or LG is prepared to sell it at a loss, console-style).

Toshiba meanwhile claimed to be evolving the notebook PC with the unveiling of what I believe is actually a pretty innovative business machine - the Portege R400.

Not only does this sleek little player pack in a 3G module, meaning that you can slot in your 3G-subscribed SIM card and log onto the internet wherever you are, but it features Active Notifications too. As such, even if its lid is closed a small scrolling display will preview any e-mails and calendar events when they appear. Neat.

Last but not least, over in the silly corner of CES this editor’s fave finds were Body Care’s ‘Private iVideo’ glasses (effectively a virtual reality-esque viewer for – what else? – ‘watching 'private' content, even in public’), and a knee-high remote control R2-D2 Mobile Entertainment System by Nikko Home Electronics.

This dazzlingly geeky creation functions as a mobile projector and also includes an iPod docking station. Its remote control meanwhile takes, as you might imagine, the form of a small Millennium Falcon. Sad? Why of course (and then some), but you just know your mates would be impressed if that came trundling out from behind the sofa.

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