By Laurie Sullivan


Microsoft chairman Bill Gates on Sunday evening hit the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas determined to convince us Microsoft can connect digital content on devices, from mobile devices to the living room and into cars.


The new products center on family entertainment. Mr. Gates detailed several new products and services such as Windows Vista, Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) enabled by the Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows Home Server, and a new partnership with Ford Motor.


Microsoft’s IPTV announcement pits the Redmond, Wash., company against Apple Computer, which industry observers expect to provide details of its iTV set-top box at MacWorld in San Francisco on Tuesday. 


“Delivering on connected experiences, where people are doing new creative things, that is the key missing element, and it is something we all have to do to deliver on the promise,” Mr. Gates said.


Many of the products Microsoft has been working on for years will move into the market this year.


The debut of Windows Home Server, available during the second half of 2007, will act as a central storage place in the home for digital photos, music, movies and other media. The first products are due out later this year from Hewlett-Packard and others.


Mr. Gates said the server software would have automated backup, connectivity to a variety of devices and remote connectivity and expandable storage.


Reminding attendees that Microsoft's long-awaited Windows Vista reaches consumers later this month, Mr. Gates highlighted Vista's ability to handle various forms of digital media on a round hat box-shaped living room computer from Sony.


Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices group, said Microsoft’s Xbox Live gaming service now supports one million players. Microsoft has sold more than 10.4 million Xbox 360s since its launch in November 2005, and 160 high-definition games.


And by the end of this year, the Xbox 360 gaming console would act as a set-top box for interactive IPTV. “This is the next generation of channel surfing,” he said.


Mr. Gates also highlighted deals that will bring video and online services from cable TV channels Fox Sports, Nicklodeon, and Starz to its 6-year-old Windows Media Center. The software will work with Vista, which is scheduled for release to consumers this month.


During the keynote, Mr. Gates also mentioned Microsoft’s exclusive agreement with Ford Motor to power a voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital music players.


The announcement, made earlier on Sunday, gives consumers the option to make hands-free calling on their mobile phone or search their digital music player by genre, album, artist or song title via voice commands. The system will also convert text messages to audio and read it out loud. 


Ford will make the feature available this year in 12 car models. The application, known as Ford Sync, can support nearly any digital media player, including Apple’s iPod and Microsoft’s Zune.