Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer announced Wednesday night that the long-awaited public beta test of Windows 7 has begun although consumers will not be able to download it until Friday.
Beyond that, though, Ballmer's first ever keynote speech at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) promised to be light on surprises after all, his two biggest announcements leaked out before he ever got near a microphone.
No one was surprised that Microsoft announced the beginning of public beta testing for Windows 7, or that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has just won a tough competition to be the default search engine service on Verizon Wireless phones. Both leaked out before the vociferous Ballmer had a chance to utter a word onstage.
Some observers had also expected Ballmer to announce the ship date for Windows 7, which would have certainly added more excitement to the keynote, but that didn't happen.
Throughout his speech, Ballmer focused on the convergence of "the three screens" that is PCs, phones, and the TV -- as well as the cloud. "They're evolving into a seamless ecosystem," Ballmer said, adding that computers will soon, "in the next couple of years, be able to hear you and see you.
"[Over time] Screens and displays will literally be everywhere and PCs, phones, TVs, and other devices will become a single experience," he added.
The public beta is available immediately for customers of Microsoft's MSDN, TechBeta, and TechNet services. Friday, that will be opened up to consumers "globally," he said.
While he did not give a delivery date for Windows 7, however, the beginning of the public beta is a good sign that it will be released to manufacturing, or RTMed, in early June, as first reported by InternetNews.com last September.
Despite leaking to the press in advance of Ballmer's first ever keynote at CES 2009, however, both the Windows 7 and Verizon Wireless announcements are important strategic milestones for Microsoft.
In fact, both could be viewed as key moves in Microsoft's business strategy to keep the company vital as well as profitable.