Strange New World: Tech Picks of the Week

This was a pretty huge week in terms of new technology announcements. Microsoft led the way with an early peek at its new OS. Are they finally taking those Mac/PC commercials to heart and fixing Vista? They also finally got around to updating their Xbox OS. And the Beatles are finally coming to Rock Band. Here are our picks of the week.

Windows 7 Is Here -- Sort Of

This week at the Professional Developers Conference in San Francisco, Microsoft released a pre-beta version of its next operating system, Windows 7, to a select group of developers. The full version is at least a year away. We got a chance to play with it a little bit and are going to withhold judgment until we see the next version. The OS will have a much smaller footprint than previous versions, so it will be easier to run for less-robust machines. They will do this by stripping out the utilities, including photo and video editing and mail, found in Vista. Instead, those capabilities will be supplied by Microsoft's Windows Live services. Windows 7 PCs will also finally play non-DRM (digital-rights management) AAC support for songs ripped from iTunes. The new OS has some special controls that make owning a tablet PC actually useful. We were able to take handwritten notes with a stylus that were quickly and seamlessly translated into type. Microsoft's new OS is designed to simplify home networking and auto-discover other Windows 7 systems, so it'll know when to use the office printer and when to send things to the home printer. Funny enough, there is already a new security patch out for it!

The New Xbox Experience

Microsoft has announced it will finally update its interface for the Xbox 360 console. This is long overdue, because we are all really tired of the text-driven GUI on the console. On Nov.19, Xbox Live subscribers will be able to download the new OS for free and quickly make their way through this intuitive new setup. The new interface lets you create an avatar, like a "Mii" on the Nintendo Wii, but much more detailed. You can use this avatar to meet up with friends on several new Xbox Live community sites. The OS looks to make the console less of a gaming box and more of an entertainment hub. In fact, if you have a Netflix account you will be able to queue up movies directly to your Xbox and watch them on the television. Netflix will also soon allow NXE uses to stream HD movies to their Xbox as well.

The Beatles and Rock Band

The Beatles have come to an agreement with MTV Networks and Harmonix and they will license their whole catalog to the creators of the popular Rock Band video game series. The announcement was short on specifics, but this is a big coup in Rock Band's ongoing battle against fellow music game pioneer Guitar Hero. Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks Music/Logo group, said it will be an interactive music-making game. "I would say that there will be interactive performance of Beatles music, as well as a number of new dimensions that you haven't seen from us so far," Toffler said.

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