Ballmer shows off Windows 7 slate PCs

Microsoft's dual-screen e-reader fails to make rumoured appearance at keynote

Microsoft's Courier tablet computer failed to make a rumoured appearance at CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last night.

Instead, Ballmer showed off three tablet computers running the touch-enabled Windows 7. The tablets were built by Asus spinoff Pegatron, media player maker Archos and Hewlett-Packard.

"These are almost as portable as a phone, but running Windows 7," he said.

HP said its slate computer will ship this year, part of a growing group of its new touch-enabled computers. No pricing or specs were disclosed, and the company did not announce specific availability dates.

HP also agreed to install Bing as the default search engine, and MSN the default home page, on HP computers in 42 countries.

Bing has added 11 million new users since its launch last June, he said.

Ballmer talked up Windows 7, and contended that it's been a boon to the PC market. Retailers sold 63 percent more PCs this Black Friday compared to 2008. Windows PC sales in North America were 50 percent higher year-over-year, according to NPD Group.

Ballmer credited at least part of the improved sales totals to the 800,000 new apps and 240,000 new peripherals created for Windows 7.

Ballmer hinted that Microsoft would preview the Windows Mobile 7 operating system at the Mobile World Congress in February. An actual launch next month, based on a report last month, seems unlikely. Ballmer was coy about Courier, a dual-screen concept unveiled by Microsoft last September. Unlike Apple's tablet computer, which is expected to be an Amazon Kindle-like e-reader pumped up with multimedia capabilities, the dual-screened Courier was seen as more of an electronic day planner. Microsoft Entertainment and Devices president Robbie Bach said that Project Natal, a wireless gesture-based gaming controller for the XBox, will be available this year.

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