Next week, Bill Gates is set to give his final CES keynote. Although Bill's keynotes are generally considered to be nowhere near as entertaining as Steve's (Jobs) - notably due to how awkward a person Bill is - he usually has some pretty significant things to discuss at these things.
Furthermore, rumours have been flying around the Internets relating to games that the keynote will carry at least one major announcement relating to Xbox. Bill wants to go out with a bang and apparently that bang is going to come courtesy of the good half of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division.
If it's still called that. I haven't checked recently.
Anyway, the smart money seems to be on the Xbox 360 Ultimate. The Ultimate will offer a built-in HD-DVD drive, WiFi, a 320GB Hard Drive and Microsoft's much touted Mediaroom software for IPTV functionality. It'll offer users a dominating home media solution for a huge cost, but one which will probably compete well with Sony's comparably tepid 80GB PS3 (Which does have one slight advantage: Blu-Ray pwns HD-DVD, but more on that once my 2 still-due packages arrive).
Now that's quite impressive. Bill could retire on that. But I said he wanted to go out with a bang.
So hold on tight, here's my purely speculative idea for the real big news.
Xbox Live Silver is dead. Long live Gold.
And by that I mean that I expect Bill to announce some way of playing online free. It might be that Gold gets cheaper and moves to dedicated servers with Silver using the old user-hosted system.
Or Gold will stay the same price and offer a subsidy against IPTV services, or even bundle IPTV into the cost.
At the very least, I think Bill will say Xbox 360 Ultimate owners get free Gold. That would allow them to charge a slightly higher premium over the PS3/80GB and drive even existing 360 customers to the top model. Which would itself drive sales of Microsoft's inferior - and lousy - HD-DVD standard, rather than Sony's Blu-Ray.
And now for some less exciting predictions. Bill likes Windows, but we already decided this will be a fairly gaming-oriented keynote. So I suspect Games for Windows Live is about to go to Version 2. Obviously, it would fall under the same pricing changes listed above. But I also think Windows itself will now access live.
Windows Live will probably get an update with a Games for Windows Live Manager/Guide. This would function as a combined version of the Xbox 360 Dashboard and Xbox Guide and would likely function by putting your GamerCard in the Sidebar (As well as an obligatory Notification Area icon), the clicking of which would bring up the Guide window.
Also, I expect the Xbox 360, Windows Gallery and Zune Marketplaces are to be merged. I doubt that means you'll be able to do much more than cue downloads, but you might get to buy music on your 360.
But hey, maybe you'll finally be able to buy that Games for Windows Live version of Uno they promised.
By you, I mean me.
I want my Uno.