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Network World - As is often the case, the expectations of what will be the big story at the Consumer Electronics Show are different from what actually becomes the big story.
This year, the big story was supposed to be about ultrabooks, the super-light personal computers poised to take over the space previously filled by notebooks. But as the show progressed, several other big stories came to the fore, including positive buzz for Nokia's first Windows Phone, LG and Sony's attempts to reboot the Google TV interface, and hints of future PC-tablet hybrid computers. In no particular order, then, here are the biggest takeaways from CES 2012.
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* Windows is back. OK, so Windows never really went away. But for the first time in years, it seems that Microsoft is trying something really new with its operating system by giving it a common look and feel across personal computers, tablets and smartphones. You could see this during a demonstration of the upcoming Windows 8 operating system that jettisoned Microsoft's standard Start menu for a screen full of application tiles akin to what the company currently uses as its main display for its Windows Phone mobile operating system.
Instead of clicking on the start button on your PC and getting the standard straight lists of programs and folders, you'll now get a bright and colorful display of tiles that cover the whole screen and can be arranged in whatever way you choose. While this approach seems natural for tablets and smartphones, it's nicely done with PCs as well as users can scroll through their apps by swiping across the screen with their mouse just like they were swiping with their fingers.
The show also saw the debut of Microsoft and Nokia's first Windows Phone collaborations, dubbed the Nokia Lumia 710 and Lumia 900. Both devices acted as fine showcases for the latest version of the Windows Phone operating system and including cool features such as the "People Hub" application that lets you keep tabs on your friends through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live and other big-name social networking services. And like Windows 8, the newest Windows Phone software lets you easily glide through application tiles to arrange and access your favorite apps.
While it's too early to say whether Microsoft's efforts to make Windows more mobile-friendly will be a smashing success, it's certainly the most interesting twist on Windows that Microsoft has implemented in years.
* Ultrabooks are cool, but not essential. Ultrabooks were hyped pretty big before the show, although some of us wondered if they were just Windows-based versions of the MacBook Air. After playing around with several ultrabooks on the CES floor this week, I concluded that yes, ultrabooks are Windows-based versions of the MacBook Air. But there's not anything wrong with that.
Your typical ultrabook weighs in at less than 4 pounds and comes equipped with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, display screens of 13.3 inches or larger and internal storage in the 500GB range. Ultrabooks are also fairly inexpensive, priced at under $1,000. Among the many ultrabooks on display at CES this year were the Lenovo ThinkPad T430u, the Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook and the HP Folio 13.