Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, has delivered his first post-Gates CES keynote with a promise to bring the 'three screens' – mobile, PC and TV - together in a seamless experience, encouraging his audience to download the Windows 7 beta from Friday.

Using the phrase 'Windows without walls' to describe the above, he didn't exactly blow the audience away but he managed to push the point home as Microsoft starts to deliver on some of its promises with products such as Live Mesh and the other latest-gen Windows Live apps.

"We're at the start of transforming what Windows is from a PC operating system to a connected experience. When I think of the future of Windows I think of a life without walls."

Cool things like touch

The headlines from the keynote belong to Windows 7. The beta will be available for all on Friday (MSDN and TechNet immediately) but Ballmer should get a lot of credit for a thoroughly decent performance that inspired more than the last couple of Microsoft keynotes which have seemed both dry and devoid of exciting announcements. As we reported earlier, we believe that this will be the only beta version of Windows 7 before a very late 2009 or very early 2010 launch.

"We are on track to deliver the best version of Windows ever," said Ballmer. "Simplicity, reliability and speed. Everyday tasks will be faster. It will boot faster and have fewer alerts. And there will be cool new user interface things like touch. I encourage you all to download it."

Paying tribute to Gates and his charity work, Ballmer showed a mock IM conversation with himself and Bill – the latter warned Steve that he shouldn't attend the other Las Vegas convention that happens at the same time as CES (it's the Adult Entertainment Expo). Ballmer was on good form and quipped he was ignoring friend requests from Yahoo's Jerry Yang on Facebook.

How did he do?

Jokes aplenty? Well, not really. The rest of the keynote was fairly dry with typical 'connected experiences' dialogue – even if Microsoft finally looks like it's making some ground with Windows Live and Xbox Live (NXE has been a resounding success with Xbox Live downloads up 60 per cent since the launch).

Ballmer rammed home that the economic situation shouldn't dampen the industry. "It feels like we've entered a period of reduced expectations. But no matter what happens with the economy, I believe our digital lives will only get richer, bringing people closer together. I believe that companies that continue to pursue innovation during tough economic times will [prevail]" Microsoft invested $8billion in R&D last year.

"It's the power of ideas and innovation that drive us forward regardless of the economic environment. In some senses [it's] more powerful than ever before. There's so much opportunity ahead of us."

Still opportunity for the PC

Then Steve Ballmer pursued his converged vision, but couldn't resist saying there was still opportunity for the PC. "There are a billion PC users worldwide. That means there are more than 5 billion people who have never owned a PC. We have a lot of work to do," said Ballmer, praising netbooks and initiatives such as OLPC that will "democratise computing for the next one billion people."

"Technology is converging on three screens, a seamless ecosystem of any time, anywhere computing." Ballmer pointed out that in emerging markets the mobile is "often the first computing experience".

"Over the coming years TVs will become more sophisticated and connected. Boundaries between the PC and TV will dissolve. In the next couple of years computers will be able to see and hear you. User interfaces will evolve to be more intuitive and natural."

And, of course, key to Microsoft's vision is also content. "Today much of the stuff you care about sits in silos. Increasingly those barriers are going away." And yes, it's all about the cloud. "In the future you will be able to connect to things you care about over all those screens."

"[It's an] experience that will make a significant impact in people's lives," said Steve. And what does he see tying everything together? "The linchpin will be Windows. It will work across all three screen seamlessly and will tie all of your information together using the cloud."

"The value of the PC is unmatched and better than ever. Windows has become the language that over a billion people speak. I am a PC and proud of it."

From CES 2009