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How much is enough? That’s one of the biggest questions being posed to people attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

One of the most impressive displays at CES this year sits in the middle of the Central Hall where Sharp has arranged a display of its Aquos televisions in a sort of cascade as if they were rolling down a mountain side.

It’s a more imaginative presentation than that of its Korean rival Samsung in the booth next door – booth might not be the best word for an area filling tens of thousands of square feet, but it’ll have to do for now – where the televisions have been built up to form a wall around the perimeter of Samsung City.

But Samsung plays its trump card in its display – it has a 102 inch plasma screen, compared to Sharp’s puny 65 inches - that’s only five and a half feet; it’s as if they’re not even trying.

If you’re struggling to imagine exactly how much space a 102 inch screen takes up then imagine yourself sitting in the living room of your luxury one bedroom flat. The chances are you’ll need to knock a hole in the wall to accomodate it. It’s real “everywhere TV” you can watch it in the living room and the bathroom - the only problem being you’re watching half of the same screen whichever room you are in.

The point - there is one - is that these incremental rises in screen size do little to move the human race forward they are merely changing one particular experience. But these things dominate CES, the outdoor marketing, the booths inside and attendee attention. But the interesting, innovative stuff is elsewhere, and that’s where I’m heading next.

One of the most interesting aspects of being a reporter is seeing which articles prompt reader responses. The biggest I’ve ever had (until today) was in response to a report on a new back treatment I had last year, which tells me that as much as readers might be interested in whether their shares in HP or Dell are up or down, most are more worried about their back pain.

But there are some companies and events that really get readers’ blood up, and one of those is Microsoft. So this morning my inbox was groaning under the weight of responses to the piece I filed about the Bill Gates keynote.

There were, you will doubtless not be surprised to hear, many e-mails castigating me for being too hard on Microsoft and Mr Gates. Not hard enough apparently.

One, with a subject line “Gates is a phony”, spoke eloquently for others. The reader writes:

“Often Apple proponents are accused of drinking Jobs’ “Kool Aid”—I think it is just the other way around. What Microsoft does not get is that consumers are beginning to see that Great Design MATTERS! Design is more than how something looks but also how one interacts with it. Gates has no creative instincts and is following not leading. Sure he has incredible power as evidenced by the press uncritically accepting his lame, embarassing presentations.

How appropriate that the most of the badly designed crap is in a badly design “city” Las Vegas”…As a real architect not a faux one who stole the professions moniker, I would love to see the press go deeper on the issue of better design.”

Many of the others followed in a similar vein, picking up the Apple vs Microsoft theme.

One reader, accusing me of being a luddite (possibly true), went so far as to accuse the FT of being “in Microsoft’s pocket”. If that is the case nobody bothered to tell me and I can assure you I am a neutral observer, trying to report it as I see it.

Nonetheless I do take that reader’s point which is that in listing the competitor threats to Microsoft I omitted “ the one that is well on its way to becoming their biggest threat of all: ie Apple Computer.”

This, I admit, was a mistake, brought about by a combination of jet lag and speed writing, as my notes from the key note are littered with my own observations that in Vista and in its new Urge service Microsoft has borrowed heavily from Apple’s great success with services such as iTunes and its own operating system, which I know is much beloved of its users.

Apple should have been in the list, but I’ll finish with the response I gave to that same reader: “I’m not sure it’s wise to over-egg the Apple pudding - how many iPods have they sold in total? How many computers? It’s a drop in the ocean compared to Microsoft’s dominance with the PC, and while I’m a long way from convinced by the Microsoft roadmap for the future and am extraordinarily impressed by Mr Jobs’ ability to reinvent Apple and lead from the front on design, if you asked me to bet my house on which company will be the stronger in 10, 20 or 50 years time, I’d have to go with Microsoft. “

But all feedback is good. Keep it coming.

More later.


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