Updated from 1:15 a.m. EST

LAS VEGAS -- With no secret code names, no letter smash-ups,


(MSFT) - Get Report

is just about set to unveil Windows 7. After Vista, which could have been codenamed "Piñata," CEO Steve Ballmer is surely hoping it is a lucky number for the software giant.

In the keynote address for the Consumer Electronics Show 2009 in Las Vegas, Ballmer told a crowd that waited more than two hours in line that a nearly final "beta" test version of Windows 7 will be available Friday for regular PC users to download and tinker with. If you try it, please email me at alix.steel@thestreet.com, and we'll do an unscientific survey of your results.

Ballmer also pledged that Windows 7 will boot faster and drain laptop batteries more slowly.

"I believe Windows will remain at the center of people's technological solar system," Ballmer said. "We're putting in all the right ingredients: simplicity, reliability and speed, and we're working hard to get it right and to get it ready."

Any improvement in the performance of Vista will be a good thing for Microsoft's bottom line as users have been willing to pay more to the likes of


(DELL) - Get Report



(HPQ) - Get Report

for computers still running Windows XP.

Ballmer also confirmed the worst kept secret in Silicon Valley, a five-year partnership with

Verizon Wireless

, a unit of

Verizon Communications

(VZ) - Get Report



(VOD) - Get Report

, that calls for the Live Search tools to be added to all Verizon cell phones in the U.S. that can access the internet. That bumps


(GOOG) - Get Report

out of Verizon and

Research in Motion's


fast-selling answer to the iPhone, the BlackBerry Storm.

Google also lost out on the desktop because Dell will now put a special Live Search browser toolbar and Windows Live programs, and Microsoft's e-mail and instant-messaging applications, on most of the consumer and small-business PCs that it sells worldwide. The deal replaces a relationship between Dell and Google. Microsoft's Live Search engine ranks well behind Google and



in popularity.


Photo gallery: 2009 Consumer Electronics Show


Alix joined TheStreet.com TV in February 2007. Previously, she held positions in film and theater production, management, and legal administration. Alix has a degree in communications and theater from Northwestern University.