Comdex: Gates foresees ‘digital decade’
Microsoft chairman touts tablet PC, XP, Xbox
By Daniel Sieberg
LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- While acknowledging that 2001 has been “one of the toughest years for several decades for the world at large and for business,” the chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates, on Sunday predicted during his Comdex keynote address that the next 10 years will be seen as the “digital decade.”
Gates, wearing a United States flag pin on his suit-jacket lapel, began his comments by saying that the tragic events of September 11 had caused people to step back and reassess their priorities. He also made reference to how the terrorist acts highlighted the increased importance of security.
“In this ‘digital decade,’" Gates said, "computing technology will transform every part of our lives, and fulfill the promise of truly secure, truly personal computing.”
Tying most of his remarks into his “digital decade” theme, Gates then outlined a number of the products that he believes Microsoft will contribute to that development to help invigorate a stagnant economy.
“The wave of hardware and software innovation that we're now seeing will provide the impetus for renewed investment in information technology across every business and economic sector.”
Gates, who has delivered keynote addresses at Comdex since 1983 when his dad ran the slide projector, seemed at ease with the crowd of slightly less than capacity at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena. Organizers had expected more than 12,000 people, but empty seats dotted the upper rows of the venue.
Despite the fact that his presentation ran for nearly 90 minutes, notably absent from Gates’ speech was any mention of the recent antitrust settlement agreed to by Microsoft, the Justice Department and half the states involved in the case.
Echoing his remarks from last year, Gates said the future of computing lies in the small genre of portable computer called a "tablet PC." About the size of a legal pad of paper, a tablet PC can be used with a variety of peripherals including a mouse and a keyboard, or users can write directly on it with a tool that resembles a pen.
In 2000, Gates made only conceptual comments about the tablet, but on Sunday he unveiled several prototypes of the device. Perhaps the most innovative design was one produced by Acer, which acts as both a tablet PC and as a laptop when the monitor is swiveled around.
“The tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available whenever you want it, which is why I'm already using a tablet as my everyday computer,” Gates said. “It’s a PC that is virtually without limits -- and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.”
Several computer makers have announced that they expect to begin selling the machines in the second half of 2002, and a version of Microsoft’s newly released operating system Windows XP is also scheduled to be available -- the Tablet PC Edition, Gates announced Sunday. Windows XP for PCs was released on October 25.
On the subject of Windows XP, Gates said its streamlined architecture -- using the more stable NT kernel or engine -- will allow more focus for developers. Gates also said that XP has “incredibly strong security” built into it, a claim sometimes debated by analysts.
Aspects of Microsoft’s Web-based services called .NET were also incorporated during the show, although little changed from last year’s presentation.
Gates again stressed the importance of a common language used to share data across different platforms called XML (Extensible Markup Language) and offered examples of its increased adoption by businesses. XML is a key component to Microsoft’s .NET strategy, which involves extending the Windows elements onto the Internet.
‘X’ marks the spot
Perhaps the best-received and most highly anticipated part of the evening was a demonstration of Microsoft’s Xbox game console, slated for its official release during Comdex week, on Thursday.
The Xbox is Microsoft’s foray into the console industry, historically dominated by heavyweights Nintendo and Sony. Nintendo is scheduled to release its latest console called GameCube in the U.S. on November 18, while Sony introduced its PlayStation 2 last year.
But Microsoft’s Seamus Blackley, from the Xbox division, showed little respect for the competition during Sunday’s demonstration, losing no time in throwing barbs at the Japanese companies.
Zooming in with the Xbox on a 3-D football in a game called “NFL Fever,” Blackley said, “Now don't try that on your PlayStation 2.” Later he referred again to the digital pigskin, saying, “That (foot)ball has more memory in it than the GameCube’s entire video memory.”
Blackley also showcased an upcoming Xbox game called “Wreckless” that puts a twist on the traditional racing format. Drivers are placed in slightly more real-life scenarios and forced to negotiate unusual hazards like running over dim sum stands in Hong Kong.
Gates also found time to be light-hearted during his presentation, showing a video in which the "Entertainment Tonight" TV anchors interviewed him while he was dressed as Harry Potter.
Gates noted that he dressed like Harry Potter long before J.K. Rowling wrote the books.
Comdex Fall 2001 continues through Friday. You can see Gates' keynote address on a video stream at ZDNet's Comdex 2001 site.
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