CES 2008: Bill Gates's Last Days at Work

Consumer Reports News: January 07, 2008 12:33 PM

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William Gates III, founder of the world's largest software company, is quitting. Well, at least he's stepping out of his role as Microsoft's Chief Software Architect. That was news over a year ago, as Gates looked forward to devoting more of his time to philanthropy.

Bill chose to make light of his impending "last day of work" at his final keynote presentation on Sunday, "press day" here at the CES. He showed a video of himself approaching a series of celebrities—from the music, cinema, TV and political world—pretending to be looking for work.

(Click on the image above to see Bill Gates with rock guitarist, Slash, during his CES speech. You can also watch Bill Gates' complete keynote speech at Microsoft's CES-related Web site, www.microsoft.com/ces. But you'll need "Silverlight," Microsoft's free Web-browser "plug-in" to access the online video. You'll find more information and the free Silverlight download at: www.microsoft.com/silverlight.)

In fact, Gates will continue to advise Microsoft on a number of projects started during the past few years, and his main message is that these projects represent the directions he believes consumer computing technology is heading.

Gates declared the "first digital decade" a success, and said there was nothing holding back the second digital decade. He outlined three technology trends that will drive the next ten years:

  1. The ubiquity of the "high-definition experience": Gates sees sharp, bright video displays everywhere, not just on PCs and big-screen TV sets. Along with this will be improved ease of connection between devices, and 3-D presentation.

  2. Hardware devices of all types will be "service-connected"—an obvious tie-in to Microsoft's "Live" online services. Gates described photographs moving from the digital camera onto the Internet seamlessly without the user having to deal with cables, or memory cards. Users will be able to easily share their own content with others, and organize their memories easily and effectively, accessing them from anywhere in the world. Devices will be smart—aware of the context—to optimize the way they work.

  3. Powerful, "natural" user-interfaces will become common. The obvious tie-in here is Microsoft's "Surface," a table-like display with a touch-sensitive surface that can also recognize objects like cell phones. "Gestures"—like the two-finger zoom function on the iPhone's screen—will become familiar.

The remainder of Gates's dog-and-pony show showcased existing and new Microsoft technologies. One surprise was an agreement with NBC TV to produce online Olympic Games content for MSN through Microsoft’s "Silverlight" video-authoring platform.

There was also a demonstration of Ford Sync, an integrated, voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system that will roll out on nearly all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles later this year. It will include a "911 Assist" feature to help quickly connect vehicle occupants to a 911 emergency operator following an air bag deployment.

As always, Microsoft continues to establish partnerships—with media companies to provide content for its products, and with hardware companies to extend the various Windows platforms. Whether any of these partnerships produces a "must have" product or service remains for you, the consumer, to decide.

—Dean Gallea, Senior Program Leader

Paul Eng

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