Gates Wows Comdex Crowd With Tablet PC
LAS VEGAS -- Declaring the age of the browser over,
Gates, closing out his first year in the role of Microsoft's chief software architect, spoke to a sellout crowd of 12,000 on the eve of Comdex, the computer industry's largest trade show. During his speech, he called on several top Microsoft managers to demonstrate new and upcoming Microsoft products, from a beta of Office 10 and the just-launched VisualStudio.net programming kit to the never-before-seen Web tablet.
The end of the browser era was a recurring theme of his talk. "The browser model ... really is showing its age," he said.
He portrayed Web-based computing, in which PCs are basically used as terminals, as too limiting at a time when more and more people will be accessing information from a range of devices. (See
In a swipe at Sun Microsystems Chair Scott McNealy's oft-quoted comment that personal privacy is a lost cause and people should "get over it," Gates also said that server-based computing didn't deal satisfactorily with privacy issues. And, he said, it isn't very good at speech recognition and video applications, which Gates believes will become more and more important over time.
The alternative? Gates focused on the virtues of XML (extensible markup language), a recurring theme in all of his recent public appearances. "We're betting the company," Gates repeatedly said, on the use of XML-based software to enable all types of smart devices to share information easily.
Some of the new and upcoming products mentioned, including the Office 10 beta, Microsoft's X-Box gaming console, and the upcoming mobile phone-personal digital assistant hybrid code-named Stinger, were not new to Microsoft watchers. But the prototype
Roughly the size of a standard clipboard and weighing under 3 pounds, the device is a fully functioning Windows PC that lets a user capture handwriting on its high-resolution touch-screen LCD and manipulate the writing much in the way we now use a word processor with type.
In a demonstration, the user was able to highlight a sentence and bold the handwriting; insert spaces; add annotations that moved appropriately when new spaces or handwriting was inserted; and cut, paste, and copy text and images.
In comparison with previous and current handwriting-recognition devices such as Apple's Newton or the Palm, the Tablet PC offered exceptionally legible, clean script, thanks in part to its use of Clear Type technology. However, the Tablet PC is not expected to become a commercial product for another two years or so.
Gates's talk, his fourth straight Comdex opening keynote, kicked off with a lighthearted video showing how he and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer spend their time since they changed jobs last year. It showed Gates leaving a life-size dummy of himself at the desk in a cubicle-size office, and rolling away on a Razor scooter to meet Ballmer at a park. The video also made fun of Gates's predilection for striped blue sweaters: At one point he walks into a dry cleaner to pick up a half dozen identical sweaters.
And there were the predictable jabs at the failure of high technology to settle the presidential election. Gates said he got a kick out of watching the recount of punch cards, which he and others in the crowd hadn't used in decades. "It's very nostalgic for those of us who go back to those punch card days," he said.