Gates Unveils Portable Tablet PC
LAS VEGAS -- If the heap of new products that Microsoft showed here Sunday is any indication of the future of computing, the
In a keynote opening the Comdex fall trade show, Microsoft Chair and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates unveiled prototypes of the portable Tablet PC, which will run on a specialized version of the company's new operating system, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.
Gates demonstrated Tablet PC prototypes from hardware makers including Compaq Computer and Acer, running a variety of new software applications including one called Journal that blends the company's Word software with handwriting recognition capabilities.
Gates pledged that the portable devices,
"Next year a lot of people in the audience will be taking notes with those Tablet PCs," he predicted.
Facing a wall of camera-clicking journalists in a near-filled arena of the MGM Grand, he also showed a preview of the Xbox video game console and demonstrated a new Web service built on Microsoft's .Net technology.
Against the backdrop of an uncertain economy and
"In the decade ahead, I can predict we will provide over twice the productivity improvements that we did during the 90s," he said.
Some of those improvements will come via a new version of
He also showed the handwriting feature, or "ink" as he called it, in a future version of Windows Messenger that lets users exchange notes or sketches using the company's instant messaging software. "The use of ink and voice can be explosive--in three or four years that should be absolutely commonplace," Gates said.
Productivity improvements will also come from Web services, or software programs that let disparate business applications "talk" to each other over the Internet using standards like XML, he said. Such software, which is also being developed by rivals like Sun Microsystems, will allow buyers and sellers to find each other more easily and provide companies with a wider choice of who they do business with, he said.
Robyn Pierce of Microsoft's .Net group showed how Web services can be combined with Microsoft's Passport authentication service and an Excel spreadsheet to make filing expense reports easier. She showed how the application could trawl the Internet for an employee's recent credit card transactions and cell phone calls, and then import the information to the spreadsheet.
The program can also add XML tags to outgoing mail, so the employee could e-mail the expense report to company headquarters where backend software would process it automatically, she said. In December, Microsoft will release a Web services tool kit for Microsoft Office that will allow businesses to experiment with adding functionality like this to Microsoft applications, Pierce said.
"XML Web services is the key standard for the decade ahead," Gates said. "That's the standard necessary to treat the Internet as a programming environment."
For consumers, Gates showed off the company's
He showed how the Xbox lets users replay events in slow motion, freeze the action, and view it from multiple angles. The console also has a parental control system that can block games that carry an adult rating--something Sony's Playstation2 offers only for movies, according to Blackley. Xbox also lets users record their own music on the machine and play it as a background to a video game.
Some users who watched the presentation were impressed with what they saw. Thomas Lancaster, an employee with Larson Dodge, said he'd willingly trade his desktop PC for a Tablet PC. "It's going to make interacting in the office more fluid," he said.
Others were more skeptical. As Microsoft broadens its reach beyond PCs and into new markets it runs the risk of diluting the quality of its products, said Daniel Herzka, president of software consulting company Herzka Associates in East Hills, New York.
"They won't do the best job if they don't have a specialty," Herzka said.
Elsewhere in the home, wireless networks will allow all kinds of content, including digital music and videos, to be beamed around the house and accessed from any room, Gates said.
"Wireless networking, advanced PCs, next-generation set-top boxes, and next-generation video games will come together in a synergistic way as they connect to services on the Internet like MSN," he said.
Challenges include improving security, ensuring ease of use and making faster Internet pipes available to all homes, he said.
As usual, the Microsoft chief found time for some light-hearted slapstick. He played a video segment that spoofed the U.S. TV show
To the delight of the crowd here Gates also showed a compilation of video clips titled "Monkey Boy" in which an excited Ballmer bounced around the stage at various developer events, yelling, jumping up and down, and waving his arms. Some of the video of Ballmer had been leaked and has been making its rounds on the Internet for the past two months or so.
"It's going to take a lot of energy to meet the challenges of the digital decade," as he called the next ten years, "and it looks like Steve's got enough energy for all of us."