LAS VEGAS--Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates wowed a full house Sunday in his 12th and last Consumer Electronics Show keynote as a full-time employee with the company he founded more than three decades ago.
Before moving on to the usual collection of Microsoft product and technology demos, Gates had the crowd--including a large contingent of jaded journalists who'd waited on line since mid-afternoon--laughing uproariously at a celebrity-packed film speculating on what his final day at Microsoft (set for July) might look like.
"It will be the first time since I was 17 that I won't have my full-time Microsoft job," said Gates, who has said he wants to devote his energies to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's world health and education projects.
The video--one of several such tongue-in-cheek presentations he shown at Microsoft events over the years--showed Gates driving to work in a Ford Focus (the model that uses Microsoft's Sync technology for hands-free music playback) after forgetting to take his briefcase off the car. It somehow survives the trip, exactly where he placed it.
The video goes on to show Gates sitting at his desk, playing with Star Wars action figures ("Never doubt the magic of software!") and trying to get into shape with film star Matthew McConnaughey as his personal trainer ("Am I ready to take my shirt off yet?" "Not yet.").
Bono and George Clooney
Gates contemplates starting a new career as a rap star, with rapper JayZee as producer, or as a rock star with the help of U2 frontman Bono ("I can't replace Edge because you got a high score on Guitar Hero, Bill"). Gates then moves on to Hollywood, calling Steven Spielberg about an audition reel showing Gates as a horror film figure. Spielberg in turn calls George Clooney about a Bill Gates movie ("I can't play Bill Gates. I just can't ... ask Russell Crowe," Clooney mutters).
The Daily Show's Jon Stewart turns Gates down as a co-anchor after showing a clip of Gates running off the Daily Show set. As Microsoft colleagues comment that it may not be a coincidence that Gates is leaving in an election year, we see him turned down as running mate in separate phone conversations with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama ("Bill Shatner of Star Trek? Bill Clinton?" a puzzled-sounding Obama says into his phone).
Al Gore gets a call ("It's not an inconvenient moment...That was a good one," a weary sounding Gore says). And in a separate film about NBC's adoption of Microsoft's Silverlight technology for Internet video of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, Bob Costas tells Gates to stop calling him about a job on NBC's Beijing Olympics team ("Lose my number!")
Microsoft's Consumer Initiatives
The remainder of the keynote was devoted to spotlighting Microsoft's achievements and plans in consumer electronics, which Gates cast as the follow-up to the first digital decade. He said Microsoft is focusing on three key developments: Improved, ubiquitous displays (including "Minority Report"-like projections and Surface PC touch-enabled tables); effortless connectivity, so all your devices are aware of and work with each other; and more natural user interfaces involving touch, digital ink, and voice commands.
Gates' introductory remarks did include a somewhat curious reminiscence of his first CES appearance, in 1994, when--he said--"the Internet was just getting started." The term Internet was introduced by Vinton Cerf in a 1974 paper, and the TCP/IP-based network that is the basis of today's Internet dates back to the early 1980s.
Music, Mobile, and Video Projects
Gates and various Microsoft executives demonstrated new features related to the Zune portable media player, including a Web-based community built around Zune Card pages that record music downloads for sharing with friends. Also demoed was Microsoft's TellMe voice-based mobile search.
In another demo, a new Sync-enabled Ford Lincoln responded to voice commands to play a specific track. Microsoft Entertainment & Devices Division President Robert Bach said Ford will offer Sync across its entire line next year, and showed how Sync will automatically sync music from Zunes and Bluetooth-enabled Windows Mobile smartphones.
Bach also announced that MGM's entire film library will be available for streaming via the XBox Live service.
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