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The Annual Gates Speech at CES

LAS VEGAS-- For years Microsoft has been talking about all the advantages consumers can get from being connected--linking your computers, cellphones, TVs and digital cameras. This year the company is trying to make that connection more personal, driving technology to be smarter about who you are, what you want and where you're trying to go.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates speaks at keynote address at CES 2008.(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates gave his 12th and final keynote address here at the Venetian hotel in a packed, 3,500-seat ballroom, marking the end of what has become a staple of the Consumer Electronics Show. He is stepping down from his full-time responsibilities at the company to run his philanthropic foundation. Since his first speech in 1994, Gates has used the event as a launching pad for some of the company's most popular technologies, such as the Windows operating system and the Xbox 360 game console.

This year, he pushed the idea of connecting in context, or using "intelligent" data to get directions, meet friends and check calendars regardless of whether you're using a computer or mobile phone. Gates hopes to use new platforms to make the personal computer the center of home entertainment.

His biggest announcements were partnerships with major media companies that will enable Microsoft to deliver exclusive content to Web audiences, in part to help it better compete with dominant content distributors such as Apple's iTunes. Tonight Gates announced a deal with NBC Universal in which will host this summer's Olympic games from Beijing. Online viewers will have access to more than 3,600 hours of live coverage. Microsoft will also provide additional footage that viewers can watch on demand, using its free, ad-supported Silverlight program that lets Web sites handle more sophisticated graphics and video.

"Let us illustrate why TV is going to be very different," he said. "Events like this in broadcast form just aren't as great as this experience."

ABC, MGM Studios and Showtime have also agreed to provide content for Microsoft's Xbox Live service, which now has 10 million users, and Turner Broadcasting's TNT and CNN have also partnered with Microsoft to let consumers customize their viewing experience. During a Nascar race, for example, viewers can choose camera views inside the race car or listen to a driver's conversation with his crew.

The announcements follow last month's news that Microsoft formed an alliance with media giant Viacom to share entertainment content and advertising revenue.

Throughout the speech, Gates touted the continued importance of software in delivering the type of entertainment and features consumers have come to enjoy on multiple screens, including personal computers, TV sets and wireless devices.

But his emphasis was less on the computer-based software that has been Microsoft's bread and butter. Instead he focused on "cloud-computing," or Internet- and wireless-based applications that, he said, will enable more mobility and sharing within social networks. Microsoft's dominance in desktop computing has been eroded by companies like Google introducing products that run over the Internet rather than a hard drive.

The company's most recent software release, the long-delayed Windows Vista operating system, met a lukewarm reception from consumers. Still, Gates said the operating system has sold more than 100 million licenses.

Robbie Bach, president of the company's entertainment and devices division, showcased new features for the Zune mp3 player, which he said "has become the clear alternative to the iPod.

He introduced Zune Social, a new platform now in beta version that "tracks everything you're doing , whether you're on your Zune or PC," by keeping tabs on users' favorite songs and bands.

Following Gates' theme of personal connectivity, Bach demonstrated an improved mobile search program with voice recognition software that allows you to say a command to your phone to look up, say, movie showtimes at a local theatre (which it locates by using GPS to recognize your location), and then letting you purchase tickets from your phone.

Then, a trailer for another movie may be delivered to your phone--a feature, Bach said, that will help Microsoft position itself to take advantage of the fledgling mobile advertising industry.

Gates said the company is working on visual recognition software that can recognize a landmark and remind you of its relevance to you. If you point your cellphone toward a coffee shop, for instance, it may be able to sync to your calendar and remind you that you are supposed to meet a friend there the next day.

The next "digital decade will be more focused on connecting people, on being more user centric," he said. "Those applications won't just run on the PC, but on the Internet, on the phone and in the car."
His final speech ended with a Guitar Hero 3 showdown between Gates and Bach. While Bach brought game champ Kelly Lyon on stage to show off her riffing skills, Gates unveiled on last CES surprise. Slash, of Velvet Revolver, came onstage with, well, a real guitar.

Gates, it seems, went out on top.

By Kim Hart  |  January 7, 2008; 12:07 AM ET  | Category:  CES 2008 , Kim Hart
Previous: Online Shoppers a Bit Less Satisfied This Year | Next: Gates's Retirement Parody Gets Laughs at Keynote

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Mr. Gates has entered his dotage with dozens of billions of dollars to his credit and a reputation for having outwitted IBM. He's a smart cookie. His company, however, created Vista, which is a disappointment. Features were put in that are counterintuitive and, in fact, harmful. There is change for the sake of change. Things break for no discernable reason. Compared to rock solid XP, Vista, was supposed to be the operating system that you'd "experience," and it is an experience, all right, but not the one envisioned by Mr. Gates. Along with the tasks you go to the computer to complete, you must also fight the computer to get them done. The battle is as welcome as income tax. The company's evangelists (they are called that) insist there is nothing wrong with Vista, but enterprises avoid Vista in droves. I predict Microsoft will sand off the rough edges over a period of years. Meanwhile, we see Apple develop eye-popping new user interfaces that do not require digesting a manual to use. Microsoft Vista thinks every new folder is a venue for music files. Such a contribution!

Posted by: William Carroll | January 7, 2008 1:22 AM

I've been an MS fan and software developer for many years and the worst professional mistake I've ever made was downgrading to Vista Ultimate from XP Pro. I finally had to change back to XP.

Posted by: Alan | January 7, 2008 6:13 AM

Is MS abandoning Toshiba ??

Posted by: Victor | January 7, 2008 6:14 AM

So Gates brings Slash out to show how the guitar is really played. Once again, Gates steals an old idea, this time from "South Park." Gates goes out as he came in--stealing ideas from others.

Posted by: Bwana | January 7, 2008 9:55 AM

Interesting read. Kudos, Kim

Posted by: Tim | January 7, 2008 10:20 AM

Hooking the mouse up was the key. Gates's monopoly, like all monopolies, has been a persistent hindrance to innovative advances ever since. Adding and relocating a new layer of "click" to every updated version of the same OS since Win2000 is not advancement, it's just Tower of Bable stuff!
People that complain about VISTA have forgotten about the ME2000 experience.
If the Anti-Trust laws were enforceable the "CUT-COPY-PASTE-NEW-IMPROVED" Windows seasonal version updates would never have been installed in "ALL" the PC's in the stores.
William Gates is bye-bye except in the US where he's got the government on his payroll.

Posted by: John Harry DuHart III | January 7, 2008 10:28 AM

The only way I will ever allow Windows in the dashboard of my car is by stuffing a dead laptop into the glove compartment. Connectivity is NOT the answer, Bill. Enjoy your retirement.

Posted by: W. C. Peterson | January 7, 2008 11:08 AM

Bill Gates makes some excellent points. However, one key element that Microsoft needs to develop is their brand image. They do not have a personality or cool factor. Apple does and is stealing marketshare with it.

Posted by: Nancy Shonka Padberg | January 7, 2008 12:27 PM

Bill Gates makes some excellent points. However, one key element that Microsoft needs to develop is their brand image.

Posted by: Nancy Shonka Padberg | January 7, 2008 12:30 PM

The Zune is "the clear alternative to the iPod."?

What on earth are they putting in the water in Redmond?

And then "Zune Social, a new platform now in beta version that 'tracks everything you're doing'".

Yeah, that worked out really well for Facebook, didn't it?

Microsoft is becoming increasingly irrelevant and out of touch.

Posted by: Larry | January 7, 2008 1:15 PM

I've been using Apple products since 1990.

No offense, but honestly, who cares?


But good for Bill and his charity work. Other information-age industrialists should take note.

Posted by: tony the pitiful copywriter | January 7, 2008 1:31 PM

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