Bill Gates' Final CES Rings In The Next Digital Decade - InformationWeek

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Bill Gates' Final CES Rings In The Next Digital Decade

The retiring founder and chairman proudly announced a slew of digital content deals for Xbox and Silverlight and showed off Microsoft's vision for the future of technology.

Love the company or hate it, Microsoft knows how to attract a crowd.

Two hours before Bill Gates walked onstage in his trademark sweater for what is likely his last keynote as a full-time Microsoft employee, a security-cordoned line wound around corner after corner of the fifth floor of Las Vegas' Sands Expo. And that was only the press line.

Gates' soon-to-be diminished role doesn't mean he's about to stop predicting the future. During his address Sunday to a packed crowd of thousands, Gates lay to rest what he called the "first digital decade" and laid out his vision for the next decade. Gates predicted that the next ten years will be characterized by high-definition everywhere, constant connection to one another and the Internet, and the onset of more natural user interfaces like gestures and visual recognition.

"This is just the beginning," he said. "The trend here is clear. All media and entertainment will be software driven. The second digital decade will be more focused on connecting people. It will be more focused on being user-centric."

A Microsoft Research-developed visual recognition technology demonstrated during the keynote represents perhaps Microsoft's best example of this vision. The phone software, which Gates said would someday be included in Windows Mobile devices, recognizes people, for example telling Gates that his co-star on stage, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, owed Gates $20. Pointing the device at a theater in Las Vegas allowed Gates to buy a ticket to a show, and the phone used a three-dimensional visualization to guide Gates toward a restaurant where he had reservations.

The keynote was punctuated by a star-studded, comedic look at future job prospects for Gates, with celebrities from Bono to Jon Stewart to Barack Obama turning down Gates' hopeless pursuit of being rock star, late night host and Vice President. Gates said that after he steps down from his full time job at Microsoft, he'll still stay on for some pet projects including educational and health-care technology.

Just because Gates' speech was reflective on the one hand and long on vision on the other doesn't mean the company was short on real announcements. Digital content stole the show, and the company's gaming division made what may turn out to be the most significant announcements. Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, announced that Xbox Live is becoming a movie and television content rental platform as well as a set-top IPTV box.

Movie studios like MGM will soon offer high definition movies on the gaming network. ABC and Disney will be making shows and specials available for download. "Xbox Live, when we're done integrating this content, will offer more than twice as much digital content as any cable or satellite provider," Bach said.

Additionally, cable providers, starting with British Telecom, will soon be able to use Xbox 360 as a set-top cable box.

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