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Bon Jovi'd by Gates

Wednesday, 5:30 PM -- It's an hour or so before Bill Gates goes on stage to deliver his big keynote at this year’s CES, and the queues at the Las Vegas Hilton are more reminiscent of a Bon Jovi New Jersey homecoming than a staid tech talk.

Your faithful correspondent managed to grab a reserved press seat way back in the bleachers about 30 minutes ago, and I can count myself lucky. The general public didn’t.

The main hall and several overflow rooms were already full by the time I arrived at the Hilton at 4 p.m. “Some people have been waiting here since noon,” an usher told this disbelieving reporter.

Seriously folks, I’ve been reporting on this sector for six years or so and I thought I’d seen some stupid stuff -- like baby boomers whooping and weeping at Steve Jobs’ keynote-cum-revival meeting one year in NYC -- but nothing this like this.

Gates better have something cool to say.

6:00 PM -- Moo! It's time for the cattle run. And so much for wireless connections in the conference hall -- all the networks I can see are so crammed that no one is getting online here.

6:20 PM -- Absolutely nothing happening, apart from a fancy slide show. The walls of this packed auditorium, I note , are a weird shimmery blue color that makes it feel more like an aquarium.

6:35 PM -- After a long wait and a pointless introduction, here’s Bill Cougar Mellengates.

Mister Gates says that he and his wife, Melinda, were honored to share Time magazine’s person of the year award with Bono from U2. The pair were awarded the cover for their humanitarian work around the world through the Gates Foundation.

”I think if there had been one more hurricane then Mother Nature would have got the cover,” Gates tells the crowd. “I’m glad that didn’t happen for many reasons.”

Then, the founder of Microsoft dives into his presentation, which touches on plenty of aspects that I predicted in my pre-show wrap. (See CES: Wireless on Parade.) I lost count of the number of times Gates uses the phrase “the digital decade” in the first 15 minutes of his speech.

If one were a bit jaded, one might boil down Gates’s hour-plus ramble on consumer technology to two key elements: Software has already made your life easier and it will continue to do so; and all kinds of digital content will be delivered and sync'd on PCs and all kinds of devices via -- what else -- Microsoft software.

Naturally, Gates has some sweet gadgets onstage -- a Bluetooth table anyone? But the special guests are perhaps tonight’s weirdest aspect.

MTV Group president Van Toffler turns up to talk about Microsoft’s work on his firm’s Urge music service. And then up pops Justin Timberlake, looking like he had just escaped from Banana Republic’s Fall collection.

”I’m a consumer, too -- I want to know what’s cool,” Timberlake says.

But frankly, I’m not sure how many attendees recognize Timberlake, as the reaction to his appearance seems fairly muted. For this crowd, Gates is the rock star.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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