CES: Gates on 'Digital Decade'

LAS VEGAS -- Consumer Electronics Show -- Bill Gates delivered a vision of convergence, served Microsoft-style, at the CES opening keynote last night.

Proclaiming the first 10 years of the 21st century as “the digital decade” Gates laid out a concept of interlinked devices from which users will be able to access all manner of synchronized voice, video, and data services -- but the PC remains at the center of it all, tying things together.

Of course, it may not look like a traditional PC. Gates told the audience that Microsoft sold 6.5 million home entertainment-oriented Media Center computers last year.

Meanwhile, the firm is already pushing its next-generation desktop operating system, codenamed “Vista.” Joe Bellifiore, a director in Microsoft’s Media Center division, demonstrated the latest work on the Vista OS at the keynote.

Perhaps most interesting -- at least visually -- was a new method of displaying and selecting applications on the desktop in three dimensions. The user can select them by flicking through them, like cards in a rolodex. Gates says that Vista will ship by the end of the year.

But smaller mobile devices also got a look in at the show:

Gates says that Verizon Wireless will start shipping the first Palm Treo smartphone based on a Microsoft OS, and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) will follow suit with its Q device later this year.

Microsoft will also continue to invest in the portable computing Tablet PC platform -- a concept that has yet to really catch on with consumers. This year, Gates promised, tablets will start to drop in price so that they are equivalent to laptop computers.

But it's really content that glues together what Gates calls the “digital lifestyle."

And for Microsoft, one of the most important forms of digital content will be TV broadcast over the Internet. Gates proclaimed 2006 as a big year for IPTV and announced partnerships with DirecTV Broadband Inc. and Sky .

Curiously, he also highlighted the aspect that could be most worrisome to many about IPTV -- intelligent ads that know what you like and follow you around -- apparently as something to look forward to. “Ads can be targeted to you that are far more relevant… You might even want to watch them,” he said.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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