Gates eyes next "digital decade"

Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates took center stage at the world's largest technology show for the last time on Sunday and predicted that his industry was on the cusp of the next "digital decade."

Gates, who plans to switch in July to a more limited role at the company he co-founded in 1975 with childhood friend Paul Allen, said computing will become a pervasive part of everyday life through devices like televisions, mobile telephones.

"Everything will connect up. You'll just take it for granted. No longer will users have to bridge between devices and remember what's where," Gates told the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"The trend here is clear, all media and entertainment will be digital driven. The first digital decade has been tremendously successful."

Gates had little to show off in the way of new gadgets.

"Part of this has to do with Microsoft being tired of announcing new stuff that doesn't ever materialize or shows up in a form very different than what was shown," Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg wrote in a Web posting.

"I still think that's a good approach but a little more zing would not have hurt," Gartenberg said.

Gates said this will be his last keynote address to CES -- at least in his current role -- and he showed a spoof video in which famous people like director Steven Spielberg and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton rebuffed his pleas for new work.

In the future, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division that makes products like the Xbox 360 gaming console and Zune portable media player, will take a central role in delivering the address.

In a presentation sprinkled with self-deprecating jokes and a finale featuring rock guitarist Slash, Gates predicted that people would interact more naturally with technology through methods like speech and touch over the next decade. It is a prediction Gates has made for years, touting devices like the tablet computer, which have had slow adoption.

However, devices like Apple Inc iPhone and Nintendo Co Ltd's Wii motion-sensing video game machine are proving that more "natural" user interfaces have a broad appeal with consumers.

"All of those are just starting to show you that natural interaction pattern really breaks you out of the keyboard and mouse," Gates said in an interview with Reuters. "The next big surprise for people will be how this natural interface becomes pervasive."

Last year at CES, Microsoft unveiled the Sync car audio and mobile phone system for cars offered by Ford. Sync recognizes voice commands to play music and make phone calls.

Gates also displayed the company's Surface computer, a coffee table shaped PC that works like a large touch-screen PC and can respond to objects placed on top of it.

The company also unveiled a set of partnerships with media companies including a deal with General Electric's NBC Universal to power its Web site for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Using Microsoft's Silverlight Web video technology, a rival to Adobe System Inc's Flash video technology, the Web site " on MSN" will offer more than 3,000 hours of live and on-demand sports coverage.

Microsoft also said it struck a deal with Walt Disney Co to bring ABC and Disney Channel shows to Xbox Live Marketplace, the online video game and entertainment store tethered to its Xbox 360.

It also said MGM Studios will be bringing its library of movies including titles like "Rocky," "Terminator" and "Legally Blonde" to Xbox Live, a service that now had more than 10 million users, a milestone reached six months ahead of plan.

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