Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates shared his company's future vision for the digital life during a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) yesterday.
He focused on solutions that seamlessly connect users to digital content through software, services and devices.
He demonstrated a gaggle of gadgets and new software features aimed at letting users access digital media anytime.
Microsoft and MTV aim at the Apple core
There were some practical applications to the vision Gates promulgated - many of them were for home entertainment. Microsoft's Windows Media Center OS was a major focus of his talk.
Digital music, which arguably is driving consumer adoption of Internet-based digital media, also took centre stage during Gates' keynote, with a surprise - albeit brief - appearance by Justin Timberlake to promote MTV Networks' new music download service, Urge. Gates and MTV Networks Music Group president Van Toffler announced that Microsoft is teaming with MTV to provide the service on Windows Media Player 11, which will be available on Windows Vista before the end of the year.
Gates also announced a new, multi-year deal with DirectTV to stream video from the service directly to Windows Media Center PCs, and to download that content to some portable devices.
Your future isn't private
Gates began his keynote by walking through a demonstration of a scenario he predicted to be not far off, in which he carried customised content with him from his home to his office and even to the airport through a range of intelligent, wireless devices.
In the demo, Gates used a screen at home to transfer a report from a news channel to his mobile phone, and then used an office set-up, with a large, flat screen displaying various application interfaces, to interact with a variety of co-workers through real-time video chat while still watching the news report on the screen.
He also demonstrated a scenario at an airport where he placed his phone on a flat-screen table, and information from the phone came up on the screen. By using his fingerprint, Gates was able to access information on his mobile phone and work until he had to catch his flight, with a reminder on the screen letting him know how much time he had before his plane was to depart.
The effect was certainly impressive, but not exactly realistic - at least not anytime soon, said Internet technology director for the California Democratic Party Andrew Hintz. "It was very overwhelming," he said.
Hintz, who was attending the conference to see the latest gadgets, said that he can't imagine a world where, for instance, intelligent display screens would replace the regular PC screen in an office, simply because of the sheer expense of such technology.
Though many of the technologies highlighted were cutting edge, Gates also revived two technologies that have not quite lived up to their hype, but that insiders say are particular pet projects for the Microsoft founder - Tablet PC and IPTV (Internet Protocol television).
During his keynote, Gates said that Microsoft is making a lot of investment in providing Tablet PC capabilities in Vista, and expects to make inroads in that area this year: "Driving that to the mainstream is something we're committed to," he said.
Gates also predicted that Microsoft's IPTV service, which had some widely reported setbacks in 2005, will emerge from the trial stage into widespread deployment in 2006.