Bill Gates took a pot-shot at Apple's iMac at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) yesterday.

Gates was touting Windows Millennium Edition, or Windows ME, the upgrade to Windows 98 that Microsoft hopes to ship by year's end. Features include a hibernation mode and a 25-second boot time - a vast improvement over Windows 98's boot time. He said that was faster than Sony's Playstation, which boots at 33 seconds, or Apple Computer's iMac, which takes 1 minute 10 seconds.

"We could have demonstrated that, but we just don't have time for it," Gates quipped.

On the plus side Gates ignored a plethora of unpleasant issues - the government's antitrust case, a potential break-up, and the company's worst financial day in more than a decade - to focus on the PC's future at the conference.

He made no mention of US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's ruling last month that the company he co-founded was an illegal monopoly. Instead, he put on his technology hat, discussing Microsoft's plans to ready its Windows platform for a wireless, broadband, all-pervasive computing future.

Gates said: "Our commitment is to provide software that is going to deliver on all the advanced scenarios. In some ways you think of this as platforms, but in other ways you can think of them as services."

Joke The only reference to the company's ongoing antitrust woes came from Microsoft official Chad Magendanz, who during a demonstration of Whistler, the next-generation version of Windows based on Windows 2000, quipped: "Yesterday I was checking the financial news and there are some great 'buy' opportunities out there."

Much of Gates' keynote speech focused on the consumer market, as he urged hardware makers and engineers to build systems that support technology that will enhance the management of images, music, and other information.

Gates predicted that microphones "will be everywhere" soon, thanks to speech recognition improvements and technologies such as voice-enhanced email and voice chat, which "will be an explosive app". Gates said the Microsoft Network will put out a voice chat offering in the next few months.