Final keynote chords from tech rock star
Seattle Times technology reporter
Also from the speechTidbits of other news from Bill Gates' CES speech Sunday:
Microsoft struck a deal with MGM Studios to distribute its movie catalog over the Xbox Live network. The gaming network, which also rents movies, has some 10 million subscribers -- three of whom sued the company last week for outages during the holidays.
The Microsoft Mediaroom software for delivering television programming via Internet connection is now being used by about 1 million subscribers of AT&T, British Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, among other companies.
The company is expanding sales of its Zune portable media players to Canada.
The next version of the Windows Mobile operating system for mobile phones will include voice search.
The Microsoft Sync software installed in many new Ford vehicles for communications and entertainment systems will be expanded to every 2009 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicle.
LAS VEGAS -- The long-running Vegas stage show starring Bill Gates had its final, celebrity-studded performance Sunday night, with everyone from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to Bono and rapper Jay-Z showing up in a hilarious video send-off.
The Microsoft chairman and co-founder has headlined the International Consumer Electronics Show a dozen times since 1994, using this unparalleled pulpit to announce some of Microsoft's biggest plans and products, including Xbox and Windows Vista.
The show has also burnished his own celebrity status as Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and other top entertainers have joined him on stage -- a tradition he honored with a flourish for his last go.
More important, Gates gives his vision to a savvy audience of electronics manufacturers, sellers and users -- and, in recent years, entertainment companies -- whose products are increasingly touched by Microsoft's spreading consumer businesses.
Gates did so again Sunday, predicting that advances of what he has dubbed the "Digital Decade" will continue with the spread of high-definition flat-panel displays, mobile technology and speech and gesture recognition.
After handing off the titles of chief executive and chief software architect, Gates' role in his own digital dynasty will contract further this July. He plans to leave behind his daily life at Microsoft to focus full time on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In a video shown Sunday night depicting what his last day at Microsoft might be like, Gates, 52, hammed it up as never before.
"This will be the first time since I was 17 that I won't have my full-time Microsoft job," he said, introducing the video.
He then tried his hand at several post-Microsoft vocations in a series of self-deprecating sketches:
He worked out with actor Matthew McConaughey, pale arms bench-pressing 45 pounds. (Gates: "Am I ready to take my shirt off?" McConaughey: "Uh, not yet.")
He played a guitar riff and then asked U2's Bono, "Wasn't that the craziest riff you ever heard?!" (Bono: "I can't just replace Edge because you got a high score on 'Guitar Hero,' Bill.")
He rapped in a recording studio with Jay-Z. (Gates: "Big pimpin' I'm Bill G! Big pimpin' yeah you know me.")
He called up Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, asking if she'd considered a running mate. (Clinton: "I'm not sure politics is really for you.") Then he called Barack Obama. (Gates: "Hey, it's Bill." Obama: "Bill Shatner? Of 'Star Trek'?" Gates: "No." Obama, sounding suspicious: "Bill Clinton?")
The roughly 5,000 people who filled the cavernous hotel ballroom roared with laughter.
Microsoft has suggested Gates may take part in future shows in a different capacity, and his status and drawing power have earned him an open invitation from the Consumer Electronics Association, which organizes the event, known as CES.
But there is some sense Microsoft is losing the pole position here.
"It could reduce their significance at the show," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Kirkland-based Directions on Microsoft.
In an interview before his speech, Gates said other Microsoft executives, such as Entertainment and Devices Division President Robbie Bach, who joined him on stage Sunday, and CEO Steve Ballmer, "will come down here and do as good a job as I've ever done."
Engaging in a bit of nostalgia and prognostication at the same time, Gates navigated around a simulated Vegas strip then reviewed video clips from his past presentations using a prototype of a handheld device from Microsoft Research code-named "Mobile Navigator."
The device combines touch, speech and computer vision with GPS capabilities, wireless Internet connection and online services.
(It is just a conceptual device, not an indicator of a specific future Microsoft product, a Microsoft spokesman said.)
In a down-the-rabbit-hole moment, Gates used the device to tune in a live Webcast of his presentation while giving it.
Between visits to the past and forecasts of the future, Gates said some things about Microsoft's present.
The most significant was a partnership with NBC Universal for a video Web site for the summer Olympics in Beijing -- a sign of Microsoft's efforts to build its business on the Internet and in content distribution.
The company is investing heavily in areas beyond software and computer servers, its traditional money makers. But as it broadens its businesses, it's going head-to-head with Google, Adobe and other dominating competitors.
The Olympics site, www.nbcolympics.com, is expected to offer some 2,200 hours of live event coverage from the games with up to 30 streams of full-screen content to choose from. It will be based on Microsoft's new Silverlight technology, which competes with Adobe's Flash -- the widely used online multimedia player that powers YouTube and other popular Internet video destinations.
"They're taking on a very dominant platform right now in Flash, which is already installed on over 90 percent of PCs out there," said Rosoff, the Directions on Microsoft analyst.
By past CES keynote standards, the Olympics news was perhaps a little underwhelming.
Rosoff, briefed in advance of Gates' speech, said the lack of a major announcement reflects where Microsoft is in its consumer-products cycle.
"It sounds like they're trying to show momentum for products they've already got rather than announcing new products this year," he said.
The Xbox 360 is hitting its stride, having sold 17.7 million units since launching in November 2005, as is the flagship Windows Vista operating system, on the market for nearly a year.
Gates said Microsoft has sold more than 100 million Vista licenses to date, up from 88 million at last report in the fall. The vast majority of people get Vista through the purchase of a new PC.
Finishing on the same note that he started, Gates invited Slash from Velvet Revolver on stage as a ringer to help him beat Microsoft's Bach in a "Guitar Hero" duel. Slash wailed on an electric guitar as Gates walked off the stage into a haze of fake smoke.
Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The information in this article, originally published January 7, 2007, was corrected January 12, 2007. Microsoft's Xbox Live online gaming network has about 10 million subscribers. A previous version of the story incorrectly put the current subscriber count at 8 million.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company