COMDEX: Gates says PC model will prevail

Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates in the opening keynote at Comdex yesterday predicted that "the PC model will prove itself once again".

Speaking before a crowded hall of some 10,000 Comdex attendees, a genial Gates played host to demonstrations of some cutting-edge PC technologies, and found time to present a montage of video and animation clips that made light of the problems his company has faced in the past year.

Time and again he reiterated his supreme confidence in the future success of the PC.

"The PC is not standing still in anyway," Gates said. "The PC will go far beyond what any systems have been able to do in the past."

The Microsoft chief said that despite doubters in the future of Moore's law -- that the performance of processors will double every 18 months -- he assured the audience that growth of PC performance will continue unabated.

He predicted that in the future "typical" PCs will hold between one and 64 processors and will be able to be clustered to harness a "multiplicative effect" for users in demand of more power.

As performance steams ahead, a multiplicity of PC form factors will emerge, including handheld and automobile PCs, Gates predicted. Electronic books, which have to date been mostly the province of science fiction writers, lack "readability".

"We just don't have the screen and font quality that match the printed page," he said. "I don't even read long articles off the screen," Gates acknowledged.

He then demonstrated his company's solution to the problem. The technology, called ClearType, can raise the resolution of text displayed on existing LCD screens by 300 per cent, making it significantly easier to read text on a screen, a Microsoft researcher told the audience. Gates predicted that the next generation of eBooks, as the emerging electronic book readers are called, will incorporate Microsoft's Windows CE operating system.

"I was very impressed with ClearType; it could make a real difference in eBooks in a year or two," said Gerry Purdy, president and CEO of Mobile Insights, a California-based market research company.

Still, the PC does face some potential "pitfalls", Gates said, including confusing file names, commands and error messages. PCs need to be easier to use and the industry still has broad challenges in assuring people's privacy when using PCs and the Internet, Gates said.

Gates said he is optimistic that industry organisations such as the World Wide Web Consortium and privacy auditors such as BBB Online are working on privacy standards. He also said he believed the popular use of passwords leads to "a lot of problems".

"The one big weak link today [in privacy protection] is the use of the password," he said. Recent advances in fingerprint technology, however, are likely to lead to much better security, he predicted.

"If we don't see significant breakthroughs in the next year and a half I think people are just going to lose patience with the PC," said one attendee who asked not to be named, but said he was an entrepreneur in the health-care industry and a long-time Gates-watcher.

Gates tried to humanise his presentation with two videos that poked fun at his company, the PC industry and himself, a standard tool Gates has recently used in his presentations to large audiences.

The opening video used clips from Microsoft's legal battle with the US Government over the company's alleged antitrust behaviour. The clip included animation with a frail Gates in a losing boxing match with a government prosecutor.

A second clip showed US comedian Jay Leno as a roving reporter asking people on the street questions about the future of computing and the PC's biggest booster, Bill Gates.

One interviewee, when asked if he had heard of Gates, said that he was the "Microsoft guy" while another hazarded a different guess. "The mayor?" she questioned.

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