COMDEX: Gates puts on Corbis hat

Speaking not as the leader of Microsoft, but as the owner of relatively unknown photo-licensing firm Corbis, Bill Gates has laid out his vision for future imaging products aimed at the average consumer.

Speaking not as the leader of software behemoth Microsoft, but rather as the owner of relatively unknown photo-licensing firm Corbis, Bill Gates has laid out his vision for future imaging products aimed at the average consumer.

Gates' vision is one where homes have Web-connected flat-panel screens in every room and where pictures are easily manipulated and dispersed to friends and family, and where advanced imaging technology will be available at low cost, he said. The Microsoft chairman and chief executive officer was speaking here today at ImageScape '99 -- a conference on imaging and the Internet, taking place alongside the Comdex show.

The development of digitalised photography and graphics has been slow in coming over the decade since he founded Corbis to provide pictures and images over the Internet, Gates said.

"It takes a lot of pressure before an industry moves to taking a digital approach," Gates said. "The bandwidth restrictions have been a limiting factor, and even today, if you are connected over dial-up, the experience of looking at dozen (pictures) to isolate the photo you are interested in is still too slow. You'd still have someone FedEx the photos to you."

But technology is enabling faster, more detailed Web use of pictures and graphics, Gates said. "This industry in a few years will not have to talk about technical limitations whatsoever," he said. "The databases will be accessible."

Cable modem and DSL (digital subscriber line) will make the use of high-speed connections widespread. The cost of T1-type connections should be less than $US100 per month, Gates added.

In a few years, images will be viewed in every room in the home on flat-panel screens, he said.

"The idea is that flat-panel screens will be so inexpensive that you will have (them) throughout the house," Gates said.

Music speakers will also be posted throughout the home, he said. "You can choose where the music is going to be transmitted," Gates said. "Likewise with images -- you choose the target screen whether it's on the refrigerator or in the living room and you'll sequence the pictures that way."

Gates' house near Seattle is a forerunner of such homes, he said. "The house I live in has a glimpse of the future today," Gates said. "Of course, it's not at a reasonable price, but that's what being a pioneer is all about."

LCD (liquid-crystal display) screens will become the dominant viewing technology, Gates said. "The screens that show the most promise are LCDs with higher resolution. We need to have that resolution for readability and for electronic books," he said.

The music industry missed an early opportunity to market distribution over the Internet, he said. The industry didn't embrace digital distribution when it became popular among college-age students who were already living the Web lifestyle, Gates said. "That group had only one way to go to get their music -- through pirated music at certain sites. Now the digital music industry is saying, 'OK, we'll participate,'" he added.

"So, not coming in early to make all the information available in digital form really can be a short-sighted approach," Gates said.

The market is now ready to use these technologies to deliver services to mass markets, he said.

"I do think we'll see explosive growth," Gates said. "Probably the neatest thing is the empowerment it provides to do editorial work and let individuals pursue their interests. I'm very excited to be involved in this market and see great opportunities for everyone here."

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