Gates: Get Ready for the Digital Decade

Microsoft Corp.'s chairman and chief software architect said in his "state-of-the industry" keynote at Comdex on Sunday night that in the 2001-2010 time period digital innovations will become an integral part of everyday life.

LAS VEGAS--While 2001 has been a challenging year, in fact the toughest in several decades for both the world at large and the technology industry, the next decade holds huge potential, Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp.s chairman and chief software architect, said in his "state-of-the industry" keynote at Comdex here on Sunday night.

Addressing a crowd of more than 10,000, an animated and upbeat Gates said he is excited about the 2001-2010 time period, which he said will be known as the Digital Decade and where digital innovations will become an integral part of everyday life.

"The productivity gains that technology will drive during this Digital Decade will be double those of the 1990s," he said. "An economic revival will be driven by technological advances. The wave of hardware and software innovation currently being seen will provide the impetus for renewed investment in information technology across every business and economic sector."

While the tragic events of Sept. 11 highlighted the need for security, particularly with regard to digital systems that could no longer be allowed to contain weaknesses, this is an issue the industry was already hard at work addressing, he said.

Given the fall in consumer confidence and the fact that PC sales are expected to be off from their high of last year, there is also a lot of talk about saturation and whether the technology market has played out, he said.

Decade of digital growth

"But I am excited about the next decade and the things that have not yet been delivered and the potential that is only starting to be delivered. This will be the decade of digital growth," Gates said.

This was underscored by the fact that in 2001 there are 673 million e-mail boxes and 200 million instant messaging users and 18 million digital cameras have been sold, accounting for 21 percent of all global annual camera sales.

In addition, Microsoft notched up sales of 7 million licenses of Windows XP to OEM partners and through retail in the first two weeks of its release. "XP is a product crucial to the Digital Decade, and demand from OEMs has been beyond anything we have ever seen for a new product, while retail sales are two times more than for any previous version or product," Gates said.

Microsofts goal is to take knowledge workers, enterprises and homes and to link them together with trustworthy systems. "The theme here is empowerment, and the huge advances we are seeing in hardware now will continue, with software doing its part as well, propelling us forward into this Digital Decade," he said.

Bully about Tablet PC

As expected, Gates also used his keynote to tout the Tablet PC, due for release late next year, and the Xbox, which hits shelves this Thursday.

"The next week is a big one for entertainment. On Tuesday we have the 200th episode of Frasier, in which I make a cameo appearance, followed by the launch of the Xbox on Thursday, and on Friday Harry Potter hits the big screen," he said, quipping that he wanted everyone to know he had been dressing that way long before Potter was even conceived.

Gates then introduced Jeff Raikes, the group vice president of Microsofts business productivity group, who showed a range of prototype Tablet PCs from leading computer makers, including Acer Inc., Compaq Computer Corp. and Fujitsu PC Corp.

Unveiling the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, Raikes also demonstrated a number of advanced partner applications designed for the Tablet, including a portable version of Autodesks CAD software; enhancements to Microsoft office software that enable people to exchange handwritten instant messages and annotate Word and PowerPoint documents; and a customized version of the Groove real-time collaboration software.

"All of these application enhancements will be available at the same time we release the Tablet PC, in the second half of next year," Raikes said.

In addition, Gates announced the availability of Microsoft Producer for PowerPoint 2002, an add-on for PowerPoint 2002 in Office XP that enables business users and media professionals to create rich-media presentations by synchronizing audio, video, slides and images. These can then be viewed on demand in a browser across the Internet or an intranet. Microsoft Producer for PowerPoint 2002 is available for download at

.Net Server Beta 3 coming

Gates also confirmed that the third beta for the Windows .Net Server family will be released this month, as first reported by eWEEK. Security is a major consideration in this server software, he said, adding that the servers will automatically be configured for high security and will also automatically receive security updates.

In addition, Microsoft is addressing a range of enterprise server issues, of which scalability is critical. "There needs to be unlimited scalability, and we have been working hard on this," he said.

"A key building block in our broad vision is trustworthy systems, which have to always work; offer online support; have fault-tolerant servers, auto backup and synchronization; and self-repairing systems," Gates said.

He also talked at length about the companys .Net platform and its Web services vision, which is based on XML. "Many industries have tried to create mass customization for their products and services. But with .Net and the common fabric of XML Web services, the reality goes far beyond that dream.

"Companies can now customize their products and services to the need of each individual customer and offer these over the Web in seamless collaboration with their partners," he said.

Gates also talked about developments for the home, from entertainment to music to collaboration, predicting that while broadband and wireless connectivity would take years to be pervasive, e-mails handwritten in "ink" and WAV voice files would be commonplace within the next few years.

And Gates gave a sneak preview of the Xbox, which will be launched in New York on Thursday, boasting that after its release, gaming will never be the same.

He concluded his keynote by saying the future lay in the realization of potential, from the economic potential of the United States to the potential of each business to peoples personal potential. "Our high-tech industry has the potential to take computing into a new and exciting era. The Digital Decade is here, now--and it will touch and improve the lives of every one of us," he said.