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COMDEX: Gates outlines plans for digital decade

Computers to become ever more pervasive, according to Microsoft boss

Microsoft supremo Bill Gates gave his keynote speech at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas last night. Speaking to an estimated crowd of 12,000, he kicked off proceedings for the 2003 expo by outlining his vision of the so called "digital decade".

To bring home how Microsoft is enabling this new age of technology he introduced a slew of digital devices running various versions of Windows, including wireless computer displays, entertainment driven PCs and web-enabled home appliances, including an alarm clock.

The clock is being developed as part of a project, called SPOT (smart personal object technology). It is working on adding intelligence and web connectivity to everyday home appliances. The idea is to make "smarter everyday objects" and take them "beyond their core functions," Gates said.

The alarm clock, for example, uses a wireless internet connection to automatically update the time it displays using an atomic clock. It also can deliver personalised information such as weather or commuter advice based on a user's personal settings. Microsoft devices based on SPOT are expected to become available in the coming year, Gates said.

But hardware wasn't the only thing on show, as Gates also introduced a new application called OneNote, which is designed to mimic note taking with a pen and paper, but adds the ability to save and search the notes in digital form.

"It hasn't been that easy in the past to… really organise your thoughts in a free-form way," Gates said.

With OneNote, Gates said Microsoft is solving the problem. Users can jot down notes with a stylus pen or keyboard, as well as dragging images or data from a web page onto a OneNote document. It can also record audio while taking notes and link the files to the document as a user writes. By clicking on a typed or handwritten word in a OneNote file, a user would hear the portion of the audio that was uttered when that note was written.

Gates also trumpeted his company's efforts around building an deploying web services based on its .Net platform and the industry standard format XML (Extensible Markup Language). He demonstrated a web service that will be available in the middle of 2003 from Kinko in the USA. The service adds an option to a user's print menu from within a document that allows a file to be delivered over the internet to a Kinko outlet to be printed at one of its facilities.

"They're moving along the path that they've talked a lot about (with web services)," said Jean Bozman, an analyst with research company IDC, who attended Gates' keynote. "With the Kinko's example, they've provided a concrete example of what web services can be."

The Windows server operating system that will be the foundation that powers new .Net web services is Windows .Net Server 2003. Gates said the long-awaited server operating system will be released in April 2003. A second release candidate is expected to ship to testers by the end of the year. Microsoft's software development tool, Visual Studio .Net, will also be upgraded and released in final beta version in April, he said.

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