Gates Says Goodbye

Inplace #2

The co-founder and chairman of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT: 34.65, +0.28, +0.8%) (MSFT) has delivered the opening keynote for CES for the last eight consecutive years. But as he already plans to step down from day-to-day involvement at the software giant this summer, Gates indicated that this will also be his last year kicking off the annual high-tech extravaganza.

“This will be the first time since I was 17 that I haven’t had my full time job at Microsoft, Gates said of his pending retirement, adding that he has mixed feelings about the move.

Gates also used the speech to outline his vision for the future of consumer technology, noting that advances in areas such as connectivity, user interface and high-definition video and audio will be the main driving forces for the sector in the next 10 years.

“The first digital decade has been a great success,” he said of the past 10 years. “The second digital decade will be more focused on connecting people. It will be more user-centric.”

In particular, he predicted that a key element in the next decade will be “natural-user interface,” in which consumers interface with their devices in more natural ways. He even mentioned the iPhone – the iconic touch-screen wireless phone introduced last year by longtime Microsoft rival Apple Inc. (AAPL: 178.55, -1.50, -0.8%) – as a key development in that area, and predicted that touch-screen and voice commands will play a much larger role in future electronics devices.

“This is the area that people underestimate the most,” he said of natural-user interface. “But the reaction to these natural interfaces has been very strong.”
The address, however, didn’t feature the same level of high-profile debuts as in years past, which have showcased notable product developments such as Windows Vista and the Xbox – Microsoft’s entry into the video game market.

Instead, Gates and fellow Microsoft officers announced partnerships with a wide-array of partners ranging from Ford Motor Co. (F: 6.26, +0.13, +2.1%) to television networks such as General Electric’s (GE: 36.34, +0.30, +0.8%) NBC and ABC, owned by the Walt Disney Co. ( DIS: 31.30, +0.17, +0.6%)

Microsoft will work with NBC to offer online broadcast of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

The company will also make TV programs from ABC, including hits such as “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” available over its Xbox Live online gaming and entertainment network. The company also announced a similar content deal with movie studio MGM, which owns the rights to such box-office hits as “Rocky” and “Silence of the Lambs.”

The highlight of Gates’ address was a tribute video that featured the world’s richest man trying to fill his time auditioning for movies with Steven Spielberg, boasting of his “Guitar Hero” skills with rock star Bono and lobbying presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the VP spot on the ticket.

Dan Gallagher is MarketWatch’s technology editor, based in San Francisco

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