Is Bill Gates throwing off the mantle of geekiness?

Forget colour handhelds, mini notebooks, postage-stamp storage devices and Web-phones, the big news of this year's Comdex broke last night when Microsoft chairman and CEO went into an eye-popping dance routine (pics 10k) in front of hundreds of observers.Okay, so it was a private party.

Forget colour handhelds, mini notebooks, postage-stamp storage devices and Web-phones, the big news of this year's Comdex broke last night when Microsoft chairman and CEO went into an eye-popping dance routine (pics 10k) in front of hundreds of observers.

Okay, so it was a private party. The event was legendary PC Week gossip columnist Spencer F. Katt's annual Las Vegas shindig and those fortunate enough to attend the Harley-Davidson Cafe bash were almost all industry insiders.

That said, it's not every day - that we know of - that Gates steps up on to the stage and essays a fully-fledged funky chicken routine. To gasps cheers and not a few rubbed eyes, Gates jived for two minutes to disco music. Before and afterwards he cut the rug with a few routines on the dance floor while reporters, analysts and fellow industry captains like Gateway 2000 boss Ted Waitt and Traveling Software chief Mark Eppley gave him the space usually afforded to kings, rock stars and religious cult gurus.

Some days, however, even Bill Gates can't make a dollar; several commentators linked his jokey Sunday keynote address and last night's Travolta-isms to a desire for populism spurred by the US Department of Justice and consumer kingpin Ralph Nader enquiries into Microsoft business practices. If Bill can get 'the people' on his side, went this stilted theory, it will be tougher for the great and good to prosecute.

In truth, since roughly the time of his marriage to fellow Microsoft executive Melinda French in January 1994, Gates has appeared a more relaxed and self-effacing character than the squeaky-voiced, arrogant figure he once appeared. At the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Long Beach, California, last November, Gates playfully rated his company's performance like a teacher grading pupils, and a regular aspect of recent speeches has been an attractive self-mockery of his own tics such as repetition of certain phrases, and occasional false predictions.

More than ever Gates seems to be pointing to his own feet of clay... even if they are encased in blue suede shoes.

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