Comdex '99: Gates - Long live the PC

Keynote address concentrates on "The Personal Web"

Personal computer vendors may be shying away from the PC moniker, but Microsoft isn't.

At his keynote address to open Comdex/Fall '99, Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and CEO, focused heavily on the past and future PC hardware and software advances which he said will make possible "The Personal Web."

Gates started his keynote with a reference to the present,opening his one-and-a-half hour speech with "anybody here heard any good lawyer jokes recently?" -- a comment which drew loud applause from the estimated 8,000 attendees at the Venetian Hotel.

"All over America there are entrepreneurs working in their garages and lawyers working in their 20th floor offices, both doing what they do best," Gates added.

Gates told attendees he appreciated the e-mails and letters that individuals have sent, following Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's harsh findings of fact against Microsoft in the Department of Justice vs. Microsoft antitrust case. He said that people have told him that what "Microsoft has done has benefited consumers" and "instead of doing less innovation in Windows, we should be doing more innovation.

"Thank you for your support," Gates said in the last of the overt references he made about the lawsuit in which Microsoft is embroiled.

Gates spent the remainder of his address showing off a number of previously announced Microsoft software and services. "The PC has gone to new heights. I believe it will continue to do so," Gates told attendees.

While he did show off a number of Windows CE-enabled Internet devices, Gates did not talk about the "PC-Plus era," a phrase Microsoft has using in recent months to describe its evolving charter as a supplier of software that can connect users "any time, any place and on any device."

Here at Comdex/Fall '99 this week, a number of PC makers are expected to show off their entrees in the "Internet appliance" space, in an attempt to move beyond traditional desktop systems.

It will be PCs -- not Unix servers -- that will be the foundation of e-commerce, Gates opined.

Gates put Windows 2000 through its paces, emphasizing that Microsoft's next-generation operating system will be scalable enough to rival the "big box model" espoused by a number of Microsoft's competitors in the server space. Gates highlighted Windows 2000's network load balancing and the add-on management capabilities that Microsoft will deliver in its Application Center add-on product as enabling the operating system to compete favorably with other data-center-oriented offerings. Windows 2000 is due to be available commercially on February 17, 2000; Gates did not provide an update on where Windows 2000 is at in the development process.

To showcase Microsoft's scalability message, Gates bought a new car from the web site -- a site which is capable of fielding 500 million hits a day from 20,000 simultaneous users.

One of the few demonstrations to really wow the crowd was that of a simulated travel-planner application, aimed to showcase how users in the not-too-distant future will be able to use Windows' built-in streaming media, XML and MSN services to customise their Web experiences. The travel planner, called, allowed users to do everything from download preferred music clips and maps to their AutoPC systems, to synchronize their schedules with those of car dealers and service stations en route on a preplanned trip.

Gates also highlighted a number of currently shipping Windows CE devices, as well as some yet-to-be-delivered MSN-based Web Companions. He showed off the next-generation MSN portal Web interface, which at one time was code-named Mariner. The new interface will allow computer vendors and dealers to preconfigure users' machines for single-touch Internet sign-up and use.

Gates told users that Microsoft's underlying message is "choice." "Code can run on a PC, Internet device or on a PC server as a service. You need one architecture" that lets developers write applications once that can run anywhere, he said.

The other big crowd-pleaser during Gates' speech was a new video clip entitled "Computing Is Being Discussed Everywhere," done in the McLaughlin Group pundit-talkshow format. A spot highlighting "Austin Gates" -- Gates posing as Austin Powers -- and another with "Judge Judy" overseeing a bridge gambling dispute between Gates and investor Warren Buffet -- drew big laughs.

For full coverage, see the Comdex '99 Special Report .