Bill Gates Bids CES Farewell


The Microsoft chairman promotes interactivity and even tries rapping in a music video for his final Consumer Electronics Show keynote

In his annual and last ever keynote speech for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft (MSFT) Chairman William Gates speculated on the future of technology during the next decade. He believes screens, from television sets to mobile phones, will go high-definition, and they will connect seamlessly. And he said that consumers will increasingly use so-called "natural user interfaces," such as speech recognition and touch-screen technology. "People are very interested in a simpler way of navigating," Gates said.

But things really got interesting when Gates wondered aloud about what his last day at Microsoft would be like before he steps away from day-to-day duties in July to work full time at philanthropy. That led into a self-deprecating video where an awkward Gates tries rapping Jay-Z's Big Pimpin'as the artist runs the soundboard. "It was great," Jay-Z tells Gates, before turning to the camera and whispering, "not so much."

Gates calls Bono off-stage during a concert to beg for a job playing with U2, only to be denied. Stephen Spielberg shoots down Gates' audition reel. Jon Stewart rejects Gates' request to co-anchor The Daily Show. And both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama turn down his pleas to serve as their running mate. In the video, Obama isn't even sure who's calling him. "Bill?" Obama says into the phone. "Bill Clinton?"

Showcasing Mobile Computing

While stars routinely show up in Gates' CES keynotes, the number of A-list celebrities— which also included Matthew McConaughey, George Clooney, and Al Gore—made it feel like a grand finale, which it was. After having done 11 CES keynotes—the first came in 1994—Gates said this one would be his last. In November, Gates presided over his final shareholder meeting as chairman (BusinessWeek.com, 11/14/07).

Gates didn't spend much time showing off new products. But he and Microsoft Entertainment and Device Div. President Robert Bach did highlight a handful of Microsoft services that reflect how computing is moving away from traditional desktop PCs and into the living room, car, and telephone. Last year, Microsoft bought TellmeNetworks (BusinessWeek.com, 3/15/07), and Bach showed how the service will one day work combining mobile phones and global positioning systems. From a Tellme application, consumers can simply say "movies" to find the nearest theater to them at that moment. From there, they can buy tickets by just saying the number they want and the specific showing.

Gates also showed how natural user interfaces will evolve with Surface, Microsoft's computer in a table (BusinessWeek.com, 11/14/07) that responds to users' touches and gestures. Surface is debuting as a virtual concierge in hotels, but Gates hopes it will soon be used in retail stores. For example, Gates showed how an outdoors-shop customer could use a Surface table to customize a snowboard and transfer an image of his creation to a mobile device simply by placing it on the table.

Letting TV Viewers Select Camera Angles

Bach demonstrated speech recognition in Ford's (F) new cars featuring Sync technology from Microsoft. Rather than navigating a portable music player by hand, drivers can simply say the name of the song and have it start playing. And they can say the name of a contact and have their Bluetooth connected phone start dialing. Ford expects 1 million of its cars on the road with Sync by 2009.

Gates explained how Mediaroom, the Internet-based television platform (BusinessWeek.com, 11/6/07) that Microsoft created for telecommunications companies to sell will work with TNT and Showtime to let users select their own camera angles when viewing sports. For example, a Nascar fan could maintain a constant view from his favorite driver's car or plug into a certain ringside shot in a boxing match. For now, though, Mediaroom is mainly used for TV services in other countries.

Then the speech ended much the way it started, with a celebrity cameo. This time, Bach challenged Gates to a game of Guitar Hero, the hot video title where gamers compete by seeing who can play a guitar riff most accurately. Bach brought out the reigning Guitar Hero title-holder as his ringer, playing Guns N' Roses' Welcome to the Jungle. Of course, Gates isn't allowed to lose. He brought out Slash, who played his original licks. And then Gates stepped off the CES stage for good.

The AP contributed to this report.

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