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Gates Lays Out Vision For 'PCs'

When Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates talks about the "PC", he isn't necessarily referring to the omnipresent hunk of beige plastic we call the "personal computer."

Often the head of the world's largest software company (MSFT) is speaking about a "personal companion" - any number of small gizmos, such as palm-top computers, navigation systems in cars and even electronic books.

Gates laid out his vision as he opened the 19th annual Comdex/Fall. The computer industry's biggest blowout of the year, Comdex runs through this week and is expected to attract nearly a quarter of a million people to Las Vegas.

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Appearing looser than at recent testimony in the government's antitrust investigation, Gates took on a familiar self-deprecating attitude. He opened the hour-long speech with a video that included clips of Attorney General Janet Reno going after Microsoft, an embarrassing clip of a bug bringing down a product demo and even Gates himself getting creamed with a pie in Brussels.

Microsoft's plans for the nascent "personal companion" appear as ambitious as its original plans for the "personal computer", where it hold about 90 percent of the market. But instead of running Windows 95 or 98, users will be running Windows CE.

Windows CE debuted at Comdex two years and it has only taken off slowly. A member of the CE team said the division hasn't been given enough support. "You'd think they would hype it more. It's the only system they've actually built from the ground up," he sniffed.

One development debuted at Sunday night's keynote speech should help the CE-based devices gain wider acceptance is ClearType. This new software gives a 300 percent increase in the sharpness and "readability" of text on screens.

This should "usher in" new interest in electronic books Gates said. The technology will also be added into other Microsoft products - Internet Explorer, the Office line and the basic operating system - to improve screen resolution, he added.

In addition to Gates, a number of high-powered executives are scheduled to speak at Comdex. Oracle chief executive, and Gates rival, Larry Ellison and Intel chief executive Craig Barrett are among them.

Over the week, Comdex is expected to pump more than $400 million into the Las Vegas economy.

Written By Brenon Daly

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