Gates bids adieu to CES, sense of humor intact

In swan song, Microsoft co-founder foresees greater digital era ahead

Bill Gates has never taken himself as seriously as he does his company. So it was only fitting that it was with a humorous and star-studded video parody that he kicked off his final preshow keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show Sunday night in Las Vegas.

The Microsoft Corp. chairman fictionally portrayed his last day of full-time work in a video at CES that had everyone from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to The Daily Show host Jon Stewart turning him down for a job, and music mogul Jay-Z and film actor Matthew McConaughey patiently enduring his painful attempts at new extracurricular activities -- rapping and hitting the gym.

When the laughs and applause from a crowd of several thousand at The Venetian hotel and casino died down, Gates once again outlined his vision for a world of service-connected devices that allow for human interactions through speech and touch -- a vision he's been promoting for years from the CES stage.

2008 International CES

View more stories from 2008 International CES "Getting the latest software, getting your data -- you'll just take that for granted," Gates said. "When you take a photo, it will show up in a place you like it to show up. That will be very simple."

He added that eventually, devices also will know the context and location of the people using them, so location-based information from devices will be automatically available.

Gates' vision for a connected world of devices and services has always been impressive. But as he makes his exit from a full-time role at Microsoft, the company has yet to make that vision a reality for the mainstream user.

Although some of the news in Gates' keynote seemed to suggest Microsoft is poised to change that, the company's strategy remains rooted in disparate product lines that haven't quite come together. And the company is facing increased pressure from competitors such as Apple Inc. and Google Inc., which have turned ideas Microsoft has bandied about for years -- such as touch-screen technology and Web-based services -- into profits the software company has not come close to achieving with its own efforts.

Still, Microsoft introduced some new deals and services on stage Sunday that show the company is on the right track. In particular, Microsoft has struck some savvy deals with entertainment companies MGM and ABC to bring films and popular TV shows to Xbox Live. The Xbox Live service and community, aimed at gamers using the Xbox console, has turned the Xbox into a viable television platform, tying together Microsoft's gaming strategy with its aim to provide premium entertainment. Along those lines, the company also announced a deal Sunday with British Telecom to deliver its IPTV service Mediaroom through the Xbox console.

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