Joining the dots: "Bobbie Johnson hears Bill Gates predict a 'connected future' in which 'it's not just software for the PC ... it's software for the user'."
Bobbie Johnson in Las Vegas
Thursday January 5, 2006
Imagine a world in which you pick the information you are interested in and it follows you everywhere - your home, your car, your phone or your office.
To some, that may sound like science fiction, or about as likely as the eternally-heralded paperless office. But the Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates, said he believed it could be achievable within three or four years when he outlined his vision of a "connected future" at this week's annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Mr Gates, who became the world's richest man on the back of the personal computer explosion of the 80s and 90s, said he believed the next few years could herald another revolution in the way we use information.
In a demonstration to technology industry experts, he put forward a concept of kitchen-based video screens showing personalised information as well as TV and internet news, all linked wirelessly to mobile phones and office computers.
"Five or six years ago, if you'd said to people that software would make photos, music and TV better, they'd have been sceptical," Mr Gates told an audience of technology industry experts. "This really is the symptom of the great progress of the digital decade."
Thanks to the rocketing growth in mobile phones, computers and broadband internet connections, he said the potential to link up the disconnected streams of information in people's lives was greater than ever.
"My preferences, my interests are reflected on those devices," he said. "It's not just software for the PC, software for the phone, software for the video game - it's software for the user."
The Microsoft boss - recently voted Time magazine's person of the year alongside his wife, Melinda, and the rock star Bono - was in bullish mood as he outlined the corporation's strategies for the coming year.
He trumpeted an 11% increase in sales of Windows-compatible PCs over the past year, including a sizeable boost for the living room-friendly Media Center PC line, and predicted good sales for Microsoft's new videogames console, the Xbox 360.
With the living room now seen as the biggest battleground for electronics, internet and broadcasting companies alike, Microsoft is placing great emphasis on its involvement in the future development of TV technologies.
Mr Gates revealed that Microsoft and the satellite TV firm Sky were teaming up to create an internet-based video on demand service for the UK, and said more deals were in the pipeline.
"We're working with BSkyB: they'll be setting up a video on demand capability that will be for Windows Media Center customers," he said. "More than 8 million subscribers in the UK will be able to get this."
Many other companies are using the international CES - one of the world's leading technology showcases - to map out the future of internet TV.
Many of the 2,500 companies are exhibiting products for video over the web, and large areas of the 1.6m sq ft show floor will be given over to high-definition TV.
The chip-maker Intel is showcasing its new range of TV-friendly hardware, while manufacturers including Panasonic are unveiling television sets able to connect directly to the web to display internet pages and video.
"The power of the internet players, and the investment they're making in video is a threat in and of itself," Saul Berman, a partner in IBM's media and entertainment consultancy, said.
Mr Gates's speech was also used to unveil a new music download shop backed by MTV. The service, called Urge, could prove a stern challenge to the dominant iTunes Music Store because it offers not only extensive music downloads but also a large amount of video content from MTV's family of television stations.