LAS VEGAS-- Tonight, Bill Gates gave the big kickoff keynote for the Consumer Electronics Show. There's exhaustive coverage of this talk elsewhere, so I thought it'd be interesting to focus on what Gates had to say about the future of the Web and Web applications. (For the more well-rounded look at this talk, see Ina Fried's News.com story, Gates: Curtain call for crystal ball; for all CES news, see ces.cnet.com.)
Social networking: Gates said the "second digital decade" will be more about connecting people, and that applications will use services in the cloud. Microsoft exec Mika Krammer showed how the new Windows Live calendar now lets you overlay schedules from family and friends to make setting up group events easier.
A demo showed Vista and Windows Mobile updating a Windows Live Spaces with photos, with a single click.
Also, Gates showed the cool Surface tabletop interface sending images directly to Spaces.
"Masters" of your media files will be stored in the cloud, he said, but personal devices will sync and view them.
Search: The big pitch was around mobile search and the acquired TellMe service. An upcoming service, "Say and See" uses your voice and GPS location for input, but feeds data back to you on the screen, which is faster than a two-way voice transaction.
Mapping: Gates predicts 3D environments will go with you: In the store, on the street, and so on. Devices will, of course, know your location. At the end of the talk, he showed a science fair demo of a device that visually recognizes places and people and correlates that information with your personal data--it will beep when it sees people who owe you money (oh, great), or let you know where the restaurant is where you have a reservation if you just point the lens in the right general direction. Very cool, but not a product. Yet.
Silverlight: Gates says that NBC has chosen Microsoft (MSN) as the exclusive online partner for the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Viewers will get custom feeds so they can see just the events they want. The site will be NBCOlympics.com.
Entertainment: Robbie Bach talked about "connected entertainment." Bach says Microsoft just passed the 10-million-member mark on XBox Live.
ABC and Disney are bringing their video content to Xbox Live. MGM is bringing its movies to the platform as well. Bach says the XBox Live network will have more than twice as much content as any cable or satellite network.
Back also talked about Microsoft's Mediaroom, an IPTV service used around the world by 1 million people (i.e., not that many yet). Microsoft is doing an app with CNN around the presidential elections.
British Telecom will be sending Mediaroom-powered IPTV content to XBox users, presumably in the UK but perhaps globally. The idea of XBox as a set-top box: Great. Can't wait.
Music: We saw a demo of Zune Social, currently in beta. Molly O'Donnell showed how you can post your "Zune Card" to your social network or blog. It tracks what you're listening to and what you like. And you can have fun mocking your friends' music tastes. I assume the service gets data from your Zune when you sync or connect it with your PC.
The long goodbye
What was odd about this talk was what Gates said at the beginning: Broadband is in 250 million households, he said, but, "The trend is clear: the future will be software-driven." Of course, all the cool stuff we saw was software, but for the most part, only the eye candy was running on local devices (games being the exception). The really useful and powerful services were running in the cloud, on servers, not users' PCs.
And it's worth noting that even at the gadget-happy CES show, live Internet technologies are everywhere--in TVs, GPS receivers, and built into new motherboards--threatening traditional operating systems and software more every day. I think it's fitting that this year was Gates' last CES keynote. Yes, software is everywhere. But the future, as most real users will understand it, is on the Web.