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Bill Gates says his house is already wired to the hilt, with touch screens and high-definition displays. But, in the second installment of a two-part interview with CNET News.com, the Microsoft chairman admits he's ready to revamp his system to add "some vision and speech-type things."
What catches his eye at this year's Consumer Electronics Show? Gates says he's impressed by the number of high-quality, low-cost digital displays and the continuing spread of wireless technology.
As Windows Vista's debut looms, Gates takes measure of Windows XP's legacy to computing. And as he enters his final year full-time at Microsoft, he talks about his foundation and the work he'll be doing there.
Q: Every year at CES we see an array of futuristic PCs, and yet the types of computers that most people buy tend to be the same old desktops and notebooks. Do you think that's really going to start to change, and why?
Gates: Vista enables new capabilities. We didn't have the touch; we didn't have Media Center ready for the mainstream; we didn't have the SideShow, these smaller form factors. The hardware is improving a lot now, so you can get all the way down to a 6-inch display to let you read and get your full capabilities there. I do think we're seeing an expansion, and Vista is a big enabler.
What will be the biggest change that Vista will bring to everyday computing?
Gates: Vista is part of the infrastructure that lets you do high definition, let's you do advanced wireless capability. It brings security up to a level that the PC is more trusted. For example, building in parental control that you had to buy something and configure that and so you never trusted yourself--did you do that right now? It's simpler because now it's part of the platform. So it drives things, some of which take time after Vista comes out, some of which are quite immediate. That's the coordination we had with our partners, and there are many, many more like it.
For me, the search function has made a big difference. It's built in; applications call those APIs. The visual experience (is) just a lot better for me than what I had before, so my machine that didn't have Vista...I felt bad when I used it.
When you look back at Windows XP, what do you think is the biggest change in computing that XP brought?
Gates: XP was part of this explosion of the Windows PC to the center of a lot of experiences. Before XP came along, portables were a very small percentage of what people did, so as we put the wireless capability in there, the standard stack in there, we did some things that let Wi-Fi really take off in a big way, that let portable computers take off.
We did much better power management in XP than we'd ever done before. So could we have had this portable explosion? No, we couldn't have.
Vista takes that to the next degree because portables are growing, and that's even before you get to some of the more breakthrough things like Tablet or the small ultramobile type form factor. So we can look back on every Windows release and say it ushered in something new. Here, you could say it ushers in 64-bit.
But certainly at the server level...people are starting to push the limits, so if you don't relieve that memory pressure, people start to do very complex things like they did when we pushed the original 8086 limits, and now we've completely avoided that.
So there's quite a list you could pick. A lot of them have to do with new scenarios that were never being done before. RSS in the platform--at the time of XP, nobody knew what that was, why that was a big deal. Now I sit in IE and I mark things, and they just show up in Outlook. I take that for granted.
What types of things do you bring in via RSS?
Gates: I sign up to the kind of blogs that you might expect. I sign up to a lot of SharePoint sites that now can generate RSS notifications, so I'll be able to look and see, do I want to go and visit that? A lot of internal Microsoft sites where they're changing plans or schedules that I--I'm not going to pull them all, but I want a sense that I can do that.
I use my inbox rules to put these different things in folders and then, depending on what context I'm in, I'll go in one of those folders, just hit the urgent things, or go and hit some of the additional things. It saves me a lot of time. I see way more than I would otherwise.
The digital home is one of the big topics here this year. Since you have access to, I would imagine, any technology you want, I'm curious: What kinds of things do you have in your digital house that you think the average person will have in the coming years?
Gates: I can call up any movie, anywhere in the house. I can call up any of the music, and it's all just one totally integrated system. I have touch screens around. I have great high-definition screens. That system was actually done some time ago, so within the next couple of years, I'm going to take Media Center and rebuild it and take on another level of ambition.
I think I'll start to use some vision and speech-type things that would have been too advanced when I did the version that I have right now, so I want to get out there on the bleeding edge again.
Revamping the living room is one of the projects coming up for you?
Gates: Well, actually, I'll get other people to do the work, but what I did in my home helped drive some of those Media Center scenarios. Now I want to try and experiment with what the next frontier should be for those, and as screens become pervasive, as natural input becomes more practical, there's a lot more you can do. I'll show in my keynote tonight this idea of pervasive screens in the kitchen, in the bedroom, where the wall itself, in terms of the theme of the room or even picking what you're going to wear, seeing what's going on--as those screens are everywhere as you can talk and use cameras, it's really a lot different than a classic PC experience.
Outside of what Microsoft's doing, what types of things that we're going to see at CES or in consumer electronics, what's the biggest thing that's not involved with Microsoft that you think is making the biggest impact?
Gates: I think everything here does fit under these themes of connected and high fidelity.
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