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And when it comes to the Consumer Electronics Show, Bill Gates might just be the honorary commander in chief. But for his last CES keynote as a full-time employee of Microsoft -- he's delivered nine -- the hour-long presentation was short on nostalgia and long on entertainment.
An 'Office'-inspired spoof
The self-deprecating laughs began with an "Office"-inspired celeb-filled spoof that chronicled his final day as a fulltime Microsoft employee, where he tries to figure out his next gig -- rapping for Jay-Z, playing guitar for U2, trying to swing a starring role in a Spielberg film, soliciting himself as a running mate for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and attempting to become People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive by training with Matthew McConaughey. (Mr. Gates, pumping the bench press: "Am I ready to take my shirt off yet?" Mr. McConaughey: "Not yet.")
But in a more serious moment, Mr. Gates said he'll pick up a few projects that "are about the magic of software." He named the areas of education and health care that he would apply this magic to.
He then spoke of "the second digital decade," which he said "will be more focused on connecting people ... more user-centric." He talked about Microsoft building applications that will run "in the cloud" of the internet -- from mapping and payment services to friend lists and storage -- and said the apps would span work and business.
Pick up a device and authenticate who you are -- it will pick up the information from the cloud, he said. When you buy a phone "it will be a very simple thing to be up and running and away." Devices, Mr. Gates said, will know context and location.
He also talked of the continued improvement and ubiquity of high-definition displays, which will be on walls, in desks and increasingly at the retail environments. "The quality of the rendering, whether it's playing something like a game or walking through downtown with a virtual Earth concept, will be rich," he said.
In typical Microsoft fashion, he skimmed the company's current products in favor of pontificating on futuristic applications, such as visual recognition that uses a prototype mobile technology developed in Microsoft's Labs.
And he called on Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, to discuss the in-car system Microsoft has introduced with Ford and Fiat that syncs Microsoft's Zune MP3 device and Windows-enabled phones to vehicles, allowing drivers to use voice to call up songs or make phone calls. It also alerts 911 when an airbag inflates, making it a competitor to GM-owned OnStar.
Mr. Bach also took time to brag about Microsoft's success with the Xbox 360 and noted its Xbox Live service has passed the 10 million-member mark. He also announced that films from MGM and TV shows from ABC/Disney would soon be available in the Xbox Live marketplace. That last little bit might have been a wink to Mr. Gates' supposed arch rival, Apple CEO Steve Jobs; previously ABC's programs had been loyal to its deal with Apple's iTunes, only rarely striking distribution agreements outside of its comprehensive Apple one.
In a somewhat spectacular ending -- and it wouldn't be a Mcirosoft keynote without some sort of celebrity guest -- Mr. Bach challenged Mr. Gates to a round of Guitar Hero on Xbox. But instead of picking up the plastic controller himself, Bill turned it over to Slash, the onetime Guns 'n' Roses and now Velvet Revolver guitarist, and the crowd went nuts.