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Gates Gives His Final CES Keynote

LAS VEGAS — Microsoft founder Bill Gates gave his 10th and final International CES keynote speech last night, telling the crowd how he envisions the second digital decade will develop.

His talk was light on new product introductions, but Gates did show two new devices under development that he thought would play a large role in what he called the second digital decade. A large chunk of his time on stage was spent looking back at his past CES keynotes, and he showed a very funny video of how

Gates might spend his last day at Microsoft. Gates will end his day-to-day work at his company in July in order to give his full attention to his philanthropic work.

Clad in his traditional sweater, Gates told the crowd of 5,000 that he sees three key elements needed for the second digital decade to develop:

  • the pervasive use of HD screens;
  • all content automatically connecting to a user’s device;
  • natural user interfaces like speech recognition and screens recognizing hand gestures being further developed.

Two of the gadgets Gates showed off used some of this technology. The first was described at the “Microsoft Surface.” This is a table with a built-in HD screen and cameras to handle gesture recognition. Gates said these have the potential to be used in homes and stores, and he went through the simulated purchase of a snowboard to demonstrate how the table could recognize his hand movements and make changes to his order.

The second was a handheld technology that could be built into cellphones and PDAs and has the ability to recognize faces and geographical features such as buildings tied to a GPS. By pointing it at a building the handheld device could tell you what is inside, make dinner arrangements or even tell you the last time you were there.

Gates’ last day at work was a star-studded video that showed Microsoft’s software guru going through the paces of his last day at work and day-dreaming about what he might do to fill his free time after he retires. It included brief bits with a bevy of stars and politicians ranging from Bono, to Jay Z, to Stephen Spielberg and George Clooney, to presidential candidates Hilliary Clinton and Barack Obama. In the end, none would take him on after he ended his stint with Microsoft.

Gates also disclosed that NBC had chosen Microsoft as its Web partner to enable it to post thousands of hours of coverage of the Beijing Olympics this August.

Another partnership has Disney/ABC and MGM placing their content on Xbox live in the coming months. The Xbox for the first time will be used by British Telecom and given to its customers in lieu of a traditional set-top box, said Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division president, adding that Xbox Live signed on its 10 millionth member.

The keynote ended with Bach and Gates squaring off in a Guitar Hero contest with Gates winning when he brought out a ringer to play for him — Slash, former lead guitarist of Guns ‘n Roses and now with Velvet Revolver.