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Networking Is Key Theme Of CES Orators

If not for the signs stating “Consumer Electronics Show” posted throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center, attendees might have thought they were at the 2000 Home Networking Show.

CEOs Bill Gates, Microsoft, Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems, and Eric Benhamou, 3Com, did their best to make this impression, as each executive used his keynote address to express his vision of the networked home of the future.

All three views were quite similar, with the industry leaders seeing PCs, Internet appliances and even white goods communicating with each other.

McNealy said this type of connection will reach the point where a washing machine will tell a homeowner when it is done with the laundry.

Gates said that “home networking is now in its early stage. I see all types of connectivity, PNA, powerline and wireless all working together at fast enough speeds to send audio and video seamlessly.”

Benhamou spoke about a time when every member of a family will hop onto a household’s network upon waking up each morning and use the network to tie together their busy and divergent lifestyles.

In another point, he warned against a growing gap in the U.S. between the technology “haves” and “have-nots.”

“In our society there is a gap of access [to technology] and a gap of skills,” Benhamou said. “It is hard to envision a harmonious society with such a large gap there.”

The answer, he said, is for technology and electronics makers to take an active role in providing people in lower-income brackets with education and access to equipment.

McNealy took advantage of his keynote to hype the role Sun’s Java operating system could play in networking products already on the market and to bash his arch rival Gates.

“The real networking opportunity is networking the items that we [already] own. These things all operate differently and must be able to communicate. The computer industry is far behind on this, and there is too much proprietary software out there,” McNealy said, adding consumers should not go out and buy Microsoft Windows, they download Linux for free.

In addition to networking, the three CEOs – along with RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser, who gave the Day 3 keynote – discussed other company projects.

RealNetworks is planning to take its RealJukebox software out of the PC and into portable digital music products, CD players and set-top boxes, Glaser said.

Benhamou demonstrated several new and forthcoming 3Com technologies, including easy video conferencing for the home and Internet phones that can be personalized simply by beaming information from a handheld Palm device.

McNealy, with representatives from Bosch, Cisco, GTE, Sears and Whirlpool, discussed a joint initiative called the Connected Family. The program has each company using its expertise in a certain area to help develop complete home-networking systems.

Gates gave few specifics on future Microsoft products but did show the company’s newest version of the Windows Media Player for Palm PCs, which offers twice the compression capability of MP3. In addition, he discussed software improvements for Microsoft’s e-book devices that make the type on the electronic books easier to read.