Gates sees future in fingertip info
By JAMES RILEY
BILL Gates is the consummate corporate opportunist. Which makes it all the more unbelieveable that in delivering his Comdex keynote address, Mr Gates kept true to his promise of not mentioning Microsoft products even once.
But then, the industry on which the keynote was based is increasingly Mr Gates' and Microsoft's personal playground, so that he didn't specifically discuss Microsoft doesn't, perhaps, matter much.
Mr Gates, no stranger either to Comdex or keynote addresses, is exceedingly good at his role as an industry visionary. He has had considerable practice.
The last time he used Comdex to 'look in to the future' - in 1990 - he scored well, with predictions about object orientation, document centricity, fax/mail integration and improved ease-of-use all pretty much on the mark.
The one area he missed, predicting that pen computing would proliferate, he still believes in strongly, though he is no longer prepared to put a time-frame on its maturity.
For his Comdex 1994 appointment, Mr Gates put together an elaborate Hollywood-quality video-story depicting his vision of 'Information At You Fingertips 2005', a drama that involved everything from a high-school science project to antiques smuggling, and a murder mystery.
The drama was heavily littered with what Mr Gates believes will be ubiquitous technologies 10 years hence - wallet PCs, lots of flat-screen technology, in all shapes and sizes, plenty of personal video-conferencing and all manner of electronic commerce.
Mr Gates' vision was futuristic, and yet, as he noted, all the technology he described existed - only that by 2005 they will be radically developed and in the consumer mainstream.
The PC industry, Mr Gates said, was at the centre of the 'digital convergence' that the world was getting so hyped-up about.
Although he maintained that these 'fantastic' and 'unbelievable' opportunities that were presented by convergence were essentially all about communications, he said it was the PC industry at its centre, and that would drive its development - as maker of the various superhighway terminals and developers of application software.
Mr Gates said for these developments to become a reality would require a rapid expansion of communications network capacity - a vast increase in universally available bandwidth - that could only be achieved through aggressive competition.
'The opportunities here are incredible: this is where the PC industry will find its growth,' Mr Gates said.
'We can be at the centre of this, and we will be as we take our architecture and extend it out to those new form factors and move into new applications.' There were, of course, hurdles that would need to be overcome, Mr Gates acknowledged.
Primary among concerns are privacy and security. Not only will the networks of the future need to be fully secure to enable electronic commerce to become a reality, but consumers will need to be assured of their rights to privacy in the on-line world for them to gain enough confidence to use it for all of their business and personal activities.
Also people in rural areas, or the under-privileged, should also have access to the network.