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July 26, 2007

FAM: Bill's big picture

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:23 AM

Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, opened his company's Financial Analyst Meeting with an outline of the big trends he sees driving technology forward.

He said Moore's Law -- the idea that computer processing power, measured as the number of transistors on a single chip, will double approximately every two years, is still intact -- but that it's manifesting in a different way. Before, individual microprocessors got progressively faster. But the "clock speed" of the chips is reaching its limits

Gates said he expects to see clock speeds "not much higher" than 10 gigahertz in the next five years. Processing power will continue to grow through parallel microprocessor architectures -- so-called multi-core chips.

The most important trend, Gates said, is the ubiquity of broadband access. More than just getting video on the Internet, broadband access changes computing itself. The early PC was a self-contained device, Gates said. "As you get broadband to be widely available you can change that paradigm."

Storage doesn't have to be in one location; you can move easily back and forth between multiple devices; if you're near a bigger display, you can make use of it; likewise with more powerful computing resources available on a network.

The most under-appreciated trend, he said, is the emergence of more natural user interfaces such as speech recognition, touch and vision. He complemented two competitors products -- the Apple iPhone and Nintendo Wii -- for taking advantage of touch and motion-sensing interfaces.

Microsoft has been investing in natural user interface for a long time, Gates said. He went on to demonstrate Microsoft Surface, the table-top, touch-recognizing PC the company rolled out earlier this year. He said people have responded more dramatically to this demonstration than any other he's given in his career.

Unfortunately, his first attempt to demonstrate the Surface here went boink and there were some akward moments as the tech guys came up on stage and fiddled with the unit for a few minutes.

"It's more exciting when it actually does something," Gates said.

Tech support eventually got it going and Gates moved back to the demonstration. Right now, Surface is being rolled out in Harrah's casinos, Starwood Hotels and T-Mobile retail stores. Gates confirmed the company's bigger plan for the computer.

"We want to take this and put it into homes and businesses," Gates said.

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