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The Next 'Digital Decade,' According to Bill Gates

At the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Microsoft 's Bill Gates looked at the changes since 2001 that have created the first true "Digital Decade", including the growing prevalence of broadband networks, spread of mobile phones, and the advent of portable digital media devices.

"Since I first started talking about the Digital Decade in 2001, the speed with which digital technology has become central to the way we work, learn and play has been amazing," Gates said. "But in many ways, we are at the very beginning of the transformation that software will enable."

Gates went on to outline his vision for the next Digital Decade -- an era in which advances in hardware and software will make computing a ubiquitous part of day-to-day life. Gates referenced how natural Uis will more closely reflect the way people interact with each other. High-definition experiences will be nearly everywhere. Services-connected devices running on the Web and huge amounts of storage accessible via the Internet will mean that information and capabilities people want will be available instantly and seamlessly, no matter where they are.

During the keynote, Gates talked about the ongoing transformation of the PC and shared sales figures for Windows Vista. According to Gates, the company has sold more than 100 million Windows Vista licenses to date.

In addition to technology advances that continue to make PCs more powerful, more portable, and more affordable, there is a growing emphasis on style. Independent research firm Forrester Research has predicted that the period between now and 2012 will be the Age of Style for the consumer PC industry, with "strategists and marketers weaving design concerns into their thinking about every facet of their company's strategies as style and design becomes a critical brand attribute."

Examples of the growing prevalence of more natural user interfaces were also on display during the keynote. Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, previewed a new version of Tellme, Microsoft's integrated voice-and-visual mobile service that lets people use voice commands to say what they want and see the answer on their phone's screen. The new service uses Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities to identify the caller's location, yielding results that are significantly more relevant. Tellme is available today on AT&T Wireless and Sprint phones and will be available in future versions of Windows Mobile.

For example, you can "call" the Web on a mobile phone and say "movies" and the software will recognize where you are located and send to your mobile phone's screen a list of the theaters closest to that location. Furthermore, Microsoft gave an glimpse of how future versions may also offer the ability to purchase movie tickets from a mobile phone and share the movie information with friends and family via a text message.

Bach also demoed voice-activated technology for automobiles, including Sync, a fully integrated in-car communications and infotainment system for mobile phones and digital music players that has been available in select Ford models since September. Ford, which expects to sell more than 1 million vehicles with Sync by early 2009, unveiled the new 911 Assist feature that connects drivers with emergency services in the case of an accident or emergency.

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