Bill Gates as soothsayer?

Microsoft's chief executive says two-thirds of his predictions for 1997 were correct, and he makes new ones for 1998.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates's technology predictions for the new year are out: fast DSL connections and DVD will make a big splash in 1998, he says.

While less appealing to the masses than, say, Mr. Blackwell's fashion lists, the chief executive's year-end prognostications are a hit with much of the high-tech crowd. Even naysayers should heed this: Gates says 10 of his 15 predictions for 1997 turned out right--not a bad batting average.

"I have six predictions for 1998, or at least six that I'll share," Gates wrote in his syndicated column, distributed today by New York Times syndicate. "Four are repeat predictions that didn't quite come true in 1997, [and] there are two new predictions."

The new ones: DSL (digital subscriber lines) and DVD (digital video discs) will take off next year.

"Trials of DSL are under way in the United States already, although it won't be until late 1998 that substantial numbers of consumers get the service," Gates wrote.

As reported earlier, Baby Bells US West and Ameritech announced commercial launches of DSL this year. Next year, SBC Communications and BellSouth plan to roll out the high-speed Net access over copper lines. Gates noted that DSL already is in use in Europe, Australia, and Singapore.

Microsoft is partnering with some of the telecommunications carriers, such as Ameritech, to offer DSL. But it also has plunked down $1 billion in cable television giant Comcast, largely to capitalize on PC-TV convergence. More money for cable may be coming. (Interestingly, however, Gates didn't mention high-speed Net access via cable in his predictions.)

DVD also will be a hit in the second half of next year. "DVD-ROM drives are starting to show up on high-end PCs now, and over time they will replace CD-ROM drives in all new PCs," Gates stated. "Eventually, they won't cost much more than CD-ROM drives, although for most of 1998 they will be in short supply."

Gates's four repeat predictions for next year are that "videoconferencing and Net meetings will become more important, that people will widely recognize that PC technology can take on any computing task, that 3D graphics will become mainstream, and that the total cost of owning a PC will fall sharply."

So what did Gates say he got right for 1997? Among the predictions-come-true: There will be PCs for sale for less than a thousand dollars, Net advertising will soar but not enough to meet the expectations of many, the Internet will keep growing in importance, and PC-TV convergence will continue.

And guess what, Larry Ellison? Gates did not mention the network computer in his predictions. Better luck in 1999.

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