Catching up with the Gateses

Papa Bill says the kids are busily pursuing their current interests via Internet research--thanks to MSN's search tool, of course.

DALLAS--In some ways, Bill Gates' son is not that different than other youngsters. He spends hours on automotive Web sites and pines for his first car.

Of course, one difference is, he's only six.

Gates said his son has spent so much time on Ford's site that the carmaker has identified him as a top prospect. His 9-year-old daughter, meanwhile, is most often looking at pets that might make good additions to the family.

Gates said he only narrowly avoided adding rabbits to his household. He didn't say what creature she ended up with, but he did say he steered her toward "a less difficult pet experience."

In a nod to dad, the Gates kids do their research with MSN.

"They are good about using MSN search." Gates said, speaking to a crowd of business software partners at the Convergence 2006 trade show here. "They do know about Google because that is a term that's out there."

Though family loyalty may be driving today's search engine choice, Gates promised that some of the innovations Microsoft has in the works should enable the company to win on its own merits soon.

In a session in which Gates answered prepared questions, he talked about the importance of his , noting that typical market incentives don't work to motivate companies to help treat and cure diseases in poorer countries.

But, he said, existing medical knowledge means "you can save a life for less than a few hundred dollars."

Gates also discussed his work promoting better high schools in the U.S., pointing out that among wealthy countries, the U.S. is near the bottom of the list when it comes to high school education. He pointed out, however, that the U.S. actually does pretty well up through about seventh grade.

Like world health, Gates said, education is a problem that actually gets worse when you start to dig into the matter. Graduation rates, he said, are measured on the number of students that start 12th grade and graduate, rather than being based on the percentage of those who start high school and make it all the way through. Earlier drop-outs then are overlooked.

But Gates also expressed hope that his High Tech High initiative will have 1,500 high schools up and running in the next couple of years. That, he said, might be enough to help at least stop the decline in the number of Americans who are going into math and science, something he called a "very scary trend."

Though Gates drew loud applause from the crowd for his philanthropic ventures, he said his son recently raised questions about the fact that his dad is giving away so much of his fortune.

"How should I think about this, that you are giving the money to the foundation?" Gates said he was asked. The world's richest dad said it was probably going to be an ongoing discussion, but that his son was clever to open up a dialogue.

The sweet sounds of bundling
In other Convergence news, Microsoft often likes to start its events with some loud music and this confab was no exception. Monday's keynote featured MASS (Music Architecture Sonic Sculpture) Ensemble, a group that plays unusual instruments, including an array of drums and an instrument known as an Aquatar that's something of a cross between a sitar, a guitar and a bass.

"In another industry, that might be seen as illegal bundling," quipped Microsoft Business Solutions chairman Doug Burgum.

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