Because the PC is already based on digital technology, it is well suited for future consumer electronics products as they make the switch from analog models, Gates said today at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, a trend-setting industry gathering.
"As the TV world goes digital, the PC will provide an instant platform...Instead of buying an expensive new digital TV, millions and millions of PC will be ready for this," Gates said. "This a new opportunity for the PC. This will help drive PC sales."
Gates demonstrated the difference between what a TV would offer and what a PC may offer in the home. In the demonstration, he inserted a DVD disc into a consumer-electronics DVD player hooked up to TV. Then he played a movie. After this, the same disc was inserted into a PC. The PC not only played the movie but offered a variety of interactive alternatives while the movie was playing.
But not everyone is impressed. "I think Microsoft is missing the point...98 percent of what people want is just the digital TV, not the PC stuff," said Martin Reynolds, an analyst at Dataquest.
Gates also brought up a potentially thorny problem with the current lower-quality "interlaced" format used on TVs. "[Interlaced] is not doable on the PC," he said, adding that Microsoft's PC98 initiative will support the PC format, not its TV counterpart.
Memphis, the next version of Windows 95, was demonstrated with a very simple interface whereby a user could choose "entertainment" as one of the options to launch an appropriate interface.
But not every device in the home will be a PC running a Window 95 or Memphis operating system, he said. At the low end of the spectrum will be the Windows CE devices, Gates said. TV products such as WebTV will use Window CE and have fewer features than PCs.
Gates also alluded to "Windows Terminal," Microsoft's technology for corporate computer users now using "dumb" terminals that generally process only video data, leaving the processing of applications to be done on a more powerful server computer. Dumb terminals have traditionally been connected to mainframe computers.
The NetPC, a new computing platform proposed by Intel and Microsoft, could also be a pared-down corporate computer, he said, but it could be used either as a higher-end device for "knowledge-based workers" or as more of a dumb terminal. The Windows Terminal, on the other hand, can only serve one role: as a dumb terminal.
In a sarcastic remark about the network computer or NC being proposed by companies such as Sun Microsystems and Oracle, Gates said that "NC" stands for "not compatible." "The NC is not really a well-defined term. Which OS? Which chipset? The only sure thing about the NC is that it's not compatible," Gates said.
"It's a situation like Unix where all the extensions are different...it's a weaker form of compatibility. They?re having to grope and scratch. This presents all sorts of compatibility challenges."