Gates, speaking to an audience at the 2000 World Congress of Information Technology here, outlined his vision for the near future of computing. In a few short years, the PC will still be the center of the computing universe, but it will be complemented by wireless pads and devices.
All of these devices will then be linked by Microsoft's Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS), an OS-like technology that will automatically update applications, synchronize databases, and filter and compile information from various Internet sites.
"We will spend more than three times what it cost to put a man on the moon," Gates said of the development budget for NGWS. "It can drive the market for these devices to a whole new level."
Gates said that while devices will sell in large volumes, the variety in design will narrow quickly.
"There won't be dozens and dozens of devices, but a few select ones. The digital set-top box, the phone with the screen, the electronic book--these will sell in huge quantities," he said. Gates also predicted in his speech that Web pads with wireless connections would become an important business tool.
PCs will also improve, he added. Future versions of Windows will contain handwriting and voice recognition. Browsers and applications will be more tightly integrated.
On the hardware side, PCs will come with microphones, smart-card readers and digital cameras attached. The cameras will allow people to take pictures, but they will also monitor the behavior of the person at the keyboard. "It will know what you are doing," he said, and will interrupt occasionally to remind the person of meetings or other significant events.
Once these new features catch on, people "will look back at today's PCs, advanced as they are, and see them as clunky machines," he said. "Things like boot-up time, people will wonder what that was all about."
Robert Young, chairman of Red Hat Software, took a number of good-natured jabs at Gates in his speech, which came directly afterward. Young compared the current software industry with European feudalism, in which a person got punished severely for breaking any law.
"Microsoft is probably the 20th century's most effective marketing organization," he said, laughing. "They may do evil things, but they do them so well."
Young's speech drew applause several times from the audience, the first speech to get a strong reaction from the crowd.