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Keyboard, mouse to get company in Windows 7

Natural interfaces such as touch, speech and ink will play a much bigger role in the successor to Windows Vista, Chairman Bill Gates tells CNET News.com.

PALO ALTO, Calif.--I still don't know much about what Windows 7 will do or what it will look like, but I can tell you that you won't have to rely on a keyboard and mouse to use it.

After decades of investing in things like speech technology and handwriting recognition, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said that users appear ready for new ways of interacting with machines. And, he said, advances in those areas and in touch-based gestures will find their way into the next version of Windows, known as Windows 7.

"The version after Vista is a big step forward in terms of speech," Gates said in an interview following his speech at Stanford University. "It's a big step forward in terms of ink. It's a big step forward in terms of touch."

Microsoft has already hinted that iPhone-like gestures are a part of the next Windows, and Gates said that touch-screen is likely to be the most broadly appealing of the new interfaces.

"The likelihood is that touch will become mainstream on certain form factors very quickly because we are working hand-in-hand with the hardware companies," Gates told CNET News.com "Speech and ink it's a little harder to say."

Gates has been a tireless proponent of the Tablet PC concept and made it clear he is not giving up on that dream, despite the fact that such machines remain a small fraction of notebooks nearly half a decade after their introduction.

"I'm a big ink lover," he said, adding that he hopes with Windows 7 more students decide to go with a Windows notebook that can use pen input. "I would vote yes, but I have a known bias."

Microsoft has not said when to expect Windows 7. Some have said it may not be until 2010, while others predict Microsoft will try to get a release out the door next year following a lackluster reception for Vista and growing competition from Apple.

In addition to Windows 7, Gates talked about a number of other topics, including why he thinks Yahoo is worth so much money to Microsoft. I'll post a more detailed transcript of the interview Wednesday or click here to see the video part of the interview.