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Week in review: Gates' farewell to CES troops

Bill Gates gives his "last keynote" at CES and tech is no front-runner in New Hampshire. Also: The decline of DRM.

Bill Gates, one of the most influential people in tech for the past three decades, delivered what he called his "last keynote" at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Gates may be stepping away from full-time work at Microsoft later this year, but he still had a few things he wanted to show off. In his traditional address before the beginning of the show, the Microsoft chairman demonstrated a slew of fashionable PCs, touted the role of computing interfaces like speech and touch, and announced a partnership with NBC to jointly run the site for the Olympics.

Gates also used the speech to note that his software company has now shipped 100 million copies of Windows Vista. He said that getting so many Vista PCs out will make the platform more attractive. "That's a very significant milestone for application development and specialized hardware work."

CNET readers debated the impact Gates has had on the tech community, with many claiming that Gates' Microsoft copied, bought, and bullied competitors.

"Gates has been an excellent salesman, but a lousy forecaster," wrote one reader to the TalkBack forum.

However, it's unclear whether Microsoft's dominance in the computer industry will carry over to new consumer-oriented markets, or whether rivals such as Google and Apple will ultimately gain the upper hand.

In an interview just ahead of his farewell speech, Gates spoke to CNET about competitors, the future of DVD, and why all of those seamless connections between digital devices exist only in keynote speeches.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini also shared his vision of the future, predicting in his keynote that the ability to connect practically all electronic devices to the Internet will unleash a burst of innovation and business opportunities that will rival the impact of personal computers. Otellini presented a vision of an always-on, always-connected experience for consumers, whether they're sitting in their homes, driving their cars, or riding their bikes.

"We're now in the midst of the largest opportunity to redefine consumer electronics and entertainment since the introduction of the television," Otellini said.

During his keynote, Otellini demonstrated a system-on-a-chip for consumer devices. Code-named "Canmore," the product is intended for use in TVs, set-top boxes, and media players to allow, among other things, the integration of Internet applications.

Traditional tech players weren't the only ones in the CES spotlight. General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner took the stage to unveil the company's latest concept car--a Cadillac that could get 300 miles on a single tank and has nearly all the eco-friendly features you can think of. The Provoq--the first concept car to get its premiere at CES--runs on a hydrogen fuel cell and a lithium-ion battery. The car primarily runs on hydrogen, but uses the battery for peak power and storing electricity to extend the range.

One of the most passionate techies at CES was a cab driver named Daniel Habtewold, who was playing an eclectic mix of reggae and other music via his iPod, noting that it was Apple's beefiest model, the 160GB iPod Classic introduced last fall.

"I have 20,000 songs on my iPod," he said. Habtewold said he's had a regular iPod, a photo iPod, and an earlier video iPod as well.

Habtewold's tech lust isn't limited to iPods. He also has a $3,000 camera setup including a Canon D30 and L-series lens, a Windows Mobile phone, and a Casio watch that also acts as a television remote control.

Here's a quick rundown of other notable news from CES:

Laptops and combo drives
•  Shuttle introduced its $199 KPC Linux PC, which features an Intel Celeron processor, a 945GC chipset, 512MB of memory, and a choice of either a 60GB or 80GB hard drive.
•  The Dell XPS 630i laptop featured an unusual-size display, showing images in a true 16:9 screen ratio (like an HDTV), rather than the 16:10 screen ratio found in most laptop displays.
•  The Buffalo MediaStation Blu-ray HD DVD drive is an external USB combo drive that reads and writes Blu-ray discs and reads HD DVD discs.

TVs, thin, wide, wireless
•  Panasonic unveiled its 150-inch "Lifescreen" plasma, billed as "the world's largest plasma."
•  At just 2.9 inches deep, JVC's 42- and 46-inch flat panels on display were billed as "the world's thinnest LCD TVs with built-in tuners."
•  Sony's 11-inch OLED HDTV is now available stateside for a cool $2,500.
•  Westinghouse Digital showed off a wireless LCD flat-panel TV, but the model is currently targeted for use in the digital signage market.

Phones underwater, on the road, and on your wrist
•  Sanyo Electric displayed phones that are available only in Japan, including a waterproof digital TV phone, so you can "enjoy watching TV while taking a bath."
•  The GPS-enabled Asus P527 includes a built-in SiRFIII GPS chip and a preloaded application called Travelog that lets you record and share your travel pictures, routes, and more.
•  Dick Tracy, your watch is ringing: LG Electronics showed off a prototype model of a watch phone that it will have Bluetooth, as well as text messaging.

Tech goes to the primaries
As important as technology is in the Nevada desert, voters in New Hampshire don't seem to be getting worked up over it.

In the days before Tuesday's primary, reporters asked residents of New Hampshire questions about technology laws and regulation. What they learned is that Granite State voters are not exactly preoccupied with political skirmishes over rewriting patent law, increasing H-1B visas, and, of course, the pressing concern of broadband regulation.

"That means nothing to me," Mark Cancelada, 42, of Portsmouth, N.H., said when asked about Net neutrality, shortly after an early-morning John Edwards rally ended Saturday in the center of Portsmouth, a quaint city of about 20,000 residents.

But that doesn't mean technology-minded people are ignoring the Granite State. Vijay Boyapati, a former Google engineer now serving the Ron Paul campaign through an independent group, says he drew on lessons learned while building Google products to create the same kind of distributed volunteer network with the goal of drawing hundreds of Paul volunteers to New Hampshire. Boyapati, a six-year veteran of the company, quit his job a few weeks ago to support the operation, which has drawn about 500 volunteers to the state.

The operation works by squeezing as many volunteers as possible into about 12 homes that Boyapati has rented throughout the state, with extra people shuffled off to hotel rooms or to the homes of New Hampshire residents with a little extra room to spare. One host said in an interview Saturday that he had 15 out-of-state volunteers temporarily living in his basement.

But for at least one candidate, there are very important tech issues. During a final early-morning rally at Dartmouth College the day of the primaries, Barack Obama said that if he were elected president, Americans would be able to leave behind the era of "wiretaps without warrants." (He was referring to the lingering legal fallout over reports that the National Security Agency scooped up Americans' phone and Internet activities without court orders, ostensibly to monitor terrorist plots, in the years after the September 11 attacks.)

It's hardly a new stance for Obama, who has made similar statements in previous campaign speeches, but mention of the issue in a stump speech, alongside more frequently discussed topics like Iraq and education, may give some clue to his priorities.

In the end, Hillary Clinton and John McCain won the primaries the old-fashioned way: trekking to scores of coffee houses, diners, and high school gymnasiums. They shook hands, answered questions, and eventually convinced a plurality of voters.

This was politicking at its most traditional, employing venerable tactics like McCain's Straight Talk Express bus tour and Clinton's "Time to Pick a President" meetings with voters. By the time the polls closed, it was a rare Granite State resident who managed to avoid in-person contact with a would-be president or a pushy surrogate.

In other words, it was anything but high-tech. Sure, there were robo-calls and e-mail alerts, but, for the most part, the local events that convinced voters to pick Clinton and McCain could have been convened at any point in the last century.

Music's new tune
In another blow to digital rights management, announced that it will be selling music from Sony BMG Music Entertainment in its Amazon MP3 store. This means that Amazon MP3, which sells only tracks without DRM protection, now has deals with all four major music labels. Because of their lack of copy-protection software, any song from Amazon MP3 can play on virtually any media-playing device, from PCs to music players to cell phones and PDAs.

The move follows Napster's announcement that it would start selling downloads in the MP3 format beginning in the second quarter of this year.

A handful of analysts are calling for the music industry to focus less on CDs, DRM, and subscription services, and more on giving their product away for free. Whatever gold that is still left to be mined from the music industry is supposed to be had through advertising revenue, according to some.

But exchanging songs for ad money is a frightening proposition for music executives who for decades have depended on hawking discs and are still putting up major roadblocks for the free, ad-supported model. Couple that with less-than-stellar execution on the part of companies trying to give music away and you have a business model still trying to get into first gear.

One of those not happy with the state of music on the Internet is Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor, who recently produced and helped bankroll an album that is free of copy-protection software. In a promotional offering, the album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust, was offered in one version as a free download and also as a higher-quality download for $5. However, the experiment hit a sour note for Reznor last week when he reported in his blog that 154,449 people had downloaded NiggyTardust and 28,322 of them paid the $5 as of January 2.

In the blog, Reznor suggested that he was "disheartened" by the results. In an interview with CNET, Reznor talks about the experiment and his rethinking of music in the digital age.

Also of note
Jeff Raikes, head of Microsoft's Business Division, plans to step down in September...Microsoft acknowledged it made a mistake over a security advisory it released concerning Office 2003...Microsoft squashed rumors that it was working with the One Laptop per Child project on a version of the XO laptop that would be capable of booting either Linux--the current OS--or Windows.