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Gates at CES: Thinking servers, pet projects, Vista billions

He wants more personalization in the Tablet PC, doesn't regret the billions poured into Vista, and is contemplating another server product.

LAS VEGAS--One item that didn't fit into Bill Gates' CES keynote speech was the Tablet PC, one of his pet projects.

But he did have something to say about it later on. Microsoft has made a lot of improvements in the latest iteration of Tablet PC software, the company's chairman said at the reception for reporters after Sunday's keynote here. For instance, the software learns which words someone tends to use and adjusts its dictionary engine accordingly.

The software still doesn't do what Gates would really like--fully adjust itself to the handwriting of the user. The newest version does make some adjustments, such as for whether someone is right-handed or left-handed. But Gates hasn't given up, conceding he is still lobbying for more personalization in the next incarnation of Tablet PC.

Money well spent?
How would Gates describe the investment that Microsoft has poured into Windows Vista development? "Best $6 billion I ever spent," he quipped at the reception. But, he noted, the economics still work out pretty well for the Windows business, so no one need feel too bad for the software giant.

No Zune news
There wasn't a lot of Zune news. Gates said the company wants to give the music player its own time in the spotlight, suggesting that Microsoft watchers can expect to see one, maybe two Zune-specific events this year.

Don't expect any new Zune devices soon. There are some things that Microsoft wants to do sooner rather than later, such as better interaction with PCs and more access to video content. But Zune has been on the market for only three months, Gates said, indicating that it may be some time before a revised version appears.

Trivia question
Which veteran Microsoft executive made his first appearance at CES this year?

Server mania
Microsoft has enterprise-scale server software, a small-business server, a midsize business server on the way and now a home server, so you might think that the company has the market pretty well covered. Not so, apparently.

Gates said there might be room for another product that could sit in between the Windows Home Server product announced Sunday night and the existing Small Business Server product, which combines Microsoft's Exchange software with the Windows Server operating system.

"We need to figure out, is there something in between?" he said.

Trivia answer
Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes is the answer. Despite being at Microsoft for 26 years Raikes had never been to CES, until Sunday. He worked with Toshiba on the Portege laptop that Gates showed off in his keynote. Several years in the works, the high-end laptop aims to show off many of Vista's capabilities, including its improved Tablet PC function and a secondary SideShow display.

Seeing Red
Gates has been an early backer of the (Product) Red campaign to help fund AIDS work in Africa through the sale of consumer goods. Although there are (Product) Red sweatshirts from The Gap, shoes from Converse and even an iPod, (Product) Red Vista is nowhere on the horizon.

The company is still exploring what, if any, products might get the Red treatment. "I'm encouraging people at Microsoft to do it," Gates said.