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Microsoft schmoozes CEOs at summit

Executives attending Microsoft's CEO shindig in Seattle expect more than your average technology trade show.

SEATTLE--Executives attending Microsoft's (MSFT) CEO summit in Seattle today expect more than your average technology trade show.

Several top executives from more than 100 of the software giant's larger customers said at a kick-off reception last night that they expect to receive opportunities unavailable to them at numerous other technology conferences held throughout the year.

The two-day event will explore the future direction of technology as seen by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Vice President Al Gore, as well as by their colleagues.

"This event is for CEOs, it's not a gathering of [information technology managers]," said Geoffrey Johnson, a global vice president and chairman of finance planning and infrastructure for Price Waterhouse.

He noted information technology constitutes a competitive advantage for any company and, as a result, top executives are increasingly becoming involved in product buying decisions and setting IT strategy.

The conference provides a forum for these executives to discuss their visions of where technology is headed, using concrete examples and images, Johnson said.

Percy Barnevik is a case in point. The chairman of Swiss electrical engineering behemoth ABB Asea Brown Boveri is a conference luncheon speaker and plans to address how his company used technology to become a powerhouse. His speech is entitled "Technology and the Global Business Model."

Another executive, Gerhard Schulmeyer, chief executive of Europe's largest computer company, Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG, noted that although his company is a Microsoft customer and talks often to the software maker, he expects the conference to put the information in a different light.

"We already know each other, but this is a different angle to look at things," he said. The conference also presents an opportunity to meet other Microsoft customers, he added.

The executives, from a variety of industries and 25 countries, will attend panels today at a Seattle hotel. Gates will outline technology's role in providing value to customers, shareholders, and society, while Gore will discuss government's role in promoting innovation and ramping up development of the economy.

Panels and roundtable discussions will cover topics such as the future of information technology and how it will change global business models, organizational and global challenges to technology, lessons from electronic commerce pioneers, and actions to be taken for a new relationship with technology.

Bob McDowell, a Microsoft spokesman, said the event is also designed to give Microsoft feedback on where executives believe their industries are headed and what technology they will need to remain competitive.

Executives will be whisked off to Gates's still-under-construction 20,000-square-foot mansion for dinner after today's panels. There, they will dine on such fare as lightly smoked spring salmon, roasted pear with Calvados sauce, and a chocolate trio of coffee pate, meringue souffle, and tortes with Rainier huckleberries.

The executives will then be given a tour of the Microsoft campus tomorrow. Nathan Myrhvold, head of the software giant's technology, will give a presentation.