Bill Gates might have his critics but thereâ€™s no doubting that he is a visionary. At his keynote speech, Gates stated his view that technology would continue to make peopleâ€™s lives simpler and more enjoyable and perhaps not surprisingly, believes that software is the central pillar in doing this.
Displaying his visionary bent, Gates gave a demo of how he believes we will be using technology in just a few years. He had a large high resolution screen in a home environment displaying moving icons that represented the location of each member of a family â€“ useful for tracking the kids, or when hubby will be home for dinner. (how very 1950s). Various types of video feeds were available on the screen and Gates physically dragged these round the screen with his finger, a little like the virtual screen used in the film Minority Report. He selected to track one item of news and this was automatically, and of course wirelessly, transferred to his portable media device to watch on his way in to work.
The best bit was the vision of the future office monitor â€“ literally a large transparent sheet of glass covering the whole desk and taking up the whole field of vision. Pretty cool stuff.
Gates then moved to showcase the upcoming Windows Vista. While it was impressive, it was hard to be overly wowed by it, as many of its features are already in Appleâ€™s Tiger OS. The glass like transparent edge around applications that enables you to more easily see what open is a great idea. Switching between applications is also easier thanks to the larger icons and the cascading 3D view of the task switcher is good too.
However, the sidebar applications just brought murmurs of â€˜widgetsâ€™ from the audience, while the universal search facility is similar to Tigerâ€™s Spotlight.
Windows Media Player 11 was an even more obvious indication that Microsoft is still catching up with Apple. Firstly, the interface for showing tracks and albums is much better, though thatâ€™s not saying too much as it is quite poor in WMP10. Secondly, Gates revelead that it is collaborating with MTV and integrating its new URGE online music stor into WMP11 so you can buy music direcly from the music organiser - a little like iTunes then. Even the appearance of Justin Timberlake on stage did little to create much excitement about URGE. That said, Iâ€™m still looking forward to using Vista - it certainly makes Windows XP look its age.
The demo then moved on to the next version of Media Center based on Vista. However there wasnâ€™t anything particularly radical about it, with the interface merely receiving a Vista-like update.
The big news though was saved till last - Bill Gates announced that Microsoft will make an HD-DVD add-on available for the Xbox 360. It looked as it Microsoft was going to leave it to Sony to move things forward by including Blu-ray in its PlayStation 3 but now that Microsoft has picked a side, it makes the format war a lot more interesting. With a big a player as Microsoft behind it, is certainly gives HD-DVD a big shot in the arm, when Blu-ray looked like dominating. If both formats do proliferate perhaps the only way out of the impass will be universal players, the same path taken by many manufactures with the still very niche, SACD and DVD-Audio music formats.