Gates Predicts the Future: And It's Good

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, just months away from giving up day to day control of his company, predicted continued growth for the software giant during his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show Sunday night.

Gates reminded the Las Vegas audience that Microsoft has spread into mobile phones, automobiles and Internet TV platforms, extending its reach well beyond traditional desktop applications. "The first digital decade has been a great success," Gates said. "This is just the beginning. There's nothing holding us back from going much faster and much further in the second digital decade."

The speech was notable for its lack of any real news or major new product rollouts, so Gates followed the No. 1 rule of energizing a lackluster performance: bring on the star power.

Gates asked some of his celebrity pals to come to his rescue by appearing with him on stage either virtually, or in person.

Gates, who will retire as chairman this summer to devote more time to his charitable foundation, produced a video sure to make the rounds on YouTube and geek blogs alike this week — fake all-day news coverage of his last day at work.

The video began innocently enough with Microsoft employees joking about what the CEO will do with his time once he's gone, showing him playing with "Star Wars" figurines on his desk.

But suddenly, the audience was greeted to Gates working out with his "personal trainer," actor Matthew McConaughey doing reps as Gates sang "Big Pimpin'" with rapper Jay-Z in the production room; "Somebody's got to tell him it was horrible," the rapper says to the camera.

Under the auspices of Gates trying to figure out what to do with his spare time when he quits, he calls Bono to ask for a job playing guitar — "Bill's always had a passion for music and as long as it's not my music, I'm fine with that" — and sends audition tapes to Steven Spielberg.

Most surprising were appearances by two of the top Democratic presidential candidates — Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

"I'm not sure politics is really for you," Clinton tells Gates over the phone.

Obama doesn't know which Bill it is.

"Bill Shatner of 'Star Trek'? Bill Clinton?"

By the speech's end, guitarist Slash plays the opening riff of "Welcome to the Jungle" in homage to his appearance in the video game juggernaut "Guitar Hero 3."

It wasn't all celebrities and laughs, however.

Gates also outlined recent successes, including Surface and Windows Live. He also announced partnerships with NBC for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Microsoft's Robbie Bach demonstrated Zune Social, Microsoft's answer to iTunes, and announced that Disney and ABC will offer digital programming on Xbox Live.

Gates ended his speech with a "hot from the lab" prototype. The device resembled a cell phone that could visually recognize people and places. For example, the device could be used to guide you to your destination in 3-D or remind you of notes associated with a person when the device sees him or her.

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