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Gates: This Will Be the Digital Decade

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With a host of new gadgets in tow, and a break to get trashed and trash
talked by Shaquille O’Neal in a game of Midtown Madness III played over the
Xbox Live network, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill
Gates kicked off the 2003 International
Consumer Electronics Show
(CES) in Las Vegas Wednesday evening.

Determined to stamp the 2000s as the “Digital Decade,” Gates offered a
retrospective of where Microsoft has been and where it is going. And if
Microsoft has its way, the company will find its way into just about every
electronic device imaginable, from DVD players to digital watches,
refrigerators and even sewing machines.

One of the key devices was a prototype for Microsoft’s new Media2Go platform which allows playback of photos,
music and video from a single device with a four-inch screen. The device
sports a 20-gigabyte hard drive, and Microsoft has lined up four partners
to manufacture the devices, including Sanyo, Samsung, ViewSonic and

Another of the key technologies that will enable the “Digital Decade”
strategy was one of Gates’ focuses during his keynote address Wednesday
evening: Smart Personal Objects Technology, or SPOT.

“At COMDEX we talked about this,” he said. “We introduced this SPOT, Smart
Personal Objects Technology — that’s the acronym for that — and said that
there would be a wide range of devices that take advantage of this.
Actually the one that we went into the most depth showing there was an
alarm clock, an alarm clock that when you wake up can tell you your
schedule, tell you about the traffic, and built in there was some magic
chips that did the job of receiving that information and being able to
display it to you.”

He went on to show further implementations, like a traffic magnet — a
small device that a users could put up in their homes or in their cars.
Through a constant connection using Microsoft’s DirectBand FM transmission
technology, the magnet maintains updated information on where traffic is
heavy and where it’s not. He also mentioned the possibility of other types
of magnets, like a baseball magnet which displays scores and even a little
diamond for play-by-play information.

“Now, to meet the characteristic for being a SPOT device we’ve got to have
personalization, we’ve got to have this special network that connects
things together and it’s got to be a very simple device,” Gates said. “In
fact, what we do with these devices is we say that all the things you want
to do to customize them, to pick the information or change it, you do that
by going to a full–screen PC and simply entering in the device ID and then
you have the full richness to pick exactly what’s going to show up on that
device. The device itself is simple; it’s just to display information.”

Gates said the implementation he is most excited about is using SPOT in a

“Well, SPOT to us is sort of the next evolution in what the watch should
be,” he said. “And you know, it’s about glanceable information. You can
glance and just pick a channel, the weather, and see what’s there. If you
take your watch and you change time zones it will notice that. You can have
it set up to display your home time zone, the time zone that you’ve going
into. You’re able to send messages like this. You can just set it up to
send instant messages so it’s like a paging device receiving information
from people who want to contact you just on the device, the one device that
you always have when you carry it around. Of course, it’s always got the
right time of day because it’s synchronized. The data signal actually makes
sure that it stays together.”

To make sure the SPOT-enabled sport style as well as utility, Gates said
Microsoft has partnered with Fossil, Suunto and Citizen Watch as its
initial partners.

At its heart, every SPOT device sports a 28 MHz National Semiconductor ARM
CPU with 512K of ROM and 384K of RAM, giving it four times the speed and
eight times the memory of IBM’s original PC. It is even possible to use a
PC to write programs in BASIC that can be translated into .NET byte code
and sent across the network to a SPOT device.

Meanwhile, the Direct Band network enables the technology’s connectivity,
creating a one-way network that adds data to an FM signal (called an FM

“It’s really great use of technology because the infrastructure for FM is
already there,” Gates said. “Those are very powerful transmitters and we
were able, with advances in this chip technology, to send quite a bit of
information across that sideband and make it very robust. If you can
connect up and listen to FM radio, even in places where the FM doesn’t
sound that good, you’ll be able to receive the data into that SPOT watch.”

In addition to the SPOT devices, Gates used the keynote to showcase a few
other devices as well, like an exercise bike by Exertris which uses Windows
CE .NET to turn exercise into a game. Also on display was a Bernina sewing
machine which contains a CD-ROM drive, USB port and a modem, allowing it to
connect to the Web and download new patterns and stitches. Other devices
included new DVD players with native support for Windows media video

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