CES 2007: You let me down, Bill - keynote analysis

Las Vegas (NV) - We don't have much time left with Bill Gates. In fact, Gates' keynote address for CES 2007 is most likely his penultimate speech for the trade show. In fact, Microsoft's co-founder and chairman admitted as much.

"People ask me, Are you going to keep doing this?," Gates said Sunday night in reference to his keynote. "The answer is, of course, next year I'll give the keynote like I always have. But after that, I'm not sure they'll want to invite me because I'll probably talk a lot more about infectious diseases than great software.

So there it is. Gates announced earlier this year that he is stepping down from a full-time role at Microsoft in 2008 and will instead devote his time and resources to his philanthropic efforts at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And it's starting to sink in that Gates' tenure at Microsoft, and perhaps his career as a technology leader, is winding down. We won't have too many more chances to see one of the technology industry's true luminaries speaking to thousands of people about the future of computer and software.

I guess that's why I expected more Gates' keynote Sunday night, which turned out to be a mostly boring, uninspired and listless event. Gates talked much about the importance of digital connectivity, which isn't exactly a new development. The world's richest man did talk quite a bit about the forthcoming Windows Vista OS, which will be released later this month. In fact, the highlight of keynote came when several Vista features, such as Microsoft's Virtual Earth, SportsLounge, and Groupshot, which allows users to seamlessly edit digital photos and merge parts of two different pictures in a matter of seconds.

Groupshot sparked some ooohs and aaaahs from the audience, but the problem was that Gates wasn't even on stage for the best part. Justin Hutchinson, a group product manager at Microsoft, did the honors there. And when it came time to talk about the Xbox 360's developments, such as IPTV for the gaming console, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division, took over. Bach, who has taken on a more high profile role within Microsoft, stumbled a bit in his section with bombastic statements like "Vista will revitalize the PC gaming market" (didn't know it needed to be revitalized, Robbie) that had little substance behind the hype.

Gates himself did talk a little about the Windows Home Server, but there was no real demo behind the software product. In fact, little was revealed about the new software family, other than that it is designed to make hardware like HP's MediaSmart Server act like, well, a server for the home. In addition, there wasn't much behind the Sync portion of the keynote, where Gates described - but didn't demonstrate - the voice-activated intelligent software platform for automobiles developed by Ford and Microsoft. Sync is designed to allow drivers to control their digital music players or phones, for example, with voice commands. However, Sync was left to the imagination for the most part.

All and all, the humor was scarce (no self-deprecating video skit this year, sadly), the enthusiasm was low, and the details on soon-to-be released products were unexciting for the most part. At the beginning of the keynote, a video montage was shown that featured some of Gates' most memorable keynote moments from CES and other shows and events. Sadly, nothing from CES 2007 will make it into the next highlight reel.

There's always next year, Bill.