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Gates Sees Boom Ahead in Home, Business Touchscreens

Bill Gates
Bill Gates speaks at the Microsoft CEO Summit 2008
Source: Microsoft
You wouldn't have known that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is retiring in six weeks as the legendary tech executive and pioneer continues expounding on his vision of the future in keynotes around the world.

Gates, who is slated to retire from full-time duty at Microsoft in just over a month, gave the opening presentation Wednesday at the start of Microsoft's annual CEO Summit in Redmond, Wash.

Before an audience of Global 1000 CEOs from 26 countries, Gates waxed eloquent about technical innovations he sees reshaping the worlds of home and business.

He spent at least as much time, however, emphasizing what can be done today using Microsoft's existing products and technologies.

Gates himself founded the event in 1997 to present his vision of computing's growing integration with business and daily life in a low-key forum to the leaders of the world's largest enterprises. If Microsoft's continued growth since that time is any indicator of the summit's success, it was a shrewd move.

This year, Gates predicted that technologies such as Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Surface computer, with its multitouch user interface, will quickly spread as costs fall rapidly and the technology's capabilities increase -- moving from in-store kiosks and hotel lobbies to become ubiquitous in homes and businesses.

In fact, the flashiest demo by far that Gates presented was a whiteboard-sized Surface-like computer screen with a multitouch display.

Bill Gates
Source: Microsoft
"We will also have that in a vertical plane," like a whiteboard, Gates said, but he added that he sees the technology penetrating much further into everyone's lives. "All the surfaces [on walls and desks] will eventually have a low-cost screen display capability in both the office and the home," he added.

Gates demonstrated moving items, including documents, photos, and presentations around on the screen and paging through them using two hands at once, thanks to the screen's multitouch capabilities.

"You can train people to use this pretty quickly," Gates said. "Our Office group is working on how to use this."

Gates did not say whether Microsoft would actually sell the whiteboard devices itself, although it has chosen to take that route with the Surface. The company delivered the first units of its Surface computer to AT&T for use in its phone stores last month.

As usual for his keynote presentations, Gates also made some more wide-ranging predictions about the future. For example, he said he sees the adoption of unified communications nearly eliminating PBXs within the next five years.

He also made oblique references to Microsoft's recently-announced Live Mesh technology but never mentioned it by name. Live Mesh is Microsoft's new online connectivity and synchronization service in the computing "cloud" that the company aims to use to unify all of a user's data and information. It was introduced three weeks ago.

Users will be able "to delegate tasks off to the mega datacenters that we and others are building," Gates said.