I've heard Bill Gates give his Digital Decade speech many times over the years, and I didn't really expect much new content when he took the stage at the COMDEX Fall 2002 conference. But his speculation about the future of home computing and his new product and technology announcements made the keynote very interesting. Here's an overview of some of the products that Gates talked about at COMDEX:

Xbox Live
To demonstrate Xbox Live, Gates brought out Keith White, senior director of the Microsoft E-Home division. Xbox Live combines Xbox with broadband networking and digital communications capability to "create a very powerful online gaming experience," said White. Microsoft and other companies will release numerous games that support online gaming for the Xbox in the coming months.

Smart Displays
Keith White also introduced Smart Displays--compact, slate-like display panels that receive a wireless signal so that you can work remotely away from the PC. A wireless 802.11 connection to a host computer provides the remote capability. White explained the differences between the Tablet PC and a Smart Display. As the next step in the evolution of the notebook computer, the Tablet PC is a full-blown Windows XP computer that features additional functionality specific to its pen-based interface. A Smart Display is the next step in the evolution of a monitor. The Smart Display simply "scrapes" screens from a "mother-ship" computer. White said, "We've added intelligence into the \[Smart Display\] monitor, and it's truly a display device, plain and simple. The power of the PC is still running on the PC device itself." White also explained that a Smart Display is similar to a wireless telephone handset in that it works only within a few hundred feet of its base, whereas the Tablet PC is more like a cell phone in that it gives you connectivity almost anywhere.

Windows XP Media Center Edition
XP Media Center Edition lets you have not only a complete PC experience on a device, but also a TV and entertainment experience. Windows XP Media Center Edition will have features that let you pause live TV and record TV for later viewing. Many companies will be shipping media center PCs in the coming months.

Microsoft OneNote
Gates also talked about Microsoft OneNote, a new Microsoft Office application that's designed to let you capture notes from various sources and locations, then organize them in one location and format them more effectively. OneNote lets you write down information quickly without worrying where it's saved or how you'll find it again. OneNote's tabbed interface lets you create and manage multiple notebooks to let you easily organize multiple pieces of information. Scheduled for release in mid-2003, OneNote will also let Tablet PC users capture handwritten notes, pictures, and diagrams.

Windows .NET Server 2003 and Visual Studio .NET 2003
Most significantly, Gates announced that Microsoft Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server) 2003 is scheduled to be commercially available in April 2003, with Release Candidate 2 (RC2) shipping to customers in the next few weeks. I'm impressed by Win.NET Server's speed and reliability. Microsoft is perfectly positioning Win.NET Server to get thousands of smaller enterprises off of Windows NT.

Also scheduled to ship in April of 2003 is Visual Studio .NET. At COMDEX, Microsoft announced the availability of the final beta of the company's flagship development tool. Eric Rudder, senior vice president for the Developer and Platform Evangelism Division at Microsoft, said, "Microsoft is committed to enabling developers to build enterprise applications for computers of all sizes. Our 2003 wave of products provides a consistent programming model for applications from devices to datacenter servers, enabling developers to focus on solving their unique business problems." Formerly called Everett, Visual Studio .NET will facilitate building scalable enterprise applications on the Microsoft .NET Framework quickly and easily. Come April, the industry should be really exciting.

To read more about Bill Gates's Digital Decade speech at COMDEX, visit
http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2002/nov02/11-17comdexkeynote.asp