Live from Las Vegas: Getting to Las Vegas from Boston is considerably more of a chore than doing so was from Phoenix, but I now fly out of the nearby Providence airport, which has two interesting side effects: Fewer crowds and a much earlier wake time. But the flights were on time and not full, and I was able to answer almost 100 emails on the way, so it wasn't a total loss. And this year, I'm staying at the Las Vegas Hilton, which is right next to the main convention center, also a huge plus. But before I could even check in, I had to head over to the MGM Grand and get my Gates tickets. Because this year, finally, they did something right with keynote crowd control.

In the past, the Gates keynote was a disaster, with crowds pouring into too-small amphitheaters to hear the sultan of software strut his stuff. Over the years, I've seen Gates keynote Comdex six times and it's always been the same before the speech, regardless of the venue: Long waits, people jumping over rows of seats, and confusion. But this year, they moved the keynote to the MGM Grand Arena, which could easily host NBA basketball games, prizefights, or even a circus. And in addition to the ample seating, a first by any measure, they finally began assigning seats on a first come, first serve basis.

So when I arrived Sunday morning, I made my way over to the MGM ticket office to pick up my ticket. This allowed me relax later on, knowing that there was a seat waiting for me at the keynote. I've complained bitterly in the past about the way Comdex has treated people trying to see the keynote, so I should at least express some thanks here that they finally got it right. Someone was listening, I guess.

Given the venue, the Gates show promised to be a much bigger show than usual. Pre-speech, a gigantic image of Windows Media Player 7 was broadcast onto the main screen, pumping out music while a series of visualizations throbbed to the tunes. I mused about the taxi driver who had complained endlessly about Windows 98 on the way to MGM, though I don't think he quite understood that I didn't work for Microsoft when I tried to explain Windows 2000 Magazine to him. Oh well.

Vegas has changed, but of course Vegas never really changes. The old Aladdin--home to many a Gates keynote, incidentally--has been replaced by a newer version. The sprawling MGM compound now occupies an entire city block, it's most notable new addition being the Grand Arena that hosted this year's keynote. I'm not a huge fan of the city, I'm sorry to say--it's too loud and constant for me--but I've done this enough to be comfortable here, at least for a few days.

After an seemingly interminable wait, Gates finally took the stage