This year, for the first time, the opening Comdex keynote was held on the Sunday night before the opening of Comdex, not that morning. Trying to beat the crowds into Vegas--an estimated 215,000 people will attend this year's show--Joe and I left Arizona at 7:00 a.m. Sunday and arrived at the city of sin at exactly 7:00 a.m. Sunday thanks to the wonders of Daylight Savings Time. And as expected, we beat the crowds into town for the first time ever. Of course, Vegas is still quiet this early, so nothing was open except for the restaurants and casinos.

We ate breakfast and headed over to the Las Vegas Convention Center at the Hilton to pick up our press passes, hoping to beat the crowds there as well. The Hilton is undergoing massive additions and renovations, not the least of which is the new "Star Trek--the Experience," which will open in January, supposedly. Of course, this thing has been delayed more times than Windows 98, so call first if you're coming to Vegas to check it out.

After wandering around inside the Convention Center, watching people trying to get their booths up, we figured out the new exterior layout--the whole place has changed due to the construction--and finally found the registration tent. Needless to say, the Web-based registration we completed in August was mysteriously missing from the Comdex computers, so we spent a few mindless hours getting our badges straightened out. I somehow ended up with an exhibitor's badge as well as my press badge though I haven't yet decided how/when I will abuse it.

We spent the afternoon watching football and then headed out for the keynote...early, as it turned out. We had forgotten about the Daylight Savings Time issue, and arrived 2-1/2 hours early, rather than the 1-1/2 we had planned. Bill Gates' keynote address is always heavily anticipated and you need to spend some serious time in line if you want to see it live, and even at this early hour, there were numerous people waiting. We headed up to the pre-keynote media event, but that was about as boring as you can imagine, with media "luminaries" such as Cheryl Currid droning on and on about NCs and sealed-case PCs. I can't believe anyone that really cares what these people think, but there was a pretty good crowd in there, most of whom were probably hanging around for the eventual buffet. We took off and headed outside to check out the line.

Outside, two lines circled the Aladdin Imperial Theater as geeks gathered to hear their leader speak. A (bad) Bill Gates impersonator worked the crowd, promoting a parody CD-ROM called "Microshaft Winblows 98." We threatened a wedgie and he moved on. Eventually, the let the press into the theater and we grabbed a seat down front. Each seat had a nice Comdex badge holder and an "I love my PC" T-shirt that underscored the anti-NC theme of Gates' keynote. The audience quickly filled the theater, with overflow crowds herded into video-equipped rooms.

Bill Gates was introduced like a rock star, with booming music and a light show.

"Good evening. When someone first told me that I was scheduled to give this speech on Sunday night, I was worried that nobody would come," Gates said to thunderous applause. "But, I guess I've been in the news enough recently to attract a little attention."

The keynote drove home Microsoft's desire to extend the life of the Windows-based PC, with some nice anti-DOJ and anti-NC humor thrown in for good measure. Gates started off with a Letterman-style "top ten list of why he love his PC." This brought more laughs from the obviously pro-Microsoft crowd.

"Has somebody done this before?" he joked.

The top ten list was obviously meant to be humorous and it contained some nice jabs at Ralph Nader ("I can use Microsoft PowerPoint to show Ralph Nader my Corvair collection") and the DOJ ("In just one weekend, I can sit at my PC, collaborate with attorneys all over the world, comment on a 48-page legal brief, and email it to the Department of Justice"). Gates then got serious and discussed his concepts of the "digital nervous system" and "Web lifestyle."

The Gates keynote was remarkable for the number of special guests, including an excellent U.S. Marine major that uses specially protected Windows laptops and Windows CE handheld PCs in the battlefield, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who only recently started using computers and had trouble single-clicking hyperlinks in Internet Explorer. The world's richest man stepped in to help, to the delight of the audience. The keynote also featured numerous videos, including an incredible parody of the famous Volkswagen "da da da" ad where two young men pick up an old chair, only to later drop it off when they realize it smells. In the Microsoft version, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are in the Volkswagen, with Gates pulling on the little skeleton and nodding along to the music. They pick up a Sun Sparc, only to later realize it smells, so they drop it back in the trash. It was easily the highlight of the night.

Gates discussed the problems with today's computers and said that Microsoft was working on simplifying its programs and operating systems.

"Now, the next major upgrade of Windows NT will be a very major milestone for us," he said. "It's not just the application architecture, the directory architecture, the security architecture, but, most important, it's the things that we've done in driving forward lower cost of ownership. That's a big part of the simplicity campaign."

Chris Capossela of the NT 5 team joined Gates to demonstrated a new feature called IntelliMirror, which allows clients on a Windows NT 5 network to store their user preference settings, data, and other critical information on a central server. This has numerous benefits, such as the ability for users to use any machine and retain their settings and get access to their data. Also, as Capossela demonstrated, it allows a user to get a totally new machine and have it automatically set up for them when it first comes online.

The IntelliMirror feature was slow and buggy ("Snappy," Gates commented dryly while waiting for a screen refresh) and it is not currently available in the beta 1 build of NT 5 that is currently circulating among testers. However, it was clear from the demo that this technology is real and it works well. Gates said that IntelliMirror would debut in beta 2, due "early next year."

Overall, the keynote was one of Gates' better presentations. Interestingly, there was no mention of Windows 98 or Hydra. Joe and I proceeded to Monte Carlo after the keynote and ate the largest slabs of beef we had ever seen: 2-inch thick Prime Ribs whose size cannot be exaggerated. I love this town