In his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates predicted that the evolution of the PC will continue with personal information "appliances" running Windows CE. While staying away from hot topics such as Microsoft's many legal woes, Gates pushed a Windows CE future.

I don't believe the personal computer will be the only machine of the information age," he said. "I think there are going to be a variety of form factors. We're going to see quite a number of devices that tie together with the PC."

Windows CE is Microsoft's "thin" OS, a Windows 95-like system that now runs on handheld PCs, WebTV and other Internet set-top boxes, and the recently introduced Auto PC and Palm PC. Gates predicts that pagers, cellular phones, and other household devices will soon run Windows CE as well.

"Software is the special element. Software was the central element in the success of the PC," Gates said. "I think it'll be critical to the success of these devices as well."

Gates said that the next version of WebTV will include video email, HDTV support, interactive shopping, and cable Internet access through its deal with TCI