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The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"Every year the hot ticket in town is the opening speech by Bill Gates."
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Monday, 13 November, 2000, 18:59 GMT
High-tech paradise 2000
Bill Gates, Microsoft - Comdex 2000
Bill Gates - still King of Software?
For one week in November the gamblers' paradise becomes home to the high rollers of the computer industry. The BBC's Internet correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones reports from Las Vegas.

The Comdex computer trade show attracts 200,000 visitors to Las Vegas, eager to see the cutting-edge products and hear the latest message from the industry's leading lights.

Oh, and, of course, take in the late night exotic revue and stuff some quarters in a gaming machine.

This time a year ago, the internet stock boom bubble was already getting out of hand, and there was a mood of extraordinary optimism about what high-tech companies could deliver.

Everybody, it seemed, was going to walk away from the table clutching a huge pile of chips. Since then, the bubble has burst and the mood has darkened.

Suddenly the concern is that demand for PCs is sluggish.

On Friday, Dell, which has built a huge reputation on the back of 50% annual growth rates, admitted that sales were likely to grow by just 20% from 2002.

Microsoft still a contender?

The show always starts with a speech from the man who has dominated this industry for many years now.

Bill Gates too has suffered a few knocks lately. Microsoft is still locked in battle with the Department of Justice and a few weeks ago suffered an embarrassing hacking incident.

Microsoft's tablet computer
Microsoft stresses its prosperity in the wireless world
But the night after Lennox Lewis defended his heavyweight boxing title at Las Vegas's Mandalay Bay hotel, Bill Gates climbed into the ring at the MGM Grand to defend his position as the king of software in front of 12,000 Comdex devotees.

Most seemed happy enough to listen to the gospel according to Bill, some even breaking into applause when some particularly elegant piece of code was displayed on a screen.

Microsoft's chief software architect was keen to stress how well his company will prosper in the wireless world.

Many in the industry hope and believe that the dominance of the Gates empire will be ended as the internet leaves the desktop and goes mobile.

Bill Gates predicted that "the wireless distribution of information through your home will soon become pervasive and that's a huge opportunity for us all".

He showed off what he called a tablet computer, a kind of electronic sketchpad which turns ordinary handwriting into digital ink.

Digital cameras

The tablet can be connected to the internet wherever the owner happens to be, it can be used to download books, or to sketch a map to send to a friend.

The only trouble is that Microsoft's tablet is still a prototype perhaps two years from reaching the shops.

And elsewhere in Las Vegas a panel of industry pundits was discussing products that were going to beat it to market.

Products like the Honeywell web tablet, which although less impressive than Microsoft's version will be in the shops a lot sooner.

While some of the technology displayed a year ago at Comdex has yet to make a major impact on our lives, the pundits insist the digital future is already upon us.

Gerry Purdey of the consultancy Mobile Insights says digital cameras are a good example: "Your kids will soon be asking you, 'Dad did you have one of those cute old cameras with a film?'"

But Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies says the industry must learn new tricks:

"We've spent 20 years selling hundreds of millions of PCs, first to business then to relatively sophisticated home users. Now we have to gear up to sell literally billions of internet appliances to the mass market."

For the computer industry these are days of perpetual upheaval.

But those who visit Comdex are also perpetual enthusiasts, convinced technology can make a difference and that their companies will profit from it.

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See also:

02 Nov 00 | Talking Point
Microsoft hacking: 21st century epidemic?
02 Nov 00 | Education
Lessons from computer use at home
26 Oct 00 | Business
Microsoft relaunch for MSN
06 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Meet your virtual double
13 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Gates hands down his tablet
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