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Gates on media: ‘I have a stream’

MS to be great enabler, apparently...

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At the Streaming Media West meeting in San Jose yesterday Bill Gates gave what is fast becoming his identispeech, but with a few new modules. He said that "PC sales have really surprised all the analysts" - but is that really true? Isn't Gates' message that he wants the home and workplace PC to be dominant, and not other devices where MS is encountering some tough competition? Of course PC sales were "partly due to lower the price that we've got with the powerful hardware" - but he omitted to mention the contribution of Windows prices. Statistically, 91 per cent of Windows 98 second edition users (presumably in the US) were using the Internet for 40 hours/month on average, he claimed. When it came to streaming, less than half of Internet users used it at home. Some 15 million people had bought music online, he said, but "probably more people" had listened to music online (and pirated it, was the sub-text). Gates claimed that "one of the great things we've done that has brought piracy rates down is just made it easier to buy the software", which sounded more than just self-serving, and thin on detail. "Digital rights management is a deep area on its own, and we've got a lot of work integrating that into the software," he added, warming to the theme of whatever helps combat music piracy would perhaps help software piracy. The impression remained that had Microsoft had a monopoly in streaming, it would have included tougher restrictions on downloading music. In identispeech mode, he used again the component on Microsoft's vision change to empower people and "make sure that everyone has the enabling software". But it soon became clear that this was Ballmer's vision, far removed from Gates' personal empowerment to have music and video access "anywhere you go in the house". Clearly live music making, social and sporting activities had little interest for him, but he was "very bullish on wireless networking". Microsoft was to be the great enabler by providing the infrastructure, in the shape of the Windows Media Open Platform he announced, but "our goal is not to be a media company ourselves". Gates personal desire still seems to be to be able to receive video on demand. His desire for the world to be PC-centric encompassed having photographs, and video clips all computerised. It would enrich the producers of colour ink cartridges, and Microsoft of course, but the thought of the family schedule on the fridge door with the time of printing that version given to the second is rather chilling. What must remain in doubt is whether all this PC-based media format changing will really take off. As usual, Gates had little to say about streaming media at work, other than to mention that Microsoft itself was amongst the 9 per cent of organisations using it. He stuck his neck out and forecast that over the next three years most companies would be using streaming media, and that it would be "of critical importance". It was rather unconvincing when Gates said that "top of the list" of enabling elements "are the new shipments of Windows, Millennium which will include the movie making capabilities... and of course Windows 2000". Then came a surprise when he said, "That should go final in the next month." Go figure. ®

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