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LAS VEGAS—In what might have been his final keynote address at an International CES event, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates opened the 2008 expo with talk about entering a new “digital decade,” where his company plans to play a major role.

Gates delivered his final keynote as the full-time leader of Microsoft to a standing-room-only crowd as the 2008 CES began here Jan. 6. While his opening address offered few specifics on the new technology Microsoft has been developing, Gates said the next decade of technology can offer users a rich array of choices and new ways to gather and organize their data.

While Gates will no longer oversee Microsoft’s day-to-day operations, he assured the audience that platforms such as the Windows operating system, Windows Live and Windows Mobile will be at the heart of this transformation.

“The trend here is clear—all media and entertainment will be software driven,” Gates said during the opening minutes of his keynote. “The first digital decade has been successful. The trend now is to have information wherever you want. To have Web sites that are richer and that allow both business activities as well as consumer activities. Taking the full-screen PC and making it better and better for those experiences and customizing those things so that people get exactly what they want.”

While Gates said the market for PCs will remain strong in this new decade, he noted that many of the concepts he talked about will now be delivered on mobile devices, especially PDAs and smartphones.

Click here to read about what analysts are predicting for Microsoft in 2008.

During his talk, Gates said there were several areas of interest that Microsoft and other companies will be exploring in the next decade. One is delivering applications through the Internet or “in the cloud.” The other is the use of more touch screen and voice commands to activate and control the new types of hardware that will come into the market.

Although Gates has a mixed record of offering predictions at CES, he seemed particularly sure about more touch-screen concepts coming into the mainstream. He mentioned Apple’s iPhone—his company’s main rival—as a successful example of the technology in a mainstream device.

In terms of offering richer content on the Internet, Gates announced that his company would help develop the Web site for NBC’s coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing this summer. Microsoft and NBC will use Silverlight, a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for generating rich Internet applications and other Web content, to develop the site.

When the NBC Web site is complete, it will offer users more than 3,000 hours of live and on-demand coverage of the Olympics.

While Gates talked about the future, there was little new about some current Microsoft products such as Windows Live. The company is adding new features such as personal calendar overlays and other social networking functions, but Gates offered no new revolutionary concepts for the software.

Click here to read more about the 2008 CES.

In addition to Gates’ talk, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices, spoke at length about the successes of the Xbox 360 gaming console—it was introduced several years ago at CES—and how the device is beginning to transform digital entertainment. In addition, the company has struck deals with Walt Disney and ABC to bring shows and other content to Xbox Live Marketplace.

Microsoft is also developing social networking software for its Zune music player.

Gates devoted much of his address to spoofing himself and his legacy.

The entire first half of the keynote was taken up by a video that offered a satirical look at Gates’ last day on the job with celebrities such as U2’s Bono, director Steven Spielberg and presidential hopeful Barack Obama all making cameo appearances.

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