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Microsoft's Bill Gates gives vision of `digital decade' and shows off Tablet PCs


LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates, looking to kick the high-tech industry out of its economic doldrums, said more innovation will fuel what he calls the ``digital decade'' to come.

Gates outlined his vision of a connected _ and highly mobile _ society in a keynote address Sunday to kick off the massive Comdex trade show. The world, he said, should prepare itself for advancements in technology that will surpass those of the last 25 years.

``We have not even scratched the surface of what we can do,'' Gates said.

It's the vision of a world where the number of people using e-mail to communicate will quadruple from today and where e-commerce will finally take off in the way visionaries and analysts have talked about for years.

Gates also predicted the percentage of American homes with PCs will grow from just over 50 percent to 75 percent by 2010. And many of the households will have more than one.

The PC, however, is only one part of that vision. Gates unveiled new prototypes of Tablet PC, a pen-based device that is expected to include wireless networking capabilities.

``The Tablet PC is going to be revolutionary,'' he said.

As envisioned, the Tablet PC would be a full-powered PC that runs on Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. It would function as a digital sheet of paper, allowing users to take handwritten notes on the device or create e-mails in handwriting, and then link the data with their laptops or desktops.

Gates unveiled the tablet as a concept at last year's show, but this year showed off working prototypes of models that computer manufacturers plan to sell in the second half of next year.

Gates predicted the device will be the most popular form of the personal computer five years from now.

The showstopper of the keynote came at the end when there was a demonstration of Microsoft's Xbox game console, due to be released Thursday. The crowd roared when he gave away free consoles to four audience members.

Gates closed by urging the techno-savvy audience to forge ahead with their ideas.

``There's more opportunity for us to improve the world than anyone else,'' he said. ``So let's go out and do it.''
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