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Gates: Best of computing is yet to come

University of California, San Diego chancellor Robert Dynes offered Bill Gates no introduction before a crowd of students, professors and professionals at UCSD's Price Center on Tuesday.

If you don't know of billionaire Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) founder Gates, perhaps you're in the wrong room, or on the wrong planet, Dynes said.

Gates, in an hour-long discussion that included a tightly controlled question-and-answer session, touched on new Microsoft innovations and the future of technology.

He said software is still the most exciting place to be, even after the burst of the so-called tech bubble and despite impressive advancements in biotechnology.

"The really interesting software is the software that will be written in the next decade," Gates said. "This is not a mature science."

He foresees that computing will more and more "work at a human scale." Today, though PCs are used largely for document creation and communication, Gates expects computers will have more of a role in day-to-day activities like taking photos, scheduling and organizing music "in an honest way."

Gates anticipates a greater effort to make computers more reader-friendly. People need to be able to hold onto something tangible for extended reading so that they can shift their gaze, he said. Computer makers will have to devise better versions of tablet PCs.

Innovations in hardware will come along rapidly in the next eight years or so, Gates said. At the decade mark, he expects developers will have to become increasingly clever to enter the market.

Wireless networks will drive invention in the coming years, for use in the home and at the office, he said.

Speech and handwriting recognition technologies will become more advanced and perhaps commonplace in the next decade.

And a lot of the predictability and reliability concerns that come along with software will have to be addressed. "The software ought to be your friend," Gates said.

Gates said Microsoft is developing prototypes for the next version of Windows, and will know by the end of the year what features the operating system will have. The project, which Gates said consumes half of his workday, is called "Longhorn."

Gates' talk follows an appearance last week on the UCSD campus by Michael Dell, chairman and chief executive of Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL). The Dell event drew an audience of 450, and the Gates event generated an audience of 1,475 people, organizers said. With conference rooms at capacity, people were turned away at both forums.

While Dell fielded impromptu questions from audience members who lined up at microphones, Gates' questions were obtained earlier and read off three-by-five cards by Larry Smarr, director of UCSD's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. Questions for Gates included what kinds of music do you like (his answer, an eclectic mix of hits from the 1970s and 1980s), and what do you value most in life (his family, his job and philanthropy). Smarr offered that several of the questions were posed by grade school students in attendance.

The Q&A session was particularly irksome to executives from San Diego-based software developer Lindows.com Inc., which is in a bitter trademark infringement battle with Microsoft. CEO Michael Robertson had hoped to initiate an "unscheduled dialogue" with Gates during his appearance.

Lindows.com did manage to circulate fliers to the UCSD audience with purported facts about Gates and Microsoft, such as, "In spite of the conciliatory comments Mr. Gates is likely to convey, Microsoft will continue to use their monopoly powers to destroy other companies -- which limits competition and innovation and keeps software prices high."

The fliers included links to newspaper articles in support of some claims, but didn't indicate that Lindows.com had generated the fliers; spokeswoman Cheryl Schwarzman said afterwards that Lindows.com had distributed them.

Microsoft has sued Lindows.com Inc., alleging the Lindows name too closely resembles its trademarked Windows name. A jury trial is scheduled to begin on Dec. 1 in Seattle.

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