Microsoft chairman and chief executive officer was mum on the company's hardships in his Comdex/Spring keynote yesterday, with no bombshell announcements to make - though he did get a few laughs.
This is a momentous time for Microsoft. The company is facing challenges from at least three different sides: a legal challenge from the Department of Justice; a competitive challenge from the open source movement; and a technical challenge in trying to get the much delayed Windows 2000 out the door. Gates did not mention any of these issues.
Rather, he extolled the virtues of Windows 2000 and announced a new Microsoft mouse and keyboard. He spruced up his talk by showing some - very funny - videos left over from his Comdex/Fall keynote, including some hilarious footage of Bill Gates and Microsoft president Steve Ballmer joining a Riverdance chorus line.
The best laugh came when Gates showed the infamous images from last year's Comdex keynote, when a Windows 98 PC inadvertently crashed as a Microsoft employee was demonstrating Universal Serial Bus (USB) connectivity.
"A lot of people have asked me in the last year, what happened to that guy?" said Gates. " And I was talking with Chris a couple of weeks ago, and he said he wants to try again."
Chris Capossela did indeed repeat last year's ill fated demonstration, this time with a beta version of Windows 2000. The demo went flawlessly - but it was illustrative of the fact that Microsoft has very little to show for its development efforts over the last year.
Otherwise it was a lacklustre performance for the Microsoft chairman, who in the past has often saved key announcements for his Comdex keynotes, but who has lately been passing on many speaking engagements to Ballmer.
Microsoft did launch a new, titanium cased USB mouse that uses an optical sensor, rather than a rubber coated ball, to transfer the motions of the mouse into movement of the cursor. The mouse sports two extra buttons on the side that can be used for paging forward and backward in a browser.
The Microsoft Natural Keyboard is also receiving a USB update. The new keyboard has two USB connectors that allow other devices - including the mouse - to be hooked to the keyboard rather than directly to the PC.
Capossela, and two other Microsoft employees, also demonstrated some features of Windows 2000. For instance, they showed how two features, the Active Directory and Intellimirror, could be combined, allowing a network administrator to specify remotely which applications each user can access.
Microsoft also showed how, when combining Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Professional, the network administrator can reserve network bandwidth for specific applications such as video.
At the end of his talk, Gates formally introduced the Windows 2000 Corporate Preview programme, which will bring beta three of the operating system to 500,000 customers.
"It's really based on the feedback from these people that we'll decide exactly what the final ship date will be," said Gates.
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