Bill Gates' prognostications show he should keep day job
By Brian Bergstein
Associated Press Technology Writer
By Brian Bergstein
For the 10th time, Bill Gates will inaugurate the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by touting new Microsoft Corp. products and describing his view of the future of computing.
Before you rush to the edge of your seat tomorrow, consider this: Gates is a mediocre prognosticator.
In fairness, as the old joke goes, predictions are very hard, especially ones about the future. Scouting a technology on the horizon is one thing; it's another to foresee the business-execution problems and competitive troubles that might waylay it.
But hey, this is Bill Gates. That savvy guy who has spent more than 30 years atop what remains (for now, at least) the dominant entity in personal computing, a company that pours $7 billion a year into research and development. His drawing power is so strong that CES organizers always give Gates top billing at the industry's premier extravaganza. Gates' address is tomorrow night; the CES officially opens Monday.
And since this is Gates' last keynote before he leaves his day-to-day Microsoft duties to focus on philanthropy, it's as good a time as any to scour his track record.
Let's confine the examination to Gates' speeches at CES and Comdex, a now-defunct show that once rivaled CES. Because if we went beyond Gates' Las Vegas addresses, we'd have to mention his 2004 pledge to the World Economic Forum that spam would be "solved" by 2006. And that wouldn't look good.
First, the highlights.
They include Gates' debut of the Xbox video game console at CES in 2001. The Xbox became Microsoft's most successful piece of hardware.
In 2001, Gates correctly predicted that the percentage of American homes with PCs would grow from just over 50 percent at the time to 75 percent by 2010.
Depending on where you get your market research, Gates more or less nailed it. Analyst firms IDC and Forrester Research Inc. say the figure has already hit 75 percent, while Gartner Inc. says we're almost there.
And if you were paying attention to Gates in 1999, you would have had early word about the importance of XML, a programming system that has made it easier for computers to share information.
As for his lesser moments ...
To his credit, Gates has been known to display a sense of humor about himself, so he probably is a good sport about his weakness as an oracle. But a Microsoft spokeswoman said he was unavailable to comment.