Gates details new font technology, touts SQL Server 7.0
(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates kicked off the mammoth Comdex trade show here Sunday with a keynote speech detailing some of his company's current, near future, and far-off initiatives, and also took part in some self-effacing humor.
Speaking on the eve of Comdex's official opening, Gates and Microsoft researcher Bill Hill unveiled a new font technology that is designed to significantly improve the resolution of screens -- ranging from PCs to handheld devices to "electronic books" -- through software.
Called ClearType and slated to become part of Microsoft operating systems in the near future, this technology gives developers greater ability to manipulate pixels, or dots on a screen. According to Hill, this technology goes far beyond anti-aliasing of fonts to make them up to 300 percent tighter on the screen. And because ClearType will leverage the same TrueType rasterizer found in Windows today, applications do not need to be rewritten to take advantage of the new technology, Hill said.
The technology could have a substantial impact on areas such as LCD flat panels, personal digital assistants and handheld computers, Web browsing, spreadsheets, touchscreens that have an added layer of technology, and electronic books, or e-books.
The e-book arena is of particular interest to Microsoft, which last month joined with publishing firms and other high-tech companies to set open technical standards.
With a more immediate time frame, Gates and Microsoft product managers demonstrated new features in the company's SQL Server 7.0 database, which will be officially launched on Monday at Comdex. The speakers showed the audience some of SQL Server 7.0's natural-language capabilities, such as being able to type English questions, instead of SQL queries, directly into the database and find the desired results.
And while speaking of some of the future hurdles that technology still must clear to become truly useful to end-users, Gates made a plea that the issue of privacy not be turned into a form of censorship that hinders advancement. Privacy means different things to different people -- be it an individual user protecting the information stored on his or her PC, adults protecting children from online abuses, e-mail users being spared spam, or securing transactions on a Web site -- and all require solutions, he said.
"The challenge is not simply to say 'block all information flow,'" Gates said.
Gates suggested that PC cards are an inexpensive and effective way to protect what he classified as one of the weakest aspects of privacy, user-defined passwords. Soon PC makers will start including PC card readers in keyboards, which will make password security an affordable reality, he said.
In addition to listing some of Microsoft's current and future initiatives, Gates' speech included some whiz-bang demonstrations and tidbits for sheer entertainment value -- a new trademark of the kinder, gentler Microsoft of the past year or two.
The whiz-bang demo was provided by Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), which showed off the company's newest member of its visual workstation line that uses Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. The demonstration included a flat-panel LCD showing real-time video of the presenters on stage, and manipulation of that video stream, on a PC that will ship in January for less than $4,000, according to SGI product manager Tom Furlong.
The entertainment portions of the keynote were provided mostly at Gates' expense. The executive showed a video that summarized some of the challenges he has faced over the past year, including the investigation into Microsoft by the Department of Justice, the release of a few books that portrayed Gates in a less-than-flattering light, and the receipt a pie in the face during a visit to Belgium.
He also showed a video of himself and Microsoft President Steve Ballmer impersonating the night-club crawling characters of Saturday Night Live fame -- complete with red and blue satin suits and gold chains -- and a virtual-reality segment that placed Gates and Ballmer in a Riverdance-like performance.
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