COMDEX: Day one

Comdex kicked off this week with Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates once again delivering the opening keynote speech.

Gates this year trumpeted the reliability and scalability offered by the forthcoming Windows 2000 operating system, and emphasised the role that XML (extensible markup language) will play on the Web and in e-commerce.

Gates also talked up the concept of the "personal Web", which enables users to personalise the Internet with a universal inbox, putting the user in control of how third parties contact them.

Additionally, Gates used his keynote to show off the MSN-based Web Companion, a new category of dedicated desktop appliances designed to hook up consumers directly to the software giant's online service.

Aimed at providing easy and affordable access to the Internet, the MSN-specific appliances will be available from multiple vendors, such as Acer and Philips Electronics, Gates said.

Retailers will preconfigure the devices, and all users need to do when they bring them home is to plug in the phone line and power cord, and the Web Companion will connect directly to MSN's Web portal site and other Microsoft services such as the vendor's Hotmail free e-mail service.

In other Comdex news, Sony and Palm Computing announced they will develop a new version of the PalmOS for use in handheld consumer electronics products. Initially, Palm will add support for Sony's Memory Stick portable memory card system and its companion data-exchange technology to the existing PalmOS. For its part, Sony will implement the PalmOS in a new range of products, which it says goes beyond traditional electronic organisers.

Cast members from the Star Trek films and television series were used to demonstrate Samsung's watch-sized mobile phone that acts on voice-commanded dialling. The phone, which comes with an embedded speech processor for voice access to a contact database, measures 6.8cm by 5.8cm by 2cm and weighs 48 grams. It accepts user input via a touchscreen or voice command. The phone is worn on the wrist and includes earphones for private conversations.

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