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Gates: don't forget the PC
January 29, 2001: 6:43 a.m. ET

Microsoft supremo says personal computers have a key role in the wireless world
By Rod Cant Europe business writer
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DAVOS, Switzerland (CNNfn) - In an increasingly wireless world, Bill Gates says that the personal computer is not dead.

The Microsoft boss joined a panel of high-profile chief executives at the World Economic Forum on Monday to discuss the convergence of wireless, Internet and other devices.

Gates was the only panel member who mentioned the PC at all during the hour-long seminar, with the rest focusing on the potential of wireless machines.

Nobuyuki Idei of Sony, Hong Kong Internet entrepreneur Richard Li, Vivendi Universal (PEX) boss Jean-Marie Messier and Thomas Middelhoff of Bertelsmann completed a starry lineup of leading "new economy" bosses.

While he recognised the potential of new machines to provide Internet access and additional functions, Gates explained his vision of the PC at the core of a network of these devices.

"How the devices relate to each other is key," he told the audience, pointing out the PC's ability to link handheld computers, mobile phones and other electronic gadgets.

In a news conference after the panel discussion Gates was at pains to emphasise that PC sales are not falling. He said the growth rate has declined, but was still "pretty healthy", and the absolute number continues to rise.

In the panel debate Gates said he foresaw major breakthroughs in hardware development, such as 3D graphics and light, portable computer screens which can be detached from the computer to read off-line.

Gates also pointed out that while much attention had been paid to the colossal fees paid by companies for licenses to operate third-generation cellular networks, wireless devices around the home would soon be in widespread use by consumers.

His fellow executives on the panel were more concerned with issues such as intellectual copyright on the Internet, and much of the discussion centred on Napster, the upstart music Web site, which threw the industry into tumult in 2000.

In October, Napster said it would develop with Bertelsmann a service that will allow consumers to use Napster's Internet service, but would provide payments to those who hold the rights to the music.

Bertelsmann is one of the global music companies suing Napster. It has promised to drop its lawsuit once Napster offers a secure, fee-charging service. AOL Time Warner (AOL: Research, Estimates), the parent of and, is also suing Napster.

Not surprisingly, Bertelsmann's Middelhoff spoke bullishly of introducing a payment system for Napster users by the summer. However, his optimism was not shared by Messier and Idei, who head the world's two largest music companies. They both feared the loss of valuable copyright income through the Internet.

Gates, now titled "Chief Software Architect" at Microsoft (MSFT: Research, Estimates) after stepping down from the CEO's role last year, still owns some 20 percent of the firm's stock, making him a multi-billionaire, even at the share price's currently depressed levels.

Gates refused all press requests for interviews as he left the auditorium, though he did stop to shake the hand of an African woman who had asked him to create software for African nations.

Later Monday he discussed how he puts his vast wealth to good use when he was part of a panel discussion on how governments and business can work better to combat diseases that cause poverty. His colleagues on that panel included: the director-general of the World Health Organisation, the presidents of Mozambique and South Africa, and the CEO of drug firm Pfizer (PFE: Research, Estimates). graphic