Gates at CES ::: In

Gates at CES ::: In contrast to Steve Jobs’ announcement at MacWorld, Bill Gates actually announced something innovative. You’ll get no argument from me that Jobs’ marketing acumen was in full force this week ( getting Time to guarantee a cover story about a new monitor), but what Microsoft talked about at the International Consumer Electronics Show was actually new.

You can read the transcript, or you can watch Gates’ keynote (Windows Media Player: 256k | 56k). Remember how the Mac rumor site I talked about on Monday predicted a wireless screen for accessing a home network? Turns out they were right… about Microsoft doing it. (It’s code-named Mira.) In addition, Microsoft is enabling a TV-like interface to the computer ( codenamed Freestyle) that will give users the ability to navigate and operate a PC with a remote control. These developments address fundamental issues about how to further enhance the user interface, separating storage from presentation. Storage is a commodity. Presentation is not.

Before anybody jumps down my throat, this stuff is at least 12 months away (which means 18 months). But the iLamp (as some have coined it) isn’t available yet either. And I see something fundamentally different about Microsoft working to change the way we interact with the information and Apple working to change the way the box looks on our desk.

This isn’t limited to their consumer offerings either. Microsoft is positioning .Net and its component services as a corporate solution (with broad applicability in the consumer market through services like Passport), while Apple still doesn’t have a viable corporate option. The major developments over the next five years in computing will be interface driven (see my earlier post about efforts in this area); Microsoft seems to be more aggressive in extending XP than Apple does in extending OS X.

This will continue to limit’s Apple’s success in the home arena, as computing trends follow a trickle-down path: what gets standardized in the office will show up in the home. Who would have thought 10 years ago that multi-function devices ( printers/scanners), networks, or high-speed connectivity were going to be standard in many homes? As Microsoft continues to grow its offerings in the corporate space, it can translate those gains into dominance in the home market. Corporations have more money, so they can afford to pay for the high-priced R&D. Apple has no such engine, and that’s why they will never gain the consumer market share that Steve craves.

I think there’s a corollary to this discussion as well: until Sun & Oracle can find a way to commoditize their offerings and make them applicable in the home market, they’ll never be able to fully recoup the investment they make in the corporate space.

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