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Ballmer predicts next computer revolution

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer played the Bill Gates role in his speech at the opening of the CeBIT technology fair in Hannover, Germany, this week. Not only in terms of presenting a vision for the future of computing, but also in punting software as the solution to the world’s problems. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a little more down-to-earth…

We declare this fair … open source? Cutting the virtual ribbon on Microsoft’s Surface device are, from left, Prime Minister of Lower Saxony Christian Wulff, Chief Executive Officer Microsoft Corporation, Steve Ballmer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of the European Commission Jos√© Manuel Barroso, President of the French Republic Nikolas Sarkozy, and President of the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, Prof. Dr. August-Wilhelm Scheer

At the opening ceremony of this year’s CeBIT on Monday evening in Hanover this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer presented his vision for the next few years. He promised fundamental changes in the use of computers in all respects, just as Bill Gates would have: presenting software as the ultimate solution for global problems. Ballmer did not talk about daily business, such as Microsoft’s attempts to take over Yahoo or the fine recently imposed by the EU Commission.

Ballmer described his vision of the future, saying that the “fifth computer revolution”” will be characterised by an enormous computing capacity and an almost endless amount of memory. “”High-speed connections are everywhere, and systems can be operated with voice and gesture input.””

He said the changes would help the world react to global climate change in addition to improving health care and education for billions of people. “”They will change human, social interaction and make computers much more useful and personal.””

Ballmer says that the effects of new technology on social interaction are already being felt. He pointed out that a recent MTV study found that teenagers and young adults said they had 53 friends on the average.

“”They have never even met twenty of them in person, but only know them from e-mails, chat rooms, or such social web sites as MySpace or Facebook.””

In the future, it will be possible to meet these friends as three-dimensional holograms in a virtual room that will almost seem like a real room.

“”I have witnessed four computer revolutions in my 28 years in the computer industry””, Ballmer said. In the first revolution, PCs became products for the general public. The next milestones were the development of graphical user interfaces, the rise of the Internet, and most recently the interactive Web 2.0. Ballmer said that the fourth revolution, Web 2.0, began in 2002, the last time he was in Hannover for the opening of CeBIT.

“”If this seven-year rhythm continues, then we are now at the end of the fourth revolution and at the beginning of the fifth.””

Keeping the crowd in good humour, Ballmer claimed that intelligent displays, that would make paper a thing of the past, would certainly break through in the sixth revolution and perhaps even in the fifth.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets down to business at CeBIT

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a reaction to Ballmer’s visions, said she had the impression that the fifth of revolution would have to last longer than the previous ones – at least more than seven years. She also posed the tongue-in-cheek question of how she can win over undecided voters with her policies now that people can use computers to scrutinise political issues.

Merkel said that the German government had made a conscious decision to do more for information and communication technology, which she called an important component of her high-tech strategy. She also said that progress was being made with electronic healthcare cards, which would be launched next year.

Merkel added that Germany’s world leadership would come from developing new products for specific requirements both within the information technology sector and in other sectors, such as the chemicals industry and the automotive sector. She called for a level playing field in a world of free trade, which requires common standards and the protection of copyrights. Merkel said that information technology can help spread liberty throughout the world, for example through undermining dictatorships.

But she wondered how a mature cultural society should react to technological development. After all, the need for society will not disappear just because computers continue to make our lives easier.

“”Be excited about technology, provided it serves people””, Merkel reasoned just before declaring the trade fair open. For the actual opening, no red ribbon was cut: instead, honorary guests pressed Microsoft’s new development: Surface, a virtual start button that Ballmer somewhat nervously demonstrated to the crowd as though he were a marketing man – which indeed he is.

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