Seth Wenig/associated press


Microsoft chairman Bill Gates

HE’S RICH, SO HE MUST BE RIGHT: Bill Gates took time at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland last weekend to tell his audience of rich and powerful listeners what should be obvious to anyone engaged with modern technology on a daily basis.

“I'm stunned how people aren't seeing that with TV, in five years from now, people will laugh at what we've had," Gates said, referring to the delivery of TV programs over the internet, at the demand of viewers, with flexible schedules and multiple options in terms of content and coverage.

“Certain things like elections or the Olympics really point out how TV is terrible. You have to wait for the guy to talk about the thing you care about or you miss the event and want to go back and see it," Gates said in a Reuters story carried on PC Magazine’s web site. “Internet presentation of these things is vastly superior."

Gates has been wrong before – he was actually pretty slow to figure out how quickly the internet would infiltrate our lives, way back in the ‘90s – but when he gets it, he gets it in a way that only a man with an estimated net worth of $53 billion US can; by throwing his considerable wealth and influence behind the idea.

Vista, Microsoft’s new operating system, is designed to manage video files and make them easily accessible on a home network; it does an awful lot besides that, but this function is one of the principal elaborations that have been made to Microsoft’s flagship product – a function already built into the latest versions of Apple’s operating systems, oddly enough.

Apple is trying to speed up the long awaited convergence of TV and internet with the imminent release of their AppleTV unit, while Gates is largely limited to providing the software that hardware manufacturers can use to make their various boxes of wires, chips and TV screens create a sort of hopeful dialogue. His agenda at Davos was geared more toward the networks and broadcasters, who need to provide the content to run on all the gear and software that, at least at the moment, looks like so much digital Rube Goldberg machinery.

Right now, Gates – and his suave shadow, Steve Jobs of Apple – are in the position of the farmer the novel W. P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe (played by Kevin Costner in the movie Field Of Dreams for you non-readers out there); they’re building their baseball stadium in the cornfield of your living room and office, and hoping that their ghostly Chicago Cubs – the people who actually make and distribute TV programming - will come and play. After all, you can only play home movies, YouTube clips and downloaded porn on your big new TV so often before you’ll start thinking that you’ve been had.

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