Microsoft has stamped its seal of approval on the much-touted Internet Appliance, with chairman Bill Gates outlining the importance of the devices in his .net Internet strategy in Sydney last week.
While details of the strategy remain vague, Gates hopes to bridge the paper-based and e-mail world with a range of products and services based around ease of use and the Internet.
"The range of applications will be broader than for the PC," Gates said, adding that there were a few areas where the PC was not heavily used such as meetings."
.net is the idea that all information should be free from any individual device, with the Internet as the platform, Gates explained.
"As long as it is just screens and we are not thinking of the Internet as a platform, we are not unlocking its potential," he said.
Gates talked of screen phones, digital set top boxes and tablet devices which would bridge the gap between the paper and Internet world. Microsoft .net will offer a collection of technologies enabling the user the next generation in human-computer interactions such as speech, voice recognition and handwriting. With recent advances such as LCD technology, devices will come in a range of new form factors and will be capable of using hosted services and networks while the PC will become, "the ultimate smart Internet device", according to Microsoft.
While Gates conceded his strategy would take around five or six years to come to fruition, Microsoft will begin shipping versions of Windows next year with .net capabilities.
"The demand is out there - it is just a matter of making it easy enough with great software," he said. Gates also stressed the importance of broadband in future computing.
"There are limits to how much you can push out of a dial up connection - the challenge is to get broadband out into people's homes," he said.
He added that in no country do a high percentage of consumers have access to broadband today and that he was "disappointed" with the Australian numbers.