The Gates keynote at Comdex was the lamest in recent memory… the last few years have consistently had great demos of some amazing technologies that I’ve been able to get excited about. However, this year they just didn’t have much to talk about. The only piece that made it worth watching was a demonstration of a project inside Microsoft Research called “Stuff I’ve Seen” that integrates search functionality across a wide variety of data types into a single (and wicked-fast) interface. This isn’t a product at this point, but if they ever produced it EVERYONE would buy it. (I think it would be impossible to implement without WinFS infrastructure underneath, so don’t expect to see MS or third parties do anything like this until the Longhorn timeframe– we’re talking 2006 here.)

I think the bottom line is that the IT industry (and most notably, Microsoft) is going to be settling into a somewhat boring phase where security, reliability, and scalability are truly addressed at the expense of traditional innovation. I’m not saying that innovation will stop, but I do have a sense that there will be a one or two year lull in “new stuff” while the industry shores up its defenses and makes sure that the tools to facilitate building and maintaining a secure, reliable network (and desktop) are mature and (dare I say) trustworthy. This takes a little bit of the fun out of watching the industry, but it has to happen– I’d gladly give up a year or two of neat new features to not have to deal with near-daily announcements of vulnerabilities and exploits.

You can watch the keynote for free from Microsoft, or you can pay $2.95 to watch it at ZDNET… but beware: it’s a snooze fest. (The Microsoft stream is slightly higher quality, but the ZDNET stream edits out the bits you can’t see instead of showing a lame “sorry– you can’t see this” screen for the full duration of the video you’re missing.)