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Bill Gates Thinks Netbooks Beat the iPad

Bill Gates (Gates Foundation bio img)

Now that Apple has taken the wraps off its forthcoming iPad, the Internet’s favorite pastime seems to have shifted from speculating about Apple tablet devices to pontificating about the seeming myriad of ways the iPad is a disappointment—with lack of Flash support, lack of a keyboard, lack of multitasking, and lack of a camera usually taking the top places on laundry lists of faults. Now Apple naysayers can count Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as an ally: Gates doesn’t think the iPad will be a game changer. In fact, he thinks netbooks will be the mainstream form of portable computing device for the immediate future.

Gates was famously very impressed with the Apple iPhone when it debuted in 2007, but In an interview with CBS Interactive’s management-oriented Web site Bnet, Gates opines the iPad didn’t blow him away. “It’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone where I say, ‘Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.’ It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, ‘Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.’”

Instead, Gates feels netbooks will be the mainstream portable computing device going forward. “I’m a big believer in touch and digital reading, but I still think that some mixture of voice, the pen and a real keyboard—in other words a netbook—will be the mainstream on that.”

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Of course, Gates’ track record with forecasting technology trends isn’t significantly better than most other mere mortals. Microsoft famously missed the bandwagon on the Internet revolution in the 1990s, and Microsoft’s efforts to take on the Apple iPod for dominance of the portable media player market have so far met with only scattered applause and remarkably little market traction. Microsoft has also been making operating systems for smartphones and other mobile devices for years, but still finds itself back on its heels from competitors like Apple, RIM, Palm, and Google’s open-source Android mobile operating system.

On the other hand, Microsoft has had no small measure of success in mainstream computer operating systems, and its Xbox 360 gaming platform has been embraced by consumers—and the company has successfully tied online media and gaming services to the console via a subscription model.

Few industry watchers expect the Apple iPad will deliver a coup de grace to netbooks—after all, netbooks are able to run many mainstream desktop applications without modification, whereas developers will have to craft whole new applications for the iPad if they want to bring mainstream computing capabilities to the device—and even then, they’ll be competing with Apple’s own iWork applications. But Apple doesn’t seem to have had any lack of developers working on apps for its iPhone, and the potential to carry that momentum over to a consumer electronics device that is not a mainstream computing platform remains substantial. Only time will tell.