Software guru Bill Gates made an exclusive Canadian visit Thursday to entice university students into the profession that made him the richest man in the world with a speech laden with product placement.
The appeal for the best and brightest minds to create the next generation of computer software came complete with previews of new Microsoft products and a spoof of the popular film Napoleon Dynamite. Gates also served the death notice on CDs and DVDs, telling a University of Waterloo audience those technologies were on the chopping block.
"(High definition DVD) is the last physical media format there will ever be," said Gates. "There won't be one after this one."
The public, he said, is tired of turning to cumbersome machines and discs for their digital entertainment. Instead, people will stream movies, music and software over the Internet and directly into PCs, handheld devices and computer tablets - think a high-powered, net-enabled etch-a-sketch.
Security was tight as multi-billionaire Gates descended on the university, one of Canada's most prestigious schools for mathematics. A limited number of journalists were invited to engage Gates in a roundtable discussion, and the software magnate was flanked by security during his every move through the building.
Ostensibly, the chairman of Microsoft was in town to convince math students that computer science was the ticket to good jobs and big money.
"In the next decade there'll be a shortage of great software engineers. We'll be scouring the schools for them," Gates told the rapt audience.
"Software is the place where the action is . . . it is an area that will continue to generate jobs. This is the golden age of software."
To illustrate his point, Gates proudly displayed the next generation of Xbox, Microsoft's gaming system.
A prototype device that turns any surface into an interactive computer monitor, with the ability to scan documents and transmit that information into handheld devices, was showcased and proved a critical fave among the students.
A pitch for Microsoft Office 12 was assisted by actor Jon Heder via a videotaped spoof of his role in the movie Napoleon Dynamite.
In the video, Gates and Napoleon use Microsoft technology to save the Dynamite family business. Referencing the film, a favourite among students, proved right on target and the audience ate it up.
While the Internet and computer security issues are tops on Microsoft's agenda, Gates admitted to journalists that a bootleg copy of the video has already found its way online.
"We're trying to contain it, but when the world wants something these days the world's not easily denied."
The software billionaire, closing in on his 50th birthday but boyish in appearance despite the greying temples, rocked excitedly in his chair with hands clasped as he told journalists of his vision for the future.
Telephone numbers and e-mail addresses are also going the way of CDs and DVDs, warned Gates. Eventually, all communication will be simplified and the computer will know whether to handle the incoming information as a phone call, e-mail, or video conference.
Gates is on a three-day tour of colleges to sell that vision, and perhaps some software, while convincing students that a career in software is the way to go.
Waterloo was his only Canadian stop, and Gates sang the school's praises.
"There are many years where Waterloo is the university we hire the most people from of any university in the world. Waterloo has always been in the top five every year," he said.
"Those kids are working on hard problems that have big impact."