Bill Gates, guitar hero by proxy in Vegas

In a night of beginnings and endings, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates rocked. Well, almost.

LAS VEGAS — In a night of beginnings and endings, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates rocked. Well, almost.

In his keynote speech Sunday night that officially kicked off the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Gates was challenged by Microsoft's president of entertainment and devices, Robbie Bach, to a game of Guitar Hero 3. But before either could strum their plastic Xbox 360 guitars, Bach played his ace card by calling out a ringer — Guitar Hero 3 champion Kelly (TipperQueen) Law-Yone, who shredded through the opening notes of Welcome to the Jungle by Guns 'N Roses.

Not to be outdone, Gates trumped Bach with his own ringer — the Guns 'N Roses guitarist Slash, who emerged onto the stage in his trademark top hat playing the licks live on a real guitar.

The foursome closed out Gates's address, his 12th and final CES opener, as a packed auditorium laughed and cheered.

Gates's speech was light on news and heavy on humour. Along with several product managers, Gates — who steps down from his full-time duties at Microsoft in July to concentrate on his philanthropic endeavours — announced a few tidbits, including the Canadian availability of the Zune MP3 player. The device, which Bach said has grown into a "viable alternative to the iPod," will be available in Canada in the spring.

The Microsoft chairman also announced that ABC and Disney television shows, including Desperate Housewives and Lost, will be available for download over the company's Xbox Live service, as will movies from MGM.

In an obvious shot at main rival Apple Inc., Bach said delivering downloadable television was "not a hobby" for Microsoft. Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs recently said the company's ill-received Apple TV set-top box was "a hobby" for the company.

Other than that, Gates played his last CES speech for laughs. He showed a video of what his last day at Microsoft might look like, wherein he searched for new ways to fill his time. The itinerary included:

  • A workout with actor Matthew McConnaughey, who told Gates he was not yet ready to take his shirt off.
  • Rapping with Jay Z, which provided the surreal sight of Gates rapping the words "big pimpin."
  • Trying to get a gig with U2 because of his Guitar Hero skills, only to have Bono shoot him down.
  • George Clooney turning down a role from Steven Spielberg to play Gates in a movie. "Ask Russell Crowe," Clooney said.
  • Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama dissuading Gates from getting into politics. Al Gore also fielded a call from Gates: "No, it's not an inconvenient moment. I got it. That was a good one."

Otherwise, Gates reviewed products unveiled by Microsoft in 2007 — such as the touch-screen Surface display — and prognosticated on how all devices will be further interconnected in the future.