Gates says goodbye at Microsoft's annual meeting

One last chance to hear Bill Gates speak before he leaves the company he co-founded to head up his humanitarian efforts drew tens of thousands of Microsoft employees to the company's annual meeting at Safeco Field in Seattle late last week. But garnering the most buzz, according to attendees blogging about Thursday's event, was a demo of Microsoft's revamp to its flagship Web search engine, which is expected to be launched later this month. Additionally, CEO Steve Ballmer's rousing call for Microsoft to be "bold" and incorporate great design into its products -- the strategy that has lifted rival Apple Inc. -- made a big impression. Others hailed Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie's speech on Microsoft's "software+services" vision, and the awarding of a new technical award to the longtime Microsoft engineer who headed up the development of Windows NT among other products. Mini-Microsoft, the anonymous blog purportedly written by a Microsoft employee, enthused in its typical, half-sarcastic way: "I love this company. I love this company's Company Meeting." Criticism of the all-day event, which takes place every year at the home field of baseball's Seattle Mariners, included the lack of parody videos as have been presented in the past, and other product demos so boring they inspired employees sitting in the upper decks to rain paper airplanes onto employees sitting at field level. Estimates of this year's attendance ranged from 20,000 to 35,000. A Live wire At the meeting, a new version of Windows Live Search was shown off. Live Search 2.0 will include better relevance, a larger index, instant answers and other features, attendees said. It's all an attempt to match Google technically and bolster Microsoft's small search-market share. Microsoft reportedly plans to launch Live Search 2.0 later this month. But Mini-Microsoft called for the company to ship Live Search 2.0 "Now. Right now. Ship it please. Awesome stuff." Other demos were not as well-received, and some lacked polish. Attendees critiquing those presentations called for greater brevity and more technical info, with fewer dumbed-down sales spiels. "Some interesting stuff, but each of the speakers could have made their points in about half the time. The demos were particularly bad as there was no good motivation for each," complained one commenter to Mini-Microsoft. Many external observers were interested in the announcement that Microsoft will begin a new Wi-Fi-enabled commuter bus service to help employees beat Seattle traffic jams. Microsoft also said it will rent space in a number of Seattle office buildings developed by Microsoft's other co-founder, Paul Allen.

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