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Gates describes future of computers to Congress

WASHINGTON -- Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates urged Congress Tuesday to avoid burdensome regulations on the booming high-tech industry while encouraging investment.

"The incredible success of this industry in the United States owes a lot to the light hand of government in the technology area, the fact that people can take incredible risks and if they're successful they can have incredible rewards," said Gates, the world's wealthiest person."Overall, I'd say the light hand is working very well," Gates said.

Gates testified just a few blocks from the federal courthouse where his company is fighting government antitrust allegations. He has not testified in the trial, although the judge has watched hours of videotape showing Gates being questioned by government lawyers last summer.

In testifying to a Joint Economic Committee hearing on technology, Gates generally steered clear of any discussion of his company's legal troubles, even when asked directly by Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., about how he would reform the nation's antitrust laws.

"There are many people who dive into that, but I think the laws as they are currently written are fine," Gates said, adding: "Certainly everything that's gone on in the technology industry has come about because of things like integrating new features in is one of the freedoms that all companies have."

Government lawyers allege in their antitrust lawsuit that Microsoft illegally included its Internet software into its dominant Windows computer operating system to undermine a rival company.

Gates also answered questions from three groups of high school and college students from around the country via a videoconference link.

An industry group critical of Microsoft, the Project to Promote Competition in the Digital Age, accused Gates in a statement of choosing "to appear in a friendly setting where the questions will come via the Internet from school children, rather than traveling the three blocks to the courthouse where he would be forced to testify under oath."

Gates spent much of his half-hour appearance describing future advances in technology, predicting that consumers will carry tablet-size computers connected to wireless networks holding their schedules, important telephone numbers and financial information.

"One day in the not-too-distant future, computers will be able to see, listen and speak," Gates said. "At home or in the office, you'll be able to control your PC by talking to it."

Gates' appearance wasn't totally without controversy. A group of young people lined one wall of the hearing room wearing white T-shirts with messages such as "Bust the Trust" and "Microsoft-Intel: Corporate predators versus Democracy."