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Originally published Thursday, May 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Gates hosts his annual Eastside gathering for key CEOs

Twelve years ago, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates conceived of the CEO Summit as an exclusive forum to discuss technology and other issues...

Seattle Times technology reporter

Twelve years ago, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates conceived of the CEO Summit as an exclusive forum to discuss technology and other issues worrying the business world's elite.

On Wednesday, he gave about 115 chief executives gathered at his company's headquarters a sales pitch and a vision of the future of work, complete with a demonstration of the latest computing interface to be cooked up by Microsoft's researchers.

"Think about the whiteboard in your office becoming intelligent," Gates said before introducing Touch Wall, a 50-inch touch-sensing screen that he likened to a vertical version of the company's Surface tabletop computer.

Using gestures, he navigated through a range of digital objects including documents, PowerPoint slides and video. He "wrote" on one document with his finger and zoomed in to see details of a flow chart on another.

"This kind of whiteboard with a little bit of hardware advance over the next couple of years will not be an expensive thing, and that's why we're saying that it will be absolutely pervasive," Gates said of the product prototype, which was developed by a research group associated with the company's Office products.

The event was strictly private. Gates' speech was broadcast on Microsoft's Web site, but it was difficult to discern the CEOs' reaction to the Touch Wall. The broadcast was stopped before Gates took questions from the audience.

According to Microsoft, the CEOs in attendance represent companies from 26 countries with some $3 trillion in annual sales and 10 million employees.

One executive said coordinating the logistics of their arrival is a challenge. More than 90 private jets were expected to ferry CEOs in from around the world. And to be sure, at Boeing Field on Wednesday, planes registered to eBay, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, JPMorgan Chase, Kimberly-Clark and Kroger sat on the tarmac.

With a few exceptions, Microsoft does not release the names of executives in attendance to protect their privacy, a spokesman said. The company did acknowledge the presence of Jack and Suzy Welch and Warren Buffett.

Joining executives were some celebrity journalists there to host panel discussions that accompany the event, including Tom Brokaw and Maria Bartiromo.

Other highlights of the CEO Summit: a Tuesday dinner at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel featuring a discussion between Charlie Rose and Thomas Friedman; dinner at the Gates residence; a yacht excursion; and a daylong tour of the region for CEO spouses, which in one past year included a visit to artist Dale Chihuly's studios.

Gates, who is hanging up his full-time Microsoft job this summer to focus on his philanthropy, has committed to participate in the 2009 CEO Summit, Microsoft spokeswoman Kim Stocks said, though exact details have not been ironed out.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com. Seattle Times. Seattle Times staff reporters Justin Mayo and Steve Miletich contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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