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RIYADH, Nov 8:  Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates arrives today amid high hopes from the Saudi business community and IT professionals.

The first event in his schedule will be private. Early this morning he will meet with the CEOs of 20 top Saudi Firms at a round table and reception.

Conversations with some of those executives revealed that they have been fully briefed on their companies’ relationships with Microsoft. Top questions for Gates from these executives will focus on interoperability, high-end services and security.

The session with the CEOs will be closed to the media and neither Microsoft nor the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) will be commenting on the proceedings.

Gates’ first public event is the keynote at the 1st Global Competitiveness Forum, which is being held under the sponsorship of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah in cooperation with SAGIA and Microsoft.

Gates’ address at the forum is titled, “The role and impact of ICT in enabling the competitiveness of the economy and related challenges for Saudi Arabia.” This speech will be followed by another keynote at the CIO Summit, which is also being held at the Four Seasons Hotel.

On the eve of Gates’ visit, all hotels in Riyadh were fully booked and security throughout the city was extremely tight. There were three checkpoints on the main roads from the airport into town. Entry to any of the events is by invitation only, confirmed in advance.

Security at Kingdom Tower, the location of the Four Seasons Hotel, is expected to be unprecedented with all invitees required to show their passes and identification at checkpoints before entry to the sessions.

“I can understand the level of excitement that Gates’ visit is generating because many people see Gates as a leader in the business and IT communities,” said Khalid Masoud, country marketing and automation manager, Eirad/UPS International.

“I believe that Gates’ presence will give a boost to the IT industry in Saudi Arabia. Because Gates is regarded as a visionary, this will give others the impetus needed to follow his lead aggressively.”

To the average person, Microsoft is the most recognizable IT company in the world. Most personal computers are known as Microsoft PCs, whichever hardware vendor manufactures them.

In general, curiosity about the reasons for Gates trip to Saudi Arabia is high, with many companies and IT professionals hoping that significant business deals and cooperation agreements will be signed today.

However, Monday’s announcement that Microsoft will be collaborating with Novell has been met with a certain amount of anxiety in the IT community.

“We are all interested to hear what Gates has to say,” remarked Ahmed H. Al-Otaibi, a Linux supporter. “But now we are worried too that this move will divide the Open Source community and in the end give Microsoft the victory over Linux that it has long sought. There are increasing numbers of open source developers in the Middle East and this move may affect them negatively.”

Gates is certainly a visionary. That is not in dispute. And while people should look to his visit to Saudi Arabia with optimism, it is important to note that not all aspects of our connected world are within Gates’ sphere of influence. Many people will discover this article in Arab News online edition and to do that they will most likely have googled “Bill Gates.”


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