To no-one's great surprise, Bill Gates has indicated that software will be a vital factor for company's growth in the coming decade.

Microsoft Corp. at its seventh annual CEO Summit told a gathering of more than 100 international top executives that IT, especially software, is crucial when it comes to the challenge of running a business in tough economic times.

Perhaps it would have added more spice to the occasion if Gates had been more subversive and used the occasion to say that the company was getting out of the software business but no, he opened the two-day event at the company's Redmond, Washington, campus Wednesday with a keynote focused on how IT can deliver business value and competitive advantage in today's economic climate, Microsoft said in a statement.

"Some may question the value of IT right now, but at Microsoft we believe we are in the early years of what I call the Digital Decade," Gates said, according to the statement - as if we hadn't got enough buzzphrases. He defined the Digital Decade as a time where the way we work and communicate is transformed by IT.

Communication and collaboration tools, for example, have helped Microsoft employees be more productive while at the same time saving the company money, Gates told the audience. He further touched on several internal Microsoft projects to increase efficiency and productivity at the company, the statement said.

At last year's event Gates also highlighted the role technology can play in boosting efficiency and productivity as companies face an economic lull.

CEO Summit attendees, business leaders from industries as diverse as finance, electronics and retail, like last year were given a Tablet PC, which Microsoft believes is the productivity tool of the future. The NEC Corp. Versa LitePad devices run a special edition of Windows XP Professional and have a touch-screen display on which users can sketch notes using a stylus.

The summit, which consists of speeches, dialogues and interactive sessions, ends Thursday.