What Is Bill Gates Thinking?

Microsoft's chief software architect recently returned from one of his fabled "Think Weeks" full of ideas on mesh networking, unified networking and more.

Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp.s chairman and chief software architect, sat down with eWEEK Senior Writer Darryl K. Taft to share some of his vision on where the industry is heading, whats next in Microsofts sights, and the Next Big Thing for software developers. Gates granted eWEEK an exclusive interview at the VSLive conference in San Francisco last week, where he keynoted on his vision of Seamless Computing. Gates spoke with eWEEK on the day the against the company, but Gates deferred questions on that to his attorneys.

On your most recent "Think Week," what were some of the themes or things that you came away with?

Those are in part probably the funnest part of my job, seeing some of the research work coming out of universities, getting very up-to-date on the research inside Microsoft, and then Ill pick some areas of things I need to understand, like where are microprocessors going.

This last [Think Week] was my time to really study some of the wireless technologies, ultra wideband and the so-called WiMax 802.16, to try to get a sense of who the key players are, what the new capabilities will be and how we should factor that into our software design. Theres a thing called mesh networking, which is software making all this stuff work together in a way that lets you do video and audio in a pretty neat way.

And this idea that were going to unify on the network voice, video and data, Id say that came through as a real theme of my Think Week, thats some of the work were doing, and some of the phone companies are now moving toward that unified network. Thats another one of those Holy Grails that you can probably find in an article back when eWEEK first came out talking about unified networks. But thats really coming to the fore.

I spent a lot of time on security simply because making sure all the groups at Microsoft have a real integrated strategy and clear road map around security—that was very key to me. And getting people to understand the nature of the problem, that isolation is a very, very key tactic and that we really have some wonderful isolation tools. Today, people think that is just the firewall around the perimeter, but theres a lot of things around quarantine and individual PC firewalls and a thing called IPSEC [IP Security Protocol] that go into this isolation that are going to give people a lot more control.

So, even when a contractor comes on-site around the corporate network, that they dont necessarily have the privileges. Just thinking of [security] as that one wall, unfortunately, that is inadequate. So, I ended writing up some things about that.

There are always some surprises for me. Our progress on things like automatic machine translation is one. I [read] four or five papers on that. And I knew Im funding those guys and I like their stuff, but theyve really made some progress and they showed results. Theyve taken a bunch of our technical-support articles and they had half of them hand-translated and half of them machine-translated into Spanish. And then they would have users rate their satisfaction with the articles to see if there was any correlation between the machine ones versus the human ones—and there was no difference there.

So were looking not only at using that ourselves to translate more things and save costs, but also, what partners do we reach out to to productize some of those advances? And its always neat to have something like that where you go wow, that team has really stuck to what they said they were going to do and made some real progress.

So the last [Think Week] was just last month?

Yeah, some time in February. I go off for a week with no interruptions. In fact, this one I was pretty religious about not doing e-mail, no phone calls and just day and night, other than sleeping, Im reading. One thing that was really amazing to me was I used to read the articles either on paper or on screen and then write a commentary. Now, because I have this big LCD screen and Ive got ClearType, I had the article in reading mode, and as I was reading I was typing the comments.

And the average number of comments I wrote per paper were over double when I was commenting while I was reading, versus reading it completely and then commenting. And the fact it was up on that one screen—a big screen that today is still a fairly expensive LCD, but wont be in the future—that was surprising to me how much of a difference it made to have that nice user interface.

Next page: The next big thing for programmers.