Gates: Blazing the Longhorn Trail

Bill Gates discusses "Longhorn," Linux and why he's so optimistic about the future.

The smoke having almost cleared from several years of antitrust proceedings, Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is turning his attention to what hes calling "seamless computing." The most influential figure in the software industry is confronting other challenges as well, including following through on his companys Trustworthy Computing initiative to make Windows more secure. In addition, Gates is shepherding a landmark Windows upgrade in "Longhorn," which is due in 2006, while fending off the Linux challenge and pushing Web services for application integration. Gates discussed these issues and more in an interview with eWEEK Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist at Comdex in Las Vegas last week.

Your theme at your Comdex keynote this year is seamless computing. What is seamless computing, and how is it different from "information at your fingertips" or "the digital nervous system"?

There is a certain commonality to what Ive said at this show for 20 years running. The theme is using software to empower individuals to access information that helps them be productive and do fun things. Whatever the banner is—information at your fingertips or digital nervous system— that is the vision of what I have devoted my life to.

So what is different at this juncture?

What is unique about seamless computing is that boundaries between pieces of software need to be broken down for the next wave. We used to think about people using only one device. Now because of natural form factors such as wrist or pocket computers, we think of the individual, rather than the devices, at the center. Clearly, software hasnt made it trivial to move [data] between these devices, whether it be schedules or contacts or files. There is a boundary between ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems and the way you see data in those systems to easily understand the information and catch trends. We need to break down that seam for the dream of business intelligence to take place.

What is the good news in IT?

If you look at IT costs, there is good news in many different areas. Certainly, the cost of the hardware has gone down and the power has gone up. Intel [Corp.] servers running Windows are winning benchmarks that we didnt even appear in a few years ago. The big challenge is personnel costs, whether external or internal. Our emphasis has to be how to take the magic of software and show people how they can free up a lot of personnel costs.

You sound optimistic.

I believe the rate of productivity advance will be faster in this time period than any other time period.

Where should companies spend the dollars freed up from lowering costs? And where should they spend new technology funds?

Web services is the new architecture for new applications. Web services are being used to connect information that is inside the company in different systems. Theyre connecting people and systems in new ways and connecting across different companies as well. You think of investments for making your knowledge workers more productive. That is the biggest investment companies in almost any industry make.

There are things that are essentially new ways of doing business, such as creating workflows to connect buyers and sellers together. We are seeing lots of interest in taking BizTalk and connecting it up with our XML forms capability called InfoPath. People still want projects that are about five to six months in duration. They dont want a one-year shot in the dark. And they want projects where, if they really look at all the costs, then for a million dollars or less they can be really far along and start to get the payback.

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