Gates Opens Comdex with Focus on Security, Spam and Tablet PC

The Microsoft chairman highlighted new updates to ISA Server, Exchange and Windows XP Tablet PC Edition while touting the move to "seamless computing."

LAS VEGAS—Taking the stage at Comdex here for the 20th year, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates offered a status report on how the company is moving toward bridging the gaps among software.

Gates on Sunday showcased new versions of Microsoft software aimed at securing enterprises, fighting spam, increasing mobility and improving information access. All served as examples of the need to move toward what hes calling "seamless computing."

Just as Gates in his first Comdex appearance in 1983 highlighted softwares central role, this year he emphasized how software needs to be better connected together in order for IT to reach its full potential. That means software must work across different devices, applications, services and networks, he said.

"By breaching these boundaries and getting rid of these seams...we can deliver all the scenarios that weve dreamed about since this industry got started," Gates said.

Gates opened a Comdex that promises to be stripped down from the glitz and big crowds of its heyday. Organizers are promoting a show focused squarely on business IT and expecting about 50,000 attendees, half the attendance of last year.

As Microsoft moves to hem the software seams, it cannot escape the issue of security. As Gates put it, "We really have to get the fundamentals right."

The latest addition to Microsofts security effort, which began about two years ago, is a new version of its Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server. Gates previewed ISA 2004 during his keynote. Along with offering traditional firewall capabilities, it provides application layer security, Gates said.

In the first public demonstration of the new version of ISA Server, a Microsoft product manager showed how ISA Server 2004 allows an administrator to drill down into policies such as Web access rules to block specific applications such as peer-to-peer file sharing programs using the softwares HTTP filtering technology.

A public beta of ISA Server 2004 will be available in early 2004, the company said.

On the spam front, Gates announced that Microsoft in the coming months will be adding its SmartScreen Technology into Microsoft Exchange. Microsoft is planning an add-on to Exchange Server 2003 for spam filtering called Exchange Intelligent Message Filter for early next year.

SmartScreen Technology, which Gates said is already being used with MSN and Hotmail e-mails accounts as well as in Outlook 2003, is Microsofts spam-filtering technology. It assigns a probability score to each incoming message based on user feedback, and that information is then used to help filter out spam.

As expected, Gates also debuted the next version of the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. It will be available in the first half of 2004 and will be free for Tablet PC customers, he said.

It features improved handwriting recognition and deeper integration of the tablet pen support within XP.

Beyond the near term, Gates also delved further into the future. He touted the coming advances in Microsofts next Windows release, code-named Longhorn, including the new Windows File System and new visualization capabilities.

"Its a very ambitious piece of work," he said, noting that Microsoft "is not even giving the timeframe."

One of Longhorns goals has been to improve the ability of users to search and find information no matter where it is stored. Gates on Sunday touted work within Microsoft Research to improve information retrieval.

"People are spending a lot of time acting as file clerks," said Susan Dumais, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research who joined Gates on stage.

Called "Stuff Ive Seen, the research technology allows a user, from one place, to search and retrieve information from across applications, the Web and file types. Researchers also are working on contextualized search so that searches for relevant information take place automatically as a user is working on a document or creating an e-mail.

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