- By Scott Bekker
LAS VEGAS -- With a look at the past year as well as promising projections for the year to come, Microsoft Corp.
chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates opened Comdex Fall 2000 with his keynote address.
Gates opened his address with a few references to the recent presidential election, reminding the crowd of 12,000 of his decades in the technology industry by fondly reminiscing about his own experience with punch card technology. He then segued into a discussion of his role as chief software architect and answered the question of what his new position entails with a tongue-in-cheek video parodying the "Whazzzzzup?!" series of commercials.
Gates got down to business by discussing his vision for the coming year in technology. A large part of the coming year, said Gates, involves XML and the emerging standard of software-to-software networking. As for the past year, Gates called the overall work in the industry "very, very satisfying."
Gates devoted the first segment of his address to looking at the history of networking, from the mainframe model to today's client-server networks. "What is the next evolution?" asked Gates. In answer to his own question, Gates began his discussion of server to server networking via XML, or what he called "software to software" networking. Such a model would incorporate XML as well as Microsoft's C# language for the .NET platform in such a way as to have Internet-based software working behind the scenes for the user. Of course, Gates noted, we will need new office equipment for the coming technology revolution.
Gates mentioned that the next generation of client will be Whistler, and the next generation of Web client will not just be a browser. However, Gates pointed out, the most popularly used client software is Microsoft Office. Tom Bailey of Microsoft then took the stage and illustrated two new features in the upcoming version of Office. Task Panes consist of a window on the right side of a user's screen that allow a user to move horizontally between Office applications to cut and paste as well as edit and update the application across all open applications with just one view. Smart Tags are small buttons that appear in a user's document and provide options ranging from a spell checker to links to relevant Web sites as well as functionality within the application. Because these are XML-based, third party developers can build Smart Tags for their own applications that would integrate them with Microsoft software and the Internet. Bailey announced that the first third party Smart Tags developer would be the producer of WestLaw legal services.
Gates then went on to discuss the future of client hardware in the software-to-software future. While the PC has and will continue to have its place, Gates pointed to the rise of PDAs (Microsoft's offering in this arena is the Pocket PC), cellular phone technology (Gates showed a prototype of Microsoft's Pocket PC-powered "Stinger" phone), and the upcoming Xbox gaming system as examples of the future direction of client hardware. Gates brought out another guest to demonstrate the functionality of Microsoft's Tablet PC, a legal pad-sized portable PC with full PC functionality as well as handwriting recognition technology.
Gates devoted the final portion of the address to discussing how .NET is the software-to-software model analagous to Windows and showing the convergence of all the technology discussed thus far. He touched on the concept of "software as a service" and mentioned that Microsoft is submitting its C# language for .NET to the standards boards before bringing out the final presentation, a working demonstration of VisualStudio.NET. Dave Mendlen of Microsoft demonstrated the capabilities of .NET by designing a commercial Web site that with the click of a button read the user's preferences and booked a flight, a hotel room, and rented a car. This was performed by incorporating business processes from other sites into the necessary function on the .NET-enabled site. - Isaac Slepner
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.