Gates keynotes N+I, talks up future Internet platform

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates delivered his keynote address at the Networld + Interop 2000 tradeshow Tuesday, a wide-ranging speech that discussed everything from coming advances in the Internet to Unix interoperability and the 64-bit version of Windows 2000. And though Gates didn't mention the antitrust case against his company at all--his humorous asides dealt solely with the recent outbreak of the LoveBug virus--his speech was clearly designed to show that a unified Microsoft had much to offer in the dawning Internet age. His comments came a day before Microsoft was due to present its proposed remedy to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who is overseeing the company's antitrust case.

"Not a day goes by where we don't hear a story about a great new company, or an anecdote about somebody who found a friend or a product that was exciting to them that they never could have without the empowerment of the Internet," Gates began. "Recently, I've been getting a lot of mail that says 'I love you.' And it's just filling up my mailbox, and I'm saying to myself, this is kind of like an IQ test. Am I going to open that enclosure or not? So, it's always interesting to see which employees I get that mail from." As the laughter subsided, Gates discussed the upcoming move from the current transactional Internet to a future where the Internet is a platform, one that's based on XML (the eXtensible Markup Language). "I'm very excited about that XML platform," Gates said. "This will form the foundation of the digital economy ... \[Microsoft's role in this future\] is to focus on building software platforms that allow all the other companies in this industry to take that and build solutions. So, it's about empowerment, and it's about empowerment on all these new devices, no matter where they're used or how they're used."

Gates also had a lot to say about the success of Windows and its clustering and availability improvements. "Windows 2000 was a huge milestone for us," he noted. "It was a release of a product that we spent over three years on, with the reliability goal being upper-most in everything that we did. The majority of work that went into the product was focused on that. And we decided that we needed to be extremely numerical about this, in order to make sure that it's clear that through that heavy R&D we've gotten to a whole new level." But Microsoft also designed Windows 2000 to scale up in various ways, and Gates again reiterated that the upcoming 64-bit version of Windows 2000 would ship alongside Intel's 64-bit Itanium CPU, which is due next month. "The next year is going to be quite exciting in terms of the Windows 2000 arena as a number of things will roll out around Windows 2000," he said. "We've got the DataCenter product coming out in a few months. We've got the 64-bit product, which, as I said, is really a partnership between ourselves and Intel as they're getting the Itanium out into a new generation of both workstations and servers."

And while Windows 2000 is clearly the most secure operating system that Microsoft has ever released, the company has come under fire in recent days for security issues. Gates tackled security, stating that the weakest link was password-only authentication. In the near future, Gates says, smart cards and even biometric approaches will overtake keyboard-based security measures. "Security is getting a lot simpler, even for the very complex scenarios that typical businesses require," Gates says. "But the one thing that is not widespread, as I mentioned, is the use of smart cards. And I think there's a lot of elements that need to come together here to make sure that that weak link \[of passwords\] gets eliminated ... For us, we need to continue to build this kind of support into our software and make it easier and easier based on the feedback we get as people move forward."

From there, Gates launched right into yet another seemingly unrelated topic: interoperability. "In Windows, we're embracing the idea of UNIX compatible APIs, so that those applications can run in our environment very easily," Gates said. "We have two products that are very recent for us: One is the Windows Services for UNIX in its second version that's just being announced today, and it is now available. And the second is Microsoft Interix 2.2, which actually came out a few months ago, and that lets people move Unix applications across to their Windows-based systems. So both of these are just part of a whole suite of products we have that relate to interoperability. Interoperability is the substantial part of our R&D budget." Microsoft's Unix interoperability products are designed to facilitate heterogeneous networks where Unix systems can be managed from Windows workstations. And, of course, Microsoft wants to make it easy for corporations to move from Unix to Windows.

Looking forward, Gates sees a lot of opportunity in the upcoming Internet platform. "I hope I've gotten across my excitement and my optimism about where we're all going with the Internet," he said. "The opportunity for all of us here is really quite incredible. It's going to be this fantastic XML platform. We're going to have the software to enable the natural interface. We're going to have all the different devices from your cell phone to your TV to these revolutionary PCs. We're going to have business transactions in their most complex forms being expressed in this digital way, and we'll make sure that all the elements about reliability, security and performance are there to make sure that it really works the way people want it to. So, we're excited about working with all of you to make this a reality.

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