Microsoft chairman and "Chief Software Architect" Bill Gates took the stage in Orlando early Monday morning to deliver his vision for the "business Internet," the next phase of development in which the Internet, rather than the PC, becomes the platform and applications run in the Internet. Originally, Gates had intended to outline the company's plans for Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS), but events in its antitrust trial caused Microsoft to delay the NGWS coming out party last week, so the speech focused instead on previously-announced plans and a few new products. Indeed, for the first half hour of Gates' speech, it was clear that he was simply re-delivering the same speech he gave last November at Fall Comdex, complete with the infamous "Austin Gates" video segment. It was a boring start to a presentation that, fortunately, quickly got very interesting indeed.
"Building the industry around \[PC\]... this was the legacy of Microsoft," Gates said. "And now the Internet is the next revolutionary tool, redefining communications and business. Software is the key ingredient to the future Internet, and the Internet is finally entering this new phase."
In Gates' view, the Internet is in its second phase. The first phase was all about getting a presence on the Internet, where plumbing technologies and portals came into prominence. In the second phase, business transactions became the norm, and companies began to get revenue from Web-based sales. In phase three, "the digital economy," the goal is profitability for startups and established companies. The third phase, Gates says, "is inevitable. The honeymoon period is over." But the big shift for the phase III Internet, of course, is NGWS, where the Internet becomes the platform and applications run in the Internet, rather than on a local PC. Gates explained that the need for NGWS caused the company to change its vision statement for the first time in its 25-year history to, "Empower people through great software any time, any place, and on any device."
Underlying NGWS is XML (the eXtensible Markup Language), which "will connect everything," Gates said. Microsoft products such as Commerce Server, BizTalk Server, SQL Server, and others will use XML to transfer data back and forth across the Internet. And the shift to what Microsoft calls Web services--Windows code that runs over the Internet, providing functionality to other code components on remote systems--will let the company leverage its decades of OS work on the Internet. Microsoft has created an open protocol called SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), which sits on top of XML, making the Internet an "integration fabric" through which its Web services can operate. The company also released its first SOAP toolkit for Visual Studio 6.0 on Monday, giving developers an advanced peak at technology that will be included in the next version of Visual Studio. Gates provided demonstrations of these future tools, introducing technology that provides "RAD (Rapid Application Development) for the Internet." And a demonstration of a new BizTalk technology, dubbed BizTalk Orchestration, due in beta this summer, will provide developers with the business process orchestration tools they need to visually design and build dynamic processes.
Finally, Gates reiterated the "success and momentum" of Windows 2000, the platform on which all of this upcoming technology will be built. With an amazing list of Windows 2000-based technologies being released over the next few months--including Datacenter Server ("very soon"), Windows 2000/64 (the 64-bit version of Windows 2000, "due this Fall," according to Gates), SQL Server 2000, Exchange Server 2000, Application Center Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000, BizTalk Server 2000, and Host Integration Server 2000--Microsoft seems to have its bases covered. "This is the platform for the future," Gates said. "With a software-driven Internet, the best is yet to come.