Microsoft Developers Conference: Gates gives his team a B- for strategy

Microsoft chief Bill Gates will only give his company a could-do-better school report for its work over the last six years.

Speaking via a satellite link to the Professional Developers Conference in Long Beach, California yesterday, Gates said Microsoft's execution of its Information At Your Fingertips strategy merited only a B-.

Since he made his IAYF speech at the Comdex trade show in 1990, Gates said filing and browsing information had improved thanks to long file names, linking and embedding, and that multimedia data types had been successfully integrated. However, he said, the PC as a true "information appliance" for the mass market had a long way to go. "Although the industry continues to talk about how it's critical, we're still several years away from it ... we have some very tough problems to solve," he said, citing the slow development of speech and gesture recognition.

Gates also said object technology had not fulfilled its promise: "Although objects were a big topic even six years ago, the [telecommunications] infrastructure still needs to be built up ... 28.8 modems got us over the threshold and 57.6 will help us be that much more rich but I'd be surprised if 30 per cent of US homes have midband [ISDN, cable or ADSL] in five years' time."

Gates said that in hardware he was looking forward to seeing more high-quality large screens. "I still read the [Wall Street] Journal, The Economist and the trade magazines in print ... some day I'd like to switch over [to reading them on the Web]."

Looking relaxed, Gates even made jokes against himself, referring to the much-delayed Cairo project as "something we've been working on for quite a while". He saved his only scorn for the NC consortium: "The [NC alliance] is a Tower of Babel where there is no central force controlling. The costs on the server and communications will be higher than with the PC. It's like [IBM's failed project] Taligent ... it's interesting but I don't think it will be attractive."

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