Bill Gates touts software's 'final frontier'

Grand visions but not much else at Comdex...
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor

Grand visions but not much else at Comdex...

Bill Gates said software is the 'final frontier' in computing that will usher in a digital decade of seamless interaction between a variety of different devices at his 20th opening keynote address at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Building on last year's address the speech was heavy on vision - with a little humour in the shape of a pastiche Matrix film clip of Gates urging Neo-like 'Steveo' Ballmer not to take the "Big Blue pill" - but light on any major future roadmap details.

"There's more productivity to be gained in the advances that will come through the rest of this decade than the industry has delivered in our entire history," he said.

"We're engaged on delivering the final level of infrastructure, which is a software connected infrastructure that connects all your different information, lets you work in a very natural way - connects you up to your speech, your ink and your photos."

Gates said the limitations of hardware had been overcome in the 1980s and the cost of communications was resolved in the 1990s and that software now holds the key.

On the product front the main announcement was the release of a Windows XP Tablet PC operating system by "the middle of next year" with "substantial advances" in the quality of ink to text translation, as well as the news that Nationwide has chosen the Tablet PC as its main mobile computing device.

Gates also appeared to try and dampen speculation that Microsoft's next generation operating system, codenamed Longhorn, is close to completion.

"Longhorn is a very ambitious piece of work. We're not even giving you a timeline. Because of all the integration and extreme high-level quality there's still quite a bit to be done," he said.

Gates sported a snazzy new Fossil watch for the keynote, based on Microsoft's SPOT technology that was announced at last year's show. The watch will be available commercially early next year with a small low-cost chip that enables sports scores, weather, stocks, IM and Outlook calendaring features.

Security and trust in the interactions between the next generation of software applications will be vital to the digital decade, Gates said.

"Some of the weaknesses we have today go back to the very original standards of the internet - really knowing where packets are coming from and being able to identify that is something that we are going to need to move up to the level of trustworthiness that we want for these applications. We've really got to get the fundamentals right."

That includes attacking the growing tide of spam from both technical and legal angles, Gates said.

"Another tough problem we've got today is spam," he said. "We believe these new approaches will shift the tide that between what we're doing with technology and what's being done on the legal front it makes the business proposition for spammers no longer attractive and we have got to keep working until we achieve that."

In a sneak preview of Microsoft's search technology intentions, Gates wheeled out a member of his research team to demonstrate an "implicit search" concept being tested that would appear as a 'taskbar' on the desktop that would search and retrieve information from a variety of sources from Office applications and emails to the web.

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