Comdex: Bill Gates predicts death of the browser

This year belongs to wireless, but next year XML will come into its own, Microsoft guru predicts

Opening the Comdex conference in Las Vegas for the first time in his new role as Microsoft chief software architect, Bill Gates presented news of two innovative products, and a warning that the browser is dying.

According to Gates, if this year will be seen as the year of wireless, the coming year will belong to XML. Describing "peer-to-peer" models like Napster, Gnutella and Instant Messenging as exciting, Gates claimed they do not go far enough to solving problems of privacy, security and people working asynchronously.

Instead the future will be in a software-to-software model based on XML protocol. This new model will be especially useful for the ASP market in which Microsoft is investing a good deal of money, and demonstrations of how developers can customise Web services for specific users or industries was integral to Gates' keynote. "There is no doubt that the browser model is showing its age and needs development tools and standards that take off at a different level," said Gates.

Gates also took the speech as an opportunity to give the tablet PC, its first outing. Still in the development stage, it is a handheld device that looks and is held like an A4 sized clipboard. In a detail perhaps borrowed from Apple, the tablet PC has an orange back and border, utilising the next generation Whistler operating system, and with the processing power of a fully fledged PC, the tablet's real innovation lies in its ability to recognise handwritten "ink".

In demonstration, a normal handwritten note could be formatted, edited, cut and pasted in the same way text is currently treated on screen. The device will, Gates claims, "allow you to think with electronic ink". Gates also showed off a working model of a Microsoft developed mobile phone, codenamed "Stinger", which will utilise all the power of Microsoft's Pocket PC.

Determined to show a lighter side to his character, Gates also ran a video of himself at work in his new role as chief software architect, which included a scene of him playing on the swings with Steve Ballmer. "Steve and I like to get out of the office and talk about the future of technology," Gates joked.

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Fall 2000 Special Report.

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