Gates previews Vista

Office 12 was also being talked up by Microsoft's chairman in Los Angeles on Tuesday

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates claims the bold promises of e-commerce and e-government made in the early 1990s are finally ready to be made a reality with a new "wave" of software development that can be built on the foundation of Windows Vista and Office 12.

Speaking at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, Gates showed off the first public demo of Vista and the next version of Office and said they are about "connecting people to the information they want" and improving the productivity of workers.

"For e-commerce and e-government…the foundation pieces have been laid," he said. "People are not paid to just browse at work."

Office 12, which is scheduled for release at the same time as Vista in the second half of 2006, will be the most significant release of the software since Office 95 a decade ago, according to Gates.

The Office 12 demo revealed graphical command tabs in the tool bars to help users navigate through tasks more easily in response to complaints that many find it too hard to take advantage of much of the functionality in the software.

Excel will have things like the capability to put coloured data bars in cells to help users visualise the information while Outlook features a new 'To Do' bar that lists tasks by time and day, along with a new feature for previewing email attachments in the window without having to open them first.

A demo of Windows Vista also showed off the software's 3D tabbing capability and a "gadget" bar — a remarkably similar concept to Apple's 'Widgets' — at the side for users to add in any pieces of software such as clocks or games to customise their desktop.

Gates also pointed to the emergence of RSS not only as a tool for consumers to aggregate news and information but for businesses as well, and Outlook in Office 12 has the ability to aggregate a user's RSS feeds.

He said the next wave of Windows software builds on billions of dollars of investment dating back to the early .Net and XML announcements in 2000 and that it will make the user more productive and enrich their experience.