In his latest speech in Singapore, Bill Gates set out what he thinks will happen next. Here is a man who relentlessly promotes the idea of innovation, using the word as a mantra to justify his company's every move, so it's exciting to get a glimpse of a future driven by Bill's vision and inventiveness. Here it is: we'll all be living in a connected world, using a variety of devices to access our information, with everything linked together through Web services and XML.
As a piece of far-sighted prediction, this is like saying that in the twenty-first century we'll live in houses lit by electric light, get whisked to work in horseless carriages and be lectured about competition by monopolists. Mr Gates also predicted that search will get better although he didn't mention whether this would be in time for Longhorn — and that it won't give us lists of results but an intelligently filtered, canonical answer. As any archivist will tell you, the most important thing to remember about a single, obviously right and unambiguous answer is that it's usually wrong. Microsoft is strong on the single answer.
At the end of his speech, Mr Gates implored companies to keep an 'open mind' in order to see Microsoft's better 'value equation'. Openness of minds, standards and software is a flexible concept in Redmond. "We're certainly not against open source", said Bill in his speech, which is something of a change from the company's previous attitude that "open-source is an intellectual property destroyer. I can't imagine something that could be worse than this for the software business and the intellectual-property business."
This newfound fondness for openness needs quantification. Microsoft still maintains an animosity towards the GPL, which is fair enough as far as code goes but dangerously disingenuous in a company promoting open standards.
We need a commitment that the standards Microsoft proposes will be open to all, not merely those who are prepared to sign restrictive licences. If, as Bill Gates said in Singapore, competition is about finding the IT vendor who can provide products that run on the most pervasive hardware, deliver the highest level of runtime and who can offer the most efficient development tools, then Microsoft need fear nothing from making its Web service protocols truly available to all.
We will be happy to provide that open mind when Bill provides the open standards.