Gates Discusses Microsoft’s Role in Future of Internet

LAS VEGAS -- Kicking off the Networld+Interop show here, Microsoft Corp. chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates discussed in a keynote address his vision of the Internet’s future and Microsoft’s role in it.

"The Internet will change more in the next five years than it has in its entire history," Gates predicted.

He continued, saying the Internet is on the verge of moving beyond the transaction phase. It is becoming a platform on which programs are written directly to the Internet and are designed to work between multiple sites.

Before that change occurs, though, Gates said the industry the industry has to move beyond a number of limitations. The browser, for one, is a limitation because it provides a read-only atmosphere. Annotating or editing information is impracticable. For the most part, when users want to keep a copy of such information, they use the clipboard or hand write the information. Further, access today is limited to the keyboard, but handwriting and speech recognition technologies will likely change that.

The underlying standard that will enable the Internet to become the platform Gates envisions is XML. "The XML world implies a revolution in all the development tools, the databases, needed to deal with heterogeneous information in a way that they never have before," he says. "We will see breakthrough language innovation, extensions to the computer languages themselves that relate to XML."

Gates says those breakthroughs will become the foundation of the digital economy.

Microsoft’s role, he said, is to build software platforms on which companies can develop applications and to empower people through such software any time, any place, and from a variety of devices.

The key elements of the future Internet for Microsoft will be availability, security, interoperability, and performance.

To help increase availability, Gates said Microsoft began a reliability online initiative, a program that follows up the company’s prerelease reliability testing of Windows 2000 on real-world machines.

During the beta process, Microsoft put monitors at a few hundred testing sites to detect when a customer restarted a system. Microsoft studied the data to understand what caused the reboots.

With the reliability online initiative, hundreds of thousands of systems can report into a database. Microsoft plans to diagnose anything that customers think causes reliability problems. Those problems will be mapped into the database where Microsoft will track anything in the area of system malfunction or blue screens.

In terms of security, Gates said passwords are a weak link. "I think the dominant approach will be the possession of a smart card," he explained.

Microsoft enabled Windows 2000 to handle smart cards. But for use to take off, Gates said hardware vendors need to build them, ISVs have to write the software and customers need to adopt them and institute policies for their use.

On the interoperability front, XML will be the engine that drives the Internet, but other standards, such as SNMP, WBEM, TCP/IP, and IPX, will have important roles, as well.

"Interoperability is the substantial part of our R&D budget," he said.

To that end, Microsoft released in February Interix 2.2, a software interoperability tool that lets users take advantage of key aspects of Windows 2000 -- such as manageability and access to Windows-based applications -- while continuing to use Unix applications.

Gates touted the announcement of Windows Services for Unix 2.0. The product, announced at the show, enables customers to share files among Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Unix systems via the Network File System (NFS) protocol. According to Microsoft Research, version 2.0 improves file access performance by as much as six times over the previous version.

Increased performance of the Internet is on the way, as well. Gates said that in cooperation with Qwest Communications International Inc. (, Microsoft moved 8 GB of data in 82 seconds, for a transfer rate of 957 MBps. As a point of contrast, DSL currently moves that 8 GB in 13 hours, for a rate of 1.5 MBps.

"The challenge with performance is to make sure that there's no bottlenecks that show up, whether it's transferring data inside an enterprise or transferring over the Internet as that gets more and more capable. And that's really our commitment is to push that forward," Gates said.