Bill Gates kicked off the Comdex/Fall mega-show yesterday with a keynote speech that tried hard to put a more human face on Microsoft.
In between the guest stars and the humorous clips featuring himself and sidekick Steve Ballmer, a seemingly relaxed Gates showcased NT 5.0 IntelliMirror technology.
Under fire from the US and EU authorities and the media about his company's tough business practices, Gates seemed keen to win over the audience by showing them a kinder, gentler side. He took pains to avoid all negative reference to competitors, and specifically to the network computer concept, focusing instead on a positive message - "I love my PC", the words on the T-shirt that was handed out to all attendees.
Unusually, Gates repeatedly referred to Microsoft's failings - as in a spoof TV advertisement that showed Ballmer trying to flog the flopped Microsoft Bob product for $1.99 - but also in jokes about obscure NT error messages. "I'm the only guy in the world who gets NT error messages when he hits the light switch," Gates joked, in a reference to his new, computerised home.
Gates went on to sum up his personal 'Top 10 reasons for loving my PC'. Number five was: "In just one weekend, I can sit at my PC, collaborate with attorneys all over the world, comment on a 48-page legal brief, and email it to the Department of Justice".
He also got laughs for a video fragment that showed clips from earlier speeches, showing him endlessly repeating himself. Despite this display of self-knowledge, the Microsoft boss then went on, for the rest of his one-hour presentation, to reiterate some of his familiar themes.
Predictably, he focused mainly on manageability and cost of ownership issues. But he didn't even mention Hydra, the multiuser Windows technology that is featured heavily at the show, focusing instead on other features of the forthcoming Windows NT 5.0.
The centrepiece was a demonstration of Intellimirror, a technology built into NT 5.0 that maintains the user's state on the server. He showed how a PC could be disconnected from the network and replaced by a new system with a blank hard disk. Within minutes, the PC (a Hewlett-Packard NetVectra system, which is a sealed case NetPC) had loaded the NT operating system with all the user's favorite settings, and had installed all the user's applications.
Gates also demonstrated how applications can be distributed to users on a network by drag-and-drop, using the Intellimirror technology and the Microsoft Management Console. Gates showed the default installation method with Intellimirror: the icon for the application shows up on the desktop of all users that have access to it, but the files that are necessary to run the application are only loaded on the PC the first time the user starts it up.
He drew applause from the audience when he showed the 'self-healing' capability: he erased all the files of a specific application. Then, when he tried to start up the application, the system automatically copied all the files from the server. Windows NT 5.0, with the Intellimirror technology, is expected to ship some time next year.
Gates had invited a number of guests, including basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who showed the audience his new Web site. US Marines major Jim Cummiskey demonstrated an HP palmtop running a Windows CE application that is to be used by Marines on the battlefield.
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