In what was clearly the IT industry equivalent of the Papal visit to Cuba, Bill Gates descended on Silicon Valley on Monday to spread the gospel according to Microsoft among bankers and school children.
Gates spent the day touring various Silicon Valley businesses and schools before ending up in San Francisco to deliver the keynote address to the NationsBanc Montgomery Securities 15th annual Technology Week Conference.
The Microsoft boss told his audience that the company was doing well, but he wanted it to do better. As a result, research and development - which currently accounts for 17 per cent of spending - would be ramped up to 20 per cent. The additional funding will be spent in areas such as adding natural language capabilities to existing products.
"We feel our research is going well. Computers don't see. They can't talk. Microsoft needs to create software that enables the new machine," Gates said. "It doesn't understand semantic information. The user interface has to change, the ability to work with large documents easily has to change, and we're hard at work at pulling together those advances."
Claiming that he was now living the ?Web lifestyle? to which everyone would have to become accustomed, Gates painted his vision of a 'digital nervous system,' where the information flow inside a company is conducted digitally rather than using paper or other traditional forms of communication.
He highlighted one aspect of this revolution which worried him. "If there is any area that I have a little bit of concern about, in proceeding fast enough, it is communications technology -- being able to connect machines up at very fast speeds," he admitted, adding that he fears excessive government regulation will stifle progress in this area.
This hint at government interference was cue for Gates to launch into another public criticism of the Justice Deparment?s anti-trust actions against the supplier. "To me, the lawsuit is ironic," he mocked.
"This is the most competitive industry with the most jobs, and this is a lawsuit about crippling products. Now that is a fascinating lawsuit to have. "
He went on to claim that he had been "naove" for focusing Microsoft?s money on making better products when his competitors had spent their budgets on hiring professional lobbyists in Washington.
"The perspective of the consumer is lost here," he argued. "Government tells us not to put the Internet into Windows, but those standards should be built in -- it's taking the advances that are going to make the economy go forward and make it go back."
Earlier in the day, Gates had spent some time with third grade pupils at a school in Palo Alto where he sat in on a lesson about muskrats. The Cesar Chavez Academy is one of the recipients of computer technology through the Smart Valley non-profit consortium of companies.
Gates announced a further $1 million contribution to the consortium in the form of putting 6,000 copies of Microsoft Windows 95 into schools. Microsoft will also donate $15,000 to Chalk, a San Francisco-based community group that runs an online education network for San Francisco schools and a toll-free central information resource for youth programmes.
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