Bill Gates, Microsoft?s chairman and chief executive, laid out his vision for the future in the closing keynote address at the supplier?s Teched developers' conference in New Orleans.
The key themes were simplicity, scalability and the need to exploit the Internet, so users could adopt a so-called Web lifestyle both at home and at work. The need to innovate was also given a high profile as Gates made continual oblique references to the antitrust case being pursued against the software giant by the Department of Justice and 12 US states.
?You currently take our innovation for granted. But, over the next eight years, we?ll bring you more - linguistic support, speech recognition, real life graphical user interfaces to the Web, natural language interfaces and a computer that remembers what you?ve done,? he said.
He continued: ?Currently a computer doesn?t see, listen and learn, but underneath our platform will be the necessary graphics, decision theory and international programming to do it. The hardware vendors are doing their part with memory and storage enhancements, but when in the next decade this will appear, it?s hard to say. But, it will be in the next decade.?
Such innovations were currently being held back by such issues as lack of bandwidth particuarly to the home, he explained, although developments were moving ahead in the corporate space. But it would be 10 years before the fibre optic cable required to fulfil his aim of pumping broadcast quality graphics to US living rooms would be available.
In the mean time, he said, Microsoft would continue to work on making its products easier to use, taking advantage of Internet standards to help it move forward.
Examples of this include an offering codenamed Chrome, in which ?we?ve taken DirectX and made it accessible from HTML and Windows 32 applications?. Chrome runs on a graphics chip, is based on a merger of the HTML and XTML programming models and enables developers to build 3D graphics for use with Web front ends.
Microsoft is also working on agent technology that can intelligently analyse the way users work. The first iteration of the software was included in Office 97, but more advanced versions will be incorporated into, among others, the Outlook 98 calendering and scheduling package.
The technology is able to monitor users? typical behavioural patterns with applications such as email. It tunes the system to respond to their individual needs, and provides help and feedback via an icon that is able to understand the context of the message.
The icon, which is based on the now defunct 'Bob' real world interface, then asks users whether they want to schedule an appointment, for example, and can make recommendations as to availability.
?In future, the computer will be a better tool than it is today,? Gates concluded. ?And this has implications for business and the way we entertain ourselves. Almost no-one will not be touched by this technology.?
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