Best is yet to come: Gates

Any mention of the Department of Justice was conspicuously absent in a recent public address given by Bill Gates.

In his keynote at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in New Orleans, the chairman and chief software architect of Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp., spoke primarily about the PC – calling it “the most empowering tool of all time.”

Gates told the gathering: “The best is yet to come.” It’s his new slogan – voiced in recent public appearances and ad campaigns intended to polish Microsoft’s image. In fact, the only nod to his ongoing troubles with antitrust and the DOJ occurred when he ran a spoof video showing him “appealing to a higher court” – the popular Judge Judy show, which was greeted with laughter from the audience.

In his speech, he noted the PC will retain a central role as the point of integration for Internet appliances. “But at this point, the thing that people would really like to see us prioritize, particularly in the software arena, is the complexity,” he said. “Another key point is to expand the form factors, to let these new forms come alive by software enablement.”

Gates showed off a number of concept PCs and showcased several upcoming operating system releases, including 64-bit Windows 2000, the Windows Me upgrade for home users and Whistler, the code name for what will eventually be a merged version of Windows 2000 and Windows Millennium Edition (Me).

One of the key issues addressing simplicity in the PC is the fast boot, he said.

“Now, in Windows Millennium…we’ve made them hibernate very fast. We’ve gotten rid of the real mode processing that slowed down boot…we can get the boot time down to 25 seconds, and that’s a real milestone.”

At the conference, Microsoft also announced plans to combine Windows CE, Windows NT Embedded and the forthcoming Windows 2000 Server Appliance Kit into a single business unit for embedded systems. Called the Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group, the new unit will be headed by Bill Veghte, a vice-president at Microsoft, and will deliver technology to other divisions such as the Consumer Group, which develops the Pocket PC, as well as to hardware manufacturers.

WinHEC attendee Bill Gordon, principal engineer with Vancouver-based Intrinsyc Software Inc., criticized Gates’ keynote address, calling it “virtually content-free.” He said he was particularly disappointed that corporate stock values weren’t mentioned, especially in the wake of the recent DOJ media attention. On the other hand, he was glad to hear the company had formed a new embedded group.

“This is one more example of how the embedded market is exploding,” Gordon said. “It’s good to see Microsoft attacking the big picture,” rather than relying so heavily on Windows CE development models, he added.

Daya Nadamuni, industry analyst with San Jose, Calif.-based Dataquest Inc., said Microsoft’s new embedded division will have its work cut out for it, competing in a market that has already been “flourishing for a number of years. And what did not help was that [Microsoft] had one strategy for Windows CE, they had a somewhat different strategy for embedded NT – it was a little confusing,” she said.

“So what’s good about this [new group] is that, for the first time, Microsoft seems to have a coherent strategy on how to position both NT and CE for the embedded market.” By making it clear that the company plans to concentrate only on the 32-bit space and above, its focus is also clarified, she added.

Also announced at WinHEC was the scheduled June availability of Windows CE 3.0, the next version of Microsoft’s operating system for handheld and small embedded systems. CE 3.0 is already the basis for the recently introduced Pocket PC.