When it comes to extending the PC’s power in the enterprise the key word is “easy,” according to Microsoft Corp. chair and chief software architect Bill Gates.

During his keynote at last month’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle, Gates played on the concept of the “digital decade” and noted that the key to extending the PC’s power is the continued development of wireless networking. Hardware vendors would need to work together for the benefit of the “PC ecosystem,” Gates said.

“In terms of the basic structure of the industry…we have people building specialized components, other people assembling the motherboards, companies specializing in the peripherals (and) Microsoft building the platforms,” Gates said.

Microsoft will continue to work on 802.11-related products, and will aggressively push Bluetooth in coming months, Gates said, adding the company is poised to unveil Bluetooth-based keyboards and mice in the near future. There’s no reason to choose one technology over the other, he continued. “These are both key technologies. They play different, complementary roles. Communications bandwidth – fibre bandwidth – is going very well; it’s amazing what can be done,” he said.

“Actually, supply is so great there that it’s a tough business to be in building those long-haul networks.”

The freedom of wireless connectivity has prompted Microsoft to develop products and software that let you wander from your traditional desktop, Gates said. One of Microsoft’s favourite parts: the much-discussed XP-based tablet PC, which he called “the most important thing to come along in years.”

Gates said the first generation devices look very good and will be rolled out later in the year. “When you go off to meetings, where you’re generally not taking your computer at all, with this tablet form factor we can make a big breakthrough there,” Gates said. “We also see that by getting the tablet-size device in your hands, things like really long documents can move onto the PC.”

Microsoft also plans to offer multi-monitor support in its software, so users can do more work at once. Humans can process information from several screens at once, said David Williams, Microsoft’s director of Windows hardware platforms, in an onstage demonstration. “Our research tells us that users are very aware of their peripheral vision -they’ve developed it through driving,” he said.

With multiple monitors, “you can truly immerse yourself in the document,” Williams said. Microsoft demonstrated a prototype with two LCDs (liquid crystal displays) stitched together with a bar in between, which works even better than two separate monitors, he said. Microsoft claims users experience a productivity increase of 20 to 50 per cent by adding a second monitor – that pays for itself in weeks, Williams said.

“What you want to do is have a screen with a focal point, and then periphery screens,” he said, displaying a four-LCD unit stitched together in an upside-down T configuration. “You get tremendous gains with four screens,” he said.

At the enterprise server level, Gates talked about the move to high-end 64-bit as one of the “biggest investments of the industry.” Enterprises are beginning to understand the end-to-end use of 64-bit power and scalability.

“The performance improvements are very key to that…particularly the management-level software that we’re putting on top. Some of the neat new storage advances where you can control your volume can actually do your backup disk to disk…so a lot of innovation that many of you are doing in these servers can drive things forward,” Gates said.

Gates admitted that improving network latency will be a major challenge going forward: “Speed of light, seek times, all those things mean that in order to have rapid performance we need to continue to use the intelligence of the devices for the user. That’s where you avoid the latency… Unless we conquer latency with clever local intelligence we won’t be able to pass through those benefits.”

    with files from IDG News Service