Gates discusses future of development

A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is still a sigh and a developer is still a developer. Microsoft’s annual professional developer’s conference, held in Los Angeles late last month proved that it takes more than long lines at airports and increased security to keep a developer from diving into information about cool new tools.

Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, discussed the future of development as well as current Microsoft offerings in his opening keynote address. Following a video presentation showing a humorous look at a day in the life of Gates – which included Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer whizzing Frisbees past Gates’ head – he launched into the subject that most of the conference attendees were eager to hear about: .NET.

According to Gates, the three pillars of .NET are XML Web services, new applications that include clients, servers and services, and a great user experience.

“We’re talking about an environment where information from all systems on the Internet can be gathered together into a rich view and the involvement of the user, their creativity, their annotation, all of those things get involved in interacting with that application,” Gates said. “It’s a vision that includes peer-to-peer as part of the design. It includes the ability to work offline with that information and have the information automatically synchronized with all the other devices as soon as you’re connected.”

As one of the pillars of the .NET framework, XML is what Gates referred to as “a dream of computer science for many decades” because of the fact that it is all about distributed computing.

“These are the set of standards that are absolutely required to support things like e-commerce,” Gates said. He explained that XML is integral because it provides “the ability to have rich interactions between businesses where the people at both ends have never coordinated their design and, in fact, they don’t necessarily trust the execution environment of the other company. Yet they’re able to find products they want to do transactions around, (and) they’re able to orchestrate extremely rich flows of information back and forth…without any special glue code that relates to that particular connection.”

Gates also acknowledged the broad industry support for XML from companies including IBM, and predicted that this will be a major change in the world of applications.

“XML is affecting everything at Microsoft, not just our tools and our platforms, but the very applications themselves and the way they deal with data,” Gates said.

Many of the conference breakout sessions were dedicated to developing with .NET, which Gates announced will “go final…before the end of the year. It’s been a long road to get here.”

According to Gates, the adoption of the framework has been impressive.

“This is the fastest, most bottoms-up developer phenomenon that I’ve ever seen. And that’s a very good thing. It means that the learning is happening very, very rapidly.”

Part of Gates’ keynote included a demonstration of the Tablet PC, which will be available with Microsoft applications in the second half of 2002.

“In a sense you can say it’s evolutionary. I mean it’s like a laptop without the keyboard,” he said. “How is the Tablet different? Well, it turns Windows XP. But this ability to do Ink interaction, Ink annotation, the handwriting recognition, which is really quite amazing, and the way we’ve built in the microphone capability for speech annotation and speech recognition as well is very important.”

After listing off the scheduled releases for the remainder of this year, Gates provided his audience with a roadmap of what’s to come for Microsoft and the industry in general.

“Next year, Tablet PC, a new round of servers in the first half of the year, a broadening of the My Services and, of course, the official packages of VisualStudio.NET will be out there early next year. 2003 is the next major milestone for us in terms of the Windows release…[with] a lot going on in the peer-to-peer, [and] a lot going on in the advanced presentation environment there.”

Gates closed his keynote with a bit of well-aimed flattery and encouragement for his audience of developers.

“There’s a real opportunity here. The software business…is really where the action is. Taking all those hardware breakthroughs and building them into real solutions, that’s what the software people get to do. And so software is going to define this digital decade. We’re looking forward to seeing the applications you’ll build around .NET.”