Gates pitches ‘seamless computing’ to developers

Microsoft Corp. chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates pitched his company’s “seamless computing” vision to an audience of software developers on Wednesday.

Gates first talked about a seamless computing world where various devices work well together and data flows seamlessly form one device to another at Comdex in Las Vegas last November. Developers have to get engaged to make the concept a reality, Gates said in a presentation to the audience of three conferences co-located in San Francisco.

During his keynote address, Gates announced a preview program for Visual Studio 2005, an upcoming release of Microsoft’s developer tools previously know by the Whidbey code name. He also presented Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, an update to Microsoft’s software for handheld devices, and officially marked Microsoft’s entry into the speech recognition server market with the launch of Speech Server 2004.

Gates did not mention the European Commission’s ruling Wednesday in its antitrust investigation against Microsoft, which includes a US$613-million fine.

Instead, he stuck with the seamless computing theme. All of the products he spoke about fit with that concept, for which the pieces are only now coming together, Gates said. He delivered his keynote to a joint audience of Microsoft’s Mobile Developer Conference, Fawcette Technical Publications Inc.’s VSLive and the AVIOS~SpeechTEK attendees in San Francisco.

A new “community preview initiative” for Visual Studio 2005 will allow developers to get their hands on prerelease versions of the developer tool and give Microsoft feedback. Early versions, including releases between official beta versions, will be made available to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Universal subscribers and attendees to several developer conferences, Microsoft said.

“It is harder than ever to develop applications,” Gates said. Developers have to deal with existing code and high-quality expectations for their applications that have to run continuously, he said. “It is really up to the tool to make sure these things aren’t overwhelming and that it doesn’t slow down the development of applications.”

Visual Studio 2005 is a major new release of Microsoft’s development tools. The product was originally due out this year, but Microsoft recently pushed back the release date until the first half of 2005. The tool promises to make it easier for developers to create applications for the Web and for mobile devices, as well as speech applications.

With Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, Microsoft is expanding support for hardware. The update adds support for screen switching between landscape and portrait modes and support for higher resolution video graphics array (VGA) and QVGA displays, Microsoft said. Gates showed off a new Motorola Inc. MPx handset that uses the new software.

The MPx, announced earlier this year at the 3GSM World Conference in Cannes, is a dual-hinge clamshell-style phone that opens vertically for traditional phone operation and horizontally for use as an e-mail device, Motorola said. It sports a QWERTY keyboard, a 16-bit color touch-screen display with 320 pixel-by-240 pixel resolution, integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and an Secure Digital/Multi Media Card (SD/MMC) slot for up to 1GB of additional memory.

Microsoft promises speech recognition for the masses with Speech Server 2004 by enabling developers to add speech capabilities to existing Web applications based on Microsoft’s ASP application framework by adding code based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) technologies using Visual Studio .Net.

With the formal launch of Speech Server 2004, Microsoft is entering a space in which it will compete with vendors including Nuance Communications Inc. and IBM Corp. The product is due on June 1.

Analysts and competitors have warned that Microsoft may be oversimplifying speech recognition. One conference attendee, John Poust, a software engineer at Rauland-Borg Corp. in Skokie, Ill., believes that may be true, although in his business of hospital intercom systems speech recognition could be valuable.

“Speech recognition is one of these technologies that has been in the future for a long time and may be in the future for a long time,” Poust said.

Although he enjoyed Gates’ presentation, Poust dismissed “seamless computing” as an unreachable goal. Integration can’t be done fast enough because there will always be new devices and technologies. “I have been involved with computing since punch cards and have heard that phrase practically since the word ‘go’. It is a moving target,” he said.

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