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ADT at Comdex: Gates opens Comdex by pitching 'Seamless Computing'

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates focused his opening keynote at this year's Comdex on ''seamless computing,'' his designation for the next phase in the evolution of information technology in which the interactions among disparate devices will be smoothed and refined -- made ''seamless.'' It's a challenge that Gates sees as a software issue.

''What is limiting us, the seams that hold us back ... are much more about pure software challenges,'' he said. ''Seamless computing is about the idea that we, through advanced software, will be able to eliminate these seams. By getting rid of these seams -- the seams between the systems and the software, between the software and the software, and between the software and the devices -- we can deliver on all of the scenarios we've dreamed about since this industry got started. In this decade we are engaged in delivering the final level of infrastructure, which is a software connecting infrastructure.''

Speaking last night (Sunday) to a full house in the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas, Gates touched on last year's theme of the ''digital decade,'' and offered conference attendees a determinedly optimistic message. ''By the end of this decade,'' he said, ''so many of the things that we do will be driven by software systems; there is more productivity to be gained by the advances that will come in our industry than has been delivered in our entire history.''

The ideal of seamless computing won't come cheap, Gates noted. It will require ''a lot of investment and the belief that these new things can be achieved.'' Gates disclosed that his own company plans to invest $6.8 billion in research and development this year, double what Microsoft spent five years ago. ''Microsoft is very optimistic about all this,'' he said. ''That's what it takes to bring forth these advances at full speed.''

As is expected from a Gates speech, the company founder touted a number of Microsoft products and technologies, including Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003, which he described as a product ''that is about making sure that you know exactly what software you have in your environment.'' Introduced a week earlier, SMS 2003 is designed to provide large organizations with complete awareness of the patch level of all machines in a network, and to deploy new patches quickly to all machines that need them. Gates said that his own company had used the product to achieve 100% patch compliance for 110,000 systems in just eight hours. More than 90% of Microsoft's enterprise customers have licensed the product, he added.

Gates told his audience that Microsoft continues to seek input from its customers to shape its product development strategy. ''There has been one clear message,'' he said, ''and that is that we've really got to get the fundamentals right, including all of the issues around security, reliability and manageability.''

Of the three, security is ''the most acute'' issue facing IT today, he added. ''Security continues to be a top priority for Microsoft. It's been a key focus for us over the last couple of years. Right now, it's the biggest thing we're doing.''

Among Microsoft's security solutions is a new version of its Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) server, which debuted in 2000 and offers firewall and Web caching functions, along with enhanced security. Gates also cited a new set of security enhancements for Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, which will be delivered to customers in 2003.

Gates also showed off Microsoft's SmartScreen technology, a spam filter that is already part of Outlook 2003; and a new search technology dubbed ''Stuff I've Seen,'' that is still in the hands of Microsoft researchers.

Gates' address was right in line with the theme of the ''new Comdex.'' After years of glitz and excess that mirrored the high-tech boom, and two seasons of falling attendance that paralleled the dot-com bust, conference organizers have repackaged the event with an emphasis on a ''B2B IT.'' ''During the boom, Comdex was bigger than life,'' Robert Priest-Heck, CEO at conference organizer MediaLive, said in his introduction to Gates' speech. ''But this conference is no longer about glitz, but about business. It's no longer about technology for technology's sake; it's about productivity.''

But even the ''new Comdex,'' with its 'B2B IT' theme had room for a few gizmos in its opening keynote. Gates showed off his Smart Personal Object Technology (Spot) watch (due early next year from Fossil) that delivers FM signals for sports scores, stock prices and instant messages. He showed off the new Motorola Smartphone cell phone-PDA combo device. And he mentioned the new X Box, with its new Music Mixer capabilities.

This was Gates' 20th keynote in the conference's 23-year history. In his introduction, Priest-Heck recalled the first Comdex at which Gates appeared, when Bill Gates Sr. came along to run the slide projector. Gates indulged in a bit of nostalgia himself by showing the first slide of his first presentation, which his father projected upside down.

''We've come a long way since the days when a slide was actually a slide,'' Gates said. ''We definitely have started down this path of seamless computing of devices working together. But we still have a ways to go.''

The Gates presentation also included the traditional video spoof. This year's production was a takeoff on the sci-fi film, The Matrix , featuring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Keanu Reeves' role (''Neo'' was changed to ''Stevo''), and with Gates as Morpheus, complete with shades and leather trench coat. In the video, Morpheus/Gates reveals to Stevo the secret of delivering ''software breakthroughs that will enable the seamless sharing of information from desktops, servers and all types of devices.''

Microsoft's antipathy for the open-source Linux operating system surfaced twice in the send-up: First, when a character based on the evil Smith software entity attempts to launch a program on a Linux-run laptop while interrogating ''Stevo,'' the machine stalls and he whispers to another ''Smith,'' ''You'll need to write a new device driver and recompile the kernel.'' Later, Morpheus/Gates gives Stevo a choice between two pills: a toaster-sized blue pill labeled ''IBM/Linux,'' and a much more digestible red pill emblazoned with the Microsoft logo. ''You take the big blue pill, and the story ends,'' he said. ''You wake up in your bed and armies of consultants are running around the IT world. You take the red pill ... and I show you how innovation frees the IT masses.''

The video also included a little dig at a Microsoft rival: When Gates/Morpheus tells Stevo that they should visit ''the Oracle,'' Ballmer replied, ''I think I can safely say we can just skip that step!''

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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