ADT at Comdex: Gates opens Comdex by pitching 'Seamless Computing'
- By John K. Waters
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
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
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
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
, 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!''
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached