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ADT at Gartner ITxpo: Gates sees more modeling, less coding

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Microsoft head Bill Gates, speaking at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2004, emphasized the role of visual modeling as the foundation for future software engineering advances. Asked about innovations Microsoft sees coming in the next 10 years, Gates said the most significant will be visual modeling tools that will reduce software coding “by a factor of five.”

“This is what IT owes its customers,” Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect said in an hour-long question and answer session presented in a packed ballroom at the Gartner conference in San Diego. His comments echoed some comments he made on model-based programming at last summer’s MSFT Financial Analyst Meeting. [See 'A random walk through the modeling firmament,' adtmag.com, Sept. 1, 2003.]

Michael Fleisher, chairman and CEO of Gartner, played a role akin to 60-Minutes reporter Mike Wallace in questioning Gates onstage, and pointed out that not all programmers would agree with Gates.

Gates retorted, “Nothing will make a million lines of code a pretty thing.” He went on to say that the key breakthrough in code is in writing less code.

He said as visual modeling evolves over the next decade, non-programmers, such as business analysts, will be able to make adjustments to software systems quickly without writing code.

Two other innovations the Microsoft architect foresees are practical and workable speech recognition, and the digital version of the old-fashioned pen and ink tablet. Both Fleisher, with his questions, and the audience, with their guffaws, expressed skepticism toward both technologies, which have been trumpeted by Microsoft and others over the years.

Gates first defended himself, saying he received similar reactions when he first started talking about the concept of having PC users click on icons rather than typing DOS commands.

However, he did acknowledge that speech recognition has a long way to go, noting that in the current technology when a person tells a PC to “recognize speech,” the monitor will often flash “wreak a nice beach.”

Voice recognition will be an especially important innovation for users working with handheld devices because typing is often too cumbersome.

Moving to the subject of the tablet PC, Gartner's Fleisher questioned its necessity, noting that two generations of students have now been taught to type as part of the PC revolution. Gates insisted that people still want to write notes in the margins, as well as circle and underline key points in presentations and other documents.

He said what is innovative about Microsoft’s concept of digital pen and paper is that those notes in the margin on the original document can be immediately e-mailed to co-workers. This, Gates argued, provides a context that is frequently missing in e-mail today. An e-mail that reads, “What’s going on with sales in Japan?” may be meaningless without the source document that raised the question.

According to Gates, these technological innovations will be among “many of the Holy Grails of computers,” which he predicted would be solved in the next decade.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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