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Gates looks to expand view beyond Windows

At Mix conference, Microsoft appeals to Web developers, commits to more IE updates. Video: Gates' Mix '06 keynote Photo: Gates shrugs at Mix '06

LAS VEGAS--Microsoft has long viewed the software world through Windows. Now, it's hoping to prove that it understands the growing popularity of Web technologies beyond its own operating system.

Chairman Bill Gates on Monday delivered a keynote speech here at Mix '06, the first edition of a Microsoft conference aimed at developers building new-style online applications that combine Web and mobile access.

The Microsoft chairman said, in essence, that the development world has changed with the advent of new Web technologies that give people any time, any place access to their data--a far cry from the PC-centric world of the past. "Everything we do now, we have to be user-centric, not device-centric," he said.

Gates also pledged to bolster the company's development efforts on Internet Explorer, which he said has lagged in recent years.

"In a sense we're doing a mea culpa, saying we waited too long for a browser release," Gates said. "I expect us to move very very rapidly there because we see great opportunities."

Gates said that Microsoft is already working on the next two versions after Internet Explorer 7, which is due later this year with Windows Vista, a long anticipated update to Windows XP.

On Monday, Microsoft released several product updates, including a "refresh" of the Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 preview, and Microsoft's Atlas AJAX Web development kit will have an updated license allowing customers to run Web applications built with Atlas.

The term AJAX was coined last year to describe a combination of Web technologies, including JavaScript and XML. More and more developers are using these tools to build more capable Web applications that can replace older generations of "fat client" desktop systems.

Gates at Mix

This week, Microsoft executives will explain in more detail the company's full arsenal of software and Live hosted services for building Web applications on a range of devices including desktop PCs, mobile phones, gaming devices and Media Center PCs.

The expansion of Web-connected software to a larger group of consumers is something that can't be ignored, the company says. "More and more activities are happening online. Whatever industry you look at, that's where people are spending time," said Charles Fitzgerald, general manager for platform technologies at Microsoft. "Our latest Web technologies (can be used) to drive better customer connections online."

Moreover, the popularity of "mashups," which let developers combine parts of one Web site with parts of another, has driven a new way to look at Web sites. Increasingly developers can think about Web sites as "components" in their applications, Gates said. "This is a powerful idea whose time has come, and we're really just at the beginning."

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Video: Mix '06: Gates keynote
From the stage of Mix '06, Bill Gates discusses building new online applications.

Gates on Monday also discussed the changes to Web usage that will come from the broader adoption of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and related Microsoft-led initiatives, including for sharing calendaring information and Live Clipboard.

"You can think of RSS as the start of the programmable Web. As Web sites start exposing their APIs, amazing things happen," said Gates.

Microsoft intends to build deeper RSS support in Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7, allowing people to subscribe to Web pages as well as podcasts and photos.

The Mix '06 conference is also an effort by Microsoft to attract more Web developers and designers to Microsoft products.

The company's Expression line of designer tools is being built to foster better collaboration between technical programmers and designers. The tools are expected to be released later this year.

Overall, Microsoft is hoping to prove to developers that it understands the new realities of online development, ranging from things like AJAX to software-as-a-service development, pioneered by rivals such as Salesforce.com.

Adam Gross, vice president of developer marketing at Salesforce.com, noted that Microsoft has been very successful with traditional Windows developers. But it has not been as successful reaching "Internet developers."

"Until now, Microsoft tools have been very Microsoft-centric. I'd like to see how they are really going to approach the Internet as a development platform," Gross said.