Tech Industry

Gates looks to the future

Bill Gates tells developers that one of Microsoft's top priorities in 1997 is "zero-administration" computing; he also didn't miss a chance criticize rivals who are pushing a similar strategy based on network computers.

SAN JOSE, California--At the company's Site Builder conference today, Microsoft (MSFT) chairman Bill Gates stressed that one of Microsoft's top priorities in 1997 is "zero-administration" computing, but he also didn't miss a chance to take a few swipes at rivals who are pushing a similar strategy based on network computers.

Gates acknowledged that the cost of administering PCs in corporations is too high and that Microsoft must work harder to cut that cost to nearly zero. "The whole idea of zero-administration clients has taken as important a place as the Internet did last year," Gates told attendees, referring to Microsoft's overall corporate goals.

But Gates is anxious to differentiate his goal from the push to abandon regular desktop PCs for "thin clients" or network computers, an idea being promoted by Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Netscape Communications. Proponents of the NC say current yearly administration costs for a single PC can mount to $10,000.

But Gates argues that he can bring down this figure without abandoning the benefits of having a full-fledged PC with a hard disk, powerful processors, and feature-filled operating systems. One way to help this will be achieved is through upcoming upgrades of Windows NT and Windows 95 that will facilitate automatic system updates by mirroring users' directories on a server.

"We like PCs," Gates jibed. "That's the difference between us and them. To us, zero administration means everything is compatible, no new servers, no new hardware, unlike the world they come from. As an aside, it's interesting to see Sun, which sells the most overpriced systems of anyone, pushing for NCs."

As part of his counterpoint, Gates also promoted Microsoft's "NetPC" initiative, launched this week in partnership with Intel. The NetPCs are Microsoft's answer to NCs because they are cheaper, simpler, and easier to maintain, but unlike NCs, will be designed to maintain compatability with PCs so that information can be exchanged between the two.

"In most cases, NetPCs will still have a hard drive but just as a cache. We think it's worth the extra $200 in cost, but we will support diskless NetPCs," Gates said.

Separately, Gates also today outlined several features coming up in Microsoft software due to ship in 1997 and offered his advice to developers about how to plan for the future:
--Developers must deal with a mix of Windows NT and Windows 95 operating systems running in corporations for the next three years, even though NT will dominate in new hardware sales to corporations.
--In three to ten years, computers will listen, talk, see, and learn about their users. "Ten years from now, a huge part of the operating system will be for natural interactions," Gates predicted.
--Running a common Microsoft operating system on both client and server will allow software developers to write code once and let the system decide whether it should run on the client or the server.