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Microsoft makes the grade--barely

Bill Gates gives his company a B- for its performance on the far-reaching promise of his "information at your fingertips" concept.

LONG BEACH, California--Bill Gates gives Microsoft (MSFT) a B-.

Opening a discussion via satellite by offering a slide from a presentation he gave at Comdex more than five years ago, Gates gave his company that less-than-stellar mark for its performance on the far-reaching promise of the "information at your fingertips" concept he debuted at that show.

Speaking at the Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference here via satellite from London, Professor Gates gave only one A, which translated to five points on a highly unofficial scorecard. That was for being able to integrate various kinds of information, a goal achieved via OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) technology.

"Even though we get a B- in this, I think it is a quest well worth pursuing," noted Gates, winning the award for the Understatement of the Conference on the first day of activities.

Reflecting on the debut of the "information at your fingertips" concept, Gates also gave a grade of "incomplete" for technology being usable by all, declaring that integration of voice-recognition types of applications into daily life is "still several years away."

Professor Gates also gave his company a B for its efforts in making PCs easy for filing, retrieving, and browsing and accessing a variety of information types. The bespectacled CEO also gave his company a C for the PC's use as an information appliance, indicating that the company's recently announced NetPC and "zero administration" initiatives will go a long way toward improving that score.

Against that background, Gates said new challenges for the idea of "information at your fingertips" includes developing the component model, adding collaboration and authoring capabilities, and enhancing the richness of browsing.

Gates said the exponential growth of the Internet has brought his concept significantly closer to reality, calling the adoption of the medium and the ability to connect to points through TCP/IP protocols "a phenomenal thing."

Commenting on a wide range of industry trends, Gates also called Intel's MMX multimedia chip technology "an important step" and the backward compatibility of hardware "one of the unsung miracles" of the industry.

A major step in the "information at your fingertips" concept will come next year as Microsoft rolls out the Active Desktop, based on an Internet Explorer interface and encompassing files, messaging, and Web pages. That concept also includes a "push method" in which predetermined sets of information arrive from a server to the client.

Gates encouraged work on Internet standards and investment in Web technologies. He also said he has been "feeling very good" about the way Microsoft embraced the Internet--a revolutionary change that is close to its first anniversary.