Gates: Tech to 'shift the tide' on spam, security

During his 20th Comdex keynote speech, the Microsoft chairman says software breakthroughs will override the pitfalls of unsolicited e-mail and security threats.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
4 min read
LAS VEGAS--Addressing a more buttoned-down crowd than in past years, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates attempted on Sunday to usher in a new era of computing he dubbed "seamless computing."

Gates' annual Comdex address, his 20th, was designed to outline the promise of new software as well as the pitfalls of spam and the threats to security. Despite the challenges, Gates said, breakthroughs will make computing an easier and more rewarding experience.

Special coverage
Comdex gets down to business
Complete News.com coverage of
the technology trade show.

Gates kicked off his talk showing a few slides from his first keynote address 20 years ago. At the time, Microsoft was focused on software that presented no surprises--software that was understandable and trustworthy.

Only about half that work is done, Gates said. "Those key attributes of software are still what we are focused on today," he said.

Gates also showed off his wristwatch using Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT), but confirmed that the public will have to wait until early next year for one of the devices, which uses FM radio technology to display sport scores weather and other information.

In contrast to the MGM Grand Garden Arena where Gates has spoken in recent years, Sunday's address took place at the significantly smaller Aladdin Theatre. This year's Comdex show is expected to draw about 50,000 attendees, down from about 200,000 in 2000.

In conjunction with Gates' speech, Microsoft is showing off a handful of new products, including a new version of its tablet PC software that's known as Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2004. The software, which will be available as a free upgrade for Tablet PC owners in the middle of next year, features improved handwriting recognition, a redesigned input panel and new ways for software developers to include ink-recognition capabilities in their applications.

Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin first described the upgrade, code-named Lonestar, at a developer conference last month.

Jamming spam
Aiming to counter the growing threat from unsolicited e-mail, Microsoft is also adding more powerful antispam software to its messaging programs, including the server-based Exchange software, PC-based Outlook 2003 and Internet-based Hotmail. With Exchange, Microsoft is adding an Intelligent Message Filter that will ship in the first half of next year and that promises to give network administrators greater tools to block spam from corporate servers.

Get Up to Speed on...
Enterprise security
Get the latest headlines and
company-specific news in our
expanded GUTS section.

Gates cast the issue as an economic problem, with spam having proliferated only because e-mail is such an efficient communications vehicle for marketers. "Even if one in 10,000 respond, it is economic for them to send out that e-mail," Gates said.

But technology--along with new legislation--can also change that equation, Gates said, noting the company is working on technologies such as "white lists" that ensure that only wanted mail reaches one's inbox. "We believe these new approaches will shift the tide," Gates said.

On the desktop side, Microsoft is using its SmartScreen technology, which is already part of Outlook 2003, to filter spam. The idea is for the software to "learn" what messages a given PC user considers junk.

The company is also showing off a new version of its Internet Security and Acceleration server, software designed to help companies secure the software code running in their information technology network. Microsoft plans to offer the software on a test basis starting early next year, with a final release due in the middle of 2004.

The new version is the first major upgrade to ISA Server, which debuted in 2000 and offers firewall and Web caching functions, along with enhanced security. Microsoft said the new software will have improved management functions and have stronger VPN (Virtual Private Network) capabilities.

Microsoft is pitching the software as another effort to "secure the perimeter" of corporate networks against attack.

In keeping with the toned-down nature of this year's Comdex, Gates' speech was less about gee-whiz technology than in previous years. Instead, Gates aimed to speak more directly to corporate computing managers than to technology enthusiasts.

The chairman also showed off a research project known as "Stuff I've Seen," which catalogs any place a computer user has gone. As previously reported, Stuff I've Seen is designed to make it easier to find a previously visited Web site or an old e-mail, as well as other files that have become increasingly hard to find among the myriad folders on a typical PC's hard drive.

The project, still in the research phase, is consistent with the company's attempt to strengthen its search technology and to create a more robust file system. It is referred to as WinFS and is expected to be part of Longhorn, an updated version of Windows expected in 2005 or 2006.

As in past years, the keynote address featured a humorous video of Gates and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. This year was a spoof on "The Matrix," with Ballmer as the Neo character and Gates as Morpheus. In his role, Gates tried to arm Ballmer with an integrated innovation pill to let Ballmer hold his own in a rapidly changing world.