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Gates: Windows to call on phones

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates says future versions of Windows will be more phone friendly, as he demonstrates prototypes at a company-sponsored conference.

NEW ORLEANS--Microsoft's next conquest could be your telephone.

The Redmond, Wash.-based computing giant is working on future versions of its Windows operating system that will better interoperate with the telephone and other communications devices, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said Tuesday.

In future versions of Windows, phone calls will be routed through the PC, while voice messages will be turned into e-mails that can be read. E-mail also will serve as an application for delivering voice messages, Gates said in a keynote speech delivered at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here.

"In Windows you are going to see a lot of enhancements in real-time communication," he said.

Meanwhile, Gates reiterated his assertion that the PC is the most advanced technology for delivering new applications.

"There is no way anyone can say that the PC isn't the highest-performing platform for any application," he said.

Gates said the combination of computing and communications devices will make it easier for people to screen calls. In an application demonstrated on the Athens PC prototype during his speech, Gates showed how a picture of a caller, e-mails on the PC from that caller, and a history of interaction with that caller could all be displayed on a PC. The PC owner could then decide to take the call or, after looking at who is calling, send it to voice mail.

Gates said that Windows devices in the future will likely come with a new navigational tool he called Xeel. Xeel is a series of navigation buttons, stacked vertically, that will execute commands when pushed in or when shifted toward one of four compass points.

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Gates offers tour of 'Athens' prototype PC
Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft
Besides becoming a communications device, the PC will increasingly function as a nerve center for home entertainment and other consumer-electronics devices, in part because of the storage space provided by computers. By 2005, hard drives will hold up to 500GB of data, while 568GB to 1-terabyte PCs will hit the market in 2007, Gates said.

The capability to function in this manner "will keep (PC) prices from eroding too dramatically," said Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of graphics chip maker Nvidia, who also spoke at WinHEC. "We are going to expand our industry footprint to encompass a large market that we are not in today."

Phones and PCs will be connected through wireless networks using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and combined into single devices. Gates acknowledged that work still remains to be done in quality of service and power consumption of those devices.

The application is only a prototype and is not part of Longhorn, the next version of Windows for desktop PCs, a Microsoft representative said. Longhorn is expected to make a debut late next year or early 2005.

In a speech long on vision and short on specifics, Gates touched on a number of topics but provided few concrete details on upcoming products. Longhorn, he said, will be more graphically intensive than current versions of Windows. "The standard Windows application today does not take advantage of the graphics capabilities on today's PCs," he said. However, he did not explain or demonstrate how Longhorn will look different.

Nvidia's Huang said: "When we come to Longhorn, the experience of your desktop is going to be absolutely stunning."

Making strides in security
Gates said that Next-Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB), the security technology formerly known as Palladium, will eventually be found on every PC.

"Even when running third-party code you can make security guarantees about the cryptography and secrets kept on the system," he said. How the system works remains a secret, although Gates said details will be discussed at technical sessions to be held at WinHEC.

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Microsoft is also expected on Tuesday to show off the first public demonstration of NGSCB code running on prototype hardware.

In the server realm, Microsoft will continue to chip away at the Unix-RISC (reduced instruction set computer) bedrock with its recently released Windows Server 2003 operating system. Gates said that PC-based servers now hold the transaction performance crown for servers running up to 64 processors--or virtually every major commercial category of servers.

"In all the different benchmarks, the PC is the fastest," he said. "We're hoping for people with Unix-based systems to challenge the results."

As part of this push, Microsoft will continue to design Windows to handle multiple functions at once. The work dovetails with a trend in the processor world where chipmakers are putting two or more computing cores on a single chip.

"Having multiple cores running at very high speeds is cheaper than going to higher clock rates," Gates said.

The company also is improving its load-balancing software, which allocates tasks for greater efficiency. Currently, Microsoft's software can allocate tasks among servers. In future versions of Dynamic Data Center, the software will be able to balance tasks for storage devices and networking equipment.

Microsoft will continue to work with developers and customers to iron out flaws and incompatibilities with Windows by sharing their internal data regarding crashes and flaws with those using the products. One unnamed firewall company, Gates pointed out, was facing an inordinate amount of crashes. After working with Microsoft, the crashes decreased dramatically.

"For our corporate customers, we will give them a slice of the data," he said. Over time, this data could even allow customers to figure out which brands of hardware work best, he said.

After Gates, Dean Kamen, founder of Deka Research and the Segway Human Transporter, gave a speech about innovation while jutting back and forth on one of his scooters.

WinHEC runs through Thursday.