With Vista, seeing is believing, says Gates

On the eve of Vista's consumer launch, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says that a short demo is all that's needed to convince doubters.

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
6 min read
NEW YORK--Not sure what Vista means for you? Bill Gates would be happy to show you.

While some reviewers have given lukewarm opinions on the new operating system, the Microsoft chairman says that a three- or four-minute demo should convince most people that Vista has much to offer over Windows XP.

Gates sat down with CNET News.com on the eve of Vista's consumer launch, along with the release of Office 2007. In part one of a two-part interview, he responds to the critics, outlines his Vista sales pitch and talks about the potential of a comeback for peer-to-peer computing.

In the second part of the interview, to be published later this week, Gates talks Xbox, Windows Live and whether TV as we know it is outmoded.

Q: You've been waiting for this day for a long time. How important is the launch of these two products (Vista and Office) for Microsoft?
Gates: Windows Vista is the platform that almost the entire industry builds on, whether it is innovative hardware or software applications. Having it out in the marketplace and letting them use that as the foundation for their work, it's very exciting. We've had 5 million people help guide us in this, tell us that it is ready to go. This is our chance to thank them and let everyone else get the benefits of all the work.

Given that people spend more time on Windows PCs than watching TV now, having that be the best experience possible is worth a lot.

Q: I took a look at all the advertising circulars over the weekend as all the PC retailers started trying to advertise Vista. It seemed like there was still a bit of a challenge for them to figure out what to sell. How big a challenge is it to try and explain what Vista is to consumers.
Gates: Well, with software the best thing is always if you can let people have about a three- or four-minute demo. Then they'll really understand why we think this is a big "wow." We talk about how it's easier--that's things like search, and the setup and the user interface. We talk about safer--that's parental control, antiphishing. We talk about better-connected, the simple Wi-Fi capability. More entertaining--that's HD Movie Maker, DirectX 10 games.

I don't think after you've seen it for three or four minutes, you'll say, "Wow, that's the same as XP." You'll see it's quite different. Given that people spend more time on Windows PCs than watching TV now, having that be the best experience possible is worth a lot.

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Q: If you were talking to a friend and you were trying to convince them to upgrade to Vista and they were skeptical, what would you tell them? What things about Vista are the most compelling?
Gates: It would be easiest if I could take them over to my machine and show them how Photo Gallery lets you find and organize things in a better way. I could show them the great graphics capabilities that Windows Vista has unlocked. I'd show them on parental control how I can set the time for my son's work with the PC. Or, for my daughter, how I can look at an activity report and see what kind of Web sites she's going to.

Pretty quickly they'd get a concrete view. For some people, just the fact that it turns on faster, the way we've made that a lot better. Different things will appeal to different people.

Q: Some of the changes with Vista are things that aren't necessarily visible the first time you turn it on. It's things under the hood for developers. What changes in computing do you think Vista will help bring about?
Gates: Things like peer-to-peer. We've got an infrastructure in there. Advanced use of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) so all the applications don't have to go and rebuild those things. I was really impressed seeing how HP had taken their touch screen and made photo-type scenarios really simple. You don't even think you are using software when you select and organize and do a little bit of editing. It's so natural.

Q: You mention peer-to-peer. We haven't heard a lot about peer-to-peer lately. It got kind of a bad rap from the music-sharing days. Is that technology ready for a comeback, and what sorts of things does it allow?
Gates: We have rich APIs (application programming interfaces) and we actually use those ourselves to let you set up a meeting with somebody who is nearby and share a screen with them. We haven't seen it as something that all software people can build on. Most people have had to build their own infrastructure and that's meant that it has really limited the usage. Now we are seeing that (software makers) in general can write peer-to-peer applications. It's up to them to show us where it can go.

Q: One of the things that Microsoft tried to introduce with Vista is the idea that megahertz isn't necessarily the best way to measure a PC. The Windows Experience Index was an attempt to give you an overall sense of how powerful a PC is. We've seen it go from something that was really prominent in the early test versions to something that is maybe not as prominent. Is it still something that's important?
Gates: Our team has done a great job on this, where you can look at the score in each individual area, like the graphics or CPU. You can also have an overall rating. It had gotten so confusing for people to try and understand these things, that we decided just having a linear scale in a few of the key areas and a way of bringing that together, it would help you in terms of picking games out or knowing what the right hardware is. (We've done) a lot of work with the industry to try and take what has been very complex and bring it down to a numeric scale.

Bill Gates
Credit: Ina Fried/CNET News.com
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates extolled
the virtues of Windows Vista at a
launch event Monday in New York.

Some of the early reviews of Vista haven't exactly been glowing. I'm curious what you make of that?
Gates: Actually, most of the reviews have been very positive. In some ways, people covered the schedule, but they forgot all of the cool stuff that was going on. So they are kind of amazed now that they look and (see) hey, this is what this has been all about.

You laid out the vision for where you guys were going with Vista at the Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles back in 2003. From your perspective, how much of that vision is reflected in the product that is shipping this week?
Gates: We were able to achieve virtually everything we set out to do. We did not change the file system into a database-like approach. That turned out to be a little ahead of its time. With the exception of that, the presentation richness, the security, the organization-type things that we have here. It's very dramatic. Obviously, we will do more in the future, but this is the foundation that will make Windows computing far simpler.

Office and Vista are just now becoming available for consumers, but they have been available to large businesses since November. Do you have any sense yet of how quickly businesses might be moving to the new product?
Gates: We've got some huge customers like Citicorp, with 350,000 desktops, who have decided to make that move fully this year. A lot more software distribution is being done over the network, so you are not having to visit the machines. It is easier for corporations to do the upgrade than it would have been in the past. A lot of people with their corporate licenses have these upgrades available to them. We expect to see a faster uptake than ever before on a new version. Obviously consumers have been faster to move to the new thing than businesses in general, but here we've made the ease of migration the best it's ever been.