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Gates courts CEO crowd

Addressing business leaders at the company's CEO Summit, Microsoft's chairman talks up recent developments in Web services, security and developers tools, and hints at long-term research goals.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates touted advances in development tools, Web services and other technologies Thursday during a speech to top business executives.

Gates opened Microsoft's CEO Summit, a two-day gathering of more than 100 international business leaders, with a talk that showcased recent product introductions and gave sneak peeks at a few upcoming releases, wrapped around themes of boosting productivity and lowering business costs.

"These are not things that will happen in one or two years," Gates said, noting that the company plans to continue spending heavily on research and development over the current decade. "It seems like, for $10 billion, we ought to be able to achieve those things--at least that's what I tell our programmers."

Among the advances Gates promised was easier development of business applications. He demonstrated tools for building programs via diagrams and models, without complex coding, skirting the "structured-unstructured boundary" that limits software development today. Microsoft has said it plans to begin testing new modeling tools, code-named Whitehorse, this year.

"Historically, that would have been a lot of code," Gates said as he built a sample business application. "Now that's visual...You can do analysis and change and improvements right at this level."

Gates also touted advances in security, including improved patch management that allows IT administrators to more quickly identify and apply critical software fixes. "We've made a lot of progress working with IT departments...to have that structure in place."

E-mail will also get more manageable, Gates promised, as Microsoft and others work on spam blockers such as "trusted sender" systems that attempt to verify the sender of a message. "Getting agreement amongst all the mail people on what we call 'mail caller ID' is very important, and we've made progress on that," he said.

Gates also touted advances in Web services, saying Web-delivered applications are finally starting to take hold, partly as a result of increasing cooperation on standards development.

"It is one of the best examples of great technical cooperation between companies that are very competitive in general with each other," Gates said, singling out Microsoft's work with IBM to promote open standards. "Both of us said, 'We've got to have standards here.' If it's about e-commerce, it's got to be out there and usable."

CEOs also got a pitch on Microsoft's "smart client" strategy, using productivity applications such as the latest version of Office to retrieve and present information from corporate databases and other complex backend systems.

Gates said such tools are an early step toward solving "information disability''--the inability for workers to quickly and efficiently get the data they need.

"Our view is, what's being done in terms of insight and information is so small in terms of what should be done," Gates said. "Even the most basic things around budgeting and forecasts" are still difficult if the tasks require any interaction with backend software, he said. --What's your take on this story? Visit News.com's feedback section.