Microsoft is forging ahead with plans for new operating systems for home PCs. For the first time publicly, Gates today demonstrated Whistler, the next version of the Windows 2000 operating system developed for home PC users. Due out within the next two years, Whistler will include a personalized welcome screen that opens to the last application or Web page launched.
The version also will allow manufacturers to include low-cost digital peripherals such as speakers, headphones or microphones.
As antitrust officials met at the White House to discuss a plan to divide the company, Gates told attendees here at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference that Microsoft will not cede ground to legal or technological obstacles.
"Our vision is very broad here," he said. "This is the second phase of the Internet."
Gates also said Microsoft will release the third version of Windows CE in June. The company's scaled-down operating system for non-PC appliances and devices also runs Pocket PC, its recently released handheld operating system.
The annual event, known as WinHEC, is intended to give Microsoft hardware partners, including chipmaker Intel and PC makers, a map of the company's operating system plans.
Gates emphasized the importance of the Windows PC as a complement to newly popular Internet devices. "It's a wide range of products that make this all come together," he said.
Despite the growing industry interest in low-powered Internet appliances-many of which do not run on Microsoft software--the company's market share gives it enormous influence in determining the look and features of future hardware, analysts say.
Microsoft is covering all of its bases. While Gates defended the PC's relevance, his company is busy devising new Web-based services not necessarily tied to PC hardware. Under development now, Next Generation Windows Services is its plan for linking wireless devices, such as cell phones and personal digital assistants, to the ever-expanding universe of Windows versions. Microsoft is expected to lay out its plan for the services next month at its Redmond, Wash., headquarters. Last week, Microsoft unveiled an operating system for handheld devices dubbed Pocket PC.
Gates uses this conference to outline his vision for future PCs. Last year, for example, he predicted the emergence of home networking and digital imaging. This year, Gates demonstrated new PCs and devices in different shapes and sizes, focusing on advances in simplicity and performance.
Sometimes, however, his vision gets ahead of market realities. In 1998 at WinHEC, he said that Windows 98 would be the last DOS-based operating system from the company, to be replaced by a consumer version of Windows 2000. After multiple delays in the release of Windows 2000 and unforeseen changes in the home PC market--including the skyrocketing popularity of digital imaging and music--Microsoft changed course and released two additional versions of Windows 98.
Touting the PC as the most empowering tool of all time, Gates nonetheless criticized the industry for creating devices, technology and software that are complex to use and limited in design.
He said that devices and computers must emulate the simplicity of the Internet and use Web-based technologies such as XML to create personalized and easy-to-use interfaces.
These computers should feature improved reliability, new designs and broadband Internet connections, he said, while devices should spring up to serve as home entertainment appliances.
"The PC of tomorrow will be quite different than what we have today," Gates said.
Driving those changes are the new applications popular with consumers: digital imaging, Web development and browsing, interactive gaming, telephony, and digital music, he said. Windows Me, expected this year, will include support for many of these applications, as will other Microsoft products such as the X-Box gaming console and Windows 2000.
"We have a lot to do in the platform to make this easy," Gates added.
Microsoft will work to speed start-up times for computers, integrate microphones and digital cameras in PCs; to further support USB and IEEE 1394 as speedy connection technologies; and to implement Bluetooth wireless technology, he said.