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Microsoft's Ballmer courts developers at conference

In his first major public appearance since taking over at Microsoft, the new chief executive courts the community of software developers crucial to the success of the company's new OS.

SAN FRANCISCO--In his first major public appearance since taking over at Microsoft, new chief executive Steve Ballmer today courted the community of software developers crucial to the success of the company's upcoming Windows 2000 operating system.

As expected, Ballmer announced that the company is adding Web features to its popular family of software development tools in hopes of attracting e-commerce Web site builders to its Windows operating system.

The announcement is part of Microsoft's new strategy to keep Windows the dominant operating system in the market, as computing begins to move away from desktop computers and toward more Internet-enabled wireless devices, such as cell phones and PalmPilots.

Later this week, Microsoft will unveil Windows 2000, its new high-end operating system that has been more than four years in the making. The company faces new challenges from Web-based devices, alternative operating systems such as Linux, and alternative programming models that use the Java programming language.

"Windows 2000 is an important transition product from the world of just the PC to this new world in which the PC is participating in the Internet user experience," said Ballmer, who took over for Bill Gates as CEO and president in January.

Ballmer has often pointed to software developers as key to the company's success. Last summer, he voiced concerns that Microsoft is facing more competition for software developers than at any time since the company broke with IBM during the early days of the PC revolution.

"We want to make sure we don't let you down," said Ballmer, speaking to software developers at a conference in San Francisco this afternoon.

Windows 2000: The next generation Ballmer also announced plans for a new version of Visual Basic, a visual-oriented tool that will allow software developers to build Web software as easily as writing a Windows-only application.

Ballmer said the company also is working on a new family of development tools, called Visual Studio 7.0, that will allow software developers to easily build Web-based software. Visual Studio includes development tools for other languages, including C and C++.

Ballmer said the new tool suite is scheduled to ship by year's end. "We want to make sure the Visual Basic crowd is in the forefront of taking advantage of this metamorphosis (to Web development)," he said.

Ballmer said the Visual Studio with Windows 2000 is the first step in Microsoft's new Internet strategy, called Next Generation Windows Services. The plan includes new user interfaces and a file system that supports XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for exchanging data.

"As we look Taking sides on XMLin the future, and look at what's possible in the next-generation experiences where Web sites are programs, people expect a whole different interaction," he said. "We think we've given you the foundation tools with Windows 2000 and Visual Studio to attack that next-generation opportunity."

Ballmer added that XML is being added to all of Microsoft's products, so businesses can have Web sites that trade with other Web sites, regardless of the hardware, software or operating system they run on.

"XML is a core of the backbone of everything going on," he said.