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Bill Gates Reveals His Vision for the 'Personal Web'
By Dave Kramer

Bill Gates Bill Gates is no stranger to Fall Comdex, the international mecca for IT professionals, developers, and other computer industry folk interesting in seeing the cutting edge in technology. The Microsoft CEO has been giving keynotes here since 1983, and introducing such visionary ideas as Information at Your Fingertips and the Digital Nervous System.

This year offered another peek into the crystal ball, as Gates unveiled his vision for the Personal Web. With the convergence of all sorts of innovations in PC hardware, Internet network capabilities, and software, both home users and knowledge workers are beginning to see some amazing new possibilities.

XML: A new type of Internet-enabling technology
Personal Web ServicesGates noted that shopping on the Internet has been increasing each year, and this year is expected to continue the rapid pace of growth. One thing that's driving this growth, and starting to yield some exciting new dynamics, is the explosion of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) on the Web. In conjunction with Microsoft's BizTalk e-commerce framework, XML has the power to provide a wide array of user-friendly consumer services.

At its most basic, XML can be used to store user preferences and information in a form where it can be shared, at the user's discretion, with a wide variety of service providers and eShops.

XML InteroperabilityIn a demonstration of online car buying from, Gates showed how XML can store a visitor's dream car profile and match it against a variety of real cars at a nearby dealership, highlighting the differences. Data can then be downloaded from the XML-enabled Web site and shared with a variety of applications, including one that adds the GPS-enabled car's present location and tracks it on a map. Not only that, but it can be used to plan a road trip, download competitive gasoline price information, and schedule a tune up at a dealership that's on the way - complete with a cell phone reminder call when you're approaching the exit ramp you should take to get you there.

Windows 2000: Powering the back-end
Another way that Microsoft expects to help power this new future in Internet-enabled computing is with Microsoft Windows 2000. The server version of this operating system has some snazzy new features that gave the Comdex crowd some jaw-dropping moments.

Windows 2000 Server DemoAdmitting that the PC has not always been the ideal alternative to the "Big Box" computers in terms of manageability and reliability, Gates demonstrated an end to that trend. In the presentation, a bank of five servers running Windows 2000 not only could handle a steady barrage of 20,000 simultaneous users (the equivalent of 500 million hits per day, more than the daily traffic of the largest site today), it could withstand the unscheduled removal of a one of the live servers. A transaction that Gates had entered was on the actual server that was pulled from the rack, and the data was recovered on one of the remaining servers.

To increase capacity, a sixth server was added, and - using a new tool called Microsoft Applications Center - it was quickly configured with the appropriate files, applications, and registry and network settings. Normally, this sort of detailed configuration might take hours, but it was done in a matter of minutes, and the impact on server load was realized immediately when the extra machine began shouldering its share of hits.

Office Online: Nothing but 'Net
Gates and JaffeGates, with Microsoft Office product manager David Jaffe, showed yet another new twist in the move toward the Personal Web. Launched last week, a version of Office 2000 that's available as an application over the Internet provides users some useful advantages. For one, with the online version of Office, your data is no longer at risk in the event of a local power or machine failure. Simply reboot or login from a new machine, and the Office document you were working on is exactly as you left it.

No actual Office files are stored locally on the user's hard drive, which yields another plus: all service packs, template upgrades, virus definitions, and other updates are performed by the service provider, which means the user always has the latest and greatest version. While not the answer for all users, Office Online provides yet another choice for customers, Gates noted.

The Business Internet: Digital Dashboard adds personal touch
With the newly launched Digital Dashboard, Microsoft intends to provide knowledge workers with unprecedented access to "corporate memory" - which traditionally has been stored in the minds of individuals, with no way to preserve or share those recollections of processes when those individuals move on to new roles.

"It's about changing those processes within companies to be totally digital," Gates said, adding that there are some extra advantages to such an approach. For one, it's much easier to include customers as well as coworkers in the corporate review loop, which provides a greater level of responsiveness to customer needs.

Gates also described a Universal Mailbox, where employees control when and how they can be contacted by telephone, Instant Message, e-mail, and other methods of communication. This news yielded some enthusiastic clapping from an audience member, which led Gates to add: "Someone wants Universal Inbox, clearly."

Web Companions: Devices with Internet in mind
Gates and Windows CE DevicesAttendees at past Comdex keynotes are no doubt familiar with the table of cool new devices, which seems to grow in size each year. This year was no different, as Gates showed off what he called "a muscle beach of neat, new, innovative devices." Based on Windows CE, there were industrial devices for factory floor automation, security, bank check processing, and more. Gates also offered a look at an impossibly slim Palm-size PC from Compaq as well as a new category of products called Web Companions.

The latter are specially designed to work with MSN Services and MSN Internet Access. The units come preconfigured with an e-mail account, ready to connect to the Internet. The MSN Services include a clean interface to the Internet especially designed for Web Companions, with convenient thumbnail images added to users' favorite Web pages for at-a-glance identification.

Bringing the Personal Web home
Even more changes are on the way at the home front. Gates predicted home users - making use of expanded Internet bandwidth options such as DSL and cable modems - will soon share digital pictures, music, and video not only with each other but with their home electronics systems and appliances.

Digital pictures will be emblazoned on refrigerator door display screens. Music can be transferred from PCs to playback equipment. In this context, "the (home) PC will be more than a client, but also a server," Gates explained.

"We're really moving at an incredible pace," he added. With the advent of the Personal Web, Gates said, "We'll be sharing information in very new ways."

Dave Kramer edits the home page and Microsoft Backstage. He's covered Fall Comdex for Microsoft for three years, and, most recently, covered Spring Internet World.

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Last Updated: November 14, 1999