Among the dozens of software architects gathered for breakfast with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in Sydney last week was a coterie of New Zealand architects from EDS, Cap Gemini, Datacom, Gen-i and Fonterra.
Despite the high technical knowledge of his audience, Gates’ presentation was “fairly generalist,” according to Greg Davidson of Datacom. Gates explained how he works with Microsoft product teams. “He was in a lot of ways concentrating on his role at Microsoft, having handed over the CEO role,” Davidson says.
“It wasn’t in my mind a particularly technical speech,” says Davidson. “He did seem enthusiastic and animated and not necessarily bound into only being able to talk about things that would be convenient from a business perspective.
“He seemed more reflective than toeing a company line.”
Gates doesn’t need to work for a crust, and Davidson believes Gates sent a signal to Microsoft and the IT industry when he chose to concentrate on designing new products “that he really is passionate”.
“One of the interesting questions was ‘How do you spend your days,’ and it appeared to be about 25% talking to Microsoft customers and about 50% with the product teams,” Davidson says.
Davidson was more interested in a discussion about developer productivity and code reuse. Gates told the architects that Microsoft would be embracing model-oriented architecture and aspect-oriented programming. (Model oriented architecture, or MOA, describes a system that uses modelling and metadata in its construction and at runtime. Aspects identify key areas of functionality within applications; Computerworld ran an article on aspect-oriented programming August 18, 2003.)
“It really struck a chord for me to have productivity discussed,” Davidson says. “What they haven’t done is necessarily focus on general developer productivity. Many people who grew up with Visual Basic have found the .Net migration a significant one.
“.Net meant significant change for over half my staff. When our staff have to change to that extent we want to plan for it as far ahead as we can.”
Despite predictions in the Australian press that Aussie IT managers would forcefully let Gates know their displeasure over security issues, the trash talk failed to materialise, Davidson says. “He did get a good hearing.”
When asked about security, Gates did talk about cycle times for patches, and did seem confident that Microsoft was doing a better job than its competitors, says Davidson. Discussion about the overhead of patching and securing systems was welcomed.
“The how-to-secure-your-systems has become more complicated,” Davidson says. “Microsoft is trying to make it easier for people to understand what they’ve got to secure and how to secure it properly.
“Even if you’re organised, the volume of patches is very hard to keep up with.”