Improvements in processing speeds, storage space and wireless broadband will drive a new revolution in IT, but software makers face several challenges in their efforts to keep up, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says.
Software makers need to create better natural interfaces, simplify programming tools and create better search and analytical tools for computer users, Ballmer told a crowd of about 700 people at the American Electronics Association's annual technology for government dinner in Washington, DC recently.
Ballmer told the crowd he was optimistic that a new computer revolution would happen in the next 10 years, but he also listed a series of challenges for the IT sector.
Computers contain massive amounts of information about their users, but they still don't anticipate their users' needs, Ballmer said. That's where better natural interfaces can help.
"You want your computer to not only understand your words, but start to remember things about you and your intent," he said. He cited the order Get me ready for my trip to Washington, DC" as an example.
"My computer knows absolutely everything my secretary does, but my secretary does a better job on that problem today."
Part of the problem is that search technologies haven't changed much in the last five years, Ballmer said.
"Your ability to find and analyse information will go up in orders of magnitude," he said. "Really searching deeply, picking up information and being able to assemble it is still pretty hard to do."
Ballmer also suggested that software development is still too complex, and integrating separate computer systems still too difficult. The complexity of software development is still the "bane" of the IT industry, he said.
Ballmer envisioned a near future where he could be watching television in a hotel room halfway across the world from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and connect instantly to Gates to point out a pivotal moment in a televised sports event. Ballmer could say, "Bill, did you see Tiger [Woods] make that putt," and his computer would automatically connect him to Gates and they could watch the putt together. If Gates wondered what brand of golf ball Woods was using, Ballmer could capture the image on the screen, search for matching images online and order two dozen balls for the two of them.
When audience members chuckled, Ballmer responded, "We're not that far away".
Ballmer also predicted that "all information" will soon be consumed digitally. Massive amounts of storage space and inexpensive, paper-like computer screens will soon be available, he said, and few people would read anything on paper.
Software will also become more fluid, with constant changes happening to software packages that were once delivered on hard media, he said.
IT is just in the early stages of transforming science, education and healthcare, he said. Ballmer said he plans to remain at Microsoft for the next nine or 10 years, and he's "pretty excited" about the advances in IT that will come in that time frame.''
"There's never been a better time," he said. "The next 10 years will bring even more innovation and excitement and energy than the last 10," he said.