- In a city visited by most to escape reality, Bill Gates yesterday smiled for two hours and detailed his dream for Microsofts future, a future in which Microsoft remains undivided and assumes a leadership position in Internet software.
"We need a new generation of software tools to build" the Internet's new Web sites, he said during a keynote speech kicking off TechEd here, minutes from Disney World. TechEd is the company's event for developers, and this year it is being attended by about 14,000 people.
Gates' keynote amounted to a first detailed peek at the company's Next Generation Windows Services, Microsoft's broad strategy for providing software for new Internet applications.
Microsoft will provide the software the world needs to take the Internet to the next level, said Gates, the company's founder, chairman and chief software architect. To that end, Gates announced the following products during his speech:
-- SOAP Toolkit for Visual Studio 6: This is a toolkit, now available on the Web, that adds capabilities to the existing Visual Studio 6 to build what the company is calling Web Services. It uses the Simple Object Access Protocol, a protocol for a common XML (Extensible Markup Language) messaging format for Internet applications. Web Services are designed to help create Web sites that can be personalized and can be accessed by various devices, not only PCs, Gates said. This toolkit can be downloaded now from the Microsoft Developer Network site at http://msdn.microsoft.com.
-- BizTalk Orchestration: A component of the BizTalk Server 2000, BizTalk Orchestration is designed to let developers and business analysts work together to define and modify business processes in applications using a visual, workflow-like interface, instead of having to do so at the more complex and cryptic "low-level" software interface level. BizTalk Orchestration will ship with BizTalk Server 2000, expected to be released in a beta version in the third quarter, said David Wascha, BizTalk product manager, who gave a demonstration of the product. BizTalk Orchestration features a drag and drop design tool, a runtime engine to execute and debug applications and a "binding architecture" for tying business processes with applications that automate them. Dell Computer Corp. plans to begin using BizTalk Server 2000 this week in live production for part of its supply chain system, Gates said.
-- RAD for the Server tools: These tools will be included with the next version of Visual Studio, version 7. They are designed to make it easier for developers to create server-side Web-based applications. These new tools feature the capability to drag and drop reusable server components into new applications, which shortens development time, according to Microsoft. During the demonstration of RAD for the Server, Dave Mendlen, Visual Studio product planner, built what he called a "middle-tier business object" for a wine-selling Web site using six lines of code, an operation that he said would take "hundreds of lines of code" with the current version of Visual Basic 6.
Mendlen also announced that Visual Studio 7 will go into alpha test in the third quarter, into beta test in the fourth quarter and that "we will ship it when it's ready," he said. Visual Studio 7 also will offer full inheritance and encapsulation, an announcement that was met with cheers from the audience. Inheritance and encapsulation are features typically associated with object-oriented programming tools.
Gates also announced that Microsoft will spend US$2 billion over the next three years in training and support for its community of developers.
Except for a video sketch that hinted at and made fun of the company's legal troubles, Gates himself didn't make any mention of the government's antitrust case against Microsoft, which could lead to the division of Microsoft into two independent companies.
In fact, Gates' vision, which puts Microsoft at the center of the Internet's next phase, assumes the company will not be split up, and he gave no indication that Microsoft has an alternate plan of action should the government order the company's division.
"The best is yet to come," he said.
The Internet is currently in what Gates called Phase 2, in which users view one site at a time, use the Web mostly to read information and remain chained to keyboards, while the economy's main stage remains offline. But that will change with the Internet's next phase, when the main platform will switch from the PC to the Internet itself, and in which hosted services will emerge and the economy will move online, he said.
"We'll get all the collaboration and economic activity online, with the benefits of the digital approach," he said.
This will require a new class of applications and, consequently, a new generation of development tools, Gates said. The products Gates previewed today fit into Microsoft's efforts to create new tools and revise its current ones to make it easier for developers to create these new Web applications, he said.
Along with Microsoft's new generation of Internet-oriented software, users will need other non-software technologies tailored for the Web, such as broadband access, wireless communications, smart cards, phones with large screens, handheld computers and PCs with integrated microphones and cameras, Gates said.
In fact, Microsoft eight months ago revised its mission statement and removed the word PC from it, because now the company realizes its software should run "any time, any place and on any device," not only PCs, Gates said.
In addition to the about 14,000 people attending the show -- a record, according to Microsoft -- there are about 300 vendors hawking their wares on the exhibit floor, including Compaq Computer Corp., Computer Associates International Inc., Dell Computer Corp., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.
Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, is at +1-425-882-8080 or at http://www.microsoft.com/.