Gates preps developers for 64-bit future

LOS ANGELES — Microsoft Corp. Tuesday unveiled developments in the Windows platform that Bill Gates said will bring about the most significant changes in how customers and developers create and use software since the launch of Windows 95.

Speaking to thousands of developers, analysts and press attending the annual Professional Developers Conference, Gates predicted the transition to the next level of computing, from 32- to 64-bit, will be the smoothest to date, with 64-bit servers being adopted most quickly, followed by the desktop. In order to make this transition phase even better, Gates urged the partner community to complete all their work on drivers for 64-bit systems.

“Almost a decade after the early days of the Internet, we have the foundation pieces that we now can take for granted,” said Gates. “We can take the idea of one computer talking to another computer and can say that’s a foundation that applications can be built on.

“This is the period of greatest opportunity for people building software — inside of a company to give them an advantage within an industry or a software company.”

As developers move from the 32- to the 64-bit world, they are going to need a different approach to making software than in the past, said Gates. At the PDC conference five years ago, Microsoft introduced the .Net development language and XML to build the protocols that are now commonly referred to as Web services.

Microsoft also used the PDC stage to demonstrate, for the first time, the next version of Office, code-named “Office 12,” unveiling a completely redesigned graphical interface designed to make it easier for users and developers to take advantage of the features and functionality the platform offers.

Microsoft’s vision, said Gates, is about connecting people to the information they care about. “Our dreams in the late 90s about the Internet are not fully realized,” he said.

“Today’s software doesn’t connect people up to software in all ways it should.”

Traditional menus and toolbars in applications like Excel, Word and PowerPoint, for example, have been replaced with graphical command tabs that relate to particular tasks such as margins and page preview. Other new features include a search engine within the startup menu that allows users to do a full text search across the entire system and virtual folders that allow developers to see the XML file within a folder. There’s also a sidebar on the right hand side of the desktop screen that allows users to connect with real time information such as RSS feeds, clock and picture slideshow. Developers can use Avalon to build gadgets particular to their application that they want to sit on the sidebar.

XML is now in its third generation in Microsoft’s platform development, said Gates, evolving from connectors to the software, to being built into the software but not fundamental to formats, to now being built into the core. SQL Server 2005, code-named “Yukon,” which will launch later this fall, will be built around XML, as will the next version of Office (12), which is expected to ship in the second half of 2006. 

“XML is important to remember because that’s at the heart of all this,” said Gates. “It has become a key foundation for people doing state-of-the-art software.” 

Microsoft also unveiled new platform technologies to Windows Vista, which is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2006. These include a Web client framework for building Asynchronous JavaScript and XML-style applications called Atlas and a set of language extensions for .Net called the Language Integrated Query (LINQ) project that makes it easier for developers to access data.

Countering Microsoft’s hype around Vista, Novell Inc. CEO and chairman Jack Messman Monday announced at the software company’s annual Brainshare conference in  Europe that the cost of migrating from XP to Vista will drive more enterprises to adopt Linux. Not so, says IDC Canada analyst Dave Senf. While a recent IDC Canada study shows Linux and open source software deployments jumped from 11.6 per cent to 21.6 per cent from 2004 to 2005, the percentage of organizations considering Linux for deployment dropped from eight per cent to four per cent.

“Open source vendors have a strong foundation to build out a broader and deeper footprint,” said Senf. “The challenge is to grow in organizations with a strong Windows and Unix base.”

Back in 1975, when Microsoft was still a decade off from becoming a household name with the first release of MS-DOS in 1985, Gates said Microsoft’s goal at the time was to make software as “secure and reliable as the electricity network.” Gates statement drew rounds of chuckles from the audience in light of Monday’s blackout, which left millions of people here without power for a couple hours after a utility worker mistakenly cut the wrong wires while installing a monitoring system.

PDC continues on Wednesday.

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