Gates ties Microsoft’s future to XML

TORONTO — Extensible mark-up language is a panacea for the IT industry that will be key to the development of Web services, according to Microsoft chief software architect Bill Gates.

In order for disparate back-end applications

to work together, e-commerce initiatives across various environments to thrive, and server farms to operate in concert, there needs to be a universal thread tying them all together, said Gates.

“”Every one of these things is a key IT issue,”” he said, “”yet having one architecture that spans all of them means we get the leverage of learning the new tool and applying it in every single one of these areas.””

Gates was in Toronto Tuesday — his first visit to Canada in more than four years — to address an audience of developers at the Can>Win 2002 conference . He provided an overview of Web services developments to date and a view of what .Net, Microsoft’s Web services strategy, could portend for the future.

The key to making Web services work, Gates said, is universally agreed-upon standards — particularly extensible mark-up language (XML). XML can be layered onto existing code as a bridge to newer applications or used to start new projects from the ground up, Gates said.

“”That same thing is happening inside Microsoft, where initially we took products like SQL Server and Office and put an XML layer on top of them. Now we’re rebuilding them with XML built to the core.””

An XML-based version of SQL Server will be released sometime in 2003 (code-named Yukon), with the next iteration of Windows to follow a few years later (code-named Longhorn).

Gates said the ultimate goal of .Net is to enable “”applications that use the Web to share data between any pieces of software across company boundaries, across device boundaries and really getting at the information in a very new way.””

But Microsoft has failed to get that message across to enterprise users, said IDC Canada Ltd. analyst Warren Shiau. By including too many products like Visual Studio and BizTalk Server under the .Net umbrella, the message has been diluted. Shiau estimated that 70 to 80 per cent of C-level executives wouldn’t “”know what you’re talking about at all.

“”It’s a bit surprising for a company that’s already had such incredible marketing prowess. . . . I think there’s probably a large degree of confusion as to what exactly Microsoft’s strategy is,”” said Shiau.

But Gates insisted that the stage has been set for the adoption of Web services, in no small part due to the development of wireless networks like Wi-Fi and 802.11 and the proliferation of hardware devices in all shapes and sizes.

Microsoft will bring its Tablet PC to market in about six months. Gates said the move to devices with handwriting recognition capability is as revolutionary as the move from command line to graphical user interface (GUI). He said .Net should enable all of Microsoft’s devices, including the Tablet, its gaming platform Xbox and its set-top boxes to be able to share the same information.

Gates also touched upon the topic of security. He said Microsoft has dedicated a third of its US$5 billion R&D budget to “”trustworthy computing”” — a company initiative code-named Palladium which includes improvements in software authentication. If the vision of connectivity over a multitude of devices and platforms comes to fruition, then existing password systems won’t be secure enough, he said. Password systems will only be adequate for “”very casual information exchanges,”” and bioinformatic technology and smart cards may become standard in the future.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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