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Gates Comdex keynote skates over holes in Win2k beta

So how much of Intellimirror and Active Directory will make it?

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Bill Gates had very little to say in his scripted remarks to the ever-faithful Comdex audience yesterday. Most of the time was taken up with video clips and demonstrations. Because of the regular failure of these demos, a clip of last year's W98 failure was shown, in a PR attempt to suggest that Microsoft was so confident that it had overcome the problem, it could afford to laugh at itself. Humour helps to overcome feature failure, but proper performance is better, especially in the real world. Gates personally only enthuses about Microsoft's nerdware - the games and home entertainment stuff. It was noticeable that all the serious attempts at showing Windows 2000's supposed capabilities were left to the Redmond amateur dramatic society, whose players had been coached, rehearsed and polished until they gleamed. Indeed Gates himself only sells at head-of-state level nowadays, where levels of ignorance and awe create a non-challenging environment. Gates spoke of the new records that the PC is achieving every year, but he did not make a point of mentioning that the Windows proportion of PC cost continues to rise as Microsoft exploits its monopoly. Gates moved nearer to legitimising technologies that have been around, working solidly and improving for many years. He referred to "advanced" speech recognition, to which Microsoft has contributed essentially nothing, and handwriting recognition, saying that these would be coming to Windows "over the next three years". He spoke in the future tense about mobile data capabilities that had been possible and available for years, showing just how little he knows about the real market: "You'll be able to take your phone, dial-in, get your messages, get your schedule, get any information you want, stock prices, weather reports, travel plans ..." And this is the guy that corporations trust with their most critical data processing, when it is clear that he has no vision, and is stuck in an unreal world developing applications that do not reflect what is really needed in business. Gates' presentation necessarily reflect what will actually be in Windows 2000. Brian Valentine, the new Windows boss is best known for his pompous remark to Business Week in February: "I have a nice perspective on what it means to be in charge of the most important project in the history of mankind". He is right however, because Microsoft circles, "mankind" is synonymous with "Microsoft": and the company now realises that this next iteration may well fail disastrously. The NT kernel was badly designed initially, and is some ten years behind the state of the art. Furthermore, the idea that one code base that can suit all users is absurd, and there is insufficient componentisation to make it possible to switch out games-playing optimisation code that is not needed by business. Such design errors reflect the immaturity of Microsoft's staff, who know so little about the actual business world that they assume that businesses want to have play capabilities. The reverse is also true: games players don't exactly need Microsoft's efforts at clustering. Valentine's instructions from Ballmer were to get the product out of the door, whether it was ready or not. As a hunter with a bow and arrow, Valentine is used to picking off his quarry, and so it is with his product. Features will not appear as announced. The two likely to be partially castrated are IntelliMirror and Active Directory, according to reports leaking from the Seattle homeland. In the case of IntelliMirror, it is now expected that only part of a user's data will be stored on the server. Active Directory is unlikely to have adequate systems administration tools, so network administration will remain a nightmare, to the delight of Novell no doubt. In addition, linkages between the operating system and various device types will probably not be completed. The biggest problem however will be the bugginess of the code that is released. Reports range between there being 30 million and 50 million lines of code, and it is not yet known what the final size will be since Microsoft has yet to decide finally on what to cut out (and that's what beta 3 is about, supposedly - seeing how bad some of the rough areas are). Microsoft does not have sufficient staff to correct the existing bugs, which from past experience run at around one bug per thousand lines of code, so there are probably 40,000 active bugs at present. Fixes introduce new bugs and expose existing ones that were masked by bugs that have been fixed, so that after each cycle of fixing, a serious level of new testing is required. The result is likely to be that W2K should not be released for at least another year, even with some reduction in the features. In his speech to Comdex, Gates referred to IntelliMirror in very general terms: it "lets you get your information whenever you want it". So far as Active Directory was concerned, Gates said only that it "lets you do this rich management of the network, very important, the distributed services fabric, things like transaction capability built into the operating system, so that people writing high-end applications automatically get support for clustering." If only it were true. His words were chosen carefully to avoid direct promises that the features would be included. The whole presentation was as usual just a sales pitch for Microsoft products: this so-called leader has no vision at all. The main omissions were interesting: there was not a single word or joke about the trial, and Linux received not a mention this year - it wasn't necessary because the whole audience knew Linus Torvalds was on half an hour after Gates finished. ®

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