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Gates pushes vision of ‘Web-centric’ PC

But really, he just means more of the same...

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At the tail end of Microsoft's analysts meeting this week Bill Gates rolled out the next instalment of his vision - in this case, it's the Windows Web-centric platform, apparently. As with most of Gates' visions it sounds more advanced than it's likely to turn to be, and besides, it's sufficiently far down the road for it not to be necessary for Microsoft to give it clear form. Gates wasn't giving out much information about the project, but said that more details would be made public at Microsoft's developers conference next February. February is not a long way away in normal terms, but in Microsoft years it's way, way down the line. The new platform, says Gates, will combine Internet, PC and phone, so we can figure out what it's likely to be from there. In hardware terms it's obviously going to be appliance-like. Gates referred to universal plug and play as an enabler, telling analysts: "Universal plug and play says that you combine all these devices. No one has filled that space and we've undertaken this initiative in order to do that." This is of course outrageous tripe - USB, Firewire and Device Bay have been trundling along without Microsoft support for some considerable time now, and Gates' bid for leadership with UPnP looks remarkably like another attempt to rewrite history after the event. If Microsoft had been less tardy in shipping support for these technologies we'd be a lot further along the Road Ahead than we are. Gates also envisages more natural interfaces, including voice and handwriting recognition. These, however, are standard pieces of Microsoft future technology that are frequently referred to by His Billness, but which mysteriously never seem to make it into shipping products. The most important aspect of Microsoft's new platform will almost certainly be a minor piece of work - the removal of legacy device support. This is intended to be introduced in next year's Millennium rev of Win9x, but has been telegraphed by Microsoft and Intel in the PC9x documents for several years. If shipping PCs don't support ISA devices, and other unpleasant bits such as serial and parallel ports, then they'll be easier to manage and the designs can form the basis of the kinds of 'Concept' PC Intel showed at Vegas last year. Adding the software support for replacement expansion systems has been the hard part for Microsoft, but taking out legacy support oughtn't to be that difficult (taking out Dos support would be a lot harder, but MS isn't going to be doing that for a while, we'd reckon). So even Microsoft can't blow the 'no legacy devices' script too badly, and Millennium could well be the operating system that starts to support the kind of hardware Gates was talking about. Significantly, Microsoft does have a bunch of "New PC" white papers up on the site at the moment, but when you go through them there doesn't really seem to be any new material. They're largely the usual disconnected projects that might or might not go into future operating systems, and the core document boils down largely to an exhortation to PC designers to stop putting in ISA devices, because you can't do proper plug and play with ISA. A more radical implementation of Gates' latest vision might ship with the real next generation operating system, Neptune, but only if Neptune ships in the first place. Neptune is Microsoft's next attempt at the ill-fated NT-based consumer operating system, but contingency plans for yet another rev of 9x, should Neptune fail to deliver, already exist. So The Register's take on the latest vision is that it's more of the same. Microsoft will make incremental modifications to the 9x platform, trying to ship these on at least an annual basis, while the big one will remain somewhere out in the middle distance for some time to come. We say "at least an annual basis," incidentally, because it appears that Millennium isn't going to be too radical, and seems to be going into beta right now. That would give it a chance of syncing in with the 'no-legacy' and 'Concept' devices the hardware companies are expected to be showing before the end of the year. ®

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