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Gates outlines how smart devices will eclipse PC

Not deliberately, of course, but maybe Win2k and Neptune aren't such big deals after all...

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The latest instalment in the Bill Gates PR offensive, an article published in Forbes, provides rather more signposts to where MS is going than is usual for one of the lad's visions. The short piece - on convergence, allegedly - indicates that the eclipse of the PC may soon be upon us. Now, we know Bill has people to write articles and speeches for him, and he even has plenty people who can think for him as well, but although that means his journalistic career is really somebody else's, it doesn't mean all of the output should be automatically ignored. It's self-serving and partial, certainly, but there's sometimes red meat in among the fluff. Now, "Bill" (as we'll call the anonymous scribe) is seeing a near future of broadband wired and wireless bandwidth and "seamless, universal connectivity." Currently we're in a period of "hybridisation," hybrid electronic devices being "PCs, WebTV, cable modems and smart phones." Yes, that's a weird and partial list, but the point Bill isn't quite making successfully is that convergence so far has meant that multiple functions have been moving into single pieces of electronics. We could add that they've not being doing it either very fast or very successfully. "But this is only the start," says Bill, wrongly, as he proceeds to explain why it's really the finish. Smaller and more powerful processors, "advanced software" (no, we don't know what this means either) and "exponential growth in fibre and wireless bandwidth... turns convergence on its head." This superficially clever piece of phrasing is of course meaningless. What Bill really means is that convergence on single devices stops being important: "It means that although computer, telecommunications, and consumer electronics technologies will come together, the next generation of smart devices mostly won't." Cut to the chase. Bill sees a proliferation of diverse, smart, connected devices that will "take the power on your desktop and make it available wherever you want it." This is not of course original thought, but it's highly significant that Microsoft is now thinking it. The company is accepting that the action in the future will to a great extent be in appliances and the network. All of your data will be available to you wherever you are, and intelligence within the network will filter what you get, depending on context. So "if you're watching a game in the ballpark" you get player profiles and hot-dog order forms (N.B. Bill, some localisation needed here) and not your tax return. So you can see Microsoft's agenda. It's still developing PC operating systems, but all of those projects for smaller and pocketable devices, set-top boxes, the MSN Web Companion and wireless devices are actually where the company really intends to bet big. And although the importance of local processing power remains practically an official religion at Microsoft, the universal connectivity aspect is clearly going to erode that, and the company will wind up agreeing with Larry Ellison - didn't it demo an NC just last week? In his article Bill only touches on the server end of the deal once, lightly, but the implications are clear here as well, because - although he's not tasteless enough to say it out loud - it clearly has to be Microsoft server software that's running the server farms that store the data and figure out what to send/show you, when. We're not saying the plan is going to work, of course, because as yet Microsoft doesn't have any kind of hold on either the client or the server end. The mobile phone companies aren't going to roll over, as they've decisively demonstrated over the past couple of years, and despite Microsoft spin to the contrary, NT hasn't been winning the server wars. But it's worth paying attention, just in case. ®

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