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The Web is the platform, says Gates – carefully

Ever get that feeling the platform's shifting from under you?

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It was a subdued Bill Gates who kicked off Microsoft's TechEd meeting in Orlando yesterday. There was certainly nothing controversial, which was just as well in view of the imminence of the Final Judgement. We were told how "getting the personal computer to critical mass... has been the legacy of Microsoft's work". Software is now "the key ingredient that is going to change the Internet", with the Internet moving from being "a presentation device... to the Internet being a platform".

Although it looked as though future policy was not really thought through, for understandable reasons, there was just a hint that the scenario could be the winding down of Windows over the next few years and the rise of a Microsoft-dominated Internet platform.

Wouldn't it be a clever move if WinCo were allowed to die a very long drawn out death, and AppCo rose to be the new Microsoft-as-we-know-it-today? Gates didn't actually say this directly, but a close reading of his remarks certainly makes this a real possibility: "we're moving from the personal computer being the sole platform here, to the Internet being the platform". There was also the bit about taking "the Windows user interface... the best of the browser, and the best of productivity applications and bring those together, that's a new synthesis. As we bring in the natural interface so that documents can have all those different types of input, that's a new synthesis". Does this "synthesis" sound a bit like NGWS without Windows-at-the-centre to you? And doesn't it seem likely that it will be in AppCo? (We've told them this already. Try to keep up - Ed)

What meat Gates had to offer Microsoft techies was centred on new software tools for the Internet, and how these were going to be used to change profitability in what he likes to call phase three of the Internet. It will be some time before the vapour wafts away from Visual Studio 7 however: the announced plan is alpha in the summer, a beta in the fall, and "we'll ship when it's ready". It must have dawned on Microsoft that this was a long time to wait, even for the faithful, so at last the SOAP toolkit was released for Visual Studio 6 (and the download even includes some source code). The demo was of a Web service that does translations, but since such things have been available on the Web for quite a few years now, it was underwhelming to say the least.

Gates also introduced BizTalk Orchestration, "a new tool for business process orchestration... it lets you visually design and build these business processes...". He then had a product manager give a demo, and it became a little clearer: the product was designed to "allow us to separate out our business process from the software implementation". But was this indiscreet? Isn't this some blueprint for patentable no-click e-commerce? We were not told. ®

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