Las Vegas

Insurance and other industries always are searching for new and better ways to do business, and, not surprisingly, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates says software advances will lead the way.

Speaking at this years Comdex Global Technology Expo held here last month, Gates told an audience of several thousand that the industry still needs a platform to enable faster and more efficient commerce and e-commerce. This platform will be built, he noted, on an infrastructure of software that delivers what he called “seamless computing.”

Gates focused on various seams or “constraints” that have held back development of a better infrastructure for business. In the 1980s, the problem was that hardware was not sufficiently developed to allow rapid development, he explained. In the 1990s, hardware advanced, but there were constraints on connecting devices until the Internet matured enough at the end of that decade.

“People thought that was the last boundary, the last thing to be solved,” said Gates. “They were wrong.” In the current decade, which Gates has dubbed “The Digital Decade,” the challenge is to overcome the “seams” in order to establish software connections that will enable better commerce, he noted.

Todays “seams” include boundaries that prevent technology devices from communicating, as well as those that keep different software applications from working cooperatively, Gates observed. “Many things are not done because of these difficulties,” he said. “You are going to have many devices; they should be connected.”

Once we get rid of the seams, said Gates, “we can deliver all the scenarios we dreamed about.”

How will that happen? According to Gates, “It requires a lot of investment” in research and in building new software applications. He added that companies should work with industries who are conducting pioneering research, while “standards organizations need to move into new frontiers” to better enable communication. He focused particularly on “boundaries between corporations, where the ease of moving information in a secure way is still way too difficult. We have to schematize data in standard ways.”

Gates also talked about Microsofts initiative to provide “trustworthy computing,” providing reliability and security. “These are software problems and theyre not easy software problems,” he noted.

According to Gates, Microsofts “most acute focus is security. Its the largest thing were doing.” He emphasized that software must be kept up to date with the latest patches to prevent security breaches. He added that the software maker is working toward providing automated updates to make the process more manageable for customers.

Spam, or unauthorized commercial e-mail, is another tough problem for the security of the software infrastructure, said Gates. He noted that spammers exploit e-mail to find a few customers. Even if they only get one in 10,000 potential customers interested, the proposition is economic for the spamming company because the cost to send mass e-mails is so low.

Gates said that advances in anti-spam software, along with legislative efforts aimed at stopping spam, “will shift the tide” and make it “no longer attractive” to be a spammer.

Another topic that was briefly discussed is the much-awaited next version of Microsoft Windows, code-named Longhorn. Noting that Longhorn “is a very ambitious piece of work,” Gates said the company has not set a time frame for its release. “Theres still a lot to be done,” he said, and much of what will happen will aid the cause of seamless computing.

One new feature in Longhorn is called “Stuff Ive Seen,” which cuts across the seams between applications to find almost anything a user has recently accessed, regardless of where the information came from. Information from e-mail, Web pages, files and even handwritten notes can be easily accessed, said a Microsoft spokesperson.

Another new feature of the system in development is “implicit query,” which proactively finds information related to whatever a user is working on, without the user having to ask.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, December 12, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.