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A Gates reality checkMarch 9, 2005
For Bill Gates and Microsoft, that's the big question. This week at the software giant's Professional Developers Conference, Gates rallied the troops--software developers, Microsoft's most important audience--to build enthusiasm for Vista, the oft-delayed new version of Windows, and Office 12, an update to Microsoft's most profitable franchise.
Gates' mantra hasn't changed much in 20 years: The PC is the center of the computing universe, and Windows, along with Office and other products, represents the best platform for new software development. What is new, and is much in evidence this week in Los Angeles, is the growing influence of Web-based development.
In that realm, Google has emerged as the poster child for a new wave of applications assembled from the piece-parts of several Web sites. No Windows necessary. Microsoft has its own ideas, of course.
Gates sat down with CNET News.com to talk about competitors old and new, why software hasn't fulfilled promises and the mixed blessing of controlling 90 percent of the world's PCs.
Q: More developers are becoming interested in building new applications using the Web as a platform, as opposed to the PC. Do you feel you're in competition with Google, Yahoo and other Web properties for developers' attention?
Gates: No, I don't think so. The architecture we are interested in we call server-equals-service, so that we will have the full Exchange capability that you can subscribe to, where we run it, or you can have it on-premise with the traditional licensing approach. At this conference, we do give out APIs (application programming interfaces) for the MSN Search and the MSN Virtual Earth capability, so things that have been cloud-based services, you can have client applications that other services can connect to. So, I'd say the evolution is server to service, and bringing that symmetry in.
With Google, there are rumors about them being interested in that services piece, but they really haven't done that much. Our search API is way better than their search API. Clearly, they are working in that area. They haven't done as much on the server piece. They had a Google server, but it was very bad at corporate search. That did not work well at all. That's the only place where I think they have done any server-type piece. Yahoo doesn't think of themselves as a platform company. I don't think you will ever have the Yahoo PDC. Google, because they are in the honeymoon phase, people think that they do all things at all times in all ways.
Well, I guess that's what you have to combat, right? They are in this phase, and when Google does anything, they get attention.
Gates: Yeah. You do me-too Google Talk, and it's a big deal. But we had our honeymoon phase, and it was fun from maybe 1985 to 1995. And we've had lots of competitors in their honeymoon phase. But I'd say, in some ways, this is the biggest honeymoon I've ever seen.
Is that a long-term threat for Microsoft? People like Google come along and they have this Web development idea and they popularize that notion and people listen?
Gates: Developers are not building on some Google thing at this point. The idea that the computing industry can simplify its offerings dramatically by having this server-equals-service approach, and having richer services, absolutely I believe in that, and we need to be at the forefront of that. The idea that management can be more automatic and software updating can be more automatic, state-replication more automatic--there are some big things here that can drive the industry forward. They are very complex, because we have to make things very reliable and very secure if you are going to do this. It's just now that we have the maturity of XML and the Web Services protocols that we can start to do (this).
So Google is not offering development capabilities yet. Of course, I expect they will. But they're not in that game at all today. In fact, they have this slogan that they are going to organize the world's information. Our slogan is that we are going to give people tools to let them organize the world's information. It's a slightly different approach, based on the platformization of all of our capabilities and not thinking of ourselves as the organizer.
So that would be the philosophical difference between Microsoft and what Google is up to at this point?
Gates: Well, we don't know everything they are up to, but we do know their slogan and we disagree with that.
How does Microsoft want to bring that server-equals-service capability to the market? You have the servers. Do you have the services?
Gates: Well, let's go through it. We have Active Directory, which we are making a lot richer. There's a lot of talk about that here. And we have Passport. So we're making those very symmetric, and having this federation capability be central to the architecture, those things follow.
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