October 18, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Gates still has a long to-do list

SAN FRANCISCO--Bill Gates has some unfinished business.

For years, the Microsoft chairman has been a fiery advocate, inside the company and out, for the notion that computers should be controlled, not just by mouse and keyboard, but also by more natural means, such as voice, touch and digital ink.

But, as Gates prepares to shift to part-time work at Microsoft next year, his vision is still more common inside the company's research labs than inside the typical home or office. Unbowed, Gates said he expects to keep plugging away as he takes on a new, more limited role at the company.

"Big screens, touch, ink, speech, that's something that I think, along with cloud computing, is the next big change in how we think about software," Gates told CNET News.com on Tuesday. (Cloud computing is the notion that many of the computing tasks handled by individual computers today will instead be tackled by servers in huge data centers connected over the Internet.) "Ray Ozzie is driving our cloud computing stuff...Some of the natural interface stuff, I think he and Steve (Ballmer) will ask me to sort of keep the energy and vision alive there."

"As we take the magic of software to new things, it's OK to be too early. We don't want to be in too late."
--Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft

Gates continues to lobby hard inside Microsoft for investment in speech and handwriting recognition, though neither has been a huge financial success for Microsoft. The Tablet PC, a frequent staple of Gates' Comdex keynote speeches in the 1990s, remains a fairly niche product. And though the ability to control PCs through voice is built into Vista, the feature has gotten scant attention, and the operating system itself has received less than enthusiastic support in its first year on the market.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, a Microsoft vice president, who has worked closely with Gates in the areas of unified communications, said that Gates has expressed frustration with how slowly speech recognition has found its way into the mainstream. Pall noted that the software maker has been investing in the technology since at least 1991.

"Bill is a very big believer in speech and the potential of speech as a natural way of interacting with machines," Pall said. "That's an area where he is very interested and wants to understand what are the limitations and how do we get past those limitations."

A number of Gates' pet projects have yet to make it into the mainstream. The digital watches that use Microsoft's Smart Personal Object Technology have remained geek toys, and his dream of an all-new Windows file system based on SQL found itself on the cutting-room floor when Longhorn became Vista. But other big bets, like Internet television and the Xbox, appear poised to start paying off after years of investment.

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Video: Gates discusses future of tech
In the coming years, the conference table will be a computer, the whiteboard will be a computer, says Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

Gates said Microsoft has been right to invest in those areas, though he agrees his company has sometimes invested in ideas well before they were ready for prime time.

"As we take the magic of software to new things, it's OK to be too early," Gates said. "We don't want to be in too late."

And, as for these new means of interacting with computers, he insists they are underappreciated, not unimportant.

"All these things about natural interface are coming to the fore, and they are probably the thing that's most underestimated right now about the digital revolution," Gates said.

Of all the new ways of interacting with computers, the one that seems to be gaining the ground the quickest is multitouch, where people use multiple finger gestures to manipulate objects on a screen. Microsoft has the feature in its high-end tabletop computer, Surface, while Apple has introduced a more mainstream adaptation of the technology in the iPhone and iPod Touch

"People kind of gasp when they see how touch works on Surface, you know, when they touch their iPhone," he said. "'Oooo, wow,' you know, that's just such a natural thing."

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Who or what controls the computer?
"And though the ability to control PCs through voice is built into Vista, the feature has gotten scant attention, and the operating system itself has received less than enthusiastic support in its first year on the market." The problem is that with Vista the user has lost control of the computer. The quote above would be more accurate if it said "provide input to PCs through voice".
Posted by bentsn (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
scant attention: because it sucks
it is a lot quicker to use conventional devices

nothing you say will ever be typed the way you want, better to have it read your thoughts.
Posted by ColdMast (186 comments )
Link Flag
I'm surprised
that security didn't make Bill's "to do" list.

Could it be that after all these years, Mr. Gates, like many security experts, has accepted the fact that Windows is never going to be a reasonably secure OS?
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not really..
The security experts have been applauding Microsoft's progress in the security space ever since Vista's release.

They, and Microsoft know quite well that there is not defined end-point to security. Hackers are always working on new techniques to craft exploits, and software makes will always have to incorporate knowledge of secure coding practices into their processes, compiler technology, and constantly conduct security audits on their software.
Posted by dhavleak (1030 comments )
Link Flag
Walk before you crawl
This type of insanity comes from a disconnect with your actual customer base Tables? Voice communication? Are you kidding me?

The OS unit has no direction at all and these types of random bizarre remarks from leadership only dishearten the users who bother to pay attention anymore. They seem to have no idea what is even going on.

Vista is a scary sign of the lack of focus and long term plans for MS. Most of us just hope they don't screw things up at this point, we are not sitting around waiting for the ships computer from Star Trek like what Mr. Gates seems to be doing.
Posted by Yakk35 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just do what I want
The biggest problem with Windows is automation. I don't want the
software guessing what I might want to do, then harassing me with
prompts to see if it's guess was right. Or, just as bad, asking me to
confirm an unequivocal command. The first thing to do after a
Windows OS or application install, after downloading updates? Turn
off as many automatic services as I can find. Can't imagine what
Windows automation might do with voice input.
Posted by flipbird (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
First thing: Copy more of OS X. Fix that POS Vista, too.
Posted by The_happy_switcher (2175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
what ever happend to Mira?
instead of having 8 versions of Vista that all suck and do the same thing, have 4 different default configurations to avoid the hassles of disabling stuff until it works.

beginner - what ever crap vista did when it came out
novice - what XP SP2 did to annoy me
expert - what I did to XP SP2
guru or Custom - what I don't know about but would want to do if I did.
Posted by ColdMast (186 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You'll notice in Star Trek that only one person speaks to the computer at a time. Even if persons of authority are in disagreement they speak one after another. Their computer obviously couldn't differentiate the voices, noise, and command order while factoring in some priority logic. That's in the 24th century too so what makes Bill Gates think that voice recognition is going to be this killer app now.

It is annoying when voicemail systems totally rely on voice recognition. Voice dialing fine but not customer service and tech support.

Break the Wedge!
Posted by SpiritWater (152 comments )
Reply Link Flag
star dreck
Dude, it was a 'tv show' which is why it didn't work, bokay? Get grounded in some reality. Get out of your parents basement for starters, too.
Posted by The_happy_switcher (2175 comments )
Link Flag
Reality is still important
I don't know about the rest of you, but I sit in a cube at work. I have no desire to talk to my computer during the workday and no desire to hear my coworkers do the same.

Despite the Gee Whiz factor of voice recognition, it's just not practical for where I spend my computer time. Give me better memory management and CPU priority management and skip the useless features.
Posted by Kermit_is_king (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There are more computers than you think
> I don't know about the rest of you, but I sit
> in a cube at work. I have no desire to talk
> to my computer during the workday and no
> desire to hear my coworkers do the same.

> Despite the Gee Whiz factor of voice
> recognition, it's just not practical for
> where I spend my computer time. Give me
> better memory management and CPU priority
> management and skip the useless features.

I want to be able to talk to my car GPS and to IVR systems, Kermit.

That's just a couple of examples.

In fact, I hate tiny "keyboards" like those in cell phones. So, in any instance where I don't have a full 103-key KB, they should give me the ability to talk to the gadget.

Talking to computers??

Just like I don't need to talk to my wife 24x7, but I want to be able, if I need to.

Having said all that, I completely sympathize with your CPU & memory management concerns. Ever tried a real (i.e., non-Windows) OS?

Posted by RamonFHerrera (38 comments )
Link Flag
"We don't want to be in too late."
"We don't want to be in too late."

Like the Internet and Search
Posted by t8 (3716 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another well known case of M$ being late...
> "We don't want to be in too late."
> Like the Internet and Search

Don't forget one of the most important cases of "being late": the GUI.

Microsoft spent the better part of a decade (or more?) criticizing GUIs. They said the Mac was a toy.

Posted by RamonFHerrera (38 comments )
Link Flag
Gates should start with an ORIGINAL IDEA and quality
I see NOTHING in Microsoft's development's that are "genuinely"
original, much less innovative. Second rate knock-offs.
Windows is a rip off of BOTH Apple's Mac OS _AND_ PARC
Word is a rip off of Wordperfect
Powerpoint is a rip off of Adobe Persuasion, many others.
Excel is a rip off of Visicalc
Windows Media is a rip off of Quicktime and part of MS-Apple
Explorer is a rip off of Mosaic and NETSCAPE!
Zune is a rip off of iPod media player
Live Meeting webconferencing is a rip off of WebEx
SAAS is a rip off of other innovators and evolution, including
Speaking of GOOGLE - Microsoft's RECENT search RELIGION is
ANOTHER REACTION to the Search technology paradigm
changing the game.
GOOGLE DOCS are responsible for Microsoft's REACTIONARY
competitive strategy to SAAS over the Internet. REACTIONARY,
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Easy there..
First, please fix the caps lock key on your keyboard.

Second - no need to get into such a hissy fit. Like it or not, Gates has had a big role to play in the way computers have evolved. People are interested in knowing what his role will be once he starts working full time for the Gates Foundation in June 08. Your post threatens to turn the discussion into another pointless and childish Mac-vs-PC slugfest.

Third - get your facts right. The Xerox Star (not PARC) was the original GUI-based computer. It was developed in PARC. I believe that would make Mac OS a rip-off as well (by your logic). Creative made the worlds first MP3 player. That would make the iPod a rip-off by your logic. There are lots more flaws in what you said, but I think you get the point.

I mean, if you believe making a competing product is stealing, then by that logic we would all still be using Creative mp3 players, Xerox Star computers, Visicalc, Quicktime, and NCSA Mosaic and Adobe Persuasion, and doing web searches in Alta Vista. I mean, after all, Google is a rip-off of Alta Vista!
Posted by dhavleak (1030 comments )
Link Flag
Software is not just an idea
But, it needs implementation. If you just think that I have a supper innovative creative brand-new idea, then *pop*, the software is in front of you, you're only a good talker, that knows how to curse things you don't like. The software that you mention as original idea, has their own predecessor. But at the end, people will remember the one that succesfully become leader in the market.

E.g. IPhone is innovative, I totally agree with that, but is all the technology behind original idea?
Posted by Gunady (191 comments )
Link Flag
How about this idea
Software thats not tied to a specific hardware manufacturer or integrator. You know, software that can run on a wide variety of configurations produced by a wide number of people spurring competition in the market place leading to advances in technology and usage.

Bill pretty much nailed that one on the head. Hardware agnosticism is a big reason behind MS' success.
Posted by rapier1 (2722 comments )
Link Flag
Aspect based medical check clouds.
I was thinking the other day about how usful a coud would be for identifying whst to look out for when someone goes for a check up or has symptoms.
The Practicinor could log all the aspects of problems that seem to be related to the patient and the computer could work out from the best and latest data if that person needed to have anything else checked out.
The doctor could even do it with some nasty and nice natural interfaces.
Posted by wildchild_plasma_gyro (296 comments )
Reply Link Flag
1. Reimburse Windows Users for Lost Productivity
Gates needs to cut Windows users checks for the weeks-- no, months, they wasted troubleshooting buggy Windows updates, GPFs, the blue screen of death, and driver issues.
Posted by Xenu7-214951314497503184010868 (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Gates is a celebrity
Journalists listen to him, president listen to him, CIO listen to him, the beautiful people listen to him, and the celebrities listen to him.

He has been saying the same thing for over 20 years. The PC this, the PC that, the PC here, the PC there, all hail the great and mighty PC.

Now what is the reality?

Microsoft hasn't invented ONE SINGLE product. Everything was bought, stolen, or copied.
Gates calls that 'investment' in technology.

I went to a Microsoft road show in 1998 - it was in San Francisco - and we were told (with accompanying slides) that the next release of Microsoft Exchange would have - OFF THE BOX - many features that we are still waiting for today. I went to a Lucent road show a week later and they were selling a product that was already doing most of the new features that Microsoft still cannot offer.

I have not heard ONE single person I have ever met or dealt with in my +20 years in IT - in Europe, US, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia, say anything positive about Microsoft products.

From cost to unreliability, from security, to interoperability, everyone has something negative to say.

What I find sad, is that people call it 'the necessary evil'.

Was that what we got on the board the PC train for?
Posted by jmdunys (49 comments )
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