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Bill Gates Pitches Vision To CEO Audience

Microsoft is experimenting with new approaches to software upgrades; Weblogs and RFID among promising new tools cited

Microsoft is experimenting with business customers to determine if there are better ways to deliver updated versions of its products, Bill Gates told a gathering of CEOs on Thursday.

"We think it's very important to make it easy to move up to the latest software," Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect said during a speech at the company's annual CEO Summit in Redmond, Wash. "We're going to a lot of companies in pilot programs saying, 'What if you [wanted] to get the latest and greatest software every 2-1/2 years? What do you think about in terms of why that's hard for you? How can we make that super easy?'"

The goal is to find "agile" ways to deliver software upgrades without adding overhead, complexity, or security risks, he added.

Gates didn't mention it during his presentation, which was broadcast over the Web, but Microsoft product managers have spent the past few months contemplating the best way to package and introduce new versions of its Windows client and server operating systems. Just last week, Microsoft's Windows server group disclosed plans to introduce a major new operating system release every four years, with minor releases every two years after major releases.

Gates also talked about the possibilities of using Web logging techniques and RSS feeds in combination with E-mail as a way of giving users new ways of communicating. "E-mail is not without its problems," he said.

For example, a common concern among E-mail users in a business environment is that they may be unsure of a message's relative importance to colleagues or people outside the company. Weblogs, or blogs, are one way around that because the author can post information to a Web page, letting others determine for themselves whether to read it or not. An RSS feed then alerts Weblog subscribers that new information is available.

"Getting away from the drawbacks of E-mail, that it's too imposing, and the drawbacks of the Web site, that you don't know if there's something new and interesting there--this is about solving that," Gates said. However, he did not discuss specific plans to incorporate Weblog or RSS technology into Microsoft's products.

Gates described radio-frequency identification as a "revolutionary" technology and told attendees that RFID chips were embedded in their name badges. Answering a question afterwards, he said that approximately 200 of Microsoft's customers were using RFID, characterizing that as a small percentage of the company's total customer base. "Maybe a third of our customers could be doing things with RFID," he said.

Hitting on what's become a recurring theme this year, Gates talked of his long-term goal of "seamless computing," where computer systems and devices share information easily for where-you-want-it, when-you-want-it information. He described the four "pillars" of the seamless computing vision as being redefining home entertainment; the digital lifestyle, where photography and other everyday experiences have a digital component; redefining business productivity so that employees maintain flexibility within increasingly secure IT environments; and rewiring the economy using Web services to create new connections among companies.

Gates acknowledged that security issues have become a drain on business productivity. He said it's important that companies continue to isolate as many computer systems as possible from potential attacks and to assess the controls in place that give employees access to their networks. Microsoft, he said, is working to improve the isolation capabilities in its software and how to lock down networks using smart cards and biometrics.

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