Software programs and the Web are converging quickly, and Microsoft needs to release Web browsing technology and other products faster to keep up with the changes, chairman Bill Gates said Monday.
Speaking at Microsoft's MIX06 conference in Las Vegas for Web developers, Gates said Microsoft's Internet Explorer version 7 Web browser, expected later this year, is long overdue, and the company plans more frequent browser updates in the future. Microsoft released a refreshed version of its "beta 2 preview" of Internet Explorer 7 on Monday. The company also put in place a new license that will let developers using a test version of a Microsoft programming tool for Ajax apps to launch production Web sites with code generated by the software.
As technologies and programming tools for the Web change rapidly to allow software that spans a PC's hard drive and the Internet, Microsoft has been too slow to update its Web browser, said Gates. While Microsoft was busy assembling a platform of technologies for programming online apps, its browser had lost market share to the open-source Firefox software and Apple Computer's browser in the years since an IE upgrade. "In a sense, we're doing a mea culpa and saying we waited too long to do a new browser release," said Gates. Microsoft plans to release updates to IE more frequently, perhaps as often as every 9 months to a year. "IE7 is not the end of the line," he said.
According to Gates, Web sites are becoming like components in traditional software programs that can be called with APIs and run akin to subroutines. "That's a powerful idea whose time has come," Gates said. "This is a new generation of software."
As a result, Web-based and traditional software markets are starting to share technical and business strategies. In a demonstration on stage with Gates, Ashley Highfield, director of new media and technology for the British Broadcasting Corp., demonstrated prototype software running on Windows Vista that could let viewers not only watch recent BBC programs via a broadband Internet connection, but also find them with a search engine that uses PC processing, as well as drag content onto a Windows desktop contact list to put on a friend's play list. The BBC recently completed an online video trial with 5,000 BBC viewers in the U.K. who have broadband connections. The capabilities demonstrated Monday won't be included in a broader online video rollout planned for later this year, Highfield said in an interview, but they show how the BBC might balance user interfaces that appeal to computer-savvy Web surfers and more mainstream viewers with broadband connections.
Windows Vista, the next version of Microsoft's PC operating system due later this year, will include technology called Windows Presentation Foundation that will let developers build Web-connected apps that take advantage of the power of new PC graphics chips. Microsoft is also updating other products in its line for Web-PC convergence. The Office 2007 suite due later this year will include the ability to work with data from the InfoPath and Excel apps from within a Web browser, Gates said. Internet Explorer 7 will include new security features, more faithful printing of Web sites, and an RSS subscriptions database. "The amount of RSS going on is going to skyrocket," said Gates.
Microsoft is also testing an Ajax development tool and a set of code libraries code-named Atlas for building drag-and-drop Web applications.