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A Platform Switch In Search Of A Killer App

Microsoft paves the way for more connections between PCs and the Web
Greg Gilley, VP of engineering at Adobe Systems Inc., demonstrated a prototype version of its After Effects video-editing software that lets developers quickly build an interactive stock chart with animated graphics powered by data flowing to the PC from the Web. Adobe is considering whether After Effects could be marketed as a tool for more general software developers to improve user interfaces with punchier graphics and better data visualization for everyday users. "In today's enterprise apps, there's not a lot of thought put into how the user interface looks," Gilley says. Using the graphics capabilities of Avalon, "you can create visually compelling stuff fairly easily. That's a big stretch from what you can do now."

Some software developers are more skeptical. John Fratus, a platform architect at bank holding company National City Corp., says many Longhorn systems "seem like ways to reinvent technologies as Microsoft versions of things that already exist," such as vector graphics. "Instead of using standards that are out there, they made their own thing," he says.

According to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, "A lot of people nowadays are pessimistic about what technology will bring." At Microsoft, "we don't think it's reached any limits," he adds. To prove that true, Microsoft will need to bring a legion of independent software developers up to speed on a technical shift as big as any it's introduced in a decade.