During a keynote address at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, Gates showed a version of Windows, code-named Longhorn and due in 2006, that lets users set up "stacks" of files based on who created them or keywords in their content. It also lets a user view a colleague's presentation in real time as it's created on another PC via a fast wireless network connection, while keeping an automatically saved version for offline work.
"A lot of people nowadays are pessimistic about what technology will bring," Gates said. "We don't think it's reached its limits."
Microsoft derived a third of its revenue from client versions of Windows during its first quarter ended Sept. 30, but sales of those products haven't grown compared with a year ago. Longhorn is Microsoft's bid to get people excited about buying new PCs again.
By 2006, Gates predicted that PCs will include CPUs as fast as 6 GHz, more than 2 Gbytes of memory, more than 1 terabyte of disk storage, and consistently fast graphics processors and network speeds. PC users also will be able to assume more persistent network connectivity and more availability of wireless hot spots. "The personal computer in less than three years will be a pretty phenomenal device," Gates said. The constraint to users having more connectivity and control over their information, he said, is software.
Microsoft on Monday released a technical preview and software development kit for Longhorn, which Gates called the most important version of Windows from Microsoft since Windows 95, released eight years ago. Longhorn will introduce several technologies that will be used by software developers to create applications that run on the operating system. Microsoft is introducing a new Windows programming model called WinFX that it says builds on the .Net Framework, today's state-of-the-art Windows programming environment.
Longhorn will include a set of presentation technologies called Avalon for displaying user-interface elements, documents, and digital media. The WinFS data-storage system will let users visually manage files, images, contacts, and music; introduce common commands for searching across different software programs; and organize files and E-mail messages into a hierarchy that can help flag what's most important, Gates said. New communications technology called Indigo will build messaging and Web-services transaction capabilities into Longhorn.
Microsoft's demonstrations during Gates' speech showed some of the technologies in action. The Longhorn desktop includes a "sidebar" column on the right side of the screen that can show elements such as an instant-messaging buddy list or blog entries. Longhorn's stacking feature created a list of documents associated with one person (in this case, Gates). Another demonstration showed a user downloading from the Web a law-firm application that automatically launched on a PC without rebooting, then used Indigo to let the user run a search that spanned the PC, local network, and a LexisNexis database. That turned up an Avalon-rendered document that showed thumbnail previews of text and video inside of it as the user hovered his mouse over the scroll bar to point to different pages in the file.