Notwithstanding its antitrust problems, Microsoft will remain a dominant force in an emerging world of computer devices that rely less on desktop PCs and are defined more as networked devices connected to the Internet, Gates says.
"The best is yet to come," Gates told a gathering of hardware and software developers at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here. It's his new slogan, voiced in recent public appearances and in a television ad campaign intended to polish Microsoft's image.
Microsoft's WinHEC is designed to alert developers to Microsoft's plans and to promote computing innovation. Central to Microsoft's vision is its family of Windows operating systems, including the handheld Windows CE, the consumer product Windows 98, and the new business version, Windows 2000. Gates envisions these environments as the glue that connects devices ranging from desktops and Pocket PCs to hulking servers that run the Internet.
Gates focused on advances in connecting appliances and PCs. Following his keynote was Carl Stork, general manager of Windows hardware strategy, who traced a roadmap of how Microsoft will achieve this vision.
Consumers will see a big difference in Windows with the release of the "Whistler" version in 2001, Stork says. The update to Windows 2000 is also on the path for users of Windows Millennium, the unreleased upgrade to Windows 98.
"Home users are going to get the robust functionality and reliability of Windows 2000," Stork says. It will offer user interface advances like custom start screens, and it will support digital home entertainment and home networks.
Windows Millennium, the last Windows based on Windows 9x code, will ship this fall, Stork says. Its highlights include quicker start-up times, a simpler out-of-box experience for new owners, and advanced support for digital cameras, videos, and music.
Windows CE 3.0 is slated to ship in June, but the operating system is already available today in Pocket PC devices.
In his keynote, Gates pulled back the curtains on a "concept PC" with features he says will become standard in Windows.
PCs will soon ship with video cameras, noise-reduced microphones for real-time voice communications, and support for wireless peripherals, Gates says.
Also upcoming in Windows:
A friendier demeanor. Systems will have simpler interfaces, boot in less than 25 seconds, and automatically update.
Support for fast connection technologies, like Universal Serial Bus and the speedy IEEE 1394 standard.
A larger role in household digital music and video entertainment. Gates demonstrated a Windows-powered music appliance linking a home stereo to a digital music library on a PC. Also shown was Digital Media Player software, which wirelessly streamed Internet video.
Microsoft and Cisco are working on a new Internet protocol network that supports voice, video, and data. Called CallManager, the network will lead the way to devices like IP phones that carry voice traffic over the Internet, Gates says.