Gates says Windows convergence coming

The kernel of Windows 2000 -- the current name for the next release of Windows NT -- will be updated next year to take the operating system into consumer markets, Microsoft chief Bill Gates has announced at Spring Comdex in Chicago this week.

Gates demonstrated the upcoming new OS during his opening keynote, revealing little that he hasn't seen before.

Gates seemed to indicate in response to a question that the company's Window NT and Windows 98 lines are heading toward convergence.

"We think it's a lot better to have one kernel that we're focusing on," the chairman and CEO said, adding that "the next turn of the crank" in 18 to 24 months would find the OS kernel updated for consumer use on PCs.

Business migration has begun, he said, with 40 per cent of corporate desktops using Windows NT now. That percentage is expected to rise with the release of Windows 2000.

The new OS is supposed to make systems management easier, allowing IS managers to decide which employees have access to which software programs. The OS also is designed to enable managers to better control bandwidth allocation. During the morning demonstration, the Microsoft Windows 2000 team showed off the OS replication technology designed to automatically update data every time a user logs on.

Such abilities represent a significant step ahead in terms of data sharing and giving employees better access to data, Gates said during the Insider's Summit. This question-and-answer session relied on queries that were submitted in advance.

Asked during that period, "How do you really feel about the Linux threat to Windows NT," Gates responded without once mentioning Linux, talking instead about Unix, the base upon which Linux was built.

"The thing that's always held Unix back is that there's variety," Gates said, noting that Unix isn't compatible with a wide variety of software applications and so that hampers the OS.

"Nonetheless," he added, "we definitely think of it as a form of competition."

For those who want to know who Gates really sees as his competition, he revealed it to the "insiders." Microsoft's top competitor is, well, Microsoft.

"We also have to compete with our own installed base" when a new OS is released, he said. What's more, Gates said there are no features inherent with operating systems from other vendors that provide what Windows gives to users.

Gates was asked to look 20 years into the future of computing, and said that he can forecast a decade ahead, but beyond that it's impossible in such a volatile industry. As a sign of the "tumult in the industry," Gates mentioned the resignation yesterday of Eckhard Pfeiffer, Compaq CEO, who took the fall after his company recently stunned many observers by announcing lower-than-expected earnings.

"I certainly didn't expect that," Gates said of Pfeiffer's seemingly sudden departure.

As for the future of operating systems, Gates said that the OS of years to come will be defined by its interface and those that will succeed will enable speech and handwriting recognition, offer a unified file system and provide system management, Gates said.

Some Microsoft customers in the audience said they have enough experience with the company to realise that they have to wait for products to actually come out, rather than forming opinions based on what remains vapourware. Among those making such comments was Jim Nelson, an information systems manager at Vector Technologies in Indianapolis, Indiana.

"I've been using Microsoft products for years, but I want to see the stuff before I make an opinion," Nelson said.

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