Executives Paint Rosy but Challenging Future

Microsoft Corp. plans to make Windows "Web-centric" by issuing a set of so-called Internet APIs, which will help developers write Web-based applications for Windows, according to company executives.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and President Steve Ballmer gave sketchy information about the technology last week at the company's conference for financial analysts. Gates said more details would emerge next quarter, and Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in February would showcase the initiative.

Gates said future applications will include more of a balance between server-side and client-side code.

"We will have symmetry between rich clients and [the] server," Gates said. "No one has made it easy to write those applications."

Gates, Ballmer, and other Microsoft executives delivered a message to the financial community that when it comes to the PC, the company is in the midst of a balancing act -- trying to maintain the genre's vitality, in which it has an obvious stake, while at the same time moving beyond the PC with Windows.

In fact, Microsoft has altered its original creed, "A PC on every desk and in every home," which dates to 1975, to something a little wordier and broader: "Empower people through great software anytime, anyplace, on any device."

"The PC remains the central device ... but we certainly admit that there are going to be a lot of other devices," Ballmer said. In particular, he said, "PCs remain red-hot for application development."

However, Jeff Raikes, group vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Sales and Support group, emphasized that the PC is still one of the most significant -- if not the single most important -- cog in Microsoft's strategy.

The company estimates that PC shipments increased 16 percent in fiscal year 1999, which ended June 30.

"When we look back, we see a year of growing presence of the PC, broadening and deepening usage of the PC," Raikes said.

The Microsoft executives also discussed the competition facing Microsoft, with Ballmer calling Linux the most important platform competition Windows has seen since the heyday of OS/2. The reason, he said, is that the open-source operating system is rejuvenating Unix on the Intel architecture.

"Linux is a serious, albeit a little bit crazy, implementation of Unix on the Intel platform," Ballmer said.

The Microsoft executives did not say how the company would distribute the Internet APIs, which it will use to keep developers who are increasingly eyeing the Internet in the Windows fold.

Developers will be able to target applications for enterprise, line-of-business, ".com," knowledge worker, small business, and home scenarios, Ballmer said. A key will be providing tools and a Windows-based infrastructure for electronic-commerce applications, he said.

Some analysts questioned the now-traditional financial caution at Microsoft, particularly Chief Financial Officer Greg Maffei's assertion that Office 2000 will not be the moneymaker many Wall Street gurus believe it will be.

"That is something of a bright light for the coming fiscal year, I would think," said Warren Wilson, an analyst at Summit Strategies, in Bellevue, Washington.

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