Gates describes 'digital decade' to Indian developers

The promise of the Internet still holds good, though its fulfillment is likely to take longer than was initially expected, according to Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Washington.

Gates, who is on a four-day visit to India, was addressing software developers Wednesday at the campus of software services company Infosys Technologies Ltd. in Bangalore.

"People have been asking whether it was a false promise -- the dreams of the Internet changing education, the Internet eliminating paper in terms of how businesses work with each other, and enabling any buyer to find any seller in the world," Gates said.

"The answer is that those dreams are now being achieved, but they are going to take longer than some of the startups said they would, because it requires architectural advances, it requires new software platforms, new software tools in order for those things to become real. So we find ourselves today in a period where the world at large is underestimating what is happening in this decade."

Describing this decade as the "digital decade," Gates added that this decade belongs to companies that have the patience to build and learn the architectures for the delivery of Web services based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), and other standards evolving around it such as WSDL (Web Services Description Language) , and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration).

"When it was created, the Internet had a presentation standard which was HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and which allowed you to connect up and see the information from a single site," Gates said. "But there wasn't the architecture that would allow software to find and talk to other software, which is a difficult problem because we want software, written by two different people who have never met each other, to be able to engage in complex transactions across the Internet, and this has to be done in a way that even if one piece of software has an error it doesn't cause a problem for the other piece of software."

Microsoft is reengineering all of its products to support its .Net Web services platform, starting with a new version of its Visual Studio tool that was released earlier this year.

"We are now engaged in rebuilding our database, so that it not only accepts XML on the outside, but it is XML to the core and has these rich protocols built in as a native capability," Gates said. "We are also rebuilding Microsoft Office to have XML as a core data type."

Microsoft expects Web services to be useful not only in enabling e-commerce, but also to lower the costs of managing large systems installations.

"The expense of managing systems is too high today," Gates said. "The techniques that were adequate for managing a few mainframes and thousands of terminals simply don't work as you have hundreds of thousands of servers and hundreds of thousands of clients."

The biggest focus of Microsoft's research and development budget is on trustworthy computing, according to Gates. Trustworthy computing is Microsoft's initiative to deliver bug-free and secure software.

"A big challenge that Web services needs to meet is the challenge of trustworthy computing, which is having these systems be reliable enough so that you can think of them as you do about electricity and water which are so reliable that you take them for granted," Gates said. "There are a lot of breakthroughs in software verification that need to be made to have this work, and it is a top priority for Microsoft's research group."

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