NEW ORLEANS (04/26/2000) - The PC will retain a central role as the point of integration for Internet appliances, Microsoft Corp. CEO Bill Gates declared during his keynote speech at the software vendor's WinHEC conference here on Tuesday.
Gates also showed off a number of "concept" PCs and showcased several upcoming operating system releases, including 64-bit Windows 2000, the Windows Me upgrade for home users and Whistler, the code name for what will eventually be a merged version of Windows 2000 and Windows Me.
WinHEC is an annual event at which Microsoft exhorts hardware manufacturers to design PCs that take advantage of new and upcoming Windows features. Gates used yesterday's forum to present a predictably upbeat view of the PC's future.
While he acknowledged that other devices such as Internet appliances may equal PCs in sales volume, Gates said the personal computer will be the integration point for users. In addition, he claimed that the Windows-based PC architecture is "extending its reach" by becoming the basis for appliances such as Microsoft's own forthcoming X-Box game console.
Gates said tomorrow's PCs will be built on the same architecture as current models but will have "appliancelike simplicity and reliability." Most PCs will be connected to broadband networks and will increasingly use audio and video as input devices, he added.
In previous speeches, Gates often has discussed the importance of speech recognition. This time, he demonstrated a version of Microsoft's flight simulator software that lets players talk to a virtual flight controller. By Christmas of 2001, he said, several PC games will use voice recognition technology.
Gates repeated earlier admissions that PCs must become less complex to use. He also said they must boot up faster. He vowed that Windows Me, a Windows 95/98 upgrade that's due later this year, will boot in 25 seconds. The ultimate goal is a boot time in the 10-second range, he said.
Ultimately, Gates added, systems based on Whistler won't require daily rebooting but will instead hibernate when not being used. Whistler will merge Microsoft's corporate and consumer Windows code lines and is currently targeted for release in the second half of next year.
During the keynote, Gates demonstrated a pre-alpha version of Whistler, showing some of its consumer-oriented features. A digital camera was connected to a Whistler-based PC, which almost automatically downloaded images from the camera and uploaded them to a Web page.
WinHEC attendees were also shown a prototype four-processor server made by Compaq Computer Corp. Code-named Blazer, the machine was based on Intel Corp.'s 64-bit Itanium chip and ran 64-bit Windows 2000 and Microsoft's SQL Server database. The demonstration showed a 32-bit Windows 2000 server running Microsoft's Internet Information Server software serving as a Web front end, with the 64-bit server on the back end.
After some technical hitches, Gates had a live telephone conversation with Cisco Systems, Inc. CEO John Chambers using voice-over-IP technology on a Cisco server that was running Windows 2000.
Speaking after Gates, Carl Stork, general manager of Microsoft's Windows hardware strategy group, laid out the company's operating system road maps for the client, server and embedded markets.
In other sessions throughout the week, Microsoft executives will more closely detail plans for future Windows versions, including Whistler. Many sessions focus on hardware integration issues such as device driver design.
Also Microsoft also announced the following at WinHEC:
The scheduled June availability of Windows CE 3.0, the next version of its operating system for handheld and small embedded systems. CE 3.0 is already the basis for the recently introduced Pocket PC.
A new division, the Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group, which will be responsible for Windows CE, Windows NT Embedded 4.0 and future embedded offerings.