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Thoughts of Chairman Bill

Apr 07, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

* What Bill Gates said at Gartner Symposium

Bill Gates gave a fascinating speech at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2004 last week. Let’s take a look at some of the things he said. You can follow along with the transcript from Bill’s own Web site (link below).

* “And we have one thing that helps drive this [that is, the improvements over the next three, five and 10 years] forward is the magic of Moore’s Law…”

But it isn’t really a law, just an observation by Gordon Moore made back in 1965. And it isn’t “magic.” Moore postulated that the cost of components was being constantly lowered so that the same dollar could buy double the complexity year over year. He also said this would continue for 10 years. Even if it did, it certainly is no longer true. After 40 years (i.e., next year) the 1965 dollar should be able to buy equipment that’s 2^40 more complex than the 1965 equipment. That’s 1099511627776 times more complex. And supposedly that will double each year.

* “So 10 years out in terms of actual hardware costs you can almost think of hardware as being free.”

But Moore didn’t say that costs would lower (although he’s frequently mis-quoted on that score). Hardware costs aren’t really going to get appreciably lower than they are now, in constant dollars. Yes, technology continues to advance, but real, physical limits are within sight. Functional limits have already been encountered and overcoming them is very expensive. And anyway, much of the cost of a new computer is for the Windows license.

* “We’ll model your business processes so that instead of writing lots of lines of code to customize software for you vs. some other company, it’s just going into this visual model and saying, OK, are approval processes slightly different, are payment processes slightly different?  So we won’t be writing as much code, we won’t have the kind of complexity we have today.”

Writing modeling software is a whole lot more complex than simply personalizing and modifying actual business applications. To me, that says we better start studying how Microsoft wants us to do business because they’re no longer going to bother asking how we already do it. This isn’t a good thing. Businesses don’t “break out” by slavishly copying what some other business is doing.

Bill also prophesized that both speech and tablet technologies would improve drastically over the next few years. Not surprising he’d say that since, guess which products Microsoft will be selling over the next couple of years? If you said “speech servers” and “tablet PCs” then go to the head of the class.

But even Gartner CEO Michael D. Fleisher, who was feeding very soft questions to Gates, found this a bit hard to wrap his brain around. So he asked: “So take me now to a world where we have speech.  Why do I need the Tablet?  Why do I need ink, right?  We’ve created at least two generations of folks who type better than they write.  So if I type better than I write, I’ve got speech if I want to annotate, why ink and why a focus from you guys so strong on the Tablet and ink?” Bill’s answer amounted to some dancing and side-stepping, since he couldn’t really say “because that’s what we want to sell!”

It really is a fascinating exercise in marketing next week’s products as next year’s “radical new technology” and makes fascinating reading. And since Windows Longhorn Server won’t be with us until at least 2007, there’s lots of time to read, and chuckle at, the thoughts of Chairman Bill.