One possible outcome of the US Government's antitrust case against Microsoft could be an order to split up the software vendor into smaller companies, observers have noted recently. But don't tell that to Microsoft chairman and chief executive officer Bill Gates.
"That kind of speculation is really inappropriate because the Government has never stated any interest in anything of that kind," such as breaking up Microsoft, Gates said during a press conference earlier this week at the company's Latin America Enterprise Solutions Conference '99.
"You can speculate about what might happen, but not about any type of break-up. It's not on the radar screen. It's not something that anybody is suggesting," Gates added.
In the world according to Gates, the trial -- now in recess -- really boils down to an educational experience for the Government.
"What Microsoft has done in terms of bringing prices down and supporting the Internet, those are all great things. Computer users around the world have benefited from our vision of the personal computer," he said. "So what's going on in court is the Government is learning about the technology business . . . and we have very little doubt that at the end of the day our whole approach to business will be held to be a fantastic thing and very beneficial to consumers."
Asked to comment about reports that Microsoft lawyers are actively seeking to settle the case, Gates pleaded ignorance.
"I actually don't know the status of the discussions with the Government and it's not valuable speculation. I'm sure the lawyers will do their best to simplify the thing, but it's not worth speculating on," Gates said.
Later, during a keynote address at the event here, Gates also downplayed the recent surge in popularity of the open source Linux operating system, which some observers consider a potential threat to Microsoft's Windows NT platform. Gates said that there are different versions of Linux, a situation that he said yields compatibility problems. He also said that Linux's development has lacked a central, organising entity, which has prevented the operating system from being as reliable as Windows.
Gates, whose company failed to immediately grasp the importance of the Internet back in 1994 and 1995 and fell behind start-ups like Netscape Communications, also spoke about the Internet with burning passion during the press conference and his keynote address, saying it is transforming business and calling the Net "an amazing research tool and amazing communications tool that is going to raise the standard of living throughout the planet".
Gates also spoke passionately about his company's Digital Nervous System (DNS) concept, one of the pillars of which is the Internet. DNS represents an IT infrastructure that enhances the movement of data throughout a company to enable better business decisions, or, as he put it, to improve a company's "business reflexes". Within the DNS, the PC has become "the ultimate communications tool", Gates said.
Gates also scoffed at the suggestion that Microsoft has overhyped its Windows 98 operating system to take the focus away from the delays in shipping Windows 2000 (formerly known as NT 5.0).
"Windows 98 is a fantastically successful product. How can anybody at this stage do anything but sit back and marvel at the kind of response Windows 98 received and the kind of sales it got?"
Windows 2000, meanwhile, is nearing completion but it's not quite ready to ship. It is expected to enter a Beta 3 testing phase next month, Gates said.
"Windows 2000 is a superambitious product. We think we're getting close" to finishing it, he said.
Gates and a Microsoft official gave a demonstration of Windows 2000 during the keynote speech, highlighting, among other things, the product's Active Directory feature, designed to make it easier for administrators to make changes to users' desktops from a server console. A client machine running Windows 2000 Professional and a server running Windows 2000 Server were used for the demo.
Gates also said that privacy issues related to the Internet haven't been discussed as much as they should, and that the privacy problem is a public policy issue, not so much a technology issue.
"Politicians need to make sure that the right rules are in place governing who can see and use that information," he said during the press conference. [Privacy issues] haven't had the visibility they've deserved. They are really political questions."
Gates also listed during the keynote the technologies that he considers will be key in the coming years, including handheld devices able to connect to the Internet, XML (extensible mark-up language) standards, speech technology, wireless communications -- including voice and video -- and advanced collaboration tools and applications.