Dell Computer CEO and chairman Michael Dell addressed the throngs of Dell faithful on Wednesday here at the company's first ever users' conference, dubbed Direct Connect, and warned attendees that the Internet will make or break businesses in the next decade.
Likening the Internet to "a weapon sitting on the table ready to be picked up by you or your competitor", Dell recapped how Dell has successfully wielded that Internet to establish itself as the number-one seller of PCs in the US.
"The Internet will be your business, and if it's not already, you're probably in trouble," Dell said.
Dell went so far as to share his three tenets of success on the Internet: velocity, efficiency, and customer experience. To illustrate those tenets, Dell demonstrated the company's efforts to tie its Premiere Page extranet service directly to customers' enterprise resource planning solutions. In addition, the company announced a new online support service, called Dell OpenManage Resolution Assistant, designed to allow Dell technicians to access, diagnose, and fix customer systems remotely.
"This product allows the server to communicate with the online support and we believe it is the beginning of self-healing systems," Dell said.
With Resolution Assistant, Dell online support staff are given access through the firewall to customer systems and can immediately pull up the specifications, service-level agreements, and configuration of that specific system.
In bringing the service to desktops, Dell unveiled a future consumer PC, code-named Webster, that includes one-touch online support as a standard feature. The feature is designed to wean users off telephone support, which requires large amounts of resources and can often result in long wait times.
"Support is one area that we can drive costs down," said Dell, "and this is just an enabler that we think people are going to embrace. The customer won't be forced to go online . . . we can go into analog if necessary."
As an encore, Dell brought out Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates who expounded on his revised vision for the computer industry. Noting that his 1975 mantra of "a computer on every desk in every home" is too obvious and inevitable now, Gates upgraded to Vision 2.0 for 1999.
"We want to empower people through great software anytime, anyplace, on any device," proclaimed Gates. "We still have a lot of work to do."
Gates then demonstrated the policy management features of Windows 2000 by establishing the settings for a user that are the same regardless of which computer they are using. Also shown was an affinity management feature of the forthcoming OS, in which an administrator is able to specify how many and which processors on a system should be running. As for an update on when Windows 2000 would be ready, Gates said only that he was "pretty sure" it would be ready by the end of the year. "We are very close to the final shipment," he explained.
Gates closed by answering a question from the audience about the portrayal of his character in TNT's made-for-TV movie, The Pirates of Silicon Valley, in which he is shown to be a ruthless businessman that subverts the aspirations of Steve Jobs and Apple.
"That was not a factual portrayal," Gates said. "Maybe I'm too close to what actually happened, but I hope someday someone can capture that exciting time more accurately."