Microsoft's Bill Gates is predicting a world a few years down the line where Internet appliances such as smart phones, intelligent wristwatches and Web-enabled televisions outsell PCs, and he said that Microsoft will do everything in its power to make sure a version of Windows runs on these devices.
"A lot of people have a very narrow definition of a PC," Gates said, speaking at an IDC Forum in the US on Monday.
In the future, many devices, such as Microsoft's own WebTV, will be used to access the Internet and run special applications -- essentially performing PC-like functions, he said.
Microsoft's goal will be to make sure its software runs on all types of devices, Gates said. "Anywhere software can run, we like," Gates said. Many of the new information devices will be derived from PC technology, so Microsoft sees the proliferation of alternative Internet access appliances as a benefit, rather than a threat, he explained.
However, some observers say Microsoft should be a bit more concerned about the information device replacing the PC. Since there has been no platform established as the "best" one for the wide range of devices set to come on the market, Microsoft will have to prove that its scaled-down versions of Windows or other new operating systems are better than new competitors, said Frank Gens, IDC's senior vice president of Internet research.
While this year just 4 per cent of those accessing the Internet are using non-PC devices, this number will skyrocket to 43 per cent by 2002, Gens said.
While Microsoft's competitors, including Sun Microsystems and Netscape, say that Java is a natural language in which to write applications for these new information devices, Gates disagreed. The idea that developers could write one application that runs on everything from a wristwatch to a PC is not valid, he said. Instead, developers will use different languages and different tools for each device in order to take advantage of its specific platform, much like developers write different applications today for Macs and PCs, Gates predicted.
Microsoft will continue to develop tools, operating systems and applications to take advantage of many hardware platforms, he said.
Moving on to other topics, Gates launched a small barb at IBM. While he called Big Blue Microsoft's "biggest competitor", Gates attacked what he called IBM's "fragmented" approach at not having one platform around which its software strategy is focused.
"What is IBM's unique architectural initiative?" Gates said. "There's a vacuum there that we are benefiting from immensely."
"We like him to say we are his main competitor, that is good for us," said Peter Abrahams, an analyst programming manager at IBM's Europe, Middle East and Africa software division. But Abrahams disagreed that IBM doesn't have a central strategy in terms of platform architecture. The company sees Java, and Oracle's Network Computing Architecture (aimed at letting organisations meld different hardware and software platforms using Java), as central to its software strategy, he said.
"He's [Gates] slamming Java, and you can understand why," Abrahams said. "It's not to his advantage to see Java succeed."
Gates also impressed upon attendees that Microsoft will not turn into a services company, instead leaving its services partners -- from Compaq with its recent acquisition of Digital to specialised small-scale systems integrators -- to offer, install and support Microsoft products in the enterprise. While Microsoft will continue to support its enterprise partners, it doesn't want to become the kind of services company where it sends a hundred programmers into a company to build an application, Gates said.