Bill Gates has plans for Microsoft's future -- and yours
The .NET plan doesn't say who will own the system, but you can guess
By Winn L. Rosch
NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE
July 2 -- Not just seeing into the future but having it laid in front of you complete with graphics, demonstrations and a satellite hook-up is one more thing we all have to thank Bill Gates for. Last week, he unveiled his plans for the future of Microsoft, personal computers, the Internet and your life. He calls it .NET (pronounced dot-net).
GATES ENVISIONS a truly wired society where you can be anywhere and instantly read your e-mail, check on your daughter in her crib, play an interactive game or buy a pickle factory using whatever electronic gadget falls to hand -- cell phone, Palm Pilot or personal computer.
The .NET technology will link Web sites and computers so they all work together -- and all work for you. In case you have visions of that artificial intelligence turning on you, the plan includes measures to protect your privacy.
This is a plan that offers something for everyone -- and a lot for Microsoft.
The vision has several pieces. The first evolves out of Microsoft's traditional role of supplying tools to write programs. Microsoft will supply programmers with a new set of tools based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language), a new Internet language Microsoft helped develop.
XML is the key to the plan of linking computers because it allows Web sites to exchange data in addition to words and pictures. It also eliminates the need to write separate programs for different devices. Hardly incidentally, the new tools make obsolete the old ones that Microsoft has been selling, creating a source of immediate income.
DON'T CALL IT AN OS ...
At the level of the individual consumer, .NET provides what Microsoft calls a user experience. Much of that experience is what used to be called an "operating system," but Microsoft avoids that term.
The .NET user experience is key because it ensures that all the electronic devices you use will link together and cooperate. There's no need, for example, for separate operating systems for palm-top computers -- nor a need for the companies that write them.
The plan also expands on the idea of network computers. Instead of buying a box with a program in it from Microsoft, you will download what you need when you need it. Because all software and files will be in a common repository, you'll have access to your data and programs wherever you are.
If the concept sounds a lot like mainframe computing from the 1950s, rest assured that Gates hasn't reinvented the wheel. Rather he reinvented the '56 Chevy with an important difference: He owns it. The .NET plan doesn't say who will own the centralized distribution system, but you can guess.
In any case, the software will be Microsoft's. For example, part of the plan is to distribute Microsoft Office online (as StarOffice currently is distributed), essentially leasing it instead of selling it. Leasing software ensures a continuous income stream less subject to the vagaries of consumer acceptance of each product update.
The .NET plan includes opening other business opportunities for Microsoft. The company describes some of these as "hosted messaging and e-mail, enhanced commerce services, and a new customer relationship management service." In other words, it wants a larger share of the e-commerce market.
The timing seems suspicious. You can imagine the argument -- if not played out in front of the Supreme Court, then acted out in front of the press: With what had been the operating system and applications combined into this one vision, splitting them up could set the whole future of computing back an entire generation.
Dig behind the rosy picture prophesied by the plan, however, and it's so ambitious, aggressive and arrogant that it can't help but hurt the Microsoft case. The .NET plan represents the world as Microsoft wants it: in its pocket.