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Tech 101 | PC Focus

Bill Gates on Win XP: 'Full Speed Ahead'

March 29, 2001|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | larry.magid@latimes.com

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates hopes to get it right this time with Windows XP, the next-generation operating system his company plans to ship later this year. Earlier this week, as Microsoft released the latest XP testing beta, Gates promised that this new version of Windows will be easier to use, more reliable and packed with more features than any previous incarnation.

That's a tall order.

Adding features to an operating system can make it slower and less stable, but Gates asserted in an interview that speed and reliability won't be problems. "As long as people are doing new things with PCs, we'll always have to work hard to make those easy and very reliable. But this is a big step up," he said. "It's the technology base that our business users have had with Windows 2000 for over a year now, and the feedback there has been very strong."

In my testing of Windows XP, I noticed changes in the user interface. Some are positive. Others slowed me down a bit. For example, if you double-click on the C: drive icon, you no longer see all your folders and files. Instead, you get a message telling you to use the Start menu to find your programs.

That might make things easier for some novices, but it adds extra steps for those of us who are already familiar with Windows. Gates said he thinks "we struck the balance the right way" when it came to changes but admitted that "every user is always taken aback whenever you change something."

He hinted that user interface changes aren't yet frozen. "We're going to listen to what [testers] are saying about [whether] we need to make some last-minute fixes," Gates said. "Or are there enough changes that people want that we should step back and do some significant changes?"

Apparently, he's already rejected some proposed interface changes. "I certainly have been very involved in talking through with our user interface guys about some of the more radical things that would have been too much of a change for users."

One thing that won't change is Microsoft's habit of including new applications in its operating system--despite that practice being at the center of the federal government's antitrust lawsuit against the company.

Gates is unapologetic. Windows XP will be able to burn CDs and offer an instant-messaging program as well as a richer version of Windows Media Player and an enhanced browser--all of which compete with applications from other companies.

"It's key to consumers that Windows integrate new functions and make those very easy to get at," he said. "That ability to innovate is critical to why PCs are such a great tool." He added that "we're full speed ahead doing these improvements and making sure that we have the right openness so that other people can bring improvements in as well--nobody has to have permission from Microsoft to write a Windows application."

Gates acknowledged that including such features "is part of what was attacked in the lawsuit. It was one of the big issues." But he pointed out that "there's a milestone coming up where you'll see an appeals court ruling on that." Microsoft has appealed the ruling that it is a monopoly and is awaiting a decision from an appeals court.

Although Gates acknowledged that PC sales growth has stalled, he said he is optimistic that the PC will continue to evolve and expand. "There's no doubt that the economic situation will affect capital spending and that we'll go through a cycle," he said. But "the PC business is an absolutely gigantic business, and with the new innovations that are coming, it's one that we see a bright long-term future for."

But will the proliferation of new devices such as hand-held computers cause the PC to go the way of the mainframe? Not according to Gates. "The PC will be at the center of all the new things that go on. The PC is your full-screen device that you'll use to do your homework or study a purchase or organize a trip."

The other devices, Gates said, will be used as accessories. "If something changes on the trip" or if the portfolio you set up on your PC changes, "you'd like to be notified on that device." In fact, Gates sees a vastly increased role for PCs.

"With things like wireless, high-resolution LCDs and the tablet PC form factor, you'll be using the PC for things that you wouldn't have imagined using it for before. Things like reading, note taking, facilitating a meeting--the PC is at the center of this digital lifestyle and is the ultimate creativity tool."

*

Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.

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