Microsoft. Tom Zito.
Creative Computing: Recently, everybody has been talking about integrated software. What is going on an Microsoft in that area?
Bill Gates: There are two ways to approach it: you either have mechanisms to let independent packages move data back and forth, or you just throw a whole bunch of packages together. We have made some good advances in terms of a general mechanism that lets two independently developed packages talk to each other, which we think is really important. That hasn't been done yet and that's what you'll see with Windows.
CC: Isn't Windows an answer in search of a question?
BG: No, you can say that about 16-bit too. Why do people want more memory or more horsepower? Well, we get the capability to design the whole new generation of software. But most things we do don't happen immediately. Take the TRS-80 Model 100: who was going to use it, how it was going to be used, that wasn't clear to us in advance. Even take Microsoft Word: you can say it is very useful at this stage, but many of its features are there looking forward to having laser printers and copiers. So, with Windows, we have confidence that the sub-system will allow a much higher type of software than what has existed in the past. We're betting on the future. The state of the art is moving so fast in software that you can take the same machine and, a year from now, do great things on the same piece of hardware just because the software in improving so rapidly.
CC: From a practical standpoint, what will a user do with Windows?
BG: Well, it is a sub-system. It is part of the operating system, and everything in the operating system should be hidden so that you just work with your applications. Consequently, there is really nothing you do with Windows. All your applications run under it, and your applications are better because they use its graphic facilities. You can see two applications on the screen, and Windows lets you move something between them quite easily. It is a key package to control the operation of the machine, but it doesn't do your payroll inventory; we rely on packages that sit inside those windows to do the real operations.
Say you are working in your application and all of a sudden somebody calls up your computer and sends you some mail, or you are on a network and you get some mail, or you are working alone in a package and you ask the printer to print something and it is out of paper. A window comes up, and gives you that information without your having to stop the current thing to run something else to see what is going on.
CC: What will be the next step beyond Windows?
BG: Well, in the case of Windows, we are moving to higher and higher resolution graphics and color. Beyond that we've talked a lot about how we will be using voice as a possible input device, but that is two to three years out.
CC: The general trend since the introduction of the IBM PC has been toward 16-bit or 32-bit machines, yet Microsoft has made a huge commitment recently to an 8-bit standard in the form of the new MSX operating system that is being licensed to low end computer companies. Why is that?
BG: MSX is in a special category. It is intended for the under $300 home system. We knew for that market that 16-bit was still going to be too expensive, and we were thinking that chip companies would build special chips to integrate all the MSX functions into one group if it got popular enough. And so it still seemed appropriate although, you know, I always like to push technology. But for that price range we still needed 8-bit. In fact, we do see 8-bit dying in the office market and it is only in this one super low cost home computer area that I think 8-bit still has a valid place for the next two or three years.
CC: Microsoft has done an incredible amount of work with Japanese technology firms which seems to annoy many American technology firms. How does that make you feel?
BG: Well, my customers aren't annoyed--IBM, HP, Radio Shack, Apple. We work very closely with those people, and they understand that the world is the world and that technology--our standard product--is going to be available for the French, the Germans, and the Japanese. The fact is, for something like a hand-held computer--with CMOS, and small packaging, and LCD, and stuff like that--we did find that the people who wanted to make that type of product were primarily located in Japan. Things like laser printers, which are also something the Japanese are working on, really fuel the market. The personal computer market has more to do with marketing and services than with the actual hardware. Beyond that, take the IBM; it has an Epson printer, lots of Japanese parts . . . So this whole question of, is it disloyal to do things on a market basis instead of on a nationalistic basis, I think is pretty much answered by using the best products and always trying to do better products.
CC: Microsoft in the last couple of years has begun to do some research into artificial intelligence. How much of a part do you think that has in the future of software?
BG: Well, it's a gradual process of getting the software to be more and more dynamic--to mold itself to its history of use and the user profile in terms of the way it interacts. It's something that we are looking at, and I am personally very excited about, but I doubt it will become really required in personal computer software for at least two or three years. In the direction of being able to recognize more--to do things at a higher level--the AI techniquest are what is going to get us, there, and eventually it will be a requirement.
CC: When you think about what personal computers might be five years from now, what do you see?
BG: Well, it is going to be pretty amazing, even if you take the idea of what sort of art you're going to look at in your home. You will have super-advanced displays that can call up any art in a very realistic form, and you can just say what you want to see and what sort of music you want, and what sort of experiences from your life you want pulled into this collage of experiences that are being created there. I see it as a giant information network, a form of intelligence that will really change the way we work. The personal computer is a product whose nature will change because what we are dealing with is information. As information gets to be more and more digital and as the cost of computation and storage goes way down and as the power of software goes up, we are going to weave this thing into the fabric of daily life. How you remember things, and how you work will be replicated in a complete network--extremely intelligent --so I'm not sure you will think about buying a personal computer at all in the same sense that we do today.
CC: In what sense will you think about buying it?
BG: Well, when you build you house, you wil get a home entertainment system that has so many gigabits of memory and has voice recognition either throughout the house or just in the living room, and it is either hooked into this business database or it's not, but it will be pretty much a standard thing.
The idea of picking up the phone to call someone, as opposed to speaking out and saying, "hey get me in touch with so and so,' and having something recognize what you want to do is pretty silly. There will be no reason to have that physical device there when you already have this intelligent thing that is always monitoring everything that you ask for and do. A little like HAL, but certainly more controllable.
Photo: Bill Gates, president of Microsoft.