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Gates Offers Vision for New World of Work

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates on Thursday offered his vision of the "New World of Work" for information workers during a keynote to 100 CEOs from the Global 1000 at the annual Microsoft CEO Summit.

Broad trends, according to Gates, in the next generation of the information worker experience will include unified communications, increased presence information, optimized supply chains, better team collaboration, quicker pinpointing of the "right" information, spotting trends for business intelligence and better access to structured data.

At the center of Microsoft's information worker strategy is the Office System of worker productivity suites and server applications, and Gates highlighted the growing importance of the server element.

Gates discussion was very light on details about the next version of Office, code-named "Office 12." However, Microsoft did lay out a formal delivery timetable. Office 12 will enter broad beta testing this fall and will be generally available in the second half of 2006, the company said. The general availability timeframe is similar to the release timeframe for the Windows "Longhorn" client operating system.

The few comments that Gates did make about Office 12 focused on integration with telephones and on Microsoft's continuing efforts to insert Office into the structured data of business processes and applications.

Gates noted that integration of Outlook e-mail and telephones for information workers has been a long-running goal that has been difficult to implement. He said technologies are converging to make management of phones, contact lists, scheduling and rights management much more seamless.

"The phone also will be far more powerful than it is today. The phone will be able to connect to different networks. These phones will directly connect to your Outlook e-mail. This is a feature that we're finishing this year," Gates said. "We're investing in phone software in a very deep way."

Meanwhile, another theme of Office 12 will be to make it a "viewer to business information," a slide in Gates' presentation noted. "[We're] making that the lens on information. They will have to learn far less interfaces, you'll have less things to deploy," Gates said. The theme builds on work Microsoft did in Office 2003 with the introduction of InfoPath, an XML client designed to be integrated into business processes. Current work on inserting Office into business processes includes the "Maestro" project, which is a scorecarding application, and a joint project with SAP AG to make Office a front-end for SAP's ubiquitous enterprise applications.

In the future, Gates said, "We want to be able to set up a simple workflow. Say I want to have four or five people review [a budget] and get back to me, and for that to be easily tracked." With a few clicks and without involving IT, Gates said, "Make a little diagram, and it's off and running."

"Today, it's largely done through electronic mail," he said. Gates said e-mail is showing its limitations. Too many e-mails in an Inbox, too much time acting as your own filing clerk with e-mail and too many attachments is leading to overload he said. He said that the volume of e-mail has increased 10 times since 1997 and e-communication is expected to grow another five times by 2008.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.