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Gates to CEOs: Here's to Another 10 Years

Ten years ago, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates told CEOs attending the keynote of his first CEO Summit that the exponential changes being brought about by technology would continue unabated.

He used his keynote speech on Wednesday to tell the more than 100 CEOs of major global corporations attending his 10th CEO Summit that nothing has changed about that prediction. "I don't see it slowing down," he said.

Then he proceeded to explain and demonstrate how a wide range of areas and products that Microsoft is working on interrelate in his evolving vision of where the next 10 years will take global business.

In one demo, Gates showed off technology designed to help automatically collect and publish information on employees' skills and knowledge. The aim, said Gates, is to make finding people based on their expertise more efficient by searching automated profiles.

"A new technology aimed at streamlining information access that should be available in the near future is an enhanced search tool called Knowledge Network for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 [which] will track expertise and relationships in an organization so information workers can quickly connect to people with the right skills and knowledge," Gates said.

The demonstrations and discussions included combining SharePoint Server 2007, Windows Live Search and Live Local (mapping service), the company's line of Dynamics products, SQL Server and Exchange. But they also touched on everything from Microsoft's software as services initiatives to advertising, to the use of wikis and blogs and the company's Channel 9 developers' Web site, to mobile devices, Xbox 360 and home entertainment systems. He made repeated references to the opportunities presented by online advertising.

Gates seemingly wove a seamless web, tying together many of the components of what he views as the future of work -- his so-called "digital workstyle" -- while pointing out that there needs to be a balance between the enterprises' and the employees' needs. "There's always been this tension between top down and bottom up," Gates said.

PCs, for instance, were a "bottom up" technology when they were introduced because while many businesses were skeptical of their value and cost, employees in many cases simply brought their own in from home. Mobile devices are another. Meanwhile, some top-down technologies like CRM systems have often turned out to be too inflexible and frustrated knowledge workers.

"There is a level of top-down [management and technology] that allows this to work…if it's too structured, it doesn't work for the creative people who work for us, but it's not too unstructured for the business," Gates added.

Another demo showed a "mashup" page containing information feeds from multiple sources displayed on a single screen. With coming technologies like Live Clipboard, end users will be able to create their own mashups using RSS feeds and other XML-based data available to them in the enterprise environment.

While Gates didn't specifically refer to Live Clipboard, he did refer to mashups and that is one of the company's planned major mashup technologies -- similar to Windows Clipboard but able to copy live data objects from Web sites and paste them onto the user's own mashup page without writing any code.

Gates also announced the company will come out with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server for Search 2007. It will provide a subset of SharePoint Server, designed to provide search for mid-market and departmental enterprise customers.

The product aims to deliver core search capabilities, crawling content in common data repositories including file shares, Web sites, SharePoint sites, Exchange Server and Lotus Notes, according to a company statement. It will be able to search not only the user's PC for documents and files, but also corporate intranets and the Web and display them all with the same user interface.

"It essentially binds together previously separate search solutions including Windows Desktop Search, Intranet search provided by Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Internet search via Windows Live Search, among others," the company's statement said.

The annual event, which started in 1997, is somewhat of a day-long advertisement for Microsoft products, given the attendees list which, by the way, is not made public. This year's conclave included CEOs of Motorola, Anheuser-Busch, Xerox and Siemens AG -- spotted by a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer who stopped by a hotel in downtown Seattle the night before, where the CEOs were attending a reception and dinner.

However, it's also a gathering directed towards providing a relevant update at a very high level on emerging technologies in general and how they are changing business and the global economy for what are the top managers of many of the biggest companies in the world.

Initially criticized as a ham-handed attempt to get CEOs' attention with the idea that, once sold on Microsoft technology, they would tell their CIOs and CTOs to buy the Redmond company's products. In its 10 years, Gates' CEO Summit has consistently attracted leaders of global corporations to these one-day affairs. Spotted in attendance last night, according to the paper, were Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO, Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and old Gates friend, and Nasdaq stock market CEO Robert Greifeld.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.