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Gates: Integration Equals Innovation

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates used the opening keynote address at Spring Comdex in Chicago today to bolster the public relations case for allowing the company to integrate whatever functionality it deems appropriate into Windows 98 and future versions, equating such integration with innovation.

He took credit for the growth of the software industry, arguing that the standard platform represented by Windows, and its use on 150 million computers, is a key factor in the ability of other companies to develop packaged software at a reasonable cost. However, his remarks also highlighted the product's stranglehold on the computer industry.

Gates claimed that Windows is the central strategic direction for all but two major computer companies. The two exceptions on his list were IBM Corp., which in addition to Windows development also continues to sell OS/2 and work with Apple Computer on some initiatives, and Sun Microsystems, which pursues what Gates called a "purely anti-Windows strategy." Gates did not include Apple in his list of "major companies."

"If you looked at the same list two and a half years ago, when Windows 95 was released, less than half of those companies would have had Windows at the center of their strategy," Gates said.

Microsoft lawyers are scheduled to appear tomorrow before a panel of three federal judges to appeal a lower-court appointment of Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig to determine whether the company engages in anti-competitive practices, as well as an injunction prohibiting Microsoft from requiring Internet Explorer to be installed with Windows 95.

In a deft bit of revisionism, Gates implied that Microsoft Internet Explorer has been a part of Windows 95 since its introduction in August 1995, though in fact Explorer was first released as a stand-alone product and was not systematically integrated into Windows until 1996, after Microsoft had failed with its own proprietary online service, Microsoft Network.

A preview of Windows 98--accomplished with only two glitches--made it clear that more capabilities previously handled by standalone software will now be integrated into the operating system, and that Microsoft application software will have a bigger edge than ever over other companies' applications.

For example, a feature called Windows Update will allow a user to automatically get the most recent versions and device drivers not only for the operating system but also for other software that's bundled with the operating system, such as the e-mail package Microsoft Outlook Express.

The company also seeks to simplify the user interface by eliminating the desktop metaphor for local files and making all interactions with the computer occur through the Web browser.

Gates predicted that Windows 98 will take over from Windows 95 very quickly, because it is a "straightforward refinement" that doesn't require additional computing power or memory.

Spring Comdex, which runs until Thursday, has attracted 85,000 from 80 countries, with 625 exhibitors. A spokesman for Ziff-Davis, the conference organizer, said 70 percent of the advance registration had come through the Comdex Web site.