RealTime IT News

Gates Touts 'Modeling' Era For Software

REDMOND, Wash. -- New software modeling systems are breaking out of academia and making their way into Microsoft's product pipeline, the company's chairman said Thursday.

"It's modeling that's going to greatly simplify application customization," said Bill Gates, who is also Microsoft's chief software architect. "It's modeling that's going to let navigation of business information be done in a richer way."

The company is using modeling to describe how two pieces of software relate to one another, and how software systems can share rules to set a framework for how they'll work together.

The modeling premise is one of the fundamentals behind Microsoft's .NET , the platform for building Web services , as well as some of the more innovative features in its next-generation Windows system, now named Longhorn, that are integrated into key products such as SQL Server.

Modeling is a key feature in many of Longhorn's innovations, such as declarative user interfaces that move the model itself in an application to becoming a set of blueprints, such as an XML text document that is shipped to the computer with instructions and then windowed on the fly while controls for the application are built.

Microsoft's XAML language, a key part of Longhorn, is also part of adding modeling to the software and application development approach. Specifications of the language have been submitted to standards groups.

"Modeling is something you will be hearing more about," Gates said during the company's annual financial analyst day here. He opened the presentations by highlighting innovations coming out of Microsoft's research divisions.

Chief among them, he said, includes modeling systems that help declare what a big process should do, and rules and constraints for that behavior. He said the company has bet big on this, and it also factors into the company's innovation with search functionality that extends beyond the text-based algorithms so prevalent today.

"The holy grail of total recognition [among software applications] at human levels is still many years ahead of us," he said, but little breakthroughs are bringing this along. To that end, Microsoft said it will spend about $6 billion on research during fiscal 2004. Gates said the company expects to receive 3,000 patents by the end of fiscal year 2005, up from roughly 2,500 in 2004.

The financial analyst day is a chance for each of the company's divisions and chiefs to highlight where their latest products stand, and what's cooking in the innovation department, such as new texting features in the Tablet PC that improve handwriting recognition, or new administration functions in Windows upcoming service pack that will enable administrators to shut off potentially malicious pop-ups. Demonstrations throughout the day include Windows, Office, Mobile Devices, Business Solutions, Servers, and Developer Tools, Games and Xbox, MSN Services and its Trustworthy Computing program.

As for current product lines, some analysts expect questions about Microsoft's least profitable areas, such as Microsoft Business Solutions Channel. "I'd like to see them explain the next steps in integrating the Great Plains/Navision partner channel with the normal Microsoft sales channel, something that created some problems in fiscal 2004," said Rob Helms, research director for Directions on Microsoft.

"It was originally supposed to happen this fiscal year, but I suspect they might back off from that goal. I'd also be looking for any plans to rationalize the existing product lines, which increasingly overlap in their markets but are still on separate code bases," he said.

In June, Microsoft streamlined its chain of command for Microsoft Business Solutions, naming division chief Doug Burgum to report directly to CEO Steve Ballmer and Orlando Ayala, who heads up the company's Small and Midmarket Solutions & Partner Group.

The management shift is seen as a sign that the business division isn't living up to Microsoft's sales expectations, said Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff.

"I'd also be looking for any plans to rationalize the existing product lines, which increasingly overlap in their markets but are still on separate code bases," Helms added.

While Ayala was in charge of all sales and marketing to SMBs, there was a separate sales organization under Burgum devoted to Microsoft Business Solutions -- which also focuses on SMBs, according to Rosoff. "There were different sales organizations working at cross purposes."