Speech and security dominate in Gates' appearances

Bill Gates has been "on message" during his public appearances over the past couple of weeks, despite antitrust distractions from Europe, Japan and Minnesota.

This week, Redmond's chairman and chief software architect continued to hammer home the theme that speech and handwriting recognition software will be crucial technologies in the next generation of mobile devices, and that Microsoft will invest heavily to be in the middle of the action.

The forum for Gates' latest remarks about Microsoft's direction was the Gartner Symposium ITxpo in San Diego, where Gartner Inc. CEO Michael Fleisher tossed Gates softball questions that made CNN's Larry King look like a hard-nosed interviewer.

Gates' e-mail blast

Another key focus for Microsoft remains in the security arena. At the Gartner show, Gates admitted, "Yes, we could do a lot better." He talked about how his company is trying to clean up and streamline its code to reduce vulnerabilities. Later in the week, in an e-mail letter to customers that was attributed to him, Gates said that, no matter how diligent Microsoft is, it will never be able to guarantee security. "Given human nature, evolving threat models and the increasing interconnectedness of computers, the number of security exploits will never reach zero," he wrote. (Read the full text of the 3,200-word letter here.)

One nugget of news that came out of the Gartner show was a hint about Microsoft's time frame for releasing the Longhorn version of Windows. Gates said that recent industry buzz that Longhorn might make its debut in 2006 is "probably valid speculation." Since Microsoft is notoriously cagey when it comes to software release dates, that Gates comment is probably about as definitive as Redmond is going to get on the subject. In related news, The Wall Street Journal reported that a beta release of the client version of Longhorn will come out this year.

Engaging customers through code

In a sign that Microsoft is experimenting with new tactics to answer the open source challenge, an executive for the company said that "non-core" Windows code will soon be open-sourced through the Shared Source Initiative. Stephen Walli, a Microsoft business development manager, reckoned that the move would "deeply engage" customers.

One group of customers that Microsoft thinks is already engaged is the small and medium-sized business crowd. That assumption is based on sales of the company's newest server operating system for the SMB market. Microsoft said that sales of Windows Small Business Server 2003 are 170% higher than those for Small Business Server 2000.

Microsoft can also be pleased with its numbers in the annual OLAP Report, which is put out by a U.K.-based organization of the same name. Microsoft holds the top spot, with a 26% share of the software market for online analytical processing -- in which data is stored in a multidimensional database. However, the report said that competitors may be able to make up ground this year because of delays in the release of Yukon, the next version of Microsoft SQL Server. The two other top players in this space are Hyperion Solutions (22% market share) and Cognos (14%).

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Tighter code part of Microsoft security effort, Gates says

Longhorn beta will come out this year, report says

Microsoft preparing to release code to open source

Microsoft high on Small Business Server

Microsoft maintains OLAP market lead

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