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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Microsoft comes late to the internet party
Bill Gates
Bill Gates telling everyone about the dot.NET idea
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Microsoft's dot.Net strategy is a tacit admission that the company is not as important as it likes to think it is.

To hear Bill Gates talk on Friday, you would think that Microsoft was leading the computer industry to a bright future.

But the truth is that the industry is leaving Microsoft behind.

Other companies saw the importance of networks long before Microsoft's conversion.

For years, IBM has been touting a vision of pervasive computing which stresses the interconnection of any and every device and access to computing power no matter where you are.

Gates is late

The corporate slogan of Sun Microsystems has been "the network is the computer" almost since the company was founded almost 20 years ago.

Sun Microsystems has already developed a set of office applications that can be run across a network.

Many other smaller companies are planning to become Application Service Providers that let people rent software over a network.


Dot.net handheld
A prototype dot.NET handheld computer
The innovators in the computer world have been concentrating on making all flavours of software work on any device and across any type of network.

Companies such as Informix are working on ways of distributing formerly monolithic databases across different devices and ensuring the data is synchronised.

Makers of handheld computers such as Psion are collaborating with Informix so that workers and consumers can get at information no matter where it is or what they are using to browse it.

It doesn't end there.

The Bluetooth wireless technology that promises to get all your devices swapping data was developed with little help from Microsoft.

Work the web

In fact, Microsoft refused to join the Bluetooth consortium until late last year because it claimed the group did not have the backing of official standards organisations.

Earlier this month, the Artificial Intelligence lab at MIT announced Project Oxygen, which intends to make computers friendly and easy to use.

The Institute has signed up six industrial partners for the project, including Hewlett-Packard, Nokia and Philips.


dot.NET phone
Another prototype shown off by Microsoft
Even XML, which Microsoft will make the core of its dot.NET services, has been developed under the aegis of the World Wide Web consortium.

This technology is being used by companies setting up web-based marketplaces they will use to buy and sell from each other.

During the dot.Net announcement, Bill Gates recognised that its goal of weaving network connections into its software would not happen without the help of other companies.

Hardware partners such as Samsung and Compaq are earmarked to produce the phones and tablet computers that will tie into the network-based services that Microsoft software will become.

Typically, when striking out beyond the desktop operating systems where it dominates, Microsoft has stumbled.

The earliest versions of the Microsoft Network, WebTV and Windows CE software all performed badly. Only after two or three tries has Microsoft made them work well.

With dot.Net, Microsoft is taking a much longer view and will gradually improve the networking abilities of its family of products.

Users will not see significant changes to software for at least a year. It remains to be seen how long it takes Microsoft to make good on the promises it made this week.

The company is renowned for being late with new versions of software.

But perhaps the greatest significant of the dot.Net announcement marks is that it marks a growing realisation by Bill Gates that Microsoft needs the network more than the network needs Microsoft.

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See also:

22 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Windows embraces the web
17 Feb 00 | Business
Windows 2000: Special report
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