Gates undaunted by Linux

Microsoft founder also talks up Web services, grid, security

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. --  Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, during an appearance here Friday at the Computer History Museum, expressed no fear of Linux usurping Windows in the software industry.

Speaking to technologists, Gates touched briefly on a number of topics ranging from Linux to Web services to grid computing and digital rights management. As far as Linux goes, Microsoft has seen other potential threats to its dominance come and go, Gates stressed.

“Microsoft has had clear competitors in the past. It’s a good thing we have museums to document that,” said Gates, eliciting laughter from the audience at the museum. “I’m not saying, ‘This computer will go away,’ but OS/2 was supposed to kill us.”

IBM, with 10 times the number of employees as Microsoft, could not stop Windows with OS/2, he noted.

“The same thing was said that Novell will kill us, Borland will kill us, and that makes my job interesting,” Gates said.

An audience member said that almost 50 percent of servers being purchased today are running Linux. But Gates disputed the figure. “It’s just not a right number,” Gates said. “Well over 50 percent of servers that are sold run Windows Server,” he said.

“First, start with the facts, then proceed from there,” Gates said, adding that Unix, not Windows, is being displaced by Linux.

“We do compete with Linux. The shift of Unix share to Linux has been dramatic,” he said. “[Linux will] wipe out a lot of the stuff that’s been out there down to very small numbers, [based] on current trends.”  Windows and Linux will dominate market share, he said. 

Unix, in faltering, has lacked the advantage that Windows has had in that it comes from one vendor and has one set of instructions, Gates said.

In the area of grid computing, Gates said not all situations are applicable for grid, in which data processing is shipped to a remote machine on the network. It may not be economical to ship data far away for processing, because of networking costs and latency, he said.

But grid is being done on Windows, Gates said. Microsoft is building into its Web services capabilities the notion of grid, he said. The company’s Beowulf project for clustering on Windows entails grid computing, he said.

Touching on the issue of spam, Gates said this problem is diminishing, thanks to filters. “Spam is down from a factor of 10 from where it was a year ago,” Gates said.

“The bad news is this malware [or malicious software] thing is so bad,” he said.

Microsoft will provide a malware cure to address issues such as adware, he said.

Identity theft and phishing need to be addressed through “info card” technology. Password technology, meanwhile, needs to be succeeded by smartcard or biometric technology, Gates said.

“That has to come,” he said.

Gates also spoke about the issue of digital rights management, suggesting that license fees will be used at the consumer level for accessing movies and music over the Internet. “We think there will be reasonable digital rights management,” Gates said.

In software licensing, markets that had been used to getting Windows for free, such as China, Korea, and Hong Kong, are now moving over to licensing. “Fifteen years ago [in these countries], you didn’t buy software. Today, their compliance level is almost as good as the U.S.,” Gates said.

“It comes with time. You need reasonable prices and enforcement,” Gates said.

In other remarks at the event, Gates said the following:

* Technologies that have been surprising in that they have not had wide adoption include speech recognition and ink-based computing, but these technologies will grow in use over time.

* A lot of USB deployments will move to wireless and wideband. 

* People are getting used to high loads of e-mail, but software needs to be used more in areas such as inbox rules.

* E-voting has an inherent issue in that the voting public demands a high degree of certainty with the technology. “We ourselves are not going after the e-voting market or the nuclear reactor control market,” Gates said.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.