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Unix Expo: Gates serves up NT as Unix flavor

The world of openness and choice according to Microsoft

By Rebecca Sykes

October  1996
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New York -- Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates pitched the Windows NT operating system as more similar to Unix than different, speaking at a keynote address at Unix Expo on October 9.

"Windows NT, you can see it throughout the design, in a weak sense" it is Unix, Gates said.

Commonalities between the two operating systems include hardware neutrality, native support for Windows applications, the same API on all platforms, and common GUI, API, and tools elements with volume clients, according to Gates, chairman and CEO of Redmond, WA-based Microsoft. Though Gates credited what he said were NT's special characteristics, such as its speed, with its adoption success, he also stressed the importance of the marketing message, at which Microsoft is generally acknowledged to excel.

"You've got to keep pushing and pushing until the product gets into the success loop," whereby developers are developing for it because people are using it, and vice versa, Gates said. NT has been in the success loop for about a year, he said.

Gates' keynote included an alpha demo of the integration of a CAD/CAM element, office applications and browser technology on what a Microsoft spokesman said was a PentiumPro-class machine running NT. The spokesman rotated and then drilled down into an engineering graphic, pasted that design into a word processing document, and searched the Web with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. These functions were performed on an NT machine, not a workstation, the spokesman noted.

The Microsoft demonstrator also attempted to run an early beta version of Internet Explorer for Solaris on a Tadpole laptop. And to the delight of the crowd, it crashed the first time around. Internet Explorer for Solaris is expected to be available at no cost by the end of the year, he said.

In addition to stressing the links between Microsoft and Unix, Gates pressed forward Microsoft's current marketing message of openness and choice, in no sense coincidently the precise points of contention for competitors who charge Microsoft with seeking to monopolize the desktop and other IT arenas.

Gates said that the high volume achieved by machines running Windows keeps their prices low, which is a measure of openness on Microsoft's yardstick. "Openness the way we define it means low prices for customers and choice," Gates said.

Openness also includes having a choice of processors which will power Windows NT, such as Silicon Graphics Inc.'s MIPS chip, though not, Gates rather pointedly said, Sun Microsystems Computer Corp.'s SPARC. Microsoft would have been happy to include SPARC in the lineup, but Sun wouldn't allow it, according to Gates.

"Windows NT is just too, too inexpensive to fit into the SPARC strategy," Gates said, returning the shot lobbed by Sun president Ed Zander during Zander's own keynote at Unix Expo the day before.

But Gates acknowledged that Windows' openness does fly in the face of one traditional sense of the word.

"Windows is not open in the sense that it is not free. We pay our people salaries and fund" over $2 billion worth of research and development, Gates said.

Part of that R&D money goes toward researching the next level of computing, which will be distinguished by new input methods, including voice and visual input, Gates said. At stake is nothing less than the whole way people interact with computers, he said.

"We'll look back and say, `Oh, this is the period when computers couldn't see,'" they couldn't hear or listen or learn, Gates said.

People will look back on computers in this period and say, "`What was it they did -- file management?'," Gates said.

Gates also used his time on stage in the packed auditorium to comment on the encryption battle which U.S. companies are currently fighting with the U.S. government. The "U.S. government is making it fairly difficult for companies like Microsoft who want to use strong cryptographic tequniques," Gates said.

Two weeks ago, the Clinton administration announced that U.S. companies would be allowed to export products encrypted with a 56-bit key, up from the 40-bit-based key currently permitted, but Gates characterized this improvement as "tiny." A 56-bit key "is not nearly good enough," he said.
--Rebecca Sykes, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau

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