Security and interaction dominate Gates' address

Security and interaction dominate Gates' address

By Stuart Finlayson

Improving IT security and enabling greater interaction between different devices are two of the key focus points for Microsoft's $6 billion annual R&D budget, according to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Speaking to a carefully chosen cross-section of the Australian media ahead of the launch of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential charitable initiative in Australia, Gates acknowledged that using a PC is still often a frustrating experience.

"There's a lot of tough problems we need to solve. If you watch somebody use a PC over a period of several hours, there will be several times during that period when the user is surprised or frustrated by some thing that has not worked properly or has crashed. We have to reduce that dramatically."

Another area of security, and one in which he predicted the introduction of stricter controls, was that of password security.

"Another weak link that has emerged is the way that people use passwords. They are often easy to guess, with people often using the same passwords on a very insecure system that they use on a secure system. Smartcards and biometrics will become a necessary step.

Gates said that while hardware does play a part in security, it is software that will in the main deliver enhancements in security, adding that it was important that users kept abreast of and acted upon security updates.

On the growing problem of spam, Gates said a "number of techniques were being put in place that will eliminate spam as a major problem. Filtering technology is available that is currently getting rid of around 90 percent of spam, but that still leaves a lot of spam, and spammers have increased their volume to try to get around that, so we have created a new technique that guarantees the identity of the sender. There are some very clever ideas around, such as having the computer of the sender do a little more work to verify that it is a legitimate piece of email."

Part of the drive towards enabling easier interaction and use of devices would centre around improvements in speech recognition software, which Gates admitted had not been good enough in the past but would soon be effective enough to not only help the average user enhance their computing experience, but also help blind people to have access to all sorts of information on the Internet that would previously have been closed to them.

As for the growing competition Microsoft faced from open source software, with governments and private sector organisations worldwide investigating and implementing open source, Gates said that Microsoft's proposition was essentially a value proposition.

"When you buy the software from us, the power, reliability and [overall] price represents a dramatically better choice than anything you can get in that open source realm."

Gates tried to illustrate what good value Microsoft's software is by comparing the software component to other facets of the total IT infrastructure.

"If you take the most extreme case in an IT department, the cost of the Microsoft licenses is a tiny part of the IT budget. Hardware costs more than software; communications costs more than hardware; personnel cost are way more than communications, so what you have to do with software is say that the savings and productivity you get by buying the software that's got the most commercial R&D in it, what it saves you and what it improves in all those other elements makes it incredible value."

Rather than open source, Gates said it was pirated Windows software that was the main threat to Microsoft, with "way more pirated copies of Windows in circulation that any open source alternative."

He continued: "But I can deal with that, as most people are honest, and we've done ok."

Related Article:

Microsoft defends security record

Related Article:

Gates, Howard launch Microsoft charity