GATES: Whenever a new word is added to a computer language or a new feature to an operating system there is a question of whether it would be better to start from scratch. We actually did start from scratch with Windows NT and I am sure we will do so again. In the meantime, we are evolving every version of our operating system. We have made the browser and HTML the primary display language, replacing the old style help and folder display. There are new operating systems that integrate the browser like BeOS but none have done as much as Windows has.
For every new advance there will be many new competitors, including people who compete with a whole new operating system and people who compete using middleware to run on top of the operating system. If we do our job well, giving people the new capabilities and compatibility, we can make a big contribution.
With Windows running on well over 200 million computers worldwide, we constantly think about the customer base and how we get them from here to there. A lot of the “layers of old software” you refer to do get eliminated-we’re constantly stripping out redundant code or replacing it with faster ways of doing what the old code did.
DERTOUZOS: The millions of users of all operating systems and browsers, worldwide, appreciate the need for system stability. Yet the incremental changes that have ensured it have also led to today’s difficult-to-use systems-and I mean the systems of all software developers, without exception. Novices and experts alike kneel (I sometimes even cry) as we try to fend off a tangle of intertwined lizards and thousands of moving parts within these systems and the many applications that use them-until we luck in on a fix. We’ll have to clean up this mess if we are to provide the true ease of use that will enable people to achieve the 300 percent productivity gains we envision in the 21st century. People will have to rise above battling low-level details, to access the knowledge they need, collaborate with others, customize their systems to their own human needs and automate their own repetitive tasks. I think the time has come to bridge local and distant computation and support these much-needed capabilities in a new breed of system; applications will then be freed up to use all this new power in medicine, education, business, recreation, commerce and so on. I can’t see us getting there incrementally.
GATES: The danger here is that we may simply dismiss the progress that the computer software and hardware industries have already made. Twenty years ago nobody used a computer unless they were a hobbyist or employed by a corporate IT department. Now, even a child can use a PC to carry out computing tasks that were actually beyond the capabilities of those 1970s IT departments. We’ve already seen huge gains in productivity as a result of the PC, and enormous strides in education, medicine, recreation and commerce. Four years ago you couldn’t buy a book online; now you can buy almost anything online. And the gulf between remote and local computers is already being bridged, both by the Web and by other networking technologies. Clearly, we’re only at the start of the Digital Age, and our future progress will undoubtedly dwarf our past achievements. But we shouldn’t underestimate how far we’ve already come.
We also shouldn’t underestimate how much work remains to be done. Simplicity is a key goal, but it’s a constantly moving target. Both hardware and software are constantly becoming ever more sophisticated, we want to add more and different types of devices to our computers, and we want all this to work perfectly and easily-and be simple to upgrade too. Plus we’re trying to drive computer usage toward less-technical consumers-deep into the mass market. And that’s a huge challenge for the industry, but one we undoubtedly have to meet if we are to drive future growth.
DERTOUZOS: The Agrarian Revolution with its plow, the Industrial Revolution with its steam engine and the Information Revolution with its computer have all improved our economic lives. Maybe the time has come for a new revolution, not about things, but about the most precious resource on this planet-ourselves? What role and purpose do you see for human beings in the Information Age?