In-Depth

Gates Gives Glimpse of the 'Next Web'

Microsoft's Bill Gates discusses the "next Web" for developers and designers at the MIX06 Web Conference.

"The discussion is about creating better user experiences on next generation Web sites," proclaimed Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, in the opening keynote at the intimate MIX06 Web Conference in Las Vegas. During his address, he emphasized two areas of that discussion: improving the in-browser experience and experiences beyond the browser.

To highlight the browser-based Web experience, Gates introduced the Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 preview for Windows XP (IE7), available in a new preview version. The new IE7, he said, integrates interface improvements, security developments, and platform capabilities. In later demonstrations, Microsoft representatives emphasized progress in each area, including—and most noticeably—improvements and extensions to Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) support, and RSS integration in the browser and the Windows platform.

Gates discussed the evolving user experience in the browser based on Ajax-style development. Microsoft's tool for Ajax-style development, ASP.NET Atlas, is also now available in a new preview version.

In a discussion before the event, Keith Smith, Microsoft senior product manager, Web Platform and Tools, discussed the new ASP.NET Community Technical Preview (CTP). This new CTP, he explained, includes a "Go Live" license so you can take Atlas code from development into production. Smith cautioned against using Atlas for huge, mission-critical enterprise applications, but he said it's perfect for "mash-up" applications that aren't threatened by the "technical preview" nature of the code.

Smith also clarified that this new Atlas CTP is a mainstream play: It's time for everyone to give it a try. The Atlas framework and wrappers make it easier to Ajax-enable any of your applications, or even build one from scratch. While learning to build Ajax apps productively and correctly has traditionally been difficult, Atlas—as you'd expect Microsoft to claim—simplifies this task with its straightforward object model and framework.

Using Atlas to develop Ajax code, Smith explained, is like, "taking the escalator versus using the stairs." For ASP.NET developers, Atlas lets you begin quickly by first allowing you to wrap your existing code between two server tags. Atlas is not just for ASP.NET developers, he continued. For non-ASP.NET developers, Atlas provides, "a quick and seamless way to create Ajax [code] by extending JavaScript in a standard way." The Atlas server libraries also provide productivity advantages regardless of your tool and browser. Microsoft's Scott Guthrie, a longtime VSLive! presenter, gave a more in-depth look at this new Atlas technology in his presentation, most of which is available as a Webcast at the ASP.NET Atlas site.

Gates also highlighted technologies complementary to the browser. He focused on hardware beyond the PC—from mobile devices to large-screen TVs that run Windows XP Media Center Edition. He discussed how a new generation of applications "assumes the internet": the "live" generation of applications. "It's about a platform," he explained. "[Microsoft's efforts are] about making things simpler, and simpler, for you. You can focus on making a great UI instead of lots of complex code.""

Microsoft, he said, is focusing on building tools that make it easy for you to build rich, next-generation applications that consume services provided by the Internet, RSS-based or otherwise. The new Expression tools, he said, show, "a commitment to the audience who wants to [create this] kind of rich project."

He then featured two partners that built businesses on Microsoft technologies, MySpace.com and the British Broadcasing Corporation (BBC). Both demonstrated their current abilities using today's technologies—and then demonstrated new capabilities based on tomorrow's technologies, including IE7 and Windows Vista.

A question-and-answer session with publisher Tim O'Reilly ended the keynote. One exciting part of this conclusion was Gates' response to O'Reilly's question about former Microsoft competitors. He quipped, "'There [are] a lot of these so-called fights where the other guy knocked himself out."

Gates' keynote, while more subdued than many, still offered some tantalizing glimpses into Microsoft's new Web technologies.

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