12 Oct Gates displays software's future to UW-Madison students
Image courtesy of University Communications. Photo by Jeff Miller
Madison, Wis. – Wearing an olive-green sweater, experiencing a minor glitch with the microphone and mumbling quietly to himself as he worked with a computer, a casual observer would have mistaken Bill Gates for any normal professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Of course, to a crowd of 200 computer science and engineering students overpopulating a room in Weeks Hall on Wednesday night, Gates was anything but unrecognizable. As founder and chief software architect of Microsoft Corp. and the richest man in the world, Gates is an icon in the profession and someone whose ideas can shape the computer market for years at a time.
“His vision of widespread, ubiquitous personal computer use has lead to widespread change in communities, broken down boundaries and changed lives worldwide,” said Guri Sohi, chair of the computer sciences department at UW-Madison.
Glimpse of future products
Gates was at UW-Madison as part of a three-day college tour, talking about the developing trends in computer sciences and why it will remain an attractive field of employment for years to come. He also offered a glimpse of products Microsoft will be rolling out within the next few years, moving toward his vision of a unified computer platform for business and entertainment.
The time is now to develop computers further, Gates said, because of the attitude of “pervasive computing” that has become so widespread across the world. More and more information is available through computers in the form of lectures, writings and film, and the hardware speed is developing fast enough to make it more accessible.
“Around the world we can move to much larger numbers, and have access to every piece of information around the world,” Gates said. “The wealth of material for the motivated student is really quite mind-blowing, so we should have that available to every student.”
People want to access that information at once, Gates said. But they also want a unified format for storing it all. Microsoft’s hardware development has been following the concept of looking for a format that can process and store everything at once, developing new phones and tablet PCs that could do just that.
“Today they’re not your digital wallet – you still carry around cash and credit card – tomorrow that won’t be necessary,” Gates said.
Less paper and film, fewer CDs
He said that in the future, paper would be removed from the process of taking notes, film taken out of photography and CDs irrelevant to music storage. Video is a few years behind because of the high bit rate, but as speed improves, it will be incorporated to a higher level, as well.
Software development is key to this however, Gates said, and Microsoft understands that hardware won’t be enough, he added. As an example of the new formats developed, Gates demonstrated Microsoft Max, a new photo album system set for future release. It will provide users a visual format to group and rotate photos, altering their size and providing 3D images like they were physical photographs.
Of more interest to his college base was the Xbox 360, set for release in a few months. Gates showed off how the system is designed to hook up to media players such as iPods and serve as a stereo system, download and display photos from a digital camera and provide a strong online multiplayer format.
The twin goals of the 360, Gates said, was to provide a new framework for the development of video games that interact with other people and provide a single framework for entertainment, eliminating scenarios with multiple remotes and hardware.
“One of the places that’s changed a lot is the living room- you think of the TV, the desktop and the video game system as three different things,” Gates said, “We have this image where all the devices work together.”
Comprehensive supported frameworks like that will be the future of technology, Gates said. And as the systems get better, it will be easier to bring information into them. Ideas he threw out included cameras that can identify receipts and store them as business expenses, scanners that process business cards and notes written on the back of them and store them in a handheld PC, and programs that can process audio and written notes into one format.
“This is a field where we need new thinking, people who don’t have their minds clogged up by things we’ve done in the past,” Gates said. “All of you are exactly the right age to come in this golden age of computer science [and] it’s going to be fun to be a big part of that.”
Gabriel Johnson, a UW-Madison sophomore majoring in electrical engineering, said Gates’ presentation appealed well to the target demographic of the university. He said he was impressed by the ideas of a “digital wallet” and the functionality of the new Microsoft Max software.
In addition to giving a speech, Gates also dropped in to give a guest lecture to a UW-Madison computer sciences class sponsored by MTV’s college network MTVU. According to Brian Mattmiller of University Communications, he also met in a closed-door session with several high-ranking faculty in the schools of engineering and computer science to discuss developing technologies.
Gates’ tour includes presentations at Princeton University, Columbia University, Howard University and Waterloo University in Ontario. Earlier on Wednesday he began his tour at the University of Michigan, where he gave the Goff Smith lecture and received the award of the same name.