Looking Back, Looking Forward

REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 8, 2001 — In 2021, everyone will be immortal — sort of. Imagine a world where every piece of information — every photograph, song, magazine article — that people view or experience during their lives will be digitally stored, catalogued and easily accessible via the home computer. Traditional carpooling and want-ads will be things of the past, thanks to wireless computer networks that link people — even strangers — instantly when they need a ride home from work or want to sell their old rowing machine.

The PCs of tomorrow will be able to monitor and “heal” themselves by automatically downloading the latest software updates and security controls without the computer’s owner even knowing it happened. All the various devices and microprocessors in the home — some installed in the refrigerator or home-security system will communicate with one another, with the PC at the hub of all the activity.

That’s what some of the top minds at Microsoft say. Sound like science fiction? Flash back 20 years and consider whether double-digit-gigabyte hard drives, graphically based-desktop PC tools and the current multitude of Internet- and wireless-enabled communications devices would be a reality a scant two decades after the launch of the first IBM PC.

With the 20 th anniversary of the Aug. 12, 1981, launch of the IBM 5150 Personal Computer approaching, many within the computer industry are pausing to reflect on how far personal computing has come — and how far it is likely to go in the next 20 years. Among those looking back and looking forward are Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates and Andy Grove, co-founder and chairman of Intel, who today attend a
“PC 20/20”
event at the San Jose (Calif.) Technology Museum.

For Gates and others at Microsoft, recapping the milestones of the PC revolution is like flipping through their personal scrapbooks, so closely were they involved in the development of the technology, either at Microsoft or other companies. Predicting the future will not be as easy. But Microsoft’s trailblazers are confident of a few things: a wellspring of new Internet- and wireless-enabled conveniences for a multitude of personal computing devices, and the importance of Microsoft technology, — such as Windows XP, the Tablet PC and the company’s .NET strategy — in shaping the future. They also predict a strong future with new expanded possibilities for the PC — an opinion supported by a majority of Americans, according to a new survey commissioned by Microsoft.

“The strides the computer industry have taken in the past 20 years have been phenomenal. But we’ve truly only scratched the surface,”
says Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows XP.

Together, the industry can continue to stretch the boundaries of what seems possible on the PC. There’s no reason to believe that we won’t be similarly awed by the industry’s accomplishments in the coming 20 years.”

Microsoft Windows TimelineClick on the screen shot to download a large resolution photo (300 dpi)

‘Project Chess’ Launches PC Revolution

Although the computer industry is celebrating the launch of the IBM 5150, the story begins a year earlier, in 1980, when IBM launched
“Project Chess,”
the code name for its PC-development project. Unlike other early PC makers, IBM developed its first PC with an open architecture and included the MS-DOS operating system from Microsoft. It also featured the 8088 microprocessor from chip-manufacturer Intel.

Those decisions created a blueprint for IBM and other PC makers to follow, sparking the PC revolution that has changed how most people communicate, shop and work. Today, there are more than 500 million PCs in the world, roughly equivalent to the number of automobiles on the world’s roads. The integration of the PC in the workplace has been a catalyst for many of the worker-productivity gains of recent decades. Some 80 percent of companies that track productivity reported that their output is now at an all-time high, according to an InformationWeek survey earlier this year.

Most importantly for many consumers, the PC industry has delivered these conveniences at an ever-shrinking price. That first IBM PC in 1981 had a 4.77-megahertz processor, 64 kilobytes of RAM, a single floppy-disk drive and a black-and-white monitor. It sold for US$2,600. A fully loaded version with color graphics sold for twice as much. Today, a consumer can purchase a PC with an 800-MHz processor, 128 MB of memory and a 20-gigabyte hard drive for under $800.

Foundation for a Powerful Digital Future

In coming years, Microsoft envisions an explosion of XML- enabled Web services for PC users that include online access and use of everything from software to new types of music and other entertainment experiences. Enhanced broadband technology and high-speed Internet access will help make these services accessible anytime, any place and on any device. Microsoft calls this vision .NET.

Marc Smith, a sociologist with Microsoft Research, envisions a .NET future in which new digital communications enable people to coordinate travel and work schedules much more easily with coworkers and family members, as well as connect with people with the same interests faster and more conveniently than ever. In addition, Smith expects people will access information about products and services by scanning their personal devices over barcodes.

In addition, Microsoft designed Windows XP to offer new experiences to users by allowing them to embrace the digital world and communicate with friends and family in new ways. Scheduled for release Oct. 25, the new version of the operating system includes Windows Messenger, which brings together nine different voice, video, live-chat and text-communication tools.

Sullivan predicts Windows Messenger will make voice and video communications via the PC something that any consumer can do.
“The personal computer is an amazing communications tool when it is networked with other computers,”
Sullivan said.
“Windows Messenger unlocks that capacity.”

Office XP, the newest version of Office, has already delivered on Microsoft’s .NET vision with new features such as Smart Tags, which automatically provide relevant information from within a user’s computer or from over the Internet, and SharePoint Team Services, which provide a pre-configured Web site that allows users to easily manage group activities and work together more effectively.

Tablet PC, eHome Provide Exciting Visions of the Future

In addition to Windows XP and Office XP, Microsoft is striving to shape the future of computing with other new products and efforts, including the Tablet PC and its eHome division. The latter is an attempt by Microsoft to enable whole-home networking scenarios which appeal to consumers’ desire for a simple, unified way to access and control various entertainment, communications and data resources. The prototype “Microsoft Home” home conveys this vision best; it includes more than 25 technologies that allow the occupant of a home to access and control entertainment and securities systems, thermostat, lights, stereo and other home appliances from almost anywhere using desktop computers, Pocket PCs or voice recognition.

The Tablet PC device, which should be available in 2002, will allow users to access e-mail, calendar, project files or even complete databases while away from their desktop PCs. Roughly the size of a paper notebook, the Tablet PC will allow users to take handwritten notes on the screen and move, highlight, save, sort and search these notes — thanks to new
“digital ink”
technology. With Tablet PC, users will have the power of a computer with the simplicity of paper.

Future of PC: Solid

Worldwide sales and user surveys and projections point to a strong future for the PC. Despite the current economic slowdown, the analyst company IDC predicts computer manufacturers will sell 140 million PCs this year. That’s more than the number of televisions that will be sold worldwide this year.

The PC is more popular than ever with users. Surveys find that people are spending 33 percent more time on their PCs than they did three years ago, and children now spend more time on their PC than they do reading books, playing games or even watching movies.

A Gallup survey, commissioned by Microsoft and conducted in late July-early August, found that in the home only the telephone is rated higher in importance than the PC. Users spend an average of 11 hours a week on their PCs, and they expect to spend even more time on their PC in the coming years. Users of PCs in the home strongly agreed the PC helps them stay in touch with friends and family, discover new information and makes life more fun.

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