Gates: Web development must focus on user, not device

As the Internet experience expands, developers and designers must build applications that go beyond the PC to mobile devices and even TV, Bill Gates said during his address at the MIX06 conference today.

[LAS VEGAS] -- Today's Web applications are built for the PC, but tomorrow's need to accommodate users who want content on their mobile phones and TV sets as well, Bill Gates told Web developers and designers assembled at the inaugural MIX06 conference.

"We can't be device-centric. We have to be user-centric," said Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect. "What is the calendaring experience on these devices? What [are] the 'get your sports scores' experiences on these devices?"

Microsoft pitched MIX06 as a conversation among developers, designers and business analysts who depend on Web applications for their livelihood. As end users increasingly use the Web to share photos, watch videos and research products, applications must be built accordingly, Gates indicated.

"The breadth of experience that people have as they browse the Web is going to get larger and larger," Gates said.

Two guest presenters demonstrated this experience. Aber Whitcomb, chief technical officer of MySpace, the social networking site with 65 million users, showed how the site utilized the gadget feature of Windows Vista to create photo slideshows linked to users' MySpace profiles. "This provides a constant desktop link to stay connected to all your friends," Whitcomb said.

The BBC plans to roll out a similar gadget, which will let users browse for radio and television content, drag and drop episodes onto their desktops for viewing, and drag and drop content into a buddy list. "Audience expectations have grown," said Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of new media and technology. "The Internet is a hugely compelling platform for us."

A variety of development tools are necessary for what Gates called the next generation of browsing -- Ajax and Atlas, Windows Presentation Foundation and open APIs. For example, Atlas (released to Windows community developers for testing today), "raises the floor" of browsing by bringing Ajax and ASP.NET together. Meanwhile WPF "raises the ceiling" by using declarative models and bringing graphical elements together.

During a question-and-answer between Gates and Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media, O'Reilly noted that the software business model on which Microsoft made its billions was being challenged by the ad-based model of Google Inc. and Apple Inc.'s success with iTunes.

O'Reilly wondered if Microsoft would respond in the same way it faced the challenges in earlier times presented by Netscape's browser and Apple's OS.

"There've been a lot of fights where the other guy really knocked himself out," Gates responded, drawing applause from the audience.

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