Microsoft prez outlines future computer to Air Force

MONTGOMERY, Ala.—The president of Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday told a packed house of Air Force and industry representatives that the single biggest challenge facing the Defense Department and the information technology industry is finding more efficient ways to manage and communicate corporate knowledge.

Speaking at the 13th annual Air Force Information Technology Conference here, Steve Ballmer, the principal deputy to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, outlined his company's vision for providing the IT tools needed by today's cadre of "knowledge workers."

Knowledge management involves getting the right information to the right people when they need it and in a format they can use—a central theme of the Air Force's new expeditionary force concept. Microsoft's vision is to "empower people through great software any time, any place and on any device," Ballmer said.

Microsoft's "Digital Dashboard" is the centerpiece of the company's strategy to tackle the knowledge management challenge, according to Ballmer. The Digital Dashboard, which will be unveiled with the release of Office 2000, will enable users to filter and segregate information flowing onto their desktops so that they can weed through low-priority data to get to critical, time-sensitive information. "The key is easy customization [and] role-based views of the world," Ballmer said.

Ballmer also said that Microsoft is championing the cause of pushing hardware vendors to begin integrating features that will be key to the knowledge workers of the future. The computer of the future will "see, listen and learn," Ballmer said, which will require hardware manufacturers to begin integrating microphones and other multimedia devices.

Although Ballmer said high-quality speech recognition is about four years away from becoming mainstream, digital recording will become a fundamental part of the computer, he said.

"The computer will learn to see," Ballmer said, adding that Microsoft developers already have produced a futuristic system that is capable of recognizing him and greeting him when he walks in the door. "And it probably will happen in some specialized military application before anywhere else in the world," he said.

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