Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates kicked off a scaled-down Comdex technology convention in Las Vegas on Sunday with a demonstration of future products he said would improve customer security, cut down spam and allow easy searches of what computer users have viewed but not stored.
Giving his 20th consecutive keynote speech at the annual convention, Gates was typically upbeat in predicting that research at Microsoft and elsewhere in the industry would improve worker productivity and the quality of the consumer experience.
Microsoft has come under more fire than usual in recent months for security weaknesses in its flagship Windows operating system. Those holes have allowed Internet worms and viruses to disable millions of computers, causing billions of dollars in damage this year alone.
Microsoft has responded by pressing large customers to automate their systems for retrieving and installing software fixes as soon as Microsoft releases them.
On Sunday, Gates also touted and demonstrated the company's Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2004, which was designed to catch more types of hazards at the entrance to a business computer network. To be released next summer, the software starts at about $1,500 and gives systems administrators more tools for stopping invasive programs.
"You take any of the viruses and worms that have been center stage in the past six months, and this should handle it," said Dave Berkowitz, a Microsoft product manager.
Gates also said improved spam filtering tools would be sold early next year to work with Microsoft Exchange, the software for server computers routing e-mail. Called SmartScreen, the program killed 80% of spam in tests and adapts to customer feedback on what is unwanted e-mail, Group Product Manager Kevin Doer said.
Gates also gave the first preview of a search mechanism being developed by Microsoft and dubbed What I've Seen. That function looks for designated terms not only in what a user has stored as a file on a personal computer but also what that person has read in e-mail or viewed while browsing the Web.
About 50,000 people are expected to attend a more narrowly focused Comdex this week, well down from 125,000 last year, before Comdex's owner went through bankruptcy reorganization.
A rival chief executive under considerably more pressure than Gates is scheduled to give a second keynote address today. Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Scott McNealy, whose firm has reported declining sales for two years, is expected to echo Gates' remarks about the increasing speed of the Net and the increasing number of devices communicating over it.
McNealy also will give concrete examples of how his company, long known for making server and workstation computers, is shifting away from such hardware and toward software.
He is expected to announce a deal with Japanese partner Fujitsu Ltd. that would ease the costs of both companies in making server hardware based on competing chips.
McNealy also will trumpet a deal with the Chinese government to supply at least 500,000 copies of Sun's new Linux-based desktop software, the Java Desktop System, to government employees, Sun spokesman Michael Hakkert said.
The Java system is a Windows alternative costing $100 per person, or less if the customer buys server software at the same time.