Bill Gates on the Future of Web Apps

I’m up at Microsoft HQ with a group dubbed “leaders in various aspects of the web community” for a day that closed with an hour-long conversation with Bill Gates. Gates opened with remarks about recent products, as well as the coming ascension of Ray Ozzie and the looming decisions to be made by the two of them regarding “how much ‘Liveness’ do we get into [upcoming] products.”

As for products, he hinted at partnerships with car companies to be announced at CES and mused at the vast difference in business models – small, private sales to the military versus advertising – that have been applied to the data Microsoft uses for Virtual Earth.

We each got to ask Gates one question. I asked which applications he forecast to live within the browser and which outside of it.

He replied that the distinction would come to be silly from a technical standpoint, but that the necessary movement toward web APIs does present challenges on the business side. “One of the things that’s actually held the industry back on this is, if you have an advertising business model, then you don’t want to expose your capabilities as a web service, because somebody would use that web service without plastering your ad up next to the thing.”

His solution wasn’t very specific: “It’s ideal if you get business models that don’t force someone to say ‘no, we won’t give you that service unless you display something right there on that home page.”

Then for the tease: “And, you know, [inside the browser and outside the browser are] moving towards each other, but there’s still a bit of a barrier there, and new technology, things we’re working on, really will change that.”

The conversation was meaty at times, but also quite relaxed. I don’t think anyone in the room didn’t have a blog, so I’m not going to recap every last word here.

Fun tidbits that emerged from other people’s questions: Gates has Wicked, among other musicals, on his Zune; as a kid, he never wanted to be an astronaut or a cowboy (rather, a lawyer, mathematician, and briefly economist); and he’s delaying buying the new season of 24 on DVD so that people will have something to give him for Christmas.

Update: Posts from other participants: Niall Kennedy on his question about Linux IP, Mike Arrington on his question about DRM, Steve Rubel with a summary of the Gates Q&A, Kelly Goto with a writeup of the day, Ryan Stewart with some remarks, Molly Holzschlag on her back-and-forth with Gates about Microsoft’s bad reputation on web standards, Chris Pirillo with his personal account.