Microsoft CEO Bill Gates kicked off TechEd this morning in Orlando, Florida with a keynote address that positions Windows and its Component Object Model (COM) as the cornerstone of distributed computing. Over 15,000 people listened as Gates described a future where a new breed of component-based applications works seemlessly with different kinds of data over corporate intranets and over the global Internet.

"We're taking leadership in distributed computing," Gates said. "By taking COM to a whole new level, we let you leverage the infrastructure like never before."

To demonstrate support of Microsoft's new commitment to "openness," Digital and Hewlett Packard today announced that they will include COM in their next operating system releases: that is, Digital UNIX, Digital OpenVMS, and HP/UX will all support COM natively by next year. Versions of COM for Sun Solaris and MVS will be commercially available this year as well.

"COM is much bigger than Windows...COM can run on the Macintosh and Unix," Gates said. "We're porting COM to non-Windows platforms to provide a common backbone to make it easier for systems to co-exist."

A future release of COM will add debugging, automatic garbage collection (thereby removing a major complaint from Java advocates), native code support, persistence, and improved run-time services.

"In '96 our theme was the Internet...in '97 the theme is manageability," Gates said.

Gates described Zero Administration for Windows (ZAW) and the Windows Terminal as well:

"It's the only truly thin client," Gates said. "We've got proposals for new paradigms--people who want to push what they call network computers-- and of course it's not a continuity step from any paradigm, it's an attempt to build a new interface and ask people to rewrite all of their applications,"

In addition to sketching out the future of Windows and COM, Gates discussed some current Windows trends. For instance, the number of Windows NT Server installations now surpasses the entire installed base of all UNIX flavors and NetWare 4.0 installations. As Gates mentioned, "This is the first Tech Ed I can safely say...that Windows NT is mainstream," Gates said.

Sales of Windows NT 4.0 have topped 900,000 since it shipped last July and will hit the one million mark later this month, Microsoft officials said