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Bill Gates Takes on Info Chaos

By Jay Greene Microsoft Chairman William H. Gates III likes to use the company's annual CEO Summit to lay out his vision for how technology will transform the workplace. Typically, his speech has focused on better ways to use information to meet customer needs and on debunking arguments that information technology's value is waning.

But when he addresses the ninth summit on May 19, Microsoft's (MSFT) founder will take a different tack. Gates will talk about how businesses can help workers wade through the information glut created, in large part, by all of the technical advances he highlighted in years past.

Indeed, Gates will unveil a whole new vision for Microsoft about the way people use information in their jobs, dubbed "The New World of Work."

OFFICE DEVELOPMENTS. It's not a pretty world, either. Workers are increasingly deluged with e-mail and instant messages. They can troll through scads of information on the Web and in corporate databases. But finding just what they need when they need it is tough. "The software challenges that lie ahead are less about getting access to the information people need, and more about making sense of the information they have," Gates writes in an e-mail that Microsoft will send to 190,000 executives on May 19.

So Gates will tell the 100 or so CEOs about breakthroughs on the horizon that will help workers sort through the chaos. And not surprisingly, many of the ones he will highlight will feature future Microsoft products.

In his presentation, Gates will give a glimpse of the next version of Microsoft's Office family of software, due in the second half of 2006. Among its new features: The ability to apply professional-quality formatting and layout to PowerPoint slides, an easy way to collaborate on documents with partners outside the corporate firewall, and analysis tools that expose trends buried in mountains of data.

BIG-NAME AUDIENCE. Office, which evolved from the suite of word-processing, spreadsheet, and e-mail programs into a whole family of products, will continue to grow in its newest iteration. When Office 2003 launched, it included 26 programs, servers and services. Microsoft vice-president Chris Capossela says the newest version will add some more, including business-intelligence software and expanded collaboration offerings.

The summit provides a good audience for demonstrating such new features, too. Among the expected attendees at this year's summit: Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A) Warren Buffett, General Electric's (GE) Jeffrey Immelt, Amazon (AMZN) chief Jeff Bezos, Verizon's (VZ) Ivan Seidenberg, and Olza Nicely from GEICO.

They'll participate in discussions led by the likes of Michael Treacy, the author of Double-Digit Growth, Michael Schrage, who wrote Serious Play, and John Hagel, the writer of The Only Sustainable Edge. And if they're lucky, they'll figure out how to cope with the deluge of information coming their way during the summit. Greene is Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek

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