At FOSE, Ballmer pledges more accessible apps

At FOSE, Ballmer pledges more accessible apps

Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer says digital divide is an issue.

Microsoft executive says by end of the year more than half of U.S. households will own computers

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

Microsoft Corp. president and chief executive officer Steve Ballmer pledged last week that his company will make its software more accessible for disabled computer users.

In his keynote speech at the FOSE trade show in Washington, Ballmer also cited several federal and state applications that use Microsoft products to bring government functions to the Web or to distribute data in novel ways.

He made only one allusion to the federal antitrust ruling against Microsoft, joking, 'I suspect there's far more opportunity for you to read about Microsoft than I wish there was recently.'

The federal government is Microsoft's largest single customer, and several individual agencies also rank among its major customers, Ballmer said. Reinventing government is not that much different from reinventing business, he added.

By the end of the year, more than half of U.S. households will own computers, and more than 25 percent will have Internet connections, Ballmer said. He predicted that five years from now, every agency would make its forms and services available online.

The digital divide is an issue, Ballmer acknowledged, adding that Microsoft has made efforts to donate computers to public libraries to provide Internet access to people who can't afford PCs.

The effort is there

Ballmer cited examples of government efforts to make services available online. He said the National Marine Fisheries Service has put its commercial fishing permit process online, and Pennsylvania has created an integrated portal called PA PowerPort for community information and state services.

Although he said he suspected there would not be a 'U.S. PowerPort' portal anytime soon, Ballmer called on the FOSE audience to find new ways of delivering government services electronically.

He praised several government sites that have turned networked PCs into so-called digital dashboards. He cited the Naval Air Warfare Center's F-14 program office for its integrated suite of management tools, as well as a Defense Intelligence Agency project called Merlin.

Merlin collects intelligence from multiple sources and consolidates it on a single screen for soldiers in the field. 'It's the digital dashboard for the warfighter,' he said.

He called the Extensible Markup Language the 'universal medium by which users and Web sites will communicate' to simplify data exchanges among agencies and with the public.

As examples of governmental XML use, Ballmer mentioned a digital information collection project at the Housing and Urban Development Department and an automated workflow project at the Government Printing Office.

Ballmer shared the podium with Augie Turano, a Microsoft federal systems researcher who displayed a prototype of a Veterans Health Administration application called Health eVet.

The Web application, now in testing, combines Windows 2000 features with XML and public-key infrastructure security.

Using Health eVet, veterans would be able to update their own medical records electronically.

They could look up information about their medications and store results of medical tests, for example.

Ballmer also called on Gregg C. Vanderheiden, a professor of industrial engineering at the University of Wisconsin, to demonstrate an electronic voting booth prototype called EZ Access.

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