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West groupies were ecstatic when word spread that Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates was going to mention the company during his Nov. 12 keynote address at Las Vegas’ Comdex, the mother of all technology tradeshows. West corporate communications director John Shaughnessy and other honchos immediately scrambled for plane tickets. But Shaughnessy and the rest of us were stunned when Gates didn’t just mention West’s efforts — he devoted a segment of the 90-minute keynote to introduce Microsoft’s new alliance with West. Gates first set the stage by predicting that the next big thing will be a pendulum swing to “peer-to-peer” computing, and increasing use of XML language, which will enable more software-to-software transactions. (Think Napster on steroids.) This will allow server-to-server exchange of information, with the ability to control the information that is shared, he said. As an example, he demonstrated a hypothetical travel agency Web site that could pull airline and car rental information from other sites. Gates then handed the stage to Tom Bailey to show how the next version of Microsoft’s Office Suite will incorporate the new peer-to-peer technology. Bailey used Westlaw to demonstrate Microsoft’s new “Smart Tags,” which “enable third parties to now go out, and essentially … tailor Office to meet the specific needs of organizations or entire industries.” West, Bailey told the overflow audience at MGM’s huge Garden Arena, used prototype Smart Tags to allow users to access its services. “If I hover over a case citation in a legal document … I can go out to West’s Web site and find that particular citation,” he noted. The Smart Tag also allows users to identify references and to click on a word and get an instant definition from “Black’s Legal Dictionary.” Bailey’s demo was illustrated by gigantic videoscreens filled with Westlaw pages. West Group president Michael Wilens was thrilled. “Early on, we had to decide on being a Web pure-play, or bet on Microsoft’s Exchange infrastructure, Wilens told Law Technology News. “We decided to strategically partner with Microsoft.” The alliance, he says, offers numerous advantages, including access to third party tools. “Most importantly, it put us on a platform that will rapidly grow as Microsoft evolves its ‘.NET’ strategy.” CONTINUING THE THEME The next morning, Hewlett-Packard president and CEO Carleton “Carly” Fiorina continued the theme of peer-to-peer, and also forecast the increasing importance of XML. She focused on the increasing services for mobile workers. “The lesson here is that the real transformation comes from an understanding of the linkages, the relationships, the intersection,” she said. “And it’s by understanding the relationships between these that business masters the key drivers of competitive success — namely, first, how to transform a customer experience. “Second, how to transform value creation, and finally, in the process, transform entire industries,” Fiorina said.

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