Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates is making "trustworthy computing" the highest priority for the giant software company, warning that for the company's .Net strategy the goal "is more important than any other part of our work."

In a memo sent to the company's employees on Jan. 15 and circulated more widely since then, Gates says that "no trustworthy computing platform exists today" and adds that for .Net to achieve that goal, Redmond, Wash-based Microsoft will focus its product and services efforts on availability, security and privacy.

"There are many changes Microsoft needs to make as a company to ensure and keep our customers' trust at every level -- from the way we develop software, to our support efforts, to our operational and business practices," Gates says.

"As software has become ever more complex, interdependent and interconnected, our reputation as a company has in turn become more vulnerable. Flaws in a single Microsoft product, service or policy not only affect the quality of our platform and services overall, but also our customers' view of us as a company."

The memo is reminiscent of messages Gates sent in the mid-1990s that pushed Microsoft to shift directions to tackle Internet product development.

Analysts and other experts have recently criticized Microsoft for its failure to deal with security vulnerabilities in key products like Outlook and Microsoft Internet Information Server. Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief technology officer, has been working on plans for the trustworthy computing initiative for several months.

In the future, Gates says, when facing a choice between adding software features or security, Microsoft will choose security. "We must develop technologies and policies that help businesses better manage ever larger networks of PCs, servers and other intelligent devices, knowing that their critical businesses are safe from harm," he says.

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