Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Parallel World

Today, Reuter's had an interesting article on Craig Mundie's vision of a parallel world. Craig Mundie is Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy Officer and has inherited the mantle of Microsoft visionary from Bill Gates himself.

The article caught my eye for multiple reasons. I had the good fortune to work for Craig Mundie's company, Alliant Computer Systems (mentioned in the article) quite a few years back, doing what he suggests only a handful of people know how to do, mapping serial applications to parallel computers. It was an interesting experience. These were massive applications running into tens or hundreds of thousand lines of code which had to scale on multiprocessor systems to deliver performance and compete against supercomputers like Cray. The performance delivered could make or break the sale of multimillion dollar systems.

Yes, Craig is a visionary and always has been. To be picked as Bill Gates' successor in this role is acknowledgement enough. But, as he himself points out, having a vision is one thing, predicting when it will happen is another :-) I am sure those of us in the '80s and '90s who thought parallel computing was ready to take off can attest to that.

The current shift to parallel computing is born out of necessity, with single processors reaching capacity limits in terms of heat, power consumption and semiconductor process technology. Craig predicts the arrival of a new "killer app" to take advantage of the coming powerful parallel computing platforms and even a new programming language. He defines his challenge as taking Microsoft past its traditional strengths into new technology areas. This will be interesting to watch, because he has been an advocate of Microsoft's early participation in web based television and other leading edge areas, much before they were fashionable or profitable. It will be like Microsoft taking on some Silicon Valley attributes :-)

This would explain the rate of Microsoft's Silicon Valley acquisitions over the last decade. Dean Takahashi has an interesting take on Microsoft's recent bid for another Valley icon. Speaking of Dean, he has succumbed to the Valley's entrepreneurial lure and has ceased to write for the Mercury News. I am sorry to see him leave because he is one of the best technology columnists I have read and he captures the beat of the Valley so well. But, as always, endings mean new beginnings. I wish him well in his new venture.


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