Microsoft's chief researcher discusses the
future of computing, but where's the beef?
LAS VEGAS-The evolution of
parallel programming in software will lead to new modes of computing over the
next several years, according to Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer
Mundie discussed the future of computing and what his research team at
Microsoft is doing to contribute to it during a keynote interview at Gartner's
Symposium/ITxpo here April 9.
The interview was moderated by Gartner server analyst Carl Claunch, who
failed to pose challenging questions to Mundie, such as what the software
vendor is working on to combat Google's, IBM's
or Yahoo's advances in cloud computing.
On his chosen topic, Mundie cited as an example the case of five college
programmers in Bangkok, Thailand,
who won Microsoft's last global Imagine Cup challenge. To demonstrate how they
could use computers to improve education, the students built a book translation
and reading system so students in Thailand could read books that were otherwise
inaccessible to them.
Mundie said the prototype system invoked a whole level of abstraction from
Microsoft's collection of Web services that Microsoft doesn't even touch at
"Software has always been about increasing the level of
abstraction," Mundie said. "I think that we're about to see another
escalation in this level of abstraction and the emergence of a global
[community] of programmers that think at this higher level."
Moreover, he said, desktops, handheld computing gadgets and smart phones are
getting to the point where they can be leveraged as part of a large-scale
system. These devices will be part of a model-driven architecture that employs
different computing modalities.
Now Plugging: Surface and Photosynth
For example, Mundie discussed Surface,
a Microsoft product that puts
Windows Vista inside a literal desktop surface to let users manipulate digital
content with natural motions, such as hand gestures.
This sort of real-world-meets-virtual-reality approach will become more
common, with Surface becoming part of a smart phone, such as an Apple iPhone,
he said; the hybridization of touch and speech with the new graphical ways of
presenting information will move the space forward.
Mundie also plugged
a piece of software in Microsoft Live Labs that takes a large
collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities in
spatial relationship, and displays them in a three-dimensional model.
Users can then take the images and extract picture elements from them and
paste them onto the 3-D model, rendering a 3-D model that is painted like the
real world with actual photos, but is designed to be dropped into a virtual
world users can manipulate.
These products are no doubt interesting, but failed to stimulate the kind of
interest that could have been found in a conversation about what Microsoft's
research unit is doing to address competitive advances by Google, Amazon.com
For example, Claunch did not ask a question about Microsoft's Dryad,
an experimental platform that lets programmers use a computer cluster or a data
center for running parallel programs. Dryad will let developers run thousands
of multicore machines without knowing anything about concurrent programming.
Microsoft is clearly confident that Dryad, despite its
nascent status, is superior to Google's MapReduce.
In its note on Dryad, the company's engineers wrote, "It completely
subsumes other computation frameworks, such as Google's [MapReduce] or the