China is a Sudden

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2006-01-12 Print this article Print

Hot Spot for IT"> But its so important from a business point of view. Whoever controls search today drives a lot of Web traffic. So its really very dynamic. Three years ago, no one, even Google, had figured out this business model. And now all of a sudden everybody is rushing into this space. And Microsoft realizes we cannot lose the battle. We have to fight back, at least to get one-third of the pie. So its a very exciting area nowadays. Why is China now a hot spot for computer science and IT research? HP just opened a lab, IBMs had a lab here for 10 years, and you guys are here. Is there a certain expertise coming out of the universities?
Well, certainly the easiest explanation is the law of large numbers. My joke is we have 1.3 billion people so some of us better be smart. Thats one argument.
Another easy reason is the Chinese economy is doing pretty well, and all these multinational companies are rushing into China and figuring they better have a presence before its too late. But you seem to be asking more about why do Chinese people actually have whatever talent or requirements necessary to do first-class research? Right. I would actually say yes. Part of the reason has a lot to do with the culture and the history. Remember what Confucius said. Confucius said: Nothing is more important than study. And in fact, Confucius said everything is a very low status except being a scholar. Being a scholar is so important. Thats why Chinese parents pressure their kids to get every degree, like a poster. Click here to read about Chinas relationship with Linux. So the Chinese culture really encourages people to study and get a college degree and graduate school degree. And I give a lot of credit to the Chinese government, especially the ministry of education. China is still a very poor country, however, a lot of money is spent on education, with nine years of free education and they have extended the quota system so more and more kids can get into universities. Another thing the government has done is for some high-tech areas like computer science and software, the government is willing to make extra bets. So for instance, four years ago the government decided to start 35 software colleges in top Chinese universities. Thats when the Chinese government and Microsoft talked and Microsoft started a program with the Ministry of Education to put together something we call the Great Wall Plan. And this is to help to raise the level of research, with training of faculty and helping with students research. But even more importantly, its to actually help China and these 35 software colleges to jumpstart the Chinese software industry based on what we have learned as a software company. That has gone very, very well. This year we completed the first phase. We recently signed the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] for the second phase with the Ministry of Education a month ago when my boss Rick Rashid was here. And then there are some other intangibles like the Chinese students still work very hard—not as hard as when I was a kid, but they are doing fine. The environment encourages people to work hard, study hard and learn more. There is no question that the people here realize we have to look up to the United States for the science and technology leadership. And still a lot of Chinese students go to the United States to study. But more and more Chinese scholars and researchers move back to China to either start their own business, work at universities or, like me, working in companies. So the environment nowadays is so much better in my opinion than 10 years ago. So Im pretty bullish about the future of science and technology here. Are there any trends or specific disciplines or areas that stand out? There are some areas where China will catch up very quickly or potentially take the lead. One is in the area of wireless communication. This is because China leapfrogged the fixed line infrastructure. Now we have 380 million cell phone subscribers. So if you can deploy some technology to 10 percent of those people, thats 40 million already. The other area that is a great opportunity for China to become a leader is the Internet. Because with the Internet, I think China has the second largest user base. Im pretty sure very soon well be number one. There are more than 105 million Internet users in China now. Right. I was talking to a guy from one of the Chinese telcos and he was talking about how many DSL lines they have put in here. Yes. Sometimes people criticize the Chinese government, but after I came back from India I started to realize that sometimes strong governments can do a lot of good things for the people. You look at the lines, look at fibers. I know its up for argument, and Im not saying either way is absolutely right or wrong. But countries like China, if you ask the businesses and the poor people to negotiate and figure out what to do about things like fiber lines, it would be 15 years later. Can China top the United States in R&D? Click here to read more. Another example is the highway. You would be very impressed if you travel from here to Shanghai. The quality of highways is definitely better than I-79 going from Pittsburgh to Erie, when I was a student there. The infrastructure is very important. The reason China has a chance to be one of the leaders in the world, and also in the Internet space, is that as more and more people get on they will come up with good ideas. In terms of the work that goes on here, what is your target? Is it to ultimately productize the technology you create? Microsoft Research has its own mission, which was defined 14 years ago by Rick Rashid and never been modified. The first thing is to advance the state of the art in computer science. So any area we do we want to be the very best and advance the state of the art. Because we are fundamentally a basic research lab, and the basic research results we are happy to share with our colleagues. We are a very open and free research environment. The second mission for us is to rapidly transfer technology into Microsoft products. That actually has two parts. One is to transfer technology into existing products, like the Tablet PC with our handwriting work and natural language work, and Windows and Office. Because fundamentally we are an industrial research lab. Were not a university; were not a government lab, so we have to worry about the future of the company. Next Page: New technologies in the pipeline.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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