Microsoft’s Craig Mundie on Future Interfaces, Computer Science Education, and Life After Bill G

11/4/09Follow @gthuang

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and backed by Bill Gates and others], and how they’re exploring the nature of nuclear.

I also showed a visualization with gestures as a way to couple myself into a computational model to adjust the parameters of a wind turbine blade. There’s no traditional GUI.

X: But these concepts of high-performance simulations, visualizations, and interfaces have been around for more than a decade. What’s really new here?

CM: The individual components have been explored or used one at a time. I don’t think anyone has really stepped back and [combined them] in the client devices and had enough computing power to do N at a time. We’ve taken handwriting or speech, or vision, and done a modest simulation of one of them, and figured out how to use it to navigate in an interface [people] already knew. A qualitative change will come in the next few years. When machines go up [in power] by a factor of 10 to 100, we’ll do several [types of natural interfaces] at a time. It’s a more transformational way of changing the man-machine interface. So these are areas I’m hopeful Microsoft, and its research activities as a company, will be able to bring forward.

X: How does all of this fit with Microsoft’s long-term global business strategy?

CM: Each generation of computing has been driven forward in long cycles by fundamental changes in hardware capability that leads to more powerful software capabilities, and then a more powerful way of using them. We tend to let a larger number of people work on a broader range of problems. Our fundamental business is software, and we are expanding the available market, in terms of more devices running more software.

[Developing nations] have to migrate their economy beyond a manufacturing base and into a knowledge economy. Europe and the U.S., to some extent, are both societies and economies that have benefited a lot from advances in technology, and find themselves in a much more competitive world.

X: Has anything surprising or different come up in your current discussions with students and faculty?

CM: Not really. Some things have been reinforced for me. Students have a fairly simplified view of information technology. They experience it on their laptops and cell phones. Their applications are dominated by social networking. It takes a real diligent effort by companies like Microsoft, and faculty, that students grow up with a broader sense of computing. In interactions with faculty in computer science departments, they exhibit a strong interest in these trends, but the curriculum is not evolving as quickly as the general field of computing is evolving. We tend to see the applications of computing as we’ve known it, instead of the future of computing.

X: How is the culture of Microsoft changing post-Bill Gates—if it is—in arguably the most challenging period in the company’s history?

CM: Cultures in big organizations don’t change with the wind. They evolve over a … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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