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

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long period of time. They’re not static either. We’ve managed the transition to Ray [Ozzie] and me. I think that was done very gracefully, with no real disruption. It was not a material event in some cultural evolution. We are adapting to the environment, and adapting the business to the markets today. Those things are more of a driver to how the company adapts [than Gates’s departure].

Clearly the “cloud,” as everybody calls it—a very large-scale computing ability—is an important addition. We’ve been adding a service component to all of our products. I like to think we’re tracking these things, and we are diversifying. We’re way more diverse now, whether it’s in servers, entertainment, devices, software for small and medium businesses, energy, or health.

X: Talk about the significance of research to Microsoft’s future, as you see it now.

CM: The willingness to devote a percentage of our [money to] research is ultimately the key to the company’s health and survival. When we want to enter a new business like energy or health, we look to the research aspect as a component to getting those things started. Research is like a shock absorber that lets the company respond when the markets or [actions of our] competitors were not anticipated. It will continue to be important.

X: Search and online ads would be an example of this, right?

CM: The company waited too long to directly enter the search and ad business. Even Google, the key competitor there, when they started, they were just doing search. When it became clear that ads were an important coupling, Microsoft decided that was an important area. Going toe-to-toe in search has been aided by research. But in Bing, we needed to advance beyond the concept of search. That’s a good example. It’s an important part of how we’ve been able to compete in a core technology area, and add some novel capability.

X: In your travels, you’ve built strong relationships with foreign governments—which is crucial to Microsoft’s future as a global company. And I’m told you know Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State and a noted political advisor.

CM: Henry has been a personal friend for the better part of a decade. He’s a guy I learned a lot from. As I was trying to understand foreign policy, he was trying to understand technology. So he was my foreign policy coach, and I was his computer coach. We’re half a generation apart. When I traveled in China with Henry, he helped me understand a lot about the Chinese people and government. I’ve benefited from traveling around with him, as a trusted intermediary with many of the world’s governments. I look to him as a role model. A lot of my business is over the long term, and my investments on the relationship side transcend technology.

X: So has Dr. Kissinger tried Windows 7 yet?

CM: I don’t actually know. I doubt that he ran out to the store on October 22.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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