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Microsoft super sizes multi-threaded tripe

Pretty sure that we might be ready

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Comment Herb and pepper crusted Kobe steak medallions presented on a bed of arugula and baby spring greens tossed in a lemon fennel vinaigrette with baby red and yellow pear tomatoes; haricot verts; toasted sweet and spicy walnuts and crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese presented on the side; and a garnish of puff pastry triangles topped with a balsamic reduction. That's what we were eating when Craig Mundie told us that Microsoft would have tons of multi-threaded software ready for Intel and AMD's upcoming, multi-core chips.

Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, supplied the tripe yesterday, while workers in Microsoft's Mountain View kitchen tossed the salad. The executive tried his best to convince attendees of the "New Software Industry" conference that Microsoft will harness the immense processing power that Intel and AMD plan to ship in the next few years. Judging by the applause, many of the attendees were swallowing.

Mundie's midday talk covered a lot of familiar ground. Developers have lost their - and pardon us because he really did say this - "free lunch" due to the multi-core processor shift. In the good old days, you crafted some adequate code. Then, Intel and AMD released ever faster processors that made that code perform better and better.

With multi-core chips, the developers of old face some pressing challenges. Intel and AMD have given up on trying to speed individual cores much past 3.0GHz. So, you need to write more complex software that can spread across all of the cores well in order to see significant performance gains.

This is a big deal in both the server and consumer software worlds, although the server crowd has done more work thus far to embrace mutli-core chips. On the desktop, you're just looking at video game developers, Adobe and a only a handful of other companies that have multi-threaded code ready.

Microsoft, to its credit, has multi-threaded the calculations in Office Excel 2007. But that's about where the credit ends.

Intel and AMD executives fail to hide their disappointment with Microsoft well on the multi-threaded software front.

During a speech last June, Intel SVP Pat Gelsinger said the following:

"A couple of years ago, I had a discussion with Bill Gates (about the multi-core products). He was just in disbelief. He said, 'We can't write software to keep up with that.'"

Gates ordered the Intel executive to keep pumping out faster product. "No, Bill, it's not going to work that way," Gelsinger informed him.

Microsoft has at least come around from a marketing standpoint with Mundie saying all the right, positive things.

He asked the "New Software Industry" audience to retain skepticism around some of the trends they're seeing in the software industry. Sure, there's a lot of buzz surrounding Google's web-based productivity software and a host of other server-side applications. And, okay, okay, current, dual-core chips seem only barely able to handle Vista.

But . . .

"One has to question whether this is the way it will be for a long period of time or will something change," Mundie said.

The PC will rise once again as the software darling thanks to multi-core chips, Mundie suggested.

"There is going to be a need to harness all of this power."

Microsoft doesn't know for sure what applications will drive the second coming of the PC revolution, but the company feels confident that a shift will occur in the next five (+/- 2) years. Customers will want to use up their abundant local horsepower rather than relying on the "cloud" - aka servers - to manage the work.

Of course, only the very optimistic folks in the industry think developers will craft all that much multi-threaded code in the next few years that can really make use of chips with eight, 16 and 32 cores. And you can bet that Microsoft will be bringing up the rear in this battle, which is a serious problem on the desktop since most of the consumer code revolves around Redmond's timetable.

"I happen to be pretty confident that we will solve these problems," Mundie said.

Where'd that bucket of tripe go? We're starving. ®

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