Feeds

Microsoft's R&D chief: the people problem with innovation

iPhone's secret father speaks

High performance access to file storage

Updated Rick Rashid, leader of Microsoft's R&D operation, said he could foresee cloud computing some years back.

The challenge as a technologist, though, has been in anticipating the finer details of how the cloud and its related technologies - the data center, replication, and synchronization - will be adopted by people and organizations.

Sure, Microsoft was heading in that direction in the labs, but Amazon, eBay, and Google got there first in their businesses, and Microsoft is now fast trying to catch up.

Speaking to The Reg at Microsoft's Mountain View, California campus recently, Rashid outlined the challenge: "What I've never been very good at - and don't think anybody's that great at - is knowing what society is going to do with them [technology innovations]. That's the harder part."

As a professor at the Carnegie Mellon University, Rashid helped in the creation of the Mach kernel. That early work speaks to the challenge. Mach was intended as replacement for BSD and Unix but has snuck into Apple's orgasmically successful iPhone.

Rick Rashid

Rashid: technology prediction will get you so far

"Did I realize in the early 1980s that the operating system I was building would someday run on a cell phone. I'd have said: 'What's a cell phone?' - they didn't exist. So you never really know what's going to happen or how something that you've created is going to be eventually used and what forms it's going to take. Technologists are never good at that kind of prediction."

After joining Microsoft in 1991, Rashid patented work in data compression, networking, and operating systems that helped turn Windows into the multi-billion dollar gift that keeps giving to the Microsoft bottom line.

That track record's important given that the 850-person R&D operation Rashid now runs is working on search, social computing, and systems architecture and is getting a share of the company's overall $9bn research-and-development budget thanks to chief executive Steve Ballmer's enthusiasm for beating Google online and easing Microsoft's reliance on the PC.

The work of Rashid and others on his team might yet turn Microsoft's nascent cloud into a multi-billion-dollar business akin to Windows - despite its lateness and early mistakes.

Microsoft was forced to announce a major U-turn on cloud-based storage this week after it succumbed to its usual product-segmentation fever, but the company's already got the fundamentals in place with data centers and a core-computing fabric that it can build on. And that's a lot more than some others have, who are still at the talking stage.

Rashid is certainly optimistic. "There's been a huge impact on the business of the company, and the products we ship," he said of the R&D operation. "We've been creating $1bn businesses every few years over the last 10 years."

Asked if he foresaw the rise of the cloud as a successor to these $1bn businesses on the desktop and server, Rashid indicated he thought Microsoft was moving in the right direction.

"There are two ways to answer that. The first is to say 'yes' - I've got slides," he confessed. "One of the things you see in any research environment is you get to see the technologies people are developing, you can make summaries about what people doing with them, you can put them in slides.

"Did we know we could build these big data centers...were we thinking about the services mesh? Yes, absolutely," he said.

"Did we know it was going to pan out in a particular way. Did we know what's happening now with the shift to cloud services and the way businesses are thinking about large-scale computation? No. The exact details of how things pan out have to do with society, legal and government environment, and business climate. But were all the seeds there? Absolutely."

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

Next page: The patent question

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Inside the Hekaton: SQL Server 2014's database engine deconstructed
Nadella's database sqares the circle of cheap memory vs speed
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
IRS boss on XP migration: 'Classic fix the airplane while you're flying it attempt'
Plus: Condoleezza Rice at Dropbox 'maybe she can find ... weapons of mass destruction'
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.