Craig Mundie

Microsoft's chief visionary talks about recession R&D, backward compatibility and the next wave in technology.

Craig Mundie assumed his position as chief visionary at Microsoft in June 2008, after Bill Gates retired from day-to-day operations.

Will belt-tightening require Microsoft to scale back on basic research, as some competitors have? No. We have an opposite view, which is the tighter the economic times, the more the focus has to be on maintaining your R&D investment. You want the normal cycle to produce timely results, but we've always believed that the pure research component was critical to us. It gives us the ability to continue to enhance the businesses we're in [and] to disrupt industries that we choose to enter, [and] it's a shock absorber that allows us to deal with the arrival of the unknown from competitive actions or other technology breakthroughs.

How do you balance the need for backward compatibility with the need to innovate? There are several ways we seek to insert innovation into products. First, we develop new features for the products we have. Second, we create new products and put them alongside the products we have. As we look in the platform and tools areas toward the future, we expect that there's a lot of change coming in the underlying architectures -- for example, like virtualization and the fact that there will be many CPU elements that actually allow some of the side-by-side execution of things. That can provide perfect compatibility while still allowing the introduction of whole new capabilities.

What is your proudest R&D achievement? I did a lot of the early work in non-PC-based computing. Things that we have today that have matured into our game console business, our cell phone business and our Windows CE-based, Windows Embedded and Windows Mobile capabilities all started in the groups I formed here between 1992 and 1998.

I look at the progress we've made there, and I take quite a bit of pride in the fact that we anticipated those things and we were able to get into so many of them. The company's strategy was to recognize that, ultimately, people would have many smart devices, and we wanted to have some cohesive way of dealing with all of them.

What will be the next big technology wave? What happens in waves is the shift from one generation of computing platform to the next. That platform gets established by a small number of killer apps. We've been through a number of these major platform shifts, from the mainframe to the minicomputer to the personal computer to adding the Internet as an adjunct platform. We're now trending to the next big platform, which I call the client plus the cloud.

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