On business models and markets

or why is the volume desktop market leader interested in a small market like Supercomputing.

I can’t answer that one easily, as the return on their investment will be low. It would behoove any Microsoft shareholder to ask the management team at the annual shareholder meeting why they are going after something so small relative to other more profitable and larger markets.

I cannot fathom the business model that they have for this. Maybe they are willing to permanently fund groups, even for relatively insignificant markets (for them).

The blog post that spurred these thoughts also had an interesting yet remarkably un-informative quote

A year ago, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told me in an interview that advancing Windows as a platform for supercomputing could pay dividends in consumer and business computing markets that will inherit today’s highest-end technology. Principles of clustering and running software across hundreds or thousands of processors will become a foundation of business computing, helping drive the next breakthroughs in science, medicine, product design, and finance. “When we say science, think about people designing cars, think about people designing planes, think about people thinking through the design of a Web site,” Gates said.

Running clusters and software across many processors is a known and operational science. Has been for a while. Supercomputing has been driving breakthroughts. This is true. Somehow I doubt that thinking through a website design requires a supercomputer, or even similar thinking to following a metabolic pathway in a simulation.

But the point that really bugs me is that Microsoft, or more specifically Mr Gates (whom I respect tremendously) has failed to clearly articulate and demonstrate why they are better than the current technologies, and more importantly, has failed to note that these tremendous breakthroughs in science, medicine, and engineering are happening today on existing supercomputers. Then again these machines largely do not run windows, so this might be why. Still it bugs me, and clearly illustrates that there is a combination of a huge NIH attitude (it can’t be good if it is Not-Invented-Here), and probably, maybe, slightly, a bit of ego.

I can’t decypher the reasonable business model for them to pursue this the way they are. If they focused upon the interoperability between Linux supercomputers and windows desktops, making the integration very simple, yes, this would make sense. It wouldn’t be hard to build a business model you could sell to a management team, or a VC for this. But this isn’t what is going on.

I hope someone asks them about this at the shareholder meeting.

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