The New York Times has an article up about how faster chips are leaving programmers in the dust. In short, all these multi-core CPU’s coming out are really hard to program against. Programmers have to write "parallel programs" to fully take advantage of the additional lanes on the CPU highway that AMD & Intel are laying down. It’s complex stuff and Microsoft is putting some of its biggest brains on it.
One of the hottest topics in technology today is the advent of utility computing. Increases in bandwidth and computing power has many industry observers asserting that the bulk of the CPU labor doesn’t really need to happen on the PC under your desk. Services like Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Salesforce.com have proven that you can deliver a lot of the common computing tasks in a centralized way. No more installation DVD’s. Just visit a URL and start using centrally hosted software.
It’s pretty damn convenient. But in its current incarnation, its drastically lacking the richness and highly interactive experience associated with desktop applications. Anyone who’s used Excel 2007 and Google spreadsheets notices the difference almost immediately. Of course, Google spreadsheets is brand new and running in your browser. So it’s not exactly a fair race…yet.
For Microsoft, it makes a hell of a lot of sense to invest heavily in optimizing their software to run as close to the metal as possible. Today, Google is investing in the web browser as the "platform" to deliver their applications. That’s going to have to give at some point if they seriously want to compete with Microsoft. No matter how much you trick out Ajax, it’s not going to come anywhere the power and capabilities of applications like Microsoft Word and Apple’s Keynote, for example.
If we’re truly looking to marry the power of rich software with the reach of the Internet, then we have to look to the players that have viable platforms that can continue to evolve and stay in lock-step (or at least near lock-step) with the ever-accelerating pace of hardware: Microsoft and Adobe. In Adobe’s last Flash update (Update 3), they’ve added multi-core CPU support. You can also bet that Microsoft’s Vista and Silverlight will also play close attention to taking advantage of the latest hardware features.
The challenge for Google – if its really serious about going after Microsoft’s bread-and-butter productivity software business – is to somehow find a way to lock into and take advantage of a platform that is: (a) universally available and (b) malleable enough to scale up and evolve as hardware improves.
Two years ago, I half-jokingly argued that Microsoft should buy Adobe. At the end of the post, I winked that Google should buy Adobe instead. I agree that we’re headed towards massive server farms and a world of utility computing but that trend shouldn’t be confused with the clear competitive advantage of delivering powerful software to the desktop. Think Photoshop. Think mind-blowing 3D games. They can all make it over the wire…but you still need that rig – and the platform that knows how to take advantage of it – under your desk.