Software development as an art


BRUSSELS – Ever wondered why Microsoft software needs continually to be patched and updated? Microsoft Corp.’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie believes it’s because software development is still more an art than a science.

Mundie was speaking on one of his first foreign trips since taking over the technology strategy and policy roles from iconic company founder Bill Gates, at a press briefing in Brussels late Monday billed as a glance into the future of the technology industry.

Expect as many fundamental changes in technology as we have seen over the past 20 years to occur in the next five to 10 years, he said. We are entering a multidevice environment where mobile phones get smart, and people will demand both integration and segregation of their various computing devices, he said.

Web services will become vital in this new age and Microsoft “will have to master how to use the Internet and components of the net for software services,” Mundie said.

But isn’t Microsoft racing too fast into this brave new world when its core product, the Windows operating system, can’t even function properly without having to be patched up and updated constantly? he was asked.

“The problem is that software development is an important endeavor but it has not matured as an engineering process, it’s still an art form,” Mundie replied.

“As the scale of software grows, so does its complexity. Software has to find, in the next five to 10 years, a simultaneous solution to complexity and concurrent (parallel) problems,” he added.

How does Microsoft feel about having to follow Google’s lead in the new environment where Web services play such a central role in mapping the future direction of technology development?

Claims that Microsoft has lost its leading position are exaggerated, he replied, just as they were in 1994-95, when Netscape was seen as the next great thing in information technology.

Does Microsoft plan to do to Google what it did to Netscape? (Netscape was eclipsed when Microsoft attached its own Web browser, Internet Explorer, to Windows, sparking an antitrust battle with the U.S. department of Justice.)

“I hope so,” Mundie replied.

Antitrust is one policy area that doesn’t fall under his remit and he declined to comment on the ongoing dispute with competition regulators including the European Commission. However, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to disparage the work of Europe’s top antitrust officials.

“There is no country, including the European Union and every other part of the European Commission (other than its competition department), that doesn’t see Microsoft as an important player in the broad economic realm,” he said.

He added that the company’s ongoing antitrust problems in Europe have not hampered its efforts to influence policy. “I’ve never felt that people are shunning our involvement because of that dispute,” he said.

Mundie was in Brussels to give a keynote speech at a conference on European venture capitalism, hosted by Microsoft.

During his visit to the European capital he said he met with the staff of European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, as well as civil servants in the information society department of the Commission — not quite the top level meetings enjoyed by Gates on his occasional visits to Brussels in recent years.

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