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Microsoft's India strategy

March 6, 2008

Craig Mundie
Craig Mundie
That India is extremely important in Microsoft’s scheme of things is no secret. And it certainly helps if the man entrusted with guiding the software giant into the future also happens to be an Indophile. Meet Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer (CRSO), who was in India recently and has been travelling to the country at least twice or thrice every year for the past four years.

“Healthcare and education are two areas that have not been transformed by information technology. We had to figure out how we could, despite never having been involved in making solutions for these two sectors, get involved here in a way that could catalyse a real change,” Mundie explains while talking about how ‘big bad’ Microsoft (the way the European Commission paints it) is trying to become a ‘softer’ company, as well as explore all new areas to expand its business.

These thoughts took him to the Union Health Ministry this time. “We feel by doing this we can make medicine undergo its biggest transformation in the last one hundred years, not just through IT but new technologies using IT-type processes that will give us the prospect at least of making medicine a personalised, preventive, proactive type of process for every individual, away from today’s medicine, which is very generic,” says Mundie.

But why is Microsoft concentrating so heavily on these two sectors? “Today, only about 1.5 billion people on the planet have access to reasonable healthcare and education. There is no way to scale this to five billion people using traditional means. Something will have to change, and that change will be an IT or technology-driven change,” Mundie explains.

However, Mundie also agrees that computing itself is changing, he admits that ‘cloud computing’ (software as a service and hosted applications, such as the Raju Vegesna-promoted Zoho) is a challenge. “We believe there is a lot of value that can be brought to a whole class of services from cloud computing. However, we do not believe it will swing completely to the other side and back to a world where everything sits in the cloud and we have ‘dumb’ terminals at the end. The reason for that is because a bulk of the computing power in the world will continue to reside on devices on or near your person and thus we have concluded that the future is going to be a mix of software plus services and not software as a service.”

Mundie also feels that devices will change going forward. There will be a re-emergence of the ‘real desktop’, he says, talking up Microsoft’s new ‘Surface Computer’, where tables and walls can become computing surfaces. “These will be the first devices to take us to a new area of interaction with computers.”

But, he does not believe that while new forms of interaction between humans and computers will emerge—vision, speech, touch, gesture— the old point-and-click mouse and keyboard are headed for the dustbin of history just yet. “Editing documents is not something you can do easily with words, but using a point-and-click, it is very easy,” he says.

— Kushan Mitra

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