Microsoft R&D hits all-time high, meaning what?

Redmond spends a lot on research and development. But its future is so tied up in protecting its past that it's unlikely to ever unleash true innovations that could destabilize the desktop.

Microsoft's research-and-development spending hit a record high in 2008, according to its most recent annual report. At the same time, the company's R&D spending relative to employee head count has gone down.

Not that it matters. For all Microsoft's spending on the future, it continues to focus its business on guarding the past. Yes, it builds cool (but useful?) things like the Sphere, but when was the last time you saw Office or Windows significantly improved by that R&D spending?

In Microsoft's defense, perhaps we've tapped out the desktop software metaphor, and there's simply not much it can do there (beyond building SharePoint and the next tier of lock-in services to guard its cash cow product lines). Unfortunately, this "defense" is also my biggest critique of Microsoft: its future is so tied up in protecting its past that it's unlikely to ever unleash true innovations from the labs that could destabilize the desktop.

If you believe, as I do, that there's a bright future beyond the traditional desktop, it's hard to get excited about Microsoft's R&D spending, knowing that it's likely to lead to more of the same, with the occasional circus curiosity like Sphere.

Microsoft's R&D spending hit an all-time high in 2008. Todd Bishop

Disclosure: My company, Alfresco, has a product that competes with SharePoint .

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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