|What Could Microsoft Want With a Chip Guy?|
It’s not too surprising that microprocessor guru Marc Tremblay has decided to leave Sun Microsystems, which was experiencing challenges and executive departures well before the brouhaha over stalled takeover talks with IBM. More intriguing is the fact that he is going to Microsoft, which is not exactly a center of chip design.
Tremblay, in an email, referred questions to a spokeswoman for Microsoft. She could only provide a statement with a few boiler-plate facts about his new job: He will hold the title of distinguished engineer in the “strategic software/silicon architectures” group under Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer.
This is not a group that many people knew existed. The spokeswoman could not answer when it began operating, or how many people are in it. But she said Tremblay will manage a team of technologists “who will help set the company strategy for software and semiconductor technologies, as well as maintain relationships with semiconductor companies.”
Stepping back, it’s easy to see how a person with Tremblay’s talents could help the company. Microsoft’s Xbox division, for example, has to think about which microprocessors to consider in designing a follow-up to its current gaming console. Its Windows group, meanwhile, has to design new versions of the operating system for the rapid proliferation of chips with many electronic brains rather than one or two.
Tremblay, who was chief technology officer of Sun’s chip unit, certainly has the credentials. During 18 years at Sun, he amassed at least 100 patents–the most of anyone at Sun–and led the development of several important members of a chip line called Sparc that has long powered Sun’s flagship server systems.
That hardware represents a sliver of the market compared with machines based on x86 chips, the kind sold by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. But Sun in recent years put out an eight-processor Sparc chip–part of a line that had the code name Niagara–that has sold very well for small servers.
Tremblay, whose departure was reported Tuesday by the New York Times, is more closely associated with a chip called Rock that was designed for high-end machines. And Rock has not been such a happy story; in February, Tremblay told reporters that the chip, which will have 16 processors, won’t be ready until the second half of 2009–compared to an original arrival date of the second half of 2008.
And that part of Sun’s server line faces long-term questions, whether or not IBM decides to buy the company. Billings for those systems declined 32% to $662 million in the second quarter ended in December, while the Niagara-type machines grew 31% to $369 million.