Want to know how bad Microsoft wants to reassert its role in the world of supercomputers? Although it just began participating in the 18-year-old SC/05 Supercomputer conference in 2003, Microsoft seems determined to make a splash at the research-oriented confab, which started today. For starters, chairman Bill Gates is giving the keynote speech. The company also has a prominent booth on the show floor--prominent enough to privately rankle some other vendors, who wonder whether the software giant unfairly threw its money around to win the coveted real estate (not true, says conference spokesperson Kathyrn Kelley; no other vendor had bid for the spot, she says, when Microsoft came along).

Why is Microsoft so interested? Because rather than an academic backwater, supercomputers and other high-performance computing technologies are increasingly being used by corporations to do sophisticated data-mining and run other business applications. And more often than not, designers of such systems are looking to Linux, when Windows might do the trick.

Gates isn't the only starpower Microsoft will aim at the assembled techies. The company, with help from Intel, will spend nearly $1 million on a party tonight at the swank Experience Music Project building, says one source with knowledge about the event. That includes more than $300,000 to pay Sheryl Crow--easily the biggest act to ever hit the SC/05 post-conference party circuit.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Microsoft called after this post went up, to say that the bill for the party was well under $1 million, though he declined to provide a more accurate estimate. Hearing that, I tracked down another source that is familiar with the event, and this person also confirmed that the $1 million was significantly too high. Still, the general point stands. This was a top-shelf affair, by Supercomputer conference standards.

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