Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) this summer both snapped up companies with technology that helps software developers build programs that take advantage of multicore chips. Last July I pulled together a list of five startups to watch in the multicore programming space. Now prompted by a Microsoft announcement last Monday (technically the first day of autumn) that it had bought one of them, I decided to take a look at where those five startup are now. Intel has purchased two—Rapid Minds and Cilk Arts—while Microsoft has bought Interactive Supercomputing. This leaves Tilera, which just launched its first multicore chip for the communications market, and Replay Solutions, a company whose software acts like a "TiVo for software crashes" by debugging code for multicore chips, still independent.
As chipmakers add more cores to their chips in an effort to boost performance, software programmers have struggled to take advantage of them as they're used to building code that runs on just one core. Adapting the code to run on many cores requires dividing up the workload, assigning specific tasks to individual cores. This is relatively easy when writing software for things such as graphics, but more challenging when it comes to writing it for functions such as processing transactions.
Intel's GoalWith Cilk Arts and Rapid Minds, Intel has purchased two companies that allow programmers to work in the popular C++ language and then turn their programs over to a compiler to make them run faster on multicore chips. Both offer the ability to do this on the x86 chips that Intel sells, while Rapid Minds has also worked on IBM's Cell processor and various graphics processors. The goal for Intel is to offer tools to make its chips a better bargain for companies that want to use multicore chips without investing a lot of money in rewriting their code.
Microsoft's interest is in an overall improvement to its high-performance computing software for computing clusters and desktops. That contrasts with Apple (AAPL), which is making a broad effort to get multiple cores working for consumer-oriented computing with its Snow Leopard OS update released this summer and its attempts to take advantage of the processors inside Macs using its Grand Central Dispatch technology . Looking back, multicore may have been the sleeper hit of this summer.