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Microsoft plans to own quantum computing like it owns Windows PCs

Microsoft executives said Monday that the company is developing a quantum computer—from chips all the way through to the operating system—in a bid to control what could be a disruptive computer technology.

Though Microsoft is following companies like IBM and D-Wave Systems—whose 2000Q quantum computer is already built and selling to customers like Los Alamos National Laboratory and Google, among others—Microsoft hopes to be able to develop chips around what it calls topological qubits, a more stable form of the quantum bit. Topological qubits would make them more resilient under everyday use, the company says.

In the meantime, Microsoft is developing a language for programming quantum bits, using its topological qubit model. The system will be available as a free preview by the end of the year, and includes libraries and tutorials so developers can familiarize themselves with quantum computing. That’s a similar approach to what IBM is doing, which already made its 5-qubit quantum computer available through the cloud to anyone who wants to play with it.

At its Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said that quantum computing enables different approaches than “classical” computing: while a typical PC might try and “brute force” a problem by trying all possible solutions sequentially, a quantum computer can try as many solutions as it can in parallel, all at once. 

“That’s the intuition behind the power of quantum,” Nadella said.

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