Microsoft’s Quantum Development Toolkit – What is It?



With much fanfare, Microsoft announced their Quantum Development Toolkit at the recent Microsoft Ignite Conference.  Although the announcement had much material related to the potential of quantum computing (I’ve seen a lot of that in many places), it actually had few technical details regarding the toolkit, what it does and how it works.  Apparently, the toolkit won’t be available for public beta testing until December and Microsoft even admitted that they don’t yet have a name yet for the programming language itself!

From what I can tell this effort seems to be a rebranding of their previous quantum programming language called LIQUi|>.  Microsoft has been developing LIQUi|> for several years and it is still available at the link here.  Microsoft had even previously mentioned that they were developing a companion program called SOLID, but it is unclear whether that is still continuing.

Microsoft did announce two new capabilities in this new toolkit that were not previously available with LIQUi|>.  The first includes an integration with Visual Studio and the second is that there will be a large 40 qubit simulator available for select customer on the powerful Azure cloud system.  LIQUi|> had previously had a 30 qubit simulation platform that could run on a user’s PC and the new toolkit will retain this capability.  (Since quantum computers double in power for every added qubit, the Azure would represent a 1024 times increase in simulation capability.)

Microsoft is working to establish a user community for this toolkit that is somewhat similar to the successful one that IBM has created at the IBM Quantum Experience.  Those interested can check it out at https://microsoft.com/quantum.

A lot of questions still remain that probably won’t be answered until the toolkit is released later this year.  Microsoft is investing significantly in a high risk hardware technology based upon the topological qubit.  This approach could be highly rewarding since topological qubits could theoretically provide orders of magnitude improvement in coherence time. But the fact remains that Microsoft and its partners have yet to produce even a very small quantum computer using this technology.  In the meantime, competitors like IBM, Rigetti, Google, IonQ, and others have working prototypes that contain a dozen or so qubits and they are scaling up rapidly. If Microsoft is successful in producing a topological based computer, they could potentially leapfrog all the other competitors and become the dominant player in the quantum computing market. 

However, if there are unsolvable problems with the topological hardware approach, Microsoft could still become a significant software player if they are able to support these other technologies.  There is an analogy to the early days of mainframe computers where IBM, CDC, Unisys, Burroughs, DEC, and others all had proprietary systems that could only run their own software.  In the end, much of the classical computer industry standardized around a few common languages, operating systems, and architectures and this facilitated a great expansion in the market.   We shall see if a similar phenomenon happens in quantum computing.

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