At its Ignite developer conference yesterday, Microsoft announced that it has developed a new programming language designed to not only run on current computers but on the most advanced machines of the future: quantum computers. Ignite is running from Sept. 25-29 in Orlando.

Like many other of the world's largest tech companies, Microsoft has been working to develop quantum computers that could handle massively complex problems in minutes or seconds. Unlike today's conventional devices that use the digital bits "0" and "1," quantum computers use qubits that can act as 0s, 1s or both simultaneously.

Microsoft said its new quantum computing language, which has yet to be named, is "deeply integrated" with its Visual Studio development environment and does many of the things other standard programming languages do. However, it is specifically designed to allow programmers to create apps that will eventually run on true quantum computers.

By supporting massive processing and memory demands through quantum physics, quantum computers could help solve many currently intractable problems from deadly diseases to climate change to IT security challenges.

'A New Form of Matter'

Like other companies, such as Google and IBM, Microsoft has been working for years to advance quantum computing research to the point where the technology becomes feasible rather than theoretical. Its quantum computing research team includes Fields Medal-winning mathematician Michael Freedman; Charles Marcus, professor at the University of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute; and quantum computing software expert Krysta Svore.

"[W]e set out with a goal of not just trying to achieve a few scientific milestones -- we sort of went back to the very core first principles and said, 'What would it take to build a truly scalable quantum computer?'" Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said yesterday during his keynote address at Ignite.

Joining Nadella on stage, Freedman added, "Microsoft's qubit will be based on a new form of matter called topological matter that also has this property that as the information stored in the matter is stored globally, you can't find the information in any particular place."

That quality protects the qubit from the physical forces that would normally cause those units to "decohere" and become unavailable for computing tasks, according to Freedman.

Preview Available by End of Year

Microsoft said its new language for quantum computing is "designed for developers to create apps to debut on quantum simulators today and run on an actual topological quantum computer in the future."

However, because the language is built into Visual Studio, programmers don't need to be experts in quantum physics, Microsoft added. "It doesn't look too different from the things they're already doing," Svore said in a Microsoft news feature published yesterday.

Developers can sign up now to be informed about quantum computing programming updates from Microsoft. The programming language is expected to be available as a free preview by the end of the year and "also includes libraries and tutorials so developers can familiarize themselves with quantum computing," Microsoft said.

Individual developers will be able to use the language to simulate problems that would use up to 30 logical qubits of power, while select enterprise customers and Azure developers will be able to simulate more than 40 qubits of power, Microsoft noted.

"For the first time in 70 years we're looking at a way to build a computing system that is just completely different," according to chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie. "It's not an incremental tune-up or improvement. It's a qualitatively different thing."