Funding effective long-term research -- cutting-edge stuff that helps your bottom line -- is where nearly every company falls down.
Microsoft has been pouring billions into its research effort for nearly a decade, but in terms of breakthroughs it has brought to market from that we're still waiting for a pay-off. The bang-for-buck there is negative.
We've seen this before, with Xerox PARC especially. Even when great research does happen, institutional inertia keeps the company that paid the bills from grabbing the benefits.
So Google has a different idea, partner with someone who is already doing cutting-edge research, but who is hard-up for cash. Specifically, NASA.
Google will build out up to 1 million square feet of research space, and cooperate with NASA on cutting-edge research near its own California headquarters that might get us back to the Moon, but which also might result in the next Internet, the next Velcro, the next Tang.
Most discussion of this deal is way off-base. This is money that, until now, has nearly always been wasted by corporate America. At least here you get some branding, right off the bat. And if Microsoft or Apple or IBM want to kick in, I'm certain there is nothing in the contract prohibiting it. After all, we're dealing with a government agency.
Am I holding my breath on breakthroughs from this? No. But some will result. The money will give NASA breathing space to define new missions for itself, free from the cares of the annual budget battle with Congress. If other companies emulate Google's example, it could become a very big deal indeed.
And if nothing does come with it, maybe we can start buying Moon Rocks at Froogle.