Microsoft and the Infinite Monkey Theorem of R&D spending

“Most of us are somewhat familiar with some form of The Infinite Monkey Theorem, which whimsically postulates that if you have an infinite number of monkeys, banging away on an infinite number of typewriters, over an infinite amount of time – eventually those monkeys, fingers flying, will accidentally produce the works of William Shakespeare,” Bill Shamblin writes for Seeking Alpha. “With this in mind, let us turn our attention to Microsoft’s (MSFT) level of spending on research and development (R&D) for the past 5 years and compare it with its competition, in particular Apple (AAPL).”

Five Year R&D/Sales in %
Microsoft: 13.8%
Apple: 2.8%

“Based on Microsoft’s stunningly high R&D spending levels, shareholders very well might be wondering why there have been no company announcements of amazing new products: Where are the personal jetpacks and flying cars, Redmond?” Shamblin writes. “Instead, owners of Microsoft stock have had to be satisfied the last decade with a predictable flow of slow-second offerings from the company, most recently: Window’s 8 OS (compare to iPhone 2007 launch with iOS) and the Microsoft Surface tablet (compare to iPad 2010 launch).”

Shamblin writes, “Microsoft bulls will point to the company’s success with the Xbox gaming console as some proof of R&D success, but despite strong sales in the segment, [operating income of just $600 million in FY13] (source: Microsoft) shows the small impact that Entertainment & Devices makes to the company’s bottom line. (In contrast, the Apple mobile business, launched in 2007, now contributes more revenue to Apple than all of Microsoft’s businesses combined.)”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The Infinite Monkey Theorem. No wonder Monkey Boy says, “I like our strategy, I like it a lot.”

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Mr. Nugget” for the heads up.]


  1. I didn’t want to register to read the rest of the article, but I doubt the writer explained why Microsoft with a ten-year lead in tablet technology—hardly a “slow second”—failed to obtain meaningful market share. And that’s only one example of Microsoft’s mishandling of R&D.

    The answer is obvious to anyone outside the Redmond distortion field: product designs are subverted by boneheaded management, which has a stunted vision of technology, an inbred belief in marketing, and a disdain for new ideas that might get in the way of its comfortable river of cash.

  2. In my college statistics class they pointed out the fallacy of the infinite monkey theory. The laws of randomness say those monkeys would never ever produce more than a string of a half dozen coherent words. As far as the Shakespeare, the statistical match for him is the Earl of Oxford.

    1. Methinks, mayhaps your instructor did not understand infinity, or the statement slipped betwixt the tongue and your finger tips.

      Take a 100 key keyboard. The probability of randomly not producing a specified string of 10,000 consecutive characters with n keystrokes is
          S(n) = (1-1/100^10,000)^n.
      While S(10^10) is 1 (at least to a thousand digit accuracy), as n goes to infinity, S(n) goes to 0. One monkey will produce Shakespeare’s plays given an infinite amount of time.
      Infinity is
      really big and hard for us mere non-monkeys toiling on this mortal coil to understand.

      1. Thanks , I was just thinking of posting a similar statement, the infinite monkey thm is fairly strait forward, may have been a morning class.
        You can make a similar argument based on a 255 character set with 80 columns, you have 80^255 ways of typing that line, 25 lines per page would use nCr for combinations of these lines. End result a VERY big number, but still a number. Monkeys would get to it.

        1. Considering the patience of a monkey multiplied by the need to eat, crap, pee, sleep, shag, scratch, groom, assert authority and swing across branches. Infinite should not be a concept applied to this argument.
          I can see the typewriter being thrown out as boredom, frustration and the need to perform the above tasks manifest themselves.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong but “if you have an infinite number of monkeys, banging away on an infinite number of typewriters, over an infinite amount of time”, won’t those monkeys accidentally produce the works of William Shakespeare within the first second?

  4. Maybe the real question is:
        Can an infinite number of Ballmers directing an infinite number of MS products get one right?
    I bet that probability is the Mark of Zero!

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