Microsoft has scooped up the chief scientist of supercomputer manufacturer Cray, Burton Smith.

Smith will leave the company on 7 December to take a job at the software giant. He will cease to be a Cray director the same day.

Microsoft has started to show a keen interest in high-performance computing. At the Supercomputing 05 show in Seattle earlier this month, it unveiled beta 2 of Windows Compute Cluster 2003, an version of its server OS with additional job-cheduling tools for computing clusters.

Smith was one of the founders of Tera Computer where he served as chief scientist from 1988. Tera bought Cray Research from Silicon Graphics in 2000, and renamed itself Cray. Smith was the chief architect of its MTA (Multithreaded Architecture) system.

Cray was once synonymous with the world's most powerful computers. Now, though, Cray's proprietary CPU designs are increasingly being supplanted by clusters of commodity microprocessors.

According to the latest Top 500 supercomputer list, the world's three fastest computers are all made by IBM, with fourth and fifth places occupied by SGI and Dell. Cray makes only sixth, with another four in the top 20.

Cray announced Smith's resignation on Friday in a regulatory filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.