A quantum computer is much more advanced than your regular, binary, on-off digital computer, but it is not a supercomputer. These computers have quantum bits or qubits, such as the two-qubit and the five-qubit quantum processor that students are currently exploring. What IBM, Google, Microsoft and other innovative companies have been working on over the past few years is devising a plan to get a practical quantum computer into the market.

Preparing a commercial quantum computer

For a quantum computer to work, scientists have had to overcome many pressing issues.

IBM scientists have been researching such computers for years; there are at least 15 third-party research papers posted on online on the experiments run on IBM's Quantum Experience. During their research, the quantum chips are placed inside a really cold refrigerator to keep them off the heat, noise and electromagnetic waves that may interfere with the qubits' proper state.

In a video interview accompanying the launch of IBM Q, a manager at IBM Research, Jerry Chow, explained, "Our Quantum Experience is currently open to the entire world—register, and start using it. We want to see the best ideas out there. We want to be able to find new algorithms, and we’d love to work together with different individuals, different organizations to help explore that frontier."

Ideal, practical and commercial

Scientists seem to have different ideas about what makes an ideal quantum computer.

IBM is priming up its software as its team readies the physical hardware. It invites more people to develop its growing community of programmers and developers. Meanwhile, Google is working on creating better hardware and designing better algorithms. Microsoft Research is busy working on probably the same complex issues on Station Q, where the world's mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists and engineers have been hard at work for more than 15 years.

Although it's not an official race, their end goals are the same: the ideal, practical and commercial computer.

A physicist, Winfried Hensinger of the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, told Nature in February that it could definitely be done as soon as possible: "Yes, it will be big, yes, it will be expensive—but it absolutely can be built right now." For IBM, in addition to all that, the commercial quantum computer should also be "universal" for business and science, as these computers will be the ones delivering solutions to the important problems that have no pattern and where the possibilities are too much for our common computers.