Microsoft: Research Helps Protect Our Future

By Peter Galli  |  Print this article Print


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Having developed innovative technologies for millions of people, Microsoft Research will continue to play a central role in defining the future of technology for many years to come, chairman Bill Gates predicts.

REDMOND—The reason Microsoft Research exists is so that Microsoft will still be here in 15 years time, Rick Rashid, the senior vice president of research, said here on Sept. 26.

"I hope that fifteen years from now there will still be the same vibrant environment we have now, where we have been able to build a stable research environment. If we can do this for the next 15 years the sky is the limit. I get surprised every morning by the research that is taking place," he said, talking at an event to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Microsoft Research at the Redmond campus.

While Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was unable to attend the event, in a video presentation he said that over the past 15 years, Microsoft Research has tackled some of the biggest challenges in computing and developed innovative technologies that had benefited millions of people around the globe.

"I am proud of what Microsoft researchers have accomplished and there is no doubt in my mind that Microsoft Research will continue to play a central role in defining the future of technology for many years to come," he said.

Microsoft Research has grown to more than 700 researchers at five laboratories worldwide. The researchers also share their findings and new discoveries, having published more than 3,700 academic papers across 55 fields, Rashid said.

Click here to read more about how Microsoft researchers are experimenting with an automatic code zapper for the company's Internet Explorer Web browser.

Asked what research he is most proud of, Rashid said one example is the technology it was working on in 1992 for optimizing how 32-bit code runs. The team was researching new ways for doing this so that, when executed, the code would take up less memory.

"The product teams at the time were really not interested in this at that time as they said it was not an issue for them then. But three years later when we were trying to ship Windows and Office, they really needed it as the size of computer memories had not increased the way they were expected to and so it was important to get that space back," he said.

Read more here about what Rick Rashid had to say at Microsoft research's tenth anniversary event.

The close relationship that was forged at that time between the research and the product teams is also important and established the long-term relationship between them that exists today, he said.

With regard to more current research that has found its way into the upcoming Windows Vista, Rashid pointed to the field of software proof tools, where specific properties of programs can be identified and then proved and tested.

"With Windows Vista we were able to bring in a tool called static driver verifier, which takes mathematically defined properties and verifies if those are true for large bodies of code to ensure the quality of that piece," he said, noting that Vista also supported natively an array microphone system, giving a much better voice quality with much less noise.

With regard to Microsoft's decision to license some of its technologies externally, Rashid said that a number of technologies have been licensed, from analyzing real-time traffic data and making predictions based on this, to its Wallop social networking software.

Asked which problems he would love to see cracked and that impacted computer science today, Rashid said that research has only scratched the surface of the biomedical area and what computing could do to help with health care and reduce the costs associated with that.

"There is a huge opportunity to bring computing technology and the underlying theory of computing into this area and have a huge impact," he said.

Another area where technology cold play a significant role going forward was with regard to the environment, doing things like collecting traffic data, doing analysis and making predictions and then get that back to the vehicles.

"This can help with energy efficiency and the protection of the environment, Rashid said.

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One of the main challenges Microsoft Research faces over the next five years is maintaining the quality of its work and staff.

"Research organizations are very fragile and it's easy to lose the edge, and the best people, if you are not careful. So, we have to keep moving forward and subjecting ourselves to external criticism," Rashid said.

Another ongoing challenge is taking the top research and getting it into products. This includes facilitating technology transfer, which involves hard work on the researcher's part to put it in a form that can be used in a product, as well as for the product groups to figure out how to use it and take advantage of it, Rashid said.

Check out eWEEK.com's for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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