Microsoft: Research Helps Protect Our FutureBy Peter Galli | 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.
REDMONDThe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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