WIRED Magazine’s online site ran a great long profile of Microsoft Research late yesterday, with interviews and project features: “How Microsoft Researchers Might Invent a Holodeck.”
I have written about or mentioned all of the individual projects or technologies on my blog before, but the writing at WIRED is so much better than my own – and the photographs so cool – that I thought I should post a link to the story.
REDMOND, Washington — Deep inside Microsoft is the brain of a mad scientist.
You might not think so, given the banality of the company’s ubiquitous products: Windows, Office, Hotmail, Exchange Server, Active Directory. The days are long past when this kind of software could light up anyone’s imagination, except maybe an accountant’s.
But Microsoft has an innovative side that’s still capable of producing surprises. In fact, Microsoft spends more than $9 billion a year, and employs tens of thousands of people in research and development alone. While most of that goes toward coding the next versions of the company’s major products, a lot gets funneled into pure research and cutting-edge engineering.”
The article highlights the collaborative focus of MSR work:
Building 99 is a think tank in the classic sense: It’s a beautifully-designed building packed to the gills with hundreds of scientists — about half of Microsoft’s researchers work here. In the middle is a tall, airy atrium designed by the architect to facilitate collaboration and the kind of chance meetings that can lead to serendipitous discoveries.
And the author, Dylan Tweney (@dylan20 on Twitter) adds some valuable historical Silicon Valley context:
In fact, you only need one hit to make billions of dollars in research pay off, even if you waste the rest of the good ideas. As Malcolm Gladwell argued recently, Xerox, which is often derided for failing to take advantage of a series of amazing inventions at its Palo Alto Research Center, actually saw huge returns from just one invention: the laser printer. Against that, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Xerox PARC was home to hundreds of useless research projects, or that Xerox never figured out what to do with some of its research, like the graphical user interface.
Great piece – and yet again underlines why I like my job – which includes addressing that last line, “figuring out what to do” with this research. (And so, back to work.)