Microsoft Research celebrates 20 years of innovation

By Tom Warren, on 28th Sep 11 12:38 pm with 15 Comments

Microsoft Research 20 years old

Microsoft’s Research team is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its research labs.

Bill Gates, Rick Rashid and Nathan Myhrvold created Microsoft Research (MSR) in September 1991. Their mission was simple, advance the state of technology and computing using research techniques. Microsoft now runs 12 research facilities worldwide and employs over 850 dedicated researchers in over 60 fields of research. The company has research facilities in the UK, Germany, China and across the United States.

Microsoft’s Research work has become an integral part of the organization and has been responsible for a number of successful products. Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect accessory was born in the company’s research labs, as was the recently released Microsoft Touch Mouse. “The labs are unique among corporate research facilities in that they balance an open academic model with a process for transferring their research results into Microsoft products,” explains Microsoft’s Steve Clayton in a blog post on Tuesday. Microsoft’s research work impacts a variety of products in ways that may not be immediately recognized by end users. Microsoft’s Office spelling and grammar checking was a Microsoft Research project and a lot of Hotmail’s spam improvements and Bing’s search innovation has used MSR technology.

“The impact of MSR outside of Microsoft is no less significant,” explains Clayton. Microsoft’s Research work includes advances in medicine and environmental improvements. The software giant has worked on improving research on Alzheimer’s disease, the search for a HIV vaccine, improving the quality control in the food industry, and helping to prevent deforestation.

Microsoft is planning to mark its 20 years of MSR with a number of events around the world.

Image Credit: TechCrunch

  • Anonymous

    Happy birthday!  These people can be proud to know that the World has truly benefited from their innovation over the years.

    • Tom

      The public, but not Microsoft.

      Although a couple more years of Kinect sales may finally pay off the sunk costs for MSR.

    • Anonymous

      Not Microsoft?  Are you basing this off the Courier not making it to market or something?  Not every idea has entered the market, but R&D has penetrated into their core business more than you can know.  Also don’t forget R&D has given MS the strongest patent portfolio in the industry.  If you wonder how that helps MS, just take a look at news about Samsung today.

    • Guest

      Patent portfolios are nice in a defensive sort of way but disruptive products are far more valuable. And on the flip side, having to respond to the disruptive products of others, as MS has had to do repeatedly over the last decade, is very expensive and not always successful. As we’ve seen.

    • Guest

      I’m not sure that’s accurate and it’s definitely not provable. But I agree that product groups haven’t taken as much advantage of MSR as they should have. MS may need to take a fresh look at whether the current structure still makes sense. Especially given how often competitors have been disrupting them in the market.

    • Anonymous

      MSFT is like a punch-drunk washed-out former champ boxer. It’s time to hang up the gloves!

    • Guest

      Yeah, they need to take much better advantage of this very expensive resource.

    • Anonymous

      The problem with MSR is lack of direction. Apple’s research labs are very focused on creating technologies that can be applied to products in the short-term. But even so, if you go to http://www.patentlyapple.com/ you will see loads of far-flung future concepts Apple is patented. Bottom line is Apple has truly brilliant scientists and engineers that get more bang for the buck compared to MSR.

  • Kulwinder Singh

    Congratulations MSR Team doing a wonderful job, i am really interested in “Infer.NET” Greatest Minds are at work John Connor would be proud lol…MSR Brings the Billions worth of patent Dollars keep up the good work

  • Anonymous

    I like companies with dedicated research labs with lots of phDs:  IBM, HP, MS, etc.

  • Anonymous

    MSR = giant money hole. A net loss for the company for 20 years, just kill it already.

    • Guest

      The job of product innovation belong to MS’s product groups. Not MSR. The former often call on the latter, but that’s not MSR’s mandate. Apple innovates at a much higher rate for much less cost? On a tiny subset of products perhaps. But you’re comparing apples to oranges since in MS’s case you have to get alignment of MS + OEMs. Your figures for relative R&D are both wrong. Apple’s is lower and MS’s is higher. Again, since R&D itself has two different meanings and mandates at each company, it’s a meaningless comparison. Please stick to topics you know something about, assuming you ever find one.

  • http://twitter.com/stevecla steve clayton

    ArrowSmith - your assumptions on the spend of Microsoft Research (hence ROI) are incorrect. I’d encourage you to take a look at this post http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_blog/archive/2011/03/07/small-r-big-d-microsoft-research-techfest-demonstrates-the-future.aspx where I explain this common mis-conception.

    Of course that may not totally address the ROI but trust me, it’s there. Pretty much every single product that Microsoft ships contains MSR contribitions (speech tech, cloud tech, IPv6, F#, facial recognition, Bing, Bing Maps, Windows Phone…to name a few). MSR isn’t in the business of creating products, it’s focused on creating technologies and looking over the horizon to ensure that when the need arises for something like skeletal tracking (Kinect) we have done the work and can apply it.

    Hope that helps to explain

    Steve

  • http://twitter.com/stevecla steve clayton

    @3dc88a792444170202e0ab4d8a26ed96:disqus the public does benefit but often doesn’t see it, that’s the beauty and the challenge of MSR – often their work is under the covers of a product you’re using every day. I try to explain this a little at http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_blog/archive/2011/09/27/the-magic-behind-the-curtain-celebrating-microsoft-research-s-20th-anniversary.aspx

    Steve

  • SDreamer

    Wow… MSR sounds all great for consumers, but their stuff is just too far ahead, or rather, Microsoft seems to block anything they make from really turning into reality. It seems with the advent of Apple’s iPhone, Microsoft is now finally tapping more into what drives technology, new innovations, which MSR has been concocting for 20 years or so. I think it Microsoft used more of their MSR products, we’d see them with a much more positive consumer view than we do now. There have been many things from MSR that just were demoed and looked really awesome, but there was never any announcement of when these innovations would come to consumers. I applaud MSR for their 20 years of dedication, but really I wish we’d see more of their work come down to the consumers.