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Microsoft

Microsoft Research Turns 10 302

Posted by timothy
from the smart-people dept.
Alec Muzzy writes: "Did you know that Microsoft Research, the first research laboratory started by a software company, just turned 10 years old? Their website is currently featuring some highlights of their research in the past 10 years and how it is applying to the new products Microsoft is making today - for instance their work in Real-Time Fur will be used in some XBox games, and Speech Recognition may be in future Pocket PC's. Reading these pages gives you a real insight into what new technologies Microsoft is working on."
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Microsoft Research Turns 10

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  • Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by SaturnTim (445813) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:41PM (#2256553) Homepage

    I thought Apple was much older than 10 years...

    ;)

    --T
    • And Xerox clearly had something at Palo Alto, even if it took other companies to turn their research into sellable products. If I remember Apple brought the Mac out in 1985 and it was based on technology from Xerox. IBM also probably had something before that date. This all goes to prove that MS is trying to get media attention again - suprise suprise ;)
    • > I thought Apple was much older than 10 years...

      I think he meant that internally Microsoft used to refer to Apple as Research and Development South.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by WildBeast (189336)
      Apple, IBM and Xerox are all mostly hardware companies so they don't count.

    • Of course Apple is. And they weren't the first either. However, the claim as written, is in the best MS tradition - it's not quite lying, though it's deceptive as hell.


      You see, Apple had an actual material product to sell. So did all the other pioneers. Microsoft was pretty much unique (there may be an exception but I can't think of it) in that they ran (this is not true anymore, and hasn't been for years) a profitable company with no tangible product. A "software company" as the blurb said.


      Of course, Apple and lots of other companies were "software companies" in that they were companies that made software, but they weren't reliant on software for their entire revenue - apple made and sold hardware and developed their software as a compliment to that, just like Sun, DEC, IBM, etc. So there's some wiggle room to claim the statement is true.


      I don't buy it for a minute, of course. Just another clever lie.

  • by turbine216 (458014) <turbine216@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:48PM (#2256595)
    ...but deadly underneath...

    Notice that no mention is made of Microsoft's "Black Ops" division (often referred to as "R&D"), whose current research documents include "Mind Control using pre-packaged Windows Sound Schemes" and "The Manchurian Candidate and You: What it All Means."
    • I thought that was the group that figures out how to harm non-partners, like Kodak, or for that matter, less lucrative partners in favor of themselves or more lucrative partners.


      Yeah, I can still remember all the hullabaloo back when they announced they were forming a research group. Odd thing was they were mostly continuing research started by others. Acquisitions seems the be the true heart of Microsoft research and development.

      • Odd thing was they were mostly continuing research started by others.

        Um...that's what research is. Only super-humans like Einstein get to publish freestanding papers. Very little research is breathtakingly innovative. There's that whole "standing on the shoulders of giants" thing, you see.

    • Notice that no mention is made of Microsoft's "Black Ops" division (often referred to as "R&D"), whose current research documents include "Mind Control using pre-packaged Windows Sound Schemes" and "The Manchurian Candidate and You: What it All Means."

      You forgot about their black ops attempts to pay for ownership of intelligent children with stock options [seattleweekly.com].

      Disclaimer for those who don't get the above article: just to be entirely clear so as to distinguish my usual complaints about Microsoft [kmfms.com] from the above joke, the linked article above is a joke and is not a real complaint.

  • by green pizza (159161) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:49PM (#2256601) Homepage
    In the late 1990s the college of engineering at my university would have reps and engineers from Apple's ATG (Advanced Technology Group) visit to judge projects, talk about the industry, and share stories over a BBQ. From what I understand, the ATG was a research group that had free reign to experiment with software and hardware projects, some of which were eventually wrapped into shipping Apple products. In about 1994 I remember a demo/presentation that included some neat webserver CGIs for "intelligent" searching and document organzation (cool for that time period). We were also shown a cool speech recognition + text-to-speech utility that utilized facial recognition as well as displaying a spooky relaistic animated talking face. I also recall a semi-working mockup of a 3D version of the Macintosh Finder (Apple's Macintosh desktop / file manager). One of the coolest things I remember was that not all of their projects were on Apple Macintosh hardware. Most were, but a few were on IBM RS/6000 (AIX) and SGI Indigo (IRIX) workstations.

    Cool stuff.
  • wow... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rkane (465411) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:50PM (#2256605) Homepage Journal
    Anyone else notice the amount of people dedicated to researching security for M$? Interesting to see that they still have major security holes in all of their releases. Yet again I am convinced that they leave their software buggy on purpose, so that upgrades are easier to sell.
    • by sjbe (173966) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:16PM (#2256763)
      between researching security and implementing it. Microsoft has lots of smart people working for it, at least some of whom I'm sure understand completely the security implications of what they do. They just purposely decide not to do anything about it.

      Which brings up the next point in that there is often a difference between doing what's "Right" and doing what's profitable. Easy is what sells to most folks. Secure is not. (talking generalities here...) And making things secure often makes them dramatically less easy. Since the primary purpose of Microsoft is to make money, easy will always win out over secure in their world. Good, bad, or indifferrent, that's the way it is. Follow the money trail and you'll understand why MS acts the way they do.

      Limux has the opposite approach. Generally in the *nix world, performance (including stability, speed and options) usually wins out over outright ease of use. That's what the users of it demand. Certainly some things are very easy, but in many cases it's a different kind of easy for a different kind of audience. Whether that is good or not is an excercise left to the reader. (i.e. you)
    • by iceT (68610)
      I also believe that it's buggy to protect their partners. If the closed all the virus holes, Norton and Mcafee would be out a LOT of money.

      Exactly what incentive does MS have to close these holes?
  • by MagikSlinger (259969) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:51PM (#2256611) Homepage Journal

    Let us not forgive or forget that. :-)



    The sad thing is Microsoft has spent a pretty penny on research, but because of Microsoft's internal structure and development philosophy, the research doesn't get to do more than provide a gimick or two. E.g., Microsoft research spent a lot of time and money to develop a technique using Baysean probability to analyze what a user was doing and figure out what they were trying to do. The end result of that was the mother-#$! Office Paperclip that popped up whenever you typed the words, "Dear John".



    Microsoft Research should be figuring out how to improve the performance of NT's Microkernel architecture, improve virtual memory management on multi-media machines and a host of other useful technologies. But they don't. Go figure.


    • by iabervon (1971) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:11PM (#2256745) Homepage Journal
      Microsoft Research comes up with brilliant new ideas and techniques. Then the rest of Microsoft re-implements them badly and in annoying ways, and incorporates technology stolen from other places.

      It's kind of silly to have such a good research lab and then barely pay attention to it. On the other hand, they don't ignore it quite as much as Xerox ignored PARC. The real issue is that pure research, while very important for the quality of future software, is generally too far ahead of it's time to be useable by anything the parent company is doing.

      I suspect that, in ten years, people will be as impressed by the work that was done at MS Research as people today are with the work done at PARC.

      The particular problems that MS is facing currently aren't really interesting to the research people, because they're all tied to the particular set of products that are currently in the process of being phased out. They're interested in things that will still be useful after the commercial implementation gets botched by the inexperienced programmers and mangled by marketting and then the industry moves to the next concept; by the time their work is done, NT will be totally gone and multi-media will be done in dedicated memory on FPGA boards.
      • Oh, my god, PLEASE!! (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mali_kurac (517194)
        I suspect that, in ten years, people will be as impressed by the work that was done at MS Research as people today are with the work done at PARC.

        PARC invented: Ethernet networks, windowed GUI's and laser printing! The ABSOLUTE basis for everyone's current networked computer environment (at least at most companies).

        To say that Microsoft will come up with anything anywhere even close to as innovative as any one of those things (let alone 3) is totally laughable.

        Bullshit couched in intellectualism is still bullshit.
    • Actually, I once read an article (long lost in the shuffle, I'm afraid) in which a MS researcher claimed to have developed some really leading-edge AI stuff that was intended to power Clippy. He claimed that, if his stuff had gone into production, Clippy would have been uncannily perceptive in offering help.

      MS chose to neuter his algorithms, though, and instead we got that perpetual annoyance/spawn of satan.

      Oh - and don't write him off [umbc.edu] just yet.
      • by denshi (173594)
        It's easy to say what might have happened. Particularly in AI, wherein everything thus far has been vapor.

        More to the point, being 'uncannily perceptive' doesn't solve the core problem with Clippy, which was that no one likes forcible context switches away from their work. There is a great deal of needed research and implementation on how people interact with their computers, how they maintain continuity through an application, and how to present easy access to information. The idea that you can end-run around those problems by having an application interrupt you at odd times is hogwash, no matter how intelligent the application.

        • by Znork (31774)
          Well, actually, from what that article said (I read the same one), the actual original clippy was a quite sane idea and possibly actually useful. The problem was that it didnt pop up unless the user actually needed/could use assistance. Which meant it triggered quite rarely.

          Of course, you cant really use such a thing in marketing. Take a salesman trying to play(?) extremely clueless with Word for half an hour before the thing triggers in front of a fidgeting audience who wants to see the latest "impressive" tech... dont think so.

          So they made it trigger more often. Good for the demo, absolute mindnumbing idiotic for anyone subjected to the thing in ordinary use...

          Must be fun to work for MS research. Watch the few rare good ideas they turn up get turned into absolute crap that you have to feel embarrased about and never mention you were involved in them for fear of a good solid kick in some sensitive part...
    • Microsoft Research should be figuring out how to improve the performance of NT's Microkernel architecture, improve virtual memory management on multi-media machines and a host of other useful technologies. But they don't. Go figure.

      It's not very surprising that they're not tinking with the kernel too much, since 80% of today's applications are bottlenecked by slow hardware 80% of the time.
      • Huh. Not in my experience. Most applications are bottlenecked because they're written by 3-week VB class graduates it seems. Well, maybe not that bad, but it appears the current popular paradigm in software optimization is 'buy more hardware', and you cant get the application programmers to fix their code until the hardware companies refuse to sell you more hardware because you're making their machines performance look bad (that actually happened to me once...).
    • by Carnage4Life (106069) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:07PM (#2257057) Homepage Journal
      . E.g., Microsoft research spent a lot of time and money to develop a technique using Baysean probability to analyze what a user was doing and figure out what they were trying to do. The end result of that was the mother-#$! Office Paperclip that popped up whenever you typed the words, "Dear John".

      Most people who have worked on both research and real world development can tell you that there are always trade-offs to make between what works under limited conditions in a lab and what works in a production system with dozens of variables. Hypothetically, what if the Paperclip algorithm developed by the researchers actually were pretty smart at learning and predicting the user's behavior but would either eat up too much RAM take up too much time do perform their predictions?

      What would you do if you were a PM for Office? Scrap the research opr pare it down to where it works in a reasonable amount of time and uses a reasonable amount of resources but isn't as clever asd you'd like? Real managers and real developers make decisions like this everyday.

      Microsoft Research should be figuring out how to improve the performance of NT's Microkernel architecture, improve virtual memory management on multi-media machines and a host of other useful technologies. But they don't. Go figure.

      I just looked at the MS Research page which lists the current research areas [microsoft.com] and noticed the following These are just the ones that address your immediate questions. There are several dozen more cool and worthwhile research areas at MS Research. Of course, being a typical slashdotter it is easier for you to bash them unthinkingly than do an ounce of research.

      PS: For those who think Microsoft isn't interested in the work done by MSR, when I was at a presentation at BillG's house this summer he kept on going on and on about the interesting projects being worked on at MSR and about how of all of MSFT that is probably one place where he is familiar with all the projects being worked on.
      • Most people who have worked on both research and real world development can tell you that there are always trade-offs to make between what works under limited conditions in a lab and what works in a production system with dozens of variables.

        Sarcasm On.You're right. I mean, it's too bad we can't mass produce microelectronics because when they were first invented, they could only be reliably produced in a special lab. Or transisotrs. The first transistors were notoriously expensive because they could only be produced in research laboratories. It's too bad they never figured out how to mass produce them.Sarcasm Off

        Industry usually finds a way to make lab research as useful, or more so, in the real world. Microsoft does not seem to be willing to invest in the discipline, like the physical sciences did, to take lab discoveries and put them into production. Microsoft is a sloppy organization that only knows how to steal and copy. Innovation is not their strong suit.

        Hypothetically, what if the Paperclip algorithm developed by the researchers actually were pretty smart at learning and predicting the user's behavior but would either eat up too much RAM or take up too much time do perform their predictions?

        You mean like Office 97? :-)

        Your arguing with a straw man. Office 97 is freaking huge, and as others pointed out, the original algorithm could run fine w/ office. The reason Paperclip got lobotomized is because of Marketing. They turned a potentially cool and useful feature into an annoying joke.

        In my original article, I said the internal culture of MS prevents them from innovating in useful ways; instead, they create annoying gimmicks. Read Debugging the Development Process for an inside view of how MS's internal culture works against them.

        As for those who loved to point me to the Research page and say, "Lookee! They're innovating in those areas!" No, they're not, and what they are working on will never go into a MS Product. My point was MS Research is suffering the same fate of Xerox PARC: they maybe doing cool stuff, but they're constantly being distracted from it. Their parent company's internal culture prevents them from seeing where true innovation lies and what is really important from a technical point of view.

        That's why I find Microsoft's arguments against breakup or restraining orders so nauseating. If they really did innovate, I wouldn't dislike them so much.

    • The end result of that was the mother-#$! Office Paperclip that popped up whenever you typed the words, "Dear John".

      Actually the original algorithm was very very smart. Unfortunately it was considered too smart because it would hardly ever pop up and the market folks couldn't figure out how to sell something that would only pop up when you got really really stuck.

      So they dumbed it down a lot and added triggering on certain text patterns and you have the paperclip as it stands. More likely to pop up, but more annoying.

  • PARC? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by zephc (225327)
    doesn't Xerox PARC count? they have been doing pure research (least I think so) for a long time now
  • From the front page: Is Microsoft Smart or Just Successful?

    Some choices - I have a few other suggestions:

    Is M$ monopolistic or just greedy?

    Does M$ software suck by design or is it coincidence?

    Will XP allow the NSA to spy on home users or just allow Microsoft to spy on home users?

    When will Microsoft give up the legal battle with DOJ - when Hell freezes over or when pigs fly?

  • Priorities (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:56PM (#2256658)
    WTF? Real Time Fur?? How about Real Time Stability?

    • How about Real Time Stability?


      They already did that, its called Windows 2000.


      Honestly, Linux users have nothing to brag about in the stability department since the release of Windows 2000. My primary workstation and my personal webserver (both Win2k) have been running for almost a full-year non-stop. Only time they've come down is for hardware upgrade and, on the workstation, due to a single blue-screen caused by a faulty beta driver (not Microsoft certified) which was then promptly removed resulting in smooth sailing once again.

      • Re:Priorities (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ian Schmidt (6899)
        2000 is indeed a quantum leap in stability, but if you're doing serious development-type work on it you can still make it unstable an unsettling amount of the time. At least when IE fucks up it no longer takes out all your work though.
    • The animal rights people will be having a heyday over this.
  • by Outlet of Me (90657) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:57PM (#2256663)
    Now as much as everybody would like to deny that Microsoft has come up with anything new and original, you have to give them this:

    All of their research on the blue screen of death has paid off. And they obviously know how to allocate their resources, devoting the most effort to the feature that gets seen most often.
  • NT source code (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shd99004 (317968) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:57PM (#2256664) Homepage
    I didn't know about this site. But it looks really very interesting, and something that is even more interesting is that they have special licensees for universities and other non profit research institutes to have access to the source code for NT and CE. This is some of the most interesting things I've seen.

    Here is a link [microsoft.com].
    • NT 3.51 didn't have the necessary API hooks to allow native defragging.

      "Executive Software was forced to purchase a source license for NT and to create and ship custom versions of NTFS and FAT, as well as NT itself, along with their defragmentation code."


      "According to Executive Software, they requested specific functionality in NTFS and FAT for cluster reallocation, which Microsoft added for them."


      You read more at http://www.sysinternals.com/ntw2k/info/defrag.shtm l [sysinternals.com]

      P.S. Does anyone know why /. adds an extra space between the 'M' and 'L' in the above url ? Probably a bug that assumes urls don't contain more then 4 characters after the period.
    • ...and something that is even more interesting is that they have special licensees for universities and other non profit research institutes to have access to the source code for NT and CE. This is some of the most interesting things I've seen.

      Aaack!! Don't look - it's a trap!! Damn, now you're tainted and you can never work on a GPL project again. ;-)

      The sad thing is that some people really think that way.

  • by Webmoth (75878) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @02:58PM (#2256668) Homepage
    Wasn't Linux developed just over 10 years ago?

    The earliest datestamp in kernel 0.0 [kernel.org] is 15 Jun 1991 at 1:54 pm (memory.h).

    No wonder Microsoft decided they needed a research department.

    • made me type 0.0 instead of 0.01 -- argh!
  • There have been lots of research labs at software-only firms. In fact, there have been lots of research-only firms. Of course, none of those have been as large as Microsoft, but then, who is?

    On balance, so far, I'm pretty disappointed with the output from Microsoft's research lab. Most of the interesting stuff that has come out of it seems to be things people were doing before they came to Microsoft. I think it remains to be seen whether Microsoft Research will manage to develop a decent research culture, comparable to IBM and Bell Labs. One thing that is clear: Microsoft Research seems to be struggling as much with trying to get their research results into products as any of their predecessors.

  • Judging by the sheer numbers of Microsoft mice & keyboards I've seen in offices and homes, it looks to me like Microsoft is in the hardware business as well. I suppose MSFT reps would say they make keys&mice as a "service" to help the computing world, but it looks to me as if Logitech, Kensington, and others make plenty to keep the computing world stocked.

    XBox also seems to be hardware in nature.
  • Microsoft's research into hydroponics [bbspot.com]. It's the only explanation for this [bbspot.com].
  • Dear all,

    Speech recognition has been part of Windows CE for a long while. Here [lhsl.com] is a press release from Lernout & Hauspie for the technology that was licensed to Microsoft in 1998. [I recall using a very poor speech recognition software on Windows CE even earlier.]

  • As usual, MS takes credit for the work of others. I was particularly incensed by the article on fur textures. The algorithms for fur were first developed by Rhythm 'n Hues, an award-winning Hollywood effects shop (and an SGI shop). Their first applications of this algorithm should be familiar to all: the furry Coca-cola polar bear commercials.

    But of course, giving credit to other pioneers means nothing to Microsoft. They steal the work of the people that make the REAL innovations, and proclaim it was their own invention.
    • Calm down, Calm down...

      You're jumping *waaaay* ahead of yourself.

      If you'd read the article, you'd find that it's *real-time* fur they've been doing (rather than pre-rendered), which is a completely different kettle of fish.

    • by furiousgeorge (30912) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:52PM (#2256955)
      You're an idiot - LOTS of people came up with fur algorithms before R&H. E.g. Jim Kajiya who WORKS at MSResearch and wrote one of the seminal papers about it:

      Kajiya, James T. and Timothy L. Kay, ``Rendering fur with three dimensional textures,'' in Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 1989, ACM SIGGRAPH, 1989, pp. 271-280.

      Have a clue about the topic before you post. Just look at the list of staff at MSR - it's a 'who's who' of various fields........ CGI included...... Jim Blinn, Hughes Hoppe, Michael Cohen... etc etc etc........

      Welcome to Slashdot - blind microsoft bashing. MSResearch is doing some damn good work - look at any set of the conference proceedings from SIGGRAPH for the past 5 years and see the published work.........
  • Well, Microsoft might have the first research center "started by a software company", but it's dwarfed by the depth and breadth of activities at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Established in 1961, the Watson Center is headquarters for the largest industrial research organization in the world. They've been doing software research four times as long as Microsoft.

    And it shows.
    • Re:Clever wording (Score:2, Informative)

      by grimani (215677)
      the watson research center does much more than *just* software research.

      just the other day i was reading some publications on scheduling problems...ie operations research. they have a huge group doing business administration related research i believe, and their results are then directly applied to managing their global operations.
  • Notable (Score:3, Funny)

    by MaxwellsSilverHammer (10318) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:25PM (#2256811)
    The really interesting and innovative aspect of Microsoft's research dept. is that it is staffed entirely by attorneys expert in contract law. The fields of contract law and license agreements have advanced so much by Ms' innovations in these areas. People don't give them enough credit here I think.
    • You may laugh, but know that you are too right.


      Bill Gates' father is an attorney, and Mr Bill Jr is no slouch when it comes to reading fine print contracts with an eagle eye.


      That put him a few jumps ahead of the rest of nerd-dom that for the most part abhors reading anything resembling legalese.


      Better, it put him a few jumps ahead of the competitors lawyers, who knew legalese, but much less about technology and software.


      Read Hard Drive sometime. You'll get an education.

  • by geophile (16995) <jao@@@geophile...com> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:25PM (#2256820) Homepage
    Uhh, no.

    Digital was not, strictly speaking, a "software company" but had a major research lab a long time ago.

    Same for IBM.

    CCA (Computer Corporation of America), creator of the venerable Model 204 database system, had an excellent research group. The did some of the classical database research in the 70s and 80s. (In fact, Phil Bernstein, who did this work while at Harvard U. and CCA, is now at Microsoft although not in research, I believe).

    In 2006 or so, someone is going to submit to Slashdot about the 10th anniversary of Microsoft inventing the browser.

  • Now they just have to find a cure for the Slashdot Effect. :)
  • Microsoft Research the first research lab started by a computer company???

    This is so obviously false, that it's hard to imagine someone would dare to post it to, of all places, Slashdot. It's harder to imagine that Slashdot passed it along.

    Of course there were research centers before 1991. In particular there was the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, which pioneered the windows-based interface expanded upon by Apple and MicroSoft.

    But let's think back even further. IBM has been putting up research labs all over the world, and decades earlier:

    • IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, est. 1961
    • IBM Almaden Research Center, established 1955
    • IBM Haifa Research Lab, established 1972
    • IBM Tokyo Research Lab, established 1982
    • IBM Zurich Research Lab, established 1956

    Next thing you know, some Microsoft shill will be claiming that MS invented the Internet, 5 years ago.

    • Microsoft Research the first research lab started by a computer company???

      No, by a software company. Sure, Xerox, Apple, IBM, HP, Digital, etc. all had research labs. But, they are all hardware/software companies. The primary focus of MS is software, and that makes it unique. The others all use software as leverage to sell hardware.

  • by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:35PM (#2256881)
    Microsoft Research Turns 10

    Military Intelligence, Honest Politicians, Professional Wrestling, and Sexy Geek are also celebrating birthdays later this month.
  • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:43PM (#2256909)
    I think despite what most people here on /. think about Microsoft as a company, :) you have to admit a lot of their research has created some very good ideas.

    For example, the Microsoft Natural Keyboard and the improvements in the design of the Microsoft Mouse came out of this group. And MS Research has done a lot to dramatically improve the look and feel of Windows, especially the placement of menus, icons, etc.

    I believe that the Linux supporters and developers should seriously look at creating an Open Source equivalent of Microsoft Research (companies like Dell and IBM could provide the initial seed money for such a lab). Imagine tightly-controlled research that could result in dramatic improvements in the usability of Linux on both the graphical and command line level, and developing keyboards and mouse pointers geared towards the needs of Linux users.
    • You cite the Natural Keyboard and Intellimouse as examples of their innovation?

      Microsoft Natural Keyboard was an extension on other ergonomic keyboards that had been available for some time. Even Apple had an ergonomic keyboard back in 1992 -- except theirs was adjustable and sported an astonishing $250 price tag. I'm sure that others had them as well, but MS didn't put theirs out until years later.

      And Microsoft licensed the Intellimouse from HP, so I'm not sure how much research went into that from MS's resources.

      So I agree with the previous posts; Microsoft's research group seems to have contributed little to actual MS products.
      • Even Apple had an ergonomic keyboard back in 1992 -- except theirs was adjustable and sported an astonishing $250 price tag.

        But at US$250 in 1992 dollars, nobody was going to buy that keyboard on a large scale.

        When the Natural Keyboard came out in late 1995, I believe the cost was around US$80. You can get the Natural Keyboard Elite for around US$40 nowadays.
    • Well, actually, natural keyboards came out way before MS got interested in them, and I don't see anything good with MS mice. The Taiwanese had wheel mice about 7yrs before MS made theirs.
      Optical mice had been popular about 20yrs ago, the only new thing MS added was the ability to work on most surfaces instead of special mousepads. I have always found MS mice to be too big for my hands, and the MS optical, whose shape is much more comfortable than previous mice, got its shape by copying Logitech's MouseMan+ range (including placement of extra buttons and ribbed wheel).
      • I never saw a Taiwanese mouse pointer that had a scroll wheel on it until after Microsoft introduced them on the Intellimouse around 1995.

        Yes, I am aware of optical mouse pointers (and indeed used a Mouse Systems mouse that required a special reflective surface mouse pad way back in 1988), but the arrival of Intellimouse Explorer a few years ago was a big breakthrough, especially you can use most surfaces for the mouse pointer.

        By the way, it was actually Microsoft that kicked off the revolution in more ergonomic mouse pointer designs. Remember the famous Dove bar Microsoft Mouse from the late 1980's? That mouse forced Logitech to completely redesign their mouse pointers from a squarish box to the much more ergonomic Mouseman designs that better fit your hand. What's interesting is that Logitech's current First Mouse+, First Mouse+ Optical and iFeel Mouse are probably among the most comfortable mouse pointers to use (Logitech's current Mouseman-series mice are quite large and a bit unwieldy).
    • *PLEASE READ THIS* (Score:3, Interesting)

      by clinko (232501)
      I hope to god this is modded up. Anyway.

      "For example, the Microsoft Natural Keyboard and the improvements in the design of the Microsoft Mouse came out of this group"

      This is great because I work at a department at my university where a guy downstairs is suing microsoft. You wanna know why?

      Way back when he was typing on his keyboard and noticed his wrists were starting to hurt. He then created the first natural keyboard. Upon trying to sell it to several companies and failing, he tried microsoft (Software only, at the time.) Unfortunately they declined, but strangely enough they started making hardware later. One of their first creations... The natural keyboard.

      I really wish I knew the guy's name right now. But he works one floor below me. I'll post on it if I find out any more info.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hi -

    I know Ashton-Tate (the long defunct makers of dBASE) may be viewed by some as kind of a joke in microcomputer history, but I worked there for several years and we had a small but very professional research group with its own VP in Torrance, CA by at least 1988.

    I'm tired of reading that Microsoft is/was the first software company to have a research group. Also, to pick nits further, Microsoft is not a software only company, since they have designed and sold peripherals such as mice and keyboards over the years.

    Tom Rombouts, Torrance, CA

  • Jim and Janet Baker founded Dragon Systems [redherring.com] in 1982. (Course they did eventually sell to Lernout and Hauspie.) Stephen Wolfram founded Wolfram Research [wolfram.com] in 1987. Stephen Wolfram is about to introduce his new book [wolframscience.com] to the world that will revolutionize all of science. In essence, by founding his company he funded his own research and created the tools he needed to complete it. And these are examples just off the top of my head, I'm not saying they're anywhere near the best.
  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:26PM (#2257151) Journal
    In the early 90's, a huge percentage of the leading people in computer graphics research went to Microsoft Research. Some of the people involved were Jim Kajiya, Steve Gabriel, Andrew Glassner, and many others. They selected people who were prolific writers, wide ranging in their interests, and locked them away.


    They made people rediculous offers to lure them away from their universities and other companies.
    One example recruitment I heard went like this.

    ring ring


    Hello?


    Hello, this is Microsoft Research, we'd like you to come work with us


    Why should I? I'd never work for the great Satan. [thinking that this would make the caller hang up. But, what would Satan say? You got it...]


    Well, what are your terms?


    Ummm [trying to think of something completely unreasonable] How about $XXX.XXX [twice what he was getting then.]


    Fine.


    Ok, I want to work three months, then take a month off, work three months, take a month off...


    We can't do that. How about this, you work for four years, then you get four years off at that same rate.


    uhhhhhhh, well, ok.


    When they set up the CG research group, they promised to have half the papers in Siggraph (the premier forum for computer graphics research) in a few years. This was a little scary, but not as scary as what really happened. What really happened is that these people pretty much stopped publishing at all; and stopped interacting with the rest of the graphics community.


    I asked a few of the people there about it, and they seemed happy as clams, they weren't worried about it. To me, it appears that their world had shrunk to be just Microsoft. It's more than a pity, it's almost criminal.


    thad

    • When they set up the CG research group, they promised to have half the papers in Siggraph (the premier forum for computer graphics research) in a few years. This was a little scary, but not as scary as what really happened. What really happened is that these people pretty much stopped publishing at all; and stopped interacting with the rest of the graphics community.

      I asked a few of the people there about it, and they seemed happy as clams, they weren't worried about it. To me, it appears that their world had shrunk to be just Microsoft. It's more than a pity, it's almost criminal.

      To me this indicates a false work ethic with those researchers. It sounds to me that they are only in it for the money, not to advance science or advance themselves. Do you think a great scientist like Stephen Hawking would ever get "bought" (as you put it) by a company like Microsoft? No way, he would have to give up way too much freedom in order to work there. He would only serve Microsoft, not the world or the computer industry at large.

      Okay, I know this example is flawed. Hawking doesn't work in computer science :)

  • Their research department actually exists?! I thought it was just an alias for their acquisitions department.

  • Most computer companies did research and development
    at the beginning, not after 15 years.
    For most of its history MicroSoft just emulated
    what others had already did, and sell it
    "more effectively".

    At least MS now has some respectable brainpower,
    but I dont see much of it in their products yet.
  • Excerpt from Barbarians Led by Bill Gates [fatbrain.com] by Jennifer Edstrom and ex-MS employee Marlin Eller, emphasis added:
    • "Eller was in ACT, the advanced consumer technology group, which [Nathan] Myhrvold had recently set up. Gates had decided to make Microsoft the first software company with an internal division fully dedicated to advanced research. It would serve two purposes: to develop add-on products for Windows, and, as analysts have often speculated,
    • to absorb some of the company's outrageously high profits, and thereby, ideally, lower the potential for further government scrutiny. Since 1988, prosecutors had kept Microsoft staked out as if they were the Gambino family, a trend that would only intensify as time went on." (rest of chapter one here [washingtonpost.com])
    (This is a mildly fun book, if awkwardly written and often too swaggeringly slandering. Can't really recommend it, though.)
  • but in reality, it's only to line their pockets.

Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth. -- Nero Wolfe

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