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The State of R&D At HP, IBM, and Microsoft 107

Posted by kdawson
from the no-monopoly-on-good-ideas dept.
jcatcw writes "Computerworld surveys the R&D efforts at HP, IBM and Microsoft ($17 billion annually) and raises the question: Are these companies supporting more long-term basic research, or just the usual short-term, product-oriented work? HP is consolidating its focus on a few 'big bet' projects in five major research areas — information explosion, dynamic cloud services, content transformation, intelligent infrastructure, and sustainability. IBM has four 'high-risk' basic research areas — nanotechnology, cloud computing, integrated systems and chip architecture, and managing business integrity through advanced math and computer science. Many of the 272 research projects named at Microsoft Research's Web site are structured with major product lines like Windows, Office, or Xbox in mind, but many also seem to have no likely application to anything the company sells today."
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The State of R&D At HP, IBM, and Microsoft

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:38AM (#24154153)

    Dear fucking god, my boss comes in at least once a week and asks me if our flagship app could run on cloud computing. Give me a gun and one bullet please.

    • by vilgefortz (1225810) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:41AM (#24154201)
      You should heed dilbert's advice and take away all industry magazines from your boss.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by everphilski (877346)
      I'm not sure if it's possible to kill a cloud with a bullet ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Dear fucking god, my boss comes in at least once a week and asks me if our flagship app could run on cloud computing. Give me a gun and one bullet please.

      A bullet for you or your boss?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        Kind of makes you wonder what the world would be like if more people became homicidal instead of suicidal when confronted by assholes on a daily basis. Probably more than a bit better :P
        • by Eighty7 (1130057) on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:28PM (#24155705)
          Hans? Is that you?
        • by mdf356 (774923)

          It depends on your focus.

          If you focus on the asshattery, then homicide leads to fewer asshats.

          If you focus on the anger that comes from dealing with asshats, then suicide leads to fewer angry people.

          I think we need a research project to see which focus is correct. :-)

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            If you focus on the anger that comes from dealing with asshats, then suicide leads to fewer angry people.

            Ah, but that is treating the symptoms, not the disease...

    • by podperson (592944)

      You should have a pretty well-prepared answer by now.

    • by dpilot (134227)

      Of course you mean a Silver Bullet! What other kind would management want?

    • by sjames (1099) on Friday July 11, 2008 @04:30PM (#24158443) Homepage

      That's easy, one day when he's out, connect wall current directly to the motherboard of his computer, Apply an etherkiller as well just to be complete.

      Tell him you tested the app with cloud computing as he asked, but it was so powerful it turned into a thunderhead and nearly burned the building down. Luckily it grounded itself into his PC.

      Tell him you'll be trying again soon, but need to requisition a few electricians to rewire the building first.

      If he balks, come back in a couple days and tell him you've figured out how to do a small scale test. Have him order everyone in the office to hop on one foot over a rubber mat patting their heads and rubbing their bellies at the same time (to generate an intermittent ground wave of opposing static charge). Video tape his orders and the results, be sure to get his whacked out explanation to the staff.

      Now, call mental health services and submit the video anonymously to his boss.

      Bonus points if your story about the experiment magnetizing him and attracting cosmic rays actually convinces him he feels little pinpricks periodically. The random twitching and slapping himself should seal the deal.

      Lather, rinse, repeat endlessly.

  • No money in Research (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jshriverWVU (810740) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:43AM (#24154239)
    These are businesses not institutions. They are in the business of making money via products they have mastered. Not a troll just the truth. However check out some of the better colleges and you'll find some sweet research going on. Then these big companies pay the kid 1m for the rights, patent it and make 100m off of it. Cycle of life :)
    • Narrow view (Score:5, Informative)

      by jmcbain (1233044) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:15PM (#24154667)
      Parent poster has a narrow view of industry research. I graduated with my PhD in CS about six years ago from a top-20 university and have worked in an industry research lab. The primary output of industry research are patents, papers, and products (either new products or improving products). And the research labs at Microsoft, IBM, HP, and Yahoo are all very good at this. Take a look at the top CS conferences in the fields where these companies have a stake, and you will see that industry research contributes a large share of the paper output (e.g. SOSP, OSDI, SIGMOD, VLDB, WWW, KDD, etc.). Further, these companies are spending lots of money sponsoring a wide breadth of conferences and helping to drive fundamental research at a time when NSF funding is low. These companies should be applauded.
      • I gladly stand corrected :) in that case glad to hear that money is going to people who create.
      • Re:Narrow view (Score:5, Interesting)

        by xtracto (837672) * on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:57PM (#24155247) Journal

        I completely agree.

        I was fortunate to participate in (Comp. Sci.) a research project where some industry companies worked along with some Universities. One of those companies was HP (participating via a researcher appointed to the project).

        I can say from first account experience that HP was one of the companies which put more interest and time in the research (while, other unamed companies sometimes were not even present at the meetings).

        From that project, I learnt several things about HP research (at least in Europe). They indeed have several projects going. A lot of those projects are however "sensitive" or secret. But you certainly can see several good publications with interesting implications coming from HP.

      • Furthermore, IBM is a bad company to throw into that mix. The ComputerWorld article skews their research contribution to the world greatly by focusing on a paltry $400 million worth of their research projects (IBM invests BILLIONS a year on R&D - in very diverse fields, including medical; which have resulted in numerous advances in things that are not computer related in the normal sense). IBM's research covers far more diverse areas than Microsoft, HP and Yahoo combined... and they thus apply for and w

      • And the research labs at Microsoft, IBM, HP, and Yahoo are all very good at this.

        Here's a big but - what about the local gasket manufacturer or soda bottler? Businesses are so bottom-line oriented, especially these days with the high prices and people losing their homes. There's little motivation to do any research if it's left to the big-name companies. While it does take a certain level of training and inclination to get involved in research, our technological base should be making research a snap.

        I want

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:44AM (#24154249)

    Whether research is aimed at solving an immediate problem or a problem conjured up in the mind of a scientist, it is not the technical abilities that make research useful. Any project can come up with a solution, pretty much. Rather, it is the mindset that "we are doing research" that makes the activity so productive.

    By opening your eyes to all possibilities and outcomes makes even mistakes useful, and having no penalty (relatively speaking, of course) when those mistakes arise frees researchers to create and build. Instead of creating a tailored solution, they can find various solutions and even branch out into more fruitful areas if the main branch turns cold.

    Having overarching themes that you want to pursue, like HP and IBM have, makes it easy for researchers to focus. On the other hand, pure research as they do at MS allows the researchers to go off in any direction that seems fruitful, even if most of the projects end up as dead ends.

    • by Ichoran (106539) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:50AM (#24154345)

      Researchers--good ones, anyway--generally don't have a problem focusing. Having an overarching theme just makes it easier for them to focus on the problem that you want them to work on.

      Also, research doesn't need to involve a solution. Much of the best basic research usually involves just wanting to know how something works. (Once you understand, then you can come up with applications and devise solutions using the new findings, but that's often the &D part of R&D.)

      • R&D means product development.

        A simple truth: sometimes companies just do R&D to lobby the government, esp. in foreign nations. HP is an example, but also Microsoft.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by samkass (174571)

          R&D means product development.

          Of course; otherwise, it would just be called "R" instead of "R&D".

          A company doing research for purely altruistic reasons is probably going to get sued by its shareholders someday. Microsoft plans to make plenty of money by controlling future markets through its R&D efforts. That, and sequestering researchers who had a chance to make a difference behind a "silicon curtain" of obscurity so they don't threaten the status quo. ("If we give those graphics professors from CMU enough toys, maybe we can

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:45AM (#24154261)

    ...that $35 million line item in Microsoft's budget that reads "EVIL (misc.)"

  • by istartedi (132515) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:52AM (#24154359) Journal

    Evidently, their lab's automated buzzword generating script is being tested.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Moofie (22272)

      Your sig is like grammar nazi kryptonite. Reading it felt like getting hit in the face with a fish four times.

      I hope you mean for it to be funny, because if not...wow.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by maxume (22995)

        What sequence of events led you to getting hit in the face four times with a fish?

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Grammar nazi's are the WORST waste of human space there is online. It is about all idiots of that nature have to contribute, so their stupidity only manifests itself in that manner in their doing of it. Too bad they are useless unmotivated idiots that only just managed to learn to read evidently, because anyone with any worth realizes people do make spelling &/or grammar mistakes online, even if only occasionally. They are apparently the ones with the problem, because if anyone that reads any given stat

      • by mpeskett (1221084)
        I couldn't care less about the use, or disuse, of the word whom, but "all intensive purposes"?

        The phrase is "all intents and purposes"
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:58AM (#24154437) Journal
    MS research actually does some pretty cool stuff and, more notably, that cool stuff includes things unrelated to OMG-Must-Keep-Wall-Street-Happy-This-Quarter type projects.
    I fully admit that I am speaking from a small dataset; but I am inclined to suspect that good corporate R&D is perhaps the one upside to companies with more market power than is strictly desireable. Think about Bell Labs back in the day. They did loads of basic research, including such minor little projects as transistors and Unix. Compare this to our dear present day carriers, whose primary mode of "innovation" appears to be writing ever more incomprehensible contracts.

    This is hardly to say that high concentrations of market power are a good thing, as R&D can be done in startups and universities and the like without all the downsides; but it does seem that high levels of market power do, somewhat, preserve R&D from being sacrificed on the altar of quarterly results.
    • by LaughingCoder (914424) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:18PM (#24154709)

      Compare this to our dear present day carriers, whose primary mode of "innovation" appears to be writing ever more incomprehensible contracts.

      That is so not true! They are very innovative at figuring out ways to charge their customers for add-on services. For instance - sell them a camera phone and then *charge* them to get the pictures out of the phone. Sell them a "music" phone that uses proprietary headphones only. Sell them their favorite song as a ringtone, then sell it again to them as a full track, and then sell it to them again as a ringback tone -- brilliant!

      • You are correct sir, I have given the carriers far too little credit! And, lest we forget our great debt to them, let me remind you all of the amazing strides in UI design embodied by Verizon's lovingly crafted custom user interface, as seen in uncountable numbers of maddeningly inconsistent versions on every phone unlucky enough to fall into their grasp.


        Incidentally, I have a project just begging for a talented flash designer with a sick sense of humor: Create, in the form of a flash demo app(or, for ex
    • Microsoft R&D (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Microsoft R&D do make some stuff that's applicable to current products.

      One clear example of that is multi-touch surfaces, that will be supported in Windows 7.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        That's amazing. I mean, someday that groundbreaking research might even enable multitouch on smartphones. That would be awesome!

  • It's usually 6 month time frame projects that are very likely to become products, not voodoo academic research. It was IPTV implementations after IPTV became big. Blu-Ray demos after Blu-ray technology was developed. iPOD syncing after iPods became big.

  • 1 company does short term r&d, i.e. product development
    2 govt & univ do long term research
    3 take over IP of publicly funded work
    4 profit !!

  • One page (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
  • by peragrin (659227) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:14PM (#24154651)

    Didn't researchers at HP recently discover how to build memreistor's? That isn't a 6 month to market product and can profoundly change computing.

    Thus negating the article at least for HP. IBM does work like this also it is where the Cell processor idea came from years and years ago.

    MSFT does have singularity, and a few other pieces of completely random but cool tech that will break compatibility with their other offerings so they will never see the market but are still done just because.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Oh, there's plenty of stuff that comes out of Microsoft Research into the mainstream MS products. Implementation of generics in .NET 2.0 was one such thing. LINQ was another. Now they're "productizing" (i.e., polishing up for inclusion in Visual Studio) F#.

      I would imagine that it works roughly the same for other companies. You have to keep track of their research projects to find out about that, though. It's rare that a research project transforms into a cash cow straight away - instead, good (and marketa

    • http://www.google.com/search?q=memreistor [google.com]
      Congratulations, you just invented the memreistor!
      What is it and what it does is up to you, but you only have 6 months to finish it, and it has to profoundly change computing!
      See you in the Slashdot discussion of the announcement of the memreistor!
  • by mpapet (761907) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:14PM (#24154659) Homepage

    Seriously,

    These companies are so large the basic research dies sometime after the researcher gives his presentation to Marketing/Product Management.

    Marketing may, actually come up with some good ideas, and send them into some Managerial circle jerk with Sales Management. After a couple of comments, the good ideas die in a perpetual Gordian knot.

    The knot presents itself as:

    1. No customers for new idea.
    2. No budget for some new idea.
    3. No "proven" market for new idea.
    4. No one is willing to risk their status taking a chance at a new product.

    Which leads to a tremendous waste of resources "catching up" to upstarts at a later date.

    • 1. No customers for new idea.
      2. No budget for some new idea.
      3. No "proven" market for new idea.
      4. No one is willing to risk their status taking a chance at a new product.

      This is one reason Apple can get away with new case/computer designs, and also why their prices are a bit higher. There is a higher R&D cost in their final product, but you get new features that aren't seen (at least not right away) in the PC world, and don't have to deal with legacy hardware.

      Even small things such as the design of the Mac Pro case is fairly sophisticated to what's commonly available in the PC world. Just for fun I tried to find an ATX case that had the properties of the Mac case

    • Certainly not true about Microsoft Research. As mentioned in the article, Microsoft Research is practically a university. Everything they research ends up peer-reviewed at academic conferences and in academic journals. It's virtually in the public domain.
      • All of that research ends up in academia but not in their products.

        The supposed point behind R&D is enhancing the company's future prospects, not enrich the academic community.

        You haven't dis-proven (is that a word?) my argument that the R&D rarely, if ever, makes it into new things from the same company.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Sorry I didn't think we were confined to the same company. I was arguing against the idea that the research "dies".

          A public example is the Glasgow Haskell Compiler [haskell.org]. True, it's not actually Microsoft branded as "MS Visual Haskell" or anything like that, but it is developed largely by Microsoftians (most prominently Simon Peyton Jones at Microsoft Cambridge). We all get a pretty decent and very usable compiler out of it; does it matter so much that it isn't branded as a Microsoft product?

        • How about F# "productization" [msdn.com]? And the C-omega [wikipedia.org], which beget LINQ and Parallel LINQ?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Certainly not true about Microsoft Research. As mentioned in the article, Microsoft Research is practically a university. Everything they research ends up peer-reviewed at academic conferences and in academic journals. It's virtually in the public domain.

        I find it kinda hard to believe that they don't patent anything.

    • by naasking (94116)

      Cool thing about research: it's not limited to use within one company! Much of the research is published and presented for the world at large to use.

  • The mention that Universities and corporations are starting to work more together jives perfectly with what my supervisor has said: A lot of work in his field has been done that perhaps is a little 'too' blue sky. By working with a corporation (one of the article mentioned infact), he gets a perfect insight into what is a real problem in the real work, and what is a problem only the researchers care about.

  • And all of them are named "Chris" or "Barbera".

  • At one time Dell had a very active R&D. They employed some of the best in the industry. Now they aren't even mentioned. Once the carper baggers got into the company, R&D became a needless expense.
  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:09PM (#24155425)

    Yes, it is true that large companies spend some money on research. It's not the same kind of spend we used to have though, and that won't change until companies don't have to constantly scramble to post big numbers every quarter.

    Since this pressure is going to be there from now on, all research will continue to focus on a product the company can sell in a very short time. (Look at multi-touch surfaces rumored to be included in Windows 7 for example.)

    There are two problems that will keep this short term focus going forever. The first is that everyone depends 100% on the stock market for their retirement now -- this wasn't the case in the 60s and 70s when Bell Labs, IBM, etc. were able to invest huge amounts of money in research. The second problem is that because everyone's responsible for their own retirement, they're constantly watching the market, making it impossible for a company to think long term. If you miss your numbers as CEO for more than a quarter or two, you're fired, even if you're doing the right things long-term.

    I can't imagine a CEO being able to address a shareholder meeting and explain that research is important. Everyone would start shouting "Shut up and gimme my money!"

    • by JAlexoi (1085785)
      The pleasures of capitalism, comrade.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pimpimpim (811140)
      In Germany there a lot of medium sized companies that are family-owned and not registered at the stock market (take Boehringer Ingelheim for example, 40.000 employees). These companies are very robust in their long-term planning. They cannot generate a lot of money at once to invest in research in new tech, but they spend procentually more to R&D than stock-registered companies, and have the patience to do long term high-risk projects.

      This works out. Their stock-market competitor Pfizer is in big trou

  • Dilbert (Score:2, Funny)

    "So, what do you think of my program?"
    "I wouldn't buy this."

    "You wouldn't buy it, because it's designed for engineers."
    "Engineers think the same as marketeers."

    "If that were true, we would still be in caves wondering if rocks were edible."
    "You know, you could keep recipes on this."

  • IBM does LOADS of research in materials, chip, silicon, quantum, math...and etcetera. They actually live off some real patents and some trolish stupid patents.

    HP does less than IBM, but its sort-of in the same league: they do, for a big part, live of real patents

    Microsoft has only patented really stupid ideas (not that the other two havent, but MS practically ONLY has patents for trolling or to "prevent" trolling).

    In the end, the truth for the US, is that the government pays for R&D and the corporations

    • by cnettel (836611)
      MS does very little hardware research, and depending on the general viewpoint regarding software patents, then it's harder to do "real" stuff. I've certainly read interesting and novel papers from Microsoft R&D, though (in the field of information extraction, specifically).
    • by ChatHuant (801522)
      IBM does LOADS of research in materials, chip, silicon, quantum, math...and etcetera. They actually live off some real patents and some trolish stupid patents.

      HP does less than IBM, but its sort-of in the same league: they do, for a big part, live of real patents

      Microsoft has only patented really stupid ideas (not that the other two havent, but MS practically ONLY has patents for trolling or to "prevent" trolling).



      People who actually work in the field disagree with you.

      See here [iptoday.com] for more informat
  • by afabbro (33948) on Friday July 11, 2008 @08:11PM (#24160467) Homepage

    Sun.

    As far as corporate R&D for IT companies, here's my take...

    Microsoft: I have no idea what they spend their billions on, and yes, they do spend a bundle on R&D. They just never have much in the way of either (a) actual products to show for it, or (b) wow technologies like HP PARC. Seriously, considering all they spend, they should be HP PARC. They're not.

    IBM: Well, they do make the fastest chips on earth at the moment (POWER6), as well as tons of other things, and the best O/S on the planet (z/OS), not to mention another awesome O/S (OS/400), plus...OK, IBM does great things with R&D.

    Google: See Microsoft. Seriously - they have a great search engine. Best in the world. Hands down. And also...oh wait, I guess that's it.

    HP: HP has pissed away more technology they've bought than anyone else. VMS? Tru64? Alpha? And then there are things they do that are awesome - Tandem Nonstop - but never integrated into the rest of their line. ARGH! They make great printers, I'll give them that...

    Sun: Really forward-thinking, great R&D. The Solaris O/S has been Microsoft's crystal ball for years. DTRACE. ZFS. Java. Even just cool implementations like Thumper. Of course, Sun can't seem to make dime one on any of this...they really do seem to have the most clueless management on earth...a pity.

    Did I forget anyone?

  • xerox parc style blue sky research is no more...

Long computations which yield zero are probably all for naught.

Working...