It’s a Good Time To Be at Microsoft—A Report from TechFest

[Updated Feb. 25 with photos from TechFest 2009:]
Yesterday, I reported from Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA, on some high-level thoughts about the importance of corporate research from Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, and Rick Rashid, senior vice president and head of research. It’s TechFest week, which means tons of demos and meetings between Microsoft researchers, product groups, and top brass—see photos below and on the next page. (The event is restricted to Microsoft employees and invited guests.)

This annual event almost never happened. Rashid admits that TechFest was originally “something I wanted to avoid doing.” Before the inaugural fete in 2001, Rashid says, he had concerns about putting on such an extensive show. “I thought, ‘Boy, that’s going to be a lot of work. And who’s going to come?'” The first TechFest went on despite his objections, and the rest is history. I’ll give a rundown here of some of the most compelling demos I saw at TechFest 2009. They span the fields of Internet search, mobile imaging, advertising, and cleantech.

But first, another strategy issue. Given the economic climate that has resulted in Microsoft’s first major layoff, and the software company’s increasing competition with the likes of Apple, Google, and VMware, I wondered if there is more urgency these days to do research that pays off in products quickly—and whetTechFest 2009 demosher that has led to any subtle changes in Microsoft’s research strategy.

The short answer is no. I talked with Hsiao-Wuen Hon, the managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, who previously spent many years in Redmond. “The issue Microsoft should worry about is the future, the technology,” Hon says. “That’s what we need to work on. The short-term stuff, the financial crisis, no. We want to be in the position to continue to worry about what we should worry about—R&D. The company has a firm commitment to that.”

As for any immediate adjustments, Hon says he’s been asked not to … Next Page »

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