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PDC Day 3 Keynote: Researching Microsoft

Day three of the PDC and Microsoft pauses to cast its vision forward, with Microsoft Senior Vice President of Research Rick Rashid taking the stage to talk about Redmond's efforts in basic, foundational research.

In the post-golden age of corporate research, defined by institutions like Xerox PARC and Bell Labs, it's fascinating to hear Rashid make a compelling case for pure research. By any measure Microsoft Research is a vital organization. Over the past 17 years Microsoft Research has published more than 4,000 publications and years ago surpassed the publish rate of IBM. The organization, Rashid points out, is larger than the entire faculty of Carnegie-Mellon or Brown University. With offices in Redmond, Wash., Cambridge, Mass., Cambridge, England, Bangalore, India, and Beijing, Microsoft Research has grown into a global organization.

What it is not, Rashid points out, is a product factory. While productization is one of the missions of Microsoft Research, he says it does not define the organization. Rashid made a case for the essential unpredictability of research.

"If you use a Mac or iPhone -- which honestly I don't recommend, but were you to use one -- you'd be using code I wrote more than 20 years ago," Rashid said, drawing laughter from the crowd. "If you had asked me 25 years ago if the code I wrote then and the systems I was designing were going to run on a cell phone, my reaction would have been, "What's a cell phone?'"

Microsoft Senior Vice President of Research Rick Rashid | Photo: (C) Michael Domingo
Microsoft Senior Vice President of Research Rick Rashid opens PDC Day 3 with a keynote on MSR's impact on real world problems in science, medicine and education. (See more images here.)

Not that Microsoft isn't making a fundamental case for immediately useful technologies. Rashid recounted his contribution in launching Microsoft's DirectX technologies, which came out of the research org. More relevant today, Rashid singled out research that produced the Windows Vista Static Driver Verifier, a unit testing tool that symbolically executes source code to test code paths. He also talked about Dryad and DryadLINQ, a technology that lets developers "harness the power of clustered computing." It's research that can help Microsoft drive its burgeoning cloud computing effort.

"Basically you can think of what Dryad is doing as creating a very sophisticated input to a query engine that can then be managed across thousands or tens of thousands of machines," Rashid said.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 10/29/2008 at 1:15 PM

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