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Friday, November 25, 2005

Bill Gates On Microsoft Research Direction & Edge

Bill Gates in an interesting interview with Informationweek talks of a various issues centered around Microsoft Research. Excerpts with some edits and comments:
Microsoft research has always had a pretty broad set of activities and are growing ( Microsoft is filing for 60 patent applications a week till recently) with the addition of the fourth center in India. Gates claims, Microsoft will actually have more than matched the kind of relevance that Google can deliver in a short time ( I wonder what he is referring to and how is it measured, given Google’s dominance.) & notes that the role of Microsoft Research in that has been phenomenal. He notes that there's so much data in the sciences that without the kind of software management that we have, both in our products and in our research, that they won't be able to make the rapid advances that they should. Nowhere is that more true than in biology, life sciences. The ability to connect these data sources together using very state-of-the-art web service and visualization approaches is pretty exciting. “Science," is not just about people designing cars, think about people designing planes, think about people thinking through the design of a Web site. It's not just new medicines, although that alone would justify all this work. It's not just modeling the environment, although that alone is a supercritical thing that we absolutely need to do, and advanced computer software will play a key role there. It's sort of the digitization of the world applied to science and business and commerce. If anything, you could actually say the fact that we need software understanding to advance the sciences means the shortage is all the more acute, because you need people sitting in these computer science classes that then go off and really focus on life sciences, and focus on environmental sciences. Software is becoming this key thing; in the way that math was historically. The world at large needs more scientific understanding. The fact that these understandings allow us to make advances in medicine, and understanding economics, and the environment should make the field all the more attractive.
Gates makes some excellent observations - the very brightest people often study in multiple fields & notes that he studies physiological psychology and economics. He says Microsoft is always on the lookout for somebody who loves software but knows it so well they're seeing how it can be applied in different ways. In an interview process, it's one of the best things to ask somebody about some problem that they're working on that they're passionate about, to see their depth of understanding and how they go about it, rather than asking them some very specific questions. He also holds the view that multicore computing would enable focusing on more advanced areas like speech, very advanced search. He adds that when you use Live there will be some services up in the Internet like storing your files on the Internet, being able to back those up over the Internet, being able to have documents translated for you with a service on the Internet. The fascinating things as he sees is even though Microsoft is really just a software company, it influences the direction of hardware, & needs to constantly understand the direction of hardware.
Gates is definitely trying to position Microsoft as a great corporation aka the IBM’s & Bell lab types – Kevin once mentioned that every year, Microsoft spends more on R&D than it cost to send a man to the moon. No doubt Microsoft’s bold moves to reorient vista development, the impending office 12 launch, imprints in CES and a slew of other initiatives about to be made widely available is giving it a perceptively better impression but on Innovation and where it matters it may need to do a lot better.

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