March 1, 2006 5:55 PM PST
Ideas on display at Microsoft's TechFest
- Related Stories
Microsoft sees Dance Dance Revolution in e-mailFebruary 28, 2006
New MIT Media Lab head roots for grassrootsFebruary 16, 2006
Demo '06 on displayFebruary 10, 2006
Microsoft taps ex-Yahoo researcher to head 'Live Labs'January 25, 2006
Microsoft Research seeks better searchApril 17, 2003
(continued from previous page)
Microsoft worked quickly to bring efforts in neural networks from theory into practice in serving up relevant results for search queries.
"We were actually pleasantly surprised how much of the (research project) translated," he said, noting that the company's research projects are not always designed to scale.
But while he's glad to be of assistance, Malvar is also concerned that his researchers not be swayed too much by the desires of product groups and aim too low.
In a recent performance review of one of his researchers, Malvar scanned through a proposed plan for the coming years and decided that it seemed quite doable. But he sent the researcher back to the drawing board.
"We don't want too high of a batting average," he said.
His ideal researcher would have a batting average like a good baseball hitter. "If one out of three crazy ideas works, that's pretty good." But to be good at research, you have to fail more than you succeed. "If you don't do that, you are not trying hard enough to push the limits," Malvar said.
Still, Microsoft is doing more blending of research and product groups, and Malvar said that's probably a good thing. The company recently announced plans for "Live Labs," an effort that will further blur the lines between research and product development.
"I think it will work," Malvar said. He said Microsoft needs to be more nimble, and the research unit can provide a boost.
"Our ability to generate ideas and prototypes is not that bad," he said.
TechFest itself is designed to be a conduit between Microsoft's research and product teams. The shirts worn by the company's researchers make the point: "Techfest: The & in R&D."
When the idea for TechFest first came up several years ago, Microsoft Research boss Rick Rashid thought it was a bad one.
Six years later, he happily admits he was wrong. TechFest, now in its sixth year, has become a wildly popular event. More than 150 booths are packed into Microsoft's main conference center here, with more than 6,000 of Redmond's ranks either having stopped by or expected to stop by before the event concludes Thursday.
The booths run the gamut, but are centered on several areas of particular importance, including search and digital media technologies.
Some are clearly aimed at one product area, such as A.J. Brush's inkable digital calendar that aims to bring the handwritten home calendar and bulletin board into the digital age. Others were more systemwide approaches, such as the Stomp User Interface, designed to let people use their feet as a means of inputting text.
Microsoft researchers also used the event as a chance to sign up human guinea pigs for their latest projects. Richard Hughes was hoping to find Microsofties who were willing to try out his program, Pinpoint, which lets users track their willing friends and get e-mail alerts--say when a friend is nearby, or if their kids have left a 60-mile area.
If all goes well, Hughes will find enough willing participants to tell how well the software works and whether the privacy safeguards that are in place are sufficient.
"At least some people," he said, "think that it is pretty cool."
32 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment