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What Microsoft Research is working on

October 22, 2007 13:39 IST
Rick Rashid has been the head of Microsoft Research (MSR) ever since he founded the organisation 15 years ago, in September 1991. The senior vice-president, head of Microsoft Research, is a proud "daddy" for the 800-odd researchers who work in five different research labs in six different locations around the world.

Rashid, who was in New Delhi for Microsoft's annual symposium TechVista, spoke to Priyanka Joshi about MSR India, which is working in the areas of computing technologies for emerging markets, multilingual systems, geographical information systems, and technology that will enable software developers to develop enterprise business applications.

What's the next big thing to come out of Microsoft Research?

The next big thing... I don't know. It's what people do, and scientists and engineers are often surprised by that.

A few areas that we feel would see the maximum transition would be the cost of storage. We've really made a transition from having to worry a lot about getting rid of things, to the point where anything we care about we can keep. We have reached the point of human-scale storage.

A terabyte of disk space could literally hold every conversation you have ever had or it could hold a photograph taken every minute of your life. There's a lot of work going on in sensors and sensor networks.

In user-interface technology, we have already announced Microsoft surface technology. I view that as just a scratch on the surface of what we can do.

Any of the MSR technologies that will be seen in India immediately?

Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal has suggested pilot projects to be undertaken between MSR India and the Indian government's Department of Science and Technology.

The projects will include building a digital library of Delhi's archaeological and heritage sites, developing and managing a virtual science museum and water management modelling aided by hydrological data sensoring technologies.

Microsoft's Photosynth and HD View technologies, which are demonstrated at TechVista 2007, are two technologies that can be leveraged for the creation of the digital library and virtual museum.

These technologies represent the state-of-the-art in visual media research. Enabling radically new ways of stitching together & displaying photographs, allowing the user to seamlessly navigate from a three-dimensional panoramic view of the scene to a close up view of minute details of the monuments.

How well placed is MSR India in supporting its research projects?

When it comes to software development or Rigorous Software Engineering, MSR India researchers spend a lot of time with Microsoft product groups, educating them about emerging markets and understanding their needs, and collaborating the same in future products. Rigorous Software Engineering has probably the best research going on in the world.

MSR India also focuses on cryptography for smaller devices such as mobile phones and RFID devices that do not have the same computational resources as, say, a PC.

There are going to be developments that are going to make things a lot simpler in everyday life. Take the example of the wallet PC. This work started in 1993 and led to the development of Windows CE that led on to the smartphone and the Pocket PC.

Is research on mobile devices an important aspect for MSR India?

In India, there are more mobile phones than personal computers. We have used this basic data as a guideline. We have a project called COMBINE that allows mobiles, based on mutual trust, to share bandwidth and download by partitioning files.

The other project is based in Warana in Maharashtra where SMSes are used to relay information to sugarcane growers. We have these research efforts going on. We will get to know in the future if they can be commercialised. As of now, we are focusing on basic research.