Minds of Microsoft

You might expect Microsoft Research to concern itself with the next version of Office, and you'd be right. But an AIDS vaccine?

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Victor Bahl, MSR's group manager for networking

Victor Bahl, MSR's group manager for networkingSometimes it works the other way, with the impetus for a new technology originating inside research. Victor Bahl, MSR's group manager for networking, said he was frustrated in 1997 when he joined Microsoft because there was no standard API that would allow him to easily program the wireless devices with which he wanted to work. "So I went to the vendors and asked them to help, and they thought, 'Oh, this is Microsoft; we want to get some money out of this.' It was very difficult."

So Bahl developed his own API and then used it to create Radar, the first indoor wireless system for locating mobile devices and people. He took it to the product groups at Microsoft and told them that if they could standardize his approach and persuade other vendors to do the same, it would greatly stimulate the market for mobile products. "That led to the effort that standardized wireless networks, and then people started building on top of that," Bahl says. "It provides a very extensive API for programming Wi-Fi cards." The native Wi-Fi capability that will ship in Vista at year's end stems from that work, he says.

Sometimes the demand for MSR services comes more directly from customers. As the Windows operating systems have grown in size over the years, so have user complaints about bugs, crashes, complexity and vulnerability to tampering. Meanwhile, the time and cost to get out successive versions of Windows have soared.

Daniel Ling, an MSR corporate vice president

Daniel Ling, an MSR corporate vice presidentIn response, Microsoft formed the Programmer Productivity Research Center within MSR to develop optimization and defect-detection tools. In 2004, PPRC Director Amitabh Srivastava took "a very large fraction" of his team to the Windows product group in order to "revamp the engineering process" in Windows, says Daniel Ling, an MSR corporate vice president. The PPRC was renamed the Center for Software Excellence, or CSE.

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