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Microsoft Reveals Research Roadmap

Microsoft announced its 2008 roadmap for its academic research endeavors, including grants and other funding for several research initiatives. The announcements were made this week as part of the software giant's Microsoft Research (MSR) Faculty Summit at its Redmond, Wash. campus.

The summit, which is in its eighth year, is part of MSR's outreach to universities. This week's gathering drew more than 400 leading computer science faculty from all over the world, according to company statements.

A key focal point of this year's faculty summit, and one discussed by an opening day discussion panel, is the idea that computing technologies are now key components of virtually all research, no matter what the field.

"There's no problem [in research] that you can attack without including computing," Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, told the audience during a webcast of the summit's opening session. "[Because of that] we have to approach many of the problems [in research] in a multi-disciplinary way."

One recent example is work being performed at MSR regarding the search for a vaccine against HIV/AIDS. In mid-June, the company made tools that it has developed over the past two and a half years for research into the disease freely available via its CodePlex shared source Web site. In addition, MSR itself has a team, headed by David Heckerman, an MSR computer science researcher who is also a medical doctor, that has been working on HIV and malaria vaccine studies.

In order to further its goals, MSR has set up a network of 11 academic research centers across the globe to pursue research into a diverse set of technologies and goals, ranging from computational biology to collaboration techniques in the classroom to pen-based computing, Sailesh Chutani, director of External Research and Programs at MSR, told the gathering during Monday's opening session.

Microsoft's research division has also issued a series of requests for proposals (RFP) in order to fund several research projects at universities around the world beginning later this year. These include research into the use of cell phones to improve health care services in urban and rural settings, and work on new tools and methods in biomedical research on genomes.

Microsoft is also spending in areas more focused on computer science, such as computing using multi-core processors, advanced search techniques, computer power management, and human-robot interactions.

All in all, MSR will spend $3.7 million on those projects, plus an additional $750,000 to fund a new Center for Collaborative Technologies at the University of Washington in Seattle. The center will work on further developing a technology called ConferenceXP that is meant to enable researchers, teachers and students to benefit from real-time collaboration, wireless-enabled classrooms and highly interactive distance-learning environments, according to Microsoft. In March, MSR also funded the Microsoft Carnegie Mellon Center for Computational Thinking at Carnegie Mellon University through a three-year, $1.5 million grant.

MSR also awarded five computer science academics with a total of a million dollars in grants in recognition of creative research they are working on. Finally, the company also launched an award named after A. Richard Newton, former dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. Newton, who died in January, was a member of MSR's Technical Advisory Board. The award will provide another million dollars in funding for what Microsoft calls "breakthrough" research.

One change coming up: MSR will switch to holding faculty summits only every other year, scheduling the next one for 2009. The off years, beginning with 2008, will be given over to gathering together graduate students and early-stage faculty, rather than the tenured and more established -- senior faculty who have been traditionally invited to the faculty summits. The move is meant to help cultivate more up and coming researchers near the beginning of their careers rather than in mid- or late-career.

As part of the three-day affair, MSR is also putting on a mini-exhibition of some of its ongoing research projects.

Among the demonstrations are a demo of a 3-D version of Microsoft's Virtual Earth that enables viewers to look at a multitude of images, including gigapixel-sized photos. Another provides a demonstration of interactions between two surface computing devices.

MSR was founded in 1991 and today employs 700 researchers in five labs around the world.

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