RICK RASHID, SENIOR vice president at Microsoft, heads up Microsoft's research group, which is charged with researching many of the innovative technologies transferred to key Microsoft products. Rashid met with InfoWorld Test Center Director Steve Gillmor, Lead Analyst Jon Udell, and Test Center Technical Director Tom Yager to discuss his group's projects, particularly in the areas of wireless, natural language, and search technologies.
InfoWorld: Would you agree that there is more of a connection now between Microsoft Research technologies and the architecture and products coming from Microsoft?
Rashid: I think that's accurate. We started Microsoft Research back in September of 1991 and didn't even have 100 researchers until 1996. We're about 700 now, in five different research labs, and so we're capable of doing a lot more in terms of working with more product teams, generating more technologies, and covering more areas. The deployable technologies are reaching a stage where they're catching up with the things that we've been doing in research over the last [few] years. For example, a lot of the technologies that we're doing for the next versions of Office, next versions of Windows are things that we've been building within the research group for some time: building expertise, building the teams, and building the relations to the product.
InfoWorld: It was interesting to hear Bill Gates' comments on the Charlie Rose Show about the notion of interface uniformity and the way people are struggling with issues of hierarchy and hierarchy associations. What do you see as the alternative?
Rashid: One of the alternatives is obviously search or, more generally, query [and] the notion of having information where the index is fairly deep -- meaning that it's not just indexed on a small number of properties -- [because] mentally your tendency is to associate things you want to find with other things or other circumstances. One of our research teams has been looking at different user interfaces built around these ideas. One of the ways people organize their thinking about the things that they're doing in documents is through time. So you can say "I would like to be able to look for a particular document that I have seen in the last day or that I worked on yesterday or that I worked on [at] the same time I was working on this other document." One of the things that [has been] pretty effective is that you can bring up a little calendar, [and] if you put pictures of what the weather looked like, people remember the days better, because they remember the weather on those particular days. ... [The difficulty with] hierarchies historically is that if you get a very elaborate hierarchy, it's hard to know why something is where it's supposed to be. The Dewey Decimal System is the ultimate in not-completely understandable hierarchies. If you look at the way people use the Internet [or] the way people use their corporate networks today, a lot of it is done through search and association. If I go to the Internet to find something, I might go to a Web site and try to navigate down from there. But more often than not, I'm probably going to a search engine first to find something.
InfoWorld: In other words, the phenomenon where Google becomes a spell checker, appointment management tool, and an ad hoc UI?