What Microsoft gets for its $7B R&D budget

At the software maker's five labs, ongoing projects include research on self-taught spam filters, network shields, satellite-driven Web services and efforts to give end users their own terabyte of personal storage.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Microsoft is toying with a number of computing concepts that may ultimately appeal to an end-user audience, but the software maker has set aside a chunk of its massive $7 billion annual research and development budget to solve issues plaguing enterprise customers today.

At its second annual Microsoft Research Road Show on Wednesday, members of the company's research team highlighted their work on projects such as self-educating spam filters and network shields that block Web traffic that exploits Windows vulnerabilities.

"Microsoft Research's mission is to expand the state of the art, transfer technology into Microsoft products and to ensure that Microsoft products have a future," said Dan Ling, corporate vice president of

No single company can fight spam.


Dan Ling, VP,

Microsoft Research

,
Microsoft Research, which was formed in 1991. He stressed that his group focuses on research only -- not product development -- at the software maker's labs in Redmond, San Francisco, Mountain View, Beijing and Cambridge, England.

He also said that only a small amount of Microsoft's budget is devoted to the research that was on display at Wednesday's event, which offered a look at spam-prevention technology that uses filtering with intelligent, language-based algorithms and a method of challenging the authenticity of sent mail at the gateway. Ling cautioned that the project alone will not solve the spam problem, and that it fits into a broader industry effort.

"No single company can fight spam," said Ling, who encouraged participation in the Conference on E-mail and Antispam, which is being sponsored by Microsoft, Intel Corp. and Google in July.

Another ongoing research project is Shield, an Internet worm-defense tool.

"Since worms exploit known vulnerabilities, we want to block them before they reach the network with vulnerability-specific, exploit-generic network filters," lead researcher Helen Wang said.

Among the other projects is one to locate

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See Steve Ballmer's recent comments on research and other issues

 

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spam Web pages using statistical analysis.

"There is a phenomenon called 'Web spam' -- or pages that exist only to mislead users," said Microsoft researcher Dennis Fetterly. "We hope to use statistical analysis to identify and filter these pages from query results."

The timing of the project is sure to draw attention because of Microsoft's expected challenge of Google in the market for search-engine technology.

The results of two Microsoft projects are already available on the Internet. Researcher Jim Gray heads a team that is working on TerraServer and SkyServer -- Web services that provide satellite and telescopic photographs of the United States and of the cosmos, respectively. "This project was an experiment in how to make large amounts of data available over the Internet at a low TCO [total cost of ownership]," Gray said.

One intriguing project detailed on Wednesday was MyLifeBits, a personal archive in which nearly every daily interaction is digitized. With storage becoming more readily available, the idea is that a terabyte of data storage could be available to the average person and that amount of storage could hold a lifetime of e-mail messages, photographs, music and audio.

"It is like a digital memory aid," said Roger Lueder, a research software design engineer.

Gordon Bell, a senior researcher, is currently serving as MyLifeBits' guinea pig, digitizing as much of his past and present life as possible.

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