Microsoft Researchers Look to the Future of Search

If the press preview day for Microsoft's annual TechFest research fair is any indication of Redmond's future plans, search will become an increasingly larger part of the company's overall business.

Demonstrations of various search technologies dominated opening remarks by Microsoft Research presenters Tuesday. For many Microsoft employees, the event is the first time they would see technologies being developed by the MSR division.

"Microsoft Research officials are positioning Microsoft Research as a back up team for Microsoft," noted Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley told BetaNews. "If they suddenly need to run after Google or Yahoo in a particular area, they can call in their research reserve team."

The company has approximately 750 researchers worldwide, and the TechFest agenda shows almost 100 separate projects scheduled to be presented during the three-day event. Executives see MSR as key to allowing the company to respond to new markets quickly and effectively.

Some of the technologies shown included a new tool that would help users share search results and personalize them, as well as non-search related technologies like family tracking system and a programming environment designed for kids.

Microsoft faces increasing competition from Google, and even has shown some weakness, losing search share and facing customer confusion over the Windows Live brand. However, the company is determined to press on.

"Search is a definite area of emphasis," Foley said.

Researcher Lili Cheng showed off a new search tool called "Mix." The feature would allow a user to create a search, and then be able to publish and share the results from that query. Foley noted that Cheng was one of the researchers who headed the "Wallop" project, and that Mix seems to share some features of that service.

MSR Redmond head Rico Malvar showed attendees what Microsoft is doing to increase search relevance using new algorithms aimed at predicting user search behavior, and thus enhancing the quality and relevance of search results.

Even though the company is increasingly focusing on search, concepts unrelated to search are also being demonstrated. For example, a new device called an "Epigraph" would allow family members to send information and content to the home through cellular and Internet networks.

Other projects include Boku, a Xbox 360-based programming environment, and the Bubbleboard, a answering machine that visually displays left voicemails.

TechFest will continue through Thursday. Those interested in finding out more about the presentations can visit the TechFest 2007 Web site.

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