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How Microsoft Researchers Might Invent a Holodeck
September 3, 2011 | William Zimmerman
REDMOND, Washington -- Deep inside Microsoft is the brain of a mad scientist.
You might not think so, given the banality of the company's ubiquitous products: Windows, Office, Hotmail, Exchange Server, Active Directory. The days are long past when this kind of software could light up anyone's imagination, except maybe an accountant's.
But Microsoft has an innovative side that's still capable of producing surprises. In fact, Microsoft spends more than $9 billion a year, and employs tens of thousands of people in research and development alone. While most of that goes toward coding the next versions of the company's major products, a lot gets funneled into pure research and cutting-edge engineering.
Much of that work happens in Building 99 and Studio B here on Microsoft's campus.
Building 99 is a think tank in the classic sense: It's a beautifully-designed building packed to the gills with hundreds of scientists -- about half of Microsoft's researchers work here. In the middle is a tall, airy atrium designed by the architect to facilitate collaboration and the kind of chance meetings that can lead to serendipitous discoveries.
Many of the brainiacs who work in Building 99 are researching areas of computer science that may not have relevance to Microsoft's bottom line for years, if ever. Heck, they may not have relevance to anything, ever, but the fundamental premise of basic research is that for every dozen, or hundred, or thousand off-the-wall projects, there's one invention that turns out to be fabulously important and lucrative.
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