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June 10, 2004
What's Under Wraps at Microsoft?
By Susan Kuchinskas

Microsoft Research held a technology Road Show at its Silicon Valley campus on Wednesday, where its top researchers showed off their latest tech endeavors.

The goal of Microsoft Research is to participate in the general scientific community and extend Redmond's outlook beyond the next product release. Demonstrations at the company's Valley Road Show on Wednesday previewed "technologies of the future."

VIBE is a project of Brian Meyers and Patrick Baudisch to redesign on-screen visualization and interaction to make content easier to find and use, whether on a wall-size display or a tiny screen. They demonstrated a system of making application and menu windows smaller as they move further away from the center of the screen.

Natural Language Processing Group researcher Lucy Vanderwende showed off a method of automatically creating summaries of news clusters for a "newsbot" application. When delivering a list of links to news stories about a particular topic, the newsbot generates a summary of the news itself, rather than simply providing the opening lines of the top story. Newsbot is running as a live beta on MSN. Vanderwende's next goal is to enable what she called "contextual summaries," so that when a person has read, for example, the first two stories in the list, the summary would contain only new information that the first two stories didn't contain.

RaceTrack is a prototype of a tool to find "races," what researcher Yuan Yu said were probably the hardest class of bugs to detect and reproduce. The prototype, developed by Yu and Tom Rodeheffer, works by recording "lock sets," the set of locks protecting each shared memory location at run time. An empty lock set would indicate a potential race.

Andrew Goldberg demonstrated a new algorithm proposed for answering queries on the shortest path between two points for MapPoint .NET and other applications. According to Microsoft, the point-to-point shortest path computation is efficient enough to deliver the complete North America road network graph on a handheld device.

ConferenceXP, developed by Chris Moffatt, Mark Hayes and Bryan Barnett, is a platform on which learning institutions can build real-time collaboration and videoconferencing applications. At the road show, the group demonstrated Classroom Presenter, a distance-learning presentation tool developed at the University of Washington; ReMarkable Text, a Brown University digital notebook; and Magic Paper, an interactive physics sketchpad developed by Microsoft Research and MIT.

Mark Najork, Mark Manasse and Dennis Fetterly illustrated that statistical analysis can discover "search engine spam," Web pages created to fool search engines or misdirect traffic. After examining linkage structure, page content and page evolution, the team found that pages on both ends of the statistical distribution tend to be Web spam. The technique could help search engines be more efficient by eliminating such pages from indexes.

The Next Media Group is working on better ways to manage the growing number of digital photos on consumers' hard drives. Steven Drucker and Curtis Wong showed a tool they call Photo Triage, which makes it easier to sort and annotate photos. With their tool, altering a photo in the master file also alters it in various digital scrapbooks or files.

Shields, deployed in the network stack, are vulnerability-specific, exploit-generic network filters installed in end systems that are the first line of defense against worm attacks. Researcher Helen Wang and her team designed a restrictive language that describes vulnerabilities as partial state machines of the vulnerable application. Testing suggests that Shield could be used to prevent a substantial portion of the most dangerous worms from doing damage.

TerraServer and SkyServer, led by researchers Jim Gray and Tom Barclay, bring the massive amounts of online data from astronomers and the U.S. Geological Survey down to earth. TerraServer is one of the world's largest atlases and databases of aerial and satellite images of the earth. SkyServer offers public access and tools for searching and manipulating images of the stars and galaxies.

MyLifeBits is a set of tools designed to let individuals create a "personal lifetime store on Microsoft SQL server. Roger Lueder's project starts with a SenseCam, a tiny camera worn like a badge that captures images throughout the day in response to triggers such as motion, heart rate, sounds and changes in the level of light. Users can annotate and browse through the data, or edit it to share personal stories.

Not all of these projects will become products, but the research assists Microsoft's product teams during the development process, while the interaction with academics and researchers around the globe helps keep the corporate outlook fresh.

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