Microsoft's cool new research building, a photostory

Microsoft Research

Yesterday Kevin Schofield, blog here, general manager of Microsoft Research, invited Rocky and me over to tour Microsof’s cool new research building which opened three months ago. Building 99. We’ll have a video of this tour up on March 3, as part of the opening of FastCompany.tv.

Kevin Schofield at Microsoft Research

I uploaded a ton of photos, here’s a few of the key notes and photos I made (which are, as always, in the Public Domain so you can do whatever you want with them without giving me credit or money):

Wide open spaces

It feels completely different from any other Microsoft building I’ve ever been in. Has a huge atrium with a coffee shop in it. The atrium has a huge projector and sound system, so they can hold speeches there, or show movies or do other presentations. I think they could get a good wedding business going. Wouldn’t it be cool to say you got married at MIcrosoft Research? I think so!

Equations

The building was built with the help of the researchers themselves. One thing they wanted? Tons of collaboration spaces where they could meet, along with surfaces they could write things on. Here’s some equations that were on one such collaboration area. I asked if the shipping date for the next Xbox was up on the whiteboard somewhere and was told that these walls were done by the cryptography group, so it’s quite possible that the shipping date is in code on these walls. A little geek humor.

Andy Wilson, researcher at Microsoft

Andy Wilson, who was the guy who built the prototypes that became Microsoft Surface, the table-top device that you interact with by touching the surface, showed me around his lab. He said he was a lot happier in the new building because he finally had room for all the weird stuff he’s been collecting. Here he hides behind one of the “Minority Report” holographic screens that he’s been playing with.

This conference room is mine!

Each conference room had a little computer in front of it. Want to know if the room is open to use? Just check. Or sign up. It hooks into Microsoft’s Exchange server so other people who are at their desks can see the room is taken.

Anechoic chamber at Microsoft Research, Phil Chou

Microsoft Research is doing a lot of research where they need a completely quiet room, so they built one. Called an anechoic chamber this thing was so quiet I could hear my heart beating. Here Phil Chou gives us a tour and talks to us about the research that he’s doing (which led to a new kind of conferencing system, called RoundTable, which shows video of the person who is speaking around a conference table).

Microsoft Research

The floor is actually elevated so all networking, and air control can be put underneath. The carpet isn’t actually one solid piece, but rather is tiled so that each piece can be lifted off and things underneath can be reconfigured. Kevin said that if a researcher is bothered by the location of the air vent in her office she could have it moved to some other location. He also said that all the interior walls were moveable. So, if a group wanted to change its space they could do so without costing Microsoft a lot of money in rebuilding costs.

Parking is available!

The parking garage tells you what floors have spaces available so you don’t waste time looking.

Lots of book cases

Instead of wasting lots of room building bigger offices so that researchers could have space for book collections, they built book cases into the hallways. That serves to make the building more social and more efficiently use space. Plus it lets researchers show off esoteric books to visitors like me!

The carpet is tiled, so can be lifted off

Wide open spaces make the building more social. I talked with several researchers I knew from my time there and they said it has massively changed how enjoyable it is to work. The theory group even gets together for tea at 3 p.m. every day. Now THAT is a tea that I bet is interesting!

Microsoft Research

One cool thing about Microsoft is its support of the arts. The art team is studying each room, watching how people use it, and putting appropriate art up. This makes for some of the more visually pleasing workspaces at Microsoft.

Open conference rooms

Many of the conference rooms are open to viewing from the atrium. Kevin told me that it takes a while to get used to, but leads to a more inviting work style, reinforces that Microsoft Research openly shares its research with others, and saves power thanks to the natural light that is now able to get into the conference rooms.

Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, Microsoft Researchers

What Microsoft is learning from this new building is being applied to a new research center in New England that these two, Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, are building.

Thanks to Kevin and the other researchers who showed us around this fascinating building. Sure makes me want to visit more often!

Comments

  1. Interesting wonder what they are doing that needs an anechoic chamber we had one at the first place I worked.

    Very odd feeling standing in anechoic chamber

    Presubaly you cant say what they are working on just doing sound measurement on the new xbox wouldnt be enough just why not rent time at a loacl university lab or boing if it came to that.

  2. Interesting wonder what they are doing that needs an anechoic chamber we had one at the first place I worked.

    Very odd feeling standing in anechoic chamber

    Presubaly you cant say what they are working on just doing sound measurement on the new xbox wouldnt be enough just why not rent time at a loacl university lab or boing if it came to that.

  3. So it turns out that secret Microsoft project that made Scoble cry was a digital parking garage counter?

    Hee-hee, I kid, I kid!

    Seriously, though, very interesting, I would love to take a tour of that place. The giant whiteboards and the bookshelf hallways are my favorite. Although, now I really, really want to know what this secret project is that you talked about in the last post! I am guessing my patience will be rewarded.

  4. So it turns out that secret Microsoft project that made Scoble cry was a digital parking garage counter?

    Hee-hee, I kid, I kid!

    Seriously, though, very interesting, I would love to take a tour of that place. The giant whiteboards and the bookshelf hallways are my favorite. Although, now I really, really want to know what this secret project is that you talked about in the last post! I am guessing my patience will be rewarded.

  5. MS has impressive buildings and obviously lots going on under the radar. What I’m finding a hard time grasping is simply this:

    What with all MS’s resources in people (brains), more money than almost any other company, why isn’t MS the top dog? Why can’t they really get on board with the Internet in terms of being really cutting-edge and competitive? Why didn’t MS invent Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, etc?

    I find it disheartening that MS is holding onto the desktop when it’s patently obvious this route is not where the future lies in any meaningful sense. A company like MS should be split up in many chunks so as to create nimble, smaller groups of people, each with one or two foci.

    It’s a proven fact that most of the innovation comes from tiny little comapanies with a handful of people. MS has some interesting stuff happening, but most of it is a rehash of what others have already done. Let’s see something original for once. The fact that large companies like MS and Yahoo snatch up the creative little fims is proof of this. Yahoo just acquired Maven, a small little firm that does one or two things very well.

    I’m ready for sone innovation now. The Internet is getting stagnant. No one is really offering anything interesting. It’s all just a variation of a theme or two.

    Where are the holodecks, the transporters, the avatars that can travel with me and use cell towers for comm like Clearwire handles Internet. We have the technological knowhow to do these things now if we just applied ourselves to more than how people communicate. How about moving people, things? Being able to speak with somone in China over a video link in real time is so old school now.

  6. MS has impressive buildings and obviously lots going on under the radar. What I’m finding a hard time grasping is simply this:

    What with all MS’s resources in people (brains), more money than almost any other company, why isn’t MS the top dog? Why can’t they really get on board with the Internet in terms of being really cutting-edge and competitive? Why didn’t MS invent Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, etc?

    I find it disheartening that MS is holding onto the desktop when it’s patently obvious this route is not where the future lies in any meaningful sense. A company like MS should be split up in many chunks so as to create nimble, smaller groups of people, each with one or two foci.

    It’s a proven fact that most of the innovation comes from tiny little comapanies with a handful of people. MS has some interesting stuff happening, but most of it is a rehash of what others have already done. Let’s see something original for once. The fact that large companies like MS and Yahoo snatch up the creative little fims is proof of this. Yahoo just acquired Maven, a small little firm that does one or two things very well.

    I’m ready for sone innovation now. The Internet is getting stagnant. No one is really offering anything interesting. It’s all just a variation of a theme or two.

    Where are the holodecks, the transporters, the avatars that can travel with me and use cell towers for comm like Clearwire handles Internet. We have the technological knowhow to do these things now if we just applied ourselves to more than how people communicate. How about moving people, things? Being able to speak with somone in China over a video link in real time is so old school now.

  7. Interesting photo of the parking lot. I know this is a stretch because I don’t know who these cars belong too, but making a wild assumption that they belong to researchers at Microsoft, (again I know I’m missing a million points in the following statement and I’m jumping to a wild assumption but…), it looks like these aren’t the wealthiest folks in the world just from thesefew cars. I was reading a bunch of comments on mini-micorsoft’s blog recently regarding pay at Microsoft being low. If these cars are an indictor, hmmm… I remember your posts about not even making 100K from some years back Robert. Does Microsoft not pay so well in your opinion or am I way off base with thinking this?

  8. Interesting photo of the parking lot. I know this is a stretch because I don’t know who these cars belong too, but making a wild assumption that they belong to researchers at Microsoft, (again I know I’m missing a million points in the following statement and I’m jumping to a wild assumption but…), it looks like these aren’t the wealthiest folks in the world just from thesefew cars. I was reading a bunch of comments on mini-micorsoft’s blog recently regarding pay at Microsoft being low. If these cars are an indictor, hmmm… I remember your posts about not even making 100K from some years back Robert. Does Microsoft not pay so well in your opinion or am I way off base with thinking this?

  9. I know it’s Microsoft and it’s only to be expected, but I can’t help feeling that it’s a step too far. I mean, one thing I didn’t see in any of the photos were plants – what about introducing a bit of nature into the building? (Maybe that will come later).

    Lots of open plan space to meet in sounds good though and I’ve got lots of respect for Bill Gates.

  10. I know it’s Microsoft and it’s only to be expected, but I can’t help feeling that it’s a step too far. I mean, one thing I didn’t see in any of the photos were plants – what about introducing a bit of nature into the building? (Maybe that will come later).

    Lots of open plan space to meet in sounds good though and I’ve got lots of respect for Bill Gates.

  11. If we ever needed proof that MS is a monopoly, this is it. Only monopoly rents allow companies to squander this kind of dough on facilities, while the innovation takes place at dining room tables in Silicon Valley.

    I have seen facilities like this before–at Bell Labs before the break-up of the Bell System.

  12. If we ever needed proof that MS is a monopoly, this is it. Only monopoly rents allow companies to squander this kind of dough on facilities, while the innovation takes place at dining room tables in Silicon Valley.

    I have seen facilities like this before–at Bell Labs before the break-up of the Bell System.

  13. Interesting photos – some very exciting spaces, there. I have sung in a room like the anechoic chamber – very weird! I was singing with several others for one song, and we couldn’t hear each other at all, which made it very difficult to keep our harmonies going, and they didn’t have enough headsets for us each to have one. Eventually, we had to abandon the song. It was just too dire!

  14. Interesting photos – some very exciting spaces, there. I have sung in a room like the anechoic chamber – very weird! I was singing with several others for one song, and we couldn’t hear each other at all, which made it very difficult to keep our harmonies going, and they didn’t have enough headsets for us each to have one. Eventually, we had to abandon the song. It was just too dire!

  15. Interesting building Robert, I know that Microsoft has some brillaint people working there, and it’s typical of Reseachers, if the pictures of the Automobiles is correct to be thepleast impressed with a fancy set of wheels.

    Research of this kind goes beyond something as prosiac as Facebook or internet search,while these kind of subjects are important in it’s own sense,this is the kind of enviorment that requires a
    long term time frame and vision to accompany it.

    I hope that someday I can get a closer look at this
    facility.

  16. Interesting building Robert, I know that Microsoft has some brillaint people working there, and it’s typical of Reseachers, if the pictures of the Automobiles is correct to be thepleast impressed with a fancy set of wheels.

    Research of this kind goes beyond something as prosiac as Facebook or internet search,while these kind of subjects are important in it’s own sense,this is the kind of enviorment that requires a
    long term time frame and vision to accompany it.

    I hope that someday I can get a closer look at this
    facility.

  17. @7 Or it could be they choose not to drive their expensive cars to work every day.

    If you judge people’s wealth by the type of car they drive, more often than not you would guess wrong. For example, Larry David, creator of Seinfeld, thus practically a billionaire, drives a Prius. As does Sergey Brin of Google.

    Ballmer drives a 1998 Lincoln, because his father worked for Ford.

    Jim Walton (of Walmart) another billionaire, drives a 15 year old Dodge pick up.

    So, what one drives is not necessarily an indicator of their wealth.

  18. @7 Or it could be they choose not to drive their expensive cars to work every day.

    If you judge people’s wealth by the type of car they drive, more often than not you would guess wrong. For example, Larry David, creator of Seinfeld, thus practically a billionaire, drives a Prius. As does Sergey Brin of Google.

    Ballmer drives a 1998 Lincoln, because his father worked for Ford.

    Jim Walton (of Walmart) another billionaire, drives a 15 year old Dodge pick up.

    So, what one drives is not necessarily an indicator of their wealth.

  19. I kinda wish I read your post yesterday – probably would have affected my decision of turning down a position with MS that day…

  20. I kinda wish I read your post yesterday – probably would have affected my decision of turning down a position with MS that day…

  21. I visited Building 99 last week and mostly I really liked it. The social spaces are great. The offices are a little small but not that bad. The sliding glass doors are taking me a while to get used to but they are using them in some other new buildings now so I expect I will get used to them. Still I’m glad I get to work from home for the most part.

  22. I visited Building 99 last week and mostly I really liked it. The social spaces are great. The offices are a little small but not that bad. The sliding glass doors are taking me a while to get used to but they are using them in some other new buildings now so I expect I will get used to them. Still I’m glad I get to work from home for the most part.

  23. I work at Microsoft and love building 99. Everyone who pops in always ends up coming back raving about it.

    Microsoft Research is just amazing – every time I venture into it or go to their TechFest (at which all the research projects are on display for the rest of the company) I leave in awe regarding what they are working on.

    One point that should be mentioned: the teams that work on these projects are working on projects that are meant to break down barriers and not release shipping products. There’s a quite a difference between releasing bug free, user friendly, code and code that has been produced by a research team.

    Thanks for the pics Robert!

  24. I work at Microsoft and love building 99. Everyone who pops in always ends up coming back raving about it.

    Microsoft Research is just amazing – every time I venture into it or go to their TechFest (at which all the research projects are on display for the rest of the company) I leave in awe regarding what they are working on.

    One point that should be mentioned: the teams that work on these projects are working on projects that are meant to break down barriers and not release shipping products. There’s a quite a difference between releasing bug free, user friendly, code and code that has been produced by a research team.

    Thanks for the pics Robert!

  25. Linden

    “while the innovation takes place at dining room tables in Silicon Valley.

    I have seen facilities like this before–at Bell Labs before the break-up of the Bell System.”

    yeh but bell labs has how many Nobel’s its a great pity that companies dont do teh ground breaking reaserch that Bell Sandia and the GPO/BT used to do a MH/Dollis hill (which is where Tommy Flowers worked)

    most of the Dining room tables are peopel ripping of the latest hot idea

  26. Linden

    “while the innovation takes place at dining room tables in Silicon Valley.

    I have seen facilities like this before–at Bell Labs before the break-up of the Bell System.”

    yeh but bell labs has how many Nobel’s its a great pity that companies dont do teh ground breaking reaserch that Bell Sandia and the GPO/BT used to do a MH/Dollis hill (which is where Tommy Flowers worked)

    most of the Dining room tables are peopel ripping of the latest hot idea

  27. Flickr, great way to post pictures so those of us in the corporate world can’t see the images through a proxy.

  28. Flickr, great way to post pictures so those of us in the corporate world can’t see the images through a proxy.

  29. [...] Robert Scoble posted his photos of the new Microsoft Research Center last week. There are a couple of really interesting spaces inside, including the anechoic chamber (below) with so much sound absorption you can literally hear your heart beat! I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Who says Microsoft doesn’t innovate? [...]

  30. wow…It’s always a pleasure to see such buildings …though furniture wise (not in electronics) the training center at the Steelcase campus in Grand Rapids is superb (of course showcasing their best)…on the parking garage, the new London Heathrow terminal 5 one actually guides you to a open parking space, and when you insert your ticket on way out has a kiosk to show you a 3D map of where it is parked…if you have your ticket -)

  31. wow…It’s always a pleasure to see such buildings …though furniture wise (not in electronics) the training center at the Steelcase campus in Grand Rapids is superb (of course showcasing their best)…on the parking garage, the new London Heathrow terminal 5 one actually guides you to a open parking space, and when you insert your ticket on way out has a kiosk to show you a 3D map of where it is parked…if you have your ticket -)

  32. i should be so lucky….my little software company opened a new hq a couple of years ago and it’s basically a cube farm with windows. i hate the place, but luckily i travel for a living.

  33. Interesting article. About the parking lot. There are a lot of parking lots in Europe (or at least in Germany) with such counters. There are on the streets as well so people know if there are parking lots available.

    Anyway, nice building.

  34. Interesting article. About the parking lot. There are a lot of parking lots in Europe (or at least in Germany) with such counters. There are on the streets as well so people know if there are parking lots available.

    Anyway, nice building.

  35. I really enjoy these photostories. Great shots and really interesting commentary. Thanks for putting them up!

    As others have said – what an amazing place to work!

  36. I really enjoy these photostories. Great shots and really interesting commentary. Thanks for putting them up!

    As others have said – what an amazing place to work!

  37. Robert:

    This is a fantastic piece! I like the moveable HVAC vents, writeable walls, and open architecture of the new Microsoft Research building. I’m also excited to see what is coming in a few weeks that got you so worked up the other day. Humans don’t work best in boxes, I would propose, so being able to re-arrange one’s work environment to better suit our nature is key to being productive.

  38. Robert:

    This is a fantastic piece! I like the moveable HVAC vents, writeable walls, and open architecture of the new Microsoft Research building. I’m also excited to see what is coming in a few weeks that got you so worked up the other day. Humans don’t work best in boxes, I would propose, so being able to re-arrange one’s work environment to better suit our nature is key to being productive.