55 minutes inside Microsoft Research's new "#99" building

Everytime I watch one of my own videos I see something that I could improve.

Microsoft Research's new building "99"

We spent half a day at Microsoft Research’s new building getting a video tour of the new building. Kevin Schofield, General Manager, gave us an awesome tour and introduced us to several of Microsoft’s smartest people.

This video is the result.

One problem: it’s way too long. Pretty interesting stuff in there, if you hang out for the 55 minutes, but it would have been better to chop it up to its component parts, rather than try to run it all together.

Actually doing that would help us with Google, too. Google rewards atoms, not molecules (this video is a molecule).

So, what are the atoms?

Microsoft Research

Atom One: 00:00-2:55 Kevin Schofield giving us an introduction to the building.


Atom Two: 2:55 – 06:57 Martha Clarkson, who helped design parts of the building, explains some of the innovations in the building (and there are many)

Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, Microsoft Researchers

Atom Three: 06:57-19:59 Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, theory researchers talk with me about their research, about building a new research center in New England (which they are heading up and which will use many of the same things in their new building that were done here).

Microsoft sign outside building 99

Atom Four: 19:59-30:07 Kevin Schofield continues his tour, showing us several things in the building that the researchers themselves helped design.

Anechoic chamber at Microsoft Research, Phil Chou

Atom Five: 30:07- 39:12 Schofield brings us into the signal processing group, where we get a look at the anechoic chamber (sound proof room) and he introduces us to Phil Chou, principal researcher in the signal processing group. You can really hear why TV studios try to build sound-absorption systems in. The audio gets noticeably better.

Lots of moveable partitions

Atom Six: 39:12-41:52 Schofield explains why Research builds hardware and gives us more insights into the building and shows us some of the work areas in the new building.

Rocky shoots Andy Wilson, researcher at Microsoft

Atom Seven: 41:52 Schofield takes us into meet Andy Wilson. If you haven’t seen my videos before, you might not know that Andy is doing probably the most bleeding edge work at Microsoft (he build the Surface table-top computer which you touch with your hands). If you only watch one part, you’ve gotta check out his lab in the new building.

Kevin Schofield at Microsoft Research

Atom Eight: 50:51-55:05 Schofield talks about how they built a public area of the building so that groups, even outside ones, can have meetings inside the new building and concludes the tour.

Thanks for hanging in there through the 55 minute video. We’ll work on the UI so we can cut these things up into smaller pieces and still bring you most of the good stuff.

Conversation with Adobe evangelist

Funny enough I sat next to Adobe Evangelist Mike Downey last night. He just attended the Microsoft Mix conference. Did he have his tail between his legs? No, but he did admit to me that Microsoft is very committed to beating Adobe. He said Adobe has a few tricks of its own. Of course I captured part of our conversation, while sitting in the plane. Watch for more videos coming from SXSW later today (I’m supposed to meet up with Kyte in a little while where the CEO will show me its streaming video service). Qik just updated its Website, too. I love competition!

Why Vista isn't as good as the Mac

Yesterday Guy Kawasaki tried to give Steve Ballmer heck about Windows Vista, but he didn’t manage to really nail Ballmer with something specific.

I have one. Dell a few weeks ago sent me a new Tablet PC to use for a month. I have been using it exclusively for a couple of weeks now, and it is the only machine I’ve taken to Mix and SXSW. If you’re at SXSW please do ask to see it, if you need a Windows machine, it’s certainly one of the ones I’d choose. Why? You can put an extra battery onto it which will give you more than five hours of battery life. This is HUGE. I forgot how much I missed long battery life on the Mac (I only get two hours on my Mac).

The machine is well built, well designed, and fun to use.

So, why do I still like my Mac better?

One simple little thing: the Mac starts up and shuts down properly every single time.

My Dell? It doesn’t always startup right. Just now, I opened it up, which doesn’t turn it on, like the Mac does. But that’s a nit, which just requires hitting the power button.

Today when I did that it promptly blue screened. My Mac has only done that once and it turned out I had a bad set of RAM. This isn’t the first time the Dell has given errors or problems on boot, either.

Once it starts up, by the way, I like Vista just fine and it even has some things I like better than the Mac (the fonts on Windows are more readable, for instance and things do seem snappier on my Dell, plus that darn battery life is just wonderful, especially when I’m flying across the US like I’m about to).

It’s a real bummer, too. Because I want to love Windows and most of the tools to build great Silverlight experiences will be on Windows and not on the Mac. Not to mention that killer WorldWide Telescope.

I checked with my friends who run Vista on laptops and they noticed the same thing, that they have had problems with sleep and wakeup on their laptops. What could be causing this? I’ll show it to Dell on Sunday and see if we can figure it out.

Microsoft hits multiple Internet home runs

I just had dinner with a bunch of Italy’s top tech bloggers and technologists and Marc Canter. Plus I’ve been talking with people all day long. Microsoft hit major Internet home runs today with its announcements, based on what I’m hearing from formerly-skeptical developers.

I haven’t heard this level of excitement about Microsoft’s Internet Strategy in years.

While Dean Hachamovitch, head of the Internet Explorer team, and Scott Guthrie, head of Internet development tools teams, were out front parading a dizzying array of new technology, I got a few interviews today and one name kept coming up:

Ray Ozzie.

So, what is resonating with developers today at Microsoft’s Mix Conference?

1. Internet Explorer’s new pro-standards role. Do not underestimate how big a deal this is in winning the hearts and minds of developers. Read the 578 comments on this post that talks about IE 8’s new standards-based defaults. 578 comments. Almost all of them positive toward Microsoft. Damn, I remember the days when it would be 578 anti-Microsoft comments on that blog.
2. Microsoft’s demos. It took me two hours to get from the front door of the Venetian to the Mix registration desk. Usually that would be a 10-minute walk and that would include five minutes of gambling at one of the tables. Why did it take so long? Because I was stopped every few feet by a Mix attendee (or, in one case, Dan Farber) where the conversation went something like this: “did you see the Olympic video demo? Holy s**t is that cool.” Or, “did you see the Hard Rock demo? Did you see that it’s live now and you can go play with it?” Even TechCrunch is fawning over that one.
3. New features in Internet Explorer. Especially something called “Web Slices” which lets you track just something specific on a Web page. For instance, the status message on Facebook. Also something called “Activities” which the IE blog says makes it so “a user can select text on a web page and map it, blog it, look for it, or just act on it without having to copy it, open a new tab, navigate to another site, and paste. We made the OpenService Format specification available under the Microsoft Open Specification Promise and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.”

I got some videos with my cell phone that back up all this.

For instance, here’s an interview with Chris Saad. Don’t know him? He’s the one who is heading up the Dataportability.org. Also in that interview is Frank Arrigo, Microsoftie that I’ve known for years.

Here’s an interview with Eric Zocher while we talked in the BlogZone at Mix, who runs the Expression Team at Microsoft (the tools developers will use to build Silverlight experiences).

Here’s an interview with Scott Guthrie, who hosted many of the most popular keynote demos yesterday morning. Sorry for the noise, but we were in an extremely noisy room and I was recording him with a cell phone.

There’s a lot more on TechMeme here and here.

It’s pretty clear that Microsoft’s Internet strategies have turned a corner and now it’s time to go and visit Ray Ozzie’s team up in Redmond.

Another thing that’s clear? Microsoft’s PDC in September (its professional developer conference) is going to be one that’ll generate a lot of news.

Does this signal that Microsoft “gets” the Internet? Well, Microsoft sure made it clear today that you can’t count them out. I’m having to change a whole bunch of my beliefs of how the industry is going based on what I’ve seen and heard today. How about you?

The Offline Wars about to heat up?

Ryan Stewart (who works at Adobe) wonders if Microsoft is bringing an offline version of Silverlight out this week at Mix.

I’m hearing that Google is about to ship something major offline too.

So, for the next month we might hear “go offline” from all three camps (Adobe already shot their big guns in this war at last week’s “Engage” event).

Microsoft should have the best offline technology, because it’s king of applications on your desktop, but I think that answers the wrong question.

I’m trying to get everything I do online because I want freedom from my computer.

What do I mean about that?

Well, what if my computer gets stolen? I don’t want any data on it.

What happens if Linux comes out with a Macintosh killer? Or if I decide to get a Windows computer again (I’m currently using a Dell Tablet PC because they sent me one to try out) I want to just load one thing: Firefox and go to work. Right now I’m switching between my Dell and my Mac without any problems at all because almost everything I do now is in the browser.

The thing about Microsoft is that they’ll do some killer offline technology but it won’t work on the Symbian cell phone or iPhones that I’m currently using. It won’t work on Android, which is the Google cell phone OS that’s soon to make an impact on the market. It won’t work on Linux (which is getting a LOT better on the desktop, so I might try that again this year). And it won’t work well on Firefox or Opera or other new, non-IE browsers. (Channel 9 doesn’t work well with Silverlight on my new Dell when I use Firefox 3.0beta3, while Flash and AIR work just fine).

So, I guess the question is: can Microsoft keep the world as it is (IE, one that mostly runs on Windows and Office) or will the world follow bleeding-edge users like me into a more online world?

Has Microsoft caught up to Google in search?

Barney Pell, CEO of Powerset (a company that’s building a new kind of search engine) tells me that Microsoft has caught up to Google in search relevancy (he was at the Bil conference yesterday). There are companies that are paid to track such things and he’s been watching their reports.

That made me realize that I haven’t tried a search over on Microsoft’s Live.com lately.

It also might explain why Microsoft wants to purchase Yahoo.

After all, let’s say that it’s correct that Microsoft is about to pass Google in relevancy. Would anyone switch? No. Not until they demonstrate that Microsoft is dramatically better than Google.

But, what if they combined Yahoo and Microsoft’s search result quality? And put Yahoo’s brand name on it?

Now I am starting to understand a little why this merger makes Google nervous (at least publicly).

I just don’t believe the relevancy reports, though. I did a single search on something I know about, CERN, and Google’s list is more useful and more relevant than Microsoft’s. Plus, I know how to pull things back out of Google that I’ve written on my blog. In my experience Microsoft’s engine isn’t nearly as good at that task, which will keep any blogger from singing Microsoft’s praises.

But it really doesn’t matter, does it? Google is just so embedded in my brain that I don’t know what Microsoft could do.

Of course then I look at Mahalo and Wikipedia and I see exactly what I’d do if I were running the search team at Microsoft.

But, instead, Microsoft is going to waste billions of dollars trying to buy a better brand name than it already has.

Maybe Microsoft should just fire its marketing department and start rebuilding its brands from the ground up. Take a 10-year approach. That’d STILL be cheaper than $40 billion.

Oh, well. Yet another thing to ask Microsoft executives at Mix this week.

What made me cry: Microsoft's World Wide Telescope

Lots of people are asking me questions about what made me cry at Microsoft a few weeks ago.

If I told you “a telescope” you’d make fun of me, right? Tell me I’m lame and that I don’t deserve to be a geek and that I should run away and join the circus, right?

Well, that’s what I saw.

Or, more accurately, the WorldWide Telescope.

UPDATE: the official site is now up.

Like I said, sounds lame. How could that possibly be the most fabulous thing I’ve seen Microsoft do in years? And that’s not just me talking. My friends who’ve seen it say that I actually underhyped it. That’s the first time anyone has said I underhyped something when I was trying to be so over-the-top with hype.

Like I said, it isn’t the product that’s impressive. You’ve gotta see this thing to really understand. My video will be up on Monday.

But, I’ll try to give you an idea of what made me so impressed.

Think of Google Maps or Microsoft’s Live Maps. How dragging a map around lets you see the world in a new way. Zoom in. Zoom out. You have the whole world in a window on your screen.

Now, think of the sky.

When Brian Cox, physicist at CERN, spoke at LIFT last year he told us to hold our hands out, put our thumb up and realize there are hundreds of thousands of stars in just that small patch of sky.

Now you’ve probably looked at imagery from the Hubble Telescope. So you know there are entire galaxies out there. But what are you missing?


In other words, you have no idea where in the sky those things you see in Sky and Telescope magazine are. You’re missing context.

So, back to the World Wide Telescope. You drag around the sky. There’s Mars. There’s the big dipper. There’s Betelguese. Etc. It’s just like the star party you probably attended in college.

But it has one difference between any telescope you’ve ever looked at.

You can zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom.

We picked a point of light inside the big dipper. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Holy shit, it’s two galaxies colliding. It looked like a star. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom.

Now the magic happened.

Curtis Wong said: “let’s switch to a different telescope and see what these two galaxies colliding are spitting out.”

He clicked a button and we saw a completely different view of the same colliding galaxies. This time we weren’t looking at visible light, but at something else. I think it might have been infrared, or maybe a look at other kinds of radiation being kicked out. He had about 10 of the world’s telescopes to look at. I forget all the names, but that detail is in the video coming on Monday.

Zoom out. Zoom out. Zoom out. Zoom out. Pan over to Mars. What a glorious view. You’ve never seen Mars like that through your $2,000 Celestron Telescope.

Oh, you have one of those nice Celestron telescopes with the motorized base? Click a button and your telescope points to what you’re looking at in this piece of software.

And there’s a ton more, the demo just goes on and on and on.

Some other things.

1. It’s dedicated to Jim Gray, the Microsoft Researcher who sailed out of San Francisco Bay about a year ago never to be heard from again. He started this project with a paper back in 2002.
2. It runs only on Windows. It’s coded in C#/.NET, you’ll meet the developer in our video and you’ll hear more about that then.
3. It’s free, but only in a private alpha right now. I’m not sure when it’ll be released to the public. I bet that we’ll find that out at Microsoft’s Tech Fest next week (TechCrunch and other bloggers are going to that, so Im sure we’ll hear lots more details on the other cool stuff Microsoft Research is doing).
4. There are terabytes of data, all seamlessly integrated for the first time here.
5. There are narrations and tours. I believe you can even add your own, so you can leave a little tour for your kids to see the sky in a new way.
6. Mike Arrington and Dan Farber figured it out first.

So, why cry over a telescope?

Because I just saw the world I live in, er, excuse me, the universe I live in in a new way that I never had imagined before.

I cried because I imagined all the kids, like my sons, who will be inspired by what they see. It took me back to the days when John Kennedy wanted us to go to the moon. Hint: there’s a lot more out there to explore.

I cried because I realized just how much work, money, and all that went into making these images. I never had access to them before. Certainly not in this way so I could compare them by clicking a button. As a taxpayer who’s helped pay for some of these telescopes it’s the first time I’ve seen the results of my and your, investments in our scientific research.

It’s human to look out at the sky and wonder what’s going on out there. This takes us a LOT further into our understanding of just what is.

And,, yes, that’s worth crying some inspirational tears. Thank you to Microsoft Research for inspiring me in a way that Microsoft hasn’t inspired me in years.

And, also, sorry to the teams that I caused some PR troubles for. I hope you’ll forgive me for getting a little excited. I couldn’t contain myself. It isn’t everyday that you get to see such an inspiring piece of software.