The future according to Microsoft
Posted on 4 Jan 2013 at 14:07
Blue skies to stop blue screens
The work happening at Cambridge isn’t only about hardware. Researcher Georges Gonthier is “even more famous”, says Woodberry, after proving the Feit-Thompson theorem – which states that in “mathematical group theory, every finite group of odd order is solvable”.
That may make little sense to those of us who barely scraped an A-level in maths, but Gonthier’s proof of the idea took six years to solve and two books to publish. “The kind of techniques he had to use to prove that theorem may have applications in areas such as proving software is correct,” explains Woodberry. “It’s a good example of a blue sky thing that’s in Microsoft’s interest to fund, because the chances are it will have a positive impact on things that will affect the company.”
If that sounds far-fetched, consider the last famous mathematical quandary that Gonthier solved: the four-colour theorem. “If you have a map, how many colours do you need to colour every area on the map so that no two adjacent areas are the same colour?” asks Woodberry. “If you think about it, it looks like the answer is probably four – and it is four – but nobody had proven it since 1850 or whatever, and Georges did prove it.”
To achieve this, he used a combination of pencil-and-paper work and computers – and using computers to prove the theorem hadn’t been done before to the satisfaction of mathematicians. “However, the technique that he uses to do the computer-based side of the proof... has been used in something Microsoft built called the ‘static driver verifier’, which we give to third-party partners that are writing driver software for whatever they’re going to attach to the PC, to make those drivers less likely to cause blue screens,” Woodberry explains. “In the old days, when PCs blue-screened more often, it was almost always a driver that caused it. And that software we hadn’t written – somebody else had – and it was usually that software that caused the problem.”
The verifier, based on Gonthier’s work, lets third-party coders check their work – and, as a result, means users see fewer blue screens. “If you said to someone, would it be in Microsoft’s interest to pay somebody whose goal it is to prove the four-colour theorem, they’d probably say no, but in fact it was. In a nutshell, that’s why this model of a bottom-up, researcher-driven blue sky lab really does pay off.”
Searching for better search
The “ten blue links” design of search engines hasn’t changed much since browsers first arrived
Other projects have clear product applications. Woodberry says a lot of “exciting” work is happening around search – clearly to help give Bing a boost over rival Google. However, it isn’t only about technology and algorithms. “Social scientists – sociologists, psychologists, designers – are trying to unpick what people are doing when they go to a web browser,” he says, noting that the “ten blue links” design of search engines hasn’t changed much since they first arrived.
Researchers are looking at why that is, and whether different methods might improve certain types of search tasks. “People have been asking this question for a long time,” he notes.
While Google and Bing both try to deliver the fastest search results possible, that might not be the only way. “Maybe the idea of slow search, rather than instant, [where] you have a long-term interest in something,” he suggests.
Author: Nicole Kobie
Does any of this matter
The question that needs to be answered is whether there is a real future for Microsoft as a force in computing. It is largely a commodity software company. Once we can all do mail and browsing on *any* device what is there left to do? When was the last time any of us did something in Word we could not have done by another means?
By milliganp on 5 Jan 2013
Let's hope Microsoft does think research and engineering matters.
By TheHonestTruth on 7 Jan 2013
For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on email@example.com
- Yahoo seeks "cool" with Tumblr purchase
- Dell profits slide 79% amid buyout talks
- Forget cloud subscriptions: users prefer standard licences
- McAfee: cloud storage could help spread viruses
- Analysts question Windows 8 as UK PC shipments slump
- McAfee: smart homes need security
- Firefox 21 lands with "health report" and Android update
- Windows Blue (8.1): release date, screenshots, features
- McAfee LiveSafe protects PCs, mobiles and the cloud
- Android boss: Samsung's not a problem for Google
- Hands on with the new Google Maps
- Nokia Lumia 925 review: first look
- Why I won't subscribe to Creative Cloud
- GoPro camera strapped to a remote-control helicopter: the ultimate boy's toy
- Acer Iconia A1 review: first look
- Acer Aspire P3 review: first look
- Acer Aspire R7 review: first look
- How we produce the PC Pro podcast
- Google Now draining iPhone battery
- The government website that doesn't work with IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Macs or smartphones