Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Get HideMyAss! VPN, PC Mag's Top 10 VPNs of 2016 for 55% off for a Limited Time ×
Microsoft Education

Microsoft Exec Opens Up About Research Lab Closure, Layoffs 55

alphadogg writes It's been a bit over a month since Microsoft shuttered its Microsoft Research lab in Silicon Valley as part of the company's broader restructuring that will include 18,000 layoffs. This week, Harry Shum, Microsoft EVP of Technology & Research, posted what he termed an "open letter to the academic research community" on the company's research blog. In the post, Shum is suitably contrite about the painful job cut decisions that were made in closing the lab, which opened in 2001. He also stresses that Microsoft will continue to invest in and value "fundamental research".
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Microsoft Exec Opens Up About Research Lab Closure, Layoffs

Comments Filter:
  • Bull (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @07:59PM (#48217127)

    He also stresses that Microsoft will continue to invest in and value "fundamental research".

    That's a load of bull. Just about every company that's had significant research institutions and has closed them down has suffered long-term from that choice. Xerox, Bell, IBM, and several others in telecom/computing alone have done this and suffered the consequences.

    Fundamental research is what drives long-term profit. Sure, it costs money. But it also produces patentable products that can revolutionize the market and allow the company to profit from patent licensing even when they aren't interested in the market that the patent would apply to. Get rid of the research and the company's products go stale over time, no new ideas, rehashing of existing ones to the point that someone with new innovation comes along and steals away all of the customers. Short-term it might make more profit, but long term it's like selling one's investments for cash.

    This is a terrible mistake for Microsoft.

    • But it also produces patentable products that can revolutionize the market and allow the company to profit from patent licensing even when they aren't interested in the market that the patent would apply to.

      I know that Microsoft makes a shitload of patent fees from Android devices. Were those patents researched at Microsoft labs?

      • Re:Bull (Score:5, Interesting)

        by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudsononl ... Nom minus author> on Thursday October 23, 2014 @08:29PM (#48217247) Journal
        Microsoft got a $billion from Samsung last year in Android patents. Others are also paying royalties to Microsoft.

        In other words, Microsoft is making more profit off Android than they are off their own phones.

        • Microsoft is making more profit off Android than they are off their own phones.

          Samsung is cool with that since they haven't challenged Microsoft. The bottom line of the cost-benefit analysis says go ahead and pay the Redmond tax, obviously. The offering from Google is free, and their own operating system never got any traction.
    • Re:Bull (Score:4, Informative)

      by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @08:24PM (#48217231)

      Short-term it might make more profit, but long term it's like selling one's investments for cash.
      This is a terrible mistake for Microsoft.

      Yes, but not for the people running it.

      By the time the brain drain has it's long term effects, the executives will have jumped away, in come cases into retirement, with their golden parachutes. It's only the long-term investors and loyal employees who will have to deal with how it ruins the company.

    • Re:Bull (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @08:32PM (#48217271)
      It is very premature to excoriate Microsoft for discontinuing research. Yes they closed the Bay Area site, but Microsoft Research is headquartered in Redmond, along with Microsoft Corporate HQ. If anything, Microsoft has been knocked for pouring money into MS Research with little to show for it (although their patent portfolio may be the most profitable thing they have going in the mobile arena).

      If Microsoft is flagging, I actually don't think it's lack of research, in their case. They are way out in front of every movement in industry (hence the patent fees), what they lack is the design and marketing to capitalize on it themselves.

      • Re:Bull (Score:5, Interesting)

        by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Friday October 24, 2014 @12:27AM (#48218269)

        Sorry, I do have to bring something up. One of Microsoft's most lucrative patents is for FAT32. One of the reasons they're making so much money off FAT32 patents is because some genius standardizing SD flash cards put in a requirement that all SD cards use FAT32 ("genius" may or may not be sarcastic). Thus anyone who wants to include a SD card reader, including microSD cards, must license the patents from Microsoft.

        However, the tides may be changing after Alice vs. CLS. Those FAT32 patents may not be valid anymore. In which case, Microsoft is about to lose a fairly large revenue stream.

        I don't disagree that they are still fairly research-heavy, and that it's a good thing. The problem I see is that their business side (marketing, sales, etc.) has a history killing all the cool stuff that's coming out of their engineering side (including research). This closure may be symptomatic of a continuance of that culture under the new CEO, or it may not. Without intricate knowledge of the internal politics at play (because it's Microsoft and there's always politics at play there), it's hard to say for certain either way.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The problem I see is that their business side (marketing, sales, etc.) has a history killing all the cool stuff that's coming out of their engineering side (including research).

          I spent 10 years working for Microsoft and I can tell you that in 90% of cases it is engineering and not marketing or sales who is responsible for killing cool projects.

          To understand Microsoft you must realize it is not a large monolithic company, but an aggregation of fiefdoms. And each one of them is extremely protective of its own turf. Therefore the Office group will do everything it can to kill any initiative that could threaten their business. The Windows group will kill any project that would attempt

        • I thought it was VFAT that had the patents that Microsoft was asserting, not FAT32. FAT32 has nothing new or novel in comparison to FAT16, whereas the techniques in VFAT (the short/long filenaming hybrid) at least is an interesting idea.

    • While true that only works if you do something with that research. Msft research designed some cool things, that would
        have drastically changed tech. The problem is Microsoft never capitalized on those projects. !Microsoft was driven by marketing ( see longhorn feature list).

      • WinCE and the "Jupiter Machines" were a precursor of Netbooks but too early and too expensive. When the Netbook finally arrived they set out to destroy it because it ran Linux (like the Netbook Im posting from)
    • Xerox's problem was that they didn't listen to their r&d people.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Did you miss the part where the layoffs amount to approximately 50 people out of an existing pool of > 1000 researchers?

      In other words, Microsoft laid off about 5% of its research staff, and the other 95% remains intact.

    • by k31 ( 98145 )

      Not really.

      Somebody has to do fundamental research, but then they have to have big coffers to defend those patents in court -- big companies can win the war whilst losing every battle, like Sony did versus the makers of Bleem. Sony lost in court but Bleem went out of business in the meantime, and the employees scattered, some working for Sony anyhow.

      Similarly, if you want to advance anything nowadays, you have to be working for a company that is already successful, and if you can do your job and find time f

    • Not necessarily. Microsoft , if it ever feels shortage for patents, can always buy other companies who have those. As far as the OS goes, they already have a lead in the business, and the best strategy for them is to copy original works from other competitors and provide them to their wider customer base.
    • There are still 11 labs world-wide, and 5 of them are in the USA. http://research.microsoft.com/... [microsoft.com]

      I suspect Silicon Valley is just a VERY high-cost location, and I know I wouldn't work there without 3x what I make now working in the midwest.

      You can work remotely, you know...

    • Or maybe he is just accepting reality, which is unless there is some major breakthrough we're pretty much finished innovating? The cost to get below 20nm has been calculated to be non-profitable for pretty much everybody, sure Intel is doing it but they are also shutting fabs because chips have been insanely overpowered for several years now and ARM? ARM don't scale, once you go past a certain MHz it shits all over its power budget which is why we are now up to octocore on the ARM side.

      The simple fact is

    • Is it the closure of research labs that caused those companies to decline, or was it because the companies had started to decline that the shut down the research labs?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I would like to thank the broad computing research community which has taken the time to share its thoughts and concerns about the recent closure of our research lab in Silicon Valley.
    Translation: thanks, you guys are typical academic opinionated armchair quarterbacks...

    I share with all of you a strong belief in the value of fundamental research and its importance for the long-term viability of our company, our industry and our society, and want to reassure you of Microsoft’s commitment to fundamenta

  • by Anonymous Coward

    MS does not need to spend anything on R&D. They simply allow other companies to take the expense and the risk, then buy them out.

    Embrace, Extend, Extinguish, Profit.

    • They simply allow other companies to take the expense and the risk, then buy them out.

      Or in the case of Doublespace/Drivespace, they let Stac Electronics do all the heavy lifting, then just walk all over their patents.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Friday October 24, 2014 @12:08AM (#48218193)

    I think a lot of the SVC people laid off were people working on Microsoft Products for Apple. Mountain View, at the facility South of the I-101/I-85 interchange, near Moffett Field, were there to do work on Mac OS X products. I you look at the Microsoft job postings, you'll see that almost everyone in APEX is a continuing engineer, and that there are a small number of Objective-C and iOS openings that all appear to be concentrated on front-ending Office 365 on Mac OS X and iPhone, iPod, and iPad, rather than native applications.

    I expect this is the non-announcement that Office 2014 for Apple products is going to be nothing more than a front-end wrapper for their subscription products. This somewhat makes sense, given that Apple has been pressuring them on productivity apps on their platforms, and that "good enough" is the enemy of "expensive". If you couple this with Mac OS X *never* having been a tier 1 platform for Office products (where's VB 5, VB.Net, Acces, etc. for Mac OS X?), it was never intended that Apple desktop systems be able to compete with Windows desktop systems in terms of being able to do the same vertical market development using ports from Windows vertical market development. It was an avoidance of cannibalizing the Windows market in that area.

    Obviously, I could be wrong, but when working at Apple, I visited the Office developers there several times to deal with OS and kernel related issues; the only place they seem to be willing to hire Objective-C people seems to be Redmond or Bellevue, and it appears to be for things like Skype development, not office; the APEX jobs appear to be remaining in Mountain View at present, and greatly scaled back.

  • Microsoft is run by marketing alone. Research has no place there as it will never be able to influence any decisions.

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (8) I'm on the committee and I *still* don't know what the hell #pragma is for.

Working...