Bill Gates is making sure his massive R&D investment is paying off.
At Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC), executives said the company's think tank is contributing a good chunk of the realtime graphics, GUI advancements, advanced storage and collaboration technology planned for the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn.
Senior Vice President Rick Rashid said the company's multibillion-dollar investment in research and development has paid off with 3-D and other graphics advancements that have found their way into Longhorn's Avalon presentation services, the advanced GUI features planned for the Aero user interface shell in Longhorn and WinFS file system improvements.
In addition, the group's social computing group has influenced the development of the WinFS file system in Longhorn, executives noted.
For instance, the group's work is helping Microsoft carve out key Longhorn features for WinFS including natural language searching and stacks, which will enable users to organize and visualize relationships between people and their contacts and applications in the context of a project. The feature will allow users to compile objects, buddies, contacts, e-mail and slides into a single pile with a stacked icon.
Rashid also noted Microsoft is getting set to debut this fall a slew of wristwatches and smart devices based on the company's personal object technology, based on work done by Microsoft research.
Echoing an oft-heard sentiment from Microsoft's top executives these days, Rashid said he is frustrated with the perception that IT innovation is dying or dead.
"Following the dot-com boom and bust, you get this feeling people have an apocalyptic view of what's happening in the computer industry. But we've barely scratched the surface of what can be accomplished," Rashid told a packed audience of developers at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
"If the industry, and Microsoft, can't change, we'll become irrelevant."
Microsoft, which has faced criticism for falling short on product innovation, has significantly pumped up its investment in research and development.
At the conference, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said Microsoft has doubled its R&D investment over the past four years and plans to invest nearly $7 billion in its 2004 fiscal year, which began in July.
During his keynote, Gates claimed the economy is to blame for lingering doubts about the value of technology. He added that advanced technologies and digital devices coming out will become part of the economy in "deep" fashion once the fiscal cloud lifts.
"People are pessimistic about what technology will bring," Gates said. "Why are people questioning benefits of technology? It's a different economic environment."