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Can Microsoft turn its big ideas into true product innovations in the marketplace?

Eric Rudder

That’s one of the central questions on the Microsoft campus today during a day-long event called TechForum.  Microsoft’s executives and researchers are meeting with reporters and talking in broad terms about the company’s vision for the future.

The event is being held at the newly remodeled Microsoft “Envisioning Center,” where Microsoft displays its vision for the future of technology from work to home.

Themes of the day include big data and machine learning, and the growing ability for computers to act intelligently and interact naturally with humans.

Eric Rudder, the veteran Microsoft exec who recently took over as chief technical strategy officer, said during the opening session that the company will be trying new approaches in an effort to shorten the gap between its research groups and product teams, to bring new technologies from the lab to the market.

“We’ll have a bit more experimentation, I’d say,” said Rudder in response to my question on that topic. He pointed to initiatives including the creation of individual research centers affiliated with specific product groups.

This is an area where Microsoft is often criticized for not being nimble and fast enough, although the company points to products including the Kinect for Xbox 360 as examples of areas where its research has paid off.

Craig Mundie, the longtime Microsoft research and strategy chief who recently announced plans to retire next year, said in response to another question that Microsoft doesn’t always get the credit it deserves for its large Microsoft Research unit, when compared to the work being done at other companies.

“It is frustrating at times when you look at the range of research Microsoft does,” said Mundie, noting that Microsoft is unique in publishing academic papers. “It’s revered in the academic community, where people understand what it is, but in terms of the popular lens it doesn’t seem to get the attention that other companies seem to do.”

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