Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Bad Sign

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, sometimes a meaningless offhand comment really brings a much larger (and possibly unrelated) issue squarely into focus. Last week's Economist magazine had a story about the demise of Research and Development within corporate world. The story was interesting, and abandoning research and development activities certainly seems like a rather blatant example of the ever-increasing corporate preference for profits today over progress tomorrow.

But the paragraph in the story that really stood out to me was as follows:

In Redmond, Washington, Microsoft Research houses 400 researchers; it boasts another 300 around the world. Nearly all of their budget is spent on commercially orientated projects. In a windowless office Steven Drucker, a researcher on media applications, is unable to get his laptop to work with the projector. So he explains the future of home entertainment with a video on the computer screen.

Maybe I don't even need to make a comment about it, but this paragraph told me a lot about the world. Steven Drucker is a computer scientist and he is unable to get his laptop to work with his projector. At first, it made me feel better about my feeble attempts to get one piece of technology to work with another. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I might be seeing was proof that we have made so much progress so quickly that even scientists have troubel keeping up. Perhaps research and development could take a seat for awhile. But I, and perhaps Steven Drucker, really would like to see at least some of the resulting savings go to researching and developing the consumer experience.

(I hope that all made sense. I'm typing while watching little guys Davidson take an 8 point lead over ACC brute Maryland. Go little guys!)


Kevin Schofield said...

The author clearly had an agenda when writing this story, and pesky things like facts didn't stand in his way.

MSR does basic research, not tied to specific products. While the hope is that every prject will eventually create some technology that will help a Microsoft product, most times we don't know what that product would be, or what form it would take, when the research is being done. It's much more like an academic computer science department than "commercially orientated" (sic) as the author describes.

Also, I spoke to Steven Drucker -- he has no recollection of having any trouble with the data projector when he met with the reporter. Also, any video he would have shown the reporter would have been played from his laptop...

Dan said...

Damn, Jim, you attract a better class of commenter these days.

Jim said...

I know. I just thought it was a funny anecdote, but it touched a Microsoft nerve. I went to Kevin's blog and he has great stuff. Maybe he won't hold this against me.

Interestingly enough, his post contains another little nugget that has little to do with his point but I find fascinating. He puts quotes around "commercially orientated" and gives them the derisive (sic). I have this problem almost every time I read the Economist. Their UK English screws with my American English brain quite often. I can't speak to the journalistic content of the story or the veracity of the claims about the projector, but I can defend the author's use of orientated as properly British.

Dan said...

Microsoft people think they define the standards of English, too. That's why I love typing this on my Mac.


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