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Microsoft downsizes Seadragon and Photosynth brains

Hip to be square in a down economy

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Hip project names and cool logos have their price it seems, and Microsoft's Live Labs - incubator to Seadragon, Photosynth, Deepfish, and Volta - is too expensive for this economy.

The company is reported to have moved people from Live Labs and distributed them among product groups within the company, reducing the facility's size.

Some of the creative brains that birthed those Live Labs projects won't be getting assimilated by Microsoft's product groups, though.

Design group director Don Lindsay, who also helped craft the iPhone's interface during his time at Apple before Microsoft, has joined Blackberry maker Research in Motion as vice president of user "experience."

Microsoft denied an earlier report that Live Labs has actually been closed for good.

Live Labs was started just three years back by Microsoft to showcase new thinking and demonstrate to the world it remained a place of innovation as Google and Web 2.0 startups set the pace not just around online services, widgets, and mash ups but also meme-ish names and logos.

Seadragon and Photosynth were perhaps the labs' biggest successes. Seadragon provided Deep Zoom technology for graphics in Silverlight 2, which has continued to wow audiences at conferences. Photosynth was a 3-D photo stitching application folded into Microsoft MSN business.

Other projects fared less well: Deepfish, a mobile web browser, was killed last September while the cloud-programming competitor to Google's Web Tool Kit Volta disappeared from the Live Labs site after a Community Technology Preview (CTP), although Microsoft denied it had been killed. It's not clear what happened to projects called Listas or Entity Extraction.

Not only was Live Labs fresh thinking, it was fresh branding in the era of Bebo and Facebook from a company whose branding Stalinists are infamous for burying creativity beneath lengthy product names and meaningless version numbers.

It seems Live Labs is a victim of Microsoft's overall layoffs and cut backs. A company spokesperson reportedly said economic conditions had imposed constraints that challenged the original Live Labs model by: "Diminishing the group's ability to transfer innovations to business groups who're understandably giving priority to 'needs' vs. 'opportunities.'" ®

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