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Microsoft UK researchers roll out barrel in Cambridge

But it's full of fish

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"Barrelfish is not about Windows," said Blake. "It's exploring new heterogeneous architectures that are emerging.

"Someone could invent a specialist processor for probabilistic inference, for example… Computers are beginning to look very different from two processors and memory on a backplate, it’s much more a peer-to-peer style of machine.

"So the old metaphors for programming the old style of computer are no longer going to be optimal for this kind of machine. It’s now all about latency."

But is Microsoft simply throwing cash at a rather expensive vanity project, given that such tech development may never morph into an end product for the company?

“Microsoft is wealthy enough that if it wanted to run a lab just because it looks right it could do that. But when you look at the evidence and you see the fat pipeline of innovation that’s going into the core parts of the business, such as Office 2010, the real story is really there,” said Blake.

“The image processing now offered in Office 2010, for example, puts a whole lot of stuff in range for a small business without having to employ an expert.”

Blake also enthused about Microsoft's Infer.net technology, which is a framework developed by the team for solving different machine learning problems.

"It's been done in a very open way that's not simply restricted to Microsoft, and we're encouraging the whole programmer community to play with it and give us feedback," he explained.

"It is a research release - but not a product - that is pushed out to the whole world because we see more benefits in being open and sharing ideas then we do in being secretive. And this is our policy in research throughout.

"We work in an open way, it’s just second nature to us. If you isolate yourself you get stale and behind the state of the art."

But looking around the site last Wednesday, I couldn't help but sense a lack of razzle-dazzle at the MS research showcase.

Earlier that day Herbert had gone on the defensive about the Cambridge researchers’ work.

“We’re not just an ivory tower spitting out ideas. We transfer some of our research into Microsoft’s business and products too.”

Of course, Microsoft’s decision to shift its Cambridge research team to bigger and better offices in 2012 perhaps tells a more important story about how the firm is acknowledging the important work carried out at its UK lab.

Microsoft rabbits

Microsoft bunnies play kiss chase

The ground around the researchers’ current home is also teeming with rabbits. One can only wonder if their new offices, which will be next door to Cambridge’s railway line, will similarly be overrun with bushy tails. ®

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