Memo from Ray Ozzie: New Lab Will Use Social Computing to Strengthen Microsoft Products

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, announced today the company is forming a new laboratory called Future Social Experience Labs, or FUSE Labs, which will focus on aspects of “social computing” beyond just communication and collaboration. The move is part of a wider restructuring of Microsoft’s labs: FUSE Labs is a merger between the Creative Systems Group at Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA; Rich Media Labs; and Startup Labs in Cambridge, MA. As part of the announcement, Ozzie said Reed Sturtevant, the founding managing director of Startup Labs for the past two years, is leaving the company to pursue other interests.

FUSE Labs will be led by Lili Cheng, a 14-year Microsoft veteran who most recently headed the Creative Systems Group and previously managed the user experience teams for Windows Vista. Before joining Microsoft, Cheng worked at Apple Computer in the human interface-advanced technology group, where she worked on QuickTime VR and QuickTime Conferencing products. Cheng is now general manager of FUSE Labs (in Redmond) and will report directly to Ozzie. “I’ve known Lili for many years, and have long been impressed by her vision and ability to create; to engage yet to also inspire; to lead; to make tough choices; to deliver,” Ozzie said in a memo to Microsoft staff.

Ozzie said he has “refined the missions” of Microsoft’s labs, in part because of “changing business conditions.” From his memo, it sounds like the goal of the new lab is to apply research in social computing (things like user interfaces, social networks, and human behavior) to help develop new products in the areas of entertainment, productivity, and teamwork—as well as to explore how Microsoft can extend the ways people use computer operating systems.

“The three groups being combined have concrete skills and code in areas where ‘social’ meets sharing; where ‘social’ meets real-time; where ‘social’ meets media; where ‘social’ meets search; where ‘social’ meets the cloud plus three screens and a world of devices,” he said. (See more on Ozzie’s three-screen vision here.)

It also sounds like the reorganization is meant to focus the impact of social computing research more immediately on the company’s product pipeline. “FUSE Labs will bring more coherence and capability to those advanced development projects where they’re already actively collaborating with product groups to help them succeed with ‘leapfrog’ efforts,” Ozzie said in his memo. “Working closely with [Microsoft Research] and across our divisions, the lab will prioritize efforts where its capabilities can be applied to areas where the company’s extant missions, structures, tempo or risk might otherwise cause us to miss a material threat or opportunity.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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