Microsoft Research Timeline: 1991-2001


  • Nathan Myhrvold sent a detailed memo to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer,arguing that Microsoft must engage in fundamental computer science research to remain at the forefront of making computers easier to use.


  • In September, Microsoft became one of the first software companies to create its own computer science research organization. Microsoft declared it would support research without regard to product cycles, so there would be new foundations and technology breakthroughs for future generations to build upon.

  • Rick Rashid was hired to head Microsoft Research (MSR) along with Myhrvold. Some of the first employees included Karen Jensen and George Heidorn, hired to start the Natural Language Processing Group. Many other groups formed over the next five years as leading researchers in specific areas of computer science were hired.


  • Technology transfer from MSR to Microsoft products began to accelerate. For example, Basic Block Tools (BBT), an optimization tool developed at MSR, helped programmers develop and ship Microsoft Windows 95 and Office 95.

  • The Bay Area Research Center (BARC) was founded in California. BARC researchers work primarily on scalable servers and the future of virtual communication, or “telepresence.” Industry legend Jim Gray was hired to lead BARC.


  • In June, Microsoft announced a new research center in Cambridge, England. Cambridge researchers work on programming languages, security, information retrieval, operating systems and networking. The lab grew quickly and now includes more than 80 researchers.

  • The first Summer Institute was held, sponsored by the University of Washington and MSR. The mission of the annual summit is to chart new directions in computing, identify challenges and spark innovative collaborations among the attendees from top research institutions.

  • Research from the Natural Language Processing Group contributed to the grammar checker shipped in Office 97.

  • The University Relations Group was founded to drive collaborations with the academic research community. Each research center now has a similar group.


  • went online as one of the world’s largest online databases, providing free public access to maps and aerial photographs of the world.

  • Microsoft founded a research center in Beijing, China. Currently, about 100 researchers and more than 200 visiting scientists and students are developing next-generation multimedia applications and Asia-specific computing technologies such as adapted user interfaces and language conversion systems. Kai-Fu Lee was hired to head the center.

  • Jim Gray won the Association for Computing Machinerys A.M. Turing Award for his lifetime of achievement in advancing database research and technology. He joined fellow researchers Butler Lampson (1992) and Tony Hoare (1980) in an elite group of winners recognized as innovators in computer science.

  • In October, MSR moved from Building 9 to Building 31 on Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus to give room to the expanding staff.


  • In March, the Programmer Productivity Research Center was established. The center builds tools to help programmers develop high-quality code. With the goal of eventually providing resources to the external developer community, the center works with researchers from academia and industry to investigate radical programming approaches and then test them in Microsofts real-world software development environment.

  • MSR Cambridge outgrew its space allocation in the Computer Laboratory building of the University of Cambridge and applied for planning permission for a separate building. It also expanded to a second floor in its current building.

  • In November, MSR moved from Building 31 to Cedar Court Buildings 112 and 113 on Microsoft’s Redmond campus due to growth in new groups and staff.


  • MSR contributions were shipped in numerous products, including data mining capabilities in SQL Server 2000 and several features in Windows 2000.


  • MSR technologies including speech, anti-piracy, user-interface and development software are featured in Office XP.

  • On Sept. 5, MSR celebrated its 10th anniversary at a Redmond campus event.

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