Microsoft Dishes Out Research Grants

Microsoft announced the recipients of approximately $1 million in academic research funding on Thursday.

Redmond’s think tanks were looking for help in two areas: mapping and security. While issues of personal privacy, PC takeovers and network security have plagued Windows for years.

Microsoft put the majority of its money toward funding proposals for Trustworthy Computing projects, with a total of $750,000 split among 15 organizations. Eight others will receive a total of $300,000 for Virtual Earth-related work.

The emphasis on extending Virtual Earth technology shows the growing importance of geolocation for search and mobile services.

Virtual Earth is Microsoft’s platform combining mapping and local search. It’s also used in Windows Live Local, the Web-based combo of consumer services introduced in December 2005. Microsoft eventually will move all Hotmail and messaging services to Windows Live Local, along with Expo, its online classifieds service.

Jupiter Research forecasts spending in the U.S. for online local advertising will grow at an annual compounded rate of 11 percent from 2005 to 2010, from $3.2 billion in 2005 to $5.3 billion in 2010. (Jupiter Research and are owned by the same corporation).

The Virtual Earth projects were initiated and funded by Microsoft’s Virtual Earth and Local Search business units, with the aim of encouraging university research in areas relevant to digital geography, including spatio-temporal databases, routing, computer vision, ontologies, map user interfaces and visualization.

Mapping is seen as a critical element in the Windows Live offerings, not only for adding value to local searches but also for enabling MSN to sell geographically targeted ads.

For example, in Expo, MSN’s online classifieds service that was opened to limited domains in the Seattle area last week, users can specify either a specific domain, such as a company, or a limited geographic area in which to advertise or search for items.

“We’ve integrated social networking and location-specific items to create a person-to-person marketplace with a twist,” said Garry Wise, an MSN product manager. “We want to make Expo locally relevant to the people who are using it.”

Whether they’ve bought something on Expo or searched for a local business, Windows Live Local users can quickly access driving directions and find other locations along the way. While MSN has no immediate plans to take a cut of Expo sales, it does plan to eventually show ads for related goods or services. For example, if someone bought a piano, it might display ads for local piano movers.

In a statement, Sailesh Chutani, director of the External Research & Programs group within Microsoft Research, said his company has the largest request for proposals (RFP) program in the IT industry.

This year’s Trustworthy Computing RFP was the second in a series of Trustworthy Computing and software engineering curriculum RFPs from Microsoft. This year, the program focused on five areas: business integrity, privacy, reliability, security and secure software engineering.

At the RSA Security Conference this week, Bill Gates told his keynote audience: “The dreams we have [for the digital future] can only be realized if we not only build secure approaches that make those easy to administer.”

Next up for grant awards from Microsoft’s External Research & Programs group will be the winners of its $1.2 million Digital Inclusion RFP, which funds academic research on technology that affects health, education and socioeconomic conditions.

The group doled out almost $4 million in IT research funding through the administration of six RFPs in the past fiscal year and supported more than 125 research projects at universities around the world.

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