The scope of research at Microsoft ranges from theoretical mathematics to applied systems that may point to how the company plans to go up against Google in search engines. A few examples follow:

Susan Dumais, a mathematician and psychologist who is a veteran of both Bell Labs and Bellcore, has devised a new approach for tracking down digital files. Called Stuff I've Seen, it creates a unified and searchable index of documents that have been previously referenced by a user, whether a Web page, e-mail, spreadsheet or any other file. Now in early testing among 1,500 users at Microsoft, it may well show up in a new Microsoft search engine or operating system. "It's a blast being here," Dumais says, adding: "It's amazingly seductive to ship what you've done to hundreds of millions of people."

James Gray, 1998 winner of the Turing Award, one of the highest honors in computer science, helped to devise a Web-based tool, SkyQuery.Net (right), that lets an astronomer submit a single query to archives of data from optical and radio telescopes, allowing data on objects located in the same areas of the sky to be correlated. It is a prototype for a World Wide Telescope that may one day do the same across all such astronomy archives and may shed light on the problems of data mining for large commercial databases.

Michael H. Freedman, a 1987 winner of the Fields Medal in mathematics, is working on a radically new approach to quantum computation that relies on an excited state of matter (a quasiparticle) that has yet to be discovered. When first recruited by Nathan Myhrvold in 1996, Freedman asked his soon-to-be boss whether he could work on anything he wanted. "Maybe not ballet dancing," Myhrvold told him.

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