Microsoft is often seen as a late adopter, waiting for other companies to go through the pain of innovation before snatching the fruits of their labour. But at least one group inside the kingdom is developing cool new ideas and implementing cutting-edge technologies.
They call themselves Microsoft Research (MSR), and they're remarkably open about what they're up to. At http://research.microsoft.com, we stumbled upon a sizable stockpile of information, from technical papers that made our eyes glaze over to a bucket of tasty downloads.
One of the niftiest pieces of software we found is the Microsoft Belief Networks (what images that name conjures!) demo program. The demo implements Bayesian analysis, the analytical model behind Microsoft's troubleshooting wizards and those annoying Office Assistants. Of the included samples, a Windows 95 Print Troubleshooter is the most educational, with its matrix of conditions and symptoms (and the logic to hold them together) to aid print problems. But the "Party" sample is much more fun: it helps you decide whether to hold a party indoors or outdoors, based on whether or not it's raining.
Also available at MSR is an IPv6 implementation for Windows NT. It's clearly marked as NFP (not for production), but it still had the networking rats salivating.
Finally, if you want to get in way over your head (or just impress the boss), there are a slew of research papers at MSR's site, including "Theoretical Analysis for Communications-Induced Checkpointing Protocols with Rollback-Dependency Trackability."
Whatever that is.