There’s a new Microsoft on the horizon.
In his email and memo to Microsoft employees yesterday about the company’s realignment and transformation, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer didn’t use the word semantic, or the term semantic web anywhere, or point specifically to efforts like the company’s role in schema.org or the work its Research group has conducted in its semantic computing initiative (ProBase, Contextual Thesaurus, and so on).
But to reach the goal Ballmer states of revising Microsoft’s strategy to “focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most,” semantic technologies aimed at deriving meaning from information seem like they'll have an important role to play.
Ballmer in his email, for example, discusses that Qi Lu, until yesterday president of the Online Services Division, where he led the company's search, portal and online advertising efforts, now is taking charge of the Applications and Services Engineering Group. He “will lead broad applications and services core technologies in productivity, communication, search and other information categories.”
In an interview with the NY Times a couple of years back, Lu talked of changing the game by making search smarter, of “computationally discerning user intent to give them the knowledge to complete tasks.” Now, it seems there’s the opportunity to drive the thinking behind that philosophy forward in new and more integrated ways, as Microsoft moves to organize the company by function, engineering being one of them (for OS, devices and studios, and cloud and enterprise as well as Apps and Services). Ballmer explains that the goal will be to bring together its “disparate engineering efforts today into a coherent set of our high-value activities. …We will plan across the company, so we can better deliver compelling integrated devices and services for the high-value experiences and core technologies around which we organize.”
In another executive move, Rick Rashid – who created and ran Microsoft Research and just a couple of months ago talked up the excitement of machine learning at the Microsoft Research Machine Learning Summit 2013 – now will be “driving core OS innovation in our operating systems group.” Machine-learning looks to count in that innovation: Ballmer also notes that, when it comes to those high-value experiences Microsoft wants to drive and reinvent, next-generation decision-making and task completion, underpinned by the company’s machine-learning infrastructure, are in the mix.
That infrastructure, he says, “will understand people’s needs and what is available in the world, and will provide information and assistance. We will be great at anticipating needs in people’s daily routines and providing insight and assistance when they need it,” leveraging “the massive amount of data available over the Web. Bing, Excel and our InfoNav innovations are all important here.”
Ballmer makes other comments that may allude to an influence by various semantic technologies in Microsoft’s new direction. Also expect, Ballmer says, to see Microsoft reinvent expression and documents, offering complex options such as imbedded logic while being easier to author, search and view. Microsoft-powered devices, he writes, “will deliver experiences based on a common set of services such as … a common understanding of people and their relationships.” Microsoft’s CEO also speaks of continuing to reinvent the core “shell” of its family of devices to “natively support all of our essential services, and … be great at responding seamlessly to what people ask for, and even anticipating what they need before they ask for it.
Ballmer says there’s no current label that really fits where Microsoft is headed when it comes to the experience it aims to deliver across all its devices to better connect people with the things they care about most (from files to photos to websites to tasks and mail and other messages), combined with real-time information from its devices and services. But behind whatever that label may be could be a host of semantic technologies for making sense of hordes of data and helping Microsoft get what it wants to do done.