Microsoft Corp. today announced the formation of Microsoft Live Labs, a research partnership between MSN and Microsoft Research. Under the leadership of Dr. Gary William Flake, noted industry technologist and Microsoft technical fellow, Live Labs will consist of a dedicated group of researchers from MSN and Microsoft Research that will work with researchers across Microsoft and the academic research community. Live Labs will provide consistency in vision, leadership and infrastructure as well as a nimble applied research environment that fosters rapid innovations.

“Live Labs is a fantastic alliance between some of the best engineering and scientific talent in the world. It will be the pre-eminent applied research laboratory for Internet technologies,” Flake said. “This is a very exciting opportunity for researchers and technologists to have an immediate impact on the next evolution of Microsoft’s Internet products and services and will help unify our customers’ digital world so they can easily find information, pursue their interests and enrich their lives.”

The Live Labs — a confederation of dedicated technologists and affiliated researchers in pre-existing projects from around Microsoft — will focus on Internet-centric applied research programs including rapidly prototyping and launching of emerging technologies, incubating entirely new inventions, and improving and accelerating Windows Live offerings. This complements the company’s continuing deep investment in basic research at Microsoft Research and product development at MSN.

Ray Ozzie, Craig Mundie and David Vaskevitch, Microsoft’s chief technical officers, will serve as the Live Labs Advisory Board. Ozzie sees Live Labs as an agile environment for fast-tracking research from the lab into people’s hands. “Live Labs is taking an exciting approach that is both organic and consumer-driven,” Ozzie said. “Within the context of a broad range of rich usage scenarios for Windows Live, the labs will explore new ways of bringing content, commerce and community to the Internet.”

Live Labs will investigate a broad and comprehensive set of research topics such as multimedia search, machine learning, distributed computing and data mining, and will engage in rapid prototyping and the incubation of disruptive technologies. Unlike basic research, which is geared toward visionary discoveries that may or may not end up in actual products, and product development, which is feature-focused and geared toward solving tactical engineering problems, Live Labs’ applied research will study the relationship and applicability of theories or principles to the solution of a problem or an actual product or service.

Microsoft also announced the hiring of Dr. Ashok Chandra, a notable industry and academic researcher, as general manager of Search Labs, a new organization devoted to innovation and incubation that will be closely aligned with Live Labs. Search Labs will be stationed in Redmond and at the Microsoft Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, Calif. Search Labs will focus on areas such as personalization, socialization and improved user experiences while maintaining strict regard for user privacy. In addition, Chandra’s teams will build technologies for data mining, vertical industries and parametric capabilities to go beyond the search bar experience.

Because strong academic engagement with the research community is fundamental to the lab’s overall goals, Live Labs’ scientists and technologists are encouraged to actively and openly engage with the academic research community and publish their research findings.

Many of Live Labs’ founding members are highly regarded Microsoft Research scientists who have been longtime MSN collaborators. These include Dr. Eric Brill, senior researcher and the head of the Text Mining, Search and Navigation Group; Dr. Paul Viola, senior researcher in the Document Processing and Understanding Group; Dr. Susan Dumais, senior researcher in the Adaptive Systems and Interaction Group; Dr. Jim Gray, Microsoft technical fellow and head of the Scalable Servers Research Group; Dr. Christopher Bishop, assistant director of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England; and Dr. Chris Meek and Dr. Max Chickering, senior researchers in the Machine Learning and Applied Statistics Group.

Beyond collaboration, Live Labs will extend Microsoft’s existing engagement with the external academic research community through new opportunities for grants, sabbaticals, internships and fellowships. As one example, Live Labs announced today that a total of $500,000 (U.S.) is being made available through a new request for proposals to further encourage academic research in areas such as data mining, discovery and analysis as they relate to Internet search. Proposals can be submitted through March 24. Microsoft will make 10 to 14 awards ranging from $35,000 to $50,000 and will announce the awards on May 17.

In addition, Microsoft yesterday awarded to 10 outstanding students two-year fellowships worth a total of $1,000,000 (U.S.), as well as the opportunity to do an internship on the topic of their choice.