Microsoft’s top new tech, and its Israel connection, on display at Think Next

Microsoft showed off 40 of its new technologies at its annual innovation show — and made it clear that Israel is extremely important to the future fortunes of the company

Yoram Ya'akobi, director of Microsoft Israel's Development Center (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yoram Ya'akobi, director of Microsoft Israel's Development Center (photo credit: Courtesy)

Microsoft’s best and brightest new technologies, many developed in Israel, were on display at the tech giant’s Think Next event in Tel Aviv, where visitors got a peek at no fewer than 40 new projects being developed at Microsoft’s labs and development centers in Israel. Chief among the technologies were those dealing with the management of large amounts of data — “big data,” as Yoram Ya’akobi, director of Microsoft Israel’s Development Center, put it — along with ways to make smartphones more responsive and enhanced applications for augmented reality.

But the real revelation at a press conference held by Ya’akobi and some of Microsoft Israel’s top developers at the show was the extent of Microsoft’s adoption of Israeli technology in a wide range of its products. Israel is home to one of only three Microsoft global development centers outside of the US (the other two are in India and China), and since it began buying start-ups in 1987, the company has acquired six Israeli companies — more than in any other country other than the US and Canada.

Rumors have swirled for years that major parts of its Windows operating system were developed in Israel, something the company has confirmed, although it has never specified just which components of Windows are “Israeli.” But MS is not keeping any secrets regarding where it is developing its latest technology, especially its Kinect system, which allows people to interact with computer systems. Kinect was originally developed for its xBox gaming system, allowing users to insert themselves into a virtual game or adventure. But now Kinect technology is being used to develop games and interactive applications for the PC, and large components of that effort are being developed by Microsoft Israel.

“All the face recognition technology being used with Kinect was developed in Israel,” said Ya’akobi. “If you see an application with face recognition, you know it was made here.” Other important MS projects being developed almost exclusively by the Israel team are applications involving business intelligence and integrating devices developed for the consumer market into business.

Israel is even “exporting” the Think Next event, said Ya’akobi. Think Next, now in its third year in Israel, which was the first country to hold the event, “has become one of Microsoft’s most important events, and it has been so successful that Think Nexts will be held in the US, India, China, and other places,” he said. “There are now 25 to 30 Think Next events annually, and it all started in Israel.”

Besides Kinect, “big data” analytics are “the next big thing,” said Ya’akobi,offering a career tip to those trying to figure out what to do with their lives. “Jewish mothers today will want their children to become data analysts, because that’s where the jobs are going to be.” Some 200,000 positions are set to open up in data analytics in the next few years. Among the demo applications shown by Ya’akobi and MS Israel staff were several that allow users to marshal large amounts of information and quickly dissect or otherwise use it. One demo, for example, allows users of the xBox entertainment component to get recommendations for movies that they are likely to enjoy based on their previous choices, preferences, and ways they use the system.

Another very promising technology being developed for smartphones will allow the phone to fulfill commands based on location, time, and context. The On{x} system will be an open-source style rule set that will allow anyone to develop smartphone apps to accomplish anything using the phone’s GPS system, accelerometer, and other features. Thus, if you forget an item when visiting someone’s house, you can program your phone to remind you to pick up the item the next time you are there, without having to set up a reminder in advance. Application using On{x} will help users in dozens of contexts, said Ya’akobi.

While many of the demos were impressive, most of the technology displayed is still under development, so it may be a while before products using these technologies hit the market. Nevertheless, Microsoft is very excited about the work its Israel unit is doing. To MS, said Ya’akobi, Israel has the right balance between great ideas and start-up knowhow — a combination that is hard to find elsewhere. “There are great ideas all over,” Ya’akobi said. “But Israel goes beyond ideas. We in Israel take the ideas, build them, and then sell them. This is a triple play that is unique to Israel. I recently discussed this with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer,” Ya’akobi added, and as far as Ballmer is concerned, the more Israeli technology Microsoft can rope in, the better. “His question was, how can we take Israeli talent and use it to develop products for Microsoft, and for the rest of the world.”

Most Popular
read more: