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Microsoft Research Hires UI Visionary

Microsoft announced Monday that it has snagged a leading user interface visionary to work in the company's research division.

As a senior researcher for Microsoft Research (MSR), Canadian Bill Buxton will continue to live in the Toronto area while commuting to the main research labs in Redmond on average one week a month. He will also do four-month stints at the company's research centers around the world, beginning with Cambridge, England, according to statements by Buxton and Microsoft.

Microsoft also has research labs in Beijing, China and Bangalore, India, as well as San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Buxton is well known as a scientist, designer, musician and, up until starting his new job with MSR this month, was principal of his own design firm, Buxton Design, as well as an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Toronto. He has an undergraduate degree in music and a masters degree in computer science, with a focus on computer music. That, according to his Web site, led him into his work on user interface design.

He served as chief scientist of Alias/Wavefront, (now Alias Systems) from 1994 until December 2002, and also since1995 for its parent company Silicon Graphics. He has also worked with Xerox's famed PARC or Palo Alto Research Center, where the graphical UI saw much of its early genesis. At Alias, he worked on the company's major design products. One important product, a 3-D animation package named Maya, has been used in such films as Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith.

Buxton holds a number of patents in user interface design as well, including a UI with two cursors, ways of editing time-based data and “two-handed document navigation.”

One of Buxton's interests is in so called “ubiquitous computing,” where, as Buxton said in a 1999 speech, the computing aspects of any task become so well integrated that the computer, in a perceptual way, “disappears.”

A little ironically, in that same 1999 speech, he chided Microsoft and others for failing to seriously improve the GUI since its Xerox days. “Maybe the best way to get Windows off the desktop is to get rid of the desktop. Why should we fight for territory that is brain-damaged to begin with? Microsoft can stay there they can have the desktop,” Buxton said at that time.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.