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Microsoft shakes up 'blue sky ' development team in Cambridge

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 23, 2011 01:23 PM

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Several sources tell me that a high-octane product development team originally brought together by Ray Ozzie, the former chief software architect at Microsoft, is being dismantled at the company's New England Research & Development office in Cambridge. The approximately 20-member team — which once numbered more than 40 — was originally known as Microsoft Startup Labs, then FUSE (Future Social Experiences), and since January of this year had been part of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business unit.

The crack team was first brought together by Ozzie, best known as the creator of Lotus Notes, to work fast, developing prototypes that could eventually point the way to new Microsoft features and products. They worked on Bing's Twitter search capabilities; Twitter mapping on Bing; Docs, a way to create and share Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on Facebook; the TeamCrossword game; and recently, a way to use Microsoft's Kinect motion-detection system to enable videogame playersinteract with ads.

Some of the team has been offered jobs in Redmond, I'm told, but not everyone will go. The end result will be less "blue sky" conceptual work happening in Cambridge, sources say, and that location focusing more on basic research and integrating acquisitions that Microsoft makes in Massachusetts. A key Ozzie goal while at Microsoft had been to help Microsoft do early-stage product development work in a more distributed way — not just at headquarters. (Much of the software work taking place in Cambridge now focuses on improving existing Microsoft products like Office 365, Lync, and Sharepoint, not cooking up new stuff.)

Asked about the changes in Cambridge, Microsoft spokesperson Catherine Collins only said, "I can't comment on personnel matters."

I've written several times before about re-orgs at Microsoft NERD.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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