Microsoft cuts Live Labs staff by half, refocuses on search

Microsoft has reacted to the global economic slump by reassigning half of its forward-looking Live Labs staff to other projects around the company.

Microsoft has reacted to the global economic slump by reassigning half of its forward-looking Live Labs staff to other projects around the company. The remaining half will focus solely on Microsoft's search products, the area that probably offers Microsoft the most room for revenue growth.

At least for now, you can browse the names and headshots of most of the Live Labs team, pre-reassignment. A separate page Live Labs projects. The group, formally announced in January 2006, even posted a rambling Manifesto:

"These new dynamics set the stage for the literal evolution of innovation. Startup costs and barriers to entry diminish; opportunities for creating entirely new value increase; human muscle no longer gates scalability; transactions are not bound by time, distance, or size; and something intangible - a better algorithm - can massively increase global utility and welfare. This pattern is not merely about new applications. It's about a revolution in how we create, share, and refine anything that can be digitally encoded, be it news and information, artistic forms, scientific breakthroughs, personal communications, economic transactions, and, yes, even software. This is not Web 2.0. It's World 2.0."

Microsoft isn't the only tech supercompany cutting back on projects that don't add to the bottom line. Google unplugged its Lively virtual world in November, and Yahoo shut down Y!Live in December.

Live Labs's most high-profile project is Photosynth, which correlates the data in multiple digital photographs to create a three-dimensional model of a place or object. It's not yet clear what will happen to Photosynth or the Seadragon image viewer. Perhaps the remaining Live Labs staff will find a way to enhance Microsoft's search with more visual features like bird's-eye view.

At least one project has a chance at life after Live Labs: In January, the group open-sourced their Web Sandbox for website developers.

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Paul Boutin

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