Microsoft kicks off TechFest

The company expects about 7,000 of its workers will attend the internal science fair, which runs through Thursday.

REDMOND, Wash.--Microsoft kicked off its annual TechFest internal science fair on Tuesday, touting a wide range of projects that span from new views of outer space to efforts much closer to home.

Among the projects being shown are several efforts in the area of search, where Microsoft has been counting on its research team to help the company better compete against Google.

Research chief Rick Rashid didn't mention Google by name, but did say that investing in basic research can help a company when technology shifts and as new rivals emerge.

"You don't know what's coming around the corner," Rashid said. "Research creates a reservoir of technology, of ideas, of people, that can be brought to bare when things get bad. It gives you agility."

On Wednesday and Thursday, about 7,000 Microsoft employees are expected to tour a collection of 150 research projects to see which of the efforts might fit with work they are doing in their product groups. About a quarter of the projects are on display for the non-Microsoft folks assembled today.

Other projects include the well-publicized WorldWide Telescope and LucidTouch, a new touch-based interface for mobile devices.

Although he is now one of the event's biggest champions, Rashid conceded that he thought the whole concept was a bad one when first approached about doing TechFest.

"I didn't ever really want to do this," Rashid said. "I kept saying, 'Gosh, you know that would be such a bad idea. It would be kind of a waste of time. I don't know if anybody will show up."

Amid continued pressure, Rashid eventually conceded to try it several years back as an experiment. The company has been doing it ever since.

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