Microsoft Israel’s R&D Center—the tech giant’s first R&D center outside the United States—is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
At Microsoft Israel R&D Center’s annual Think Next showcase in Tel Aviv last month, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella congratulated the Israeli engineers and researchers who continue breaking new ground. He noted Microsoft’s investments in the local market and its commitment to the continued growth of the high-tech and innovation industry in Israel. And in a live virtual appearance, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said he was “very happy to wish the R&D center a happy birthday” and declared that Israeli developments in analytics and security were “improving the world.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Nadella that Microsoft and the state of Israel “should now chart the next 25 years….Israel is a center of great technological innovation; Microsoft is a great technological company. It’s a marriage made in heaven, but recognized here on earth.”
We looked into our archives to create this list of firsts, significant developments, and model practices to have emerged from Microsoft Israel.
1. R&D Center
Microsoft was first established in Israel in 1989 as one of the few foreign outposts fully owned and operated by the U.S. company. Two years later, the company officially launched its first R&D center in Haifa, and today has activities in both Herzliya and Haifa, with sales and marketing in Ra’anana.
One of three strategic global development centers situated around the world, the Israeli branch specializes in cloud technologies, business intelligence, consumer analytics, and more.
“The 25 years have been a fantastic 25 years, and we look forward to 25 more,” Nadella said at Think Next 2016.
“Since the R&D center was established 25 years ago we have managed to generate unique creative value for the company—as evinced by innovative projects…and the five acquisitions we have made in the past year in Israel,” said Yoram Yaacovi, general manager of Microsoft Israel’s R&D Center.
2. Windows operating systems
Microsoft Israel has long been credited for contributing significantly to the development of major parts of the Windows software as well as its IT security and telecommunications technologies.
A video made for Microsoft Israel’s 10th anniversary in 2001 cites the OS2/subsystem, Win32s, Embedded NT4, MSBatch, Cairo Mail Server, ChicOfs, MSMQ, Modem Sharing, and Web IVR among Israel’s contributions.
Other Israeli startups acquired by Microsoft over the years have been incorporated into its operating systems and platforms, such as Peach Networks (technology for digital television, 2000), Kidaro (desktop virtualization solutions for enterprises, 2008), YaData (analytic software for marketers, 2008), and Equivio (text analysis software developer, 2015).
And then there are companies like harmon.ie, which stay independent but serve Microsoft clients. Harmon.ie gives Microsoft Office 2016 users a single-screen experience for structured collaboration across desktop and mobile devices.
3. Free anti-virus
Development of the Microsoft Security Essentials anti-virus suite began in December 2008 at the R&D center in Herzliya.
Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection against viruses, spyware and other malicious software. In 2010, a year after its initial release, Microsoft announced that it had more than 30 million users. By 2011, it had become the second-most popular ant-virus product in the world, and the most popular in North America.
Kinect, Microsoft’s line of motion-sensing input devices, uses range camera technology by Israel’s PrimeSense.
PrimeSense’s technology revolutionized interaction with digital devices by allowing them to “see” in three dimensions and let users control a game with their hands and body. Microsoft incorporated the Israeli technology in Xbox 360, Xbox One and Windows PCs. Face-recognition solutions from the Microsoft Israel labs can also be found in Microsoft’s Bing Images, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Phone and Kinect.
“All the face-recognition technology being used with Kinect was developed in Israel,” Yaacovi told the Times of Israel. “If you see an application with face recognition, you know it was made here.”
5. Microsoft Ventures Accelerator Tel Aviv
Microsoft Ventures Accelerator started in Tel Aviv in 2012. Today it is considered the world’s most successful corporate accelerator, with additional branches in Bangalore, Beijing, Berlin, London, Paris and Seattle. Alumni from the Tel Aviv accelerator include Roojoom, Appixia, KitLocate and OwnBackup, among many others. In 2016, the original Tel Aviv-based accelerator program switched to a“scalerator” model designed to scale up participating companies for introduction to the global market.
6. Think Next
Think Next—where chosen startups demonstrate their innovations to tech leaders, developers, R&D managers, VC funds, and researchers—has become one of the leading technology events in Israel, and has been so successful that Microsoft has replicated it in the U.S., China and India.
At this year’s Think Next, Israeli companies showcased 3D technologies, augmented reality, innovative interfaces, robotics and health-tech. “Think Next reflects the ability of creative technologies to reinvent entire industries, including health, agriculture, communications and transportation,” said Yaacovi. “The new experiences offered to users are a tremendous springboard for businesses and are changing the economy and the lives of millions. We are proud to provide a stage for startups that show exceptional creativity in these and other fields.”
7. Cyber solutions/cloud security
In 2014 and 2015, Microsoft acquired Israeli startups Aorato, Adallom, and Secure Islands to enhance its security technology. Takeshi Numoto, Microsoft’s vice president for cloud and enterprise marketing, stated in 2015 that the Israeli startups’ technologies will be used on Windows and in Microsoft’s cloud services such as Azure and Office 365. Numerous reports suggest that the multinational company is transforming its Israeli R&D centers into the nucleus for global development of cyber-tech for Windows and Microsoft cloud services.
8. Bing search
Israeli researchers have played a prominent role in Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Herzliya’s innovation labs have also been credited with adapting Bing for mobile phones. According to the Microsoft Israel site, applied researchers in Israel collaborated with colleagues from Microsoft Research to contribute several new, improved features for Bing Images.
Bing is currently the second-largest search engine in the U.S. next to Google. Microsoft Israel engineers are behind innovative solutions that support Bing’s task-completion strategy, improve its usability and relevance, and leverage social networks, according to a blog post by Adi Diamant, director of Advanced Technology Labs Israel.
9. Content analytics
Microsoft’s content analytics solutions are powered by numerous platforms, including Israeli-developed technologies.
In 2011, Microsoft acquired Israeli startup VideoSurf’s content analytics technology to enhance search and discovery of content. In 2015, Israeli company Pyramid Analytics, the next-generation business intelligence (BI) platform for corporations, signed a strategic agreement with Microsoft to improve its Power BI solution.
“Our work with Microsoft will give Power BI Desktop users the ability to publish files to an on-premises or private cloud server for broad collaboration on BI content,” said Omri Kohl, cofounder and CEO of Pyramid Analytics.
10. Forefront Unified Access Gateway
Although Microsoft discontinued its Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) in 2014, the computer software developed by Whale Communications in Rosh HaAyin was an important solution for secure remote access to managed and unmanaged PCs and mobile devices during its lifespan. Microsoft bought Whale Communications in 2006 for $76 million. The technology is still used as the basis for newer solutions.
[Photo: Microsoft Israel R & D Center / YouTube ]