Posted by: technofutures | October 23, 2008

This week in Microsoft (Weeks 42/43)!


Another interesting week… Think Microsoft isn’t innovative? This is a very long edition so check out the breadth of this week’s fascinating news/articles… I’m sure you’ll find something interesting! The Microsoft Research topic this week is the “Microsoft SurfaceWare”!

And of course stay tuned for next week’s edition in the light of Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference where Windows 7 will make it’s appearance, along with several as yet unannounced products… I can’t wait!!!

Web Application Installer Beta

webaiThis week Microsoft announced the ‘Web Application Installer Beta’, as a follow up to  its ‘Web Platform Installer’ launched at the end of September. While the Platform Installer provides web developers with the basic Microsoft components (IIS, Visual Web Developer, SQL Server, .NET Framework), Web Application Installer is a unified installer which aims to help people save time and get ASP.NET (and PHP with MySQL!) applications up and running quickly such as Gallery, phpBB, WordPress…

Check it out if Web Applications are your thing!


yahoo_logo Another week, another rumour… Steve Ballmer (Microsoft CEO) declared last Thursday that a deal with Yahoo “makes sense for their shareholders”. An hour later, Microsoft had issued a press statement stating that “Microsoft has no interest in acquiring Yahoo”… I wonder how long this Cat and Mouse game is going to go on for…


Hidden under this cryptic name is perhaps one of the most interesting news that came out of the blogosphere this week. Rumour goes that Bill Gates (remember him? he used to have something to do with Microsoft…) has set up a mysterious new company… Its purpose? Techflash, the source for this incredible scoop, described the company’s role as a ‘Think Tank’ to explore new areas of technology at a faster pace. Amusingly this reminds me of my technical innovation lecture on Wednesday, when one of the speakers made a comment that “Microsoft being big reduced their innovation rate”.

Let’s keep an eye out on bgC3 and see what will become of it (My CV is available on request, Bill 🙂 )… Check out the original article here.

Bill Gates and Pancakes

bgc3web What can billg and pancakes possibly have in common? Well, interestingly it seems that Bill Gates had a keen interest in Maths (fun!) before setting up that little start-up called Microsoft, and had actually written a paper in 1979 with Christos Papadimitriou on the topic of ‘Bounds for sorting by prefix reversal’ (click to read the paper) more commonly known as the ‘stacking pancakes’ problem

The paper starts with a quote:

The chef in our place is sloppy, and when he prepares a stack of pancakes they come out all different sizes. Therefore, when I deliver them to a customer, on the way to the table I rearrange them (so that the smallest winds up on top, and so on, down to the largest”at the bottom) by grabbing several from the top and flipping them over, repeating this (varying the number I flip) as many times as necessary. If there are n pancakes, what is the, maximum number of flips (as a function f(n) of n) that I will ever have to use to rearrange them?

pancake stack2 Sound like a school problem (I still dream of the Towers of Hanoi* project I had to do in Year 7…), but the University of Texas announced this week that they had managed to improve upon this 30-year old problem, producing a better solution than that proposed by Gates. The article announcing their finding can be found here and it’s interesting to read about the applications that this seemingly abstract problem may help solve in computing e.g. finding the shortest path between two processors in a pancake network (Google books extract: Parallel & distributed computing).

pancake A Pancake Network

*Towers of Hanoi: this was one of my first Maths projects. Back then of course (in the stone age of 1998), the Internet was only just becoming a tool for research and learning at home. Few people in class would have thought of using the web to find the simple recurrence relation which was the goal of the project. I remember I spent hours trying to work out the precious formula…

hanoi It struck me suddenly though that any child today would simply type in ‘Towers of Hanoi’ in Google, bring up the Wikipedia page and indeed as I suspected, the recurrence formula is there. I found this rather stunning and sad at the same time, and it got me thinking about how often I use Wikipedia nowadays to look up information. But there’s a difference I think. With mum being a teacher, I’ve often seen student’s work handed in to her which is a pure copy of Wikipedia. How sad.

That however reminds me of another of my school adventures… If ever I find a way to get in touch with Mrs J O’brien, who used to teach me Food Technology… I’d love to apologise for that time in 1999 when I handed in my homework on the topic of Vitamin D. I should have been obvious to me that, being in Year 8, she would have guessed that I didn’t know anything about metabolites, prohormones and ergocalciferol… Somewhat appropriately in correlation with the topic I got a D for that particular homework marvel. My only D ever. Believe me, I never copied from Encarta again… 🙂

Enough of my nostalgia…

Live Search

Expect to hear a lot about Windows Live next week, but a very interesting LiveSide article hints at what the future may have in store, in particular Windows Live Search.

livesearch2By the way, for those of you who have not tried out Live Search recently, I recommend that you try out the American localized version by clicking here. The user experience is considerably different to the European one… take some time to explore the homepage. It’s really quite beautiful with the images changing daily…


Check out their article about the changing UI and rebranding of Live Search here.

Craig Mundie at Berkeley

Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer (i.e. the one that gets to play with all the fun stuff), gave a talk at UC Berkeley this week. Channel 8 (Microsoft’s Student Forum) has published extracts of his presentation and an interview with Craig about the future of computing, processing and programming.

Craig Mundie: What he dreams up now, you’ll use in 20 years…


His views on the applications of Quantum Computing are very interesting and raise the interesting question of “what do you do with all that power?”. I certainly know what I would use it for… to make my fourth year project run faster in Matlab…grrr!

Another fascinating video on Channel 8 taken during his presentation shows Craig demonstrating ‘Flexible Displays’… Amazingly this was also discussed yesterday in my innovation lecture, in relation to Cambridge Display Technologies… I would love one of these… Santa are you listening?!

Flexible displays are just around the corner; what will we do with them?


Install Font

Not news as such, but a very interesting shortcut that I never knew existed in Vista.

Ever tried installing a new font? Found yourself opening Windows Explorer, going to C:\Windows\Fonts, unzipping your font, dragging the font into the explorer window which hopefully is still on top otherwise you have to perform some acrobatics via the taskbar to get it back on top and then finally having your font installed…

No more! Right click on your downloaded font and click ‘Install’. I can’t believe I never saw that before even though I install fonts several times a week for the desktop publishing I do… I’ve always said that it’s the small things in Vista that make a difference…


Alfred Thomson: Free Microsoft E-books



Grab them while you can! I learnt through Alfred Thomson’s blog, which I recommended last week, that Microsoft Press is celebrating its 25th Anniversary by offering free Visual Studio and Microsoft Robotics e-books . Check them out here before the offer runs out!


Software Tip: Microsoft/Sysinternals Process Explorer

Ever wondered what is actually running on your computer that task manager doesn’t tell you about? Ever wondered what svchost.exe is? Check out this little tool by Sysinternals (a company that Microsoft bought a while back) that that I found out about yesterday. I was very surprised to see what was running when it shouldn’t have been (I’m looking at you, Matlab!)!


You can download it free from here

Microsoft Research: SurfaceWare

It wasn’t easy to choose this week… there’s just so much to choose from! But in the end, I thought this would be one that many people would find interesting.

Microsoft SurfaceWare is an extension of the Surface concept which I described in previous posts, aiming to extend the capabilities of surface through clever use of the optical infrared hardware and the Surface SDK.

I’ll let the video speak for itself, which uses the example of ‘Level Sensing Glassware Research’… imagine the possibilities!


Very,very cool! Check out the Surface Team Blog here as they go into more details about SurfaceWare!

Next week, I might choose one of the projects by Andrew Blake, a world-famous researcher here in Microsoft Research Cambridge who is coming to give a talk at the engineering department about “Markov Models in Computer Vision”. Sounds fascinating!

Fun Stuff…

A couple of funny moments this week…

Elbot and Microsoft

I found it rather amusing when Elbot, the artificial intelligence that was on BBC news recently, responded to my question “Does that make you sad?”

NotEvenMicrosoftdoes that make you sad

Apple and French: Perfectly Stupid

Clearly ‘La Pomme’ has not quite grasped the intricacies of the French language as they amusingly described their new MacBook as “Perfectly *stupid*” instead of “Perfectly designed”… And believe me, stupid is a mild translation!


Oh and ‘La Pomme’, I didn’t know that ‘unibody’ was a French word…!

That’s all for this week 🙂



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: