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    AzureFest Toronto

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    azurefest_landing_banner[1]

    Drum roll please. AzureFest is finally coming to Toronto!

    I said it before and I’ll say it again, as students we should care for a simple reason: we don’t like to sit through long and boring lectures (com’n, admit it). AzureFest is all about getting down and dirty with the tools. Instead of walking away with just the knowledge of how to deploy a cloud app, you’ll walk away having actually done that. Be sure to bring your own laptop and a credit card (event and tools are free; it is only required for account activation, you will not be charged for anything) and get ready to actually do stuff.

    AzureFest Toronto will take place in the heart of Toronto downtown at Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone.

    When: Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
    Where: 10 Dundas Street East, Room: AMC-502, Toronto, ON, M5B 2G9
    Register: Click here

    And as always, there will be prizes!

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    Microsoft’s FUSE Labs

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    If you haven’t yet done so, be sure to check out Microsoft’s FUSE Labs (http://fuse.microsoft.com/). FUSE (Future Social Experiences) produces some pretty neat projects that deal with social, real-time and media-rich experiences.

    Among their notable projects is Docs for Facebook, a tool that allows you to share Microsoft Office documents with your friends on Facebook. Think of it as SkyDrive with full Facebook integration. you can upload, create, view, edit and then share documents with your friends or even the world. As with SkyDrive, document editing is collaborative, which means that you and your friends can edit at the same time. If you have Microsoft Office installed, you can edit directly from your desktop instead of the browser.

    my%20docs

    Bing Twitter Maps is another cool project that allows you to see tweets directly from Bing maps. That is, the tweets that you see and post are in the context of a map and carry a story along with the place. If you are, for example, searching for a specific place or object on the map, you will be able to see real-time tweets in that specific area. All the standard options that you would expect including searching, filtering and embedding are all there. Be sure to check this project out and if you have a comment or a suggestion be sure to voice it.

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    FUSE even attacked the problem of solving classic crosswords. Team Crossword allows you to solve crossword puzzles with your friends. Simply start a session and invite your friends, or wait for random strangers to join you as well. Smile You can even jump into an existing session and play with others around the world. Whatever you do, you now don’t need to ask anyone what the nine-letter movie title that start with “i” is.

    Lili Cheng, General Manager of FUSE Labs, gives an insight into some of the other projects and how and why they are cool and unique.

    Be sure to head over to http://fuse.microsoft.com/ and check out all of their projects.

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    MSP Voice: Omri Wallach’s big app idea

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    It is common for the human brain to sometimes have the best ideas on a certain subject when completely focused on something else. This is exceptionally true to University students, but can also be referred to as ‘procrastinating’. Case in point: There I was, studying for my final exams and living off of coffee and hot pockets, when a brilliant idea for a Windows Phone 7 app finally lodges itself in my brain. You get ideas from the strangest sources, and mine was of course spur-of-the-moment.

    I listen to music constantly when I study (or work, or live for that matter), and when there is no source of music I make my own. Tapping on tables, humming tunes... I must be the pet peeve of every co-worker in existence. So, in the midst of studying with no music and humming some nonsensical tune, I get an epiphany. What if there was an app for that? Then, instead of studying (because my brain hurt of boredom), I expanded the idea. An app that could make basic beats and background music for songs. You set a bass-line, set a snare on repeat, set a couple of notes on a trumpet to loop every 4 bars, and you have the building blocks to the next great pop-song. Save all your blocks together as an mp3, plug it into your computer program later, and really make the music happen.

    The key is that instead of having to jot down notes on a piece of paper or try to remember a great idea in your head (think “dum dum da da daaaa dum dum”), you literally save your idea and master it later. That being said, no one steal my idea, as the 3rd and final round of the Battle of the Apps is accepting submissions right now. A free phone and a potential trip to Australia? You bet I’m going to submit my app. See you on the judging side.

    Omri Wallach
    Microsoft Student Parter | UBC

    The third and final round of Battle of the Apps (http://battleoftheapps.ca) closes on June 15th.

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    Get free tools from DreamSpark

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    Did you know that as a student, you have access to lots of freebies on http://www.dreamspark.com/? Need more development power than Visual Studio 2010 Express can offer? Want to get access to the full Microsoft Expression Studio suite? DreamSpark is the solution!

    DreamSpark provides students with various development and design tools at no charge. Additionally, various offers such as Microsoft Certification and AppHub Marketplace registration fees are waived for students through DreamSpark registration.

    To access all the goodies on DreamSpark, simply verify your identity through your school email. If your email is not on the school list, email godevmental@microsoft.com to receive a redemption code.

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    Leveraging Windows Azure for Your Next App Idea

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    If you’re not already using Windows Azure somehow in your applications, I’m sure you’ve been hearing more and more about how Windows Azure can help you build applications faster by focusing on development and not infrastructure or how it can help you respond faster to customer needs by having infrastructure resources at your disposal the moment you need them. You may have seen the following summary of why to use the Windows Azure platform (it’s on the Windows Azure site):

    image

    The response that I usually get from developers is “That all sounds great, but what does it all mean? Where would I actually use Windows Azure?” It’s a great question but unfortunately there’s no simple answer since the platform is flexible enough that you could use it in many different ways to solve very diverse problems.

    I thought that I would pull together the scenarios that I’ve been seeing lately as I work with students who are developing apps across the country. Hopefully, these scenarios will plant the seed in your mind and maybe even compel you to take that app that you’ve been thinking about and see if you can use Windows Azure to make it come to life faster and cost-effectively.

    Mobile Applications

    When it comes to mobile platforms, such as the phone and slate devices, Windows Azure offers you an easy way to add redundant storage, compute power, database access, queuing, and caching to your applications without having to put strain on the device. This essentially makes Windows Azure the backend of your app. A huge benefit of using Windows Azure is dynamic scale. The mobile platform is expanding rapidly and apps are being downloaded by thousands every day. Your app may be one of those apps, potentially becoming an overnight success. If your apps uses data online, you’ll need the infrastructure capacity in the backend to be able to support that success. Windows Azure can do that for you in a matter of a few clicks with no upfront infrastructure or configuration costs – perfect for starting off small and reaching full potential in no time.

    Check out Connecting Windows Phone 7 and Slates to Windows Azure on the Canadian Mobile Developers’ Blog to get a deeper understand of how these platforms can work together. Once you’ve done that, get started by downloading the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7 or for iOS and working through Getting Started With The Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7 and iOS.

    Social Applications

    As you know, social apps such as games (Farmville anyone?), sharing, and location-based apps are the biggest thing these days. Social apps have the potential to reach millions of users in a short period of time, so like the mobile apps, they need a robust, scalable, and dependable platform on which to run. Social apps can become a success in no time, and you’ll need to be able to provision compute power, storage, and content delivery quickly. More importantly, social networks, like Facebook, aren’t going to host your application or game, but your users will expect the kind of experience (from a responsiveness and availability perspective) as they get from their social network. Deploying to Windows Azure, within the Microsoft data centers and potentially distributing your app and its data worldwide, will ensure you meet or exceed those expectations.

    Find out how Sneaky Games, one of the first game developers to deploy a massive web-based game on Windows Azure, did it and what steps you should take to get started in this video. If you’re looking to target Facebook, Steve Apiki has put together a walkthrough of a sample application that uses the Facebook SDK with Windows Azure to create a simple ‘viral’ marketing application. There’s also an MSDN webcast, Creating Facebook Apps that can Easily Handle a Crowd, coming up on June 1st.

    Websites

    Of course, there are always websites – building websites and hosting them on Windows Azure is a common scenario. But anyone can host any site at any hoster, so what’s the difference? Where you start seeing the benefits of Windows Azure kick in is when you want to do things like:

    • Scale quickly – let’s say you launched your website today and don’t anticipate too much traffic for the first few months. You provisioned a small server that can handle your forecasted load. All of a sudden, your website catches on and within days, you have double or triple your forecasted load and your small server can no longer handle all of the requests. Now what? With your website deployed to Windows Azure, you can instantaneously provision additional resources, ensuring that your site stays up and running, serving users with no zero impact.
    • Store massive amounts of data – Perhaps your site stores and uses a lot of images, videos, and other large files. Windows Azure’s Storage Services give you the storage you need for all that data at a cost that won’t make you think twice. More importantly, if your users are geographically dispersed, you can take all of that data and locate it geographically closer to them, giving them the most optimal performance experience.
    • Authorization and Authentication made easy – Rather than having users create usernames and passwords for your website, why not leverage all of the identity providers that are already out there, like Windows Live and Facebook? Windows Azure AppFabric’s Access Control Service allows you to do that, plus a whole lot more, with minimal amount of configuration, and potential zero code!

    I could write a whole series on just websites and how Windows Azure for websites makes sense. But I’ll leave the rest for you to discover as you think about the requirements you need for your application. Check out the conclusion at the bottom of the page for how to get your website using Windows Azure.

    Conclusion

    These are just some common scenarios that I see out there today, but they are certainly not all of them. Student developers are using Windows Azure in many interesting ways, and as such, I highly encourage you to look a bit further into the platform, discover what’s possible, and see how you can leverage Windows Azure for your next app. I’ve included many links above to get you started, but in addition to those, you can also:

    If you’re already leveraging Windows Azure, I’d love to hear your story and maybe even feature it on our blogs – your story could inspire other Canadians to move their applications to the Cloud as well.

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