A Canuck In The Machine

Mark Relph - Senior Director - Startup and VC Team

June, 2008

  • A Canuck In The Machine

    Microsoft's Phil Sorgen on social responsibility


    On the Globe & Mail site today.

    “Should a corporation answer only to its shareholders, or should it have a social conscience as well?

    Not all executives are convinced they can afford to pour time and money into such things as community projects. But according to recent studies, an extraordinarily high number of their employees want to be involved in a company's social responsibilities, would prefer to work for a company with a strong commitment to community, and believe companies tied to a charity are more trustworthy and more respected.

    An increasing number of companies have gone beyond writing cheques or donating cash to charities, donating products, services and time to works in the community.

    Join the Conversation with Microsoft Canada president Phil Sorgen, who will take your questions about Corporate Social Responsibility from 1 p.m. to until 2 p.m. Wednesday, who can offer a history of his company's CSR projects and ideas on how companies can start their own programs”

      FYI…. Phil is my boss here at Microsoft Canada :-)

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      Watching The Red Gadget….


      image image

      Our good friends over at The Weather Network provide a great Windows Vista gadget called Weather Eye.  I often like to tell them that my favourite feature of the gadget is when the red warning bar shows up.  The gadget gets a “slice” of my day since it’s always there on my desktop, but when that red colour appears I always give it a second look.  Now, normally red=snow or rain.  Today red=tornado!  I’ve lived in Toronto a long time and I can’t remember too many other times when this has happened.


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      Vintage – The TRS-80 Model 100


      Thanks to David Crow for spotting this article about the classic TRS-80.

      I actually have one of these in my office.  It used to belong to my father and I have kept it for all these years.  Interesting note about the TRS-80 is that it is the last production code BillG ever directly wrote.

      PCWorld: Inside A Classic



      Bill's Last Hurrah

      A quarter-century ago, Bill Gates was still getting his hands dirty with tasks that, today would be left to entry-level Microsoft programmers. Case in point: Gates, with another colleague, programmed the Model 100's built-in software, which is contained within the chip you see before you. To this day, the Model 100 remains his last major programming project at Microsoft.

      In an interview with the National Museum of American History, you can still hear Gates' pride in the project. "It is a cool user interface, because although most of the code is a BASIC Interpreter, we did this little file system where you never had to think about saving anything. You just had this menu where you pointed to things. It was a great little editor and scheduler. We crammed it all into a 32K ROM.""

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      In The Press: BlueSky Award Winner


      From CRN:

      Sitemasher wins inaugural Blue Sky Award

      Posted Thursday , June 5, 2008

      by Robert Dutt

      Vancouver-based Sitemasher has won the first-ever Blue Sky Award for ISV innovation from Microsoft Canada. The award, which was kicked off in March, was presented Thursday at Microsoft Canada’s ISV Leadership Summit at its Mississauga, ON headquarters.

      To win the award, Sitemasher was selected from a first class of more than 40 solutions produced by ISVs around the country. The solution is a Web-based Web development product, designed to make it easier for developers to offer customers the ability to update sites themselves and to reduce the amount of time developers have to spend in the minutiae of coding a site.

      “This isn’t a complicated pain we’re trying to solve – you ask anybody what it’s like to build, manage and update their Web site, and they start speaking Klingon,” said Ron Moravek, president of Sitemasher.
      Moravek describes the traditional model of building a Web site as building a beaded network – it works easily enough until you realize you need to change one of the first few beads you put on the string.

      “Sitemasher is designed to let you touch any piece of the site at any time without the need to program – it removes the string,” Moravek said. “You remove the rudimentary programming and allow people to leverage the power of the Internet.”

      Differing routes

      The other two finalist solutions, PlanIt from Oakville, ON-based Sales Resource Group and Toronto, ON-based Oculus Info come at the awards from dramatically different paths than both Sitemasher and each other.

      PlanIt is a sales compensation automation system, a software offshoot of an organization that was formed in 2001 to consult on sales compensation management best practices. David Johnston, president of Sales Resource Group, started the company after selling his Pivotal integration business to the CRM company. PlanIt aims to automate and accelerate the process of getting salespeople paid, as well as improving the accuracy of those payments.

      “It’s very disruptive in how [customers] design and process sales compensation, which is a very large line item for most companies,” Johnston said.

      And probably larger than it needs to be – in one head-to-head comparison of the same sales data over a quarter between an Excel-based tracking system and PlanIt, Johnston said the company found his customer overpaid by $40,000, and had no idea they had done so using the Excel sheet.

      Oculus is a customized 3D and 2D visualization offering, recently redesigned to take advantage of Windows Vista and the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). Mike Peters, partner at Oculus Info, said the solution is particularly popular in the financial, government, pharmaceutical and healthcare spaces, and with “any entity that has too much data and wants to understand rather than distilling it into rows and columns of numbers.”

      The company’s background is as a services organization, and it is currently working on productizing the new version of Oculus. Peters praised the role of WPF in expanding the capabilities of Oculus.

      “It allows us to do all the things we dreamed of with Java and with .Net,” he said. “Instead of just barebones graphics libraries, we have a toolkit to give you a quick way of making your own charts and bringing in components from elsewhere.”

      Other benefits are the creation of complex charts with minimal coding, and high compression of data.

      Building awareness

      Mark Relph, vice president of developer and platform evangelism at Microsoft Canada, said he was thrilled with the first class of Blue Sky Award candidates, calling the group of 40-plus submissions robust.

      “The whole point of the award was one part recognition for innovation and disruptiveness, and one part to stimulate the software economy in Canada,” Relph said. “I’m quite pleased that we had the number of submissions we did in the end. That’s a really good sign.”

      Along with getting recognition, all three of the finalists said that being involved with Blue Sky was opening doors for them – both within Microsoft and in the market. For SRG’s Johnston, the results were immediate.
      “We had a client that we had sent off a proposal to,” he said. “When we let them know we were a finalist for this award, they immediately said they wanted us to come in and do a demo.”

      For Sitemasher’s Moravek, winning an award is nice – but the real power behind Blue Sky is the effect of the endorsement from Microsoft. “They are saying that we’re doing something cool, and they will help us be more successful,” he said.

      The three finalists all had different goals from their increased interaction with Microsoft, but all three saw value as smaller organizations getting a chance to work more closely with the software giant.

      “It seems a great way of getting access to more Microsoft resources for ISVs,” said Oculus’ Peters. “We’re getting our name out there, and letting people know what are capabilities are, as well as getting help form Microsoft proper.”

      Plans for the future

      Relph signaled that the Blue Sky Awards would be brought back for a second year, with the goal to be “louder” about the award next year, especially because part of the goal of the award is to build awareness for the ISV community.

      He also said that in year two, the software giant would be looking to “help drive into areas where Canada wants to grow from a software economy perspective,” and use the award to stimulate activity around hot topics like mobile computing and SAAS, S+S or cloud computing.

      “As the inaugural event, we’re really pleased with how it went,” Relph said. “We’ve proven the experiment. Now we need to do more fostering of innovation, and if we could kickstart that process in Canada, that would be the ultimate success.”

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      Announcing The Winner Of The Bluesky Award



      I had the please of presenting the BlueSky award at the ISV Innovation Summit yesterday.  We had 3 solid finalists that show the kind of software innovation happening across Canada.

      Congratulations to our 2 runners-up are:

      • Oculus Info Inc. :  Oculus Info Inc. is a provider of cutting-edge business visualization software solutions. Their solution, Oculus WPF, simplifies the creation of scalable 3D visualizations and allows users to directly view patterns in large ranges of data and easily create dynamic and expressive visualizations.
      • Sales Resource Group Inc. : Sales Resource Group Inc. is a consulting firm specializing in sales compensation and sales force effectiveness. PlanIT Sales Compensation is a complete “design to payment” solution providing effective sales incentive management for complex variable payment programs.


      All three finalists are amazing and the choice was difficult, but the winner of the first BlueSky Award is:

      Website building platform, more than a search engine friendly content management platform (cms)

      • Sitemasher Corporation provides an integrated tool set that easily enables business users to Build, Manage and Optimize their web sites. This SaaS tool is a collaborative platform that provides the power of a customized solution in a drag and drop WYSIWYG environment.

      Congratulations to the entire team at Sitemasher!  They will receive a customized engagement plan from Microsoft:

      Software Development resources may include:

      • Access to our premier support staff
      • Software license and subscriptions
      • Access to new technologies, and/or
      • Access to Microsoft Technology Centers for software testing and architecture guidance
      Business Development resources may include:
      • Presence on the Microsoft Startup Zone website
      • Inclusion in Microsoft collateral, advertising or public relations
      • A published case study
      • Blogging opportunities with Emerging Business Team Portfolio Managers
      • Event opportunities, and/or
      • Introductions to investors, as needed
      Microsoft resources may include:
      • Introductions to internal product groups as appropriate
      • Visibility in front of key executives
      • Early stage product feedback to internal development teams, and/or
      • Active collaboration on emerging trends and technologies
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      Up Today – Founders & Funders


      Tonight is Founders & Funders Toronto – an event we are sponsoring that brings together high potential companies with sources of funding.  We participated once before and that event was terrific.  These kinds of networking events are exactly the kind of things we need to add to our Canadian startup “culture” to drive momentum.

      I will let you know how the evening goes.

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      Video – From TechED – Soma shows off Silverlight 2

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      Video – BillG at TechEd Developers Conference

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      In The Press: Microsoft Canada's EnergizeIT aims to wow students into IT


      Microsoft Canada's EnergizeIT aims to wow students into IT


      30 May, 2008
      By Liam Lahey

      With over 2,000 IT community members expected to attend last Saturday's Microsoft Canada Co.'s annual EnergizeIT event at the Toronto Congress Centre, one executive says though the extraordinarily unique event is in fact a celebration of IT, the focus this year was to woo post-secondary students to consider a career in IT.

      "The whole point of EnergizeIT is to celebrate and recognize and support Canada's IT profession," said Mark Relph, vice-president of the developer & platform group for the Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co. "Unlike a traditional product launch, the day is all about helping people grow their skills, make connections in the community, and supporting their careers.

      "It's all about information people can use in their everyday jobs and maybe try out some newer technologies they've yet to have the opportunity to."

      EnergizeIT features the latest innovations in desktop, server operating system and security solutions. The event is also geared towards creating excitement around the current IT career opportunities available in Canada.

      But with fewer students enrolling in science and technology courses at Canadian universities, Relph said he hoped aspiring post-secondary students would attend to get a peek at what a career in IT could ultimately lead to.

      "At the very top end, the ultimate issue we're trying to tackle here is the health of Canada's IT economy," he said. "The IT staffing shortage is becoming a critical issue for corporate Canada . . . we do feel there's a sense this is a community and profession that needs to be supported and it's important for Canada's economy.

      "Our hope is, students will come and see what's possible. And we do hope they'll want to go and pursue careers in this industry and help keep our economy propelling in the right direction."

      Participants are also encouraged to bring along their notebooks to install and test betas of the latest Microsoft applications and tools including Expression, SQL Server, Unified Communications, Visual Studio, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista.

      Relph said the attending IT professionals -- developers, designers, architects -- would have ample opportunity to zero in on the tools required for the 'here and now' while students and IT enthusiasts could check out some the latest and greatest in consumer technologies and more interest to the individual.

      "Our partner base has told us they want to spend time learning about the tools and technologies they need to work with everyday and not always looking to the next, new shiny thing, so that's a major theme," he said. "Security is also a major theme . . . it's a hot topic for any individual or organization both on the developer side and the IT side."

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      In The Press: Cloud Computing For The Little guy



      Cloud computing for
      the little guy

      A growing number of small business operators are finding cloud services can prove invaluable in streamlining their day-to-day work functions


      When on the road, Brad Compton, an independent mortgage broker with Invis Financial in Toronto doesn’t need a laptop any more. But he can still get to his files and application forms from just about any PC at any location. And it doesn’t cost him a dime.
      As a one-man operation, Mr. Compton admits he’s always on the lookout for economical access to services that can help him conduct business more efficiently. His current offering of choice is SkyDrive storage services from Microsoft. “I’ve tried Google Apps and some other hosted solutions,” he says. “I discovered there were some roadblocks around formatting when uploading files. But this one keeps the files in the same format so that makes it easy – and I haven’t even filled up the 5 gig [capacity] yet.”
      He says having Web-based storage is a big improvement from having to crawl under desks to find power cords for his laptop, remembering to carry around USB keys, or backing up to a remote hard drive. “A lot of that was just a big hassle. Sometimes files [on the key] would get corrupted or lost. Now I just have to log into my account from a [Web browser] and I can look for the files, select and upload them and I’m ready to go.”
      If anyone asks him about security concerns, he gives an eminently practical response. “I figure that a server that Microsoft houses is a little safer than storing files at home. It’s easier to hack my computer than theirs.”
      SkyDrive is just one of a growing number of cloud computing services that are attracting independent and small business operators. While many started out as a bid for the consumer mindset, people such as Mr. Compton, who have relatively small capacity demands, are finding these types of services can prove invaluable in streamlining their day-to-day work functions – and luggage requirements.
      However, getting a handle of what cloud computing really is can be a challenge. The quintessential meaning of this form of computing is as cloudy as the name itself, says Alistair Croll, an analyst with BitCurrent, a Montreal-based research firm. He has come across one that he feels fits the bill. “Cloud computing is simply having computing resources available to you when you don’t own the machines.”
      Applying that definition isn’t quite as straightforward as those who talk cloud computing would have you believe. “There’s a really big split in what it means so it has all become very nebulous,” says Mr. Croll. “Within the spectrum you might find software as a service where you pay a monthly fee for services and don’t have to have any technical knowledge. FreshBooks is a perfect example.”
      A second segment of cloud computing is platform as a service, where you are given a platform to customize the application you want, such as http://salesforce.com salesforce.com. At the far end of cloud computing is hardware as a service says Mr. Croll. “That’s where you get someone like Amazon offering you a virtual machine so you can connect and do what you want.”
      One could look at it as a way to replace your PC one part at a time says Mr. Croll. “EasyFax replaces your fax machine. SkyDrive replaces your hard drive. Eventually you could replace everything but your monitor and keyboard and move all your functions to the cloud.”
      The idea of tapping into these services is hardly new for people who have been entrenched in services like hotmail and instant messaging programs. Mark Relph, vice president of Developer and Platform for Microsoft Canada in Toronto says that free e-mail and related add-on services have been mainstays in helping people communicate and collaborate.
      “These are tools that can help people to be as efficient and profitable as possible,” says Mr. Relph. “We’re just now however entering a world where everything that exists on a PC can exist in the cloud. The two have overlapped, so that cloud services can be used as an extension of what you can do with Office for example.”
      The driving force behind the growth in cloud computing offerings in recent months is the fact that the industry has realized that the information worker in five or a 10,000 person office looks a lot alike. “The difference now is that you can combine [cloud] services – whether free or for a fee – to get very rich capabilities and the ability to share with others,” Mr. Relph says. “It unlocks more than what you have.”
      Whatever the application or service of choice – or the definition for that matter -- at its roots the most compelling argument for cloud computing is that it transforms capital expenditures into operating expenses, says Mr. Croll. “For a small business, that’s as simple as it gets. They can get hardware on demand without having to pay for it and custom build applications without having to know programming. Services like SkyDrive for example are certainly valuable for performing business functions. The best part of all this is there is a whole raft of free to cheap tools targeted at small businesses out there.”

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