A Canuck In The Machine

Mark Relph - Senior Director - Startup and VC Team

April, 2009

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    Recognizing Canadian Innovation – The Blue Sky Award


    clip_image002Last year we launched the first ever Blue Sky Award.  It’s targeted at highlighting Canadian software innovation – great up-and-coming software companies doing great work.  SiteMasher, our winner last year is a great example of one of those Canadian innovators.  I love it because we get a chance to meet and celebrate what Canadians are doing.  (It is also a great way to see how companies are using our technologies in new a creative ways!!)

    Hopefully the attention generated by the Award helps those companies be seen on a broader scale and that the support we provides helps them to accelerate their business plans.

    Interested?  Or know someone you should be - www.microsoft.com/canada/bluesky

    What is the Blue Sky Award?

    The Blue Sky Award represents an exceptional opportunity for you to showcase your great idea. If you think your application is the next big thing, and have the business plan to prove it, this is your chance to demonstrate your solution to a panel of Microsoft and other industry experts.

    If you're using Microsoft technology to build your application we encourage you to apply for the Blue Sky Award and take advantage of this unique opportunity to drive your innovation forward.

    The judging panel will consist of a team of Microsoft experts including Robert Dutt, Editor of CRN Canada.
    Each submission will be judged based on the quality of responses around 3 key focus areas:

    1. How innovative is the idea
    2. How unique is the architecture and the use of Microsoft technologies
    3. How viable is the market opportunity

    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


    Good luck to everyone who applies – I can’t wait to see what innovations this year’s batch of entries brings!

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    More OCAD/MSFT Press (Video) – This time TVO.org


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    More On OCAD & MSFT Canada – itbusiness.ca article


    This appeared in the press today -

    Touching donation - Ontario college gets Microsoft Surface unit

    Microsoft is donating its much-publicized Surface hardware to the Ontario School of Art & Design so students can develop innovative software for the device.
    4/15/2009 4:00:00 AM By: Brian Jackson

    read the article here.

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    Great Canadian User Experiences From MIX09


    I was on the road when we held our local MIX09 media event for media on March 17th, so I couldn’t be there. But the good news is that we captured all the highlights on video.

    Video: Great examples of Canadian UX in action

    Don’t have time to watch? Here’s the 30-second version:

    • We had CTV on hand to announce its CTV HD Beta Player, which streams primetime TV in HD online – a Canadian first - delivered via Silverlight.
    • Innovapost showed off an impressive touch screen POS app currently being rolled out to thousands of Canada Post retail employees across Canada. It takes advantage of Windows Presentation Foundation and Expression Blend, and has been nominated for an Ignite IT award.
    • Finally there was Workopolis with an app that I think pretty much everyone in Canada who ever looked for a job has seen. Great Microsoft platform story, which now includes an IE8 Web Slice that instantly updates personalized job postings on the browser.

    The past 12 months has been a real coming out period Software + Services vision and demos like these show where the rubber really hits the road. 

    At MIX09 Scott Guthrie, Bill Buxton and others showed just how important the user experience is in delivering both software and online services.  This couldn’t be more important. Today the desktop and online experience is the customer experience. That means it’s developers and designers who are now on the front lines of driving real business results.

    This opens up a whole new world of possibilities, some of which we saw at MIX09. But it’s just the beginning – stay tuned.

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    DigiTweet - ‘cause I really love but hate Tweetdeck


    Last week I was at the Mesh Conference here in Toronto.  In addition to being a great event, it was probably the centre of the Canadian Twitter universe for 2 days.  Everyone was using Twitter.  I mean everyone – and not just to connect, but to ask questions, challenge speakers and to promote key thoughts and issues.  It made for a very dynamic conference environment (something I wish we could replicate at some of our own events)

    Now, I love Twitter.  Like many users I have moved away from the website to a client application.  (Powerful software, combined with the cloud – sound familiar?)  It was clear from Mesh that the tool of choice for the Twitter power user is Tweetdeck.  It was loaded on every screen on every PC, Mac or Ubuntu powered laptop. 

    (Photo Credit – photojunkie)


    Now, there is a lot to like about the application.  Follower management, search, groups, Twitpic, URL shortening – it has it all.  This is why I use Tweetdeck everyday.  The developers have done a really great job – period.  There are other applications (Twhirl, DestroyTwitter, Digsby, Twitterrific, Witty, etc….)  but none of them have gained the same traction as Tweetdeck.

    With my Microsoft Developer hat on for a moment, there are a few things that bug me about Tweetdeck.Adobe AIR

    • It runs in AIR.  I know, this makes it cross-platform.  I know, it’s a light-weight application.  It bugs me that the amazing .NET community can’t write something this good.  (I know they can)
    • It doesn’t take advantage of the Windows universe as well as it could (due to it’s cross-platform nature).  This is especially true of Windows 7.
    • Nothing against the fine products from our friends at Adobe, but I would love to see an application like this written in WPF or Silverlight.

    Now, the only way any of these three things will get solved is if the developer community wants it to.  This brings us to digiTweet.  You may have seen this out in the wild already.  What you may not know is that digiTweet is an Open Source project, sponsored initially by my team at Microsoft Canada in conjunction with our friends at Digiflare


    DigiTweet is obviously a desktop application for Twitter.  It is built completely using .NET technologies and takes particular advantage of the power of WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) which is the part of .NET that enables developers to build powerful user experiences on Windows.  Additionally, DigiTweet will be implementing several Windows 7 specific features in the coming weeks.

    Why did we do this?  We wanted to spark our developer community in hopes of building a better mousetrap.  I think that a WPF powered application, combined with the power of Windows can provide Twitter users with an amazing experience.  This is why it was important for us to expose this publically by making it Codeplex project.  We want as many innovative developers as possible to contribute to making this the best Twitter client for Windows as possible.  (and hopefully showcase what WPF can do along the way)

    So, give digiTweet a try.  More importantly, download the code a try make it better.  Let us know how it goes.  You can also follow digiTweet’s progress on Twitter @digi_tweet

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    Joey deVilla (@Accordionguy) showing off at Mesh


    Hey, ever wonder if our team enjoys their jobs?  Check out Joey at the Mesh Conference

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    More Laptop Hunters……

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    Microsoft Canada & OCAD – Igniting the next generation of software design & user experience


    Did you know that Toronto has the third-largest design workforce in North America, behind only New York and Boston?

    That’s good news for the GTA, especially given the current economy. Design is a growing, dynamic and increasingly important industry. As we heard at MIX09, the future of software and device innovation will depend on truly outstanding user experiences, and we need to do what we can to inspire people with the skills and passion needed to build personal connections between people and technology.

    That’s why I’m excited by the announcement I made yesterday at MESH (Canada’s leading web gathering) with Sara Diamond, President of the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD).

    You can hear all the details from Sara and I in this video. (See below)

    Microsoft Canada has donated a Microsoft Surface development unit, our developer tools and related services to students and faculty at the university’s Digital Media Research + Innovation Institute – the first phase of which is now under construction, and which will align with the school’s cross-disciplinary Digital Futures Initiative (DFI) program. Among the goals of this new is to initiative establish a research and innovation laboratory for interactive design, art and digital media.

    Microsoft Surface will help OCAD students, faculty and researchers to apply interactive technology to their work in digital media, art and design.  In conjunction with our partner Infusion Development, we will be directly engaged with teaching students how to harness the power of these new technologies.  This is only the start - in the years ahead we’ll be bringing in our technology and design experts to OCAD to help further strengthen this relationship. Our focus will not just be on the Surface technologies - as we move into a world where the interaction with software will depend on new user experiences like touch, speech and other capabilities it is critical that we prepare the next generation of software designers and experience experts.

    Sara Diamond from OCAD called our collaboration a “big step forward” for Ontario’s digital media ecosystem and I look forward to continued work together in the years ahead.

    This collaboration marks another step in our ongoing effort to help bolster the health of the technology sector and Canada’s long-term economic competitiveness by encouraging the next generation of talent, whether in design, software development or technology in general.

    To get more of a taste of what we’re doing in the design space, be sure to check out our UX Connection blog, and this great example of Surface in action – the Bookstore application from our local partners Infusion Development.

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    Toronto Area Windows 7 Installfest


    (This has been cross-posted from the Canadian Developer Connection Blog)

    Post by Joey ->

    We held a Windows 7 Installfest yesterday as part of the cross-Canada EnergizeIT tour. The idea is pretty simple: invite developers, IT pros and early adopters of all stripes to the Microsoft Canada Headquarters in Mississauga, provide them with DVDs of the Windows 7 beta, walk them through the installation process and show them what the upcoming operating system can do!


    We held two sessions on Saturday, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Both sessions were hosted by IT Pro Evangelist extraordinare Rick Claus, who with his signature Tilley hat and friendly delivery style ran them with great fanfare and high praise from many participants. Rick gave a quick presentation walking the crowd through the basics of the installation process, demonstrated a number of Windows 7 features and covered other topics such as creating a bootable USB stick with a Windows 7 installer.


    The event wouldn’t have been possible without the able assistance of our proctors. They were volunteers from the local IT community who believed in Windows 7 so much that they were willing to spend a Saturday morning and afternoon helping people install a beta version on their computers. Thanks, guys – without your help, we would’ve been swamped!


    I was also there for both sessions, helping Rick out as well as doing my own demonstrations showing all kinds of software than ran “right out of the box” on Windows 7, from Visual Studio 2008 and XNA (I showed them my incredibly simple and incredibly dumb prototype for a game based on the move Zardoz), to Far Cry 2 to the music synthesizer/production app FL Studio, which I used to build a hip-hop backbeat on the fly.


    Also present was IT Pro Evangelist Damir Bersinic, who along with Anne Murakami and Cristina Ferreira from our partner company Maritz Canada, made sure that everything ran smoothly, from making sure that the room was set up to signing in the attendees to getting not just enough mini-burgers to feed the crowd, but also enough to haunt Rick’s dreams for the next week.


    Most of the people who came brought laptop computers. A couple brought netbooks. Some people who really wanted Windows 7 brought desktop systems, and they weren’t tiny ones, either! Here’s one that got brought in, complete with a decent-sized monitor and webcam! The system was so new that it still had all the feature stickers on it.


    The “Flashy Chassis” award goes to this guy, whose pimped-out enclosure got a lot of oohs and ahhs. Speaking as a guy who walks around town and tech conferences with an accordion on his back, I applaud personal expression of all kinds and salute this gentleman with a filet mignon on a flaming sword! I plan to build a gamer/music studio PC rig at some point, and you’d better believe it’s going to be at least this decked out:


    Ages ago, a full two years before The Empire hired me, they sent me an Acer Ferrari 1000 as part of program to get prominent Canadian bloggers interested in Vista. I still have it…


    …but it no longer has Vista. Under Windows 7, it feels a little snappier. I plan to use the machine, which is now a couple of years old and whose specs are a bit lower than than developer-grade laptops that The Empire provides me, as a “reality check” device, where I’ll test applications that both Microsoft and I develop.


    I never thought I’d see the day when people would get jazzed about an upcoming Windows operating system, never mind sign up in droves to get their hands on a pre-release version, but that’s just what happened. The room was filled with geek love and techno-lust for Windows 7.


    It was also great to meet new people and make new connections with the tech community at large, and they in turned seemed quite happy to meet some of the actual human faces that make up Microsoft. When we asked the audience if they’d like to see more Saturday events like this, they responded with a resounding “YES!”, and we’re keeping that in mind as we plan events for 2009 and beyond.

    All in all, the Toronto Area Windows 7 Installfest was a lot of fun, and from where I stand, it was a great success! Thanks to everyone who attended and helped out!

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    Lol….The Language of the Web

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    The latest “I’m A PC” laptop hunters ad…

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    Internet Safety Information For Families



    Take Back The Net is one of the coolest things we do at Microsoft Canada….. it’s all about raising awareness of online safety.  If you have kids or know someone who does check it out here.

    “It's time to TAKE BACK THE NET and join forces with your children — or if you are someone's child, help your parents — so that we can all explore the Internet safely. This site has been created to help you work together to make everyone's online experiences as safe as possible. Read on to find out about how easy it is to stay safe online while ensuring everyone continues to have a rewarding and fun time.”

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    IT Skills In Canada – Part 4 (Final)


    (This is part 4 of a 4 part series, you can read the first post here)

    Here is the final part of my discussion with Shane Schick on the Myths & Realities of the IT Skills & Talent landscape in Canada.  This part is titled “Myth 4 – Certifications Aren’t Worth It”


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