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September, 2011

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

September, 2011

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    New Award Honors Distinguished Artifact

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    One of the core missions of Microsoft Research Connections is to support the creation of software tools that advance data-intensive science, especially those tools that are judged praiseworthy by their creators’ peers. With this in mind, we were pleased to present the first Microsoft Research Distinguished Artifact Award at ESEC/FSE 2011, the joint meeting of the European Software Engineering Conference and the ACM SIGSOFT Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering.

    This new, competitive award honors the most outstanding software tool submitted to the ESEC/FSE series of conferences. As explained in the call for submissions, the Distinguished Artifact competition is intended to reward creation of artifacts and replication of experiments. An Artifact Evaluation Committee was established to review the submissions and to formally recognize those artifacts that pass muster and fast-track them for additional presentation. Artifacts deemed especially meritorious were singled out for special recognition in the proceedings and at the conference, and the creators of the best artifact received a prize of US$1,000, a handsome certificate, and a memento from the Pacific Northwest, the last a reminder of their friends at Microsoft Research Connections in Redmond, Washington.

    Professor Andreas Zeller (left) presents the award to Jérôme Vouillon (right) while Christian Bird (center) of Microsoft Research looks on.

    Professor Andreas Zeller (left) presents the award to Jérôme Vouillon (right) while Christian Bird (center) of Microsoft Research looks on.

    So, are you wondering which artifact took home the big prize? Well, wonder no more: the winning artifact was Coinst, an application based on the paper “On Software Component Co-Installability,” by Jérôme Vouillon of CNRS and Roberto Di Cosmo of Université Paris Diderot and INRIA. Coinst resolves the common and frustrating problem of finding co-installation conflicts; what’s more, it does so in a scientifically strong manner (by using a theorem prover), and it runs very effectively. Coinst not only satisfies all the expectations established in the paper, but exceeds them in several ways: by working quickly, performing better than presented in the paper, finding real errors in installed systems, and rapidly identifying frustrating problems that the reviewers have encountered in their own computer usage.

    Professor Andreas Zeller of the University of Saarland, the initiator of the award, spoke about its importance, noting that "Far too often, researchers publish their results, but keep their data and tools for themselves. In the long term, this hurts science, because one cannot reproduce results or build on the achievements of others. Vouillon and Di Cosmo make their tools widely available and usable, providing value not only for other researchers, but for everyone. This way, they act as role models for the research community. With this award, we are proud to recognize their extraordinary efforts."

    The winners themselves had this to say: “Free software components are growing at an astonishing pace, and it is important to identify quality issues quickly. We show how to efficiently extract from huge collections of free software a compact representation that quickly identifies component incompatibilities that would go otherwise unnoticed for a long time. We are thrilled to provide a tool based on a sophisticated algorithm that has been machine checked and that paves the way for the large-scale analysis and visualization of software component collections."

    Well done, Jérôme and Roberto.

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Happy Birthday, Microsoft Research…Now Blow out the Candles and Back to the Lab

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    Microsoft Research @ 20 Years

    Twenty years; two decades; a fifth of a century—we can phrase it several ways, but what does it mean? To a person, it’s the onset of adulthood (or maybe the point marking only 10 more years of living in Mom and Dad’s basement); to a dog, it’s senescence. But to us at Microsoft Research, it marks the lifetime of our organization, which has grown and evolved in a remarkable era of transformation and innovation in computer science and scientific research.

    Yes, Microsoft Research turns 20 this September, and in keeping with the tradition of honoring base-10 birthdays, this seems like an appropriate time to look back on some significant accomplishments and take stock in our future. Over the next four weeks, we will highlight some particularly noteworthy research: from using computing to better understand the body’s immune response to HIV and AIDS, to measuring and modeling complex ecosystems and global environment conditions, to tools that inspire and enable citizen-scientists around the world.

    As you will see, the vast majority of these scientific advances were made possible because of joint efforts between Microsoft Research and academic, government, and industry scientists. Collaborative research is the sine qua non of my group, Microsoft Research Connections. We work with the world’s top academic and scientific researchers, institutions, and computer scientists to shape the future of computing in fields such as parallel programming, software engineering, natural user interfaces, and data-intensive scientific research. It is through the connection of dedicated researchers at Microsoft Research’s worldwide labs with the top minds in academia that we are able to push technology to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. Similarly, it is through our fellowships and grants that we are able to foster the next generation of world-class computer scientists.

    As we look forward to our next 20 years, we do so with renewed vigor and a reaffirmed commitment to improve the world through basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. Whether it’s the extension of the computer into people’s everyday lives through our research on natural user interfaces, or our ongoing efforts to create educational tools such as the WorldWide Telescope, or our quest to apply algorithms to solve the mysteries of disease, we will be guided by the words of Rick Rashid, who started Microsoft Research in September 1991 and today heads its worldwide operations:

    "We are investing for the future, an insurance policy for the future. We’re doing things that, when we start, we don’t know if they are going to be successful. For us, it’s more about ideas and taking risks. Basic research is about agility. It’s about giving you the ability to change when you most need it."

    The ability to change when you need it most… now there’s something to celebrate, for sure.

    Tony Hey, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Project Hawaii XAPFest 2011 Awards Hawaiian Trip to Windows Phone App Contest Winner

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    Working as an intern at Microsoft has many benefits, but a vacation in Hawaii is not usually one of them. This year, summer interns had an opportunity to work on exciting new mobile technologies, while competing with their peers for an all-expenses paid trip to one of the Hawaiian islands. Microsoft Research Connections—in partnership with Microsoft Research’s Mobile Computing Research Center and Windows Phone—hosted a first-of-its-kind intern competition: Hawaii XAPFest. The competition was open to all U.S.-based Microsoft interns. The challenge: develop Windows Phone apps by using Project Hawaii services and that make use of new consumer features coming in the next version of Windows Phone, code-named “Mango.”

    All participants were trained in the key Windows Phone development areas to provide them with necessary background to complete the challenge. The training included a series of lectures about relevant Microsoft technologies, such as Microsoft Silverlight, XNA, Project Hawaii services, and Windows Azure. Armed with this knowledge, each participating intern developed a Windows Phone app for submission to the evaluation committee comprised of researchers and developers from Microsoft Research and Windows Phone.

    The final round of XAPfest judging took place on August 9, when finalists presented their projects to a panel of judges comprised of Microsoft executives. Each finalist was required to present their project to the judging panel and provide a live demonstration of their app. The judges selected the top four projects based on their creativity, presentation, use of Project Hawaii, and use of features in the next version of Windows Phone.

    Top Award Winners

    The grand-prize winner was Julia Schwartz, a second-year graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University and an intern with the Microsoft Research Human Computer Interface (HCI) group. Julia’s app, “Headshot,” uses facial detection and audio feedback to make it simpler to get the perfect self-portrait every time. Julia’s prize for this victory is a trip for two to Hawaii. Congratulations, Julia!

    The top three runners up were:

    • Marvin Cheng, a senior at the University of Washington and intern working in the Windows Phone division. Marvin presented the “Optical Search” app, which uses the Project Hawaii Optical Character Recognition service to recognize words in documents and enables users to search for those words on the Internet. The app also has built-in definition look-up functionality.
    • Gary Roumanis, a student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Gary showed “8 Tracks,” a handcrafted Internet radio service app that offers a simple way for people to share and discover music and playlists.
    • Ian Christopher, a first-year graduate student at Stanford University, and Roberto Sonnino, an undergraduate at the University of São Paulo. The duo, who are both interns in the Microsoft Visual Studio Graphics team, collaborated to create an app, “Hands Free Cook,” that uses speech recognition and synthesis to provide cooking tips while keeping the phone a safe distance away from the stove and sink.

    All of the presentations we saw this year were very impressive, which made it tough to pick a final winner. The quality of work we saw from our participants demonstrates the innovation we continue to see with Windows Phone. I’m pleased to say I received overwhelmingly positive comments from contestants, who shared that they had a great time participating in this unique, exciting competition. Of course, the most excited of all is Julia, who started out working with Project Hawaii, and is now set to take off and see the “real” Hawaii!

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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