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April, 2010

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.

April, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    F# Officially Joins Visual Studio


    It’s official: With today’s launch, F# makes its formal debut as a part of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. Although F# has proved its ability to make a significant positive impact on the lives of professional programmers and others, the inclusion of version 2.0 of F# in Microsoft’s development tool firmly establishes its status as a major .NET programming language. Already popular, F# extends the .NET platform by offering a productive language for developers working in technical, algorithmic, parallel, and data-rich areas. F# 2.0 is the first supported version of the language and includes new, improved features.


    F# provides type-safe, succinct, efficient and expressive functional programming on the .NET platform. It is a simple and pragmatic language, and has particular strengths in data-oriented programming, parallel I/O programming, parallel CPU programming, scripting and algorithmic development. It offers access to a huge .NET library and tools base and comes with a strong set of Visual Studio development tools. This combination has been so successful that the language is now a first class language in Visual Studio 2010, and can also be used on Mac, Linux and other platforms. F# originates from Microsoft Research, Cambridge, and the MSR F# team, led by Don Syme, which continues to partner with the Microsoft Developer Division.


    Microsoft Research has served as the incubation center for the development of F#, which began seven years ago. From the beginning, Microsoft has worked closely with members of the global research community to ensure optimal development of the language. One collaborator is R. Nigel Horspool, professor of computer science at the University of Victoria, whose courses expose students to different programming paradigms. He lauds the ability of F# and Visual Studio to simplify and expedite the programming process in various ways, including helping the programmer remember the methods attached to different data types and how to use those methods. F# programs, he says, tend to be much shorter and can be used by programmers more quickly. And the fewer lines of code required, of course, the higher the productivity.


    In his classroom, Horspool isn’t the only one impressed with F#. His top students love it, he reports, and are amazed at what their programs can accomplish with only a small amount of code.


    As a productive language for typed functional and object-oriented programming on the .NET platform, F# is being adopted across a number of industry verticals, where it is particularly useful for companies that need to conduct algorithmic analysis of large quantities of business information. Known for its ability to make it easier for analysts to experiment with different data and derive analysis of a higher quality, F# has been selected as the language of choice by major banks in the United Kingdom and, as a result, is influencing the curricula for business and finance students at top colleges in London.


    Judith Bishop, director, Computer Science, Microsoft External Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    A Smart Duo: Fetal Monitors and Mobile Technology


    At the heart of the thousands of debates and discussions regarding healthcare is the age-old and industry-agnostic issue of supply and demand. On one side of the equation there are hospitals, healthcare practitioners, equipment, research and many other factors. On the other side there are billions of people living throughout the world, each of whom have a unique set of conditions and needs—many without access to healthcare providers.


    The ability to leverage the power of mobile technology in order to develop a point-of-care diagnostic tool is what inspired Microsoft Research to partner with researchers at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia to develop affordable, portable fetal monitors. With financial, software and hardware support from Microsoft External Research, the Australian team developed a software application that can be downloaded at no cost to any Windows Mobile smartphone that, when connected to a low-cost fetal monitor, allows expectant mothers to track fetal heart rate and other activities within the womb. That data, in turn, can be transmitted – in much the same way an image would be sent via a text message – to obstetricians, midwives and other healthcare professionals near and far. The technology behind the monitors is Doppler radar to track the baby’s movements.


    The monitors can also be used to track and relay critical information during premature births, a special concern for the researchers in Australia, where indigenous women in remote and rural areas experience premature births, fetal deaths and other complications twice as often as other Australian women. Martin Masek, one of the project’s principals, discussed its implications in this video, shot last year at the mHealth Summit.


    Of the many compelling aspects of this project, its global applicability is of particular interest. With nearly 90 percent of the world’s population now living in an area that can send and receive cell phone signals, the technology solution is truly scalable: The combination of smartphones and medical technology has the potential to be deployed almost anywhere.  That, in addition to the technology’s cost of less than $100 US, could have enormous implications not only for developing nations, but for areas of countries including the U.S. where accessibility to quality healthcare remains an issue due to geographic or socioeconomic factors.


    Kristin Tolle, director, Natural User Interfaces for Healthcare, Microsoft External Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    A Trans-Atlantic Discussion of The Fourth Paradigm


    Last week I had the opportunity to lead a discussion on The Fourth Paradigm with attendees at an e-science and research data management conference. Thanks to technology, specifically Microsoft Office Live Meeting, I was able to participate from Redmond even though the conference was held at the University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam, Germany. Since its founding in 1991, the university has established itself as an important member of the scientific community not only in the region of Brandenburg and Berlin, but also internationally. Last week's conference was attended by scientists representing different disciplines, including librarians, data managers and scientific software developers. In my talk I called out Jim Gray’s seven key actions, four of which address the funding of generic tools for data management, with three focused on the coming revolution in scholarly communication and the need for digital libraries with content that’s both data and text. Jim’s call to action set a useful context for the later discussions in the meeting.


    Tony Hey, corporate vice president, External Research, Microsoft Research

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