There is a saying dating back to the days of punched cards that “the software is in the holes”—and therefore invisible. At the recent Microsoft Research Software Summit in Paris, software was anything but invisible. It was all around us and manifest in the smartphones, gadgets, and light tables, and on the huge screens that circled the beautiful foyer of Microsoft France’s Le Campus conference facility.
The first change that struck us was the availability of the conference schedule on our Windows 7 smartphones, courtesy of Thomas Zimmermann and Christian Bird from Microsoft’s Research in Software Engineering group, RiSE. With the touch of the phone screen, attendees could see what was next, in what room, as well as all the abstracts, bios, and pictures of the speakers. While not the first conference app developed for smartphones, it certainly had a touch of class and showed off the speed and ease of use of the Windows Phone 7 user interface.
Nikolaj Bjorner, Chris Bird, and Thomas Zimmermann
show off the Windows Phone 7.
While looking at their phones, attendees were drawn to the other apps that were ready for download, as featured on the post-summit website. One of these, TouchStudio, was featured in a keynote address by Wolfram Schulte. In a slick demo, Nikolai Tillmann showed how his team had overcome “the tyranny of the fingertip” by shifting the process of programming on a smartphone from typing programs letter-for-letter to choosing from options by tapping on the screen—once again using the layout and design of Windows Phone 7 to the fullest. On Friday afternoon, there was a workshop on mobile computing where we were all encouraged to write programs in TouchStudio. Because it was so easy and short, I am taking the unusual step of including my first TouchStudio program in this blog.
TouchStudio code example
Taking a photo is actually a very complex operation and would take several pages of C# code to get right. Here we have it in one line. The endless possibilities for scientists, hobbyists, students, and children to access the power of the phone through TouchStudio were not lost on us seasoned academics in the audience.
Another very visible piece of software was on display in .NET Gadgeteer, a unique mix of programming and a kit of hardware modules. Gadgeteer enables users to quickly assemble useful, fun gadgets that have the ability to display images, play back sounds, take pictures, sense the environment, and communicate with other devices. It was great fun to watch computer scientists, designers, and even psychologists furiously and enthusiastically building gadgets.
Of course, a summit is not all about coding and listening to talks. The 230 academics, industrialists, and researchers thoroughly enjoyed the long breaks over delicious French food, discussing the demos on display and the sessions they had attended.
One of the sessions that attracted a standing-room-only crowd focused on Verified Software. There, Cambridge lab researchers, including Tony Hoare, teamed up with Thomas Santen from the European Microsoft Innovation Center (EMIC) and industry representative from nearby Europe and far-away Australia. Together, they presented the latest results in software verification for the all-important embedded software industry. We got a rare glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes before software is put into devices in cars, trains, and planes.
There was so much more, but fortunately, we have the websites to go back to and can review the program and download the software. All the talks and slides will also soon be posted, and what a feast that will be for those who attended and those who could not.
—Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections