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April in Paris: European Software Focus
April 14, 2011 1:00 AM PT

The list of great European scientists extends back to ancient Greece and such seminal figures as Pythagoras, Aristotle, and Archimedes. As the Renaissance began to coalesce, the drumbeat of innovation intensified, and the equal of any of the founding fathers of modern-day science was Isaac Newton.

Newton first won acclaim in the 17th century while at the University of Cambridge, and his pioneering scientific spirit continues to flourish at that institution to this day, including the adjacent Roger Needham Building, the headquarters of Microsoft Research Cambridge.

In the 14 years since the founding of that facility by the late Roger Needham, it has become known for its intensive, dedicated efforts to address the challenges that face society and for the assistance it provides toward advancing the state of the art in European computer science.

From April 13 to 15, such efforts will take center stage during the inaugural Software Summit, organized by Microsoft Research at the Microsoft Le Campus in Issy-les-Moulineaux, just southwest of central Paris.

Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research Connections, and Andrew Herbert, chairman of Microsoft Research EMEA, will highlight some of the themes and issues in computer science today

Andrew Herbert
Andrew Herbert

“Microsoft chose to establish its first research lab outside of the USA in Europe due to the world-class scientific and engineering expertise of the region,” Herbert says. “This commitment has clearly proved successful, with many technological advances as a result. Collaborating with and nurturing this talent is a priority for Microsoft Research, and hosting our inaugural Software Summit in Europe is an important step in our continued investment.”

The event will gather more than 200 European thought leaders from academia, research, funding agencies, and Microsoft. They will discuss software research and development via a programme of talks, panels, workshops, and demonstrations that provide a clear, comprehensive understanding of how industrial research plays a key role in collaborating with academia and the scientific community to improve society, education, and the quality of computer software.

In addition, the Software Summit will feature new information about the Kinect for Windows software-development kit (SDK), to be released this spring.

Kinect for Xbox 360 features Microsoft Research’s astounding advances in body-part recognition, representing research by Jamie Shotton, Andrew Fitzgibbon, Mat Cook, Toby Sharp, and Andrew Blake, managing director of Microsoft Research Cambridge. The SDK is a starter kit that will make it simpler for the academic research and enthusiast communities to create rich, natural user interfaces using Kinect technology. The SDK will give users access to key elements of Kinect-system capabilities, including robust skeletal tracking, advanced audio capabilities, RGB video, and depth-data streams, along with sample code and documentation. Free for download to academic researchers and enthusiasts, the SDK will include system application-programming interfaces, device interfaces, installer documents, and resource materials.

The Software Summit’s inception underscores the importance Microsoft ascribes to research and innovation in Europe, which is home to a thriving talent pool in the inter-related disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, offering world-class expertise and contributing profound technological breakthroughs. European science plays a vital role in the continuation of economic productivity and sustainable growth.

Herbert will serve as summit host, Hey will deliver one of four keynote addresses, and Judith Bishop, director of Computer Science for Microsoft Research Connections, will act as programme chair for the event.

Keynote speakers during the Software Summit include:

Tony Hey
Tony Hey

In addition to computer vision, exemplified by the Microsoft Research Cambridge’s contribution to Kinect, the facility pursues projects in dozens of other computer-science areas, including programming systems. For instance, F#, a type-safe, succinct, efficient, and expressive functional programming language for the .NET platform, has been added as a first-class language in Visual Studio 2010.

Another novel language stemming from Microsoft Research Cambridge enables the design and simulation of DNA circuits. The DNA Strand Displacement Language helps facilitate the compilation of DNA circuits to nucleotide sequences for use in digital logic circuits and catalytic signal-amplification circuits that function as efficient molecular detectors.

And then there’s the Microsoft Research Cambridge work in cloud computing. The Virtual Multidisciplinary EnviroNments Using Cloud Infrastructures (VENUS-C) project, a partnership between Microsoft Research, the European Commission, and many other eminent consortium members. VENUS-C is designed to enable European scientists to deploy cloud-computing services to manage and learn from the prodigious volumes of data generated by today’s low-cost sensors, improved computers, and advanced experiments and simulations.

Cloud-computing capabilities also support European efforts to enhance forest-fire management via a platform, initiated by Greece’s University of Aegean, that enables the sharing of data and information easily, promptly, and to multiple users, reducing deployment time and costs and enabling authorized users to access the platform from anywhere in the world.

On March 22, the Brussels-based Microsoft Cloud and Interoperability Center, which promotes cloud-computing innovation in Europe by showcasing the latest technologies and solutions, was inaugurated. Part of the Microsoft Executive Briefing Center for European Innovation, the Cloud and Interoperability Center is designed to host as many as 15 cloud-based solutions developed by partners across Europe.

Microsoft Research has a longstanding, long-term commitment to education, academic collaboration, and research and development in the region. Microsoft Research Cambridge helps operate three joint research institutes: the Microsoft Research – University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology in Italy, the Microsoft Research-INRIA Joint Centre in France, and the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre-Microsoft Research Centre in Spain. These collaborative institutes enable the partner institutions to seek solutions and opportunities to address the challenges that face today’s computer scientists across Europe.

This support reflects Microsoft Research’s worldwide effort to assist academia in developing the next generation of computer scientists. In addition to the European Microsoft Innovation Center (EMIC), based in Aachen, Germany, Microsoft Research also offers Ph.D. scholarships, faculty fellowships, various awards, and support for academics and professional conferences, all in an effort to foster ongoing development of intellectual capital.

Not only does Microsoft Research Cambridge employ more than 100 researchers pursuing projects across a broad range of the computer-science spectrum, it also has a history of support for the external academic community. The facility has supported more than a hundred Ph.D. students, has hosted 465 student interns over the last seven years, and is sponsoring many collaborative research projects.

Each year, the lab hosts a summer school that offers Ph.D. candidates a series of academic talks and poster sessions and gives invited students an opportunity to present their work to Microsoft researchers and Cambridge academics.

SEIF Awards

As evidence of that commitment to developing a global pipeline of computer-science talent, the Software Summit will feature the presentation of the winners of the 2011 Software Engineering Innovation Foundation (SEIF) Awards, sponsored by Microsoft Research Connections and the Research in Software Engineering group. The awards honor academic researchers whose exceptional talent for software-engineering research and thought leadership make them standouts in their fields.

“Ensuring that there is a diverse, inspired, and talented group of established and emergent researchers who are focused on critical advances in computer science is essential to developing a technology foundation upon which many of society’s challenges will be solved,” Hey says. “Microsoft Research is committed to recognizing and helping support the work of these individuals.”

This year, Bashar Nuseibeh, professor at the United Kingdom’s Open University and at Lero, the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre, has been named the winner of the top award in the program, which encourages proposals that utilize Visual Studio 2010, Microsoft technologies such as .NET, C#, and F#, and Microsoft Research tools and technologies such as Chess, Pex, and Boogie.

Nuseibeh’s project is called “Software Engineering for Usable Mobile Privacy Management.” Other winners of the 2011 Software Engineering Innovation Foundation Awards include:

  • Fillipo Lanubile, associate professor, University of Bari (Italy), for “Augmenting Social Awareness in a Collaborative Development Environment.”
  • Néstor Cataño, professor, Universidade da Madeira (Portugal), for “Extending Boogie to Support the Analysis of B Machines.”
  • Jan Vitek, professor, Purdue University, for “SHARD: Software Hardening for JavaScript.”
  • André van der Hoek, professor, University of California at Irvine, for “Calico: Software Design Sketching with a Cloud-Based Software Whiteboard.”
  • Brad Myers, professor, Carnegie Mellon University, for “Better Tools for Authoring Interactive Behaviors.”
  • Sunghun Kim, assistant professor, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, for “GATE: Game-Based Automatic Testing Environment.”
  • Danny Dig, visiting research assistant professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for “Interactive Refactoring for Parallelism.”
  • Miryung Kim, assistant professor, University of Texas at Austin, for “RefFinder: An Extensible Framework for Refactoring Reconstruction.”
  • Romain Robbes, assistant professor, University of Chile, for “Building and Mining a Repository of Developer Interactions for Visual Studio.”

During the Software Summit, attendees will get their hands on tools that can help pave the way for scientific discovery and innovation, including:

  • Pex4fun: a game that awards points for writing code.
  • Rise4fun: a chance to play with Microsoft Research’s latest software-engineering tools—on your phone.
  • Try F#: an opportunity to gain familiarity with the language—for free.
  • Academic Search: a free search engine that provides quick information about academic researchers’ papers, conferences, and journals.

The Programme Committee for the Software Summit includes Tony Hoare, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge and winner of the 1980 A.M. Turing Award; Harold Javid, director of Global Programs for Microsoft Research Connections; Fabrizio Gagliardi, director of Microsoft Research Connections for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; Uli Pinsdorf, program manager for Security at EMIC; and Arjmand Samuel, a research program manager for Microsoft Research Connections.

Event themes include Beyond Software, Mobile Computing, Programming for the Next Generation, The Cloud, Empirical Software Engineering, Natural User Interaction, Semantic Computing, and Verified Software.

Members of Hey’s Microsoft Research Connections team will take the lead for the event’s activities, which will include workshops, three panel discussions, five breakout sessions, three tutorials, and an April 14 demofest featuring 12 of Microsoft Research’s most significant recent projects.

That adds up to a busy, eventful three days sure to place the spotlight squarely on the benefits European software has to offer.