Moving mountains

techdays-2008Mark and the Community Team at Microsoft Canada have been working hard on TechDays.This is the first attempt to move beyond a marketing event. Though you might not get that from the web site. It is a shift from Microsoft speakers standing on the stage with new product announcements and walkthroughs to sharing the stage with non-Microsoft employees showing examples of solutions they’ve built to solve problems (in big companies, small companies, as individuals, etc.).

What is TechDays?

TechDays is a career-development event for developers, IT professionals and IT managers with a focus on the Microsoft platform.

It’s hard out here…

This event is a big change for Microsoft. It represents a shift from marketing and product launch events to a focus on software development and IT as a profession. The goal is to focus on career development of professional and practical developers. To give real-world developers an opportunity to share their stories and experiences with attendees. To provide a public forum to celebrate the people making a difference to their companies, to their communities and to people.

techdays-speakersThe biggest change is that the content is not going to be Microsoft presenters doing Microsoft demos and product launches. It’s probably not obvious from looking at the speakers page, but 90% of the content is being delivered by non-Microsoft employees. The first seven people listed on the Speakers page are all Microsoft Canada employees. 

Once you scroll past the usual suspects, you’ll find a group of Microsoft friendly people from other companies. Consultancies. Big corporations. Smaller companies. Client side. It includes MVPs like Colin Bowern, Mark Arteaga, Laurent Duveau, and Barry Gervin. And others like Robert Burke and Ken Cox. Sure lots of these speakers are MVPs, it means that they are “exceptional technical community leaders”. They are experts. They write books. They blog. They consult. They build things in the real world.

Baby steps

I think it is courageous of the team to take a chance, they are having to battle internal forces that are resistant to change. They are making a bet that developers and IT professionals in Canada on the Microsoft stack want something more than canned demos and pitches. The bet is that professional development involves hearing from others in the community. About sharing their stories of the trials, tribulations and learnings to make help make others better developers. Yes, it’s about the Microsoft developers.

It is a step in the right direction. I hope that people will support the changes, because it will make the next set of changes easier to get support for.

If you are a Microsoft developer, IT professional or IT manager, then TechDays is attempting to bring the best of Canadian Microsoft community to you in 7 different locations including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax and Winnipeg. Check out the Mark Relph’s Letter to your Manager if you need help generating support.

Countdown to PDC

Countdown to PDC 2008: This is the Software + Services PDC, Plus a Hard Drive Chock Full o’Bits is a PDC Attendee’s Dream Come True!

Apparently there are all sorts of interesting bits being given away at PDC 2008 to developers. All developers will be getting a 160Gb external USB2 drive full of content. Mike doesn’t provide the details of what will be available on the drive, but you could guess based on Mike’s post that it will contain:

I’ve never been to a PDC. For that matter, I think the last big developer focused conference outside of the O’Reilly conferences that I’ve attended was JavaOne back in 2000. I have heard great things from people that attended PDC in 2005. There will also be the introduction of the Software+Services platform. There have already been parts of the platform available including SSDS, Office Live, Dev Live, and LiveMesh. It should be a very interesting few days.

Register for PDC 2008

A Microsoft venture fund

Kevin Merritt has a great suggestion for creating a Microsoft venture fund. This is not new, I wrote about my displeasure with the proposed Yahoo! deal back. Kevin has thought about a YCombinator-esque microfunding model.
  • A three person team comprised of Ray Ozzie, Don Dodge and Dare Obasanjo would be the investment committee.
  • Anyone can submit a 10-slide business plan. No NDA protection, which is the norm in the VC industry.
  • Plans are reviewed once a quarter. Those that make it through the screening are invited to a 90-minute in person demo and pitch.
  • At the end of the 90-minute demo & pitch, the three-person Ozzie/Dodge/Obasanjo investment committee makes an immediate decision. It’s pass/fail. You’re in or you’re out. American Idol style. You’re going to Hollywood or you aren’t.
  • If you pass, here’s what you get: an investment of $100,000 cash plus $25,000 per founder, but never more than $175,000;  all the Microsoft software you need; unlimited, free use of Microsoft’s cloud computing infrastructure for 3 years; mandatory office space for up to 5 people for the first year in either the Redmond or Silicon Valley Campus; all the non-sense administrative support services that typically saps a startup, a collegial environment working with other Microsoft funded startups.
  • In exchange, Microsoft gets: 10% of the company in common stock with no special preferences or rights; your commitment to exclusively use Microsoft development software and operating systems for 3 years, other than with written exception by Microsoft; your commitment to deploy your software to Microsoft platforms first (i.e. if you build a mobile app, it has to run on Windows Mobile before iPhone).

That’s it. Quid pro quo. Startups need cash, tools, infrastructure and elimination of noise and distraction. Microsoft needs access to innovation and a future generation of folks building software with Microsoft development tools and to be run on Microsoft platforms. My bet is that Microsoft will flat out buy some of the companies during their year of incubation. And if you assume each startup will have 3 to 5 people, even the ones that fail will produce a good stream of folks who could easily become employees. Microsoft probably already spends $50,000 per hire anyway, so it’s not really costing them much if anything at all.

Oh, there’s one more important twist to help stem the tide of people leaving Microsoft to found companies or join startups. Microsoft employees in good standing having spent at least 2 years at Microsoft can quit their job and can be admitted into the incubator program with only a single approval from the investment committee. No business plan, pitch or demo are required. You’re in. Your prior contributions are your ticket. How many young entrepreneurs-to-be are willing to put in two good years at Microsoft just to get into the incubator program? I think more than a few. It’s a VC spin to the army college fund. It’s the Microsoft future entrepreneurs fund.

This is a great, well thought out plan for putting $25M to work. The biggest questions for me are: how does the model scale around the world? What are the implications with respect to existing anti-trust agreements and funding companies?  What are the areas, much like the Y Combinator 30 ideas, that are part of the initial investment thesis? It feels like without a clearly defined investment thesis that this is really a public relations campaign with entrepreneurial leaning technologists.

What would you do with $44 Billion?

Forty four billion dollars! It’s a huge sum of money. It’s a lot of money to pay to create Pepsi (apparently I prefer Coke). Others have provided their analysis of the deal. There is a mad rush to create a true competitor to Google in the rapidly growing online advertising market and now that a combined Microhoo/Yahsoft which would have created a set of highly trafficked sites and a huge amount of ad revenue, it is now off the table.

Cash. Stock. Debt. It doesn’t really matter because $44 billion is a lot of money. It’s more than the combined venture funding in the US in software since 2002! The actual amount according to PricewaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree is closer to $31B. Interestingly, angel investors in 2007 put $26 billion into 57,120 ventures according to a study by Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire!

To hell with a $10 million dollar Facebook Application Fund. Never mind a $100 million dollar iPhone Fund. What about a new huge software fund aimed at funding new solutions on the Microsoft platform?

Going on an acquisition spree seems to make a lot of sense, Kara Swisher calls it Project Granola, but imagine the power of creating MicroBook, FaceSoft AND all of the other properities already out there. Digg. TechCrunch. GigaOM. LinkedIn. Meebo. The list is almost endless. Building a open media ecosystem to compete with Google, Yahoo and others. What about investments in non-North American properties? It’s a great time to be building media properties. It’s not the first time that it has been suggested that Microsoft could benefit by encouraging entrepreneurs to build successful media businesses.

With the $30 billion left over, it could be like Christmas in July for the geeks and venture firms of Silicon Valley. But Microsoft could scoop up a lot of good stuff, even if prices are high.

Here’s a list: LinkedIn. Digg. Flixster. Slide or RockYou. Veoh. WordPress. Sphere. Sugar. Some international stuff. And more.

Then, some noted, Microsoft would have to give massive financial incentives to those entrepreneurs to stay and thrive. Most importantly, it would have to keep its Redmond hands from interfering.

Time to take the lessons from building a successful software business, and see if the proceeds can be used to build an online media business(es).

The Platform is the Core


Live Mesh was launched yesterday at Web2Expo in San Francisco.

Our design goals for Live Mesh are to have…

  • …your devices work together
  • …your data and applications available from anywhere
  • …the people you need to connect with just a few clicks away for sharing and collaborating
  • … the information you need to stay up-to-date and always be available

I’m really excited about Live Mesh as a platform. It really is one of the first services above the level of a single device. The integration of experiences across devices is really interesting and important. I started to realize the power of creating a device mesh when I switched from my Blackberry to a Windows Mobile device and Microsoft Exchange. I am able to access my email service using my Palm 750, my Mac Book Pro running Entourage, my new Dell m1330 or my old Thinkpad x60 running Outlook, or when I’m connected over the web running Outlook Web Access. The devices are really irrelevant to me, what is most important is my data. My contacts. My calendar. My email.

Live Mesh is an early platform that allows the abstraction of data and data synchronization with applications, the web, and the cloud. It is a platform for developers to begin building the next generation of applications for the web, devices, rich clients, gaming platforms, media devices, etc.

  • Services Are the Core of the Platform – the Live Mesh platform exposes a number of core services including some Live Services that can all be accessed using the Live Mesh API; these include Storage (online and offline), Membership, Sync, Peer-to-Peer Communication and Newsfeed.
  • Same API on Clients and in the Cloud – the programming model is the same for the cloud and all connected devices, which means a Live Mesh application works exactly the same regardless of whether it’s running in the cloud, in a browser, on a desktop, or on a mobile device.
  • Open, Extendable Data Model – a basic data model is provided for the most common tasks needed for a Live Mesh application; developers can also customize and extend the data model in any fashion that is needed for a specific application.
  • Flexible Application Model – developers can choose what application developer model best fits their needs. .

Mike Zintel, from the Live Mesh team, describes the locus of control is with end users. People are given a platform where they have the control over the devices, the communication, the storage and the membership to the network.

The mesh is the foundation for a model where customers will ultimately license applications to their mesh, as opposed to an instantiation of Windows, Mac or a mobile account or a web site.  Such applications will be seamlessly installed and run from their mesh and application settings persisted across their mesh. The device ring inside of the Live Desktop is a simple visualization of the mesh, and provides a view of all devices and current device availability. The Live Mesh platform provides the ability for applications to connect to any other device, regardless of network topology (network transparency), within the mesh. This infrastructure enables the Live Mesh Remote Desktop experience today.

It is a great way to start to build above the level of a single device. Being able to abstract devices, membership lists, connections between devices, and then an underlying pub/sub infrastructure for awareness and sync is a very empowering framework. I can’t wait to start enabling more of my personal data between my devices (namely music, videos and photos shared between my laptops and music players, and if I’m lucky my TiVO because I can already share from my Mac to my XBox360 via Rivet or Connect360). Ewan Spence covers the hackable power of the underlying “RSS and XML derived data exchange”. This looks like a really good first direction for a Software+Services platform that enables developers beyond the context of a single device.

As Live Mesh is a limited Technology Preview, but it is a great start to building cloud connected applications.

For more information, go to For more Live Mesh coverage: