Today I had a longstanding commitment to visit, with the CTO Council and a few CIO Council members, the Microsoft Research Laboratories at Cambridge.

Although two other important SOCITM meetings – Socitm Futures and the Membership Board - had subsequently been arranged, I decided to keep the Microsoft appointment as such opportunities to engage “en masse” with other senior government colleagues are few and far between.

Nicola Hodson, Microsoft’s Public Sector General Manager (who replaced Terry Smith) and Andrew Stott, the Cabinet Office Head of Service Transformation, and Deputy Government CIO, introduced the meeting.

Then Bob Hayes explained that he is currently the only UK member of the seven-member Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments, which was established in the States after 9/11, and extended to the UK in November 2007.

Early on the question of the ponderous development of Windows Mobile, and inadequate security, came-up. This, we are promised, is being addressed in Windows 7; “significant work is ongoing and security will be addressed whilst maintaining rich functionality”.

Otherwise, some of the points I thought more noteworthy from quite a packed day were:

  • In his research overview, Andrew Herbert, the Managing Director of Microsoft Research, Cambridge, told us that the Labs recruit 80 Ph.D interns per year. (From a population of a billion, India had only 64 graduates last year, which I thought interesting given the preponderance of “Shift Happens” presentations, last year, reflecting graduates’ inability to pay to continue studies; so Microsoft Research in India has become a degree-awarding body.)
  • Among projects that have developed from one research partnership programme is one to preserve electronic archives by virtualising all previous operating systems to enable the archives to be viewed using old and new technologies supporting questions like “what was life like” as well as maximising the utility of material through exploitation of contemporary technology.
  • A lot of the presentations involved developments in photography/ video – using parallax to determine positioning and depth enabling addition and/or subtraction of content, for example. Incidentally, “Geosynth” an offline version of Photosynth, is now available for Government. A suggested application was enabling effective scene-of-crime presentations to Juries, which is something I remember being discussed as a problem when I was involved, some time ago, in a project with the Met. Police.
  • Other presentations included “Deep Zoom”, “HD View” and SenseCam.
  • Computer mediated applications are becoming more humanistic, adaptive immersive etc…
  • You can now install Virtual Earth behind your Firewall, but if you want data for the whole world, it’s 17 petabytes!
  • Windows Azure (now being tested by some partners in pre-beta form, otherwise known as “Community Technology Preview”) was positioned as the Windows operating system for the Cloud.
  • Azure and Microsoft Online Services presentations clearly signalled the company’s intentions to move into direct services offerings. There would, we were told, be no bespoke contracts – i.e. technology refresh and new software versions, will be automatic – and the current position is that hosting will be offered only from Microsoft’s own Data Centres!
  • This fed neatly into a truly impressive presentation of Microsoft Data Centre developments, driving down costs and energy efficiency.

I thought the day worthwhile, and there was a lot I’d like to follow-up, not least from a Socitm Futures perspective. I hope to participate in other cross-government supplier engagements to help inform the prospective government technology roadmap.