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27 August 2013

Microsoft: One Big Opportunity

So Steve Ballmer is on his way. His publicised plans for a company-wide reorganisation failed to excite shareholders or markets. They will go down in history as his swan song.

Yet his resignation caused a seven percent rise in Microsoft's stock price. A strong indication now is the perfect opportunity for a fresh start.

While there's any number of internal candidates, it's time to look outside Microsoft's corporate walls. There's a desperate need for fresh blood to invigorate and reenergise the company.

The challenge is to find someone like Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg or Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. Appointing the right person would herald a gripping new chapter in the Microsoft story.

Read more Microsoft analysis posts.

10 August 2013

What's the scope of Microsoft's Bing Platform

Microsoft recently launched the Bing Platform for developers.

So, what's the full scope of the Bing platform? The answer is much larger than most people realise. Here's a brief summary in alphabetical order.

Bing Ads, formally known as the adCenter, enables publishers to monetize their websites through pay-per-click advertising scenarios.

Bing Dictionary is based on Microsoft's Encarta World English Dictionary. An associated audio player facility enables users to hear word pronunciations.

Bing Entertainment has searchable, detailed information and reviews on music, movies, TV shows and video games. In addition users have direct access to Bing Online Games through a close partnership with Microsoft Games.

Bing Events is linked to the Zvents database (zvents.com) which hosts a constantly updated collection of upcoming events. Searches reveal event descriptions, dates, times and venues. And there's also a ticket purchase facility.

Bing Finance features include stock searches, company profiles, market statistics, stock ratings, historical data, financial statements and analyst recommendations. Filters screen stocks appropriate for value contrarian, high-yield and bargain investment strategies.

Bing Health aims to help users navigate complex medical topics. Health-related information is gathered from a variety of trusted sources, including the Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Health and Medicine and the Microsoft acquired Medstory.

Bing Images refines search results by image size, layout, colour (or black and while only) and type. It also incorporates facial recognition technology. Search result pages have an attractive, generated tile layout and an infinite scroll feature.

Bing Local taps into business listings and reviews for your local area. There's a close integration with Bing Maps and Events.

Bing Maps offers high quality road and satellite maps, landmarks, route identification, traffic flow and bird's-eye views. Bing Maps for Enterprise introduces high-resolution 3D panoramas, which allow users to fly over cityscapes and around buildings.

Bing News is a convenient aggregator for a wide range of online news and information.

Bing Recipes serves up foody ideas from data stored by Delish.com, MyRecipes.com and Epicurious.com. Search criteria includes ingredients, methods, courses, cuisine convenience or occasion.

Bing Reference generates semantic indexes to Wikipedia pages. This capability is highly reliant on the natural language search engine technology Microsoft acquired from its Powerset company purchase.

Bing Social finds real-time information from Twitter and Facebook, prioritised on relevance and context. It's currently limited to public feeds from the last seven days.

Bing Shopping is the place to discover online products and goods. Microsoft has developed a number of strategic partnerships, such as with eBay's Commerce Network.

Bing Translator allows users to translate web pages or specific text into over 40 languages (including two Star Trek Klingon dialects). The service offers a side-by-side text comparison and a mouse-hover translation feature.

Bing Travel uses predictive algorithms to determine the best time to purchase airfares and hotel reservations. This technology was the drive behind Microsoft's acquisition of Farecast.com.

Bing Videos has a fast, powerful search engine with multiple categorisations and an in-results-page Smart Preview feature. MSN Video users can access editorial content.

Bing Visual Search appeared in 2012. Powered by Microsoft's Silverlight technology it enables users to refine their search queries through an image-based interface.

Bing Weather is a highly regarded, richly graphical Windows 8 app, complete with animation. It uses data from multiple sources, such as Foreca (foreca.com), to deliver weather reports from around the globe, plus extended 10 day forecasts.

Bing Wolfram Alpha came out of a partnership with the Wolfram Research (wolfram.com). Behind the natural language interface search results are generated using computational algorithms and a knowledge base of curated data, instead of the more usual semantic search engine.

Read more Microsoft analysis posts.

3 August 2013

Land of Lisp by Conrad Barski

Over the last few years there's been a strong resurgence in the functional programming paradigm. New languages such as Clojure and Scala, which synthesise functional features with a modern-looking syntax, have engendered enthusiastic communities. While JavaScript, CoffeeScript and TypeScript developers increasingly want to code in a functional style.

Understanding key functional concepts is widely considered to be an essential part of a software programmer's skill set. One which invariably results in higher levels of proficiency with other languages.

However, anyone who has tried their hand at functional programming knows it necessitates a different way of thinking. This mindset shift invariably takes some time to accomplish. Many give up before the proverbial light bulb is illuminated.

What would help is an engaging and entertaining introduction to functional programming. Land of Lisp aims to provide just such a solution.

It’s a comprehensive 500 page guide which covers the full breadth of functional programming topics, from using simple lists to defining your own macros. Throughout exercises and code examples are practical in nature, with an underlying gaming theme.

The author's informal style, combined with a fluid pace, well structured content and those wacky-yet-informative illustrations, are a breath of fresh air in the often insular world of functional programming.

Although the book’s content and code listings are based around CLISP (an ANSI Common Lisp implementation), the lessons learned can be applied to other Lisp dialects, or languages that support a functional style of coding.

The question is whether this book succeeds in easing the path to functional programming mastery? I think it does.