Picks – Microsoft Build 2017


Microsoft Build 2017 was held at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, Washington from May 10th 2017 to May 12th 2017. With lots of announced updates for Windows 10, Office, Azure and Mixed Reality so here’s a quick summary of just a few of the things that were announced there.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Microsoft announced the official name for the next update to Windows 10 – Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and will be a free upgrade to all eligable Windows 10 users. There are lots of new features coming including a new UI refresh known as the Microsoft Fluent Design System – orignally codenamed Project NEON and brings many changes to the familiar Windows 10 interface, there’s option to be able to sync clipboard content across all your connectex devices with Pick up where you left of features supporting Android, iPhone and Windows 10 Mobile plus there’s a new feature called Timeline which shows all of the tasks you’ve done on your device. Plus there’s also creatuce features being added such as Story Remix that allows you to create memories using photos and videos. Windows 10 Fall Creators Update will be coming free to existing Windows 10 users later this year.

Microsoft Fluent Design System

There’s a new design language from Microsoft coming to Windows 10 known as the Fluent Design System which features five fundamental elements: Light, Depth, Motion, Material and Scale and uses these elements to deliver fresh and dynamic experiences, the design language will be evolved over time with the first wave being released in the next update to Windows 10 then will envolve with consumer and developer feedback to help improve and enhance user experience even further. Many applications for Windows Insiders are already featuring many of the enhancements the Fluent Design System delivers and it’s very straightforward for developers to get their own apps to fit in with the new experiences possible.

Cortana Skills

Microsoft announced a new set of Cortana Skills with a Cortana Skills Kit for developers being made available, there are over fifty skills available for Cortana from many of Microsoft’s partners already including Domino’s Pizza and iHeartRadio and you can install these skills onto your Windows 10 device as well as Android and iOS devices. Cortana Skills allows you to add deeper intergration with the Cortana digital assistant and allow users to access your app’s features in a smart and initutive way.

Originally Published: 11th May 2017 Picks – Project Scorpio


With the release of Xbox One X this month and the “Project Scorpio” edition also being available, which I bought, here’s the first article with details about the console – before even it was known as Xbox One X

Project Scorpio represents the next generation of the Xbox One family and in a bold move they invited Richard Leadbetter of Digital Foundry to the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington for an exclusive glimpse of the yet to be named console. Mike Ybarra, corporate vice president of Xbox and Windows Gaming Platform at Microsoft stated that their intent with Project Scorpio was to “win developers” back after the launch of the Xbox One back in 2013, they looked back at the developer relationship they used to have with Xbox 360 where they had the best platform for developers and want to make sure they get that back and get the best games back on the Xbox Platform. They have included many new features such as unified memory and a super-charged PC architecture which has been tweaked in a number of ways to make it better for gaming. “We have to win the hearts and minds of developers” stated Ybarra and make sure that they deliver the right toolset to help developers get the most of out of their games with this mid-generation refresh and to adopt a more rapid development model for consoles similar to how people upgrade their phones every few years to deliver customers the latest technology and features, this is the business model Microsoft is applying to the console market to produce what will be the world’s most powerful games console yet made. You can find out more details about Project Scorpio on


Project Scorpio features a CPU with eight custom x86 cores clocked at 2.3GHz, a GPU with 40 customised compute units at 1172Mhz delivering six-teraflops, 12GB GDDR5 RAM at 326GB/s, a 1TB 2.5-inch Had Drive and a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive. The core of the console is the Scorpio Engine to help deliver true 4K gaming with higher fidelity and HDR and to deliver all those extra pixels without losing performance and also improve existing titles to make sure they run at their highest quality at 1080p whilst also improving frame rate where possible, the Scorpio Engine is the System On Chip (SoC) developed in conjunction with AMD implementing custom features such as DirectX 12 baked into the hardware itself and was developed by profiling existing games to see how developers used the existing Xbox One hardware and to see how that can be improved upon and helped develop the Scorpio Engine. Delivering increased performance without maxing out the hardware is possible with a Forza Motorsport demo that was ported to the new hardware in a couple of days running at maximum quality and full 4K at 60 frames per second and only hitting up to 70% of the capabilities of the new console shows the potential of even higher quality gaming at high resolution and allow developers to make vast improvements without compromise. This is truly the next generation of hardware from Microsoft and will run all existing Xbox One titles as well as those Xbox 360 titles that are supported with Backwards Compatibility, there’s more information to come in the next few weeks from Microsoft including E3 so look out for more soon about Project Scorpio!

Originally Published 7th April 2017 Picks – Visual Studio 2017


Visual Studio 2017 was launched this week on the 7th March 2017 and is the latest in a twenty year line of Visual Studio products from Microsoft with the very first release back in 1997. Visual Studio 2017 is the most productive version yet with streamlined cloud development, built in tools for integration with .NET Core, Windows Azure, microservices, Docker containers, Universal Windows Platform, ASP.NET development and more and with Xamarin it makes it faster to create mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows. Visual Studio 2017 is faster and leaner with a modular and lightweight installation experience and improved performance within the product itself and has new features to allow developers to adopt modern DevOps practices. For more details about Visual Studio 2017 including offerings, details and more then visit


Visual Studio 2017 features a refreshed navigation experience with Go To Implementation to navigate from any base type or member to its implementations, Go To All to navigate to any declaration and use icons along the top of the feature to filter results or user query syntax. Find All References has been updated with syntax colourisation and can lock results to allow you to continue to find other references but still keep original results, there are also Indent Guides to help provide context and were originally available as part of the Productivity Power Tools. Writing code is easier with IntellSense improvements where you can filter the completion list by category, or for Refactoring such as sync file and type name, adding missing select/switch case, make method synchronous and mane more. Code Suggestions help hint at best practices and can see these as grey dots in the editor and apply suggestions with “Ctrl+”. You can drive consistency and readability by configuring and enforcing coding conventions and have these show up as suggestions, warnings or errors when coding or with Live Unit Testing you can see the impact of code changes on Unit Tests instantly and show which lines are hit by passing tests or see which ones are covered by failing tests or not by any tests at all. Debugging is easier with a new Exception Helper which puts the most important information about an exception at the top level, there’s Run to Click which executes a program until it reaches the target line of code like a temporary breakpoint, XAML Edit and Continue allows you to change XAML while an app is running to allow you to tweak the UI and he final versions of C# 7.0 and VB 15 are available to use within the product. Whether you’re a seasoned developer or just starting out then there’s you should definitely get and install Visual Studio 2017!

Originally Published 10th March 2017 Picks – Happy 20th Birthday Visual Studio


Visual Studio was first released to the public in 1997, Visual Studio 97 was the first time many of the development tools from Microsoft were bundled together in this way, before that products such as Visual Basic, Visual C++, Visual FoxPro and Visual SourceSafe were available as separate products although products such as J++, InterDev and MSDN Library had been using a similar environment called Developer Studio. Visual Studio 2017 is released today, 7th March 2017 and is the latest in a long-line of Visual Studio development environments over the past twenty years, details of the latest version available including the free Community Edition are available at

Visual Studio had it’s first release in 1997 with Visual Studio 97 which was the first attempt by Microsoft at having the same development environment for multiple programming languages. Visual Studio 6 was released in 1998 with version of each programming language all being set to version 6.0 and was the last version before the .NET era. Visual Studio .NET was released in 2002 and introduced managed code development using the .NET Framework and also featured a brand new version of Visual Basic known as Visual Basic .NET that took advantage of the new framework. Visual Studio 2003 was released in 2003 and featured support for developing for mobile devices. Visual Studio 2005 was released in 2005 and also saw the removal of the “.NET” suffix from the name and introduced development for .NET 2.0 and a wider variety of project types. Visual Studio 2008 was released in 2007 and introduced developing applications using Windows Presentation Foundation including designer support. Visual Studio 2010 was released in 2010 and introduced development for .NET 4.0 plus a redesigned IDE to improve usability and many other improvements. Visual Studio 2012 was released in 2012 and introduced a new logo used in subsequent versions and support for building WinRT apps for Windows 8. Visual Studio 2013 was released in 2013 and improved many features based on customer feedback of its predecessor. Visual Studio 2015 was released in 2015 and added many more improvements and features. Visual Studio 2017, released on March 7th 2017, is the newest version of Visual Studio and offers support for .NET Core, Docker Toolset, Xamarin and many other improvements to the code editor and designers.

Visual Studio celebrated its twentieth birthday with the release of the latest version, Visual Studio 2017, featuring enhancements to code navigation, IntelliSense, refactoring, code fixes and debugging. It has a renewed focus to enhance efficiency of daily tasks with a modular installation, a faster IDE and new ways to view, edit and debug code. There are also a built in suite of Azure tools to easily create cloud-first applications that can be deployed to Microsoft Azure plus improved cross platform development with Xamarin to make it faster and easier to build, connect and tune mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows. Whether it is developing using the Universal Windows Platform, Web Development or even Game development you can do it all with Visual Studio.

Originally Published 7th March 2017 Picks – Microsoft Build 2012


Microsoft Build 2012 was held at Microsoft’s headquarters located in Bellevue near Seattle, Washington in the United States of America. Build 2012 was where Microsoft was sharing the latest information on Windows 8 which was released that same year and gave developers from all of the world to learn more about the then new Windows 8 operating system as well as meet with others from the industry and from within Microsoft and I was lucky enough to be able to go to the event in person as one of the many hundreds of attendees present at the event and was also the last time the event was held at the Microsoft Campus itself. It was a two and a half day event with two keynotes and dozens of sessions to learn from and also a great opportunity to visit the United States of America for the very first time and attend a Microsoft Build conference, both of which I’d always wanted to do having followed previous events online and even got DVDs of the event’s predecessors such as PDC.

Microsoft Build 2012 for me started off with a taxi ride from home to Newcastle International Airport and then a short commuter flight to London Heathrow where I then made my connection to an outgoing flight on a Boeing 747, which I’d never been on or seen up close before to Seattle. The flight started with an initial glitch of the on-board computer assuming the plane was at altitude and not at the gate and proceeded to trigger the oxygen masks in sequence, luckily with the aid of what looked like a broom handle and some patience the oxygen masks were pushed back up with they belong and we pushed back from the terminal and took off for the long eight hour flight. With a lot of ocean in between the only sights to be seen were Greenland and most of Canada bit was a route that missed a major hurricane was hitting the East Coast and New York area at that time, before landing in Seattle late local time, where it would have been a good idea to have filled in a particular form before I landed, that I didn’t and in doing so placed myself at the back of a very long queue. I was the last person being processed of all the flights it seemed and had a friendly security agent go through all the steps of getting myself cleared for entry, then the computer crashed, which cause a slight delay but also delight when I’d mentioned my purpose of my visit was for a Microsoft conference and the agent jokingly ask if I could get them to help out with replacing their computer. I then made my way out of the terminal remembering to mention I had no fruit or vegetables on me, just water, as I passed customs and waited for a taxi, and was able to confirm to my Mum later that they are indeed yellow, but also seemed to be exclusively Toyota Prius cars, that took me to my hotel and to bed to rest ready for my first full day in Seattle before the conference.

Microsoft Build 2012 was not the only thing I could enjoy while there but have a whole day to explore the sights and sounds of Seattle, the only thing I knew was there was the Space Needle so I first thing the morning after arriving I got a taxi to take me there. I bought a ticket to take me to the top and once there admired the views and decided to call home to say how I was doing, which turned out to be the clearest mobile phone call I’d ever done consider it was more than 5,000 kilometres further away than any call I’d made before. I also had a kind fellow visitor take a picture of me at the top of the Space Needle after seeing me struggle to do it myself – something that would later turn out to be very significant as I later used on a dating website where I met my fiancée as a result of her noticing that photo initially thinking it was the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada where she’d once visited and her first message to me was asking me about it. I could see from the top there were plenty of places around the Space Needle to visit so I decided to go and visit as many as I could which included an exhibition of ancient Egyptian artefacts I’d wanted to see at the O2 in London but missed out was there, the Museum of Pop Culture with some great modern exhibits such as film props and memorabilia and the Monorail into downtown Seattle where I stopped for lunch at McDonalds – remembering to order a size smaller than usual so it would still be same as was used to back home. I made the most of the time around the Space Needle to see as much there as I could before heading back to the hotel and for a party in the evening, although wasn’t able to stay as long as I would like as the time difference was catching up with me so I headed back to the hotel.

Microsoft Build 2012 registration was the following day, which was my first visit to the Microsoft Campus after being picked up by the courtesy bus from the hotel. After waiting for a couple of hours I had my credentials and a chance to chat to fellow attendees and also Microsoft employees who were happy to share some of their insights and insider information which was refreshing, if not a little unexpected. It was amazing to be at the campus itself I had to stop myself for a moment to take in the fact that I was indeed there and once back at the hotel looking forward to the start of the conference and happy to be adjusting better to the time difference. The first day of the conference was the also the opening keynote that I got as near to the front of the queue for and enjoyed speaking to people while waiting before going in. During the keynote we found out that every attendee would get a Surface RT and a Nokia Lumia 800 Phone for free, this was followed by the first sessions of the day held in a few of the campus buildings either side of the nearby interstate highway. There was an employee store where I bought a few small items and T-shirts plus used a voucher that attendees had and bought a couple of copies of Windows 8 for my laptop and computer back home. There was plenty of food and snacks available to keep me going throughout the day and certainly made the most of the sessions and chances to meet the people holding them in person. There was another party for the first day that also coincided with Halloween, which is even more of a big deal in America, with drinks and even pumpkin carving, it was also a chance to explain Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th to those who’d not heard of that celebration back here in the UK.

Microsoft Build 2012 second day was another keynote to help give an overview of what to expect that day which was also the final day of the conference, followed by many other popular sessions to learn more about what was coming back then, it was a chance to look around the parts of the campus nearby and the company store and public areas and seeing the Entertainment and Devices division which at the time was secretly working what would later become the Xbox One. With another day over, great sessions attended and tasty meals enjoyed the conference was over, all that was left was the closing party which was held near one of the locations I’d been near on my first day visiting the Space Needle, and a chance to see it by night, it was a great way to end the conference before heading back to the hotel.

Microsoft Build 2012 was over but I had one last full day to enjoy, so I took a taxi to the Boeing Factory for the tour and museum there, where my friendly taxi driver offered to pick me up from as it as well and spent a few hours enjoying seeing the factory and exhibits and on the way back was also able to stop off at the Museum of Flight where I met a real Astronaut, with a familiar sounding accent who turned out to be originally from Teesside which is also in the North East of England like Newcastle upon Tyne. Both museums were fantastic and gave a unique opportunity to see aeroplanes being built or see classic ones in person such as the very first 747, Concorde, an Air Force One and even a wooden Space Shuttle used by every astronaut to train on before going into space. I returned to my hotel ready for my last night there before heading to the airport the following day then flying the eight hour journey back to London Heathrow, there was a little bit of a delay but I made my connecting flight back to Newcastle just in time before getting a taxi home. It was an amazing experience and something I never thought I’d ever get the chance to do, which was to visit the United States of America and the Microsoft Campus, something I’ll always remember and to think of how going there changed my life in so many different ways, some of which I could never even imagine at the time, it was certainly well worth attending Microsoft Build 2012!

Originally Published 16th February 2017 Picks – HoloLens


HoloLens is Microsoft’s augmented reality headset, a self-contained Windows 10 device that features Windows Holographic allowing for mixed reality experiences combining real-world and virtual elements together. I had the opportunity to try it out recently and found the experience interesting – it’s a completely new way of computer interaction. It allows pinning of existing Universal Windows Platform apps virtually to walls within a real space plus bringing 3D elements into that environment in a way that I’ve never experienced before. It’s a surprisingly light device to wear although the large forward section seems bulky it doesn’t feel like that when worn and interacting with it using gestures although takes a bit of getting used to it never feels encumbering but instead allows a freedom of interaction unlike any other Windows 10 device I’ve used!


HoloLens is the first fully untethered holographic computer running Windows 10, featuring a variety of specialized components such as the optical system that works in lock-step with the advanced sensors, the holographic processing unit that makes light work of large amounts of data per second and features see-through holographic high-definition lenses enable you to see holograms right in your world employing an advanced optical projection system, the see-through lenses generate multi-dimensional full-colour images with very low-latency. HoloLens also features spatial sound so you can hear holograms even when they’re behind you and advanced sensors capture information about what you’re doing and the environment you’re in, this is done through the inertial measurement unit (IMU) which includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer. In addition to the IMU, HoloLens comes with a CPU and GPU plus a whole new category of processor – the Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) which gives HoloLens the real-time ability to understand where you’re looking, to understand your gestures, and to spatially map the world around you.


HoloLens demonstrates a new paradigm of human computer interaction, although it is a premium mixed reality experience itself, it allows a glimpse into this device category which will so be added to with more affordable devices supporting many of the same features. HoloLens is a showcase of what’s possible with augmented reality and the power of holograms, bringing the real and virtual worlds together in a way that’s never been done before. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality experiences powered by Windows Holographic are coming from many companies at many prices points to affordable headsets to premium hardware, Microsoft can really carve a niche for themselves providing the software needed for virtual and augmented reality headsets and in the months and years to come these will become more common and popular way of human computer interaction and certainly something to look forward to now and beyond!

Originally Published 24th January 2017 Picks – Newcastle / Gateshead


With Sunderland going for City of Culture in 2021 – here’s my article from early in the year about Newcastle / Gateshead

Newcastle / Gateshead is the vibrant heart of the North East but also not alone with the cities such as Durham, Sunderland and Middlesbrough not too far away add their own flavour to the region and all come together to form a region famous for industry and innovation throughout the decades but is also much more than that – it’s more than likely that the perception of the region doesn’t come close to the reality for many people but once they come to the North East they see something much grander and greater than they expected.

Gateshead has been my home for the past few years home to famous landmarks such as the Angel of the North which helped the cultural renaissance of the area, also The Sage – a premiere music venue for many music artists and also a great venue for events like Thinking Digital, nearby there’s the Baltic Art Gallery – a world renowned space for other kinds of artist to show of their work and even hosted the Turner Prize and there’s the Gateshead Millennium Bridge one of the first fully tilting bridges in the world.

Gateshead is home to other places too such as intu MetroCentre which is the largest shopping centre in the UK and was also home to the Gateshead Garden Festival which was the biggest event that helped regenerate many parts of the area which eventually helped bring many of the things mentioned previously to Gateshead and surrounding area.

Newcastle is just across the River Tyne which is famous for its bridges that are dotted along the Quayside such as the Tyne Bridge which is probably the most famous Newcastle landmark
and seen as part of the Great North Run – the world’s largest half marathon. Newcastle is also home to other bridges such as The High Level Bridge which is the one of the world’s first combined road and railway bridge and The Swing Bridge which was built to allow access to William Armstrong’s works and sits on the site of the first Tyne bridge.

Newcastle has many other bridges but it’s home to much more than such as the Centre for Life – a world leading life-sciences research facility and hosts exhibitions open to the public, Grey’s Monument the monument for Earl Grey (yes as in the tea) and Grey Street a grand Georgian style street.  Also, what would Newcastle be without its Castle, the Castle Keep of which remains to this day and the site of which dates to Roman times as part of the route of Hadrian’s Wall.

Newcastle / Gateshead together are home to an excellent public transport system alongside the mainline railway services to Newcastle Station and usual regular buses to local destinations and places further afield in the North East, there’s the Tyne & Wear Metro which serves areas close to both side of the River Tyne and allows access to Newcastle Airport, which is the world’s most punctual small Airport.

Newcastle / Gateshead and the North East is an area steeped in history, famous for its inventions from lifeboats to light bulbs, hydroelectric power to steam turbines and many more but also looking forward with new innovations in science and technology and bringing innovators to study here like Apple’s Jony Ive and home to vibrant start-ups covering many sectors and established companies such Sage – the only UK software company consistently listed in the FTSE 100. There’s so much more to say than can ever be said here about the Newcastle / Gateshead and the North East as whole just that it’s well worth a visit by road, rail or air!

Originally Published 13th January 2017 Picks – Microsoft in 2017


This was one of the first posts this year on the blog and was a prediction of what was to come from Microsoft – little did I know Windows 10 Mobile would end, but at least Xbox One X (Project Scorpio) is coming but it’s VR/AR support is not just yet!

2017 is going to be an interesting time for PC, Mobile and Console from Microsoft plus the usual events such as CES for consumer electronics and devices, MWC for mobile, E3 for gamers and the usual special press events to be expected from Microsoft.

PC users will be getting another Windows 10 update with the Creators Update, this will add a host of new features including Paint 3D, support for Windows Holographic to enable more Augmented and Virtual Reality, plus we should see refreshed Surface Pro and Surface Book plus increased Surface Studio availability.

Mobile will see some new hardware for Windows 10 Mobile as well as updated features for it and updates to continuum, also with x86 support on new Qualcomm chips should make some new hardware extra special.

Console users will see more games including more that are also available on Windows 10, the most powerful games console yet released is due with Project Scorpio the successor to Xbox One later in the year plus support for Virtual Reality.

Wherever you use Windows in 2017 you will see a major change, new development tools with Visual Studio 2017 to enable more rapid and feature filled applications will make an impact, I’ll keep this blog updated with all the major announcements in the world of Microsoft, plus any rumours and speculation that’s worth sharing too!

Originally Published : 2nd January 2017

Future Decoded 2017


Innovation Keynote

Mixed Reality Modern Workplace

3D in Office Suite, Mixed Reality Meetings, Mixed Reality Data & Analytics.
There are many companies working in this space. They are adding more markets for HoloLens with an extra 29 markets – this is because they want to broaden availability of HoloLens. Getting 3D content and files ready to run on HoloLens is a challenge and they acquired a company that helps make this process better and help optimise 3D files and formats so existing assets can be used with Windows Mixed Reality and HoloLens.

Starting next year the Remote Instruction capability will be coming to HoloLens allowing integration with Microsoft Teams and Active Directory. HoloLens is fully certified for protective eyewear regulations from United States and United Kingdom, allowing people to do their jobs with HoloLens with protective eye wear and there will be hard-hat accessories available next year to allow it to be used on site easily in a range of situations, for first-line workers.

How Mixed Reality is acting as a catalyst for bringing more information within the workplace , you can buy the Developers or Commercial HoloLens kits or using Windows Mixed Reality support a range of other headsets, there are many tools and SDKs to help make it easier to use Windows Mixed Reality, and there are many partners with demos and solutions based on Mixed Reality.

Rising Cloud Trends – Mark Russinovitch, Azure CTO

Azure are helping to promote and support trends in the cloud. Intelligent

Cloud, Intelligent Edge. AI, IoT + Edge, Blockchain and Server-less Computing.
AI – Microsoft Azure is democratising AI, need to bring in data, process data and make decisions and understand that data – digital transformation. Have frameworks to support AI such as Microsoft Bot Framework, also APIs such as Cognitive APIS to infuse applications with intelligence such as vision, speech, search and knowledge – allow you to detect faces, detect objects from still images or videos. These services are trained from services such as Bing but if need domain specific information you can train your own solutions by uploading images of own products to be recognised.
Also work into building intelligence into big data solutions – infuse these with capabilities such as supporting R. They also strive to deliver a platform optimised for machine learning, such as delivering a High-density GPU SKY for AI with 8 GPUs, also they have FPGAs integrated into Azure Hardware with FPGA-Accelerated DNN serving in a Hyperscale Cloud allowing real-time AI, with leading performance and there’s customer choice to select preferred DNN framework – codenamed Project Brainwave, this allows maximum use of hardware and max out Teraflops of usage potential available and with lower latency, this is currently used internally with Bing but will be available to customers.

Internet of Things – Build things, control anything, gain insights and take action. IoT + Edge – allowing to put insights and actions on the Edge with Azure IoT Edge based on Docker Containers which allows rich computation on the Edge and can refine the code that goes with devices. They are working on the machine learning workbench which can be deployed in a module over Azure IoT Edge – such as cameras that look at images in real time and get it to understand these images so only the relevant ones are pushed to the cloud – so it only identifies those interesting images. They want to build a richer environment and a highly available platform such as redundancy with multiple devices, allow the creation of a microservice that can run in the cloud or on the device – but larger devices can have rich microservice application models run in the cloud.

Blockchain on Azure – secure, shared, distributed and ledger. You can have a verified supply chain or inventory data, this is where block chain solves this where every party has their own shared view of the ledger and when this is updated then everyone sees it. Block chain networks are designed where no one trusts anyone such as Bitcoin which uses a proof a work to solve a complex cryptographic puzzle – in case of bitcoin if first to do this you get some bitcoin, the throughput is low and the latency is high. There’s also a lack of confidentiality – you must be able to see the transactions or smart contracts, you can see what everyone else is doing. Microsoft have been trying to make Blockchain more amenable to business with Confidential Computing – this is based on Trusted Execution Enclaves such as Windows Server Virtual Server Mode or Intel SGX, this secures all date while in use, customer workloads are invisible to host fabric and customer data is always encrypted. With Project Coco, Ethereum has been ported and allows high throughput with millisecond range compared to minutes on Ethereum as it has pre-defined targets and proof of work, the secure enclaves allow high throughput.

Server-less – the future platform for next generation applications, how do you architect your app to become server-less? Server-less – is an abstraction of servers, event driven/instant scale and supports micro billing. Uses may include adding new users to a CRM or any action you may need to perform and only pay for the use of the service only when the functions execute. Azure Functions are pieces of code that can be executed on triggers and only pay for these when they execute, there’s then a high-level abstraction with Logic apps which also can be used.

Storing Digital Data in Synthetic DNS – Karen Strauss

A future where we’ll be storing data in synthetic DNA molecules – this is collaboration between University of Washington and Microsoft. How you can engineer biological molecules for the benefit of the IT industry. We are generating more data than we can store – storage capacity is growing too slowly. With DNS you can store over 10TB in very small quantity of DNA, it’s a very dense storage medium – the equivalent of two super data centres of storage would be barely visible. DNA synthetic fossils survive as long as kept in the right conditions and the readers will never become obsolete – you can store it at -18 degrees Celsius and store it for over two million years.
DNA storage basics – made of four bases A, C, G and T. It’s possible to encode binary data by representing those bits as bases in the DNA, it’s possible to store 10-20 bytes in a single DNA strand – this is just the material, there’s no life. The system starts with bits and encodes into the bases, these are then synthesised or written into the molecule and this can be preserved so it lasts, then when time to read this and then sequence it then this can be decoded into bits again. There’s sequence number used to reconstruct the data from the pieces of DNA along with additional redundant data added for error correction like how physical drives like SSDs and HDDs do.

DNA is written base-by-base one molecule at the top to grow it to the correct length with the bases set, this can then be placed with in a cartridge for long-term storage. To read these there may be multiple files stored, it’s possible using a chemical process to extract the relevant piece of DNA, this could also be done using Digital Microfluidics to handle droplets of DNA to prepare DNA for reading or sequencing. DNA decoding – extraction of individual files, clustering of DNA sequences, majority voting of sequences, error correction and translation into bits.

Blockchain in the Enterprise – Craig Hajuk and Brent Truell – Azure Blockchain Engineering

Blockchain is such an important technology there’s a team within Azure focused on Blockchain, and shows the potential of distributed ledger technologies. “Bitcoin offers a sweeping vista of opportunity to reimagine how the financial system can and should work in the internet era, and a catalyst to reshape that system in ways that are more powerful for individuals and businesses alike.” Marc Andreesen

Bank Guarantees – the traditional bank guarantee process is laborious, physical documents can be lost or destroyed. The impact was a blockchain enabled platform to replace this.

Marine Insurance – insurance can be complex and managed through complex web of underwriters, block chain can have real time visibility with location and cargo condition and allowing the actual risk to be accurately assessed.

Block chain is a truly cross-industry phenomenon. What’s the excitement about? Block chain is a secure, shared, distributed ledger. Secure – uses cryptography to create transactions and are impervious to fraud and establish shared truth. Distributed – there are many replicas of the blockchain database, the more replicas the more authentic it becomes. Ledger – transactions are written to the ledger. Shared – value is link directly to number of organisations or companies that participate in them. It was built originally for a system where there’s no trust of anyone but implemented a Consensus with Proof of Work – a one-way hash that produces an output that has to be calculated correctly and the mining process is validating these committed blocks, these extend the block chain, if there is another block which disagrees then only the consensus ones will continue otherwise this will be a fork.

Blockchain and a shared source of truth – traditional system has centralised system with stored ledger, block chain system has distributed system with distributed ledger. Block chain technology supports two main goals: efficiency and transformation, the former makes existing things quicker and the latter introduces new processes and even redefine an industry process.

Determine if Blockchain is appropriate? Trust boundaries – does business process cross trust boundaries, or is it completely inside on entity? Do multiple parties update data? Are multiple parties in the process updating information throughout the process or is it only one party who does the updates. Is there an intermediary. Is there an intermediary or a middleman that has a role that could be made more efficient, impactful or eliminated all together?

So why isn’t everyone using blockchain right now? Blockchain wasn’t built for the enterprise – ledgers designed for public networks, lack the performance, confidentiality and governance capabilities needed for commercial use. Smart contracts require specialised skills, not designed to leverage existing enterprise tools and skill sets. Integration is difficult and costly, connecting to existing IT architecture requires significant investment.

What is Microsoft doing about it? Azure Blockchain: Ready for the Enterprise. Flexible – block chain on your terms, choose the right ledger for your scenarios, work with the partner you prefer, deploy on premises or on the cloud. Integrated – connect to your apps and services, identity and key management, ingest from other applications, processes and devices and analyse and visualise as you want. Powerful – for true enterprise workloads, the right level of performance, confidentiality and governance capabilities for any ledger.

An open cloud – broad support for a wide variety of ledgers including Ethereum, Corda, Quorum and more are available within a section with Azure for Blockchain. It’s very easy to create an Ethereum network for example with just a few values it’s easy to get started and deploy it and set up mining nodes and transaction nodes and other values to get something started easily, in a few minutes. To get Microsoft engineers to get their first network started on Ethereum was about three weeks, and now it’s done in minutes even for complex topographies. Deploy the topology of your choice – do single node for dev and test, simulate production for multiple divisions within a single organisation etc.

Coco framework – coco framework addresses key enterprise requirements. Scalability – database-like speeds for transaction throughput and latency. Confidentiality – richer and more flexible confidentiality models. Governance – configurable constitution to govern membership. Coco reimagines leger construction specifically for consortium use – can use the ledger of your choice and removes need for heavyweight consensus and use a software or hardware enclave.

Enterprise smart contracts – today you can codify a workflow as a smart contract. Wrap up a contract and place this into a ledger – can execute a reliable contract that will happen, how do you know people will do what they say they will do – this is what smart contracts enable, but the code of this smart contract executes on every single node and some can have complex computation involved. Microsoft with smart contracts for the enterprise – this is written in the tech of choice with code attestation travels with transaction, agnostic to blockchain below, smart contract to ledger binding. Pieces of code that get executed that then can write to the block chain and can scale these tiers independently – can trust that some code ran and produced the result needed without needing to know what the code was. Deliver a secure off chain computation that lets enterprises select the right technology for their scenario – can have a traditional three tier architecture and separation of concerns – could even just execute a stored procedure to do the work. Smart contracts at the moment require domain specific languages and code and vary significantly from other programming languages and makes it hard to scale your platform, but be able to break away into a standard language such as C# to execute the smart contract. Should be able to work in whatever language is appropriate and when want to write into the ledger that should be taken care of, only need to focus on the logic.

Blockchain App Builder – Accelerate your development, reduce cost and time – building blockchain apps takes months. Connect to apps and services – build apps that use common services you rely on for your other applications. A way to create end to end applications – where the ledger is just a small part of the application, where it exists in concert with the application. There will be a tool coming soon that will help stand-up a Blockchain environment, one that also connects to existing enterprise tooling and not be isolated in a “Blockchain Island”. This allows you to quickly do a deployment and this can be integrated into Active Directory and creates a user interface – just need to provide some configuration files to deploy some Smart Contracts and write to Block chain – you can work simply with contract logic to create something easily. This is coming soon, and the tools and support will become available in due course.

Azure Block Chain: Flexible – build on your terms, support for multiple ledgers. Integrated – connect to your apps and services and with Azure App Builder connect to apps and services you rely on in your infrastructure. Powerful – for true enterprise workloads, coco improved confidentiality and governance. Get started now, model your workflow with the Azure Blockchain App builder, visit the Azure Blockchain Solutions page, learn more at the Azure Blockchain Blog, contact your account team to connect with a blockchain expert, join the conversation at the Azure Blockchain MSDN Forum.

Empowering Keynote

Microsoft CEO – Cindy Rose

This is the fourth annual event – 12,000 attendees and thousands streaming online. There’s many uses of the cloud from NHS for Blood Donation to British Gas / Centrica managing their employees. Microsoft Mission – empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. Satya Nadella asked why does Microsoft exist? They are making a lot of changes and don’t need to make a complete break from the past – but a focus on culture is part of a strategy for change, also there’s a focus on renewal.

At Microsoft they believe that many new technologies form the bedrock of the next technology shift that will deliver many benefits but a risk of unintended consequences such as an impact on traditional jobs – 6 out of 10 employees in the UK are worried about their jobs with developments in technology automation. They have a Digital Skills programme to help develop new technology skills – they have a new UK Digital Skills website which is now live at

Developing Character Led Talent – Professor Amanda Broderick

It can be difficult to measure worker skills especially with new technology – or perceptions based on age such as Millennials but there could be up to five generations of workers working alongside one another. Graduate competencies for the fourth industrial revolution including critical thinking, creative participator, self-disciplined organiser, influential communicator, resilient problem solver, ethical leader, reflective achiever.

Microsoft are creating collaboratively and delivering digitally with digital skills and competency frameworks, digital career passport, industry co-creation to help revolutionise approach to talent development. Microsoft Apprenticeship Pledge is asking for your pledges and for you to reach out to your university partners.

UA92 – Gary Neville

UA92 – partnership between footballers and education. Working with young people with University Academy 92. As a footballer are taught to work well and be proud of what they do – the difference with UA92 is that Character Development is at the centre surrounded by academic discipline rather than the other way around in conventional university – people may have the same skills but what makes some one standout is that personality, so a character development based university could work to help with this. Ten principles that prepare students for life: Subject knowledge, life skills, work experience, survival, leadership, self & peer group analysis, participative learning, fitness, presentation skills, finance skills plus being digitally literate – these are the key skills that are needed, and this university can help make someone who not only has a degree but is “oven baked” and ready to go.

Disability Confident – Karen Jochelson, Head of Disability Issues, Department of Work and Pensions

Inclusive employment and assistive technology. Inclusive Hiring – people who develop a disability fid it difficult to get back into work, this is a massive tool of underutilised talent. The government is committed into getting one million disabled people into work, with schemes such as Microsoft’s Autism hiring process to allow candidates to demonstrate their skills in a less conventional way.

There is a disability confident scheme to help employers make their workplaces more accessible to those with disabilities, every government department is a member and gives preferred status for contracts to those companies in the scheme. Accessible design is good design that works for everyone, and provides an opportunity for innovation.

Innovating around accessibility – Haiyan Zhang

Over a billion people in the world have a disability – this is one of the really big challenges we face today, these challenges can help those with a permanent, temporary and situation loss of function, face old challenges with new technologies. We want to have employment and be productive to empower us to be successful – the needs of those with disabilities are the same as everyone else. Plea to developers is never underestimate the power and influence of your work and how it can change lives for the better by making assessable products, there’s also the benefit of AI to help make tools more accessible, such as getting description of images using cognitive AI to help blind people better relate to sighted colleagues, and provide more seamless ways of disabled people to interact with others, also open up opportunities for those with disabilities.