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A brief on the Microsoft Developer Day in Harare

Panashe Chiurunge, Developer & Entreprenuer

Panashe  Chiurunge, Developer & EntreprenuerMicrosoft held it’s much awaited Developer Day two days ago on at the Harare International Conference Centre. It was quite impressive how they catered for techies and non-techies who seemed to be the majority of the attendants. One of the strongest remarks made in the early moments of the event was “In Africa, the challenges we are facing are our biggest advantages”.

One of the challenges highlighted is the Big Data Problem that businesses and organizations are facing due to the rate of data creation at a pace never experienced before. The main platform that the Microsoft presenters talked about is the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. Asking how many of the attendees had used the package, only about 10 to 15 hands were raised.

The presenters did extremely well taking the attendees through practical demonstrations of the developer tools they were showcasing. The attendees were walked through the process of creating a Windows Mobile application using the Windows Mobile SDK extension for Microsoft Visual Studio in a way so comprehensible that a non-developer present at one point referred to Microsoft Visual Studio programming as “development for non-developers”.

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Microsoft Silverlight and XNA Game Studio were covered briefly. The Kinect and the Kinect for Windows SDK was covered in more depth. Microsoft Kinect is a motion sensing input device with incredible abilities, it was initially developed for Microsoft’s XBOX 360 gaming console to rival technologies such as Wii’s handheld remote by getting rid of the need for a remote entirely. The Kinect automatically recognises the movement of specific limb in the body. The device is not available locally through the official channels so it’s difficult to say how much it would retail for in Zimbabwe. In countries where it is available, it sells for only US $100. The Microsoft guy presenting the device and the SDK of course reminded us that the Kinect holds the record for the fastest selling consumer device in history.

Though originally sold to pair the Xbox 360, the Kinect has since been adapted for a wide range of applications in other areas like the medical field, military training, robotics, general computing (like controlling the browser using gestures) and even helping shoppers find the best-fitting jeans. You can learn more about it here.

After the Kinect, the presentation moved on to the Microsoft’s cloud offering, Azure, which was presented by a local developer and entrepreneur, Dr. Panashe Chiurunge. Azure is basically a platform as a service cloud platform for developers and organisations to build and host their applications on Microsoft’s could infrastructure and not worry about scalability issues as resources allocated are elastic and cope with the load. As with other such platforms (Amazon’s EC2 for example) Developers pay only for the resources actually being used by their applications. The platform boasts of corporations such as NYSE, DHL, Pixar and NASDAQ that use it.

An example given to demonstrate the power of information technology and the cloud was is the M-PESA mobile money transfer system where one small concept of subtracting a figure in one database table and adding it to another can have such a huge impact on a nation. M-PESA processes millions of transactions and was developed using Microsoft .NET technology and the SQL Server database technology.

During the event, Vincent Mugambi the main Microsoft presenter, carried out a quick poll of the technologies the attendees use to develop applications. Of the attendees (we’ll assume most were lazy to raise their hands when the presenter asked) only one had ever developed a full mobile application; one (myself) had done parallel and multi-threaded programming; and one had used Silverlight.

All in all it was a good initiative and made developers give Microsoft a second look as most are usually not running with the trend of Open Source development tools. Dr. Chiurunge took the opportutnity to notify developers that there’s a .NET developer meet up arranged to take place monthly where developers go for workshops and get to experiment hands on with Microsoft technologies such as the Kinect.

It’s now safe to say that the IT revolution is upon Africa, but it’s interesting that big corporations are seeing opportunity more than the Africans themselves. If exposure and knowledge were the hindrance, developers and technology entrepreneurs have no excuse now because they are increasingly becoming available through events such as these.


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14 thoughts on “A brief on the Microsoft Developer Day in Harare

  1. Microsoft! I bet most people in Zimbabwe would not be able to buy Microsoft Visual Studio, let alone winxp or vista. I am a fan of MS but I have realised that all my development is Open Source. I have nothing against MS, they make development easier (u can create a website with word or powerpoint)

    1. Visual Studio Express, Sql Server Compact, Sql Server Express and IIS Express are all 100% free and more than powerful enough for the vast majourity of applications.  We have clients around Africa running on programs built in these free tools and have no problems what so ever.  If they ever need the additional functionality of the paid version of SQL upgrading is as simple as changing a connection string.  I would say give some of the new MS free tools a chance, things have changed since the Windows 98 days.

  2. In today’s digital world data consumption, retention and management are so vital that M$ tools while fine for relatively small to medium-sized implementations are simply inadequate where big data implementations are required. Not too long ago the New York and London stock exchanges suffered spectacular outages and hiccups that forced them to abandon their .NET platform and adopt one running on Redhat Enterprise linux. And those trading platforms handle gazillion financial transactions and hiccups are well and truly costly. They found out the hard way. There’s proof in the pudding for ya!

    1.  even for the Cloud, AWS and google could be better options than M$. M$ are good at desktop OSs

    2.  what?! how brash. FYI, there are many “big data” implementations on enterprise scale based on M$ platforms.

      You cant base your conclusion over a small domain of application.

      1.  as a sidenote to M$…I hate Metro. Nice work undoing yourself, M$. Its a good thing we have Win7 and XP…they will do.

      2.  Microsoft has many strengths, but I do not think Big Data / Cloud infrastructure is among them. Frankly, Microsoft was late to the ‘internet’ party – at the top of my head, I can’t think of anything that Microsoft *pioneered* (think map-reduce, Hadoop, no-sql, top500.org, to things like low-latency kernels, or even search).

        This is a Microsoft article, I did not come with intentions to start a flame war – I respect what Microsoft does (mostly). All said; Microsoft can be pretty tenacious when it comes to playing catch-up (XBox vs Playstation, they were the underdog, and Bing keeps on keeping on). I love competition, and I like the fact that MS does real R&D.

  3. JamesM, speculation and mis-informing audiances is a one sided and damaging ideology. NYE and LSE heavily use .Net platforms for they fast and real time analytic systems. They had problems in the early stages of implementation and now they have matured and sorted them. They also use open source staff on bot RedHat and SLEs.
    So let’s educate our fellow Zimbos with the right info hey>

  4. I was there and sat right in front, and have a few corrections/adjustments to the article.

    In addition to yourself, make that 2 people for Parallel and Multi-threaded development (I was the one referred to as a softie as I have worked with most of their technologies). I assumed I was the one referred to in the count, which I take it you did as well. I am also the one who uses Silverlight.

    It is Windows Phone and Windows Phone SDK and not Windows Mobile as you wrote. Windows Mobile is the old technology with a stylus and start button and menu that has now been replaced by Windows Phone.

    And finally, to respond to @DigitalZ:disqus , a lot of Microsoft products have free variants as @504f6ea59b3d6ced7f3dc71b1d759565:disqus mentioned above. In addition to VS and Sql Server, there are free editions of SharePoint, Visual Web Developer and WebMatrix for Web Development. The Windows Phone SDK is also free of charge so the barrier to entry for mobile developemnt is low. Windows Azure SDK is also available as a free, albeit large download that adds itself onto the Visual Studio installation that you have.

    If you follow the @Microsoft:twitter or @MicrosoftBI:twitter or @WindowsAzure:twitter or @MicrosoftPress:twitter and various other divisions of Microsoft on twitter, they regularly give away free ebooks from the microsoft press website, O’reilly and other online bookstores. These books are for current technologies such as Windows Azure and SQL Server 2012.

    Try some of these technologies out and see the potential they give you at a very low cost.

  5. This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic that’s been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

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