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Microsoft 'Dallas' muscles Google data crusade

Crunches Red Planet

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PDC Microsoft is hoping to out-Google Google by unlocking the world's information and slapping a GUI on the front end.

Today, the company unveiled Dallas, which chief software architect Ray Ozzie said would deliver "data as a service." He described it as a "game changing" subsystem of Microsoft's Windows Azure computing and storage service.

Released as a Community Technology Preview (CTP) at Microsoft's Professional Developers' Conference (PDC), Dallas holds public data from the Associated Press, Citysearch, DATA.gov, infoUSA, NASA, National Geographic, and others in SQL Azure. There as no date on final availability.

Also unveiled was the Pathfinder Innovation Challenge with NASA, for developers to build applications based on data from the Mars Explorer mission. Ozzie demonstrated data from the rovers that has been turned into a 3D map of the Red-Planet's terrain.

Microsoft's software chief was joined by video link at PDC in Los Angeles, California by US federal government chief information officer Vivek Kundra to announce Pathfinder. Kundra called on developers to build applications using public data that benefit the Republic.

Kundra noted the cloud would help the government save money because it would not have to build its own computing infrastructure. Ozzie noted Dallas might help the government achieve its aim of openness and transparency, by making scads of data usable.

The move to unlock the world's publicly available data is significant as this has - for years - been Google's self-proclaimed mission. Google says its goal is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. For most of the time, Google has done that using a search engine to churn up information hidden in the corners of the web, but this has extended to countless other services. Among other thing, it's trying to - controversially - scan and serve up the world's library books.

Search engines like Google throw up results and then its up to you to then wade through the result or mash up the APIs through things such as AJAX-based maps from Google.

Ozzie told PDC the world is changing as systems are recording "unimaginable volumes of data."

But he said that while the data is open because it's in the public domain, it's still out of reach because data is held in different data formats or presentation formats like PDF.

"This data does no good unless we turn the potential into the kenetic, unless we unlock it and innovate in the realm of applications and solutions that's wrapped around that data," Ozzie said.

The difference between Google and Dallas is Dallas promises to do what Microsoft does - some would argue - best: It takes a stack approach that wraps in storage, runtime, tools, and interface.

Dave Campbell, a Microsoft technical fellow, demonstrated Dallas at PDC. He showed a list of data provides from the partners such as infoUSA, subscriptions, the ability to store structured and unstructured data, and to explore the data without needing to parse it, to preview the data in ATOM, invoke the data as a Rest service and analyze the data using PowerPivot in Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program.

Picking on the Mars Rover data, Campbell showed how to retrieve the raw data and build a Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) via Visual Studio with the data bound to a grid. ®

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