A touch of swag
Microsoft gave PDC attendees free touch-screen laptops. It usually takes everyone out for a night at Universal Studios. This year’s investment in swag underscores just how seriously it takes natural interfaces.

There are many possibilities for killer apps, such as games, that take advantage of the touch-screen. One of the keynote demos was a Silverlight puzzle, which was pretty neat. Microsoft has now armed some of its best developers with the hardware that they need to create those apps. I hope I am not disappointed.     — David Worthington

King of Pop, and of Search
Microsoft recently announced that in 2009, the No. 1 search query entered into its Bing search engine was “Michael Jackson.” The King of Pop outdid “swine flu” and “stock market,” which were in the top 5 searches. The other two top queries were “Twitter” and “Farrah Fawcett.”

Strange coincidence that Microsoft unveiled Bing barely a month before Jackson’s death on June 25. I bet when they were designing Bing, the folks at Microsoft had little idea that search engine hits would be initially led by a moon-walking pop singer whose heyday was around the time Microsoft released its first version of Windows. But I guess when you’re trying to innovate for the future, it’s never such a bad thing to bring a little of the past with you.     — Jeff Feinman

Agile for safety-critical software
A lot of talk around agile development these days is about scalability and distributed development, so large enterprises can benefit from the techniques. For organizations creating safety-critical software, such as the kind used in airplanes and traffic control systems, there are other issues to consider.

Jose Ruiz, a software engineer at AdaCore, is working with a team to develop a framework that will help the company’s customers adopt agile practices. Safety-critical software requires that certification standards be met, and that seemingly goes against one of agile development’s prime tenets: be able to adjust to change quickly.

“The certification process always is associated with a typical ‘V’ development model of requirements, modeling, coding and testing at the end,” Ruiz said. “Once all of the software and artifacts have gone through certification, it’s costly and hard to introduce any modification.”

Yet one agile technique (continuous integration) is being used to create something Ruiz called continuous certification. This requires builds, tests and requirements to be deeply integrated, so that any change in the system triggers verifications and notifies developers about artifacts that no longer are valid and need to be redone.

“In rigid development, you don’t pick this up until the end, when it’s most costly to fix,” Ruiz said. Using agile, he said, lets software evolve more easily and at a much lower cost.     — David Rubinstein