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Interview: Frederik Winsnes, Microsoft UPG

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The Mobile Active event in Johannesburg prompted several organizations to showcase their services targeted at third-world countries, or the research thereof.

The Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group has been working on an SMS toolkit in India, and developing on a system built by students at the Oregon State University, and came to the event in order to discuss its possibilities with delegates and other companies.

PhoneReport’s Meraj Chhaya caught up with Frederik Winsnes, Group Programme Manager, Unlimited Potential Group, in order to find out what the software-giant is up to.

PhoneReport: “Microsoft is famous for building operating systems, and working on the IT environment in general. What are you doing in this field?”

Frederik Winsnes: “Here we are really just exploring. We are trying to explore a way to extend Microsoft’s software footprint on PC, servers, and services, and bring the value to mobile phones, in the most basic mobile phones, such as SMS-enabled mobile phones, than the higher-end phones.

At this moment we have no product to sell, nor solutions to offer, we are here to explore, and understand what the scenarios would be.”

PhoneReport: “What is the project exactly about?”

Frederik Winsnes: “What we are showcasing here is some work that some students at Oregon State University built on top of a research project at a Microsoft research in India.

In India we built something called the SMS toolkit, and we had some students at Oregon State University that built a survey application on top of that and a data collection application, and that’s what we showcasing here, just to get the conversation going, so that we can discover what’s the viable to go forward. “

PhoneReport: “What do you specifically do?”

Frederik Winsnes: “I’m a Group Programme Manager at Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group in Redmond. My group works with prior groups with UPG, in Seattle, and we help our field organizations and partners all over the world, to deploy the various types of solutions that are being worked on at Redmond.”

PhoneReport: “When did the project start?”

Frederik Winsnes: “This particular project that we are showcasing here was taken to the field for a feasibility study this summer. The SMS toolkit has been around and downloadable from Codeplex for about three years.”

PhoneReport: “The employees are students only?”

Frederik Winsnes: “There was a group of students that helped out with this, and we’re doing some further fine-tuning of this prototype, so that we can do some more research, and test out in further use-scenarios. “

PhoneReport: “What about the field workers?”

Frederik Winsnes: “The real field workers we’ve worked with are some midwives in Uganda this last summer, and we’ll be working on the agricultural case in South-East Asia later this year.”

PhoneReport: “Give us an example of what how this project will affect or change the society. You spoke about agriculture, how does the project exactly target agriculture?”

Frederik Winsnes: “One example might be to collect market prices from markets, in order to make those prices available to farmers in general; and from the agricultural perspective, it may be used to collect information from farmers to a central farmer co-op., so that the co-op. can track what is being planted, the use of fertilizer, or the “line of business” efforts within a agricultural co-op..”

PhoneReport: “Who operates the server-side infrastructure, the technical part of this project?”

Frederik Winsnes: “That’s a very good question, and that’s what we are trying to figure out ourselves. The SMS toolkit that we’re using is something that can be delivered in a box, it can sit on a table, with a mobile phone next to it, but that doesn’t mean that similar technology cannot be deployed inside service providers’ infrastructure, or with a content provider connected to a service provider for more scalable throughput, but again, this is something that we’re exploring, and we’re trying to find out what the most optimal deployment could be.”

PhoneReport: “At this moment, is the service too complex to be set by someone who has basic knowledge of computers?”

Frederik Winsnes: “The current system is a little bit more complex than that, yes.”

PhoneReport: “Are you also involved in the OLPC initiative?”

Frederik Winsnes: “I’m involving with some pilots that we’re running with OLPC, yes.

Microsoft is making Windows XP available with the OLPC, and we have recently announced that we are deploying pilots in some schools in Peru.”

PhoneReport: “In what countries are working in, for the SMS toolkit, and the OLPC, besides India, and Peru, respectively?”

Frederik Winsnes: “The SMS toolkit was developed in India, and I did some feasibility study in Uganda. We’re now exploring with some ministries in various locations in South-east Asia.

In terms of the OLPC, the only place that has been announced is Peru, but we are looking to have some more locations in Latin America, but we haven’t announced that yet.”

PhoneReport: “How could the citizens, for example, our readers, help to broaden the usage of the SMS toolkit, and improve the OLPC?”

Frederik Winsnes: “On the SMS toolkit, to your more-technical readers, I would encourage to go to http://www.codeplex.com/smstoolkit, and download the toolkit, see if they can play with it, and give us some ideas on some more usage scenarios, it would be very very interesting.

In terms of the OLPC, people could contact their Ministry of Education and say that they would be interested in having this type of devices at their schools, and encourage the use of Windows XP on them.”

PhoneReport: “What kind of hardware or software do you make use of, for the SMS toolkit project?”

Frederik Winsnes: “The hardware from the PC perspective, is any PC; from the mobile phone perspective, is any Windows Mobile 5.0-based phone, or better, so that would be any hardware manufacturer.”

PhoneReport: “Windows Mobile devices are quite expensive.”

Frederik Winsnes: “The SMS toolkit is the centralized component of deployment. It requires one Windows Mobile 5 phone, and a PC that sits listening for incoming SMS text messages. These can come from any type of phone.

So the set-up of a PC and a Windows Mobile 5 phone could be the recipient, or the deliverer of information to thousands of regular very very simple SMS-supporting phones.”

PhoneReport: “Are Java-based, Symbian-based, or even Android-based phones supported?”

Frederik Winsnes: “At this particular point, the system was built to work on a PC and single Windows Mobile 5 phone, so that’s the restriction of the toolkit, as it sits right now.

There are other solutions that connect a PC to other types of phones that do the same SMS-kit way in-a-box, and they are also fine solutions.”

PhoneReport: “Is the project open-source?”

Frederik Winsnes: “It’s on Codeplex, that’s where Microsoft posts our shared resources.”

PhoneReport: “Is the entire code available for the developer to edit?”

Frederik Winsnes: “I am not sure if all of the source code is on Codeplex, I don’t believe it is, but it’s something that could potentially be requested on that website.”

PhoneReport: “There are plenty of SMS, computers, and communication-between-them projects for rural areas, and to help communities whom cannot afford high-end technology. What’s the difference between Microsoft’s one and everyone else’s?”

Frederik Winsnes: “This is not a commercially-available product, this is something that we are deploying, and working, to learn, and to understand the dynamics of this industry, so that we can guide our future investments.”

PhoneReport: “So what’s next? What is the future of your project, and what future projects is Microsoft working on, in this sector?”

Frederik Winsnes: “As I said, we are in this to learn, to understand what scenarios, what social impact we can have in terms of extending the use of Microsoft’s PC software, Microsoft’s server software, out to mobile phones, and not only mobile phones running SMS only, but the whole range of mobile phones out there, and bringing the value of Microsoft software out to the masses, and emerging markets.”

PhoneReport: “What countries are you hinting at next? You have India, Peru, Uganda…”

Frederik Winsnes: “Our UPG efforts are covering China, all of South-east Asia, India, Middle East and Africa, and Latin America. So we’re expanding to all emerging market geographies.”

The Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group’s mission is to enable sustained social and economic opportunity for those at the middle and bottom of the world’s economic pyramid. It believes that it can reach 1 billion people by 2015, by exploring solutions in three key interrelated areas: transforming education, fostering local innovation, and enabling jobs and opportunities.

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By , Editor-in-Chief, Johannesburg office

Published on Dec 30th, 2008 GMT +2

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