Convention to feature Microsoft tools

The Democratic National Convention next week will no doubt be filled with the usual politics, patriotism and speeches. But this year's convention will also offer up something new: a series of products from Microsoft designed to make this cornerstone of the political process more accessible.

Microsoft was approached in June 2007 by both the Democratic and Republican national committees to develop an infrastructure for the parties' conventions. Both convention committees had the goal of using innovative technology to, in effect, 'tear down the walls of the convention centers,' said Joel Cherkis, general manager of government solutions for Microsoft.

The Democrats' convention committee initially had 'very standard requests,' Cherkis said. They wanted e-mail, content collaboration, Web conferencing, instant messaging and videoconferencing.

They also needed an infrastructure that would be able to handle a surge in staff 30 to 60 days before the convention began, he said.

Once the infrastructure was in place, Microsoft focused on adding more innovative components that would open up the convention to the world outside the Pepsi Center, Cherkis said.

The Democrats will use Microsoft's Silverlight to stream the convention proceedings onto the Web. NBC used Silverlight for similar purposes for the Olympics this summer at www.nbcolympics.com. It requires users to download a small plug-in, similar to the Adobe Flash player, Cherkis said.

Silverlight can adapt video quality based on the bandwidth available, Cherkis said. 'People in network-constrained environments can still get a rich video stream without having to pause for buffering,' he said. Microsoft partnered with Level 3 Networks to provide the streaming technology for Silverlight.

This will be the first convention to offer streaming high-definition video 'gavel to gavel to anybody with Internet access,' he said.

Microsoft is also introducing Surface, a combination of hardware and software in a 30-inch tabletop device with a touch interface. Microsoft Surface will function as a sort of digital concierge, Cherkis said, and show users transportation routes and hotel and restaurant information. It will also provide information and images from past conventions that has been made available by the Library of Congress, he said.

'We found that people tend to gather around the device,' he said. Microsoft will install Surface units in high traffic areas around the convention hall.

Microsoft also developed other applications for the convention, including a delegate tracking system, a delegate voting system, a credentials management system and a podium operations system, which will store information on speakers, bios and speeches.

The company is working with the Republican convention committee to develop a similar infrastructure. More information is available here.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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