Cloud

Microsoft Wins A Big Cloud Deal With America's Intelligence Community (spokesman.com) 40

wyattstorch516 shared this story from the AP: Microsoft Corp. said it's secured a lucrative cloud deal with the intelligence community that marks a rapid expansion by the software giant into a market led by Amazon.com Inc. The deal, which the company said Wednesday is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, allows 17 intelligence agencies and offices to use Microsoft's Azure Government, a cloud service tailored for federal and local governments, in addition to other products Microsoft already offers, such as its Windows 10 operating system and word processing programs.

The cloud agreement gives Microsoft more power to make its case to the Pentagon as it goes up against competitors like International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp. and Amazon for the agency's winner-take-all cloud computing contract for up to 10 years.

That contract is expected to be worth billions of dollars, according to the article, adding that "the Defense Department has said it intends to move the department's technology needs -- 3.4 million users and 4 million devices -- to the cloud to give it a tactical edge on the battlefield and strengthen its use of emerging technologies."

One Microsoft executive said this week's deal reinforces "the fact that we are a solid cloud platform that the federal government can put their trust in."
Chrome

Edge Beats Chrome in Battery Test, Says Microsoft (zdnet.com) 95

The latest installment of Microsoft's browser battery challenge shows once again that Edge consumes less energy than Chrome and Firefox. From a report: With the Windows 10 April 2018 Update rolling out across the globe, Microsoft thinks it's once again time to square Edge up against Chrome and Firefox in a new battery-life test. Microsoft's browser experiment shows a time-lapse of "three identical devices, three different browsers, streaming one video." Firefox, Edge, and Chrome play what appears to be a Netflix video on three Surface Books. As usual, the Edge device lasts the longest, depleting the battery after 14 hours and 20 minutes. The Chrome device lasted 12 hours and 32 minutes, while the Firefox laptop ran out of steam after just seven hours and 15 minutes.
Security

Microsoft Explains Why Windows Defender Isn't Ranked Higher in New Antivirus Tests (zdnet.com) 85

In its most recent reports, AV-Test had very few flattering things to say about Windows Defender. Microsoft's security suite was rated as the seventh best antivirus product in the independent test. In total, 15 AV products were tested. Microsoft, however, has now disputed AV-Test's methodology and conclusion. For some context, the top AV products rated by AV-Test on Windows 10 were Trend Micro, Vipre, AhnLab, Avira, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and McAfee.

Windows Defender was able to detect 100 percent of new and old malware, but it lost few points for performance (which, AV-Test measures on the basis of how a security suite slows applications and websites on the test computer); and usability (which counts false-positives or instances where AV wrongly identifies a file as malicious.) From a report: Windows Defender's performance rating was dragged down because it slowed the installation of frequently used applications more than the industry average, and wrongly detected 16 pieces of legitimate software compared with the industry average of four. But Microsoft wants enterprise customers to know that Windows Defender is only half the picture, given the option for customers to also deploy Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection's (ATP) "stack components" including Smartscreen, Application Guard, and Application Control.

In the January and February test Windows Defender also scored 100 percent on protection. However it did miss two samples. Since then it's retrained its machine-learning classifiers to detect them. But Microsoft notes in a new paper that Defender ATP did catch them, which isn't reflected in AV-Test's or other testing firms' result. Microsoft hopes to change this so that testers include so-called stack components available in ATP. "As threats become more sophisticated, Microsoft and other security platform vendors continue evolving their product capabilities to detect threats across different attack stages," Microsoft's Windows Defender Research team writes. "We hope to see independent testers evolve their methodologies as well. Our customers need greater transparency and optics into what an end-to-end solution can accomplish in terms of total preventive protection, including the quality of individual components like antivirus."

AI

Microsoft Also Has An AI Bot That Makes Phone Calls To Humans (theverge.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: At an AI event in London today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed off the company's Xiaoice (pronounced "SHAO-ICE") social chat bot. Microsoft has been testing Xiaoice in China, and Nadella revealed the bot has 500 million "friends" and more than 16 channels for Chinese users to interact with it through WeChat and other popular messaging services. Microsoft has turned Xiaoice, which is Chinese for "little Bing," into a friendly bot that has convinced some of its users that the bot is a friend or a human being. "Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things," reveals Nadella. "It's a bit of a celebrity."

While most of Xiaoice's interactions have been in text conversations, Microsoft has started allowing the chat bot to call people on their phones. It's not exactly the same as Google Duplex, which uses the Assistant to make calls on your behalf, but instead it holds a phone conversation with you. "One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations," explains Nadella. "So now Xiaoice can be conversing with you in WeChat and stop and call you. Then you can just talk to it using voice." (The term "full duplex" here refers to a conversation where both participants can speak at the same time; it's not a reference to Google's product, which was named after the same jargon.)

Businesses

Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth Pulls No Punches on Red Hat and VMware in OpenStack Cloud (zdnet.com) 63

At OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, Canada this week, Canonical CEO and Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth came out firing at two of his major enterprise OpenStack competitors: Red Hat and VMware. He claimed that Canonical OpenStack is a better deal than either Red Hat or VMware's OpenStack offerings. From a report: Shuttleworth opened quietly enough, saying, "Mission is to remove all the friction from deploying OpenStack. We can deliver OpenStack deployments with two people in less two weeks anywhere in the world." So far, so typical for a keynote speech. But, then Shuttleworth started to heat things up: "Amazon increased efficiency, so now everyone is driving down cost of infrastructure. Everyone engages with Ubuntu, not Red Hat or VMware. Google, IBM, Microsoft are investing and innovating to drive down the cost of infrastructure. Every single one of those companies works with Canonical to deliver public services."

Then, Shuttleworth got down to brass tacks: "Not one of them engages with VMware to offer those public services. They can't afford to. Clearly, they have the cash, but they have to compete on efficiencies, and so does your private cloud." So, Canonical is rolling rolling out a migration service to help users shift from VMware to a "fully managed" version of Canonical's Ubuntu OpenStack distribution. Customers want this, Shuttleworth said, because, "When we take out VMware we are regularly told that our fully managed OpenStack solution costs half of the equivalent VMware service."

Microsoft

The Whole World is Now a Computer, Says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (zdnet.com) 182

Thanks to cloud computing, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, we should start to think of the planet as one giant computer, according to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella. From a report: "Digital technology, pervasively, is getting embedded in every place: every thing, every person, every walk of life is being fundamentally shaped by digital technology -- it is happening in our homes, our work, our places of entertainment," said Nadella speaking in London. "It's amazing to think of a world as a computer. I think that's the right metaphor for us as we go forward."

[...] AI is core to Microsoft's strategy, Nadella said: "AI is the run time which is going to shape all of what we do going forward in terms of applications as well as the platform." Microsoft is rethinking its core products by using AI to connect them together, he said, giving an example of a meeting using translation, transcription, Microsoft's HoloLens and other devices to improve decision-making. "The idea that you can now use all of the computing power that is around you -- this notion of the world as a computer -- completely changes how you conduct a meeting and fundamentally what presence means for a meeting," he said.

Microsoft

Microsoft To Block Flash In Office 365 Starting January 2019 (bleepingcomputer.com) 42

An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft plans to soon block Flash, Shockwave, and Silverlight content from activating in Office 365, it said. The block, however, will only be applicable in Office 365 subscription clients -- and not in Office 2016, Office 2013, or Office 2010 distributions, the company added. The change is set to come into effect starting January 2019. This is a full-on block, and not just Microsoft disabling problematic controls with the option to click on a button and view its content, BleepingComputer reports. The block means that Office 365 will prevent Flash, Shockwave, or Silverlight content from playing inside Office documents altogether.

Microsoft cited various reasons for taking this decision. It said that malware authors have abused this mechanism for exploit campaigns, but also that Office users rarely used these features. In addition, Microsoft said it was also taking this decision after Adobe announced Flash's end-of-life for 2020.

Security

Google and Microsoft Disclose New CPU Flaw, and the Fix Can Slow Machines Down (theverge.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Microsoft and Google are jointly disclosing a new CPU security vulnerability that's similar to the Meltdown and Spectre flaws that were revealed earlier this year. Labelled Speculative Store Bypass (variant 4), the latest vulnerability is a similar exploit to Spectre and exploits speculative execution that modern CPUs use. Browsers like Safari, Edge, and Chrome were all patched for Meltdown earlier this year, and Intel says "these mitigations are also applicable to variant 4 and available for consumers to use today." However, unlike Meltdown (and more similar to Spectre) this new vulnerability will also include firmware updates for CPUs that could affect performance. Intel has already delivered microcode updates for Speculative Store Bypass in beta form to OEMs, and the company expects them to be more broadly available in the coming weeks. The firmware updates will set the Speculative Store Bypass protection to off-by-default, ensuring that most people won't see negative performance impacts.

"If enabled, we've observed a performance impact of approximately 2-8 percent based on overall scores for benchmarks like SYSmark 2014 SE and SPEC integer rate on client 1 and server 2 test systems," explains Leslie Culbertson, Intel's security chief. As a result, end users (and particularly system administrators) will have to pick between security or optimal performance. The choice, like previous variants of Spectre, will come down to individual systems and servers, and the fact that this new variant appears to be less of a risk than the CPU flaws that were discovered earlier this year.

Businesses

US Treasury Secretary Calls For Google Monopoly Probe (theregister.co.uk) 86

After a 60 Minutes episode that focused on Google and its effective search monopoly, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called for large tech companies to be investigated for potential antitrust violations. Asked whether Google was abusing its market dominance as a monopoly, Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday "these are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously," and argued that it was important to "look at the power they have" noting that companies like Google "have a greater and greater impact on the economy." The Register reports: Mnuchin's willingness to directly criticize Google and other tech companies and argue that they should be under investigation is just the latest sign that Washington DC is serious about digging in the market power of Big Internet. It is notable that it was 20 years ago, almost to the day, that America finally dealt with another tech antitrust problem when the Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general filed suit -- on May 18, 1998 -- against what was then the most powerful tech company in the country: Microsoft.
Microsoft

Bill Gates Shares His Memories of Donald Trump (cnn.com) 490

MSNBC recently published a video of Bill Gates telling his staff at the Gates Foundation that he had two meetings with Donald Trump since the president was elected. In the video, Gates says Trump doesn't know the difference between two sexually transmitted diseases -- human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- and that it was "scary" how much Trump knew about Gates' daughter's appearance. Gates also said he urged Trump to support innovation and technology during those meetings. CNN reports: Taking audience questions about his interactions with Trump at a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation meeting, the former Microsoft honcho said he first met Trump in December 2016. He told the audience that Trump had previously come across his daughter, Jennifer, at a horse show in Florida. "And then about 20 minutes later he flew in on a helicopter to the same place," Gates said, according to video of the event broadcast by MSNBC late Thursday. "So clearly he had been driven away but he wanted to make a grand entrance in a helicopter. "Anyway, so when I first talked to him, it was actually kind of scary how much he knew about my daughter's appearance. Melinda (Gates' wife) didn't like that too well."

Gates also said he discussed science with Trump on two separate occasions, where he says the President questioned him on the difference between HIV and HPV. "In both of those two meetings, he asked me if vaccines weren't a bad thing because he was considering a commission to look into ill-effects of vaccines and somebody -- I think it was Robert Kennedy Jr. -- was advising him that vaccines were causing bad things. And I said no, that's a dead end, that would be a bad thing, don't do that. "Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other," Gates said.

Google

Google Is Making An AR Headset With New Qualcomm Chips (theverge.com) 11

Google is reportedly working on a standalone augmented reality headset that will use new Qualcomm chips. "It will be built by Taiwanese computer maker Quanta," reports The Verge. "The project is still in its early stages, according to documents obtained by WinFuture." From the report: The AR headset is supposed to be similar to Microsoft's HoloLens, a headset that came out in 2016 and is aimed at design, training, and industrial use. The Google AR headset that's in development will reportedly be self-contained and powered by a Qualcomm chip, rather than tethered to another device. It will also include cameras and microphones. The headset is currently going by the name "Google A65." There's no release date yet for the Google A65 as it's still in the prototype stage, according to WinFuture. The headset won't only operate like a HoloLens, but it will use the same chips. HoloLens is rumored to be getting an update this year, with a new ARM-powered design and an improved field of view. The Qualcomm chips that will reportedly be used in both the new HoloLens and the new Google headset are the Qualcomm QSC603 four-core chips, based on ARM architecture.
XBox (Games)

Microsoft Announces Xbox Adaptive Controller For Players With Disabilities (theverge.com) 19

A new Xbox controller designed for people with disabilities has been announced by Microsoft today. The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large programmable buttons and 19 jacks that can be connected to a range of joysticks, buttons, and switches to make it easier for a wider range of people to play games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. The Verge reports: "I can customize how I interface with the Xbox Adaptive Controller to whatever I want," says Solomon Romney, a Microsoft Store learning specialist who was born without fingers on his left hand. "If I want to play a game entirely with my feet, I can. I can make the controls fit my body, my desires, and I can change them anytime I want. You plug in whatever you want and go. It takes virtually no time to set it up and use it. It could not be simpler."

The focus is on connectivity and customizability, with players able to build a setup that works for their capabilities and needs. It won't be an all-in-one solution for many games, but through the use of peripherals and the Xbox's system-level button remapping, the possibilities could be endless. The Xbox Adaptive Controller will cost $99.99 and goes on sale later this year.

Windows

Rollout of Windows 10 April Update Halted For Devices With Intel and Toshiba SSDs (bleepingcomputer.com) 89

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Microsoft has halted the deployment of the Windows 10 April 2018 Update for computers using certain types of Intel and Toshiba solid state drives (SSDs). The Redmond-based OS maker took this decision following multiple user reports about the Windows 10 April 2018 Update not working properly on devices using: Intel SSD 600p Series, Intel SSD Pro 6000p Series, Toshiba XG4 Series, Toshiba XG5 Series, and Toshiba BG3 Series.

The Intel and Toshiba issues appear to be different. More specifically, Windows PCs using Intel SSDs would often crash and enter a UEFI screen after reboot, while users of Toshiba SSDs reported lower battery life and SSD drives becoming very hot.

Microsoft

Microsoft To Launch a Line of Lower-Cost Surface Tablets With 10-inch Displays By Second Half of 2018, Report Says (bloomberg.com) 75

Microsoft plans to launch a line of lower-cost Surface tablets as soon as the second half of 2018, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. These devices should help Microsoft improve its market share in the iPad-led hybrid machines market, the outlet noted. From the report: Microsoft has tried this before. The software giant kicked off its consumer-oriented hardware push in 2012 with the launch of the original Surface RT. At the time, it was priced starting at $499. After the tablets didn't resonate with consumers and product reviewers, Microsoft pivoted to the more-expensive Surface Pro, a line which has gained steam and likely contributed to demand for a pro-oriented iPad, which Apple launched in 2015.

The new tablets will feature 10-inch screens -- around the same size as a standard iPad, but smaller than the 12-inch screens used on the Surface Pro laptop line. The new Surfaces, priced about $400, will have rounded edges like an iPad, differing from the squared off corners of current models. They'll also include USB-C connectivity, a first for Surface tablets, a new charging and syncing standard being used by some of the latest smartphones. The tablets are expected to be about 20 percent lighter than the high-end models, but will have around four hours fewer of battery life. (The current Surface Pro can last 13.5 hours on a single charge.)

Microsoft

Surface Hub 2 Coming in 2019, Looks Amazing (arstechnica.com) 62

Microsoft gave an early look at its next-generation Surface Hub 2 today. It will go on sale next year, with certain selected customers testing it this year. From a report: Microsoft's Surface Hub, its conference room computer, was something of a surprise hit. The system has been in short supply since its launch about three years ago, especially in its 84-inch version: its combination of video conferencing and whiteboarding makes it a collaborative tool with few direct competitors. The central feature of the new system is that it's a 50.5-inch 4K display with a rotating mount. Instead of the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, the Surface Hub 2 has the same 3:2 ratio of Microsoft's other Surface systems.
Security

One Year After WannaCry, EternalBlue Exploit Is Bigger Than Ever (bleepingcomputer.com) 62

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: Exactly one year after the biggest cyber-security incident in history, the exploit at the heart of the WannaCry attack is now more popular than ever, according to telemetry data gathered by Slovak antivirus vendor ESET. Named EternalBlue, the exploit was supposedly developed by the cyber division of the U.S. National Security Agency. EternalBlue was part of a large cache of tools that a hacker group known as The Shadow Brokers stole from NSA servers in 2016 and then leaked online from August 2016 to April 2017. Many suspect the NSA might have notified Microsoft of what the Shadow Brokers stole, because in March 2017, a month before EternalBlue was released, Microsoft released MS17-010, a security bulletin containing patches for the many SMB-targeting exploits included in the Shadow Broker leak.

Even if EternalBlue is not being used anymore to help ransomware become a virulent nightmare on a global level (only on a network level), most regular users don't know that it's still one of today's biggest threats. This threat doesn't only come from malware authors continuing to weaponize it for a diverse set of operations. Malware authors wouldn't ever bother with an inefficient exploit. ExploitBlue continues to be a threat because of the vulnerable machines still available online. According to Nate Warfield of the Microsoft Security Response Center, there are still plenty of vulnerable Windows systems exposing their SMB service available online.

Education

H-1B Visa Alternative 'OPT' Grew 400 Percent In Eight Years, Report Finds 185

theodp writes: Almost 1.5 million foreign students have been allowed to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation as part of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which is now larger than the controversial H-1B program (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). According to new Pew Research analysis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the number of students authorized to work under OPT has grown 400% since the federal government in 2008 increased the amount of time graduates with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees could remain in the United States and work. More than half of those working under OPT from 2004 to 2016 were in STEM fields, Pew found, and as a result, were eligible for the so-called STEM extension.

The OPT program added a 17-month STEM extension in 2008, shortly after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates suggested it in testimony to Congress after complaining that the cap for the H-1B program had caused a serious disruption in the flow of talented STEM graduates to U.S. companies. In 2016, another 12-month extension was added after a Federal judge threatened to torpedo the STEM extension program, saying it "appears to have been adopted directly from the unanimous suggestions by Microsoft and similar industry groups." In its Top Ten Tech Issues for 2018, Microsoft expressed "concern that in 2018 the White House will announce a rollback of the extended period of Optional Practical Training for STEM graduates." Pew also took note of allegations that "visa mills" have sprung up in response to demand driven by the OPT program.
Displays

Microsoft To Replace Surface Pro 4 Tablets Affected By Screen Flickering (theverge.com) 41

Microsoft is unable to find a software or firmware fix for Surface Pro 4 tablets affected by screen flickering, so it's launching a replacement program for them. Any Surface Pro 4 units experiencing the problem will be covered for up to three years from the time of original purchase. The Verge reports: The annoying flickering has been well-documented on Microsoft's support forums, with some users taking drastic steps like putting their Surface Pro 4 in a freezer to temporarily fix the issue. Back in February, Microsoft said it was closely monitoring the situation, and the company came to the conclusion that there's no convenient fix. Some customers have already paid for a screen replacement to stop the flickering since the problem typically arises when a machine is out of warranty; Microsoft says they'll be "offered a refund." The company notes that this three-year coverage doesn't extend to other problems your Surface Pro might experience outside the warranty period; it only applies to the screen issue. Replacement devices are refurbished -- not brand new -- Surface Pro 4s.
Microsoft

Microsoft Turned Customers Against the Skype Brand (bloomberg.com) 135

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Since acquiring Skype from private equity investors, Microsoft has refocused the online calling service on the corporate market, a change that has made Skype less intuitive and harder to use, prompting many Skypers to defect to similar services operated by Apple, Google, Facebook and Snap. The company hasn't updated the number of Skype users since 2016, when it put the total at 300 million. Some analysts suspect the numbers are flat at best, and two former employees describe a general sense of panic that they're actually falling. The ex-Microsofters, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential statistics, say that as late as 2017 they never heard a figure higher than 300 million discussed internally.

Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella has repeatedly said he wants the company's products to be widely used and loved. By turning Skype into a key part of its lucrative Office suite for corporate customers, Microsoft is threatening what made it appealing to regular folks in the first place. [...] Focusing on corporations was a reasonable strategy and one shared by Skype's prior management. Originally [former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer] and company pledged to let Skype operate independently from Lync, Microsoft's nascent internet phone service for corporations. But two years later the company began merging the two into Skype for Business and folded that into Office. Today, Microsoft is using Skype for Business to help sell subscriptions to its cloud-based Office 365 and steal customers from Cisco. Microsoft has essentially turned Skype into a replacement for a corporate telephone system -- with a few modern features borrowed from instant messaging, artificial intelligence and social networking.
In closing, Bloomberg argues "the complexity of the corporate software (security, search, and the ability to host town halls) crowds out the simplicity consumers prefer (ease-of-use and decent call quality)."
Microsoft

Microsoft Works To Port Ubuntu To Windows ARM (neowin.net) 107

Billly Gates shares a report: It was this time last year that Microsoft announced that it was bringing Ubuntu to the Windows Store (now the Microsoft Store), along with other Linux distributions. If you check out the app in the Store now though, you'll find that it only works on x64 devices, meaning that you can't run it on any of the new Windows 10 on ARM PCs. That's all about to change though. In a session at Microsoft's Build 2018 developer conference today called Windows 10 on ARM for Developers, the company showed off Ubuntu running on an ARM PC, with the app coming from the Microsoft Store. It will finally support ARM64 PCs, although x86 devices are still out of luck.

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