Microsoft

Bill Gates Shares His Memories of Donald Trump (cnn.com) 244

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) 18

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) 105

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.
IOS

North Korean Hackers Are Now Developing iPhone Spy Tools (forbes.com) 27

An anonymous reader shares a report: Probing the bowels of what he believed to be North Korean hacking architecture, American cybersecurity researcher Darien Huss found an outlier: iPhone software. It appeared at first glance to be a fairly mundane program, a mobile device management (MDM) tool. Such apps are typically used for businesses to remotely monitor and control employees' phones. But, according to Huss, it's most likely one of, if not the only, example of North Korean spyware for Apple's smartphone.

It's unlikely the MDM app was anything other than malicious, said Huss, an employee of cybersecurity company Proofpoint. Tellingly, it was located on a server believed to contain other hacking tools, in particular those for Microsoft Windows, that he'd linked to one of the bigger North Korean hacking groups, the researcher explained to Forbes. If the iPhone tool is indeed a piece of spyware, Huss hasn't seen it used yet. He believes it's currently in development by that North Korean-linked hacker crew, though Proofpoint declined to provide additional details on his research.

Security

Multiple OS Vendors Release Security Patches After Misinterpreting Intel Docs (bleepingcomputer.com) 81

Almost all major OS vendors released security patches yesterday after a researcher discovered that some OS makers have misinterpreted an Intel CPU debug feature and left their systems open to attacks. From a report: The vulnerability is in how the OS vendors implemented a hardware debug mechanism for Intel x86-64 architectures -- and more specifically the MOV SS and POP SS instructions. "In certain circumstances after the use of certain Intel x86-64 architecture instructions, a debug exception pointing to data in a lower ring (for most operating systems, the kernel Ring 0 level) is made available to operating system components running in Ring 3," the CERT/CC team explained in an advisory published yesterday. Explained in layman's terms, "this may allow an attacker to utilize operating system APIs to gain access to sensitive memory information or control low-level operating system functions." Operating systems that mishandle this debug exception and had their systems open to attacks include Apple, Microsoft, FreeBSD, Red Hat, Ubuntu, SUSE Linux, and other Linux distros based on the Linux Kernel -- which is also affected.
Unix

Windows Notepad Finally Supports Unix, Mac OS Line Endings (theregister.co.uk) 291

Microsoft's text editing app, Notepad, which has been shipping with Windows since version 1.0 in 1985, now supports line endings in text files created on Linux, Unix, Mac OS, and macOS devices. "This has been a major annoyance for developers, IT Pros, administrators, and end users throughout the community," Microsoft said in a blog post today. The Register reports: Notepad previously recognized only the Windows End of Line (EOL) characters, specifically Carriage Return (CR, \r, 0x0d) and Line Feed (LF, \n, 0x0a) together. For old-school Mac OS, the EOL character is just Carriage Return (CR, \r, 0x0d) and for Linux/Unix it's just Line Feed (LF, \n, 0x0a). Modern macOS, since Mac OS X, follows the Unix convention. Opening a file written on macOS, Mac OS, Linux, or Unix-flavored computers in Windows Notepad therefore looked like a long wall of text with no separation between paragraphs and lines. Relief arrives in the current Windows 10 Insider Build.

Notepad will continue to output CRLF as its EOL character by default. It's not changing its stripes entirely. But it will retain the formatting of the files it opens so users will be able to view, edit and print text files with non-Windows line ends. Microsoft has thoughtfully provided an out for Windows users counting on the app's past inflexibility: the new behavior can be undone with a registry key change.

Programming

Microsoft Adds Support For JavaScript Functions in Excel (bleepingcomputer.com) 171

An anonymous reader shares a report: At the Build 2018 developer conference that's taking place these days in Seattle, USA, Microsoft announced support for custom JavaScript functions in Excel. What this means is that Excel users will be able to use JavaScript code to create a custom Excel formula that will appear in Excel's default formula database. Users will then be able to insert and call these formulas from within Excel spreadsheets, but have a JavaScript interpreter compute the spreadsheet data instead of Excel's native engine. "Office developers have been wanting to write JavaScript custom functions for many reasons," Microsoft says, "such as: (1) Calculate math operations, like whether a number is prime. (2) Bring information from the web, like a bank account balance. (3) Stream live data, like a stock price."
Microsoft

Microsoft Hopes Money Will Entice More Developers (engadget.com) 134

At Build conference, Microsoft announced that starting later this year, all consumer apps (except games) sold in the Microsoft Store will ship a whopping 95 percent of the revenue earned from app and in-app purchases to the developer. From a report: That is, if the customer purchases the app via a deep or direct link. If the customer gets your app via a Microsoft-assisted method, like getting featured on the Microsoft Store, then devs will get 85 percent of the revenue, which is still a pretty good amount.
Cloud

Edge Computing: Explained (theverge.com) 159

An anonymous reader shares a report from The Verge, written by Paul Miller: In the beginning, there was One Big Computer. Then, in the Unix era, we learned how to connect to that computer using dumb (not a pejorative) terminals. Next we had personal computers, which was the first time regular people really owned the hardware that did the work. Right now, in 2018, we're firmly in the cloud computing era. Many of us still own personal computers, but we mostly use them to access centralized services like Dropbox, Gmail, Office 365, and Slack. Additionally, devices like Amazon Echo, Google Chromecast, and the Apple TV are powered by content and intelligence that's in the cloud -- as opposed to the DVD box set of Little House on the Prairie or CD-ROM copy of Encarta you might've enjoyed in the personal computing era. As centralized as this all sounds, the truly amazing thing about cloud computing is that a seriously large percentage of all companies in the world now rely on the infrastructure, hosting, machine learning, and compute power of a very select few cloud providers: Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM.

The advent of edge computing as a buzzword you should perhaps pay attention to is the realization by these companies that there isn't much growth left in the cloud space. Almost everything that can be centralized has been centralized. Most of the new opportunities for the "cloud" lie at the "edge." The word edge in this context means literal geographic distribution. Edge computing is computing that's done at or near the source of the data, instead of relying on the cloud at one of a dozen data centers to do all the work. It doesn't mean the cloud will disappear. It means the cloud is coming to you.
Miller goes on to "examine what people mean practically when they extoll edge computing," focusing on latency, privacy and security, and bandwidth.
Cloud

Microsoft Is Moving Kinect to the Cloud (theverge.com) 37

At the annual Build conference, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella announced that Kinect is moving to the cloud. "Kinect, when we first launched it in 2010, was a speech-first, gaze-first, vision-first device. It was used in gaming, and then, later on, it came to the PC, and it was used in many applications: medical, industrial, robotics, education," said Nadella. "We've been inspired by what developers have done, and since Kinect, we've made a tremendous amount of progress when it comes to some of the foundational technologies in HoloLens. So we're taking those advances and packaging them up as Project Kinect for Azure." The Verge reports: It's big news after the depth camera and microphone accessory that originally debuted on the Xbox 360 was basically declared dead last October when Microsoft stopped manufacturing it. Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft, explained in a LinkedIn blog post that Project Kinect for Azure would combine the depth sensor with Azure AI services that could help developers make devices that will be more precise "with less power consumption." Kipman also notes that AI deep learning on depth images could lead to "cheaper-to-deploy AI algorithms" that require smaller networks to operate.
Windows

Microsoft's New Mobile Strategy: Create Windows-like App 'Experiences' For Smartphones (pcworld.com) 74

Microsoft is investing in Windows experiences on mobile devices, with a new app called Your Phone; a migration of Windows 10's Timeline productivity feature to phones; and an update to its launcher app for enterprises. The app, available on Android and iOS, is designed to provide a mirror of a phone straight to a desktop PC, and it will let Windows 10 users access texts, photos, and notifications from their machines. Features will vary depending on iOS and Android. From a report: While Microsoft is also expected to discuss some of the features of its next Windows 10 update (code-named "Redstone 5") at Build, the company indicated that it will be emphasizing cross-platform apps instead. Microsoft will discuss some of these in a Tuesday presentation by Joe Belfiore, who leads Windows "experiences" as the corporate vice president in the Operating Systems Group at Microsoft.

The idea, Belfiore said in a briefing in advance of the show, was that Microsoft needs to know what users are working on, across any device. "Whether you look at a Word doc on Android, iOS, or Windows, is irrelevant," Belfiore said. Belfiore was talking about Timeline, the feature that tracks your work in the Office apps or Edge, recording your activity in what Microsoft calls the Microsoft Graph. But Belfiore could have been talking about any hardware platform. Microsoft sounds like it wants to elevate Microsoft mobile applications to the level of importance of a PC -- making the actual hardware, and operating system, irrelevant.

Windows

Microsoft Says 700M Devices Now Run Windows 10 (techcrunch.com) 120

Over 700 million devices run Windows 10, Microsoft announced on Monday at its Build developer conference. From a report: Almost exactly a year ago, that number stood at 500 million. In addition, the company also today noted that Office 365 now has 135 million monthly active commercial users, up from 120 million last October. Back in 2015, when Windows 10 launched, Microsoft's original goal was to hit a billion devices by 2018. It quickly became clear that this was a bit too optimistic. While Windows 10 usage clearly continues to grow at a decent speed, we're not likely to see it hit a billion users soon. In a wide-ranging interview with news outlet The Verge, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella discusses the future of Microsoft. (He gave an interview to CNBC as well.) Onstage at Build, Nadella said "privacy is a human right."

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