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Android

ZDNet: Linux 'Takes The World' While Windows Dominates The Desktop (zdnet.com) 33

ZDNet editor-in-chief Steve Ranger writes that desktop dominance is less important with today's cloud-based apps running independent of operating system, arguing that the desktop is now "just one computing platform among many." An anonymous reader quotes his report: Linux on the desktop has about a 2% market share today and is viewed by many as complicated and obscure. Meanwhile, Windows sails on serenely, currently running on 90% of PCs in use... That's probably OK because Linux won the smartphone war and is doing pretty well on the cloud and Internet of Things battlefields too.

There's a four-in-five chance that there's a Linux-powered smartphone in your pocket (Android is based on the Linux kernel) and plenty of IoT devices are Linux-powered too, even if you don't necessarily notice it. Devices like the Raspberry Pi, running a vast array of different flavours of Linux, are creating an enthusiastic community of makers and giving startups a low-cost way to power new types of devices. Much of the public cloud is running on Linux in one form or another, too; even Microsoft has warmed up to open-source software.

Bug

Google Discloses An Unpatched Windows Bug (Again) (bleepingcomputer.com) 64

An anonymous reader writes: "For the second time in three months, Google engineers have disclosed a bug in the Windows OS without Microsoft having released a fix before Google's announcement," reports BleepingComputer. "The bug in question affects the Windows GDI (Graphics Device Interface) (gdi32.dll)..." According to Google, the issue allows an attacker to read the content of the user's memory using malicious EMF files. The bad news is that the EMF file can be hidden in other documents, such as DOCX, and can be exploited via Office, IE, or Office Online, among many.

"According to a bug report filed by Google's Project Zero team, the bug was initially part of a larger collection of issues discovered in March 2016, and fixed in June 2016, via Microsoft's security bulletin MS16-074. Mateusz Jurczyk, the Google engineer who found the first bugs, says the MS16-074 patches were insufficient, and some of the issues he reported continued to remain vulnerable." He later resubmitted the bugs in November 2016. The 90-days deadline for fixing the bugs expired last week, and the Google researcher disclosed the bug to the public after Microsoft delayed February's security updates to next month's Patch Tuesday, for March 15.

Microsoft has described Google's announcements of unpatched Windows bugs as "disappointing".
Classic Games (Games)

MAME Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary (mame.net) 46

After years of work, a fan has finally completed a MAME version of Atari's unreleased game Primal Rage II this week, one more example of the emulator preserving digital history. Long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo quotes MAME.net: Way back in 1997, Nicola Salmoria merged a few stand-alone arcade machine emulators into the first Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. Could he have possibly imagined the significance of what he'd built? Over the past two decades, MAME has brought together over a thousand contributors to build a system that emulates more machines than any other program.

But MAME is more than that: MAME represents the idea that our digital heritage is important and should be preserved for future generations. MAME strives to accurately represent original systems, allowing unmodified software to run as intended. Today, MAME documents over thirty thousand systems, and usably emulates over ten thousand. MAME meets the definitions of Open Source and Free Software, and works with Windows, macOS, Linux and BSD running on any CPU from x86-64 to ARM to IBM zSeries.

A 20th-anniversary blog post thanked MAME's 1,600 contributors -- more than triple the number after its 10th anniversary -- and also thanks MAME's uncredited contributors. "if you've filed a bug report, distributed binaries, run a community site, or just put in a good word for MAME, we appreciate it." I've seen MAME resurrect everything from a rare East German arcade game to a Sonic the Hedgehog popcorn machine. Anybody else have a favorite MAME experience to share?
Microsoft

Bill Gates: The Robot That Takes Your Job Should Pay Taxes (qz.com) 369

In a recent interview with Quartz, Bill Gates said he believes that governments should tax companies that use robots who are taking human jobs, as a way to at least temporarily slow the spread of automation and to fund other types of employment. The money gained from taxing robots could then be used to finance jobs taking care of elderly people or working with kids in schools -- jobs which humans are particularly well suited for. Quartz reports: [Gates] argues that governments must oversee such programs rather than relying on businesses, in order to redirect the jobs to help people with lower incomes. The idea is not totally theoretical: EU lawmakers considered a proposal to tax robot owners to pay for training for workers who lose their jobs, though on Feb. 16 the legislators ultimately rejected it. "You ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the speed" of automation, Gates argues. That's because the technology and business cases for replacing humans in a wide range of jobs are arriving simultaneously, and it's important to be able to manage that displacement. "You cross the threshold of job replacement of certain activities all sort of at once," Gates says, citing warehouse work and driving as some of the job categories that in the next 20 years will have robots doing them. You can watch Gates' remarks in a video here, or read the transcript embedded in Quartz' report.
Android

99.6 Percent of New Smartphones Run Android or iOS (theverge.com) 90

The latest smartphone figures from Gartner show how much iOS and Android are dominating the smartphone market. According to the report, Android and iOS accounted for 99.6 percent of all smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2016. For comparison, this figure was 96.8 percent in the second quarter of 2015. The Verge reports: Of the 432 million smartphones sold in the last quarter, 352 million ran Android (81.7 percent) and 77 million ran iOS (17.9 percent), but what happened to the other players? Well, in the same quarter, Windows Phone managed to round up 0.3 percent of the market, while BlackBerry was reduced to a rounding error. The once-great firm sold just over 200,000 units, amounting to 0.0 percent market share. It's worth noting that although, in retrospect, this state of affairs seems inescapable, for years analysts were predicting otherwise. Three years ago, Gartner said that Microsoft's mobile OS would overtake iOS for market share in 2017, while BlackBerry would still be hanging around as sizable (if small) player.
Security

Russian Cyberspies Blamed For US Election Hacks Are Now Targeting Macs (computerworld.com) 250

You may recall "APT28", the Russian hacking group which was tied to last year's interference in the presidential election. It has long been known for its advanced range of tools for penetrating Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux devices. Now, researchers have uncovered an equally sophisticated malware package the group used to compromise Macs. From a report on ComputerWorld: The group -- known in the security industry under different names including Fancy Bear, Pawn Storm, and APT28 -- has been operating for almost a decade. It is believed to be the sole user and likely developer of a Trojan program called Sofacy or X-Agent. X-Agent variants for Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS have been found in the wild in the past, but researchers from Bitdefender have now come across what appears to be the first macOS version of the Trojan. It's not entirely clear how the malware is being distributed because the Bitdefender researchers obtained only the malware sample, not the full attack chain. However, it's possible a macOS malware downloader dubbed Komplex, found in September, might be involved. Komplex infected Macs by exploiting a known vulnerability in the MacKeeper antivirus software, according to researchers from Palo Alto Networks who investigated the malware at the time. The vulnerability allowed attackers to execute remote commands on a Mac when users visited specially crafted web pages.Further reading on ArsTechnica.
Microsoft

Microsoft Delays February Patch Tuesday Indefinitely (sans.edu) 88

UnderAttack writes: Microsoft today announced that it had to delay its February Patch Tuesday due to issues with a particular patch. This was also supposed to be the first Patch Tuesday using a new format, which led some to believe that even Microsoft had issues understanding how the new format is exactly going to work with no more simple bulletin summary and patches being released as large monolithic updates. Ars Technica notes the importance of this Patch Tuesday as "there's an in-the-wild zero-day flaw in SMB, Microsoft's file sharing protocol, that at the very least allows systems to be crashed." They also elaborate on the way Microsoft is "continuing to tune the way updates are delivered to Windows 7, 8.1, Server 2008 R2, Server 2012, and Server 2012 R2."
XBox (Games)

Microsoft's 'Forza' Video Game Francise Tops $1 Billion in Sales (xbox.com) 35

Here's another area where Microsoft, whose cloud services are doing very well, continues to make a lot of money: video games. Microsoft has minted its fifth billion-dollar video-game franchise. The "Forza" racing series in December topped $1 billion in lifetime sales since the first game's release 12 years ago, Microsoft said. From company's blogpost: As of December, more than 14 million unique players were involved in the Forza community on Xbox One and Windows 10, the award-winning Forza Horizon 3 sold through 2.5 million units, and Forza continued its run as the best-selling racing franchise of this console generation. Additionally, our online racing community expanded significantly: over three million players joined us online each month and we launched the Forza Racing Championship, an eSports league for players of all skill levels to compete for glory and real-world prizes. "Since the beginning, Forza has combined stunning graphics, racing's leading simulation engine, and an emphasis on fun and accessibility," said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox. "With the Forza series, Turn 10 Studios has built the world's largest racing community. We couldn't be more proud of their success." Other game franchises in Microsoft's billion-dollar club are "Halo," "Minecraft," "Gears of War", and "Age of Empires".
Microsoft

Microsoft's Open-Source Graph Engine Takes On Neo4j (infoworld.com) 17

An anonymous reader quotes a report from InfoWorld: Sometimes the relationships between the data you've gathered are more important than the data itself. That's when a graph processing system comes in handy. It's an important but often poorly understood method for exploring how items in a data set are interrelated. Microsoft's been exploring this area since at least 2013, when it published a paper describing the Trinity project, a cloud-based, in-memory graph engine. The fruits of the effort, known as the Microsoft Graph Engine, are now available as an MIT-licensed open source project as an alternative to the likes of Neo4j or the Linux Foundation's recently announced JanusGraph. Microsoft calls Graph Engine (GE) as "both a RAM store and a computation engine." Data can be inserted into GE and retrieved at high speed since it's kept in-memory and only written back to disk as needed. It can work as a simple key-value store like Memcached, but Redis may be the better comparison, since GE stores data in strongly typed schemas (string, integer, and so on). How does all this shape up against the leading open source graph database, Neo4j? For one, Neo4j has been in the market longer and has an existing user base. It's also available in both an open source community edition and a commercial product, whereas GE is only an open source project right now.
Businesses

Angry Birds Is the Most-Banned Mobile App By Businesses (fortune.com) 47

Barb Darrow, writing for Fortune: Corporate IT pros face the unenviable task of trying to protect valuable data from threats that change all the time. One vector of attack is clearly smartphones and tablets that employees use both for work and pleasure. To that end, mobile device management firm MobileIron just came out with its latest tally of the ten most blacklisted apps, based on a survey of 7,800 companies worldwide. Angry Birds tops the list of most-banned apps at companies worldwide, as well as in Australia, the U.S., and government sectors tracked by MobileIron in its twice-yearly Mobile Security and Risk Review. The survey covers the use of Android, iOS, and Windows devices from Oct. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016.
EU

The City Of Munich Now Wants To Abandon Linux And Switch Back to Windows (techrepublic.com) 557

"The prestigious FOSS project replacing the entire city's administration IT with FOSS based systems, is about to be cancelled and decommissioned," writes long-time Slashdot reader Qbertino. TechRepublic reports: Politicians at open-source champion Munich will next week vote on whether to abandon Linux and return to Windows by 2021. The city authority, which made headlines for ditching Windows, will discuss proposals to replace the Linux-based OS used across the council with a Windows 10-based client. If the city leaders back the proposition it would be a notable U-turn by the council, which spent years migrating about 15,000 staff from Windows to LiMux, a custom version of the Ubuntu desktop OS, and only completed the move in 2013...

The use of the open-source Thunderbird email client and LibreOffice suite across the council would also be phased out, in favor of using "market standard products" that offer the "highest possible compatibility" with external and internal software... The full council will vote on whether to back the plan next Wednesday. If all SPD and CSU councillors back the proposal put forward by their party officials, then this new proposal will pass, because the two parties hold the majority.

The leader of the Munich Green Party says the city will lose "many millions of euros" if the change is implemented. The article also reports that Microsoft moved its German headquarters to Munich last year.
Microsoft

Microsoft Teases Windows 10's Upcoming 'Project Neon' Design Language (windowscentral.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Windows Central: Microsoft just gave developers a sneak peek at Project Neon, Microsoft's upcoming design language for Windows 10 that aims to add fluidity, animation and blur to apps and the operating system. We exclusively revealed that this was in the works in late 2016, and today Microsoft has given us a first peak at what Project Neon will look like. During the Windows Developer Day livestream, an image of Project Neon was seen the background of one of the PowerPoint slides being shown off on stage. Although not much, it's further confirmation that this is the end goal for Windows 10's UI, and Project Neon will be bringing a fresh coat of paint to apps. Project Neon should benefit all types of Windows 10 devices, including Windows 10 Mobile, HoloLens and even Xbox. We're still several months away from Project Neon being everywhere in Windows 10, and we're expecting to see more at BUILD this coming May. In fact, a lot of the Project Neon APIs are available in the latest Insider Preview builds of Windows 10, meaning developers can already begin taking advantage of these new user interfaces and design language! Animations and transitions are a big deal with Project Neon, with the goal of making the operating system and apps feel like they work together. Peter Bright does a good job summarizing the looks of the screenshot via Ars Technica: "The picture shows a refreshed version of the Groove music app on a Windows desktop. The fundamentals of the app and its layout aren't changed, underscoring that Neon is very much an iteration of the current Metro/Microsoft Design Language (MDL). The window has shed its discrete title bar and one pixel border, with the application content now extending to the very edge of the window. The search text field no longer has a box around it, and the left hand pane has a hint of translucency to it." You can view the screenshot here and judge it for yourself.
Microsoft

Cortana Now Reminds You To Do the Things You Promised in Emails (theverge.com) 134

From a report: Microsoft is adding a new feature to Cortana today that will remind you to keep your promises. Suggested reminders lets Cortana remind you when you've promised to do something in an email. Microsoft is using machine learning to highlight phrases in emails where you might promise your boss something, or make a commitment to a friend or family member. The result is a reminder that pops up telling you "don't forget you mentioned this." Cortana's suggested reminders will be available in the US first on Windows 10 PCs, and Microsoft is planning to bring them to iOS and Android in the coming weeks. Microsoft is supporting Outlook.com and Office 365 accounts for these reminders, and other accounts like Gmail will be supported soon. You'll need to connect an Outlook.com or Office 365 account to Cortana to enable the feature, and you'll start receiving reminders once the service detects your promises and commitments.
Windows

Developer Explains Why All Windows Drivers Are Dated June 21, 2006 (microsoft.com) 236

For years, people have wondered why all Windows drivers are dated June 21, 2006. Long time developer at Microsoft, Raymond Chen explains (much of the entire post in summary): When the system looks for a driver to use for a particular piece of hardware, it ranks them according to various criteria. If a driver provides a perfect match to the hardware ID, then it becomes a top candidate. And if more than one driver provides a perfect match, then the one with the most recent timestamp is chosen. If there is still a tie, then the one with the highest file version number is chosen. Suppose that the timestamp on the driver matched the build release date. And suppose you had a custom driver provided by the manufacturer. When you installed a new build, the driver provided by Windows will have a newer timestamp than the one provided by the manufacturer. Result: When you install a new build, all your manufacturer-provided drivers get replaced by the Windows drivers. Oops. Intentionally backdating the drivers avoids this problem. It means that if you have a custom manufacturer-provided driver, it will retain priority over the Windows-provided driver. On the other hand, if your existing driver was the Windows-provided driver from an earlier build, then the third-level selection rule will choose the one with the higher version number, which is the one from the more recent build. It all works out in the end, but it does look a bit funny.
Botnet

Programmer Develops Phone Bot To Target Windows Support Scammers (onthewire.io) 97

Trailrunner7 quotes a report from On the Wire: The man who developed a bot that frustrates and annoys robocallers is planning to take on the infamous Windows support scam callers head-on. Roger Anderson last year debuted his Jolly Roger bot, a system that intercepts robocalls and puts the caller into a never-ending loop of pre-recorded phrases designed to waste their time. Anderson built the system as a way to protect his own landlines from annoying telemarketers and it worked so well that he later expanded it into a service for both consumers and businesses. Users can send telemarketing calls to the Jolly Roger bot and listen in while it chats inanely with the caller. Now, Anderson is targeting the huge business that is the Windows fake support scam. This one takes a variety of forms, often with a pre-recorded message informing the victim that technicians have detected that his computer has a virus and that he will be connected to a Windows support specialist to help fix it. The callers have no affiliation with Microsoft and no way of detecting any malware on a target's machine. It's just a scare tactic to intimidate victims into paying a fee to remove the nonexistent malware, and sometimes the scammers get victims to install other unwanted apps on their PCs, as well. Anderson plans to turn the tables on these scammers and unleash his bots on their call centers. "I'm getting ready for a major initiative to shut down Windows Support. It's like wack-a-mole, but I'm getting close to going nuclear on them. As fast as you can report fake 'you have a virus call this number now' messages to me, I will be able to hit them with thousands of calls from bots," Andrew said in a post Tuesday.
Blackberry

The Brief, Bumbling Tech Careers of Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and Will.i.am (backchannel.com) 97

"Four years ago this week, Blackberry named Alicia Keys its global creative officer... Keys was really going to work for Blackberry -- to participate in weekly calls addressing product development; develop ideas and content for the Keep Moving Projects, which targeted artists and athletes; and of course, promote the brand during her upcoming tour... It didn't work." Slashdot reader mirandakatz writes: For a minute in history, it was oh-so-cool for legacy tech companies to hire pop stars... In 2005, HP brought Gwen Stefani on as a creative director. In 2010, Lady Gaga landed the job of creative director at Polaroid. In 2011, Will.i.am was the director of creative innovation at Intel. In 2012, Microsoft brought on Jessica Alba as creative director to promote its Windows Phone 8.

These roles were all touted as far more involved than the mere celebrity pitchman: The artists promised, to varying degrees, to dive into the business. But in all of these cases, the strategy failed. At Backchannel, Jessi Hempel dives into why that is, and how big names in entertainment are now finding other ways to harness the momentum of tech.

Lady Gaga left Polaroid in less than a year after "collaborating" on video camera sunglasses that offered playback through LCD lenses. While they weren't popular, this article argues most of these tech companies "faced structural business issues too significant to be addressed through celebrity branding and artistic energy." One digital ad agency even tells the site that "It's always been a flawed strategy," and calls the hiring of a celebrity "a press cycle hack."
Desktops (Apple)

Microsoft Is Disabling Older Versions of Skype For Mac and Windows On March 1 (venturebeat.com) 113

If you're using an older, outdated version of Skype, you may want to consider updating soon. Microsoft said today that starting on March 1 people will no longer be able to sign in to version 7.16 of Skype for Window desktop and older versions, and version 7.18 of Skype for Mac and older versions thereof. VentureBeat reports: "If you're one of those users, all you'll need to do is download the new update," the Skype team said in a blog post. This isn't the first time Skype is retiring old software. But that doesn't mean the upcoming move won't rankle some people. Version 7.18 of Skype for Mac and version 7.16 of Skype for Windows both came out less than a year and a half ago -- in December 2015. So it's not as if this is very old software. Still, Microsoft has been doing a lot to improve Skype in the past year. It's been migrating the app to its Azure public cloud infrastructure, and adding chatbots. Current versions of Skype -- like version 7.44 for Mac -- come with amenities like better previews of websites and better support for emoticons and other content in the input box for chats. "We've poured our energy and passion into creating something truly special, and this is just the beginning," Skype said.
Security

Zero-Day Windows Security Flaw Can Crash Systems, Cause BSODs (helpnetsecurity.com) 64

Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: A zero-day bug affecting Windows 10, 8.1, Windows Server 2012 and 2016 can be exploited to crash a vulnerable system and possibly even to compromise it. It is a memory corruption bug in the handling of SMB traffic that could be easily exploited by forcing a Windows system to connect to a malicious SMB share. Tricking a user to connect to such a server should be an easy feat if clever social engineering is employed. The vulnerability was discovered by a researcher that goes by PythonResponder on Twitter, and who published proof-of-exploit code for it on GitHub on Wednesday. The researcher says that he shared knowledge of the flaw with Microsoft, and claims that "they had a patch ready 3 months ago but decided to push it back." Supposedly, the patch will be released next Tuesday. The PoC exploit has been tested by SANS ISC CTO Johannes Ullrich, and works on a fully patched Windows 10. "To be vulnerable, a client needs to support SMBv3, which was introduced in Windows 8 for clients and Windows 2012 on servers," he noted, and added that "it isn't clear if this is exploitable beyond a denial of service." Until a patch is released, administrators can prevent it from being exploited by blocking outbound SMB connections (TCP ports 139 and 445, UDP ports 137 and 138) from the local network to the WAN, as advised by CERT/CC. "The tweet originally announcing this issue stated that Windows 2012 and 2016 is vulnerable," the researcher said. "I tested it with a fully patched Windows 10, and it got an immediate blue screen of death."
Operating Systems

First Screenshots of Microsoft's Windows 10 Cloud OS Leak Online (zdnet.com) 78

The first alleged screenshots of Microsoft's Windows 10 Cloud operating system have leaked, courtesy of Windows Blog Italia. "The screenshots seem to show a coming version of the operating system that is locked down in a way similar to the way Microsoft locked down Windows RT and, before that the Windows 8.1 with Bing version of Windows," reports ZDNet. From the report: According to Windows Blog Italia, which said they've had a chance to test the current version of Windows 10 Cloud, the product can run Windows Store apps only. The site noted that Windows Store apps built using Microsoft's "Centennial" Desktop bridge, which enables developers to move their Win32 apps to the Windows Store, work on the version of Windows 10 Cloud to which they have access. UWP apps and Windows Store apps have not been synonymous terms. But the important point here is Windows Cloud will be locked down so as to prevent users from installing apps that are not in the Windows 10 Store, which can be seen as a plus from a security and manageability standpoint, but a minus given the less-than-robust collection of UWP/Store apps available for Windows 10. Microsoft is believed to be planning to position Windows 10 Cloud, at least in part, as an alternative to Chrome OS and Chromebooks.
Chrome

Google To Force Basic HTML Gmail On Older Chrome Versions (computerworld.com) 67

Earlier this week, Google quietly announced that Gmail will only be partially supported on older versions of Chrome browser soon. From a report: Users of Chrome version 53 and older editions of the browser could start being redirected to the basic HTML version of Gmail as early as December, the company said in a blog post. Starting next week, users who will be affected by the change will start seeing a banner at the top of Gmail telling them to upgrade to an up-to-date version of Google's browser. The affected browser versions include Chrome v49, the last version of the software that supports XP and Vista. While Microsoft officially ended support for XP more than two and a half years ago, Gmail has continued to work with it. Vista Service Pack 2 will reach the end of its extended support period on April 11.

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