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AI

Facebook, Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft Come Together To Create Historic Partnership On AI (techcrunch.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: In an act of self-governance, Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM, and Microsoft came together today to announce the launch the new Partnership on AI. The group is tasked with conducting research and promoting best practices. Practically, this means that the group of tech companies will come together frequently to discuss advancements in artificial intelligence. The group also opens up a formal structure for communication across company lines. It's important to remember that on a day to day basis, these teams are in constant competition with each other to develop the best products and services powered by machine intelligence. Financial support will be coming from the initial tech companies who are members of the group, but in the future membership and involvement is expected to increase. User activists, non-profits, ethicists, and other stakeholders will be joining the discussion in the coming weeks. The organizational structure has been designed to allow non-corporate groups to have equal leadership side-by-side with large tech companies. As of today's launch, companies like Apple, Twitter, Intel and Baidu are missing from the group. Though Apple is said to be enthusiastic about the project, their absence is still notable because the company has fallen behind in artificial intelligence when compared to its rivals -- many of whom are part of this new group. The new organization really seems to be about promoting change by example. Rather than preach to the tech world, it wants to use a standard open license to publish research on topics including ethics, inclusivity, and privacy.
Microsoft

Vladimir Putin Is Replacing Microsoft Programs With Domestic Software (bloomberg.com) 257

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Moscow city will replace Microsoft Corp. programs with domestic software on thousands of computers in answer to President Vladimir Putin's call for Russia's authorities to reduce dependence on foreign technology amid tensions with the U.S. and Europe. The city will initially replace Microsoft's Exchange Server and Outlook on 6,000 computers with an e-mail system installed by state-run carrier Rostelecom PJSC, Artem Yermolaev, head of information technology for Moscow, told reporters Tuesday. Moscow may expand deployment of the new software, developed by Russia's New Cloud Technologies, to as many as 600,000 computers and servers, and may also consider replacing Windows and Office, Yermolaev said. Putin is urging state entities and local companies to go domestic amid concerns over security and reliability after U.S. firms shut down paid services in Crimea following Russia's 2014 annexation. The plan poses a challenge to the likes of Microsoft, SAP SE and Oracle Corp. in the country's $3 billion software market. Adding to pressure, Putin's internet czar German Klimenko wants to raise taxes on U.S. technology companies to help Russian competitors such as Yandex NV and Mail.ru Group Ltd.
Cloud

Microsoft Partners With Bank of America On Blockchain Trade Finance (securityweek.com) 43

wiredmikey quotes a report from SecurityWeek: Microsoft and Bank of America Merrill Lynch said they are working together to make financial transactions more efficient with blockchain technology -- the foundation of bitcoin digital currency. Blockchains are considered tamper-proof registers in which entries are time-stamped and linked to previous "blocks" in a data chain. As expected, the technology that drives the shadowy bitcoin cryptocurrency is drawing interest from the established banking industry, which sees a potential to revolutionize the sector. The companies said they will build and test frameworks for blockchain-powered exchanges between businesses and their customers and banks. Microsoft plans to use its Azure cloud service platform to enable blockchain transactions between a major corporate treasury and a financial institution. "Blockchains serve as public ledgers considered easy to audit and verify. They are also automated, speeding up transactions and limiting potential for error or revision," the report adds. The companies said that by using blockchain technology, they can digitalize and automate trade finance processes, which are traditionally highly manual, time-consuming and costly.
Businesses

Microsoft Is Killing Yammer Enterprise in January 2017, Will Start Integrating Office 365 Groups First (venturebeat.com) 44

Microsoft today provided new information about how it will be integrating Office 365 Groups into its Yammer enterprise-focused social network. The Yammer Enterprise service tier will be going away on January 1, 2017. But Yammer itself will remain available, and there are many levels of integration with the Office 365 services, reports VentureBeat. From the report: It will be possible for people to make Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents using Office Online within Yammer, and it will be easy to go from Yammer to a shared OneNote notebook or the Microsoft Planner project management tool. Team members will be able to select existing files from OneDrive and SharePoint and share them with colleagues in Yammer, too. And Yammer teams will get their own SharePoint sites, enabling them to build wikis and blogs. Microsoft will be rolling out the integration in phases, with the first phase beginning later this year, the Yammer team said in a blog post. The first Yammer customers to get it are those whose users log in with their Office 365 identity. And Microsoft will initially be targeting organizations with a single Yammer network connected to one Office 365 tenant.
Security

Windows 10 Will Soon Run Edge In a Virtual Machine To Keep You Safe (arstechnica.com) 161

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Microsoft has announced that the next major update to Windows 10 will run its Edge browser in a lightweight virtual machine. Running the update in a virtual machine will make exploiting the browser and attacking the operating system or compromising user data more challenging. Called Windows Defender Application Guard for Microsoft Edge, the new capability builds on the virtual machine-based security that was first introduced last summer in Windows 10. Windows 10's Virtualization Based Security (VBS) uses small virtual machines and the Hyper-V hypervisor to isolate certain critical data and processes from the rest of the system. The most important of these is Credential Guard, which stores network credentials and password hashes in an isolated virtual machine. This isolation prevents the popular MimiKatz tool from harvesting those password hashes. In turn, it also prevents a hacker from breaking into one machine and then using stolen credentials to spread to other machines on the same network. Credential Guard's virtual machine is very small and lightweight, running only a relatively simple process to manage credentials. Application Guard will go much further by running large parts of the Edge browser within a virtual machine. This virtual machine won't, however, need a full operating system running inside it -- just a minimal set of Windows features required to run the browser. Because Application Guard is running in a virtual machine it will have a much higher barrier between it and the host platform. It can't see other processes, it can't access local storage, it can't access any other installed applications, and, critically, it can't attack the kernel of the host system. In its first iteration, Application Guard will only be available for Edge. Microsoft won't provide an API or let other applications use it. As with other VBS features, Application Guard will also only be available to users of Windows 10 Enterprise, with administrative control through group policies. Administrators will be able to mark some sites as trusted, and those sites won't use the virtual machine. Admins also be able to control whether untrusted sites can use the clipboard or print.
Operating Systems

Windows 10 Now On 400 Million Active Devices, Says Microsoft (thurrott.com) 153

Microsoft announced today that Windows 10 is now running on over 400 million active devices. This is up from 300 million as of May, and 207 million as of end of the March. The company says that it deems devices that have been active in the past 28 days as "active." Microsoft added that this 400 million active devices figure include tablets and phones as well as Xbox One consoles, HoloLens, and Surface Hubs running Windows 10. Paul Thurrott adds:Microsoft last provided a Windows 10 usage milestone on June 29, when it said that there were 350 million active Windows 10 devices. At that time, I noted that the Windows 10 adoption had accelerated from the previous milestone, hitting an average of almost 29 million new devices per month. But 50 million additional devices over three months is a much slower pace of about 17 million per month. This is the slowest rate since Windows 10 was first announced. Again, no surprise there: Windows 10 was free for its first year, and over that time period it averaged roughly 31.25 million new devices per month (if you assume a figure of 375 million after one year, as I do). Does this mean that Windows 10 will see fewer than 20 million new devices each month, on average, going forward? No, of course not. There's no way to accurately gauge how things will go, given that most future devices will be new PCs purchased by businesses or consumers, or business PCs upgraded to Windows 10.
Cloud

Adobe To Run Some Of Its Creative Cloud Services On Azure (zdnet.com) 17

Adobe will offer its Adobe Creative Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Document Cloud hosted on Microsoft's Azure, the company said today, as part of a deal with Microsoft. ZDNet adds: Some of Adobe's subscription services for creative professionals currently are hosted on Amazon's AWS. It's not clear from Microsoft's announcement of its new Adobe deal whether Adobe's Creative Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Document Cloud will run on any other cloud backbones, with Azure as a secondary option or choice. I've asked Microsoft, and heard back from a spokesperson that today's deal is not exclusive, but that's all I know at this point. Work is underway to move these services to the Azure cloud, a spokesperson confirmed, with more information on this coming in the next few months.
Android

Google Is Planning a 'Pixel 3' Laptop Running 'Andromeda' OS For Release in Q3 2017 (androidpolice.com) 56

Google plans to launch a laptop next year with Pixel branding which will run 'Andromeda' operating system, reports AndroidPolice, citing sources. Andromeda is a hybrid of Android and Chrome OS, the report adds. Pixel, Chrome OS and Android teams have been working on this project, dubbed Bison, for years, apparently. From the report: Bison is planned as an ultra-thin laptop with a 12.3" display, but Google also wants it to support a "tablet" mode. It's unclear to us if this means Bison will be a Lenovo Yoga-style convertible device, or a detachable like Microsoft's Surface Book, but I'm personally leaning on the former given how thin it is. Powering it will be either an Intel m3 or i5 Core processor with 32 or 128GB of storage and 8 or 16GB of RAM. This seems to suggest there will be two models. It will also feature a fingerprint scanner, two USB-C ports, a 3.5mm jack (!), a host of sensors, stylus support (a Wacom pen will be sold separately), stereo speakers, quad microphones, and a battery that will last around 10 hours. The keyboard will be backlit, and the glass trackpad will use haptic and force detection similar to the MacBook. Google plans to fit all of this in a form factor under 10mm in thickness, notably thinner than the aforementioned Apple ultraportable.The report, however, adds that it is likely that Google might revise the specifications by the time of its launch, which is slated to happen sometime in Q3 2017.
Microsoft

Microsoft Patents A User-Monitoring AI That Improves Search Results (hothardware.com) 68

Slashdot reader MojoKid quotes a HotHardware article about Microsoft's new patent filing for an OS "mediation component": This is Microsoft's all-seeing-eye that monitors all textual input within apps to intelligently decipher what the user is trying to accomplish. All of this information could be gathered from apps like Word, Skype, or even Notepad by the Mediator and processed. So when the user goes to, for example, the Edge web browser to further research a topic, those contextual concepts are automatically fed into a search query.

The search engine (e.g., Bing and Cortana) uses contextual rankers to adjust the ranking of the default suggested queries to produce more relevant [results]. The operating system...tracks all textual data displayed to the user by any application, and then performs clustering to determine the user intent (contextually).

The article argues this feels "creepy and big brother-esque," and while Microsoft talks of defining a "task continuum," suggests the patent's process "would in essence keep track of everything you type and interact with in the OS and stockpile it in real-time to data-dump into Bing."
Microsoft

Tuesday Was Microsoft's Last Non-Cumulative Patch (helpnetsecurity.com) 221

There was something unique about this week's Patch Tuesday. An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes HelpNetSecurity: It was the last traditional Windows Patch Tuesday as Microsoft is moving to a new patching release model. In the future, patches will be bundled together and users will no longer be able to pick and choose which updates to install. Furthermore, these new 'monthly update packs' will be combined, so for instance, the November update will include all the patches from October as well.
Last month a Slashdot reader asked for suggestions on how to handle the new 'cumulative' updates -- although the most common response was "I run Linux."
Security

Malware Evades Detection By Counting Word Documents (threatpost.com) 68

"Researchers have found a new strain of document-based macro malware that evades discovery by lying dormant when it detects a security researcher's test environment," reports Threatpost, The Kaspersky Lab security news service. Slashdot reader writes: Once a computer is compromised, the malware will count the number of Word documents stored on the local drive; if it's more than two, the malware executes. Otherwise, it figures it's landed in a virtual environment or is executing in a sandbox and stays dormant.

A typical test environment consists of a fresh Windows computer image loaded into a VM. The OS image usually lacks documents and other telltale signs of real world use [according to SentinelOne researcher Caleb Fenton]. If no Microsoft Word documents are found, the VBA macro's code execution terminates, shielding the malware from automated analysis and detection. Alternately, if more than two Word documents are found on the targeted system, the macro will download and install the malware payload.

Microsoft

Salesforce, Google, Microsoft, Verizon Are In Talks With Twitter For a Potential Acquisition (cnbc.com) 65

Twitter is in conversation with a number of tech companies for a potential sale. The social company is in talks with Google and cloud computing company Salesforce (which also wanted to purchase LinkedIn), and may receive a formal offer soon, reports CNBC. TechCrunch corroborating on the report adds that Microsoft and Verizon are also in talks, albeit separately, with Twitter for the same. From CNBC report: Shares of Twitter were up 20 percent Friday. Twitter's board of directors is said to be largely desirous of a deal, according to people close to the situation, but no sale is imminent. There's no assurance a deal will materialize, but one source close to the conversations said that they are picking up momentum and could result in a deal before year-end. Suitors are said to be interested as much in the data that Twitter generates as its place as a media company.
Java

TypeScript 2.0 Released (arstechnica.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Since its introduction, TypeScript has included new features to improve performance, enhance JavaScript compatibility, and extend the range of error checking that the TypeScript compiler performs. TypeScript 2.0 introduces a big step forward here by giving developers greater control over null values. null, used to denote (in some broad, hand-waving sense) that a variable holds no value at all, has been called the billion dollar mistake. Time and time again, programs trip up by not properly checking to see if a variable is null, and for good or ill, every mainstream programming language continues to support the null concept. TypeScript 2.0 brings a range of new features, but the biggest is control over these null values. With TypeScript 2.0, programmers can opt into a new behavior that by default prevents values from being null. With this option enabled, variables by default will be required to have a value and can't be set to null accidentally. This in turn allows the compiler to find other errors such as variables that are never initialized.
Microsoft

Microsoft Asked To Compensate After Windows 10 Update Bricked PCs (www.bgr.in) 178

Microsoft has been asked to pay compensation to customers who suffered malfunctions on their PCs when upgrading to Windows 10. Several customers have complained in the past one year about issues such as their computer upgrading to Windows 10 without their consent, and high-data usage due to automatic downloads of Windows 10 installation files in the background. The consumer watchdog has told Microsoft to "honor consumers' rights" and compensate those who have faced issues because of Windows 10. From a report:"Many people are having issues with Windows 10 and we believe Microsoft should be doing more to fix the problem," said Alex Neill, director of policy at Which? Of 2,500 people surveyed, who had upgraded to Windows 10, more than 12 percent said they ended up rolling back to their previous version of the operating system. More than half stated that this was because the upgrade had adversely affected their PC. "We rely heavily on our computers to carry out daily activities so, when they stop working, it is frustrating and stressful," Alex Neill, Director of Campaigns and Policy, was quoted as saying.
Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan Announce $3 Billion Initiative To 'Cure All Diseases' (venturebeat.com) 161

Yesterday, researchers on behalf of Microsoft said they will "solve" cancer within the next 10 years by treating it like a computer virus that invades and corrupts the body's cells. Today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced a $3 billion initiative to "cure all diseases." VentureBeat reports: The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company created by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan to "unlock human potential and promote equality," today announced "Chan Zuckerberg Science," a $3 billion project that aims to cure, prevent, or manage "all diseases in our children's lifetime." "That doesn't mean that no one will ever get sick," Mark Zuckerberg later said. But the program hopes to eventually make all diseases treatable -- or at least easily manageable -- by the end of the 21st century. "Our society spends 50x more treating people who are sick than on finding cures. We can do better than that," said Zuckerberg. A press release from the Initiative says Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan will provide "at least $3 billion over the next decade to help jumpstart this work." "The plan," as Zuckerberg called it, is to "bring scientists and engineers together, build tools and technology, [and] grow the movement to fund science." That plan includes a program called Biohub, a partnership between Stanford University, Berkeley, and UCSF that "will focus on understanding underlying mechanisms of disease and developing new technologies which will lead to actionable diagnostics and effective therapies." You can watch the full Chan Zuckerberg Science presentation here.
Microsoft

Lenovo Denies Claims It Plotted With Microsoft To Block Linux Installs (theregister.co.uk) 181

Reader kruug writes: Several users noted certain new Lenovo machines' SSDs are locked in a RAID mode, with AHCI removed from the BIOS. Windows is able to see the SSD while in RAID mode due to a proprietary driver, but the SSD is hidden from Linux installations -- for which such a driver is unavailable. Speaking to The Register today, a Lenovo spokesperson claimed the Chinese giant "does not intentionally block customers using other operating systems on its devices and is fully committed to providing Linux certifications and installation guidance on a wide range of products."
Complaints on Lenovo's forums suggest that users have been unable to install GNU/Linux operating systems on models from the Yoga 900S to the Ideapad 710S, with one 19-page thread going into detail about the BIOS issue and users' attempts to work around it.

Microsoft

Microsoft and Sony Are Debating Over Whose Console Really Offers 'True 4K' (arstechnica.com) 147

Sony's PlayStation 4, which will go on sales in two months, comes loaded with rendering pipeline and some proprietary upscaling techniques that can improve lower resolution base signals to take fuller advantage of a 4K display. Microsoft is seemingly upset with how Sony is marketing this, and it is not shying from telling people that no amount of upscaling can fill in those missing 4K pixels and the hardware inefficiency to produce native and "true 4K" images that the Project Scorpio, its gaming console that is coming next year can. Microsoft has also said that any game that it will launch during the Scorpio timeframe will "natively render at 4K." But the debate is anything from over because Microsoft keeps reminding everyone that the processor and GPU in its upcoming console is more powerful. As ArsTechnica explains: With Scorpio, Microsoft seems to be arguing that every first-party game at launch will be able to generate and render nearly 8.3 million pixels (four times as many as a 1080p game) at an acceptable frame rate (i.e., at least 30 times a second). That would be quite an achievement. As we noted back at E3, it currently takes pricey, high-end PC graphics cards like the Nvidia GTX 1080 or the AMD R9 Fury X -- cards that run $300 or much higher -- to "barely scrape by" with a native 4K, 30fps game. And those PC cards seem to have significantly more raw power than what is being claimed by Microsoft -- 9 and 8.4 teraflops, respectively, vs. a claimed 6 teraflops for Scorpio (and 4.2 teraflops for the PS4 Pro).Microsoft's head of Xbox planning, Albert Penello said, "I know that 4.2 teraflops is not enough to do true 4K." In an interview with Eurogamer, Penello adds:I think there are a lot of caveats they're giving customers right now around 4K. They're talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that's why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that's why we have the teraflops we have, because it's what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K.
Microsoft

Microsoft Signature PC Requirements Now Blocks Linux Installation: Reports 476

Reader sombragris writes: According to a well-documented forum thread, the Signature PC program by Microsoft now requires to lock down PCs. This user found out that his Lenovo Yoga 900 ISK2 UltraBook has the SSD in a proprietary RAID mode which Linux does not understand and the BIOS is also locked down so it could not be turned off. When he complained that he was unable to install Linux, the answer he got was: "This system has a Signature Edition of Windows 10 Home installed. It is locked per our agreement with Microsoft."
Even worse, as the original poster said, "[t]he Yoga 900 ISK2 at Best Buy is not labeled as a Signature Edition PC, but apparently it is one, and Lenovo's agreement with Microsoft includes making sure Linux can't be installed." As some commenter said: "If you buy a computer with this level of lockdown you should be told."

There is also a report on ZDNet which looks very understanding towards Lenovo, but the fact remains: the SSD is locked down in a proprietary RAID mode that cannot be turned off.
Medicine

Microsoft Will 'Solve' Cancer Within The Next 10 Years By Treating It Like A Computer Virus, Says Company (independent.co.uk) 259

Microsoft is serious about finding a cure for cancer. In June, Microsoft researchers published a paper that shows how analyzing online activities can provide clues as to a person's chances of having cancer. They were able to identify internet users who had pancreatic cancer even before they'd been diagnosed, all from analyzing web query logs. Several months later, researchers on behalf of the company now say they will "solve" cancer within the next 10 years by treating it like a computer virus that invades and corrupts the body's cells. The goal is to monitor the bad cells and potentially reprogram them to be healthy again. The Independent reports: The company has built a "biological computation" unit that says its ultimate aim is to make cells into living computers. As such, they could be programmed and reprogrammed to treat any diseases, such as cancer. In the nearer term, the unit is using advanced computing research to try and set computers to work learning about drugs and diseases and suggesting new treatments to help cancer patients. The team hopes to be able to use machine learning technologies -- computers that can think and learn like humans -- to read through the huge amounts of cancer research and come to understand the disease and the drugs that treat it. At the moment, so much cancer research is published that it is impossible for any doctor to read it all. But since computers can read and understand so much more quickly, the systems will be able to read through all of the research and then put that to work on specific people's situations. It does that by bringing together biology, math and computing. Microsoft says the solution could be with us within the next five or ten years.
Microsoft

Microsoft Unveils $37 Nokia 216 Feature Phone (theverge.com) 57

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it had sold Nokia's remaining feature phone business to FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Foxconn, for $350 million. Today, Microsoft unveiled the Nokia 216 feature phone, dispelling rumors that it would stop making Nokia phones. The Verge reports: The new Nokia 216 is one of the most basic phones that Microsoft manufactures, and it will be available in India next month for around $37. It includes a 2.4-inch QVGA display, with 0.3-megapixel cameras at the front and rear, running on the Series 30 OS with the Opera mini browser. It even has a headphone jack. It's easy to understand why Microsoft continues to create feature phones, as the company still sells millions of them every month. Microsoft previously hoped that feature phone users would create a Microsoft account and become part of the Microsoft ecosystem, but it's not clear whether the millions of feature phone users ever actually did that. Microsoft hinted earlier this year that it's planning to kill off its Lumia smartphones, and recent rumors have suggested that the Lumia brand will die off toward the end of the year.

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