Microsoft

The Docx Games: Three Days At the Microsoft Office World Championship (theverge.com) 57

An anonymous reader shares a report: On a Sunday night two weeks back, in the Rose Court Garden of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California, 150 antsy competitors between the ages of 13 and 22 milled around eating miniature whoopie pies by the light of the Moon, sizing up their global rivals in the efficient use of Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. It was as if the Olympics opening ceremony was replaced by a networking event: teens were decked out in national T-shirts, while others handed out business cards specially made for the event. At one table off by the bar, two chaperones nudged their folding chairs closer together and taught each other how to say hello ("Yassas," "Ciao") in their respective mother tongues. In the distance, through the palms, the tiki torches of Trader Sam's, the hotel's poolside lounge, were flickering into the black sky. This marked the first night of the 16th Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) World Championship, in which teens and young 20-somethings compete for the title of World Champion in their chosen professional application. It's an event put on annually by Certiport, a Utah-based subsidiary of standardized testing giant Pearson VUE. It's also a marketing stunt, pure and simple, devised to promote Certiport's line of Microsoft Office certifications. This allows the certified to confirm the line on their resume that claims "proficiency in MS Office" is backed up by some solid knowledge of deep formatting and presentation design.
AI

Amazon Will Pay Developers With the Most Engaging Alexa Skills (venturebeat.com) 41

Amazon today announced a new program to bring revenue to developers of Alexa skills based on how much engagement their voice app is able to generate among users of Alexa-enabled devices. From a report: Amazon appears to be the first of the major tech companies with AI assistants and third-party integrations -- like Google, Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft -- with a program to compensate developers based on engagement created by their voice app. Metrics used to measure engagement of an Alexa skill include minutes of usage, new customers, customer ratings, and return visitors, an Amazon spokesperson told VentureBeat. Developers of Alexa skills in the U.S., U.K., and Germany are eligible to join. Developers with a skill active in all three countries will receive separate payments based on engagement in each country.
Microsoft

We're Not Walking Away From Continuum, Says HP (theregister.co.uk) 44

An anonymous reader shares a report: While Windows roadmaps purportedly leaked to a blog last week appear to have a big hole in them where mobile should be, HP Inc tells us it has been assured by Redmond there are no plans to drop Continuum. HP is the sole major mobile vendor committed to the Windows Mobile Edition of Windows 10 and bet big on Continuum, the multimode "use-your-phone-as-a-PC" feature on which some of HP's ambitions rest. El Reg was impressed by HP's plans to build an ecosystem around the multi-mode capabilities of the HP Elite x3 phone, which doubles up as a PC replacement. (Or tries to.) Launching in over 50 markets, the ecosystem includes a streaming apps service HP Workplace to fill in the app gap, and even a "lap dock." HP pitched it at field workers and verticals. The only thing letting Inc-ers down was the quality of the software from Microsoft. Spring came and went without the expected improvements to Continuum. Unauthorised briefings last week suggest the Windows Mobile branch of Windows 10 is now an orphan.
Businesses

Gates Makes Largest Donation Since 2000 With $4.6 Billion Pledge (bloomberg.com) 159

From a report: Bill Gates made his largest gift since the turn of the century, giving away Microsoft shares that accounted for 5 percent of his fortune, the world's biggest. The billionaire donated 64 million of the software maker's shares valued at $4.6 billion on June 6, according to a Securities & Exchange Commission filing released Monday. While the recipient of the gift wasn't specified, Gates has made the majority of his donations to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the charity he and his wife use to direct their philanthropic efforts. It's the largest gift of Microsoft shares that Gates has made since 2000. The 61-year-old gave away $16 billion worth of Microsoft shares in 1999 and $5.1 billion a year later, according to calculations by Bloomberg.
The Courts

Judge Says LinkedIn Cannot Block Startup From Public Profile Data (reuters.com) 163

A U.S. federal judge on Monday ruled that LinkedIn cannot prevent a startup from accessing public profile data, in a test of how much control a social media site can wield over information its users have deemed to be public. Reuters reports: U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco granted a preliminary injunction request brought by hiQ Labs, and ordered LinkedIn to remove within 24 hours any technology preventing hiQ from accessing public profiles. The dispute between the two tech companies has been going on since May, when LinkedIn issued a letter to hiQ Labs instructing the startup to stop scraping data from its service. HiQ Labs responded by filing a suit against LinkedIn in June, alleging that the Microsoft-owned social network was in violation of antitrust laws. HiQ Labs uses the LinkedIn data to build algorithms capable of predicting employee behaviors, such as when they might quit. "To the extent LinkedIn has already put in place technology to prevent hiQ from accessing these public profiles, it is ordered to remove any such barriers," Chen's order reads. Meanwhile, LinkedIn said in a statement: "We're disappointed in the court's ruling. This case is not over. We will continue to fight to protect our members' ability to control the information they make available on LinkedIn."
Microsoft

Microsoft Blamed Intel For Its Own Bad Surface Drivers (thurrott.com) 169

Paul Thurrott reveals a new internal Microsoft memo from corporate vice president Panos Panay which acknowledges "some quality issues" with their launch of Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. But an anonymous reader quotes a darker story from Thurrott.com: Multiple senior Microsoft officials told me at the time that the issues were all Intel's fault, and that the microprocessor giant had delivered its buggiest-ever product in the "Skylake" generation chipsets. Microsoft, first out of the gate with Skylake chips, thus got caught up by this unreliability, leading to a falling out with Intel... Since then, however, another trusted source at Microsoft has provided me with a different take on this story. Microsoft, I'm told, fabricated the story about Intel being at fault.

The real problem was Surface-specific custom drivers and settings that the Microsoft hardware team cooked up. The Skylake fiasco came to a head internally when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with Lenovo last year and asked the firm, then the world's biggest maker of PCs, how it was dealing with the Skylake reliability issues. Lenovo was confused. No one was having any issues, he was told. I assume this led to some interesting conversations between the members of the Microsoft senior leadership team. But the net result was that Microsoft had to push out some existing designs quickly to get ahead of the reliability issues.

The Surface Book ultimately had a 17% return rate after its late-2015 launch, while the Surface Pro 4's return rate was 16%. So though Microsoft later pushed to improve subsequent releases, Panay's memo claims that "These improvements were unfortunately not reflected in the results of this [Consumer Reports] survey." The memo also reiterates high customer-satisfaction metrics, which Thurrott says "supports the contention that I made two days ago... Customers who spend more on premium products tend to be more satisfied even when they are unreliable because they need to justify their own decision-making process."

"He also suggests that what Consumer Reports calls a 'failure' is perhaps overly-broad and that some incidents -- like a frozen screen or unresponsive touch -- are not 'failures' but are rather just minor incidents that are easily rectified by the user."
The Internet

'I'm a Teapot' Error Code Saved From Extinction By Public Outcry (gizmodo.com.au) 111

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: It started back in 1998 as an April Fool's Day gag. Written up by Larry Masinter of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), error code 418 -- "I'm a teapot" -- was nothing more than a poke at the "many bad HTTP extensions that had been proposed". Despite its existence as a joke, a number of major software projects, including Node.js, ASP.NET and Google's Go language, implemented it as an Easter egg. A recent attempt to excise the fictitious code from these projects ended up doing the opposite, cementing it as a "reserved" error by the IETF...

Australian programmer Mark Nottingham flagged the code's removal as an "issue" for Google's Go language, the Node.js Javascript runtime and Microsoft's ASP.NET... Nottingham's argument was that 418 was "polluting [the] core protocol" of these projects... It didn't take long for a "Save 418" website to go live and through the efforts of interested internet historians (and jokers), all three of the aforementioned projects have decided to keep the code as it is, though Google will "revisit" the situation with the next major version of Go.

The Save 418 site argued that "the application of such an status code is boundless. Its utility, quite simply, is astonishingly unparalleled. It's a reminder that the underlying processes of computers are still made by humans. It'd be a real shame to see 418 go."
AI

Elon Musk + AI + Microsoft = Awesome Dota 2 Player (theverge.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Tonight during Valve's yearly Dota 2 tournament, a surprise segment introduced what could be the best new player in the world -- a bot from Elon Musk-backed startup OpenAI. Engineers from the nonprofit say the bot learned enough to beat Dota 2 pros in just two weeks of real-time learning, though in that training period they say it amassed "lifetimes" of experience, likely using a neural network judging by the company's prior efforts. Musk is hailing the achievement as the first time artificial intelligence has been able to beat pros in competitive e-sports... Elon Musk founded OpenAI as a nonprofit venture to prevent AI from destroying the world -- something Musk has been beating the drum about for years.
"Nobody likes being regulated," Musk wrote on Twitter Friday, "but everything (cars, planes, food, drugs, etc) that's a danger to the public is regulated. AI should be too."

Musk also thanked Microsoft on Twitter "for use of their Azure cloud computing platform. This required massive processing power."
Microsoft

Microsoft Dismisses Consumer Reports' Surface Complaints, But Doesn't Offer Much Evidence 66

Microsoft has publicly responded to Consumer Reports, saying that it disagrees with the publication's Surface reliability findings. But the company hasn't offered much in the way of evidence. In a blog post, Surface chief Panos Panay writes: In the Surface team we track quality constantly, using metrics that include failure and return rates -- both our predicted 1-2-year failure and actual return rates for Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are significantly lower than 25%. Additionally, we track other indicators of quality such as incidents per unit (IPU), which have improved from generation to generation and are now at record lows of well below 1%. Surface also ranks highly in customer satisfaction. 98% of Surface Pro 4 users and Surface Book users say they are satisfied with their device, and our Surface Laptop and new Surface Pro continue to get rave reviews. Long-time watcher Paul Thurrott writes: Does changing the time frame from "by the end of the second year of ownership" to "1-2 year failure rate" skew the results because more failures happen later in a product's lifetime? Also, he introduces the notion of "return rates" here. By definition, the feedback that Consumer Reports receives is from product owners, not those who have returned products. If someone is almost two years into device ownership, they are not returning the product. They're just using it. And dealing with it. So consider the issue muddled, in just one carefully-constructed sentence. Which I believe was crafted to confuse the issue. But there is more. "Additionally, we track other indicators of quality such as incidents per unit (IPU), which have improved from generation to generation and are now at record lows of well below 1 percent," Panay offers. It's not possible to understand how an "incident" relates to a "failure." Mostly because he doesn't explain the term. Likely because doing so would betray that this is an apples to oranges comparison. [...] I will point the reader to Welcome to Surfacegate, my description of Microsoft's feeble attempts to ignore and then slowly fix endemic issues with those exact two Surface models. And anecdotally, I'll point to the fact that the three Surface Book models I've used have all had reliability problems. But the biggest issue I have with "customer satisfaction" is that it's kind of a bullshit measurement when it comes to premium products.
Oracle

Oracle Fiddles With Major Database Release Cycle Numbers (theregister.co.uk) 69

An anonymous reader shares a report: Big Red has changed its database release cycle, scrapping names that see decimal points and numbers added on for an indeterminate amount of time, instead plumping for annual releases numbered by the year. So what would have been Oracle Database 12.2.0.2 will now be Oracle Database 18; 12.2.0.3 will come out a year later, and be Oracle Database 19. The approach puts Oracle only about 20 years behind Microsoft in adopting a year-based naming convention (Microsoft still uses years to number Windows Server, even though it stopped for desktop versions when it released XP). [...] Well, Big Red will surely be using the revamp as a way to boost sales of database licences -- a crucial part of its business -- which have been in decline for two years running. In fiscal 2016, Oracle reported a 12 per cent drop in annual sales of new software licences, and its most recent results for fiscal 2017 revealed a further 5 per cent drop. And, for all that Oracle has shouted about its cloudy success of late, it isn't yet a major money-maker for the biz. New software license sales make up a quarter of overall revenue, while support for that software makes up a further 45 per cent. In part, the new numbering will be a handy marketing ploy. Rather than playing with the decimal points, a release with a new whole number could be an attempt to give the impression of agility in the face of younger, fresher competitors. Meanwhile, fewer patches and releases on each system also allows Oracle to know more quickly, and more accurately, what security features each customer has. The annual numbering system is also a very simple way of telling you your system is old.
Hardware

Consumer Reports Pulls Microsoft Laptop Recommendation (go.com) 126

The breakage rate for Microsoft's Surface devices is significantly worse than for other manufacturers' laptops and tablets, Consumer Reports said, adding that it was removing its "recommended" designation for Surface products. From a report: The consumer advocacy group said Thursday that it can no longer recommend Microsoft laptops or tablets because of poor reliability compared to other brands. Microsoft said the findings don't accurately reflect Surface owners' "true experiences." The consumer group says Microsoft machines have performed well in laboratory testing. But a subscriber survey found start-up and freezing problems. The devices losing their "recommended" status are the Surface Laptop (128GB and 256GB versions) and Surface Book (128GB and 512GB versions).
Microsoft

Kaspersky Drops Antitrust Complaint After Microsoft Promises To Make Changes To Windows 10 (theverge.com) 31

Security firm Kaspersky said Thursday it was withdrawing its European antitrust complaint against Microsoft after the software giant promised to make changes to the upcoming Windows 10 Fall Creators Update that have appeased Kaspersky and help its anti-virus software provide notifications and alerts to renew virus definitions. From a report: Kaspersky originally filed its complaint back in June, claiming that Microsoft disabled its anti-virus software during Windows upgrades and that the software maker was using its dominance to "fiercely promote" its own Windows Defender software. Microsoft admitted in late June that Windows 10 prompts to install a new version of anti-virus from third parties like Kaspersky after an update, but it disables the old version if it's not compatible. Microsoft now says it "will work more closely with AV vendors to help them with compatibility reviews in advance of each feature update becoming available to customers." The software maker will also provide better visibility of release schedules for Windows 10 updates, giving anti-virus vendors more time to test changes.
Google

Brits Look at Google and Facebook Every 210 Seconds, Says Survey (theregister.co.uk) 26

Ad companies Facebook and Google slurp one in every three and a half minutes that Britons spend online, according to a survey. From a report: This, says audience metrics company Verto Analytics, accounts for 17 per cent of British adults' time online, the equivalent of 42.7 million days a month across Google, YouTube and Gmail. Similarly, Facebook-owned sites, including the ad-driven data-mining website itself, Instagram and WhatsApp, account for 11 per cent of time online, or a relatively paltry 28.4 million days. "Google and Facebook's share of internet time and ad revenue is staggering considering the hundreds of thousands of websites that exist," said Hannu Verkasalo, CEO of Verto Analytics, in a canned statement. The Verto survey also found that of the top 10 websites used in the UK, the sole British one was the BBC. Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, "Oath" (the new name for the merged Yahoo-AOL beastie), eBay and Twitter were the others, along with Activision Blizzard.
Microsoft

Microsoft Dumps Notorious Chinese Secure Certificate Vendor (zdnet.com) 57

Soon, neither Internet Explorer nor Edge will recognize new security certificates from Chinese Certificate Authorities WoSign and its subsidiary StartCom. ZDNet reports: A CA is a trusted entity that issues X.509 digital certificates that verify a digital entity's identity on the internet. Certificates include its owner's public key and name, the certificate's expiration date, encryption method, and other information about the public key owner. Typically, these are used to secure websites with the https protocol, lock down internet communications with Secure Sockets Layer and Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS), and secure virtual private networks (VPNs). A corrupted certificate is barely better than no protection at all. It can be used to easily hack websites and "private" internet communications.

Microsoft has joined [Mozilla, Google and Apple] in abandoning trust in their certificates. A Microsoft representative wrote: "Microsoft has concluded that the Chinese CAs WoSign and StartCom have failed to maintain the standards required by our Trusted Root Program. Observed unacceptable security practices include back-dating SHA-1 certificates, mis-issuances of certificates, accidental certificate revocation, duplicate certificate serial numbers, and multiple CAB Forum Baseline Requirements (BR) [issuance and management rules for public certificates] violations." Microsoft will start "the natural deprecation of WoSign and StartCom certificates by setting a 'NotBefore' date of 26 September 2017. This means all existing certificates will continue to function until they self-expire. Windows 10 will not trust any new certificates from these CAs after September 2017."

Facebook

Inside the World of Silicon Valley's 'Coasters' -- the Millionaire Engineers Who Get Paid Gobs of Money and Barely Work (businessinsider.com) 226

Business Insider has explored what it calls the "least-secret secret" in the Valley -- "resters and vesters," or "coasters" referring to engineers who get paid big bucks without doing too much work, waiting for their stock to vest. From the report: Engineers can wind up in "rest and vest" jobs in a variety of ways. Manny Medina, the CEO of fast-growing Seattle startup Outreach, has been on all sides of it. He briefly was a coaster himself, and says he saw how Microsoft used it to great effect when he worked for the software giant. He has also tried to lure some "rest and vest" engineers to come work for him at his startup. Medina said he experienced the high-pay, no-work situation early in his career when he was a software engineer in grad school. He finished his project months early, and warned his company he would be leaving after graduation. They kept him on for the remaining months to train others on his software but didn't want him to start a new coding project. His job during those months involved hanging out at the office writing a little documentation and being available to answer questions, he recalls. "My days began at that point at 11 and I took long lunches," he laughs. "They didn't want you to build anything else, because anything you built would be maintained by someone else. But you have to stand by while they bring people up to speed." Years later, he landed at Microsoft and says he saw how Microsoft used high-paying jobs strategically, both within its engineering ranks and with its R&D unit, Microsoft Research. [...] "You keep engineering talent but also you prevent a competitor from having it and that's very valuable," he said. "It's a defensive measure." Another person confirmed the tactic, telling us, "That's Microsoft Research's whole model." At other companies it's less about defense and more about becoming indispensable. For instance, Facebook has a fairly hush bonus program called "discretionary equity" or "DE," said a former Facebook engineer who received it. "DE" is when the company hands an engineer a massive, extra chunk of restricted stock units, worth tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's a thank you for a job well done. It also helps keep the person from jumping ship because DE vests over time. These are bonus grants that are signed by top execs, sometimes even CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself. "At Facebook the 'OGs' [Original Gangsters] we know got DE," this former Facebook engineer said. OGs refer to engineers who worked at the company before the IPO. "Their Facebook stock quadruples and they don't leave. They are really good engineers, really indispensable. And then they start to pull 9-5 days," this person said.
Microsoft

High School Students Compete In 'Microsoft Office Championship' (latimes.com) 103

An anonymous reader writes: This week the L.A. Times described a 17-year-old from Virginia who'd spent several hours a day perfecting his technique in Microsoft Excel, "one of 150 students from 50 countries competing in the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship" at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. "At stake: cash, prizes and the clout that comes with being the best in the world at Excel, PowerPoint or Word. 'I'm going to do my best to bring it home for the United States,' John said as he prepared for the competition."

Microsoft's VP of Worldwide Education said the event helps students "to become more employable to companies that build their businesses around the Microsoft suite." For example, the article points out, "Past winners have gone on to attend Ivy League colleges and even work at, yes, Microsoft... Delaware resident Anirudh Narayanan, 17, prepared all summer to compete in the Excel 2013 category, 'looking up obscure facts just in case I might need to know it during the test.' He's hoping the skills he honed will help him at Carnegie Mellon University, where he will begin studying economics in the fall. 'I make sure I do a minimum of five hours a week in Excel,' Anirudh said. 'Then for a while I'll be on YouTube watching videos about Excel.'"

John eventually won the first-place prize in the Excel category -- which was $7,000 and an Xbox.
The Courts

Who's Profiting From The WannaCry Ransoms? (cnn.com) 31

CNN reports: For months, the ransom money from the massive WannaCry cyberattack sat untouched in online accounts. Now, someone has moved it. More than $140,000 worth of digital currency bitcoin has been drained from three accounts linked to the ransomware virus that hit hundreds of thousands of computers around the world in May.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian law firm wants NotPetya victims to join a collective lawsuit against Intellect-Service LLC, the company behind the M.E.Doc accounting software, said to be the point of origin of the NotPetya ransomware outbreak. An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: The NotPetya ransomware spread via a trojanized M.E.Doc update, according to Microsoft, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Cisco, ESET, and Ukrainian Cyber Police. A subsequent investigation revealed that Intellect-Service had grossly mismanaged the hacked servers, which were left without updates since 2013 and were backdoored on three different occasions... The Juscutum Attorneys Association says that on Tuesday, Ukrainian Cyber Police confirmed that M.E.Doc servers were backdoor on three different occasions in an official document. The company is now using this document as the primary driving force behind its legal action.
The law firm says victims must pay all of the court fees -- and give them 30% of any awarded damages.
Bug

The NSA Intercepted Microsoft's Windows Bug Reports (schneier.com) 52

Bruce Schneier writes on his security blog: Back in 2013, Der Spiegel reported that the NSA intercepts and collects Windows bug reports... "When Tailored Access Operations selects a computer somewhere in the world as a target and enters its unique identifiers (an IP address, for example) into the corresponding database, intelligence agents are then automatically notified any time the operating system of that computer crashes and its user receives the prompt to report the problem to Microsoft... this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person's computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim's computer..."

The article talks about the (limited) value of this information with regard to specific target computers, but I have another question: how valuable would this database be for finding new zero-day Windows vulnerabilities to exploit?

Microsoft

Microsoft and PayPal Add 'Send Money' Feature To Skype (paypal.com) 49

BrianFagioli quotes BetaNews: Microsoft has partnered with PayPal for a new way to transfer funds using Skype... "Today, we're excited to announce that PayPal is now partnering with Skype to allow users in 22 countries to send money to other Skype users with PayPal via their Skype mobile app. With over one billion Skype mobile downloads to date globally, users will be able to use PayPal directly from their Skype app to seamlessly send money in the moment...across the country or internationally," says John Kunze, VP of Xoom, PayPal.
It's part of a push to make it easier to share money, PayPal writes: Over the past year, we've partnered with Apple, Slack and Microsoft to enable peer-to-peer payments with PayPal and Venmo in more places and in more contexts where people are connecting online and on mobile, such as a voice command with Siri, in chat with iMessage and Slack, and in email via Microsoft's Outlook.com.
Communications

Is Microsoft Hustling Us With 'White Spaces'? (wired.com) 65

rgh02 writes: Microsoft recently announced their plan to deploy unused television airwaves to solve the digital divide in America. And while the media painted this effort as a noble one, at Backchannel, Susan Crawford reveals the truth: "Microsoft's plans aren't really about consumer internet access, don't actually focus on rural areas, and aren't targeted at the US -- except for political purposes." So what is Microsoft really up to?
The article's author believes Microsoft's real game is "to be the soup-to-nuts provider of Internet of Things devices, software, and consulting services to zillions of local and national governments around the world. Need to use energy more efficiently, manage your traffic lights, target preventative maintenance, and optimize your public transport -- but you're a local government with limited resources and competence? Call Microsoft."

The article argues Microsoft wants to bypass mobile data carriers who "will want a pound of flesh -- a percentage -- in exchange for shipping data generated by Microsoft devices from Point A to Point B... [I]n many places, they are the only ones allowed to use airwave frequencies -- spectrum -- under licenses from local governments for which they have paid hundreds of millions of dollars."

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