Microsoft Hosting Event Next Month, Allegedly Launching New Flagship Windows Devices

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 25, 2015 - 12:32 AM |
Tagged: windows phone, windows 10 mobile, Surface Pro, Skylake, microsoft band, microsoft, lumia, Intel

Earlier this month, Microsoft sent out invites to members of the press for an event to be held on October 6th at the Skylight at the Moynihan Station in New York City. Naturally, Microsoft was short on details on what exactly will be covered. The rumor mill on the Internet (surely the most reliable of sources!) is set on the idea that the event will be used to launch a slew of new hardware products and refresh its mobile and wearable product stacks.

The rumored products include at least two new Windows Phone 10 Lumia smartphones, a refreshed Microsoft Band 2, and new Surface Pro 4 tablet.

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On the smartphone front, the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL both have fairly generous specifications for Windows Phone devices (running Windows 10 Mobile). The 950 sports a 5.2-inch 2560 x 1440 display, a six core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 SoC, 3GB of internal memory, 32GB of internal storage, and a 3,000 mAh battery pack.

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Moving up to the 950XL allegedly gets you a larger 5.7-inch display (though it is still at the same 1440p resolution) and a faster Snapdragon 810 SoC (four Cortex A57 at up to 2GHz and four lower power A53 cores along with the Adreno 430 GPU). Oddly, the battery pack is rumored to be only slightly larger than the Lumia 950 at 3,300 mAh which may result in lower battery life thanks to the larger display and faster processor.

Both phones will also feature a 20 megapixel rear camera, a 5 megapixel front camera, an iris scanner for Windows Hello, Qi wireless charging support, and a USB Type-C port for data and charging purposes.

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Further, Microsoft is reported to be launching the Microsoft Band 2, a new (and sleek looking) wearable. The band, powered by an ARM Cortex M4 SoC and two 100 mAh batteries will sport a curved display and improved ergonomic design that can be used to see notifications, track your fitness, and interact with your smartphone using the built in microphone. The Band 2 is said to be compatbile with Windows Phone, iOS, and Android operating systems and connects via Bluetooth 4.0.

Lastly, rumors are pointing towards a new Surface Pro tablet being launched at the event though there has yet to be a consensus on the (alleged) specifications. Some rumors point towards Skylake while others point at Core M (Broadwell) being the processor of choice. Personally, I am leaning towards Microsoft using one of the new mobile Skylake chips for this possible Surface Pro 4 tablet PC. Broadwell with Iris Pro graphics would be nice to see, however...

In any event, I suppose that we will just have to wait and see what comes of this event in two weeks time. I do not have much to say on the smartphone or Surface Pro fronts (except that the tablet will be expensive no matter what the hardware ends up being, heh), but I’m liking the new Microsoft Band -- if they could somehow hit a lower price point I’m sold!

What are your thoughts on the rumors--what new hardware are you expecting to be announced next month?

Source:

Windows Update Fails to Install KB3087040 for Windows 10

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2015 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Well this is a problem. (Update, Sept 24th @ 5:30pm ET: Microsoft fixed it.)

KB3087040 is an update from Microsoft that patches Adobe Flash Player in Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge (and other applications as we'll mention later). The add-on has been vulnerable to numerous security issues over the last several years, which is a big concern whenever an application accepts untrusted data, especially when it is developed in a language with explicit memory management. It can be as simple as forgetting the sign of an integer.

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But that's not the problem -- we know Flash has holes all over that Adobe has been filling with calcified tears. No, the trouble is with Windows Update this time. On Windows 10, the update is failing to install with an error code. Workarounds exist to block the plug-in from loading, but on a program-by-program basis. Microsoft specifically mentioned Office 2007 and Office 2010 in their security advisory, which can invoke Flash through Internet Explorer even if your system's group policy to disable Flash in Internet Explorer. You really need to apply the update to be secure.

There is apparently a way to do it, too, but Microsoft has not recommended it. InfoWorld found the update's manual installer links, one for Windows 10 32-bit and the other for Windows 10 64-bit, and posted it in their article. Yes, they link to windowsupdate.com, which is an official Microsoft website.

So what should you do? I don't know. It's impossible for me to verify that InfoWorld got the correct version of the patch, because Microsoft has issued KB3087040 several times and mistakes are easy to make. It's also impossible for me to know if manually installing the patch will confuse Windows Update in the future. Both potential problems seem unlikely, though.

If you don't manually install the update before Microsoft fixes their bug, then you probably shouldn't use Internet Explorer, Edge, Office, or maybe even Windows Store apps that use Trident or Edge rendering engines.

Source: Infoworld

That free OS upgrade doesn't seem to have helped sales of new PCs

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2015 - 12:28 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, pc sales, microsoft

It may seem obvious to most that giving away a free upgrade is not going to positively effect sales but apparently not so to market analysts who seem to have assumed the release of Windows 10 would boost PC sales.  Most machines capable of running Windows 7 or a variety of Windows 8 can run Windows 10 without issues, with most problems arising from driver issues which can be worked around, so there was no huge rush to purchase a brand new laptop or desktop.  This quarter a fall of 7.3% in sales compared to this time last year is expected, decent in comparison to last quarters fall of 9.8% but still far from good.  The only increase in sales occurred in the smartphone segment, even tablet sales are down over 10%.  There is good news on the horizon for new hardware does drive sales and Intel has recently released Skylake and products using the new chip have yet to reach the channel in large numbers.  As the manufacturers produce more products using the new processor we should see somewhat of an increase in sales of systems though this story at The Inquirer suggests it may be 2017 before we see an increase ... perhaps some relatively good news for AMD?

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"So says analyst outfit Gartner, which seems to think Microsoft's latest Windows release hasn't done much to reverse faltering PC sales, despite the software giant having gone out of its way to ensure users download it."

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Source: The Inquirer

Who would have guessed? Microsoft's Cloud has a Linux lining

Subject: General Tech | September 22, 2015 - 01:06 PM |
Tagged: azure, microsoft, linux

It is a strange new world we find ourselves, where part of Microsoft's Azure infrastructure will be built on Linux.  Azure Cloud Switch will allow software-defined networking to be used on Azure for those who are brave enough to dabble in SDN.  Microsoft will be incorporating the OpenCompute developed Switch Abstraction Interface based on Linux, as The Register points out this is likely due to a lack of similar functionality in Windows software.  In this particular case Microsoft will not be reinventing the wheel but will wisely focus on improving the functionality of Azure and Azure based products such as Office 365 which they have developed in house.  The 'cloud' is a strange place and it just got a little bit stranger.

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"Redmond's revealed that it's built something called Azure Cloud Switch (ACS), describing it as “a cross-platform modular operating system for data center networking built on Linux” and “our foray into building our own software for running network devices like switches.”"

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Created a Private Linux Distro. Laugh It Up.

Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2015 - 08:28 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, linux

Azure Cloud Switch is an operating system, which is based on Linux, that Microsoft has created for their data centers. This software will be installed on their network appliances, such as switches, to let them control the features that their data centers require. It also helps them interface hardware together, since they now control the software stack regardless of hardware vendor.

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This is naturally making tech websites doodle on their calendars as the company uses Windows for just about everything. While basing a portion of their infrastructure in Linux is a sign that Microsoft is embracing open source, this is not the first time. Back in 2003, which is not a Linux-friendly year for the company, Microsoft used Linux-based infrastructure from Akamai to provide DDoS and malware protection. It worked. They have even been attributed as a top contributor to the Linux kernel in the past.

The OS is internal to Microsoft, but it is in affiliation with the Open Compute Project. I'm not sure if we will ever see the OS or its full source publicly.

Source: Microsoft

September Update of Xbox App for Windows 10 Released

Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2015 - 07:29 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, xbox, pc gaming

The Xbox App for Windows 10 was touted as a major feature before launch, but you barely hear about it after. I will occasionally get a notification that I can record game footage, or a little pop-up after pressing the center button of my 360 controller. Other than that, I barely notice that it exists. A lot of the functionality is useful to manage their Xbox One or Xbox Live Gamertag (do they even call it that anymore?) but PC gamers barely have a reason to open it. Granted, I expect Microsoft hopes that will change after enough Xbox-aware games for Windows 10 hit market. It's early days.

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Some currently use it though, and it has just received an update for them. Version 9.9.16003.00000 has added four new features, two of which implement automatic updates for friends and their activity feeds. The button to refresh is still present, which is always nice in case something goes wrong, but it shouldn't need to be pressed as the app should be pulling notifications from Microsoft's servers on its own.

The other two features are more interesting.

The Xbox App now supports “Console text entry”. This feature allows Xbox One users to type into the console's search boxes “and more” using Windows 10 devices, and, more importantly, their keyboards or keypads. A chat pad is being launched for the console soon, which plugs into the controller to give it a QWERTY keyboard, but supporting laptops is definitely nice.

The last feature is “Game progress comparison”. In the Achievements panel, you are able to click on the “compare” button to line up your achievement history next to your friends. As it turns out, Ryan has a higher score than me in Halo 3. That just won't do.

Microsoft has also announced that they will be providing a Beta app in the future, which will arrive later this month. You can pick it up from the Windows Store when it becomes available, if you want.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft Releases Windows 10 Preview 10547 to Fast Ring

Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2015 - 05:05 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

As we approach the first major update to Windows 10, Microsoft has released another build to Fast Ring users. Oddly enough, Slow Ring users have not received a single build yet, and rumors have the release scheduled for the October / November time frame. This build is bigger than some previous ones that we've seen, addressing issues from the Start Menu, Edge, Tablet Mode, first-party apps, and more.

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The headlining feature is an option to increase the number of tiles that are available on Start. Currently, you are allowed to have 512 tiles, but a switch will bump that up to 2048. This will obviously help users who have a lot of different applications, but I personally find myself using Search a lot more. I would like to see Microsoft support multiple instances of the same application, so you can select between common command-line arguments without having tiles on your desktop, bringing Search and Start to parity with it.

Object RTC in Microsoft Edge is interesting from a developer perspective, though. This standard allows real-time audio and video communication, which is commonly used for applications like video conferencing -- but that is not even its most important application. The base standard, Web RTC, allows websites to create network sockets, including peer to peer. Mozilla created a game, BananaBread, which uses this -- not for audio or video chat -- but for multiplayer synchronization without a server (except to connect the initial handshake). Unfortunately, implementations that I've used is also hostile to networks without UPnP support... maybe Microsoft will push that in a good direction.

Build 10547 is available now for Fast Ring users from Windows Update.

Source: Microsoft

Are you leaving us so Zune?

Subject: General Tech | September 17, 2015 - 12:52 PM |
Tagged: zune, microsoft

Much to the dismay of a certain PCPer, Zune is passing off this mortal coil as yet another iTunes killer that turned out not to live up to the creators hopes.  As of November 15th Zune services will be retired which means no new music or streaming for owners of the MP3 player.  You will still be able to play music as long as it is not DRM protected, once the licensing servers go down the protected content will no longer be accessible in yet another glaring example of how DRM hurts those who pay for content far more effectively than it prevents theft.  The Register does have some good news for those dozens of people effected, Zune Music Pass subscriptions will be converted to Groove Music Pass subscriptions.

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"Come November, Microsoft is killing off Zune – the very thing that was supposed to kill off the Apple iPod and iTunes. As you may be able to tell, that execution never came about."

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Source: The Register

Windows 10 for Enterprise gets a few new tricks

Subject: General Tech | September 9, 2015 - 01:31 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, enterprise

In the very near future sysadmins pondering a Windows 10 roll-out will have a few new features to test.  Enterprise Data Protection offers protection against unintentional data leaks by encrypting files so that they can easily be encrypted for all but licensed programs, ensuring installed social media applications and the like can't get into places they really shouldn't be.  It also allows you to wipe those files remotely, leaving the rest of the machine intact which will be handy in shops that allow users to attach their own machines to the domain.  Microsoft Passport will be another identity manager tool, integrated directly into the OS and they will also be launching a separate Windows Store for Business catering to the needs of companies.  Check out more details by following the links at The Register.

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"Microsoft says features of Windows 10 for enterprises that weren't available when the OS launched in July will begin rolling out this month."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft is a little fuzzy on what the word 'no' means

Subject: General Tech | September 2, 2015 - 06:37 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, KB3080149

It seems that not only aren't people leaping to Windows 10 and allowing Microsoft permission to collect their metadata but far too many who use Windows 7 or 8 are opting out of the program.  KB3080149 is a recent 'Update for customer experience and diagnostic telemetry' which will enable Microsoft to track your usage even though you explicitly opted out of the Customer Experience Improvement Programme.  At least the data sent is encrypted, little consolation for users as The Inquirer points out.

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"MICROSOFT HAS BEGUN retrofitting some of the more controversial aspects of the new Windows 10 operating system to predecessors 7 and 8."

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Source: The Inquirer