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What began as MDM has continued its evolution through MAM and EMM to unified endpoint management. While some enterprises have already moved to UEM, the complexity of the transition is holding most companies back — for now.

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Unified endpoint management (UEM), a strategic approach that unifies and centralizes the way enterprises manage their deployed devices, is finally becoming a reality.

Over the past decade, enterprise mobility platform vendors have been evolving mobility management tools from simple mobile device management (MDM) through mobile application management (MAM) and enterprise mobility management (EMM) into UEM, which encompasses phones, tablets, PCs, and even IoT devices. The market has arrived at the point where companies can use the latest mobility software to manage their mobile environments in perhaps the most comprehensive and effective way ever.

“A few key vendors have made UEM technically possible, with solutions mature enough to support enterprise-level UEM deployments,” says Andrew Hewitt, an analyst at Forrester Research. Those vendors include VMware, Microsoft, IBM, Citrix, and MobileIron, which can all technically manage the main mobile operating systems, Hewitt says. VMware and Microsoft have the most customers using their offerings for full UEM, he adds.

“We’ve even seen some larger companies successfully move to a fully unified model, inclusive of Windows 10 management,” Hewitt says. “It’s no longer just vendor and analyst driven.”

However, “there are still notable gaps in many of the vendors, in particular with macOS and Windows,” Hewitt says. “The vast majority of companies are still using multiple management platforms, with less than 5% actually using UEM.”

Many of the mobile platform providers are partnering with hardware OEMs such as Dell and Lenovo to develop joint solutions leveraging UEM software, Hewitt says. One example is the Dell Unified Workspace, which he says essentially enables IT teams to automate the provisioning of PCs. “That’s been a huge area of interest for our clients,” he says.

Interest in UEM is being driven by a need to embrace a more modern endpoint management approach, says Adam Holtby, a research analyst at Ovum.

Companies want a more streamlined, centralized, consolidated, and better-integrated technology platform for mobility, and this will drive

investment in UEM capabilities, Holtby says. The interest in UEM signals an intention to move away from the traditional management divide of fixed and mobile devices, he says.

“The ability to create and enforce one policy across the enterprise has become critical,” Holtby noted in a November 2018 report on enterprise mobility trends. “The use cases are becoming better understood, but the pathway to a more modern and unified endpoint management approach is one that remains complex.”

True UEM is still years away for most enterprises

Research firm Gartner thinks it will be three to five years

before most organizations with enterprise mobile platforms truly accomplish the transition to UEM. That is due to the complexity in updating staff skills and business processes and in preparing existing technology — especially legacy applications or those developed in-house — for deployment in a UEM model, says Chris Silva, research vice president at Gartner.

“The transition to UEM tools, specifically the consolidation of PC and mobile management to a single tool, is still taking shape,” Silva says.

One mobile platform provider, Microsoft, has shifted its messaging in this space over the last year to emphasize a “co-management” approach, in which Microsoft’s traditional client management tool System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) configures and manages devices, with Microsoft Intune UEM providing some additional management of the same device, Silva says.

Integration with third-party UEM tools, which Microsoft calls “co-existence,” results in SCCM going into a state where it can take no action on a device beyond imaging the device and providing a feed or inventory information to the third-party UEM, he says. That approach might face some challenges going forward due to the need for a Microsoft tool such as Intune to be present to help enable conditional access to Microsoft resources such as Exchange and SharePoint, Silva says. That could slow the migration for companies that are not all-in on Microsoft, he says.

Indeed, many Gartner clients are tapping the brakes on their move to UEM, Silva says. Some of those organizations that had planned to be “all UEM by 2020 are realizing that this approach invites a lot of additional work” such as modernizing applications and changing deployment processes, Silva says.

“It’s not that they’re backing off [UEM] entirely, but they’ve reassessed their approach and timeline. And in many cases [they] have given themselves extra time to get to UEM, realizing that a hard cut-over from traditional and key process steps like imaging a PC are not supported natively in many UEM tools.”

As with any workplace mobility initiative, Ovum’s Holtby says, a UEM initiative benefits from being championed by a centralized steering group or center of excellence that can help businesses realize value. IT needs to involve all major business units as part of this group.

Pricing and new trends

Forrester’s Hewitt says the costs of mobility management platforms has remained relatively stable, with some decline for commodity mobility management features, especially as these platforms continue to embrace Android Enterprise as a standard. At the same time, “vendors have been increasing prices for UEM-like features [such as Windows 10 management] and other items like analytics,” he says.

In terms of expanding mobile platform capabilities, feature additions at this point are largely minor “fit and finish” enhancements to handle specific capabilities or use cases for particular customer groups,” Silva says.

Gartner is seeing renewed interest from the endpoint management vendors on workplace Internet of Things (IoT), adding support for managing Raspberry Pi devices that might do anything from running a lightweight desktop thin client to acting as a DNS server or a smart appliance, Silva says.

Apple’s tvOS has also seen broader support among the platform vendors over the past year, and many might be looking to Amazon Alexa-enabled devices as the next frontier for workplace IoT, Silva says.

One expanding area of focus for mobility management platforms is analytics for functions such as app usage and security, Hewitt says. “Companies are looking for greater analytics to help guide mobility management decisions,” he says.

There’s a big focus on behavioral analytics for security reasons, Hewitt says. “Being able to baseline user behavior and track it for potential anomalies is a big target area,” he says. “Citrix has been doing this. There’s also a focus on end-user experience, usually on application usage and adoption. VMware has been doing this.”

Another area for analytics is coming from third parties such as Nexthink and Lakeside. “They do end-user experience analytics, looking at performance of devices and apps with the goal of quantifying and tracking end-user experience over time,” Hewitt says.

Another trend is toward browser-isolation technologies, which enable unmanaged devices to access software-as-a-service (SaaS) or other enterprise cloud services, Hewitt says. “We’ve also seen companies looking to use MDM-managed phones as a second [authentication] factor for [logging into] PCs and Macs,” he says.

As for what’s coming down the pipeline, “we’re starting to see more integration of dedicated threat detection capabilities for both mobile and desktop,” Hewitt says. “Mobile is farther along, but some vendors are starting to embed this for [desktop] client security too.”

Credit: , Computerworld

The self-hosted workplace messaging tool could gain traction with large organizations that must meet strict compliance requirements.

The team collaboration market may be dominated by Slack, Microsoft and other large cloud vendors, but some believe that open-source messaging tools will also find a place among large organizations.

Mattermost is one of a handful of vendors — along with Zulip, Rocket.Chat and others — taking an open-source approach to team chat. The company has been attracting attention from investors following deployments at organizations as diverse as Uber, Airbus and the Department of Defense. “People want an open-source alternative because they need the trust, the flexibility and the innovation that only open source is able to deliver,” said Ian Tien, co-founder and CEO of Mattermost, an open-source team messaging tool that launched in 2015.

One of the key advantages Mattermost has over cloud-based competitors like Slack and Microsoft Teams is that it can be downloaded and installed on private servers, said Raúl Castañón-Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research. A significant number of organizations will prefer open-source collaboration and productivity tools that run on internal infrastructure over cloud-based apps, he predicted. “These might not be as numerous as those that choose cloud-based products like Dropbox and Slack, but this is still a substantial opportunity that should keep vendors like Mattermost busy.”

Investors appear to agree. In the first half of this year the company closed two funding rounds, including a $50 million Series B led by Y Combinator that brought the total to $70 million to date. “We think that messaging and collaboration is going to be as big as email and web conferencing,” said Tien, pointing to Slack’s forecast of a total market value in the region of $28 billion in its recent S1 filing.

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Synergy Research Group predicted in January that spending on team collaboration apps would reach $500 million this year, a 60% jump over 2018, although the analyst firm attributed most of that projected growth to cloud-based services. According to IDC, total spending on collaboration software this year is set to reach $3.5 billion, with self-hosted software accounting for $920 million.

Mattermost was created by Tien and colleagues at game engine developer SpinPunch, where it was initially intended as a communication tool within its gaming portal. At the same time the company was building the messaging software, there was growing frustration with the messaging app used internally by SpinPunch’s staff. Problems arose after the unnamed messaging app was acquired by a larger vendor.

“The quality started to fail; it would lose data, it would crash, it was very buggy, and when we tried to leave, they wouldn't let us export our data,” said Tien. “We had 26 gigs of information in this platform, and they wouldn't give us our data back. We were super unhappy.”

Instead, the team decided to repurpose the code used for its game portal messaging app and create a business-focused team chat app that would free the company from lock-in to a vendor. “We ended up open-sourcing it, and it just took off. The result, Tien said, is a messaging platform with functionality that will be familiar to Slack users. “People loved an open-source alternative to Slack, which is what we kind of became,” he said. 

mattermost devops
Mattermost

The Mattermost app

The Mattermost server codebase is available to download for free under the MIT license, while the company sells a managed Enterprise Edition, starting at $3.25 per user per month, with added enterprise-friendly features such as corporate directory integration, desktop and mobile apps, and commercial support. There are also options to host the app on public cloud platforms. The application is now downloaded 10,000 times a month, Tien said.

There are a variety of reasons that organizations deploy Mattermost, according to Tien. Ownership and management of employee message data can be a major factor. The ability to install Mattermost’s software on private servers means that customers can retain full control over their data, which can aid in compliance with certain regulations. Organizations operating in highly regulated industries, such as banks, or within countries subject to strict privacy rules may prefer to run messaging apps on their own infrastructure, said Tien.

“Enterprises really want the choice. They say, ‘I have got a data center in the U.S. for federal government; maybe I want a data center here in Germany for these privacy laws.’ They just want that control and flexibility, and there is nothing in the market that is as flexible and trusted as open source.” 

Offering more control over user data could serve Mattermost well, said 451 Research’s Castañón-Martínez, and help the company overcome one of its major challenges, namely visibility in a market dominated by some of the biggest software companies around. In addition to Slack and Microsoft, Cisco, Google and Facebook are among those selling cloud-based team chat apps. “Self-hosted products are a compelling alternative for security- and privacy-minded organizations, but cloud-based offerings tend to have a dominant mindshare,” he said.

“Recent incidents such as Slack's service outages and privacy travails are putting the spotlight on the benefits of open-source, self-hosted team collaboration offerings like Mattermost,” said Castañón-Martínez. “This could give them an added boost in terms of gaining market traction in the near term.”

Another advantage inherent to open-source software is the ability to modify the code and customize the platform. More than 1,000 developers have contributed to the project, translating the app into 16 languages and creating more than 600 integrations with third-party applications, with an emphasis on devops and development tools.

As Tien points out, many startups tend to be keen adopters of open-source software, and the mindset is extending to larger organizations. “We think that enterprises that have software innovation as critical to their strategy, they are going to move to more and more open source,” Tien said.

Mattermost is aimed predominantly at the large Global 2000 companies. While the focus is mostly on tech operations and software development teams — Mattermost integrates with various devops tools — the aim is to appeal to a wider user base too. “It will start with developers, and then it will grow out to the people that surround, that are closest to that need for innovation and trust,” Tien said.

Credit: Matthew Finnegan, Computerworld

MACBOOK Pro is now infinitely more affordable thanks to new finance plans being offered by Apple that make an upgrade to its flagship laptop even more tempting.

MacBook Pro deals

MacBook Pro is now infinitely more affordable thanks to new finance plans

 

MacBook Pro is Apple’s esteemed laptop series that has always attempted to weave together portability and performance.

Additionally, the computer’s quality has always been poignant thanks to its aluminium enclosure and gorgeous Retina display.

Because of this, the laptop lineup has always been priced at a premium - the entry-level MacBook Pro starts at £1,299 for instance.

While Apple has not cut the cost of the MacBook Pro per se, it is now offering zero percent finance over a period of three to 12 months.

This means the cheapest MacBook Pro mentioned above can be obtained for £108.25 per month for 12-months.

Apple’s finance plan is conducted through Barclays and can be used on orders of £399 or over.

In order to choose the new payment initiative, customers should add a MacBook Pro to their basket and head to Apple’s payment and billing section.

From there an option to pay in instalments will present itself.

Apple introduces the new MacBook Air

 

Apple recently refreshed its entry-level MacBook Pro, updating it to a new 8th-generation Intel i5 quad-core processor clocked at 1.4GHz.

The Cupertino-based tech powerhouse has claimed this should make the MacBook Pro “two times more powerful than before”.

Moreover, the hardware now features Apple’s signature Touch Bar - it also comes with Touch ID, a True Tone Retina display and the firm’s T2 Security Chip.

Discussing its update to the entry-level MacBook Pro, Apple said: “The 13-inch MacBook Pro packs powerful processors, super-fast SSDs, all-day battery life and the best Mac notebook display ever into a portable 3-pound design.

MacBook Pro deals

A MacBook Pro can be picked up with zero percent finance over a period of three to 12 months (Image: Apple)

“Today, the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro adds the latest quad-core processors for up to two times faster performance, Touch Bar and Touch ID, True Tone to the brilliant Retina display, the Apple T2 Security Chip and immersive stereo speakers with wide stereo sound, all at the same great starting price of £1,299, or an even lower price for college students.

“With all these powerful features, MacBook Pro is the perfect choice for students heading into college and looking for the notebook that will help power them through graduation and beyond.”

Apple’s finance plans are available for every MacBook Pro model and can be taken advantage of right now.

Credit: Joseph Carey, express.co.uk

Although it rose to fame on the power of bitcoin, blockchain has rapidly morphed into an enterprise-worthy platform that could disrupt a variety of industries. Here's everything you need to know to understand this important distributed ledger technology and where it's going.

Computerworld  |  Insider Exclusive  |  Beginner's Guide to Blockchain
Beginner's Guide to Blockchain

It's been called a technology so unique that it could disrupt our digital lives in ways not seen since the arrival of the internet. Supply chains. Banking. Contracts. Real estate investments. Food supplies. Even personal identities.

All could see sweeping changes in the years ahead – if companies move smartly and don't expect blockchain to do things it can't (or wasn't designed for).

And yet, figuring out just what this distributed ledger technology is, and exactly what it can do for business, feels more like a quest from the Odyssey. Is it primarily aimed at financial services and cryptocurrencies? Or can it really be used across a wide variety of industries. (IBM, SAP, Microsoft and a number of other big-name tech firms hope it's the latter.)

With all the hype floating around, it's hard to separate what's real (and do-able) and what's not. So we've created this special report (in an enhanced PDF format) to help you out.

This collection of five in-depth stories will leave you with a detailed understanding of blockchain, the potential it offers and the pitfalls that could slow widespread adoption, or derail it entirely.

Inside you'll find:

  1. What is blockchain? The complete guide
  2. Blockchain vs. database: What's the difference?
  3. How to decide: Should you deply blockchain?
  4. Blockchain success: Making believers out of one time skeptics
  5. Blockchain Phase 2: Will it scale?
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Here’s what you need to understand the much-hyped technology and how it could be just the thing for business. IDG

Smart contracts are potentially one of the most useful tools associated with blockchain, and they can enable the transfer of everything from bitcoin and fiat currency to goods transported around the world. Here's what they do and why they're likely to gain traction.

Chains of binary data.
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Smart contracts are self-executing, business automation applications that run on a decentralized network such as blockchain.

And because they're able to remove administrative overhead, smart contracts are one of most attractive features associated with blockchain technology. While blockchain acts as a database, confirming that transactions have taken place, smart contracts execute pre-determined conditions; think about a smart contract as a computer executing on "if/then," or conditional, programming.

Essentially, once certain conditions of a smart contract are met – goods arrive in a port, two parties agree to an exchange in cryptocurrency – they can automate the transfer of bitcoin, fiat money, or the receipt of a shipment of goods that allows them to continue on their journey. Underneath it all: a blockchain ledger that stores the state of the smart contract.

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Understanding tokens and smart contracts

For example, an insurance company could use smart contracts to automate the release of claim money based on events such as large-scale floods, hurricanes or droughts. Or, once a cargo shipment reaches a port of entry and IoT sensors inside the container confirm the contents have been unopened and remained stored properly throughout the journey, a bill of lading can automatically be issued.

Smart contracts are also the basis for the transference of cryptocurrency and digital tokens (in essence, a digital representation of a physical asset or utility). For example, Ethereum blockchain's ERC-20 and ERC-721 tokens are themselves smart contracts.

But not all smart contracts are tokens, according to Martha Bennett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. "You can have smart contracts running on Ethereum that trigger an action based on a condition without an ERC-20 or ERC-721 token involved," she said.

Smart contracts can govern the transference of other cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin. Once payment is verified, bitcoin can change hands from seller to buyer.

Most enterprise blockchain networks don't use tokens, Bennett pointed out. In those that do, the rules in smart contracts govern how tokens get allocated and define the conditions of transfer.

"That still doesn't mean the token is the smart contract - it all depends on how the token has been constructed," Bennett said. "And tokens don't have to be about economic value; a token can simply be something you hold that gives you the right to vote on a decision; casting your token means you've voted, and can't vote on this decision again – no economic value associated."

How smart contracts mimic business rules

Smart contracts are neither really "smart" nor contracts in the legal sense. They're no more than business rules translated into software. 

"People often ask what makes smart contracts different from business rules automation software or stored procedures. The answer is that conceptually, the principle is the same; but smart contracts can support automating processes that stretch across corporate boundaries, involving multiple organizations; existing ways of automating business rules can't do that," Bennett said.

In other words, because smart contract code is running atop an open blockchain ledger, rules can be applied not only within the corporation that coded the smart contract but to other business partners permitted to be on the blockchain.

"In other words, they're code that does what it's been programmed to do. If the business rules...have been defined badly and/or the programmer doesn't do a good job, the result is going to be a mess," Bennett said. "And, even if designed and programmed correctly, a smart contract isn't smart – it just functions as designed."

Modum SAP blockchain IoT
SAP/Modum

Modum/SAP's IoT application that has executed a smart contract, uploading the parameters required for shipping a sensitive package.

Translating business rules into code doesn't automatically turn the result into a legally enforceable agreement between the parties involved (which is what a contract actually is). Although there are some initiatives aimed at making smart contracts automatically legally binding, that path – at least for now – fraught with difficulty and risk, Bennett said. That's because there's no agreed standard definition of what a smart contract is.

"And what happens if the software has bugs and yields bad results? Is the resulting loss now also legally binding?" she added.

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The importance of good data, and 'oracles' in smart contracts

A smart contract is only as good as the rules used for automating processes, which means quality programming is crucial. Also crucial? The accuracy of the data fed into a smart contract. Because smart contract rules, once they're in place, are unalterable. After a contract is written, neither the user nor programmer can change it.

So if the data isn't true – and being on a blockchain doesn't necessarily make it so – the smart contract can't work properly.  

Data is fed into blockchains and used for smart contract execution from external sources, specifically data feeds and APIs; a blockchain cannot directly "fetch" data. (These real-time data feeds for blockchains are called "oracles" – they're essentially the middleware between the data and the contract.)

Oracles can be software- or hardware-based. A hardware-based oracle, for example, might be an RFID sensor in a cargo container transmitting location data to smart contract parties. A software oracle, by contrast, could be an application that feeds information through an API about a securities exchange, such as changing interest rates or fluctuating stock prices.

In that case, when you're hedging risk on an exchange and a stock price goes up, one party will get money while another loses it. The smart contract determining which happens requires market price data, and the API for that comes from the data provider. That poses a problem: the parties involved in the smart contract must be able to trust the outside data source.

While blockchains may be decentralized across dozens or thousands of nodes, smart contracts are not. They run on a single node. The blockchain nodes (servers) have no visibility into how a particular smart contract works; any consortium of companies that are a part of a blockchain network must rely on one oracle for the information being fed into the smart contract.

If your company is part of a blockchain consortium – a supply chain, for example – it has no way to know what's running in the smart contract. There's no verifiability. Essentially, you have to take the word of the company running the server on which the oracle and smart contract reside that the information being fed to the blockchain is accurate.

"You have to go to one source, one table, one oracle for that data. There's no standard processes to verify the data is what it says it is and it's coming in properly. It's a central point of failure," said Gartner Vice President of Research Avivah Litan.

"It's not mature yet," Litan continued. "I've talked to companies participating in a consortium and asked them how do you know what the smart contract is doing and they say they don't. If you have a contract running your life, wouldn't you want to know what it's doing?"

Potential problems with smart contract data

Because oracles have traditionally transmitted data from a single source, there is no perfectly trustworthy data, according to Sergey Nazarov, CEO of Chainlink, an oracle start-up that uses multiple external sources of oracle data. Nazarov, in a white paper, wrote that data may be "benignly or maliciously corrupted due to faulty web sites, cheating service providers, or honest mistakes."

Chainlink has formed development partnerships with internet and financial services companies, including Google and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which runs one of the world's largest clearing and settlement networks.

The way regular contracts function today can be problematic, according to Nazarov, because one party may perform a task but the other party may decide not to pay – likely touching off a legal battle – or there may be assumptions made by one of the parties about a complex contract that may not be true.

"Those contracts are not rigorously enforceable; they can't be enforced by technology the way a smart contract can." Nazarov said. "A smart contract is deterministic; it can absolutely be enforced as long as the events related to its contractual clauses happen.

"Smart contracts are contingent on events; they're contingent on market events, in insurance they're contingent on IoT data from cars, factories or other equipment," Nazarov continued. "In trade finance, they're contingent on shipping data."

Chainlink blockchain
Chainlink

In another example, Chainlink created a smart contract for a media company that held in reserve fees to be paid to a search engine optimization (SEO) firm it had hired until news article URLs reached – and then maintained – search engine rankings for a specific period of time.

"That payment wasn't held by our client or the search engine optimization firm," Nazarov said. "It was held by this new technology [blockchain and the smart contract] that will programmatically enforce the contract as it was written. That's the fundamental difference."

While complicated to develop in the past, constructing smart contracts is becoming easier as new programming tools are emerging that move away from the underlying complexity of smart contract scripting languages, essentially enabling business people to pull together the basics of a smart contract, Bennett said.

"We're even beginning to see tools that allow business people to pull together the basics of a smart contract," Bennett said. "That's only the beginning, though, as some companies have already discovered it can be a challenge to ensure that every network participant runs the same version of a smart contract."

Edge computing, IoT and the future of smart contracts

Over the next several years, the massive growth in IoT connected devices could spur greater use of smart contracts. That's because a substantial portion of the estimated 46 billion industrial and enterprise devices connected in 2023 will rely on edge computing, according to Juniper research. As a result, addressing standardization and deployment issues will be crucial.

Smart contracts could offer a standardized method for accelerating data exchange and enabling processes between IoT devices by removing the middleman: the server or cloud service that acts as the central communication spoke for requests and other traffic among IoT devices on a network.

"Fundamentally, the idea is you don't have a central agent – no one approving and validating every single transaction. Instead, you have distributed nodes that participate in validating every transaction in the network," said Mario Milicevic, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a leading authority on technology innovation that has more than 500,000 members.

Blockchain ledgers decrease the time required to complete IoT device information exchange and processing time.

"It could be in an automotive manufacturing plant. As soon as a certain part arrives, that part then communicates that to other nodes at that destination, which would agree that part arrived and communicate that to entire network. The new node would then be allowed to begin doing its work," Milicevic said.

The rise of edge computing is critical in scaling up tech deployments, owing to reduced bandwidth requirements, faster application response times and improvements in data security, according to Juniper Research.

Blockchain experts from IEEE believe that when blockchain and IoT are combined they could actually transform vertical industries.

While financial services and insurance companies are currently at the forefront of blockchain development and deployment, transportation, government and utilities sectors are now engaging more, due to the heavy focus on process efficiency, supply chain and logistics opportunities. And that's expected to combine to make smart contracts more ubiquitous in the years ahead.

Credit: Lucas Mearian, Computer world

If you employ staff, you'll need a solid payroll system. We look at the best HMRC approved payroll software

 

Payroll systems are essential for managing company benefits, and most importantly, to ensure you pay your staff on time each month.

A good payroll system will do all of this while also offering clear information on what has been deducted. This includes pension, tax, national insurance and student loans.

accounts istock mapodile

Lots of companies are moving from physical payslips to ones held in the cloud. This means employees can log in and view then, and print them off if needed. This shift means that more companies are moving away from traditional payroll software.

If your current payroll system is not fulfilling your needs, or you've launched another business and need new payroll software, here's our list of the best payroll software.

Legal payroll compliance for UK businesses

Different businesses will have different needs, but there are a few things that all organisations legally require.

Employers that pay staff more than £118 a week will have to incorporate PAYE within their payroll. This is the system through which HMRC can collect national insurance and income tax.

You are required to declare your employees' HMRC payments and deductions prior to each payday (or your accountant will if you don't do your own payroll). This means you will need payroll software that will calculate and report on how much you need to pay HMRC.

According to Gov.UK, UK businesses should choose payroll software that can complete the following tasks:

  • Recording your employees’ details
  • Working out your employees’ pay and deductions
  • Reporting payroll information to HMRC
  • Working out how much you need to pay HMRC
  • Calculating statutory pay, for example, maternity or sick pay
    More information here.

All the software listed has been tested and recognised by HMRC. But for a full list of approved software, see here.

Sage

Headquartered in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Sage is a huge enterprise software company offering a vast amount of financial services. Its payroll software comes in various different forms, aiming to suit as many different organisations as possible. 

For businesses with 25 or fewer employees, Sage Cloud Payroll is a great solution, providing pretty straightforward payroll services. It will create payslips taking into account any bonuses, overtime and any deductions such as NI and pensions.  

For larger companies (15 employees or more) Sage offers its Sage 50cloud Payroll, which has a ream of built-in tools, a basic HR function and in-depth reporting. 

All Sage services are in line with HRMC legislation and enable users to access payroll at any time, meaning you can make changes and produce or print payslips easily.

Intuit UK

Intuit's Payroll can be used in two major ways: as a self-service product or a full service payroll solution. For both options, you can opt for isolated payroll software, or choose to purchase it alongside QuickBooks - the company's full accountancy program.

Whether you choose the self-service product or the full service option with Quickbooks, you'll be able to use 24 hours direct debits, calculate employee salaries, calculate and file year-end documents and access unlimited payroll runs. 

If you choose to use the payroll software alongside QuickBooks, you'll benefit from features such as income and expenses tracking, receipt capture and invoice management, as well as sales and sales tax tracking.

Xero

Xero is another accounting giant, supporting small to medium-sized businesses up and down the country. For businesses with more than four employees, to be able to use its payroll services, you'll need to purchase its accounting platform as a whole. So for businesses content with their current accounting solutions, you might want to opt for a standalone payroll platform. 

Xero does offer standalone payroll software, but you'll need to have only four or fewer employees.

Like others listed, it is HMRC approved and will submit relevant information to HMRC and keep up to date with legislation. Other Xero features include pensions auto-enrollment, flexible pay calendars, built-in timesheets, and NI, student loans, pensions and leave deduction management, as well as encrypted electronic payslips. 

All Xero payroll plans also come with the company's business essentials plan, meaning you'll be able to take advantage of integration with over 700 apps, 24-hour support and secure backups. 

MyPaye

MyPaye is a no-fuss payroll platform, able to provide pretty much everything you need to look after the payroll of medium-sized businesses. 

It can be used for its standalone payroll function, or as part of your greater business accounting solution. MyPaye can calculate all relevant deductions, including NI, pensions, student loans, sick pay and maternity pay. It can also submit documents to HMRC, generate P45s, enable employee benefit management and allow users to print payslips easily or share them via email. 

Different sectors will use different payroll cycles, and MyPaye can support weekly, monthly and annually payments. It can also run alongside some major accountancy software including Xero, Twinfield, Kashflow, Reviso, JustAccounts and Exact. 

Kashflow 

This popular cloud-based accounting platform offers comprehensive payroll services for small to medium-sized businesses. Its entire product portfolio comprises of accountancy, bookkeeping, and HR primarily aimed at healthcare businesses. 

Credit: Computerworld UK

The web was never going to be worldwide. The idea of one single global internet is an obsolete fantasy.

world privacy

Have you heard the one about the “splinternet”? It’s the idea that the internet could someday be split into different national or regional mini-internets.

It’s usually talked about as something that could happen someday, or that is beginning to happen.

I’ve got news for you: It’s already happened. The splinternet is here.

It’s time to stop pretending that the ever-increasing “cyber-balkanization” of the internet will ever be reversed.

Who and what is splintering the internet?

In 1996, John Perry Barlow penned “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.”

This naive and now-cringeworthy screed said, in part, “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” He continued: “We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”

The response by Governments of the Industrial World: “Challenge accepted.”

Barlow’s free-speech utopia never happened, and never will. Since Barlow’s declaration, the division of the global internet into separate, incompatible and walled-off mini-internets has increased, and it will continue to do so.

Here are the actors and forces that have already splintered the internet into many internets.

China

The famous “Great Firewall of China” is a collection of laws, policies and technologies that block foreign information and censor what users of the Chinese internet can see. It’s optimized for state surveillance (as opposed to America’s internet, which is optimized for corporate surveillance).

The Chinese internet is completely different in form, function and content from the U.S. internet. The Chinese internet is unrecognizable to you and me.

Chinese censorship of words and pictures is nearly total. China’s censors delete objectionable content automatically and in real time. Post the words “Winnie the Pooh” on Weibo and they are deleted before anyone can see them. (Critics mock Chinese President Xi by saying he looks like Winnie the Pooh.) The person who posted the censored content isn’t informed of the censorship and believes the post was successful. But the poster’s followers never see it.

China’s internet is an internet without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat, Flickr or Tinder. It has no YouTube. In fact, the list of blocked websites on the Chinese internet is basically all the websites and internet services you and I use every day.

Oracle said this week that the Chinese internet is designed more like an intranet. China can disconnect from the other internets at will and still operate its own internet.

Not only has China used vast technological sophistication to create a separate Chinese internet, but now it’s exporting those technologies to Africa as well.

Russia

In the last two years, Russian authorities have essentially outlawed online anonymity and private communications. They’ve blocked encrypted message services like Telegram. VPNs, internet filtering sites and even sites giving how-to instructions on how to access blocked websites are banned on the Russian internet.

And the Russian internet is aggressively censored. Google now censors searches on behalf of the Russian government.

Even my personal blog is blocked in Russia, a fact I learned while researching this column.

All non-Russian news sites have to be registered as foreign agents in Russia.

And the Russian state’s vast and aggressive disinformation programs strive to pollute the outside-Russia internet with disinformation, while simultaneously polluting the inside-Russia internet with propaganda that benefits the ruling class. (I detailed in this space the opposing messages about 5G technology promulgated by the Russian state inside and outside Russia.)

Russia has even created its own, government-controlled alternative domain name system (DNS).

The European Union

EU regulations prioritize privacy over freedom of expression. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the latest splintering factor. I spend a lot of time in Europe, and the experience of using the internet is very different there. The overwhelming majority of U.S. news websites are blocked in Europe, citing GDPR rules. The web in the EU spams you mercilessly with cookie warnings that nobody reads.

Europe’s “right to be forgotten” laws require search engines like Google to become increasingly inaccurate and non-representative of what’s actually on the internet.

And the EU’s new Copyright Directive will solidify and further separate the European internet form the other internets.

Despotic governments

Eritrea, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Tunisia, Vietnam and Myanmar also have censorship regimes so extreme that they constitute separate, national internets.

In fact, Freedom House’s rankings on internet freedom can be used as a proxy for the degree to which each national internet deviates from the U.S. internet.

Facebook

A huge number of people use Facebook primarily or exclusively when they are on the internet. Facebook censors according to local laws and dictates, and so Facebook is very different in each country.

Google

Google is one of the leading advocates and practitioners of algorithmic personalization and local customization. As a result, Google sites like YouTube are completely different in different countries. Trending and recommended videos are selected according to local or national languages, personalities and preferences, so that each country where YouTube is allowed in has its own local version of YouTube.

Why the splinternet is not the end of the world (wide web)

It’s an unpopular opinion, but the U.S. and British technologists who created the internet and the web, respectively — as well as the hippies who articulated the early “information wants to be free” ethos — were cultural imperialists and free-speech fundamentalists. The idea that freedom of expression is the highest value is a very American idea, which the internet utopians of the ’90s hoped they could impose on the world.

They couldn’t. It turns out that religious countries don’t want blasphemy and pornography flooding in from the rest of the world. Governments don’t want insurgents using the internet to overthrow democracies. Democracies don’t want fake news causing riots. China doesn’t want people promoting multiparty democracy. Russia doesn’t want Western news about Russian oligarchs. And Americans don’t want Russia meddling in their elections (nor does Russia want America meddling with its meddling).

Here’s another unpopular perspective: Nations that have gone the furthest to isolate their national internets from the international internet are in a far better position to survive all-out cyberwar than the countries (like the U.S.) that are naively pushing for a single global internet.

It’s time to stop pretending that the web is worldwide. It’s never has been. It’s not now. And it never will be. The global internet is a delusion; the splinternet is reality. It’s merely the result of national governments extending their rule to cyberspace, which has always been inevitable.

I’m sorry, John Perry Barlow, but the Governments of the Industrial World are not going to leave us alone.

Credit: Mike Elgan, Computerworld

ANDROID will receive a cavalcade of new features when Google expectedly releases the newest version of the operating system, Q, in the coming weeks. Ahead of its full debut, here is Express.co.uk’s guide to the best Android Q features.

Android update
Android Q was recently showcased at Google's annual I/O developer conference in May 

The new software makes a number of dramatic divergences from Android 9 Pie.

The American tech giant typically releases its new Android versions for Pixel devices in August, meaning it may be mere weeks before fans are able to get their hands on it.

As is typical with all numbered Android updates, devices from third-party manufacturers typically have to wait slightly longer before they are granted the latest and greatest software.

Android Q is currently in beta and 21 devices currently support the early software.

The hefty number includes handsets from the likes of ASUS, Huawei, OPPO, OnePlus and Xiaomi to name a few, suggesting they, and Google, are working hard to ensure owners of such hardware do not have to wait as long to get the newest version of Android.

While Google has already highlighted a number of major changes presented in Android Q, a swathe of others have been unearthed by those that have tested out the various betas for the software ahead of its full release.

With that said, here are the biggest new features present in Android Q.

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Android Q could launch in August 

Dark theme

Android Q’s headline feature is by far its new dark theme that will ensure all native apps adopt black and dark grey colours when enabled.

A number of third-party Android manufacturers such as Samsung and Huawei already offer a dark mode, but Q will mark the first time Google has delivered it in an official capacity.

The American tech firm has insisted the functionality should “reduce eye strain and save battery”.

Discussing the feature, Google said: “Many users prefer apps that offer a UI with a dark theme they can switch to when light is low, to reduce eye strain and save battery.

“Users have also asked for a simple way to enable dark theme everywhere across their devices.

“Dark theme has been a popular request for a while, and in Android Q, it’s finally here.”

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Android Q’s headline feature is by far its new dark theme

New gestures

Android 9 Pie marked Google’s first step towards making Android an experience that can be intuitively navigated with gestures.

9 Pie’s approach was not without its problems though - many, including Express.co.uk, complained that on Pixel devices the software struggled to recognise a long swipe required to open the app draw from a half swipe needed to open the interface’s multitasking menu.

Google is attempting to refine Android’s gestures with Q and this year the software’s traditional back button has been removed entirely.

Now, going back requires a swipe from the side of a phone’s display and heading home can achieved by swiping up from the bottom of a device, similar to what is already offered by Apple’s iPhone.

Commenting on the alteration, Google said: “Many of the latest Android devices feature beautiful edge-to-edge screens, and users want to take advantage of every bit of them.

“In Android Q we’re introducing a new fully gestural navigation mode that eliminates the navigation bar area and allows apps and games to use the full screen to deliver their content.

“It retains the familiar Back, Home, and recents navigation through edge swipes rather than visible buttons.”

Google Pixel 3a: Incredible camera capabilities demonstrated

 

Live Caption

Live Caption debuted at Google I/O and essentially allows a supported device to display captions for any media playing on a device.

The feature will surely be incredibly popular for those wanting to watch video on a commute or in a different public situation.

Google hailed Live Caption as a feat of its advanced artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

The Mountain View firm went on: “On top of hardware innovation, we’re continuing to see Android’s AI transforming the OS itself to make it smarter and easier to use, for a wider range of people. A great example is Live Caption, a new feature in Android Q that automatically captions media playing on your phone.

“Many people watch videos with captions on - the captions help them keep up, even when on the go or in a crowded place. But for 466 million Deaf and Hard of Hearing people around the world, captions are more than a convenience - they make content accessible. We worked with the Deaf community to develop Live Caption.

“Live Caption brings real-time captions to media on your phone - videos, podcasts, and audio messages, across any app - even stuff you record yourself. Best of all, it doesn’t even require a network connection - everything happens on the device, thanks to a breakthrough in speech recognition that we made earlier this year. The live speech models run right on the phone, and no audio stream ever leaves your device.”

Android update
Live Caption allows a supported device to display captions for any media playing on a device 
Improved notifications

Android Q will improve device notifications by providing what Google calls “suggested actions”.

Building on its smart replies feature, the function will prompt users to open different apps based on a notification’s content.

This means if a user is sent an address for instance, the alert will display a button allowing the user to quickly open Google Maps.

Android update
Android Q will improve device notifications by providing what Google calls 'suggested actions'

Greater security

Google is introducing a number of new app permissions in Android Q that are designed to make the operating system for secure for fans.

In particular, Android Q provides users with greater power to choose when apps are allowed to gather data, specifically location information.

If an app requests access to location data in Q, users are presented with three options.

They are:

• Allow all the time

• Allow only while the app is in use

• Deny

The second option is new in Q and does as it says; the software in question will only be able to take advantage of location information when it is open.

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Google is introducing a number of new app permissions in Android Q

Faster sharing

Google has stated it is improving how sharing works in Android Q.

The firm has announced a new feature dubbed "sharing shortcuts" that seeks to make it simple for users to transition from one app to another in order to share content.

Discussing the functionality, Google said: "When a user wants to share content like a photo with someone in another app, the process should be fast.

"In Android Q we're making this quicker and easier with Sharing Shortcuts, which let users jump directly into another app to share content."

Credit: 

ANDROID users are being warned about a terrifying strain of malware that's hiding in 'popular apps' for the Google mobile OS.

Android
Android users have been put on alert about a terrifying strain of malware

Android fans have been put on alert about terrifying malware that's hidden away in apps for Google's leading mobile OS.

Android is one of the most popular pieces of software in the world, with it used by more than two billion people each month.

However Android users are no strangers to security alerts, with some recent widespread threats being circulated via apps found on the Goole Play Store.

Six Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware.

While another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30million Android devices.

And now Android users are being warned once again about a terrifying piece of malware that is targeting users of the Google mobile OS.

Security experts have discovered spyware on Android apps that, at first glance, look just like popular programmes for the Google OS.

However, in actuality these apps are fake and convincing looking versions of popular Android downloads.

Android
Android is one of the most popular pieces of software in the world

The surveillance malware was loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play, Skype and PornHub.

The fake apps were discovered by Canadian cybersecurity company Lookout, and the apps were reportedly created by a Russian firm.

The St Petersburg-based Special Technology Center had previously been hit by sanctions over the 2016 US election hacks, according to Forbes.

Cybersecurity experts discovered the fake apps stole passwords and also turned Android phones into listening devices.

Easy way to uninstall malware from Android device

 

This was done via the Monokle tool which can record home screens of locked Android phones to steal passwords and eavesdrop on calls.

The Android malware has been targeting Google devices since 2016 with a spike in activity early last year.

Lookout said English speakers were among those likely targeted by the Android spyware.

Others believed to have been targeted are those in Caucaus regions and those interested in the Syrian Ahrar al-Sham militant group.

Android

The latest Android malware threat has not been spread via the Google Play Store 

In a blog post Lookout said: "Monokle appears in a very limited set of applications which implies attacks using Monokle are highly targeted.

"Many of these applications are trojanized and include legitimate functionality, so user suspicion is not aroused.

"Lookout data indicates this tool is still being actively deployed."

Android

Android is used by over two billion devices each month 

Google have said that none of the fake apps were ever hosted on the official Google Play Store.

They added that Android users should receive a warning if Google Play Protect detects the spyware on a device.

Credit:  

Breathe new life into tired computers by installing elementary OS, a Linux distro that feels like macOS.

elementaryos desktop

From Aurora to Zorin OS, there are dozens of Linux distributions to choose from. My current favorite is elementary OS. It’s a software shell that sits on top of the Ubuntu distribution. Looking a bit like macOS, elementary is meticulously designed and easy to use. You can pay whatever you want for it (including nothing), and it takes no more than 10 minutes to install.

Elementary OS 5 Juno is the current release. It comes with the basics (email, web browsing, calendar, and more), and an online AppCenter lets you add programs for everything from to-do lists to presentations to file encryption. The underlying Ubuntu software lets you use a system’s Trusted Platform Module (TPM) if it has one.

In this story I’ll demonstrate how to convert a budget laptop to elementary OS using a $250 Asus VivoBook W202N. With its 1.1GHz Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, the machine felt underpowered running Windows 10S, but I found it had more than enough juice for Juno.

elementaryos 1 asus w202n

Installing elementary OS on a budget laptop was easy and worthwhile. (Click any image in this story to enlarge it.Here’s how to get up and running with elementary OS, including some tips to find your way around the Juno release.
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Installing elementary OS

Get started: The first step is to read elementary’s installation guide (which you can customize depending on whether you currently use Windows, macOS, or Ubuntu) and then download the software from the elementary OS website. Click on the “Purchase elementary OS” button to help fund the open-source effort. It’s on the honor system; you can use a credit card or pay nothing. There is no commercial license needed, allowing the use of elementary on one or a hundred computers.

elementaryos 2 download

Downloading the elementary OS installer
Make it bootable: I converted elementary’s .iso file into a bootable format using a utility called Rufus; other apps, like UltraISO or FlashBoot, should also work. In Rufus, I clicked Select to pick elementary’s .iso file and then Start to put it onto a USB flash drive. It needs 1.5GB of space.
elementaryos 3 rufus
Saving the .iso file to a flash drive in Rufus

After opening the laptop’s BIOS menu by starting the system while pressing F2 (other systems might use F8, F10, or another key), I set it to boot from the USB drive. Next up, I inserted the flash drive and restarted the system.

elementaryos 4 bios menu
Setting the system’s BIOS to boot from the flash drive

Start the install and take a coffee break: Elementary gave me gives the choice of trying out the software, installing it alongside the existing OS, or wiping the system clean and starting from scratch. I chose to start from scratch. Installation takes 8 or 9 minutes, so it’s a good time to get some coffee or catch up on social media (on a different computer).

Finish up: When everything was loaded, I picked my language, typed a password, selected the keyboard layout, and connected to my office’s Wi-Fi network. Finally, I set Juno to automatically update itself. Unlike with Windows 10, this took just a minute or two.

elementaryos 5 username password
Setting the username and password for login

After a quick restart, elementary OS was ready and felt welcoming. After using the updated system for a week or so, I can say that it not only boots faster than it did with Windows, but seems livelier, with quicker responses from websites and in Google Docs. Elementary has given the VivoBook a new lease on computing life.

Finding your way around

Here’s a quick tour of elementary OS 5 Juno and some tips for getting the most out of the software.

Learn the layout: Elementary’s desktop environment, known as Pantheon, has a similar look and feel to macOS, with an app dock along the bottom of the screen and a file manager that’s reminiscent of Apple’s Finder. In the upper left corner is a link that opens to the Applications menu for browsing and searching your apps.

The top row of the interface also shows the date and time, as well as indicators for things like volume, Wi-Fi, and battery level. In the upper right corner is a power icon for locking the system, logging out, suspending it, or shutting it down.        

elementaryos 6 file manager
The elementary OS file manager feels a lot like Apple’s Finder.

 Work with windows: Windows can be resized, moved, run full screen (the double arrow in the upper right) or closed (the X in the upper left). There are shortcuts for things like closing a window (right-click), zooming in on the display (Ctrl-+), and going back a page (Alt-left arrow); the full list is at System Settings/Keyboard/Settings.

elementaryos 7 window shortcuts
Shortcuts can help you navigate windows faster.

Multitask and more: Juno runs fine with several windows open, and its Multitasking View (click the blue and white icon toward the left end of the dock) shows open apps. The familiar Alt-Tab key combination cycles through them. Juno also has a Picture-in-Picture mode (Ctrl-F) that lets you run one app (like a browser or terminal window) on top of another. I set it up to watch the live launch of a rocket while doing some coding.

elementaryos 8 pictureinpicture
Picture-in-Picture mode in action

There’s also a Do Not Disturb mode that eliminates notifications and other distractions. You can toggle it on and off by middle-clicking (with a three-button mouse) or three-finger tapping (with a touchpad) on the Notifications indicator at the top right of the screen.

Use hot corners: The screen’s four corners can be shortcuts for anything from maximizing a window to opening the Applications menu. Go to System Settings/Desktop/Hot Corners to set it up.

elementaryos 9 hot corners
Customizing the desktop’s hot corners

Add peripherals, tweak other settings: The horizontal switch icon in the dock opens the elementary OS System Settings. There, I added a printer and Bluetooth speakers and adjusted the date and time.

elementaryos 10 settings
Control both hardware and software in System Settings.

I also connected an external display to mirror the laptop’s screen, but the OS can alternatively extend the image. After I connected the display and Juno automatically detected it, I configured it at System Settings/Displays.

elementaryos 11 add display
Adding and configuring an external display

While I was on the Displays screen, I adjusted the display’s color by moving the slider control at the bottom. I also set up the Night Light function to automatically warm the screens a little at about 11 p.m. to get me ready for bedtime.

elementaryos 12 display warmth
Adjusting the color temperature and nighttime settings

Going to System Settings/Power reveals controls for adjusting display brightness and an option for automatic dimming. I also used it to control when the system goes to sleep.

elementaryos 13 power settings
Adjusting the system’s power settings

Add apps: While it doesn’t compare with the breadth of programs included with Windows PCs and Macs, Juno comes with some nicely written basic apps including a web browser, email program, file manager, calendar, and music and video players. Elementary’s AppCenter (click the icon in the dock that looks like a store) has more than 100 others that start to fill in the gaps for business users. Like elementary OS itself, the AppCenter runs on a “pay what you want” model.

elementaryos 14 appcenter
At the AppCenter you can supplement the small collection of apps included with elementary OS.

These days, of course, many web-based apps have gotten sophisticated enough to replace desktop apps. Personally, I use Google Docs running on Juno’s included Epiphany web browser most of the time.

If your company uses its own software, it can be adapted to run on elementary OS. The site’s Developer section can help with information about the software, design principles, suggested coding style, and conventions of elementary OS apps.

That’s all you need to know to get going with elementary OS. For a different way to breathe new life into an old computer, see “Turning old PCs into new Chromebooks.”

Credit:  Brian Nadel Computerworld.

Start asking the right questions — and stop freaking out.

droid scare

Graphic Mama - team/Shortword

  

Android Security

I haven't looked at today's tech news too closely just yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion some evil-sounding virtual gremlin or other is probably on the brink of invading my smartphone, stealing my secrets, and setting me up for a lifetime of dread and despair.

He might even be covertly eating all the salty snacks from my kitchen this very second. ALL THE SALTY SNACKS, DAMN IT!

I don't have to scan the headlines too closely to know there's a decent chance of all of this happening — because all of this happens practically every other week here in the Android world. A solid few to several times a month, it seems, some hilariously named and made-to-seem-scary new piece of malware (ViperRat! Desert Scorpion! Ooga-Booga-Meanie-Monster!) is making its way onto our phones and into our lives. Or so we're told, rather convincingly and repeatedly. (All right, so I may have made Ooga-Booga-Meanie-Monster up just now, but c'mon: It's probably only a matter of time til we see something using that name.)

In reality, these big, bad bogeyman are almost always sought out, carefully branded, and deliberately played up by the marketing departments of companies that have plenty to gain from perpetuating the idea that our phones are constantly under attack. They're publicity stunts, plain and simple — and pretty shameless ones, at that.

But hey, you're here. You're a step ahead of the uninformed and innocent smartphone-carrying masses — the men, women, parakeets, and Poké-people who tote around Android phones and remain at the highest risk of all. Not of getting infected by some vicious Android malware monster, mind you, but of getting duped by some misleading, sensational scare campaign orchestrated by a company desperate to profit off their fear.

Luckily, there's one foolproof form of protection — and it's information. I've come up with a simple five-question test to run on any Android security scare you see on this wild, untamed internet of ours, and I promise you: It'll save you and your mobile-tech charges countless hours of undue anxiety.

So read over these questions, sing 'em out loud in the shower, tattoo 'em on your thorax — whatever it takes to internalize them and remember 'em for the future. Then, you can become the voice of reason among your less knowledgeable friends, family members, co-workers, and kittens.

Ready?

1. Who's behind the "research" driving this story, and what's their motivation?

This is an important question to ask with any kind of research, really — but within the realm of Android security scares, specifically, it's rare to encounter a story that can't ultimately be traced back to some company that stands to profit from selling you security software for your Android phone.

And you know what? Such third-party security software is almost always unnecessary on Android. It's little more than mobile-tech snake oil, and that's precisely why the companies that make it have to resort to over-the-top scare-campaigns to trick you into thinking you need it.

Now, just because a company that sells security software is behind a security scare story, should you automatically disregard its findings? Of course not. But you should — nay, you have to — consider that company's motivation as part of the context.

These companies, y'see, devote a substantial amount of resources to searching for untapped security situations and then creating marketing campaigns around them. Remember, anyone can report a vulnerability to Google. These folks deliberately concoct memorable, scary-sounding names for whatever they uncover and then conduct full-fledged publicity operations to get their findings published in as many places as possible. And the narrative they push never fails to mention how their software and their software alone can protect us all from these evil malware monsters — while simultaneously downplaying the layers of protection that are already in place and making the threats of little to no real-world consequence for the vast majority of us.

And that, conveniently, brings us to our second question:

2. Is this threat related to something I'm likely to download and install, or does it revolve around some weird random app no normal person would ever encounter?

When you really stop and read the fine print of most Android malware reports, you realize that a significant percentage of them require you to sign into some obscure Russian porn forum to find and install a shady-looking app (which would then require you to authorize your phone to allow the installation of such an app in the first place — something Android doesn't permit by default and no corporate security policy is likely to allow in any circumstance).

Even if you do for some reason regularly install apps from random non-Play-Store sources, your odds of encountering something truly dangerous are still incredibly low. According to Google's latest platform-wide statistics, just 0.68 percent of devices that installed apps from outside of Google Play were affected by what the company calls "potentially harmful applications" throughout 2018. That's less than one percent, globally.

And when you look at phones that stuck to the Play Store for app installation — what most regular Android owners and certainly most business users do — the number drops down to a mere 0.08 percent.

Hmmmmm.

3. On the off-chance that I did somehow install the trigger, would my phone automatically protect me from anything harmful?

Let's go down a bit of a metaphorical rabbit hole and assume you did run into and install the scary-sounding app demon of the moment. That's already overcoming an awful lot of odds and venturing into pretty hypothetical terrain — but even if we play that game, chances are your phone would still stop the offending app before it was able to do much of anything.

Remember, Android has multiple layers of security: There's the operating system itself, which uses a sandboxing system to keep every app separate from other areas of the device and limit the ways in which it can go beyond those barriers; the permissions system, which limits the types of data and system functions an app is able to access without your explicit authorization; the Verified Boot system, which verifies the integrity of system software every time your phone starts up; and then Google Play Protect, which continuously scans the Play Store and your actual device for signs of suspicious behavior (and remains active and up to date independently, without the need for any manufacturer- or carrier-provided updates).

The Chrome Android browser also watches out for any website-based threats, and Android itself keeps an eye out for any signs of SMS-based scams.

Like any security setup, those systems aren't flawless — but they fail far less frequently than the security software vendors would lead you to believe. More often than not, even on the extremely low chance that you do encounter anything dangerous, at least one of those layers will keep it from doing anything.

And if not...

4. If all systems failed (including my own common sense) and I managed not only to findAndroid malware but also to install it and get it running on my device, what would actually happen as a result?

When we hear about problematic apps making their way into the Play Store, the apps are by and large programs that do something shady in order to make extra money for the developer — like click fraud, which accounted for more than half of all potentially harmful app installs from the Play Store in 2018, according to Google's internal stats.

Click fraud is just a fancy way of saying an app quietly clicks on ads in the background in order to run up a tally. It's by no means good or something you want to be involved with, but it's also a far cry from identity theft, data compromise, or any of the other life-altering fears these security scare campaigns tend to play off of.

Take, for instance, this week's terrifying-sounding "Agent Smith" malware (yes, I just checked this week's headlines — and sure enough, there was no shortage of examples). Discovered and publicized by mobile security software vendor Check Point (mhmm), the malware "exploits known Android vulnerabilities and automatically replaces installed apps with malicious versions without users' knowledge or interaction."

HOLY HELLFIRE! That's it: I'm hiding under my desk.

But wait — what's that you say? (It's hard to hear from all the way under here.) What does this blood-curdling beast actually do?

Oh: "The malware currently uses its broad access to the devices' resources to show fraudulent ads for financial gain."

Right.

Beyond that, the app has primarily been found on third-party app stores that, if you're reading this, you probably haven't ever used. And even inthose stores, it's typically tucked into "barely functioning photo [utilities], games, or sex-related apps," according to some fine print in Check Point's materials (fine print that, by the by, is oh-so-conveniently not included in any of the company's widely promoted blogs or press releases).

As I've said before, Android malware is mostly the terrain of low-level pickpockets who pounce on easy opportunities to snag dangling dollars — usually indirectly, at that — and not sophisticated identity thieves who infiltrate their victims' lives.

And finally:

5. Has any normal user actually been affected by this in the real world?

Lemme ask you this: Of all the folks you know who use Android, how many have actually been affected by legitimate malware on their mobile devices? Once you factor in all the caveats we just finished discussing, the answer — for most of us — tends to be somewhere between "zero" and "none."

And the scarier the software sounds, it seems, the more likely it is to be completely irrelevant to your life. Look, for instance, at this week's thoughtfully branded "Monokle" malware. (The "k" in "Monokle" makes it seem extra unusual and intimidating — and also has the side perk of making it easy to own as a search term. See what they did there?)

"Monokle" was uncovered by Lookout, one of Android's longest-standing security-scare-campaign orchestrators. The software, according to the company, "possesses remote access trojan (RAT) functionality, uses advanced data exfiltration techniques, and has the ability to install an attacker-specified certificate to the trusted certificates store on an infected device that would facilitate man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks."

Well, by golly, I think I've just soiled my trousers. Hang on, though: When exactly will this thing jump out and attack me? Oh — no one has ever actually seen this terrifying ogre out in the wild, you say? No one knows how it's distributed or has any reason to believe any normal person would ever encounter it in any way?

All righty, then.

But, take heart: "Lookout customers have been protected against Monokle since early 2018."

Yuuuup.

Here's the reality, my amigo: Android absolutely does have a troubling security epidemic. It's in the way companies take advantage of naivety among average phone-owners in order to create a persistent fear that serves business goals. Without that fear in place, these companies wouldn't be able to sell their software. And if they didn't sell their software, they wouldn't be in business.

At the end of the day, a teensy touch of Android knowledge and a healthy pinch of common sense will go a long way in keeping you safe — both from the big, bad bogeymen security software vendors love to tell tales about and, more significantly, from the software vendors themselves and the sensational exaggerations they never stop spreading.

Keep these questions handy — and make sure you're always keeping up with your own basic Android security hygiene — and you'll find there's rarely a reason to worry, no matter how much huffing and puffing the latest Android malware monster may do.

Credit: JR Raphael, Computerworld

APPLE has released iOS 12.4, the newest version of the operating system and here are all the changes it brings to your iPhone.

Apple iOS 12.4 release

iOS is harnessed by over 900million iPhones across the globe

Apple’s iOS is extremely popular, being harnessed by over 900million iPhones across the globe.

Every year the American tech giant unveils new, numbered versions, of iOS that introduce a swathe of fresh functionality for users.

At the firm’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) iOS 13 was revealed, the newest software version for iPhones set to release in the coming months.

iOS 13’s headline feature is its system-wide dark mode that will ensure all native apps adopt black and dark grey tones.

Not only does this ensure viewing content will be easier on users eyes, but it could also preserve more battery life when compared to its light counterpart.

iOS 13 is certainly not a one-trick pony though - the new operating system also delivers performance improvements, upgraded native apps and nifty functions such as the ability to choose a particular Wi-Fi network in Control Centre.

Between its yearly substantial iOS upgrades, Apple also issues smaller, but similarly important, changes to its operating system.

The latest of which is iOS 12.4 that introduces a new “iPhone migration” feature.

Apple unveil new iOS 13 update features

 

In the changelog for the new update, Apple stated the tool will introduce “the ability to wirelessly transfer data and migrate directly from an old iPhone to a new iPhone during setup”.

iPhones already posses the ability to transfer data to one another - however this harnesses iCloud to a great degree.

The new function appears to allow more data to be transfer between physical devices.

iOS 12.4 also provides a security fix for the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch.

Earlier this month a vulnerability within the wearable programme was discovered, prompting Apple to quickly disable it.

Apple iOS 12.4 update release

iOS 12.4 introduces a new 'iPhone migration' feature

Apple iOS 12.4 update release

iOS 12.4 also provides a security fix for the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple insisted it was “not aware” of any circumstances in which the flaw had been exploited.

As noted by the tech giant, iOS 12.4 will re-enable the Walkie-Talkie feature on Apple Watches.

Two other, smaller, improvements listed in the iOS 12.4 changelog is the enabling of FaceTime video and audio calling for iPhone and iPad devices sold in Pakistan in addition to the support for HomePod in Japan and Taiwan.

iOS 12.4 is available to download right now.

The company's changes to support timelines and its plans for each spring and fall Windows 10 upgrade will affect how often and when companies and consumers update their PCs. Here's how things could shake out.

windows 10 windows microsoft laptop keyboard update  by nirodesign gettyNiroDesign

Microsoft's latest update upheaval will have long-term impact on Windows 10, affecting enterprise and small business upgrade scheduling and pushing consumers to continue working as free testers for the company.

The biggest news from Microsoft's July 1 announcement about the-until-then-ignored Windows 10 1909 - the second upgrade of 2019, tagged with the firm's yymm format - was that the company is scaling back feature upgrades, true feature upgrades, to just one a year. What had been the fall refresh would, in fact, shrink to the equal of an old-school "service pack," last used with Windows 7.

Each spring, Microsoft was implicitly telling customers, it would issue a Windows 10 upgrade filled with new features and functionality; each fall, it would deliver a performance and reliability update based on the spring upgrade. That fall update would essentially be a more polished version of the spring feature upgrade, nothing more, with new features either absent or reduced to a minimum.

But the one-upgrade-a-year-is-enough revelation - as important as that is, what with Microsoft's harping that its Windows-as-a-service (WaaS) strategy rested on multiple upgrades annually - was not the end of it.

Yes, 30 is more than 18

Changes to the composition of 1909 will not change enterprises' opinions of the fall upgrade or update or service pack or whatever it's called: They will still gravitate to it.

That's because 1909, service pack status and all, is still numbered yy09, meaning that it's 2019's only version that comes with 30 months of support for Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education, not the measly 18 months awarded to other SKUs (stock-keeping units) like Home, Pro and Pro Workstation.

By supporting Windows 10 Enterprise for 30 months, Microsoft gave its best (and biggest-paying) customers more time to deploy an upgrade, thus more flexibility in when they initiate a migration. More importantly, the 30 months allows businesses to easily upgrade annually. Commercial customers had been calling for a slower upgrade cadence ever since Microsoft unveiled its fast development and release model prior to Windows 10's debut four years ago. This is Microsoft's response.

(Even with 30 months of support, it would be difficult for most enterprises to upgrade every two years. See this Computerworld article for details on the agility needed to pull that off.)

Most enterprises won't care that 1909 and its every-year-after-that successors lack new features. In fact, they'll like that. Corporations are conservative by nature and the less new shiny in a release, the less re-training, re-testing needed.

The service pack nature of 1909 will also appeal to enterprise, and not because it will remind their IT veterans of pre-2015 advice to wait until the first service pack before deploying a new version of Windows. More on that later, though.

For now, the bottom line is easiest to remember: The fall "upgrade" - 1909 this year, 2009 next, and so on and so forth - will be the preferred version to deploy as long as its support lasts longer than the spring alternative.

SMBs: Dealing with Pro

Small businesses running Windows 10 Pro on some or all of their PCs do not have the refuge of the fall upgrades because that SKU receives only 18 months of support for each version, no matter when released.

Picking the spring or the fall refresh, then, may come down to timing. A company that does the bulk of its business in the year's final quarter won't want to risk disruption by upgrading in, say, the late summer or early fall, and so may lean toward the spring update. Likewise, an accounting firm hustling during tax season won't want to touch their machines after Jan. 1; they might migrate using the fall "service pack" before they get busy.

Most Windows 10 Pro owners will be able to upgrade annually - skipping an intervening refresh - even though support ends after 18 months. (Check out this Computerworld piece for how that's done, complete with timeline examples.)

If the time of year doesn't affect the Windows 10 upgrade decision, the slant Microsoft's just given to the fall update may be the critical factor.

Here's why.

It's guinea pigs all the way down

Microsoft rested its rapid development and release strategy on several cornerstones. One was undoubtedly a major concession to commercial customers, those Microsoft has always favored: Not only would Microsoft test Windows 10 prior to release with its own staff (albeit less so than before it purged many of its QC employees) and rely on the millions participating in Insider, but it would rope millions more to field test the upgrade after launch.

That was clear from the schedule Microsoft devised from the start. Windows 10 Home users would be the first to get a feature upgrade - at one time there were to be three a year, but the pace slowed to two almost immediately - and would be forced to run each upgrade. Microsoft controlled when individual PCs installed each upgrade and decided how long they ran it.

Only after time had passed - initially the span was to be four months, but that quickly varied, at least until the implosion of 1809 - would Microsoft give enterprises the green light, telling them the feature upgrade was stable and reliable enough for business use. Over time, much of the formality of that structure vanished, including the separately-named "channels" or "branches" for consumer and commercial. But until recently, the concept remained intact.

That's beside the point. This is what mattered: Windows 10 was touted as more reliable, with fewer bugs, because non-commercial customers - let's call them "consumers" - served as unpaid guinea pigs.

Fortunately for businesses, the latest changes to Windows upgrade model hasn't eliminated the testing that others conduct for corporate users. In fact, the fall upgrade will have been tested significantly longer than earlier Windows 10 updates. (Whether that results in more thorough testing could well be a completely different story.)

Last year, Microsoft kicked off the release of Windows 10 1803 on April 30. Come June 14 - 45 days later - the Redmond, Wash. company declared 1803 fit for businesses, making for the fastest transition yet from consumer-only to enterprise-ready. This year, 1903 hit the street on May 21. Although Microsoft has not nailed down the exact date for 1909's launch, it has said it's aiming for September. Let's say Microsoft starts 1909 delivery on Sept. 17, the third Tuesday of the month. (Microsoft likes Tuesdays for Windows updates of all kinds.)

Those dates mean that 1903 will undergo field testing - with consumers for the most part, but undoubtedly some preliminary prep and piloting by enterprises - from May 21 to Sept. 17, or for 119 days. Remember, 1909 is supposed to be a service pack, with few if any new features. In theory, that means it should have no new bugs and, again in theory, it should be "business ready" from its debut date.

Any delay in upgrading to 1909 by an organization will only add to the testing-by-others total. If Company ZZZ postpones the start of 1909's deployment to, for instance, Jan. 1, 2020, the upgrade's field testing period would run to 225 days, or nearly two-thirds of a year.

The key is that the fall upgrade will be a new feature-free - or relatively free - version of Windows 10 that by definition should be more reliable because of the extended time in use.

Consumers...spring forward or fall back?

Unlike commercial customers, who will want to standardize on the fall upgrade/service pack because of its 30 months of support, consumers and very small businesses will have a choice between spring and fall. Each comes with 18 months of support.

But for the 1909 service pack - and its successor - to serve enterprise needs, Microsoft must somehow ensure that large numbers of Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro users select 1903 (and its springtime successors).

The company no longer wields the big stick of upgrade control, however; in April, it gave Home and Pro users the "Download and Install Now" (DaIN) option, which lets those users decide when to upgrade. Do nothing and their PCs will continue to run the installed version of Windows 10. Select DaIN and the latest refresh is deployed.

Although those wedded to Windows 10's original WaaS standard may think DaIN leads to anarchy, the debacle of Windows 10 1809 - the months-delayed fall 2018 upgrade that Microsoft yanked from distribution - may be a godsend. Because Microsoft appeared to dramatically curtail its then-ordered upgrades to 1809 starting in March, probably realizing that the late release meant butting up against the 1903 follow-up, a larger-than-usual portion of the user base continues to run the older 1803. According to metrics vendor AdDuplex, 58% of Windows 10 users still ran the older 1803 as of June 26, the most recent date when data was collected.

There's good reason to believe that most of those on Windows 10 Home or working at an unmanaged - or lightly managed - Windows 10 Pro PC, will, first of all, be pushed to 1903 in the next four months as Microsoft exercises its residual rights of forcible upgrades. Secondly, the bulk of those users will probably receive a new upgrade at roughly the same time next year, and each year after.

Even as the firm accepted that users should have a say over when their PCs upgraded to a newer Windows 10, it reserved some control for itself. As a version's support expiration date nears, Microsoft said, "We will begin updating devices ... to help ensure that we keep these devices in a serviced, secure state." A week ago, Microsoft announced the start to that 1803-to-1903 forced upgrade, citing the Nov. 12 support expiration of the former.

In other words, when users do nothing - do not select DaIN or initiate an upgrade using other means, such as a download image file (in .iso format) - Microsoft steps in and upgrades the PC, as it always did before. Users who, once on 1903, again do nothing, will be upgraded by Microsoft at some point four or fewer months before that version's Dec. 8, 2020, support termination. The feature upgrade available in August 2020 will be Windows 10 2003, next year's spring refresh. These users will, then, have run 1803 than 1903 and then 2003.

Because no one in software ever lost their job overestimating user inertia, it's likely that once on the spring upgrade path, they will stay on it. Doing nothing, after all, is easier than doing something. With the spring annual upgrade set for a majority of consumers and many small businesses, Microsoft will have created a large-enough muddle of guinea pigs to make field testing work for its commercial customers.

Questions, there are always questions

Naturally, there are unanswered questions about the new process, including whether Computerworld's analysis of the impacts on enterprise, SMB and consumer scheduling are accurate. As usual, answers may not be known for some time, if ever. But there's enough information to sketch the longer-term effects of Microsoft once again backing away from its more radical notions of WaaS and reverting to, if not exactly a past process (like service packs) then something resembling that.

  • Enterprises will standardize on the fall update because it offers 30 months of support for each version of Windows 10 Enterprise. Everything else remains secondary.
  • Some SMBs running Windows 10 Pro may choose between the spring's full-feature upgrade and the fall's service pack - for them, support is 18 months no matter which they pick - based on timing during the business year and their stability requirements. Others with more flexibility will want to consider following enterprises to the fall update.
  • Starting with 1909, the fall refresh will have been run in real world settings - if not in enterprise environments - for months longer than previous feature upgrades. That, of course, assumes the fall updates are as advertised: Almost exclusively bug fixes atop the spring upgrade. The additional "testing" of the spring update may translate into a more reliable fall upgrade than Microsoft has delivered thus far.
  • Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro users will continue to serve as volunteer testers because a majority - of Home, at the least - will settle into an annual upgrade each spring. (It's unclear whether Microsoft decided on the new major-minor tempo after the disaster of 1809, or simply leveraged it to good effect.) These users will be the ones who uncover post-launch bugs that Microsoft then works to quash before issuing the fall service pack-like update suitable for enterprise. Some in this group, however, will gravitate toward the more reliable fall update. Computerworld believes the latter will be a minority.
  • The cadence of full feature upgrade in the spring and the service pack in the fall will, to a great degree, separate the schedules of consumer and commercial customers. The former will tend to upgrade annually to the latest spring update, even if the process doesn't happen until the summer. The latter will largely adopt an annual timeline, but install the fall refresh.

Credit: Gregg Keizer, Computerworld.

We look into the new Prime Minister's policies on tech and his digital track record

A Boris Johnson premiership is now a reality after the MP Uxbridge and South Ruislip was elected new Conservative leader in a ballot of party members.

Johnson has inherited a political crisis that is partly of his making and his policy on Brexit is the subject that has attracted the most attention from the tech sector.

© Open Government License

Silicon Valley Bank, a high-tech commercial bank, said that 72 percent of the UK executives it polled questioned believed that leaving the EU would have a negative effect upon their business. Their chief concerns are that the country will leave the single market, no longer be as attractive to European founders, that foreign talent will become less accessible and that there will be less support available from EU and venture capital funding.

Julian David, CEO of IT trade association techUK, responded to the election result by urging Johnson to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

"TechUK's members have repeatedly warned of the damaging impact that a No Deal Brexit would have on their business and we would urge Mr. Johnson to put all the talent and resources at his disposal to the task of avoiding this outcome,"  he said. "This will be vital if we are to succeed in securing many of the opportunities that lie ahead for the UK beyond Brexit."

The new prime minister is also expected to reverse some of the controls on public spending imposed by current chancellor Phillip Hammond. An advisor of Johnson told the Telegraph that he was aiming for "a fiscal loosening of less than one percent of total public spending".

How much of this extra government funding goes to the tech sector remains to be seen. His pledge to lift the higher rate income tax threshold from £50,000 to £80,000 could be a boon to some IT professionals, but lower earners in the gig economy may be concerned by his support for restrictions on trade union activity.

Broadband promise

Johnson's leadership campaign contained little about tech policy beyond a pledge to roll out full fibre broadband across the UK by 2025, eight years ahead of the government's current target of 2033.

Richard Watts, sales and marketing director of VX Fiber, a digital infrastructure company, believes the target is currently not realistic.

"UK government funds and initiatives such as the Digital Infrastructure Investment (DIIF) fund investing in fibre rollout, and the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Challenge fund, are going some way to help with this," he said. 

"But there are crucial considerations that need to be addressed if we are to oil the wheels of the UK's 5G and broadband machine. Deploying the infrastructure (full fibre network) takes time – it requires updated planning policies, regulation and collaboration between local authorities, councils and the companies deploying the fibre."

 

Johnson has suggested that technological solutions could prevent a hard Irish border, despite the Home Secretary's Policy Unit believing such a system could be more than a decade away, and has called for new income tax on global technology giants 

"I think it's deeply unfair that high street businesses are paying tax through the nose... whereas the internet giants, the FAANGs - Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google - are paying virtually nothing," he said. "We've got to find a way of taxing the internet giants on their income, because at the moment it is simply unfair."

Record as MP and Mayor

London became a global tech hub during Johnson's eight-year stint as mayor that ended in 2016, but the results of the digital initiatives he introduced has varied. 

His supporters will point to the success of Tech City, which Johnson and then-Prime Minister David Cameron launched in November 2010 with the objective of supporting the growth of the "Silicon Roundabout" technology cluster in Old Street.

The area has hosted headquarters for unicorns including Deliveroo and Monzo, hubs for the likes of Google and Cisco and partnerships with a number of universities. In 2012, Tech City was estimated to have the third-highest concentration of startups in the world behind New York and San Francisco.

Less successful were the Million Pound Startup competition, which was closed because none of the 1,000 entrants were deemed worthy of the £1 million prize, and the Digital Shoreditch Festival, which the Guardianreported was cancelled due to a lack of resources

Other initiatives introduced under Johnson included the £24 million London Schools Excellence Fund for computer science projects; the London Tech Ambassadors Group to promote the sector's interests; the International Business Programme, which gives fast-growth businesses mentoring and private sector backing to help them scale overseas; and a £25 million contribution to the London Co-Investment Fund for small tech companies.

Johnson's tenure as an MP also featured little action on tech, although he historically voted for the retention of personal and online data as part of the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act (the 'Snoopers' Charter').

His reputation in the tech sector divides opinion and little is known about his digital plans for the future. He has promised to be "the most pro-business PM" but also infamously remarked "f*** business". His actions as prime minister will prove which of these is truer.

Credit: Tom Macaulay, Computerworld UK

Don’t let your users’ web browsing put your company at risk. Here are nine things you can do to help secure browsers in the enterprise.

digital security concept > lock / keyhole / circuits / network connectionsZapp2Photo 

Keeping your users’ browsers secure is essential. The browser companies work hard to block the attackers by sealing the back doors, side doors, and cracks in between, but that isn’t always enough. Some useful features have dark sides, and enterprises can increase security dramatically by shutting down or tightly limiting access to these options.

The freedom to download arbitrary files, for instance, is essential for installing new software, but it’s also a dangerous vector for attacks. If the users in your office don’t need to add new software on their own, blocking all downloads is a harsh but simple way to stop many attacks.

Most of the job is making tough decisions about whether the people in the office (and which ones) need access to various features, both their good and bad sides. No one likes to have their freedom curtailed, but the dangers of an attack are so great that locking down the machines and shutting down options is often a prudent decision.

Here are nine important steps that IT can take to keep users’ browsers running smoothly and securely.

1. Learn your way around the enterprise control options

The most important step you can take to protect users’ browsers is to take control of them with corporate policies that govern them. Most of the major browser makers provide enterprise tools for doing just that.

Of course, different machines may need different levels of control. A public computer used by guests should be configured differently than ones used by employees. And certain types of workers, such as programmers, need more flexibility than other employees. In some cases, admins may choose not to centrally control those users’ browsers at all, but most enterprise policy tools do give you the ability to assign different permissions to different groups of employees.

Each combination of browser and operating system uses a slightly different format for providing what are, in essence, a big, long set of switches for turning off features. Mozilla’s Firefox Enterprise, for instance, provides ADM and ADMX (Windows group policy) templates for Windows, a plist (macOS policy management) template for Macs, and a JSON file for Linux. Google offers a variety of cloud and on-premises tools for managing Chrome, including some templates for Windows, Mac, and Linux machines that make a good starting point for locking down Chrome in the enterprise.

Safari is governed by Apple’s device management tools for business, while the current version of the Edge browser is governed by Microsoft Group Policy and Intune. Microsoft says it will replace this version of Edge with a whole new version based on the open-source Chromium engine, upon which Google Chrome is also based, later this year. The company has previewed a catalog of group polices that enterprises can use to govern the new version of Edge on Windows and macOS devices. At some point in the future, admins will be able to configure the Chromium-based Edge through Intune and System Center Configuration Center, Microsoft says.

The list of options available for each browser is too long to explore in detail here, and it includes some obvious options like blocking certain sites as well as many arcane options like disabling outdated plugins. Chrome, for instance, lets you block Flash or JavaScript from running on particular sites. Firefox can be configured to minimize the debugging information sent back to Mozilla in case it might leak information.

The best way to make use of these settings is to wade in and start determining what is best for your office. The templates make a good starting point, but only you can decide what your team needs.

2. Install all patches and updates

The simplest way to prevent trouble is to install the latest version of each browser on all machines that run it as soon as possible. If there’s a patch, install it immediately. If there’s a new version, replace the old one.

You could set your users’ browsers to automatically install new versions as they roll out, but many IT teams like to control the installations. They might want to time them for off-peak hours or test important web apps before updating browsers throughout the organization. For them, “set it and forget it” isn’t an option for browser updates.

This can be tiresome, because the browser companies have increased the pace of updates – new versions of Chrome and Firefox come out every six to eight weeks. Edge and Safari are considered part of their respective OSes, so major updates typically occur just twice a year for Windows 10/Edge and once a year for macOS/Safari, with additional security or bug-fix releases throughout the year. The release pace is expected to pick up for Edge when the new Chromium-based version is released, but Microsoft hasn’t committed to a set schedule.

No matter how frequently they come, keeping up with the updates is essential. Just ask anyone using one of the hundreds of thousands of computers across the globe infected by the WannaCry ransomware in 2017. The exploit took advantage of a flaw in Windows for which Microsoft had released a patch a month prior to the outbreak, but many systems remained unpatched — including those of the UK’s National Health Service, which estimated that the attack cost it £92,000 (approximately $100,000).

Mozilla does offer some relief for companies that don’t want to deploy all updates immediately: Firefox Enterprise is available in two major distributions: the regular six-to-eight-week “rapid release” and an “extended support release” that emerges less often for companies that want to test their internal web applications to make sure everything keeps working. Firefox has also enhanced its profile system to let administrators test different versions on the same machine.

Google offers four different Chrome channels that include increasing amounts of new code. The Canary channel is released as soon as the build finishes but before any rigorous testing. It’s only for teams that need bleeding edge features. The Dev channel gives developers a 9- to 12-week preview of what’s coming so they can test their applications on it. Better choices for the enterprise are the Beta channel and the Stable channel, which are updated every two to six weeks after internal testing.

The upcoming Chromium-based version of Edge will likely follow a similar four-channel approach. Admins will have a number of policies for controlling updates, including the ability to pause new releases for testing.

3. Limit plugins and extensions

Plugins and extensions offer the opportunity to configure and extend browsers to do much more than just load and display web pages. Unfortunately, this feature is easy to abuse, because it offers extension developers almost unfettered access to incoming web pages.

The simplest solution is to ban all plugins and extensions. This isn’t always possible or desirable, though, because some extensions can be essential for business users. The TeamPassword extension, for instance, lets a group share passwords for accounts that they use together. Or groups that must account for their time often choose a standard extension that records their hours, such as TMetric or Clockify.

The browser makers’ policy management tools offer broad options for controlling extensions. Chrome’s templates, for instance, let you blacklist specific extensions or block all extensions that don’t appear on a whitelist.

If you absolutely need to allow an extension, test it thoroughly and scrutinize the source carefully. Many free software packages on the web offer a very useful service while hiding nefarious purposes behind the helpful facade.

4. Watch for new ways to block content and tracking

Browser makers are always enhancing their blocking capabilities to offer more options. Firefox, for instance, introduced a feature in version 67 that lets you stop abusive scripts that try to hijack the cycles on users’ machines to mine for bitcoin.

Read the release notes for each new version that comes out, because it may require you to make a decision about a new blocking option. In many cases, you’ll want to make sure new optional shields are turned on for your users.

5. Block some outside sites (but tread carefully)

One of the biggest challenges in locking down corporate browsers is understanding when to block outside sites. Some decisions are easy (e.g., porn sites), but others are fraught with tradeoffs. Letting everyone read personal email through their browser, for instance, is one of the simplest ways to enable possible attacks where seemingly innocuous content hides malicious code. But blocking outside email forces everyone to find other ways to manage personal issues from families, schools, doctors and more, and this will drive people into the hands of more dangerous options.

Facebook presents a similar conundrum. It can be a dangerous path for targeted attacks and surveillance, but many employees rely upon it to communicate with family members and friends. To help, Mozilla developed a Facebook Container extension for Firefox that runs Facebook in a tightly limited sandbox. The idea is to isolate individuals’ Facebook identities, making it harder for Facebook to track users’ other web activities with third-party cookies. As an IT admin running Firefox Enterprise, you can either force installation of Facebook Container or make it available to users and encourage them to install it.

6. Maintain multiple browsers if necessary

Sometimes not every browser is right for each task, especially when you’re maintaining legacy software that works best with older browsers. With the current version of Edge, Microsoft offers an “Enterprise Mode” that switches between Edge and the older Internet Explorer 11. Edge is more secure than IE, but it can’t display sites that use older technologies like ActiveX controls. So users mainly browse in Edge, but the browser automatically launches an IE window when it comes to designated URLs that require legacy technology.

Google offers a Chrome extension for the same purpose, and various third-party extensions are available for Firefox.

Note that this approach may change. Microsoft says its upcoming Chromium-based Edge will have a new “Internet Explorer mode” that will run legacy sites inside Edge itself. In the meantime, matching the best option to each site means that the best security is running in each instance.

7. Regularly clear browsing data

Most data that’s stored in a browser was put there by a web site with good intentions. Cookies and other private data let everyone log in faster and maintain a customized experience with their local machine.

But there are lots of secrets hidden in users’ browser history and cookies. One example is research about future products or strategic directions for the company. Knowing what a company is researching is very valuable to competitors.

To protect such data, it can be helpful to regularly wipe away the local data of some or even all websites your users have visited or to prevent it from being saved in the first place. The browser makers offer various options for doing so, including Chrome’s “ephemeral mode,” which wipes everything clean when the user session ends.

You could argue that cookies harbor more secrets than browsing history or vice versa, but it’s simpler just to wipe all such data. This can be a bit harsh, especially if it forces users to log in again or wait for more data to be downloaded, but it’s smart security, and it can also be liberating by removing crufty echoes of the past.

8. Use kiosk mode for some machines

An extreme method for locking down browsers is to run them in kiosk mode. This limits what users can do, typically by running the browser in full-screen mode, disabling options like the ability to install add-ons, and preventing users from accessing any apps outside the browser. Some kiosk mode configurations also limit users to viewing just a few designated web pages. Both Chrome and Edge offer kiosk mode options.

The solution is too harsh for the average employee, but it can be a smart choice for machines that are publicly accessible or dedicated to a particular task like tracking inventory or acting as a point-of-sale terminal.

9. Ask for outside help

Installing a browser isn’t hard, but it becomes a lot more complex when you’re configuring, deploying and maintaining browsers on hundreds or thousands of machines. The browser companies offer various support services focused on the challenge of keeping many enterprise machines in synchrony. Google, for instance, offers Enterprise support for Chrome to companies with more than 1,000 users. They will answer questions and offer guidance on customizing the enterprise policy templates that limit what users can do with Chrome.

Mozilla’s support is less extensive, but it offers a small Firefox Enterprise knowledge base and maintains an Enterprise User Working Group mailing list where developers and IT admins discuss solutions. And Microsoft has launched a new Enterprise section of its Edge Insider site with links to documentation about the upcoming Chromium-based Edge and a forumfor IT pros and Microsoft engineers to discuss the new browser.

Credit: Peter Wayner, Computerworld

GOOGLE Chrome might be the most used browser in the world but one of its biggest rivals may be set for a vital change that could prove hugely popular.

Google Chrome

Google Chrome rival brings a new feature to its browser

 

Google Chrome seems pretty unstoppable.

The web browser goes from strength to strength with latest reports from NetMarketShare suggesting it now has a huge 62.9 per cent market share.

However, despite its popularity, one of its closest rivals looks set to release a feature that could convince some users to make at the switch.

Mozilla’s Firefox is thought to be planning a release which will instantly tell users if their user names and passwords have been breached.

As spotted by Bleeping Computer, the change has been made possible by Mozilla integrating their Monitor service and Lockwise password manager into the Firefox browser.

Via a partnership with the Have I Been Pwned data breach site, the new update will check all user names and passwords against the listed breaches to see if everything is safe and secure.

If it spots a problem, users will be alerted and advised to change their settings.

Bleeping Computer is also reporting that Mozilla plans to display full stats for the amount of data breaches a user’s login has been involved in

There’s no official word on when this upgrade will arrive in the browser but It’s thought the update will be pushed out as part of Firefox 70.

The news of this Mozilla update comes as Google appears to be testing a feature that will speed up your browsing.

Firefox

Firefox is taking on Chrome

  

As reported in a post by The Verge, the update will include a new button that will let users play or pause music in a separate tab, negating the need to switch tabs to do this.

If you have Canary then you can test this feature out yourself by going to its experiments page which is chrome://flags/.

You will then need to search for ‘Global Media Controls’ and enable it.

When you relaunch the browser a tiny play button will appear next to the area that displays the URL.

This button will allow you to pause, play, or skip forward or backwards a song or video that is playing in a tab.

Credit: David Snelling, express.co.uk

5 details about AdBlock Plus you should know

It’s complicated. Eyeo, which makes the top ad blocker, is also an ally of online advertising.

Browser logos
Ad blocking is becoming a built-in option in some browsers like Opera and UC Browser. Brave enables it automatically.

You might be perturbed if somebody calls your business an “extortion racket” or your sales pitch a “ransom note.” But Eyeo Chief Executive Till Faida, leader of the widely used Adblock Plus browser extension, is unruffled. The way he sees it, he’s just trying to rescue online advertising and the websites that rely on it.

The criticism stems from the company’s business: Offer a browser extension that blocks ads, then carve off 30% of ad revenue from large publishers that agree to participate in an Eyeo program that unblocks ads. Faida doesn’t say who’s paying, but looking through Eyeo’s “whitelist” that governs which websites get to show ads, you’ll see big names like Google and Amazon.

“There needs to be a sustainable way to fund content on the web, but it should be done in a user-controlled way,” Faida told me while visiting CNET during one of his periodic US excursions from Eyeo headquarters in Cologne, Germany.

Back in the good old days of online advertising, people blocked ads because they didn’t like in-your-face clutter. Now people often block them because they can invade your privacy, slow down websites, flatten your phone’s battery, eat through your data plan and deliver malware.

No wonder, then, that Eyeo’s ad-blocking software is on 100 million PCs and smartphones and that AdBlock Plus is the top Firefox extension by far. But it’s hard to block ads everywhere without driving websites to paywalls, and Eyeo’s situation is complicated. Even as it blocks some ads, it also offers an ad exchange of its own to help supply publishers with ads. Here’s a closer look at the Adblock Plus landscape.

Eyeo CEO Till Faida leads the Adblock Plus software project.
Eyeo CEO Till Faida leads the Adblock Plus software project.

Eyeo

1. How does Eyeo’s Acceptable Ads program work?

Eyeo launched the Acceptable Ads program in 2011 to codify its standards for ad usage that Adblock Plus wouldn’t block on websites that agree to cooperate and get on Eyeo’s whitelist. To meet the requirements, ads can’t be too large, flashy or intrusive. It’s a matter of striking the right balance between what users like and what websites need, Faida said.

By default, Adblock Plus blocks ads for all sites that aren’t on Eyeo’s whitelist, though some of Eyeo’s nearly 170 employees are hired to keep publishers from sneaking past the system. You can set Adblock Plus to block all ads.

More than 90 percent of companies on Eyeo’s whitelist don’t have to pay to participate, Faida said. Only larger publishers showing more than 10 million Acceptable Ads per month have to pay Eyeo the 30% of resulting revenue.

2. Who sets the Acceptable Ads rules?

In 2017, Eyeo set up the work as a nonprofit with participation from other companies involved in online advertising. Its 50 members include ad technology companies, ad agencies, publishers and others in the industry.

Another outfit, the Coalition for Better Ads, serves a similar role. That’s the one Google chose when looking for standards for Chrome’s ad blocking policy, which began in 2018 for websites that overused ads. That was a notable move given that Google, aside from making the dominant web browser, is one of the biggest online ad players and operates some of the internet’s biggest online services.

3. Why doesn’t Adblock Plus block ad trackers by default?

Tracker blocking is catching on, with notable moves in Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’sFirefox and Brave Software’s Brave today. Some tracking protections are coming to Microsoft Edge and even Chrome, too. That’s on top of tracker blocking from extensions like uBlock Origin, DuckDuckGo, Privacy Badger and Ghostery.

But Adblock Plus doesn’t block tracking by default through the Acceptable Ads program. It’s up to users to decide, Faida said. If you don’t like Facebook and Twitter tracking you, there’s also an option to disable those social sharing and like buttons.

“Some consumers don’t mind tracking and want to support the websites they use,” Faida said. “Other users are more concerned about privacy.” But when users engage the stiffer privacy controls, that shuts off the revenue for Eyeo, not just publishers.

4. Will Chrome cripple Adblock Plus?

Through a policy called Manifest v3, Google’s Chrome team is adding new limits to extensions, including ad blockers, in an effort to improve security, privacy and performance. Unfortunately for ad blockers, that puts limits on rules they use to probe website elements — for example, finding if an ad comes from a whitelisted internet domain.

Google lifted an earlier proposed rules limit from 30,000 to 150,000, but some content blocking extensions say that’s not enough. And that’s after months of discussion and user threats to quit Chrome if it hurts ad blockers. Google has said it wants to allow content-blocking extensions, though, and Faida doesn’t expect Adblock Plus will be crippled.

“I’m optimistic they will listen to our feedback,” he said. Google has legitimate security concerns, but he believes engineers can find a solution that doesn’t hobble blockers. And if Chrome goes ahead anyway, other browsers will swoop in to claim disaffected users, Faida said.

5. What about building ad blocking into the browser?

Ad blocking is becoming a built-in option in some browsers like Opera and UC Browser. Brave enables it automatically. Adblock itself is joining the trend, too.

Microsoft’s mobile version of Edge is integrating Adblock Plus directly, and it can be enabled with Firefox and Samsung Internet on Android. Adblock Plus also offers its own ad-blocking browser for iPhones.

But Faida disagrees with Brave’s ad-blocking approach. Specifically, he doesn’t like that Brave’s ad system shows Brave-supplied ads after stripping out publishers’ ads. “Blocking ads and injecting your own is a very different approach than helping publishers to show their own ads,” Faida said. “We want to create an open ecosystem.”

But Brave’s ad system, which is optional, pays users a portion of the revenue generated and has a mechanism to share that revenue back with publishers. Brave is also working on a system to show ads directly on websites in cooperation with publishers that will receive the lion’s share of that revenue. Brave’s technology offers both user privacy and publisher revenue — something Eyeo can’t manage if you enable its tracker blocking, Faida acknowledges.

“There are very few ads available that don’t require any tracking at all,” Faida said.

So, as even ad-supported companies like Google and Facebook join Apple’s call for online privacy, it’s clear more change is coming to today’s online ad industry.

Watch this: Check out Firefox’s new content-blocking tools
 1:38

With flagship phones topping $1,000, IT departments need more affordable options that deliver quality, speed and security. Here are the best midrange smartphones for enterprise deployment today.

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If your computer has slowed to a near-crawl, or become unresponsive entirely, here's how to see if it's an easy fix or something that needs more attention.

What To Do If Your Laptop Freezes

It feels like your computer only freezes in the middle of the most important tasks, doesn't it? If your computer has slowed to a near-crawl—or become unresponsive entirely—here's how to recover from the problem, and prevent it from happening in the future.

Give It a Minute to Catch Up

If you're performing a particularly CPU-intensive task, sometimes things will hang for a moment, making you think your laptop is permanently frozen—even if it's not. If it seems like your computer has completely locked up, give it a few minutes to catch up and finish what it's doing.

You'd be surprised how many times this actually works, especially if it's a random occurrence (and not a chronic problem). Similarly, make sure your mouse is working properly—it could be that your mouse just got disconnected or ran out of batteries, which can give the illusion of your computer freezing (even if it's working just fine).

Kill the Offending Program

If Windows doesn't recover (or it starts freezing again after it recovers), it's time to break out old faithful: Ctrl + Alt + Delete. Strike this combo on your keyboard and choose the Task Manager option from the resulting screen to see a list of running programs.

Task Manager

If any of them are not responding, select them and click the End Task button. If you're dealing with an isolated incident, that should be all you need. Windows should snap back to attention as soon as you've closed the program, and you can restart the program to continue your work.

If your PC always seems to freeze when that program is running, though, you may need to uninstall it and find an alternative (or possibly upgrade your hardware, if the program is so intensive that it's running out of resources).

Reboot and Try Again

If Ctrl + Alt + Delete doesn't work, then your computer is truly locked up, and the only way to get it moving again is a hard reset. Press and hold down on the power button until your computer turns off, then press the power button again to boot back up from scratch.

If you were working on something important when the freeze happened, you may be able to recover it, depending on the program and how it handles unsaved documents. For example, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint auto-save backups as you work, and you can often recover them the next time you open the program. Or navigate to File > Info > Manage Document(s) > Recover Unsaved Document. It won't necessarily work every time, but it's worth a shot—do some digging on whatever program crashed to see if it has a similar feature. If it doesn't, you might be unfortunately stuck doing some of that work over again.

Check the Reliability Monitor

If you still can't pinpoint the cause of your lockups, you'll have to do some extra troubleshooting. In these situations, I recommend checking Windows' Reliability Monitor—it's a lesser-known error-reporting tool buried in Windows' settings.

Open the Start menu, search for "reliability," and click the "View reliability history" option that appears.

Reliability Monitor

You'll see a graph of your PC's reliability over time, with crash logs and other issues alongside updates and newly installed applications. If you can find an error listed around the same time as your freezing problem began, Reliability Monitor will give you the option to view technical details (which may have some error codes you can Google for more information) or to check Microsoft's database for a solution to the problem (which...rarely works in my experience, but it's something).

If those don't help, you might also use the graph to find out what applications or updates were installed before the freezing started happening. If a new program or update looks to be the cause, try using system restore to revert your computer to a state before it was installed.

Do a Malware Scan

As with all computer glitches, it never hurts to do a malware scan and see if something nefarious is causing your problems—especially if you haven't done so in a while. Grab a free scanner like Malwarebytes, let it comb through your hard drive, and see if anything pops up. If you run into trouble, check out our guide to ridding your computer of malware.

Watch for Overheating

Excess heat can often cause your computer to—ironically—freeze, so if you see this problem pop up again and again, maybe your cooling is to blame. Install a temperature monitor like Core Temp, configure its options to show temperature in the Notification Area, and drag that icon out of the pop-up tray and onto the taskbar so it's always visible.

core temperature

The next time your computer freezes, you can take a quick glance at the Core Temp icon to see if heat might be your problem. If the temperature is 90 degrees Celsius or above, it's almost certain your computer is overheating.

Clean any dust out of the computer with a high-pressure duster and check the fans—if any of them aren't spinning, you may have a failed bearing and need to replace the fan.

Test Your RAM

Bad memory can also be a culprit of locked-up machines, so if you suspect you might have a failing RAM stick, it's time to run some tests. Pop open the Start menu and search for the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool—it'll reboot your computer and test your memory, notifying you if it finds any issues. You might also try Memtest86+, an open-source boot disk that performs more thorough testing.

Test RAM

If all the tests come out okay, it may just be that you don't have enough RAM. Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to bring up the Task Manager the next time you experience problems, and click the Performance Tab. If your memory is maxed out, it may be time to upgrade.

Google your model of laptop to figure out what kind of RAM you need to buy, and how to replace it. (If your RAM is soldered onto the motherboard—as is the case with many new thin and light laptops—you may have to buy a new laptop altogether.)

If All Else Fails, Call in the Pros

If nothing else seems to solve the problem, you may have a hardware problem not so easily fixed on your own. If your laptop is still under warranty, contact the manufacturer for service. If your motherboard (or some other part) is indeed failing, they'll likely replace it for free.

If your warranty has long expired, find a good repair shop in your area and see if they can diagnose the problem further. You may have to pay for that repair, or—if it's too costly—replace the laptop entirely. It's a bummer on the wallet, but at least you'll be able to get work done again.

Credit: 

Tempest fighter jet, the hi-tech, sixth generation aircraft being developed by Britain in conjunction with Sweden to replace the ageing Typhoon, can be as iconic as legendary World War 2 plane the Spitfire - and has the potential to be a “game-changer”, a key developer has said.

  
 UK tempest
 

The plan is to deploy the , which will be equipped with laser and hypersonic weapons and will be accompanied into battle by a team of semi-autonomous “wingmen” similar to drones - by the 2030s. Companies including BAE Systems and Rolls Royce, as well as the British arm of Italy’s Leonardo, plus and Sweden’s Saab, are taking on France, Germany and Spain, who have combined to develop the Future Combat Air System. Andrew Kennedy, strategic campaigns director at BAE Systems, told Express.co.uk: “We’re all hugely excited to be involved in Team Tempest.

We want to make the Tempest as iconic as the Spitfire

Andrew Kennedy, strategic campaigns director at BAE Systems

“We want to make the Tempest as iconic as the Spitfire.

“This has the potential to be a revolutionary aircraft, a real game-changer.”

 
“The plan is to introduce this ‘sixth generation’ combat aircraft into service in the mid-2030s, in time to replace the Eurofighter  fleet, which presently provides a fully manned capability for a number of air forces.”
 

Speaking earlier this week, John Sneller, head of aviation at Jane’s by IHS Markit, told Express.co.uk described Tempest as “much more than just an aircraft”, adding: “It is a Future Combat Air System, covering manned and unmanned air vehicles working together.”

Tempest fighter jet
The Tempest fighter jet will be more advanced than any plane currently in the air

Spitfire

BAE Systems' Andrew Kennedy wants the Tempest to be as iconic as the Spitfire

He added: “Saab from Sweden has recently joined the Tempest Club, bringing design and integration skills from their Gripen fighter stable.

When operational, the hyper-advanced Tempest will boast capabilities far beyond any jet ever built so far.

It will be able to flown unmanned, as will feature a fearsome range of weapons, including the aforementioned “wingmen”.

Last week defence minister  announced a new recruitment drive for Team Tempest, with the number of people working on the programme set to more than double over the next two years.

 

Tempest

The Tempest will be equipped with laser weapons and will have drone-like "wingmen"

The project already employs 1,000 people across UK industry, and the Ministry of Defence is planning to increase that number to more than 2,500 by 2021.

Team Tempest staff are planning to visit schools, colleges and universities as well as giving presentations at key Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) events across the UK.

The team will offer new resources for schools and colleges as well as launching on social media through Twitter and Instagram, @TeamTempestUK with the #GenerationTempest, to inspire the next generation to pursue STEM careers in the combat air sector.

Then-defence secretary  unveiled Britain’s Combat Air Strategy, which is centred on the fighter jet and which marked the creation of Team Tempest, made up of BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Leonardo and missile developer MBDA, at last year’s Farnborough Airshow.

Typhoon

When deployed in the 2030s, the Tempest will replace the Typhoon, or Eurofighter

Gavin Williamson unveils new fighter jet Tempest

He said: “We have been a world leader in the combat air sector for a century, with an enviable array of skills and technology, and this Strategy makes clear that we are determined to make sure it stays that way.

“It shows our allies that we are open to working together to protect the skies in  - and this concept model is just a glimpse into what the future could look like.

“British defence industry is a huge contributor to UK prosperity, creating thousands of jobs in a thriving advanced manufacturing sector, and generating a UK sovereign capability that is the best in the world.

“Today’s news leaves industry, our military, the country, and our allies in no doubt that the UK will be flying high in the combat air sector as we move into the next generation.”

Credit: Cyrian McGrath, express.co.uk

 

EXCITEMENT around Apple’s next big release continues to grow and fans have just been treated to their best look yet at the iPhone 11.

Apple iPhone 11 release

Apple iPhone 11 release 

 

The new Apple iPhone 11 could launch in less than eight weeks time and that means the rumours are really hotting up.

Fans have already been treated to numerous leaked images and renders which have painted a pretty clear picture of what could be to come.

However, the latest video posted on YouTube by Marques Brownlee offers one of the very best looks yet at this all-new Apple flagship.

Brownlee, who is one of the most popular tech YouTubers in the world, has got his hands on iPhone 11 mock-ups used by the case industry to create their range of protective covers.

Like most of the previous leaks, this new video shows an iPhone that looks very similar to the current iPhone Xs.

In fact, other than the new camera on the back on the device it’s hard to tell the difference between old and new.

According to this latest update, it seems the iPhone 11 will get a triple rear camera system which will sit in a black square panel at the top left-hand corner of the device.

Most experts think this new system will include an improved zoom and the added bonus of a wide-angle lens.

Along with the camera, there should be a bump in performance via an upgraded processor and a bigger battery may offer some extra life to this device.

Brownlee also notes that the connection on the bottom of the device continues to be a lightning port which contradicts some reports that Apple is switching to USB-C for its next phone.

As well as showing off the new iPhone 11 there’s also a glimpse of how the cheaper iPhone 11R may look.

Reports have suggested this device will get a dual-camera and it this latest online clip appears to back that claim up.

If true, this will offer a big boost over the current iPhone XR which only features a single rear camera.

With just a couple of months to go until the next big Apple event is expected to get underway, there’s bound to be plenty more rumours arriving on the web.

Credit: David Snelling, express.co.uk

The company has begun telling companies about a variety of corporate features that have been baked into the browser, which is built on underpinnings from Google's Chromium.

Microsoft's Chromium Edge browser
Microsoft / Google / Vijay Kumar / Getty Images

Microsoft on Wednesday kicked off an Edge-is-for-enterprise effort, detailing the corporate features that have been baked into the under-construction browser so far and urging business users to give Edge a go.

"The Dev Channel now has enterprise features enabled by default and is ready for evaluation and supported by detailed deployment and configuration documentation," said the browser's makers in a post to a Microsoft blog. "We are also offering full support for deployment in pilot and production environments through our commercial support channels."

There are currently two versions, or builds, of Edge available to Windows and macOS users: Canary and Dev. The former is a rough build updated daily, while the latter is somewhat more reliable and stable, and updated weekly. Microsoft pushed enterprise IT administrators - and users - to try Dev. (A Beta build will eventually appear, but Microsoft now says it will "be available in the coming months," implying later rather than sooner.)

IT gets more GPOs, ability to block updates

In a special enterprise-focused section of the Edge Insider site, Microsoft has posted a .zip-format file that contains all the files - including ADMX and ADML files, and an HTML document - for using group policies on Windows and macOS machines to configure Edge in a managed environment.

Last month, Microsoft had previewed those same files and most of the group policies. It wasn't easy to find the files, though, since Microsoft had hidden them in a post on the Insider forum.

The current collection of group policy objects (GPOs) also includes those for managing Edge updates, something missing from the bunch previewed in June. One update-related policy, UpdateDefault, for example, lets administrators specify whether and how workers' copies of Edge use the Microsoft Edge Update service, a spin-off of the updater that handles Office. Policy configurations include disabling updates entirely, allowing manual updates and offering only periodic background updates.

Other policies can be set so that some or all users are allowed to, for instance, update the beta and stable channel builds of the browser, but not the rougher dev and canary versions.

"Customers will be able to control the flow of updates, either by leveraging our general updating mechanisms and using policies to pause updates at a particular version while testing compatibility with a small set of pilot users, or by using the provided offline installers (MSIs and PKGs) to push updates directly to their managed devices on their own schedule," Microsoft said in the Tuesday blog post.

A list of all currently-supported group policies for full-Chromium Edge is available on this support site. The update-related policies are listed separately here.

Microsoft has yet to integrate Edge deployment and management with its own Intune mobile device management platform - or third-party substitutes - but will, the company said. System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) can be used to deploy the new browser, but like Intune, cannot currently configure Edge. Again, Microsoft pledged that SCCM - widely used in enterprise - would handle such chores at some future date.

IE..., it's alive!

Two months ago, when Microsoft showed off the new "full-Chromium" Edge - that name reflecting the browser's adoption of foundational technologies from the Google-centric Chromium open-source project - the firm touted a new Internet Explorer (IE) mode. Unlike the dual-browser approach taken by Windows 10 since 2015, the IE mode would, Microsoft said, "seamlessly render legacy IE-only content in high fidelity inside of Microsoft Edge."

Rather than open a second browser - IE11 on Windows 10 - when encountering a legacy website or app that required the ancient application, Edge will render IE content so that it is "visually like it's just a part of the next Microsoft Edge, providing users with the latest UI (user interface)."

IE mode is now ready to try and test in the Dev build on Windows. Because IE-inside-Edge relies on Enterprise Mode and the Enterprise Mode Site List - as does IE11 and old-Edge - IT can designate what sites are drawn by IE and which by Edge. Several group policies also allow IT administrators to customize workers' experiences. The InternetExplorerIntegrationLevel policy, for instance, lets admins choose to open IE11 (or not) when the employee calls up an old-school site or app.

Microsoft has published documentation on using IE mode inside full-Chromium Edge here.

(An interesting side note in the documentation referenced above: A short FAQ at its end includes the query, "Will IE mode replace Internet Explorer 11?" without actually answering the question. The closest Microsoft comes is when it says, "Internet Explorer is still a component of Windows..." with emphasis added by Computerworld. The word "still" suggests the current condition is not permanent, and that Microsoft will eventually eliminate the stand-alone IE11 and tell customers that their only option is to use Edge and its IE mode.)

Past, present and future

For the first time, Microsoft talked roadmap, albeit in general terms, to Edge's path in the enterprise.

Trumpeted features, including IE mode and 180+ group policies, that are already in place were joined with several - including the unified search it has pushed for Windows 10, as well as a corporate-focused new tab page that will integrate Office 365 - that have not yet rolled out in their entirety.

The Edge team referred to how it plans to deploy the second group of new features with the phrase "controlled rollout," reminiscent of the "controlled feature rollout" (CFR) phrase and acronym unveiled by Windows 10's makers this month. As in Windows 10, the intent seems to be to release Edge previews that will include off-by-default features that will be, assuming everything works as expected, switched "on" at some later date. Each feature will first be tested with a small subgroup; as bugs are uncovered and quashed, and Microsoft becomes convinced the feature works as intended without significant negative side effects, others will be added to the test pool. At some point, presumably, everyone has it enabled by default.

Future features - the roadmap didn't bother with dates - range from the already-mentioned Intune and SCCM support for deployment andconfiguration to Information Protection on Windows 10.

Even with the truncated list of features, Microsoft encouraged commercial customers to get going. "We believe that with today's announcement, the enterprise feature set is complete enough for most companies to start evaluations and pilots," the Edge team wrote.

Microsoft still has not laid out a timetable for finalizing Edge. While the mid-January retirement of Windows 7 would argue that the deadline should be soon - why craft Edge to work on that OS when the OS itself won't be supported? - at this point it's clear that Microsoft interest in the 2009 operating system is only to support corporate customers who pony up for the "Extended Security Updates" (ESR) available through January 2023.

roadmap edge enterprise
Microsoft

Microsoft's enterprise roadmap for 'full-Chromium' Edge may be rough, but the developer argued that there was enough there there to start piloting the new browser.

Credit: Gregg Keizer, Computerworld

THE Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969 is even more remarkable when you consider it preceded the advent of modern-day technology. Surprisingly some of the mission’s automation breakthroughs are still used today - even in our cars.

 

Saturday, July 20 will mark the 50th anniversary since three Apollo 11 astronauts became the first humans to land a spacecraft on the moon. The extraordinary NASA mission occurred before the arrival of the computer age which has since revolutionised technology. NASA says the computer system used for its shuttle had a minuscule 64KB of memory. And the space agency says much of the technology was “unknown” at the time, meaning scientists had no clue about what might happen.

One major concern was “that the lunar module might sink right into the surface or become stuck in it” for example.

But clever boffins were still capable of producing pioneering inventions and machinery that stand the test of time half a century later.

You may well be using an Apollo 11 technology today when driving your car - the digital fly-by-wire technology.

NASA says it “was unheard-of at the time but it is now integral to airliners and is even found in most cars”.

Moon landing: NASA scientist

Moon landing: NASA scientists pioneered the use of digital fly-by-wire technology (Image: Getty)

So what is it? In a fly-by-wire system, an aircraft can be controlled by computers rather than by mechanical backup.

Preceding the Apollo 11 landings, pilots had to control planes using cables and rods to connect to crucial piloting control systems such as tail rudders.

NASA commissioned Draper Lavatories to build a computer system to help guide the planned mission “more precisely” and “eliminate human error”.

NASA explains how it worked in a blog post on the space agency’s website: “The Apollo Primary Guidance, Navigation and Control System converted pilots’ inputs into electrical signals and fed them to the Apollo Guidance Computer, along with information from various sensors.

Moon landing: NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin

Moon landing: NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landings (Image: Getty)

“The computer then decided how to adjust control firings to achieve the desired outcome.

“Being digital, rather than analog, the computer could make use of complex software and store large amounts of data.”

Following the success of Apollo 11, the technology was tested endlessly back on earth to see how it might be used in flights.

None other than Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong himself helped push fly-by-wire systems into commercial aircraft.

Moon landing: Astronaut on moon

Moon landing: The computer system used for the landing had just 64KB memory (Image: Getty)

Dryden researchers used the Apollo Primary Guidance, Navigation, and Control System (PGNCS) used during the 1969 moon landings on three test F-8C Crusaders.

They proved the viability of the technology over 200 flights, which is now an integral part of commercial aircraft.

Dryden engineer Ken Szalai, who went on to becomes its centre director, was quoted in NASA’s Spinoff publication as saying the techniques from then were revolutionary.

He said: “Some of the techniques we developed at that time are still being used, and that spawned the digital fly-by-wire revolution,

“We communicated with all of the major airframe manufacturers and were able to transfer a lot of the technology.”

These easily overlooked Android apps are all made by Google -- and they're all worth your while.

Google Android Apps

Google's got a lot of apps. Maybe even too many, in certain (ahem) cases.

Amidst all the obvious titles and oddly overlapping offerings, though, Google's wing of the Play Store holds some genuinely useful treasures — clever creations by the creator of Android that are just waiting to be discovered.

Here are 10 off-the-beaten-path Google apps that'll help you do all sorts of interesting stuff with your Android device. Sure, any one of 'em could disappear any day with little to no warning — this is Google we're talking about, after all — but for the moment, at least, they're out there and ready for the taking. And yes, they're all free.

1. Measure

Need to get a quick measurement of a physical object in your home or office and don't have your trusty tape measure handy? (What you were thinking, heading to work without a measuring apparatus in your pocket?!) Well, fret no more: Google's Measure app is up to the task.

Just fire up Measure, aim your phone's camera at any object around you — a box you need to ship, a ship you need to box, or anything in between — and within a matter of seconds, the app will help you drag a virtual tool onto the image and get a real-world measurement of any of its sides.

Google Apps Android - Measure JR

Measure can even handle metric units, if that's your jam, and can estimate elevation along with distance.

(Note that a phone has to support Google's ARCore system in order for Measure to function.)

2. PhotoScan

Further blurring the lines between our physical and virtual worlds is PhotoScan, which lets you capture impressively high-quality and glare-free images from your phone's camera and then save 'em as digital files. PhotoScan directs you through the process of capturing multiple angles of a printed photo and then does all the dirty work of cropping it, straightening it, and just generally making it look good.

Google Apps Android - PhotoScan 

It's like having a full-fledged scanner in your pocket — only, y'know, far more practical to carry.

3. Files

Google's default Android file manager has gotten reasonably decent over the years, but you know what's really weird? Google actually makes a much better and more capable version of the same basic thing. It's just up to you to find it.

The aptly named Files app (which isn't the same as the Files app that comes preinstalled on certain Android phones) lets you browse through your phone's local storage in a clean and easy-to-use interface. It makes it super-simple to eliminate unneeded junk on your device and free up space, too, and it even has a built-in and fuss-free system for wirelessly sharing files with other Android phones in the area.

Google Apps Android - Files 

Files isn't as fully featured as some of the more advanced third-party file manager apps, but it's pretty darn useful — and if your Android file management needs are relatively basic, it'll be more than enough to get the job done.

4. Datally

Another app that seems like it should be a system-level tool is Datally, which gives you a dashboard for managing mobile data use and intelligently eliminating background drips (which, if we're being honest, sounds like a terrifying personal problem to me). It can also limit your phone's data use to only the areas where ongoing internet access is really, truly needed.

At its core, Datally is kind of like a more advanced version of the built-in Android Data Saver system: You can use the app to block all data transfers from apps you aren't actively using, sure, but you can also tap into useful functions like Datally's Bedtime Mode — which automatically prevents apps from burning through mobile data whenever you put your brain into its nightly standby mode (commonly known as "sleep" to us human person-creatures).

Google Apps Android - Datally 

If you have a limited mobile data plan or one where you pay for every gig you use (or maybe if your company's footing the bill and you want to score some extra brownie points with the boss), it might be just the app you need.

5. Trusted Contacts

This next Google Android app is one of those things that's so practical, you'll wonder why your phone hasn't always had it.

Trusted Contacts lets you establish location-sharing relationships with your friends, family members, or anyone else you know and love (or maybe just kinda-sorta like). Once both people have installed the app and approved the relationship, either person has the ability to request the other's location at any time. If the recipient doesn't respond after five minutes, their last known location will automatically be sent. And it works even if their phone is off or out of range.

Peace of mind has never been easier.

6. Voice Access

Android's long been exceptional at letting you control your phone by voice — dating back to well before the big Google Assistant rebranding — but with a little help from an out-of-the-way Google app, you can take your phone's hands-free potential to totally new heights.

The app is a little somethin' called Voice Access. It's technically an Android accessibility feature, but it can be incredibly useful for just about anyone.

Plain and simple, Voice Access lets you control every single part of your phone-using experience simply by speaking. Once you fire up the system, you can tell your phone to go back (look, Ma, no awkward gestures!), go home, or adjust more or less any element of your phone's settings. You can ask it to long-press an item, scroll in any direction on an item, select or unselect text, and place your cursor anywhere you want. It can even handle text editing and let you get around apps and websites without lifting a finger via its clever on-screen numbering system.

Google Apps Android - Voice Access 

Whether you have a physical need for that sort of control or just think you'd benefit from the convenience, it's one heck of an option to have at your fingertips.

7. Google My Business

This next one's pretty specific, but if you're operating your own business — or responsible for your company's online presence in any way — Google's My Business app is absolutely worth snagging. The app gives you a single streamlined portal for controlling your company's presence within Google. You can respond to reviews, tweak your business's profile, and even get notifications whenever a customer (or potential customer) attempts to connect with you.

For the smaller business owners among us, it could be invaluable.

8. Google Opinion Rewards

I've mentioned Opinion Rewards several times over the years, but it's still something most typical users remain woefully unaware of. If you're among those not yet using it, start now — because it's basically just a way to get free Google Play Store credit for taking the occasional quick survey.

Here's how it works: The app notifies you whenever a new survey's available. You answer a handful of questions about a recent shopping experience or your thoughts on some type of video or maybe merchandise, and then the app puts a credit on your Play Store account. It might be for 10 cents or it might be for a dollar. Either way, it takes practically no time to do, and the credits add up fast — meaning your next app purchase or movie rental can be on the house (and yet the developer or creator still gets paid — win-win!).

9. Google Arts & Culture

Hang onto this one for your next dull business-trip moment: Google Arts & Culture lets you explore national parks and monuments, zoom up close into famous works of art, and even take virtual tours of entire museums right from your mobile device.

Google Apps Android - Arts and Culture 

The app is just jam-packed with cool views of fascinating things from around the world, and it provides a welcome mental diversion no matter where you might physically be.

10. Wallpapers

This last selection is actually the app that controls wallpaper picking for Google's own Pixel line of phones, but it's available broadly — and if you don't have a Pixel device, you can think of it as an upgrade to your system's default wallpaper selection tool. The aptly named Wallpapers makes finding a background for your home screen a fun adventure, with options for selecting stunning static or motion-based images in a variety of different categories — from landscapes, seascapes, and planets to art and geometric shapes.

The best part, though, is the way Wallpapers can automatically change your wallpaper to a new image every day within any category that floats your boat (including, if you're so inclined, your own personal images). It makes for a nice little surprise when you're moving between your various Very Important Work Duties.

Credit: JR Raphael, Computerworld

In a series of tweets, the president said he's not a fan of digital currency that's based on 'thin air,' a stance experts believe could signal government pushback and new regulatory scrutiny.

bitcoin behind bars > cryptocurrency ban or restriction

"Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity," Trump tweeted.

The President's tweets on fly in the face of comments made just one day earlier by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who acknowledged that while Bitcoin may be far from mass adoption it is "a speculative store of value, like gold."

President Trump tweets bitcoin cryptocurrency
Twitter

Powell's remarks came during testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday about Facebook's recently announced Libra cryptocurrency project.

Among several tweets, Trump took direct aim at Facebook, which after months of speculation unveiled plans to launch its own fiat-backed cryptocurrency and digital wallet where the currency can be stored.

The President's comments could also spark debate among Democratic presidential candidates over the country's regulatory approach toward cryptocurrencies and the underpinning technology – blockchain, an electronic distributed ledger.

Worldwide, blockchain-derived business value is forecast to grow from $9 billion this year to $50 billion in 2022, according to Gartner. The greatest growth between now and then is expected to take place in 2020, when Facebook plans to launch its Libra coin and Calibra digital wallet; that year alone will see a 128% annual increase in business value.

Trump tweeted Facebook Libra's "virtual currency" will have little standing or dependability.

"If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks, both National," Trump wrote. Those comments came one day after he criticized both Facebook and Twitter for what he called bias against his supporters.

Like other cryptocurrencies backed by fiat currency, Facebook's digital money would be purchased through a typical financial network and then stored in the Calibra digital wallet application for making purchases via ads on the social media platform. A user could also do the same thing through Facebook's most popular communication platforms: WhatsApp and Messenger.

Calibra Facebook blockchain libra
Facebook did not respond to questions by Computerworld about whether the president's comments would affect its plans to issue a cryptocurrency.

Avivah Litan, a vice president of research at Gartner, said while it's "very difficult" to analyze Trump's intentions from his tweets, "it sounds to me like he is gearing up to clamp down on cryptocurrency adoption by Americans.

"It wouldn't surprise me if Trump tries to ban ownership or use in the U.S., but there are still checks and balances in the U.S. governmental system and any ban would likely be challenged in court and/or by Congress," Litan said.

Martha Bennett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, said regulators and central bankers around the world are already concerned about Facebook's plans and regulatory scrutiny – or outright government intervention – of cryptocurrency and token schemes.

"Given the large global user base of Facebook, it's understandable that regulators everywhere insist that Libra will have to be compliant with existing regulations around Know Your Customer and AML [anti-money laundering]," Bennett said via email. "And that they also need more detail on the exact nature of Libra in order to ensure that there's no systemic risk."

For example, Bennett pointed to comments by Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, who said last week that "it's got to be rock solid right from the start. Or it's not going to start."

"Whether Libra is regulated as a bank or as a payment systems provider is a separate discussion – it all depends on the services it provides. Last, but by no means least, there's no doubt an additional element in play given Facebook's past behaviors around customer data," Bennett said.

Alex Tapscott, the co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute, a think tank whose members include CIBC, the Depository Trust and Clearance Corp. (DTCC), PNC Bank and tech firms such as IBM and Salesforce, believes Trump's tweets could have a chilling effect on blockchain in general.

"I think the President is wrong to demonize the technology. Blockchain in my mind and in the minds of many experts is one of the greatest technology innovations in a generation," Tapscott said. "We'll see if his tweets leads to a substantive policy shift. Sometimes he's just expressing his opinion."

Facebook's potential to onboard its 2.4 billion users to cryptocurrency use is the most consequential move for the industry to date, Tapscott said. He does not believe the Trump comments will increase scrutiny around Facebook's crypto project, and argued that the social media giant had already put itself in a harsh spotlight with its past privacy problems.

If the President were to take a hostile regulatory approach toward cryptocurrencies, however, it could result in the U.S. ceding its current innovation leadership to other parts of world - most obviously China, a nation Trump has often made his political "punching bag," Tapscott said.

"They are already rivaling us in terms of the internet. There are more internet users in China than the U.S. by factor of two or three. They're way ahead of us in the mobile payments industry with Alipay and WeChat," Tapscott said.

"China's internet industry is already very sophisticated, but the country also has its own issues," Tapscott continued. "China is not a free market. They're free to regulate human behavior. I don't think we want an authoritarian government leading the way on one of the most important industries of the future.

"We are at this important inflection point in terms of the future of cryptocurrency technology and the future of our economy," Tapscott said, "and the U.S. runs a real risk if it turns its head away from this technology..., letting China lead the way."

China and Russia have both clamped down on the use of Bitcoin, initial coin offerings (ICOs) and cryptocurrency mining, a method of using computer processing power to create new cryptocurrency via an algorithm. China, however, has also considered creating its own national digital currency based on blockchain.

Last year, Yao Qian, who heads up research in the field at the People's Bank of China, said "there should be a single bank-issued digital currency (CBDC) incorporating elements of cryptocurrency."

Jonathan Johnson, a board member of Overstock.com and president of its venture capital arm, Medici Ventures, said stablecoins like the one Facebook is launching actually lessen volatility and are easier for a novice to use comfortably. The IRS, Johnson predicted, will need to start treating cryptocurrencies like fiat currencies – not assets – "otherwise, it is too complicated from a tax perspective to use them.

More than five years ago, Overstock.com became the first major retailer to accept bitcoin as a form of payment for goods. Today, it accepts more than 40 versions of the digital currency for online purchases.

About the same time the online retailer was embracing bitcoin for payments, it put a venture capital stake in blockchain distributed ledger technology (DLT) through Medici Ventures, its Salt Lake City-based subsidiary. JP Morgan Chase has also launched its own fiat-backed cryptocurrency and blockchain is being piloted for use in a wide variety of markets, from healthcare and shipping to FinTech and real estate.

"This is an important technology and one that creates lots of economic value and lots of jobs, but it shouldn't exist without thoughtful policy and regulation," Tapscott said. "But what's not productive is to write it off wholesale."

Credit: Lucas Mearian, Computerworld

We break down the difference between the three core cloud technology categories and how IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS stack up

Cloud pillar1

Cloud computing gave birth to many acronyms, but none are more important than IaaS, PaaS and SaaS; the building blocks of modern computing.

For the uninitiated these are: infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS). Here we break down all three for you, including how IaaS stacks up vs PaaS and examples of the companies that have come to dominate each category.

IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS © iStock Photo: vaeenma
IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS

IaaS

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) is the simplest of the three categories to define, as it is broadly the same regardless of which public cloud vendor you choose. Simply put, IaaS is where a third party provides highly automated and scalable IT infrastructure - storage, hosting, compute, networking - out of its own global data centres and only charges for what you use.

So rather than owning assets like software licences or on-premise servers, companies can flexibly rent resources according to their needs.

 

This has fuelled a crowded IaaS market, worth a total of $31 billion in 2018, up from $23.6 billion in 2017 according to research firm Gartner's latest figures.

It is a market that has been dominated by AWS since day one, back in 2006. Synergy Research Group's figures for Q1 2019 have AWS as the clear market leader globally when it comes to public IaaS and PaaS service revenues at 38 percent market share, which is down 2 percent quarter-on-quarter, followed by Microsoft at 18 percent, Google at 9 percent and Alibaba at 6 percent, all up a point respectively.

Despite AWS’s dominance, Microsoft has quickly gained ground under the leadership of "cloud first" CEO Satya Nadella, building a huge global cloud network of its own. Microsoft's recent move to increase the prices of only on-premise Office 2019 packages by 10 percent creates a clear incentive for customers to adopt a cloud-first attitude too.

PaaS

Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) is possibly the hardest of the three cloud models to neatly define. The idea is to provide all of the basics of IaaS, as well as the tools and capabilities needed to develop and deploy applications securely. That could be middleware, database management, analytics or an operating system.

A platform-as-a-service should provide a developer with everything they need to build and deploy an application without having to do any provisioning of the underlying infrastructure themselves.

PaaS vendors tend to be the biggest technology companies, who can offer a broad range of capabilities for their customers on a platform. Examples include Google App Engine, Oracle Cloud Platform, Pivotal's Cloud Foundry and the Salesforce-owned Heroku.

Read next: Volkswagen will 'halve IT operations costs' with Cloud Foundry's platform as a service cloud

The underlying infrastructure for different PaaS offerings varies, so Oracle and AWS would prefer you run on their own infrastructure, and others are more agnostic. For example the SAP Cloud Platform can be run on top of AWS, Azure or GCP cloud infrastructure. Red Hat's OpenShift is similarly cloud provider-agnostic.

SaaS

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is where a piece of software is hosted by a third party and can be accessed over the web, normally just by logging in, and is generally charged on a subscription basis per user or 'seat'. This differs from the old model of buying and installing software on a machine or server manually.

SaaS is much more relevant for very specific applications, like email or customer relationship management (CRM) software. Anyone who has used a Google app like Gmail or Google Docs, or cloud file storage like Dropbox, will have used a piece of SaaS.

 

Major SaaS vendors include Microsoft since it moved Office to the web-based Office 365, as well as enterprise software pioneers like Salesforce with its SaaS CRM solution, and Workday's cloud-based HR software.

Credit: Scott Carey, Computerworld UK

The US government thinks VPNs based in other countries are a threat, but the question of trustworthiness is more complicated than mere physical addresses. Senior security analyst Max Eddy tells you what you need to know about the software you use to stay safe online.

VPN Safe

A story broke quietly back in late May that I have been chewing on ever since. It recounted how members of the US Congress did a lot of hand-wringing about the threat posed by foreign VPNs. The concern from lawmakers was that if you use a foreign VPN, then a foreign government could eavesdrop on your activity. Foreign companies, it asserted, might be more susceptible to pressure from foreign governments, and that these foreign VPNs could hand over personal information, or even the contents of your online activities.

That might all be true, but it's no less true for domestic VPNs. A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your device and a server controlled by the VPN company. Your traffic travels through the tunnel, hiding it from snoopers on a local network and from your ISP—which, ironically, Congress has said can spy on you for profit. When your traffic reaches the VPN server, it then exits out to the internet before making the return trip.

This does effectively put VPNs in the role of your ISP, in that they can potentially see everything you do online. It's one of the big concerns about VPNs as an industry, and it's true for all VPNs. A VPN based in the US could eavesdrop on your activity, hand over your information to US law enforcement, or succumb to pressure from US intelligence agencies. These are the risks of using any VPN, and they are not substantially changed by simply moving the offices of that company to a different time zone.

Location, Location, Location

VPNs are fundamentally privacy tools, and if they do a bad job protecting customer privacy then they'll hopefully do a bad job competing in the market. In fact, a lot of the (frequently questionable) discourse surrounding VPN companies is whether they are truly keeping your information private. VPNs generally seek to at least position themselves as trustworthy stewards of your information, usually by defining company policy that forbids the collection of user information, publishing a privacy policy that explains the details, and building privacy into their actual product. A recent trend is for companies to commission third-party audits of their product, to bolster claims of trustworthiness.

As an example of the kinds of steps VPN services take to assure you of your privacy, Private Internet Access issues you a user ID when you create an account. This is separate from the information you provide to process your subscription payment. If it's working correctly, this means that the company could not identify an individual user even if compelled by law or if law enforcement seized its servers.

VPNs often exist in many places at once. AnchorFree, the company behind Hotspot Shield VPN, is based in California with an office in Zurich, Switzerland. The company says it operates under US and Swiss legal jurisdiction. Is it a foreignVPN? AnchorFree's product is widely rebranded and sold by other companies, some based in the US and some not. Are those foreign VPNs?

VPN companies often have offices in one country while operating under the legal jurisdiction of another. VPN companies also maintain server fleets around the world. Any of these locations might be different from where the VPN company is under legal jurisdiction.

SecurityWatch

 

That said, legal jurisdiction matters, because that's the framework under which your data is going to be protected. Looking at the British Virgin Islands, VPN companies have played up how local law enforcement will not simply accept warrants issued from other governments. Instead, those warrants have to jump through additional hoops before they can be applied to a company in the British Virgin Islands. Similarly, VPN companies in places like Germany and Switzerland have emphasized those countries' strong privacy laws.

I should note here that it's difficult to verify that using a service in a particular location will actually help keep your data safe.

Is Your VPN Leaking?

One way VPNs seek to protect customers, and market themselves, is through the location of the company. NordVPN, for instance, is based in Panama, a fact it advertises as privacy and security boon to customers because of local law. ProtonVPN is keen to point out that it is Swiss. When I review a VPN, I usually list its location and legal jurisdiction alongside the VPN protocols and privacy policy, because effectively, a VPN company's location is another feature.

Location can also have emotional value. Some readers have told me that they cannot trust companies based in Eastern Europe, because of their association with Russian hacking groups. Others have told me that any VPN based in the US is unacceptable because of this country's history of mass surveillance. VPNs based in Hong Kong (as semi-distinct from mainland China) are often attacked with accusations that the surveillance state must have a tight grip on them. Many make a similar argument against allowing Huawei to provide internet infrastructure equipment.

These companies often counter with the argument that the city's special rules make it an excellent location for private data.

In fact, there's a strong case to be made that the US has one of the most aggressive surveillance and data collection operations in the world. Social media companies are sometimes given National Security Letters by DHS, which require them to hand over information and not disclose they have done so. The NSA operated what is perhaps the largest data interception operation the world has ever seen, one that affected US citizens as well as overseas targets.

Additionally, the NSA has been accused of taking advantage of the United States' critical position in data infrastructure, tapping the lines through which global internet traffic flows and allegedly copying it in real-time—perhaps ironically, given that the US makes the same argument against Huawei, as mentioned above. That's not to mention the information sharing agreements that allow numerous allied nations, including the US, to swap intelligence regardless of location. Given all this, it's hard to argue with people who see US-based VPN companies as a potential risk.

It Does (and Doesn't) Matter

If everything is working correctly, there should be little difference between a foreign VPN and one that has some or all of its offices in the US. The math that makes encryption work doesn't respect boundaries. Likewise, the measures to protect user privacy and security are well understood and can be implemented anywhere. Many VPN companies choose where to base their companies in order to benefit from local privacy laws, or perhaps to appeal to an emotional response on the part of consumers.

 

What does matter is when VPN companies don't encrypt things properly, or when they, by ignorance or willfulness, don't follow best practices to protect the privacy of their users. A poorly secured VPN might be foreign, but it could also be headquartered down the street from me. Instead of wondering about where companies are headquartered or what "values" they have, Congress should be supporting methods for users and researchers to verify the claims made by VPN companies.

The security industry is full of marketing built around fear, uncertainty, and doubt—collectively called FUD. A lengthy discussion about foreign VPNs in the halls of Congress falls into that category, especially when the group concludes that whatever threats exist are minimal. FUD always has a purpose, and instead of asking where the best place is to put a VPN, perhaps we should be focusing on why this conversation happened in the first place.

Credit: Max Eddy, PC Magazine

The company this week unveiled new Teams features aimed at front-line workers as it continues to push its team collaboration platform in a still-growing market.


Team usersB

Microsoft introduced Teams in 2017 as a competitor to Slack, which had attracted significant interest as an alternative to email for internal communications following its launch in 2014.

Unlike Slack, which is a standalone application, Microsoft Teams is available at no additional cost for Office 365 customers, of which there are 180 million monthly active users globally.

Microsoft - which reportedly considered a multi-billion-dollar acquisition bid for Slack before developing its own tool - has thrown significant resources behind Teams and has quickly built out new features to cater to a wide range of uses. It is now the company’s main app for enterprise collaboration and communication, replacing Skype for Business Online.

Teams has seen swift growth largely due to the reach of Office 365 and Microsoft’s popularity in business. The company announced earlier this year that it is now in use by 500,000 organizations. Microsoft, however, had declined to reveal daily or weekly active user information in the past - metrics that give a better indication of how an application is used regularly within an organization.

At its Inspire event this week, Microsoft also said it has 19 million weekly active users. Slack, by contrast, has 10 million daily active users.

Microsoft said the upswing highlights how companies and their employees are adapting to work that centers on team collaboration and channel-based communications.  “What these data points tell us is that people have really moved their work into this open platform for real-time communication and collaboration,” said Kady Dundas, director of product marketing for Teams.

Analysts said companies comparing Slack and Teams should be wary of reading too much into the customer adoption figures, however.

“It’s good to see Microsoft start sharing their adoption numbers – and these are good numbers,” said Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC. “But these numbers, like all self-reported numbers should be taken cautiously. In this case, are both companies measuring the data the same way? This is always a concern, as it is in looking at social media platforms that use similar metrics.”

Furthermore, despite the success of both Teams and Slack – which recently completed its stock market listing – demand for team collaboration applications is still at an early stage; the potential for growth has attracted a range of vendors including GoogleFacebook and Cisco. As a result, it’s unlikely there’ll  be a winner-takes-all market leader; in many cases businesses will use both Slack and Teams for different employees.

“Even adding Microsoft and Slack’s team collaboration user numbers together, it indicates most companies are still not using collaboration software yet,” Kurtzman noted. He added that IDC expects the team collaboration app market to continue to expand at a compound annual growth rate of more than 20% over the next five years. 

“The important takeaway is that executives need to be seriously thinking about collaboration applications that meet the needs of how their enterprise works today, and the future of their work.”

Microsoft also unveiled a range of new features for Teams at Inspire on Thursday, continuing its efforts to attract front-line or firstline workers to the platform.

Workers can now clock in and out of shifts via the Teams mobile app, while managers can “geo-fence” a location to make sure staff are where they should be when clocking in. Managers can also now message all staff with a specific role – such as all cashiers in a store or nurses at a hospital - at once using an @mention relating to the job role.

Other updates include priority notifications that send an alert every two minutes until a response is received, as well as read receipts for messages. New Announcement messages in Teams chat offer a way to highlight important information such as a new member joining the team, while a channel cross-posting feature lets users quickly post a single message to multiple channels at once.

Microsoft also announced a variety of integrations with third-party apps, including contact center and workforce management tools.

Credit: Matthew Finnegan, Computerworld.

Get to know the interface, features and shortcuts in Microsoft's latest operating system. (Now updated for the Windows 10 May 2019 Update.)

windows 10 windows microsoft laptop keyboard update  by nirodesign getty

Windows 10 is the best operating system that's come along from Microsoft in a long time. It's a shape-shifter that changes its interface depending upon whether you're using a traditional computer or a touch-based one. It undoes the damage wrought by Windows 8, including eliminating the awkward Charms bar and bringing back the long-mourned Start menu. A lot more has changed as well, with a default browser called Edge, the integration of the Cortana digital assistant, links to Microsoft’s cloud-based OneDrive cloud storage service and plenty more.

Share this story: IT pros, we hope you’ll pass this guide on to your users to show them the Windows 10 ropes. Also see our printable PDF of Windows 10 gestures and shortcuts.

Whether you've upgraded to Windows 10 from an earlier version of Windows or if you've got it on a new PC, this cheat sheet will get you up to speed on it. I'll cover everything you need to know, and I've also provided quick-reference charts listing useful keyboard shortcuts, touchscreen gestures and touchpad gestures.

Keep in mind that there have been seven major updates to Windows 10 since its initial release in July 2015. This story is based on the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, a.k.a. version 1903, so the features that are described here and the screenshots you see may differ from what you see on-screen if you have an older version of Windows 10.

Note: If you want to get the most out of Windows 10, you'll have to use a Microsoft ID as your user account. Without a Microsoft ID, you won't be able to use a number of Windows 10 apps or sync settings among multiple devices. So when you set up Windows 10 for the first time, sign in with an existing Microsoft ID or create a new one.

Before we get started, a few words about some terminology you'll need to know. Microsoft has sowed enormous confusion with a set of lightweight apps that were originally designed for the Windows 8 touch-oriented Start screen interface. It first called them Metro apps, and then through the years changed their names to Modern apps, Windows Store apps, and then Universal Windows apps. Now it's settled simply on Windows apps, although at times the company also calls them Universal Windows apps. In this article, we'll refer to them as Windows apps.

What about apps designed for the desktop? Microsoft now calls them Windows desktop applications. In this article we'll call them desktop applications for simplicity's sake.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The Start menu

The loudest complaint that desktop users had about Windows 8 was the death of the Start menu. In Windows 10 it's back with a vengeance. When you use Windows 10 on a desktop or laptop, you boot directly into the desktop. Click the Start button at the lower left of the desktop to bring up the Start menu — command central for traditional PC users. (Those who use Windows 10 on a tablet will instead see a Start screen; more on that later in the story.)

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The Start menu is command central for Windows 10. (Click image to enlarge it.)

The menu is divided into two sections. Down its left side you'll find the following:

All Apps: Up at the top left of the screen is a “hamburger menu” (three parallel horizontal lines) that when clicked is a toggle for turning on or off a list of all Windows apps and desktop applications, in alphabetical order. (By default, the list is turned on.) Click any to run it.

At the very top of the All Apps list is a list of the apps and applications you use most frequently. Right-click any and you’ll see a list of the files you’ve recently opened in it. Click the file to open the application or app, with the file loaded into it.

In some instances you’ll see a folder with a down arrow next to it rather than an icon — that means there are several options there, for example, to run the Dropbox app or visit the Dropbox website. Click the folder to show all the options, then click the option you want to run. (Also note that in some instances, there will be a folder, but when you click it, you only get one option, to run the app or application.)

Windows 10 Start menu jump list

The jump list for Acrobat Reader shows the PDFs you’ve recently opened. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Documents, Pictures, Settings, Power: These icons at the bottom left of the Start menu are no mystery: Documents opens the Documents folder using File Explorer; Pictures opens the Pictures folder using File Explorer; Settings brings you to the Windows Settings app (more on that later); and Power lets you put your PC to sleep, shut it down or restart it. Click any icon to run it.

The right side of the Start menu has tiles for Windows apps and desktop applications. They're grouped into two Microsoft-created categories — Life at a glance and Play and explore — and then, if you have more apps than fit in those two, they're grouped into unnamed categories below that. New tiles will be added to the unnamed groups as you install new apps and desktop applications. (Note that if you’re using an enterprise edition of Windows 10, your IT department may have configured other groupings, such as productivity applications or support tools, to appear on the right side of the Start menu.) Click any tile to run the app associated with it.

Note that if you bought a new PC with the Windows 10 May 2019 Update already installed on it, you’ll have a less cluttered Start menu than this. It has only a single column filled with tiles.

Some tiles are "live" — that is, real-time information gets piped into them. So the Mail tile, for example, shows your latest email, the Weather shows the weather and so on. Only Windows apps have live tiles. Desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office, don't. Each group of tiles is three columns wide, with most tiles taking up one column by default.

The Start menu is highly customizable. To change its height, hover your cursor over its top edge until a two-headed arrow appears, then drag it up or down to expand or shrink it. On some Windows 10 installations you can do the same thing at the right edge of the menu to expand it to the right or shrink it back again, although this doesn't work for everybody.

To rename a group of tiles, click the group name and type in a new name for it. You can also move tiles around the Start menu by dragging them from one group to another, or, to create a new group, drag tiles to a blank area on the menu. You can name any unnamed group by clicking on the blank area above it and typing in a name.

You can also widen the groups in the Start menu so that tiles take up four columns rather than three. To do it, from the Start menu select Settings > Personalization > Start and in the "Show more tiles on Start" setting, move the slider to On. The tiles will now take up four columns, but to take advantage of the extra space you’ll have to manually drag tiles to the fourth column. You can personalize many other aspects of the Start menu from this Settings page, including whether to show your most used apps, have the Start screen run full screen and more.

When you right-click a tile, a menu pops up. Here's where things get a bit confusing, because not every Windows app and desktop application has the same pop-up menu, and depending on your installation you might have to click "More" to see some of these options. Most have some combination of these choices:

Unpin from Start: Select this and the tile vanishes from the Start menu.

Resize: As you would expect, this lets you resize the tile. You can choose Small, Medium or Large, and some tiles also have a Wide choice that makes it span two columns in its group.

Turn live tile off: This stops real-time information from streaming into the tile. If it's already off, you'll get a Turn live tile on choice.

Pin to taskbar: As it says, this pins the app to the taskbar. If it's already pinned, you'll get an Unpin from taskbar choice.

App settings: This leads to a screen that lets you change the app’s settings, such as whether to allow it to run in the background, or to get access to your microphone.

Uninstall: This uninstalls the app. Some Windows apps created by Microsoft, such as Skype and Solitaire, can't be uninstalled. However, the May 2019 Update lets you uninstall more built-in apps than previously, including Mail, Calendar, Sticky Notes and others.

Rate and review: This option is available only for apps downloaded from the Microsoft Store. It brings you to a page that lets you rate the app on a one-to-five-star basis and write a review. The rating and review appear in the app’s description in the Microsoft Store.

Share: This lets you share a link to the app using a variety of methods, including email, Twitter and others.

Run as an administrator: This lets you run the app or application as an administrator.

Open file location: Opens File Explorer to the folder where the application lives.

Some Windows apps have other choices as well, depending on their purposes. For example, right-click the This PC app and you get choices such as mapping or unmapping a network drive.

You can also right-click the icons for the "Most used" apps on the left side of the menu as well as the File Explorer, Settings and Power icons underneath them. (If you right-click All Apps, no menu appears.) Windows apps and desktop applications on the "Most used" app menu typically have similar choices to those already outlined (with some hidden under the "More" submenu). In addition, you might find these additional options:

Pin to Start: This moves the app from the "Most used" list to the right side of the Start menu.

Run as a different user: This lets you run the app as someone other than the person currently logged in.

Don't show in this list: Takes the app off the "Most used" list.

Cortana and search

Windows 10 introduces Microsoft's Siri-like digital assistant Cortana to computers. (It was first introduced on Windows Phones in 2014.) Cortana is a kind of a Jane-of-all-Trades and does everything from searching your computer and the internet for files and information to keeping track of your schedule, alerting you to upcoming events, tracking news and more.

Before the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, Cortana was deeply ingrained into Windows and sprang into action when you typed a search into the Search box on the Start menu, or when you said “Hey, Cortana.” However, with the May 2019 Update, Cortana’s primacy was dialed back considerably. Cortana has been separated from the Search box, and you can now only use it by saying “Hey, Cortana” or clicking the Cortana button to the right of the Search box. (The button is an icon of a circle.) Whichever action you take, though, you’ll have to speak your search request, because you can no longer type your request into Cortana.

win10 cortana v1903 med

Cortana is no longer integrated with the Search box and displays results in its own window. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To make sure that Cortana responds to “Hey Cortana,” click the Cortana button to the right of the Search box, then select Cortana’s settings by clicking the icon of a gear. From the settings screen that appears, select Talk to Cortana, and in the Hey Cortana section, move the slider to On.

Don’t use Cortana to do garden-variety web searches where you’re looking to find multiple results, or to find files on your PC. Instead, use the Search box for that. (I’ll explain more about that in the next section.) Instead, use Cortana as a digital assistant for specific tasks or highly targeted searches in which you’re looking for a single answer. So, for example, you can say “What movies are playing near me?” or “What’s on my calendar today?” or “What is the US inflation rate?” Cortana will display the results to you in a window, and will read them aloud to you as well.

Getting the most out of Cortana starts with learning how to control it better. To do that, click the Cortana button and use the menu that appears on the left side of the screen, six icons that appear underneath the "hamburger" menu icon of three stacked horizontal lines. The six icons are divided into two sections, three at the top just underneath the hamburger menu, and at three the bottom, just above the search box.

The top icon, Home, navigates you to Cortana's main interface — what you see when you click the Cortana button. Beneath that is the Notebook icon. Here you can set reminders, create and keep lists, and add what are called “skills” to Cortana, such as controlling your home and its appliances, connecting Cortana to music services such as Spotify, tracking your fitness and more. Below the Notebook icon is the Devices icon. It lets you set up and manage devices that have Cortana built into it, such as speakers.

win10 cortana notebook v1903 med

Go to Cortana’s notebooks to set reminders, create lists, and add skills to Cortana, such as connecting to music services like Spotify. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Down toward the bottom of the screen is an icon for signing in and out of your account. Beneath that is the Settings icon, which we used above to ensure that voice activation was turned on. And below that is a Feedback icon that lets you provide feedback about Cortana.

It's worth going through all the settings, because part of Cortana’s usefulness is not just answering your questions — it's sending you news, weather and alerts. After you customize the settings, it can show you the current weather, news you're interested in, daily events from your calendar and more, depending on what you've told it about your interests.

Cortana is tied to your Microsoft ID, so it has the same information about you on all the Windows devices you use, including smartphones. The more you use it on all your devices, the more it learns about you, and the more useful it'll be. But that means that Microsoft knows more about you as well. So when deciding what to tell it about yourself, you'll need to find the right balance between Cortana's usefulness and your privacy.

If you have no plans to use Cortana, or plan to use it only by saying “Hey Cortana” and not using the Cortana button, you can hide the button. Right-click any empty portion of the taskbar and uncheck “Show Cortana button” on the menu that appears to hide it. Right-click an empty portion of the taskbar and check “Show Cortana button” to make the button appear again.

You can also use Cortana to lock Windows, sign out and shut down or turn off your PC. Say things such as, “Hey, Cortana, lock PC,” and it will do your bidding. You can also do all this from the lock screen, without having to log into Windows. And you can do more with Cortana from the lock screen as well, including making notes for yourself, creating reminders asking about your calendar, and so on.

There’s a surprising amount of intelligence built into Cortana. You can, for example, snap a picture of a poster for an event, and Cortana will detect the dates on it and ask if you want to create a reminder to attend it. There’s no documentation for this kind of thing, and behind the scenes Microsoft is continually making Cortana smarter. So your best bet is to experiment and see what new tricks it has up its sleeve.

For more about using Cortana, see “Windows 10 quick tips: Get the most out of Cortana.”

Using search

The Windows 10 search you’ve been used to since the operating system was introduced has changed over time, notably with the Windows 10 May 2019 Update in which Cortana and Search went their own ways. So even if you think you know how it works, you might want a refresher, which I’ll provide here.

To do a search, type it into the Search box at the bottom left of the screen. Search uses the Bing search engine to look through your files, your Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage, your videos and music, the apps on your PC, your settings, your email and the web. When you do a search, a series of tabs appears across the top of the screen:

  • All displays all search results.
  • Apps shows any app-related matches.
  • Documents shows documents on your PC that match the search.
  • Email shows results from your email.
  • Web displays results from the web.
  • More shows results from other places, including individual folders and apps including Music, People, Photos, Settings and Videos. You’ll have to click the down arrow next to More to see them all.

Search results are displayed in a flyout panel that appears on the right side of the screen. The panel is essentially a mini-browser with the same information that you’d get if you did a search from inside your browser — photos, links and so on.

win10 search v1903

Search shows results in a flyout mini-browser. (Click image to enlarge it.)

The Search box can be quite useful even if you don’t do a search. Put your cursor in it and you’ll see a list of the most recent files you’ve opened as well as the apps you most frequently use. Click a file or app to open it. There’s also a link to the Windows 10 Timeline feature — click Manage history to get to it. (I’ll cover Timeline later in this article.)

Putting your cursor in the search box also lets you do targeted searches — you can limit searches to just apps, documents, email, the web, and more. Click the appropriate tab at the top of the screen and type in your search.

win10 search info v1903

Put your cursor into the search box to see your most recent files and most-used apps and to do targeted searches. (Click image to enlarge it.)

By default, Search only looks through a limited selection of default libraries and folders including OneDrive, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop. It won’t find files kept in other locations on your PC. However, you can change that. Go to Settings > Search > Searching Windows, and in the “Find My Files” section, select “Enhanced.” That will tell Windows to search through your entire PC. If there are folders you want to exclude from the search, go to the “Excluded Folders” section, then click “Add an excluded folder” and browse to the folder you don’t want to search.

Credit: Preston Gralla, Computerworld

Firefox 68 for now offers recommended add-ons, adds new group policies IT admins can use to better manage the browser and patches 21 vulnerabilities.

Mozilla Firefox headquarters

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Mozilla on Tuesday released Firefox 68 for Windows, macOS and Linux, packing more insights into the browser's add-ons and adding a slew of new group policies that enterprise IT administrators can use to better manage the browser.

Mozilla's security engineers also patched 21 vulnerabilities, two labeled "Critical" and four marked "High," the organization's top two threat ratings. "We presume that with enough effort that some of these could be exploited to run arbitrary code," Mozilla reported in one advisory.

Firefox 68 can be downloaded from Mozilla's site. Because it updates in the background, most users need only relaunch the browser to get the latest version. To manually update, pull up the menu under the three horizontal bars at the upper right, then click the help icon (the question mark within a circle). Choose "About Firefox." The resulting page shows that the browser is either up to date or explains the refresh process.

Mozilla updates Firefox every six to eight weeks; the last time it upgraded the browser was May 21.

Mozilla now recommends add-ons

Among the few noticeable changes to Firefox as of version 68, Mozilla trumpeted those affecting the browser's add-ons - "extensions" in its terminology - that historically were one of its biggest weapons.

"We curated a list of recommended extensions that have been thoroughly reviewed for security, usability and usefulness," wrote Marissa Wood, vice president of product at Mozilla, in a post to the firm's blog.

Earlier this year, Mozilla announced it would try to make add-ons more secure, saying it was launching an effort to "secure the extension ecosystem to better fulfill our brand promise of security and privacy for Firefox users."

Firefox 68 recommended add-ons
Mozilla

Within Firefox 68, Mozilla will recommend add-ons it believes the user will like, based on telemetry sent from the browser.

There's no reason to doubt Mozilla's sincerity, but the outfit must also be wondering how to restore Firefox's reputation related to add-ons. When it shifted technologies, and demanded extension developers rewrite their work, that reputation suffered as some add-ons vanished. It didn't help that Chrome continued to gain not only user share by leaps and bounds, but also grew the count of its browser extensions.

Banging the drum with recommendations is one way to again trumpet Firefox through add-ons.

Recommended add-ons are tagged with a special badge in the official add-on mart and are posted below the already-installed extensions in Firefox's add-on manager. "Some of these recommendations are personalized," claimed a note in the manager after upgrading to version 68. "They are based on other extensions you've installed, profile preferences, and usage statistics."

Mozilla knows the above from the telemetry Firefox transmits from users to the company's servers.

In documentation about the feature, Mozilla made clear that there's no pay-for-play involved in the add-on recommendations. "Extension developers cannot pay for placement in the recommendation program, and Firefox does not receive any compensation as a result of this process," Mozilla stated.

Also new to add-ons in Firefox 68: a way to report suspiciously malicious extensions, those that alter settings without permission or fly a false flag by claiming to be something they aren't. In the add-on manager, users can now select "Report" from the same menu where they've long found "Disable" and "Remove."

More enterprise policies

Another area of Firefox 68 that Mozilla emphasized involves group policiesfor IT managers. Enhancements to policies - and thus the browser's suitability to enterprise use - were linked to the simultaneous release of Firefox ESR (Extended Support Release) 68, the version which stresses stability over sexy new features.

Unlike the standard Firefox, ESR receives only security updates during its tenure. (Prior to this week, the current ESR was based on Firefox 60, which debuted in early May 2018.) Every 14 months, Mozilla replaces the existing ESR with the then-current Firefox, then maintains both the old and new ESR versions during a multi-month overlap. Firefox ESR 60's support overlap with ESR 68 began July 9, when the latter launched, and will end Oct. 22, when that date's security patches will not be provided for the former.

"Today we're adding a number of new enterprise policies for IT leads who want to customize Firefox for their employees," said Mozilla's Wood.

Among the new policies are ones that will allow administrators to remove the new tab page (NewTabPage) - perhaps to replace it with the business's own intranet - and set and lock the downloads destination (DownloadDirectory) to comply with company guidelines of depositing files in the cloud, say.

A list of all policies supported by Firefox is available here, on GitHub; searches using 68 will find those new to this ESR. (The Firefox ESR 68-only policies are also listed at the top of this GitHub page.)

The next version of the browser, Firefox 69, should release Sept. 3.

Credit: Gregg Keizer, Computerworld

In a multi-part announcement spread across three blog posts, Microsoft has again given its Windows 10 update model a shake. Here's what the changes mean.

hand at keyboard with Windows logo

In a multi-part announcement spread across three blog posts, Microsoft on July 1 said it had begun testing of the next Windows 10 feature upgrade, which it has codenamed 19H2 but by the company's four-digit (yymm) labeling will be tagged with 1909 when it ships.

The first build of 19H2/1909 was released that same day to Windows Insider participants who set their PCs to receive the "Slow" ring versions. Insider will continue to deliver previews of 20H1 - the feature upgrade that will likely be dubbed 2003 to show it was completed in March 2020 - to testers on the "Fast" ring, as has been the case since February, when Microsoft debuted next year's edition.

World wondered what had happened to 1909 as Microsoft kept its lips zipped. The experts who weighed in rejected rumors that Microsoft would skip the upgrade, perhaps to get back on track after delays to the two previous. They each nailed it with their prognostication, with one predicting a shift to annual upgrades, the other forecasting a shift in schedule to Major in the spring, Minor in the fall.

On the surface, then, Microsoft remained committed to a twice-a-year slate, one it's hewn to since 2017, postponements and re-releases and all.

But that's not quite the truth.

Deciphering the announcement, part 1

"19H2 will be a scoped release with a smaller set of enhancements focused primarily on select performance improvements, enterprise features, and quality enhancements," said Wilcox in his post, which was directed at commercial customers, Microsoft's most important (emphasis added).

The sentence, almost a word-for-word repeat of Cable's post - and thus certainly part of Microsoft's corporate messaging - requires unpacking.

By scoped release, Wilcox seemed to be using the first word to define a limited release, one that has had strict boundaries set regarding the to-be-included functions and delivery date. (This is the first time Computerworldrecalls Microsoft using the phrase "scoped release," but it can be found here and there in other software developers' commentary.) That analysis was bolstered by Wilcox saying, "Given this limited scope, we will deliver the 19H2 in a new way...." in the next paragraph (emphasis added).

His calling out smaller set and select are additional proof points that the fall's release would play the minor role to the spring release's major. Also worth noting are two of the three things listed as part of 19H2 - performance improvements and quality enhancements - almost always prominently appear in software developers' descriptions of their less-ambitious upgrades because, well, they don't have new features to trumpet.

Bottom line: 19H2 (or 1909, take your pick) will be a minor release that includes few, if any, new features.

Deciphering the announcement, part 2

"To deliver these updates in a less disruptive fashion, we will deliver this feature update in a new way, using servicing technology (like the monthly update process) for customers running the May 2019 Update who choose to update to the new release," stated Cable (emphasis added). "In other words, anyone running the May 2019 Update and updating to the new release will have a far faster update experience because the update will install like a monthly update."

This was the second important part of the announcement. Again, unpacking is necessary.

Because 19H2/1909 will be a minor refresh of Windows 10, it will be significantly smaller than past feature upgrades, which have been full OS replacements tipping the scales between 3GB and 5GB (4.6GB for the 64-bit version of 1903, for instance). Microsoft acknowledged that 19H2 will not be an OS replacement, at least when using this faster servicing approach, because it's restricting that to those running 1903 (the May 2019 Update, which went final in late May).

That means 19H2 will be much more like one of the cumulative updates issued several times monthly to Windows 10, which build on the already-in-place OS but do not replace it. (The most notable update is Patch Tuesday's, the "quality" update - Microsoft's word - that includes vulnerability patches and all kinds of non-security fixes.)

The monthly cumulative updates - and 19H2, too, when installed by 1903 and 1903 only - are small, and thus fast to download and install, because they include only the changes from the prior code. Over the last two years, Microsoft worked on reducing the size of the cumulative updates - as well as the number of update sizes - most recently with those deployed by 1809, the October 2018 Update that ended up delayed until early 2019.

It's worth repeating this: Windows 10 19H2/1909 will be an update to Windows 10 1903, not a true feature upgrade as customers have known them.

That's why the analogy to "service packs" made by many observers resonates. For the forgetful, service packs were the cumulative updates of the past - Windows 7 and earlier - that integrated already-issued fixes with the original code. They rarely included new features. Microsoft last issued one in February 2011, when it released Windows 7's Service Pack 1, or SP1; Windows 7 SP1 is the currently-supported version of the 2009 operating system, set to drop from support in January 2020.

Windows 10 19H2/1909 will include all that was in Windows 10 1903, plus additional bug fixes, performance improvements and stability enhancements, but few if any new features. Sounds like a service pack to us, too.

Deciphering the announcement, part 3

"We will begin releasing 19H2 builds to Windows Insiders in the Slow ring starting today ((July 1)), with new features being offered in future Insider builds as they are ready," Cable wrote in his post (emphasis added). "Some Insiders may not see the new features right away as we are using a controlled feature rollout (CFR) to gain better feedback on overall build quality."

This process was both clear in its purpose and vague in its execution. It also represents a mix of old and new. First, the clear: previews of 19H2/1909 shown to Insider participants will include off-by-default features that can be, but not necessarily will be, switched "on" at some later date. Each feature will first be tested with a small subgroup of Insiders; as bugs are uncovered and quashed, and Microsoft becomes convinced the feature works as intended without significant negative side effects, others will be added to the test pool. At some point, presumably, everyone has it enabled by default.

This "controlled feature rollout" procedure is something Microsoft already uses in a much more general fashion when it favors the PCs it believes will not balk at installing a feature OS upgrade. But CFR, named that or not, has long been a hallmark of some browser makers - notably Google (Chrome) and Mozilla (Firefox) - who tuck new features into an update but then don't immediately turn them on, sometimes waiting days or weeks to do so, other times slowing adding enabling more users' copies over time in the hope that any bug won't afflict everyone.

Microsoft's CFR closely resembles Chrome's and Firefox's deliberate "switch on" approaches, even to how they turn on a feature or option. "Specific to CFRs, we may ship features in these updates turned off by default and turn them on independently of bits getting downloaded to Insiders' PCs," Microsoft's Wilcox added.

That's how Chrome and Mozilla do it, too.

Secondly, however, there's the vague: Although Microsoft said it would use CFR while it runs 19H2/1909 through Insider-based testing, it said nothing of relying on the rollout tactic at or after launch.

CFR-generated prudence would seem to be a smart move for any new feature in 19H2/1909, seeing as the truly-new would have little time with Insiders (July 1 through a September debut, or two months and change). Or, if the new feature(s) in 19H2/1909 are actually items brought forward from 20H1 testing (the Insider focus since February), a leisurely distribution would also be a good idea, since the integration with the earlier upgrade might have been run through little or no testing.

On the other hand, CFR-based activation of a deployed 19H2/1909, especially on corporate PCs, could be a pain point for IT administrators if Microsoft, not themselves, were in charge of deciding when a feature pops on. Enterprise IT does not like surprises, one reason why resistance quickly grew against Windows 10's twice-annual upgrade cadence and 18-month support lifecycle.

Questions remain, but here's the bottom line so far

Not surprisingly, there are unanswered questions about the new process. It's likely answers won't be known until this fall or even later than that, after 19H2/1909 wraps up Insider testing and reaches customers. But Computerworld believes there's enough information now to paint a rough picture of how the changes reflect the evolving Windows 10 feature upgrade process.

  • The fall upgrade - 1909 - will be a delimited update, akin to a monthly cumulative release rather than a full feature upgrade. It will sport performance and reliability improvements and perhaps a few new features. It will not be an OS replacement, as all previous upgrades have been.
  • 1909 will be deployable via Windows Update or Windows Update for Business using a servicing mechanism similar to that used by the monthly updates. Via those update services, 1909 will only be available to users already running 1903, aka May 2019 Update.
  • For commercial customers running 1809 (October 2018 Update) or earlier, the upgrade process remains unchanged. "You will have the option to update to 19H2 just as you did with previous releases," Microsoft said, meaning that 1909 will be deployable using, say, Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM).
  • Windows 10 1909 is, more than anything, a "service pack" for 1903. For users who did not - and will not - run 1903, Windows 10 1909 is essentially 1903 plus some improvements.
  • Because of the above - most importantly the lack of new features - it's difficult to view 1909 as a credible feature upgrade on its own. Microsoft has, then, reduced its 2019 output to one feature upgrade (1903) and one service pack for that feature upgrade (1909).
  • It's implausible that Microsoft has crafted this as a one-off, in other words 1909-as-service-pack for a one-time rollout (perhaps to simply make up the time lost to delays by 1809 and 1903). This major (spring release) and very minor (fall release) will be the new normal going forward and last ... well, until Microsoft again changes its mind.

There are other aspects of the latest upend to Windows upgrades, which Computerworld will cover in a later companion piece, that will influence enterprise scheduling and affect Microsoft's penchant for pressing consumers to act as testers for commercial customers.

Credit: Gregg Keizer, Computer world

It’s a bad sign when companies answer complaints and concerns with corporate doublespeak.

virtual update button hovers over a keyboard

For many years, Microsoft has struggled to get the way it updates Windows right — and mostly got it wrong. But a month ago, I wrote about how Microsoft finally got a piece of it right, by giving people control over whether to install the twice-annual feature updates, such as the recent Windows 10 May 2019 Update.

Boy, was I ever off-target. Over the past few weeks, Microsoft has done little more than sow confusion about how and when Windows will be updated. It did this by issuing Orwellian statements and putting out a preview release schedule whose logic is undiscernible.

Clearly, Microsoft’s system for updating Windows is as broken as broken can be. And there are no signs it will ever be fixed.

 

There are various “rings” Insiders can sign up for: the Fast ring, which installs preview updates the moment they’re publicly released; the Slow ring, which installs them later, after they’ve been tested a bit; and the Release Preview ring, which installs them only after they’re essentially fully tested. There’s also a “Skip Ahead” program that lets an Insider skip an entire Windows version to the next one beyond.

Back in February, while Microsoft was testing the May 2019 Windows Update, it announced it was releasing an early Windows Preview build into Skip Ahead. But instead of releasing a build that would come out in the fall of 2019 (code-named 19H2, for being released in the second half of 2019), it was releasing one that was two versions ahead, due in the spring of 2020 (code-named 20H1, for the first half of 2020). (Until then, Microsoft had only released into Skip Ahead builds one release ahead, not two releases ahead.)

Microsoft explained in its post: “Some things we are working on in 20H1 require a longer lead time. We will begin releasing 19H2 bits to Insiders later this spring.”

It was certainly confusing that Microsoft was publicly testing a build not due for more than a year, while not testing one due out in not much more than six months. For enterprises and individuals that need to prepare for any Windows 10 update, this testing sequence made no sense. Why should they be preparing for 20H1 when they hadn’t even seen 19H2? At least they were promised 19H2’s first builds in the spring, at which point a more normal sequence should be re-established. They would then know whether the next version of Windows 10 would bring a lot of new features, or be not much more than a rollup of minor changes.

But the spring came and the spring went. Silence from Microsoft about 19H2. The 20H1 builds kept coming, but no 19H2 builds were released. So people started asking Microsoft spokesperson Brandon LeBlanc on Twitter why no builds had been released in the spring as promised. His Twitter answer, in part: “Our definition of ‘spring’ doesn’t necessarily match to exactly when spring ends and summer begins. It’ll happen when we’re ready.”

It was an answer reminiscent of George Orwell’s critique of the abasement of language by bureaucracies. In his novel 1984, Orwell put Newspeak in the mouths of government bureaucrats, but it was just as arrogant and disorienting coming from this corporate spokesperson. How different is “Spring is when we say it is” from Big Brother’s “Freedom is slavery”?

Well, we now know Microsoft’s definition of spring: July 1, when it finally released the first 19H2 build. Maybe the Insiders, Microsoft’s unpaid beta-testers, could make that work — if Microsoft hadn’t chosen that moment to suck all the logic out of its preview release schedule. It released 19H2 into the Slow ring, and then moved 20H1 into the Fast ring. That means that people who were expecting to test the next version of Windows in the Fast ring would in fact be testing a version of Windows not due until approximately a year from now. Only Slow ring testers would get a preview of the Windows version due this fall.

Confused yet? You should be. And it only gets worse. The 19H2 version of Windows due this fall won’t be installed the way such twice-a-year updates have long been installed. It will be installed like a normal Windows monthly update. With no significant new features, it will be little more than what Microsoft used to call a service pack, which rolls up a number of minor updates together.

Microsoft tried to explain all this in a blog post, “Evolving Windows 10 servicing and quality: the next steps.” The post is full of gobbledygook, corporate doublespeak and acronyms like “CFR.” It is, to put it mildly, laughably incomprehensible.

The upshot of all this? Windows Update is broken and needs to be fixed. Microsoft owes it to its customers to be upfront about what to expect from the next versions of Windows, especially because it is using many of them — the Windows Insiders — as guinea pigs.

Enterprises in particular need to know what will be in Windows updates, so that they can decide whether and how to prepare for them. Enterprises are Microsoft’s lifeblood. Microsoft should make its update procedures logical — preferably just one significant one a year, and perhaps a second minor service pack. And it should be clear and transparent about exactly what it’s doing. That means it shouldn’t declare that July 1 is spring and it shouldn’t issue blog posts that read as if they were written by a committee made up of adherents of 1930s-style Marxism — by which I mean a combination of the Marx Brothers and Soviet apparatchiks.

Credit: Preston Gralla, Computerworld

While blockchain holds the promise for reinventing business processes, it is still a developing technology with few production systems in place, not to mention governance issues and vulnerabilities that must be understood.

FinTech - financial technology - blockchain network - distributed ledger wireframe

The myriad of pilots and proofs of concept by large corporations and government agencies are showing real promise, but those projects don't always lead to obvious business cases that justify doing something differently. Sometimes a tried and true technology like a relational database can perform the task much more efficiently than a distributed ledger based on peer-to-peer technology that will require complex governance and rules.

For example, a blockchain that offers full visibility across an entire value chain may make a ton of sense, but when you weigh the costs for setting up that ecosystem and building out that blockchain, it may not make fiscal sense.

"Who is going to pay for it, and how will the benefits that make so much intuitive sense accrue to the participants? If the costs are shared, are they shared by outcomes? By return on investment? These are knotty issues that often get bigger as pilots move to production," said James Wester, research director for IDC Worldwide Blockchain Strategies. "In other words, the pilot proved the concept works, but at scale, the costs and considerations become much bigger."

 

Part of problem has to do with the way blockchain projects have been funded. Pilots and PoCs tend to come from innovation or R&D budgets, but once they go to production, the costs have to hit a business unit or company. And when blockchains involve partner companies working together on an open ledger, the partners must agree on complex rules and how the project is funded.

"Without a compelling business case, those costs may be less attractive. And given the distributed nature of blockchain, if one party decides not to participate, the whole thing can fall apart," Wester said.

Here are the top problems companies are likely to encounter with blockchain:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Blockchain is still relatively young, and software flaws remain

While the first distributed blockchain was conceptualized in 2008 by "Satoshi Nakamoto" (a pseudonym), real-world applications for the technology are only a few years old.

The two most prevalent blockchain platforms, Hyperledger and Ethereum, lack maturity, which could present unforeseen problems in deployment. CIOs and their teams should consider the potential discovery of serious bugs in the software, said Martha Bennett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. They might even need to scrap a blockchain project and begin again after running into software glitches.

For example, Ethereum's script for executing smart contracts — Solidity — doesn't currently support the use of decimal points, which would require developers to create a workaround or start over.

"I have seen that happen on a number of occasions," Bennett said. "When I talked to people working on projects — and they are working on big, serious projects — they will also say the longer they work with the technology, the more they realize just how immature it is."

What has changed is that startups and leading enterprise technology vendors, such as IBM and Oracle, have been working steadily to provide tools that abstract away from the underlying complexity of specific programming environments, along with "smart contract scripting languages that provide appropriate guardrails," Bennett said.

"Overall, it's worth pointing out that not only tooling is improving, but there are now also quite a few services that make it easier for companies to get blockchain networks up and running," Bennett noted.

Few business leaders fully understand blockchain and related technologies

Blockchain is often used as shorthand for a host of accompanying technologies, architectures, use cases and even philosophies.

At its most basic, it's a peer-to-peer-based distributed ledger or database organized by a set of protocols combined with a blockchain, meaning a series of encrypted sets of data that record immutable changes over time. While that may be relatively straightforward, depending on how the technology is being implemented, the definition can become convoluted.

Wester is often tasked with defining blockchain along with a "basket of technologies" that fall under the general heading of "blockchain," including tokenized assets, cryptocurrencies, crypto wallets, distributed ledgers, smart contracts, and self-sovereign identity; all of the latter group are applications or architectures that can run on top of a blockchain network, but are not a native part of the technology.

"We are still in the stages of explaining how the technology works," Wester said. "Additionally, it's possible to have relatively smart discussions about the technology without actually knowing some of those differences, so many semi-informed people don't even bother to learn the terms and technology."

Blockchain is not always suitable for storing data

One of blockchain's greatest assets is its write-once, append-many distributed nature; it can be easily deployed across disparate nodes on the web, and yet each record contains its own hash, making it immutable.

A distributed ledger via a blockchain-based network can provide a richer, more comprehensive transaction history than the selective view users may get if they've only got internal systems and maybe some blacklists to review.

However, that doesn't mean data related to transactions must be part of that chain.

For example, if blockchain users include images as part of their transactions, the data volume would quickly grow — as would network overhead, given that an append-only data store gets bigger and bigger over time. Because of blockchain's distributed nature, all data must be replicated to all nodes in the chain, Bennett explained.

It's better to use a relational database with separate networked storage for some transactional tasks than to grow a blockchain out of control. "Rule of thumb: don't ever, ever go for a blockchain-based architecture when a relational database will do the job," Bennett said.

While not all blockchain frameworks require full replication of data across nodes, all systems need to be very carefully architected to take into consideration regulatory requirements, the need for confidentiality, and the potential latency issues, according to Bennett. "That determines what goes on chain and what doesn't," she said.

Scaling remains an issue (but less so than it once was)

One of the major issues facing blockchain involves scalability, or its ability to grow without consuming increasingly vast amounts of CPU capacity and to complete transactions in near real time, such as clearing payments via credit cards. Visa says its network — VisaNet — handles up to 65,000 transactions per second.

Due to its chain nature, each new record inserted into a blockchain has to be serialized, which means that the rate of updates is slower than with traditional databases, which can update data in parallel.

blockchain how it works 

While blockchain consortiums and startups alike are piloting blockchains that can handle ten thousand transactions per second or even greater capacity than VisaNet's network, most are still hampered by scaling issues. Popular blockchain protocols such as bitcoin support just three to five transactions per second, while Ethereum can support about 20 per second.

The degree to which scaling remains an issue differs between frameworks and governance models. For example, the Ethereum Foundation is working on using a proof of stake consensus model as well as techniques such as sharding to increase its protocol's performance.

"How you architect the network also matters — latency can be more of a challenge than compute power," Bennett said. "For example, I've seen very impressive test results, but they're meaningless if they're achieved by renting a huge AWS cluster for your test."

Avivah Litan, a Gartner vice president of research, said scalability is more of a governance issue today than a technical one.

"With permissioned blockchain, the whole concept of [a zero trust model] falls apart," Litan said. "You have a limited number of witnesses operating the nodes and the consensus [process], so you really need to trust those parties, and you need legal frameworks for if they do anything wrong. To me that's not really scalable."

In the context of blockchain, the oft-used metric "transactions per second" is also relatively meaningless, Bennett argued. "Firstly, how do you define 'transaction'? And secondly, just processing lots of transactions is beside the point if you can't finalize them," Bennett said.

Blockchain requires governance

Blockchain does not inherently eliminate central authorities; it substitutes one type of authority or trust model for another, according to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

"Instead of placing trust in a central authority such as a broker or a central bank to facilitate an exchange, participants must trust in the blockchain system design and technology, and the network rules," the report stated. "It does not eliminate the need for some form of governance authority to establish, implement, and enforce the rules and to respond to unexpected system challenges and exceptions. While members of such a governance body may be distributed or decentralized, a point of governance is still needed to address operational issues."

Dispute resolution, or how to come to an agreement when something goes wrong, also remains a key governance issue, Bennett said.

For example, blockchain participants need to agree on how they'll abide by the way a smart contract operates, and what happens in the case of a disputed contract.

"If something happens that you forgot to code into it, there needs to be an off-chain way of coding it in, or a 'kill switch' if it starts acting in a way that was not intended," Bennett said.

By default, blockchains share information you might not want shared

Public blockchains — the most prevalent form — are open and transparent, meaning anyone on the chain can see every transaction. That's the case with bitcoin.

Public blockchains also have the nascent ability to be the more tamper-proof because they can grow to thousands (hypothetically, even millions) of nodes, like an enormous distributed computer. The more nodes, the more difficult it is for a bad actor to take control of a majority of the compute power and either prevent new transactions from gaining confirmation or create and confirm their own entries; being able to do that would enable nefarious behavior, such as double spending bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.

When you're working in a commercial environment, on the other hand, complete transparency isn't typically a good thing. For example, if blockchain technology is being used as part of a stock trading platform as a mechanism for instant settlement, each participant in the chain can see what every other user is doing; that would allow one user to trade against another in real time.

In another example, if a manufacturer is using blockchain as an open ledger for its suppliers, it would allow one contractor to see all other subcontractors in the chain.

"I might not want my customer to see who all my subcontractors are, even though you may want a particular transaction flow on the chain," Bennett said. "So, you immediately get into how to decide how... you keep transaction data confidential."

There are methods for creating exclusivity on blockchains so that only some users can see confidential or sensitive data. For example, Hyperledger, an open-source blockchain project under the Linux Foundation, uses "channels" or sub-chains to ensure that only some authorized users can see sensitive information.

Blockchains are only as secure as the weakest link

As mentioned above, there are two general types of blockchain, public and private. Public blockchains allow anyone to join; bitcoin is a good example of a public blockchain where anyone who wants to purchase the cryptocurrency can join in the chain. It's open and transparent, meaning everyone in the chain can see all the transactions. If one or even many participants attempt to game the system, they will be overwhelmed by the majority of users who have to validate new transactions.

"The bottom line is you don't have to trust your peers in a large public blockchain network. That's the Byzantine General's problem that's solved by public blockchain," Litan said.

Conversely, private or permissioned blockchains are centrally administered and require permission to join; they are suited for use within a single organization or among partner organizations. Only authorized users can join.

Both public and private blockchains are natively secure because they're immutable (i.e., each record or block is unchangeable and tied to all others), and to add new blocks requires a consensus among users; how large that consensus must be is dependent on the blockchain in use. For some, it's 50%; for others, it's more. The immutability and consensus requirement of blockchains make them natively more secure than most other networking technologies, but depending on the architecture and who's running the nodes and where, blockchains are vulnerable to attack, as has been seen time and time again.

 

While blockchain provides security relative to the integrity of the data recorded on a blockchain, the blockchain alone, without additional technologies or systems, cannot protect against unauthorized access, such as a data breach, according to the report from Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

For example, a recent "51% attack" on the Ethereum Classic token exchange showed why even blockchain is not impermeable to gaming. A 51% attack refers to a bad actor who gains control of the majority of CPUs in a cryptocurrency mining pool. Such attacks are generally limited to smaller blockchains with fewer nodes, because they're more susceptible to a single person seizing control based on a Proof of Work (PoW) consensus mechanism.

Data transparency, or the ability for all parties on a blockchain to view transactions, is part of its appeal in that bad actors can quickly be identified if they attempt to add unverified data. Transparency of data, however, can also be a threat. For example, in a settlement or clearing system for financial institutions where confidentiality may be a key component of security, system data transparency is a security risk, the Federal Reserve's report noted.

"Where transparency is present, but confidentiality is needed, either encryption of the data on the chain or strong authentication access is required," the report stated. "Confidentiality and access control can be built into a blockchain, but are not inherent attributes. The blockchain itself also does not provide authentication."

In other words, don't assume because one blockchain design implementation includes a particular feature, such as privacy, transparency, or strong user authentication, that others will also have that feature.

Systems that provide information to blockchains, such as smart contracts, can also be attack vectors because they are not decentralized but are single points of failure, Bennett noted.

Smart contracts are neither smart nor contracts

Smart, or self-executing, contracts are a business automation tool built atop blockchain. They are one of more attractive features of the technology in that they're able to remove administrative overhead. Essentially, once certain conditions of a contract are met, receipt information, money, property or goods are released automatically.

For example, an insurance company could use smart contracts to release claim money based on events such as large-scale floods, hurricanes or droughts. Or, once a cargo shipment reaches a port of entry and IoT sensors inside the container confirm the contents have been unopened, stored at proper temperatures, and so on, a bill of lading could automatically be issued.

Bennett, however, argued that so-called smart contracts are neither smart nor contracts in the legal sense. Combined with a lack of blockchain scripting language maturity, there's intrinsically a steeper learning curve for programmers that could lead to bugs or vulnerabilities.

While a smart contract is only as good as the rules and software used to create automated processes, that is becoming less of an issue, according to Bennett.

"We're even beginning to see tools that allow businesspeople to pull together the basics of a smart contract," she said. "That's only the beginning, though — as some companies have already discovered, it can be a challenge to ensure that every network participant runs the same version of a smart contract."

Other challenges include ensuring that no security issues arise from smart contracts themselves, Bennett added, and making sure that any external inputs to the smart contracts are valid and correct.

"As I keep saying, just because it's on a blockchain doesn't mean it's true," Bennett said, referring to ensuring that data input is accurate and verified at the source. "A smart contract will only ever be as good as the rules that teams put together for automating processes, and also depends on the quality of the programming."

Blockchain participants also need to agree on how they'll abide by the way the contract operates, and what happens in the case of a disputed contract. Creating a new business process also requires agreement on those conditions between disparate users, and there are already instances of blockchain projects being held up because people can't agree on the conditions under which they should be operating. So, as much as blockchain is about IT, it's also about contractual agreements.

"As someone recently said to me, blockchains are 80% business and 20% technology," Bennett said.

Additionally, while blockchains may be decentralized across dozens or thousands of nodes, smart contracts are not. That means the blockchain nodes have no visibility into how the smart contract works; in other words, a consortium of companies who are a part of a blockchain network must rely on one entity for the information being fed into the smart contract — an oracle.

Blockchain networks use centralized software agents called oracles to find and verify that real-world events have taken place, which then triggers a smart contract to act based on predefined conditions. So, for example, the temperature of pharmaceuticals being shipped from California to Denmark could be monitored by an IoT sensor in the shipping container. The sensor information is collected by the oracle software and then sent to the smart contract, which, if the temperature ranges were met throughout the journey, can trigger an event through the blockchain, such as issuing a bill of lading or release of payment for the shipment.

If your company is part of a blockchain consortium — a supply chain, for example — it has no way to know what's running in the smart contract. There's no verifiability. Essentially, you have to take the word of the company running the server on which the oracle and smart contract reside for the information being fed to the blockchain.

"You have to go to one source, one table, one oracle for that data. There's no standard processes to verify the data is what is says it is and it's coming in properly. It's a central point of failure," Gartner's Litan said.

"It's not mature yet," Litan continued. "I've talked to companies participating in a consortium and asked them, 'How do you know what the smart contract is doing?' and they say they don't. If you have a contract running your life, wouldn't you want to know what it's doing?"

Credit: Lucas Mearian, Computerworld

Last month brought a bevy of “silver bullet” patches, which fixed bugs introduced in earlier patches. This month, save yourself the bother. In most cases it’s easy to tell Windows to back off for a few weeks. You have to patch eventually, but there’s no reason to join the ranks of the unpaid beta-testers.

patch on top of Windows logo

It's patch protection time again.

Sometimes when Windows patches arrive, they need to be installed immediately. We saw that happen in May with the BlueKeep patches. But in most cases, you stand a greater chance of getting hurt by a bad patch (which are legion) than by getting zapped by a just-patched security hole.

That’s an unpopular opinion, but one that’s served me well for more than a decade. There’s a detailed manifesto in The case against knee-jerk installation of Windows patches

If you want to get the latest patches as soon as they’re out, you needn’t do a thing. Microsoft has undoubtedly rigged your machine already so it’ll install the patches the minute they come rolling out the Automatic Update chute. All I ask is that you tell us of any problems you encounter on AskWoody.com.

If you’d rather minimize the drama — and don’t mind keeping an eye out for problems like the one we had in May — temporarily turning off Automatic Update can protect you from the slings and arrows of outrageous bad patches.

Blocking Automatic Update on Win7 and 8.1

If you haven’t recently patched Windows XP, Vista, Win7, Server 2003, 2008 or 2008 R2 systems, drop everything and get patched now. Once you’ve installed the BlueKeep patches, come back here and turn Automatic Update off. (No need to bother with XP and Vista; they aren’t getting automatically updated anyway.)

If you’re using Windows 7 or 8.1, click Start > Control Panel > System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the "Turn automatic updating on or off" link. Click the "Change Settings" link on the left. Verify that you have Important Updates set to "Never check for updates (not recommended)" and click OK.

Blocking Automatic Update on Win10 Pro 1803 or 1809

If you’re using Win10 Pro version 1803 or 1809 I recommend an update blocking  technique that Microsoft recommends for “Broad Release” in its obscure Build deployment rings for Windows 10 updates — which is intended for admins, but applies to you, too. (Thx, @zero2dash.)

Step 1. Using an administrative account, click Start > Settings > Update & Security. 

Step 2. On the left, choose Windows Update. On the right, click the link for Advanced options. If you’re using Win10 version 1803 or 1809, you see the settings in the screenshot. 

1809 feature update 240 days

Step 3. The first box — “Semi-Annual Channel” — is no longer recognized by Microsoft. It has changed the terminology and hasn't changed Windows to match the latest diktat. In our newly redefined update world, choosing “Semi-Annual Channel” adds 60 days to the “feature update” setting discussed in the next step. I recommend that you nod, wink and, in the first box, choose Semi-Annual Channel.

Step 4. To further delay new versions until they’ve been minimally tested, set the “feature update” deferral setting to 240 days or more. That tells the Windows Updater (unless Microsoft makes another “mistake,” as it has numerous times in the past) that it should wait until 300 days after a new version is released (60 days for Semi-Annual Channel + 240 days deferral) before upgrading and reinstalling Windows on your machine.

Win10 version 1809 was nominally released on Nov. 11, 2018. Add 300 days and you get Sept. 7, 2019. So if you’re running 1803 Advanced options on Semi-Annual Channel, and you set the “feature update” deferral to 240 days, you won’t be forcibly upgraded to 1809 until Sep. 7, at the earliest.

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, Microsoft is actively pushing Win10 1803 machines onto 1903. Many of us would like to give 1903 more time to age before making the leap. We still don’t know how hard Microsoft is going to push — if it’s going to offer the 1903 upgrade sweetly with a “Download and install now” option, or if it’s just going to shove 1803 customers under the 1903 bus. If you’d like to block 1903 for the foreseeable future, follow the instructions in How to block the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, version 1903, from installing.

Step 5. To delay cumulative updates, set the “quality update” deferral to 15 days or so. (“Quality update” = cumulative update = bug fix.) In my experience, Microsoft usually yanks bad Win10 cumulative updates within a couple of weeks of their initial release. By setting this to 10 or 15 or 20 days, Win10 will update itself after the major screams of pain have subsided and (with some luck) the bad cumulative updates have been pulled or re-issued. Notably, in February 2019, it took Microsoft 18 days to fix its first-Tuesday bugs.

Step 6. Just “X” out of the settings pane. You don’t need to explicitly save anything.

Step 7. Don’t click Check for updates. Ever.

If there are any real howlers — months where the cumulative updates were irretrievably bad, and never got any better, as they were in July of last year — we’ll let you know, loud and clear. 

Tired old approach for Win10 Home 1803 and 1809

If you have Win10 Home, version 1803 or 1809, your only reasonable option (other than installing a third-party patch blocker) is to set your internet connection to “metered.” Metered connections are an update-blocking kludge that seems to work to fend off cumulative updates, but as best I can tell still doesn’t have Microsoft’s official endorsement as a cumulative update prophylactic.

To set your Ethernet connection as metered: Click Start > Settings > Network & Internet. On the left, choose Ethernet. On the right, click on your Ethernet connection. Then move the slider for Metered connection to On.

To set your Wi-Fi connection as metered: Click Start > Settings > Network & Internet. On the left, choose Wi-Fi. On the right, click on your Wi-Fi connection. Move the slider for Metered connection to On.

If you set your internet connection to metered, you need to watch closely as the month unfolds, and judge when it’s safe to let the demons in the door. At that point, turn “metered” off, and just let your machine update itself. Don’t click Check for updates.

And then there’s Win10 version 1903

If you’re running Win10 version 1903, you’re entering uncharted water. We’ve heard lots of promises about the new updating regimen, but haven’t been through enough update cycles to know exactly what’s going to happen. The recent announcement that Win10 1909 will act like a cumulative update, but rate as a version change/Service Pack in some undefined sense just adds to the confusion.

If you’re using Win10 1903 Home, we still don’t have enough experience — or reliable documentation — to say for sure, but it seems to be a good idea to both set your connection to metered (as discussed in the preceding section) and to click Pause updates twice on the Windows Update page — for a total of 14 paused days. Historically, that’s been sufficient to avoid the worst problems.

If you’re using Win10 1903 Pro, and you haven’t yet set feature update or cumulative update deferrals, the instructions for setting them are the same as those for setting Win10 1803 or 1809 deferrals, as explained earlier. On the other hand, if you have set deferrals for either, the “Choose when updates are installed” deferral piece of the Advanced Options pane disappears

If you can see “Choose when updates are installed,” I suggest you defer feature updates by 365 days, although with Win10 “19H2” still a great unknown, it’s hard to guess how this setting will come into play. I also suggest you defer quality updates (cumulative updates) by 15 days. You won’t be able to see those settings once they’ve been changed unless you dive into the registry, but it looks like they “stick” even if you can’t see them.

Maybe Microsoft will get its patching act together before 1909 becomes a reality. Or maybe not. I think it’s great that we’re finally getting some relief from the insane two-versions-a-year pace. But has anybody thought through how this is, you know, actually going to work?

Credit: Woody Leaonhard, Computerworld.

Augmented reality and virtual reality implementations are emerging across several sectors, thanks to their value in providing remote training and hands-free access to information.

Augmented reality and virtual reality in business

AR and VR both leverage digital information, but use different interfaces. AR solutions include software on smartphones or heads-up displays, such as smartglasses, to overlay digital information, including images and text, atop physical objects in the real world. Conversely, VR is about immersion, with users typically strapping on headsets loaded with applications that replace the real world with a virtual environment. MR lies somewhere along the continuum between AR and VR.

The consensus among experts is that XR will mature as technologies improve and become available at a lower cost, and as enterprises find ways to scale XR in pursuit of business value. But market maturity is still 5 to 10 years away, according to Gartner.

“Businesses already experiment with VR, but hesitate to fully commit,” says Gartner analyst Tuong Huy Nguyen. “On the other hand, customers are fascinated by the new entertainment possibilities, but do not want to invest in head-mounted displays as long as the offering is so small. This is going to change during the next five years.”

Seventy percent of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use, and 25 percent will be deployed for production by 2022, Gartner says.

XR for social services training

While the ability to work hands-free from remote locales is a key driver for XR in industrial sectors, health care and social services are using XR to train employees, says Rori DuBoff, head of content innovation at Accenture Interactive.

For instance, Accenture is enabling inexperienced caseworkers to receive training simulations through VR headsets. The content uses immersive storytelling and interactive voice-based scenarios to help caseworkers hone their people and decision-making skills. The goal, DuBoff says, is to get new staff up to speed with real-world scenarios as quickly as possible. And it beats hiring consultancies to help coach new hires. VR/AR training will top $8 billion by 2023, according to IDC. 

"These use cases will continue to grow because the cost savings are tremendous," DuBoff says. "These companies are taking incremental steps to get away from inefficient work."

The potential for XR is a big reason why Acccenture made a strategic investment in Upskill, a software maker that helps Boeing, General Electric and other companies deploy AR in business environments.

"It's not a fad; it's how people will be living and working for the future,” DuBoff says of the XR evolution. DuBoff expects XR use cases will proliferate as 5G emerges to eliminate the latency issues that thwart XR today.

Debunking the wearable myth: XR doesn’t require a headset or glasses because software alone can add value. For instance, improvements to 3D software enable physicians to view images of organ and bone on iPads in much clearer detail than in flat, 2D images, DuBoff says. She also notes that apparel makers such as Warby Parker enable consumers to virtually try on glass frames using their smartphone camera and Apple’s ARKit software.

Even better than the real thing: Virtual sneaker unboxing

Footlocker is one such retailer embracing AR to engage its sweet spot clientele: 13- to 27-year-old customers for whom mobile device and application penetration is high. “In many cases, they start their journey way before they connect with our properties,” via Instagram, Facebook and other social media channels, says Foot Locker CIO Pawan Verma.

To foster more brand loyalty, Foot Locker in December 2017 enabled Snapchat users to “unbox” Gatorade AJ1 sneakers by placing images of the shoes within their photos and videos on Snapchat before they became available in retail stores. Foot Locker added an AR feature to its Eastbay brand app, allowing iPhone and Android smartphone users to scan physical pages of the Eastbay catalog to discover videos, stories, products, and other content. 

Verma says he is looking to hire 120 to 150 people to work on personalization, data analytics, AR and other digital skills in the company’s Chicago office.

By 2020, 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store as retailers seek to strengthen relationship with customers, according to Gartner.

Lesson learned: A well-crafted, personalized user experience is key. “AR enables you to get immersed into that experience and once you start to experience that your likelihood of recommending is high,” Verma says. He says that while consumers may not actually purchase products after making use of unboxing or other AR features, the data they create consuming such tools is valuable once Foot Locker applies machine learning algorithms to it.

VR training comes to insurance

Collaboration between business and IT on VR is also afoot at Farmers Insurance Group. Keith Daly, the company’s president of personal lines, and former CIO Ron Guerrier worked with VR startup Tailspin to create virtual mock-ups of damaged cars and homes for training purposes.

Donning Oculus Rift headsets, claims representatives in Farmers’ experience labs walk around vehicles and homes, observing what damage to, say, a front quarter panel of a Lexis looks like, or water damage to a house. The simulations allow reps to "touch and feel open cabinets and doors," Guerrier says. For the home simulations alone, Guerrier says Farmer's has conceived more than 500 damage combinations for the training. “It’s always a different leak; it’s so unique," he adds. “An adjuster can be doing this for three weeks and they’ll never have the same scenario going into the home."

Virtual training has the potential to save Farmers as much as $300,000 annually in travel costs. Farmers trains nearly 300 property claims reps annually. Training starts in a classroom environment followed by three weeks of study at the University of Farmers in Agoura Hills, Calif. Today, trainees can learn remotely via the VR headset and software, reducing travel. Emboldened by the success of the training, Farmers is creating a VR studio in Kansas City, which he says will cost a tenth of what it would cost to rent and fill another experience lab with broken cars and to re-create damaged homes.

Guerrier says Farmer's is also adding "role-playing" to the training, simulating interactions between an adjuster and a bound-to-be-upset customer grappling with some form of property damage. Ideally, this training will make adjusters more empathetic as they begin to engage with customers in real event scenarios.

What’s next: As VR technology becomes more pervasive, Guerrier says, reps will be able to access such capabilities from their own home to simulate damages. “That is the ultimate mobility in training — leveraging AR so they don’t have to fly," Guerrier says. "The adjuster can be at their best helping the customer when they need it.”

XR for remote field service coaching

A use case that is ripe for XR is assigning semi-retired employees to coach inexperienced field-service workers from afar, says Joe Tobolski, who as CTO of consultancy Nerdery advises tech leaders on XR and other digital implementations.

For example, an oil and gas company can use XR wearables to connect seasoned employees to new hires who may be miles apart from each other. Co-viewing the field worker’s headset video feed from their computer at home, the semi-retired worker can “see” what the field employee sees and can walk them through a solution, even sending digital help manuals. Once the problem is resolved, the semi-retired employee can move on to the next virtual service call without having to leave his or her home. This can be a real “force multiplier” for industrial companies pursuing safer operations, says Tobolski.

“It’s about how you can provide the on-the-ground knowledge and ‘ride along’ with the younger workers,” Tobolski says. Another example includes peered software programming between distant colleagues using VR headsets to “sling code out.”

Technical-physio barriers remain. The reality is that humans still require headsets that won’t induce vertigo in users, while also helping them make sense of their environments. “The hardware is catching up, and the computing power to integrate with reality is getting better,” Tobolski says.

Credit: Clint Boulton, CIO.com

THE Galaxy S10 is getting a refreshed design as major news about this device will certainly please Samsung.

Samsung Galaxy S10 update
Samsung Galaxy S10 update

Samsung fans who have been waiting to buy the new Galaxy S10 now have a new design to choose from.

The Korean firm has just announced the UK launch of the Cardinal Red model which is exclusively available on the EE network.

This striking design now joins Prism Green, Prism White and Prism Black in the full range of colours.

This bold new phone can be picked up for £45 per month which includes 1GB of data plus unlimited calls and text.
According to latest reports from Korean news agencies citing Counterpoint Research, the Galaxy S10 range has outsold the previous S9 by a considerable margin.

The latest news suggests that around 16 million Galaxy S10e, Galaxy S10, and Galaxy S10+ units have been sold since launch.

That’s a 12 per cent increase over its predecessor.

Along with those sales figures, it’s also been revealed that the S10+ seems to be the most popular with a 42 per cent share of sales.

Samsung Galaxy S10 update

The Cardinal Red S10 is now available in the UK 

That’s followed by S10 with a 32 per cent share and the S10e with 22 per cent.

There’s no official confirmation from Samsung about sales but the firm is sure to be pleased if these results are true.

Along with the S10, Samsung is expected to release its new Note 10 flagship next month.

The firm released details of a major keynote earlier this week with August 7 the date confirmed for the next Unpacked event.

 

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 release

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 release will take place next month

The Note 10 is expected to include a triple rear camera, embedded fingerprint scanner and improved S Pen stylus.

Fans may also be treated to a faster processor, bigger battery and the inclusion of PowerShare which could allow the Note to refill other devices wirelessly.

Some reports have also suggested that numerous versions of the Note 10 will be revealed next month including a cheaper model and more expensive 5G variant.

We’ll find out more on August 7 when Samsung holds its major keynote in New York.

APPLE'S iPhone 11 is shown off in a newly leaked video but fans would be wise not to believe what they see.

Apple iPhone 11 release as cloned phone revealed online 

The iPhone leaks and rumours just keep on coming but the latest video that's just been posted online might be one Apple fans should ignore.

The footage, which has already been viewed over 20,000 times on YouTube, appears to show a real iPhone 11 being unboxed and used in the real world.

During the seven-minute clip, the device is shown off in full and even switched on to reveal a working display and what appears to be a version of Apple's popular iOS software.

Many of the design features also match up with the current iPhone 11 rumours including the addition of the triple rear camera which is expected to grace the rear case of this new flagship.

It's thought Apple is finally bringing improved zoom and the ability to shoot images with a wide-angle lens which could be one of its most thrilling new features.

At a glance, this latest footage looks incredibly real with fans even treated to a glimpse of three different colour variants.

However, taking a closer look at the video reveals this is actually a cloned phone that has been created to look just like what is expected next from Apple.

There's plenty of giveaways to prove this is not the real deal including the huge bezel at the bottom of the screen.

The US technology firm has worked unbelievably hard to minimise this black bar around its display even curving the panel inside the phone so they can get as close to the edge as possible.

Another thing you are unlikely to find on the real iPhone 11 are such slow speeds.

Apple iPhone 11

Apple iPhone 11

When the user in the clip scrolls through menus and closes apps there's a noticeable lag which won't be coming to Apple's newest device.

The iPhone Xs is already considered to be one of the fastest phones on the market and the next generation is only going to get more impressive.

We can expect plenty more fake devices to appear online before the official launch but, with Apple having such a secure supply chain, the chances of seeing the real thing until launch day is highly unlikely.

Although there's no official confirmation of what is coming next expect all to revealed in September as this is when Apple always reveals its latest and greatest smartphones.

Credit: David Knelling, express.co.uk

VODAFONE users are finally getting access to 5G speeds after the firm switched on its next generation mobile signal at an event in London today.

Vodafone 5G launch
Vodafone 5G launch live

Vodafone customers are being treated to a huge speed boost from today with the mobile network officially offering rapid 5G speeds.

This new technology is capable of beaming the web to devices at over 300Mbps meaning a full HD movie could be accessed in a matter of minutes.

Full details about Vodafone’s plans have just been announced at an event in London with the firm saying it will offer fully unlimited plans from today.

The first areas to access the new network will include Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London with more areas being added throughout the year.

"That is why we want to remove the limits on data, so that customers can unlock the full potential of 5G, and we can really propel the UK into the digital age.

"By offering unlimited plans to our consumer and business customers, we will revolutionise the market. We will give customers all the data they need, when and where they want it.”

Vodafone 5G

Vodafone 5G 
HERE'S THE NEW PLANS

Vodafone Unlimited Max: At £30 per month, it gives users unlimited mobile access at speeds as fast as the device and the network will allow. It is perfect for people who want to take advantage of the latest technology, such as live virtual reality, watching live TV and sport in 4K with ultra-high definition video and gaming on the go.

Vodafone Unlimited: Costing £26 per month and offering speeds of up to 10 Mbps, it is ideal for customers who want to stream boxsets and films and download on the go, without worrying about their data usage.

Vodafone Unlimited Lite: Aimed at users who want to chat on social apps, browse the internet and stream music, this service costs £23 per month and offers speeds of up to 2 Mbps.

Along with the plans, Vodafone has also announced the devices that will be available on its service.

The network says customers can choose from two 5G smartphones - the Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 smartphone and the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, as well as a 5G router, the 5G GigaCube.

The 5G GigaCube is ideal for use in the home and office, giving customers high-speed broadband access up to 10 times faster than 4G. 

Vodafone blast pod

Vodafone UK 5G launches today (Image: VODAFONE)

Although Vodafone now joins EE in actually launching 5G, another UK network is making some bold claims about why it could beat its rivals.

Three Mobile has just confirmed that its 5G service will launch in August with the company boasting that, at launch, its 5G technology will be at least two times faster than any other UK provider.

In fact, Three is convinced it will be the only network that can offer a "true" 5G experience.

Three will begin by releasing its 5G signal in homes in a bid to shake up the fixed-line broadband market.

Along with being much faster than most broadband bundles, Three says that its 5G wireless home broadband is estimated to save people £240 per year as there won't be any need to have a phone line or expensive installation.

Vodafone uses 5G to make the first live holographic call in the UK

Speaking at the launch of 5G, Dave Dyson, CEO at Three, said: “It’s clear that consumers and businesses want more and more data.

"We have worked hard over a long period of time to be able to offer the best end to end 5G experience. 5G is a game changer for Three, and of course I am excited that we will be the only operator in the UK who can offer true 5G.”

Credit: David Snelling, express.co.uk

After finally passing the 50% mark in May, Windows 10 stalled in June. Windows 7 held steady despite the short window left before support runs out.

windows 7 logo in the rear view mirror

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Apparently, just six months before Windows 7 hits retirement, users decided to take a break from migrating to the latest shiny, Windows 10.

According to web metrics company Net Applications, anyway.

The chances that everyone pressed Pause in June are about the same as pocketing a million from a scratch-it. In other words, highly unlikely. But that's what Net Applications claimed Monday.

Windows 7's share of all personal computers barely budged in June, remaining at 35.4%, and its portion of the PCs running Windows stayed put at 40.1%. (The second number was significantly larger than the first because Windows does not power every personal computer; in June, Windows ran 88.3% of the world's machines. All but a miniscule fraction of the rest ran macOS, Linux or Chrome OS.)

Meanwhile, Windows 10's numbers were almost as immune to change. The operating system's share of all PCs reached 45.8%, an increase of less than one-tenth of a percentage point. Windows 10's share of Windows PCs did not move at all, sticking with 51.8%. (The stubbornness of the share of Windows overall was an artifact of rounding.)

So, what's going on? Did Windows users, especially commercial customers tasked with getting off Windows 7 before security updates dry up, really stop doing — what they'd done the month before — upgrading from 7 to 10?

Who knows? As Computerworld has noted numerous times when discussing analytics data that tries (pretends, some would argue) to reveal Microsoft's secrets, the whole process can be an impenetrable black box. Everything must be inferred, whether X gained when Y declined, or in this case, movement stalled.

It may simply be the data itself; Net Applications has visibility only on sites it monitors for clients. Its user share numbers are extrapolations at best, and so far from definitive to be laughable. But failing Microsoft's own data — which it has, thanks to the telemetry embedded within Windows — it's the best outsiders have. (Virtually every estimate of OS or browser share is based on the same principles used by Net Applications.)

What's important, as always, is to keep an eye on the longer-term trends. If any of this is worthwhile, it's the over-time movements of an OS. That's why, even in a month which stumps easy analysis, Net Applications' Windows numbers can provide insight.

Windows 10 still accelerates

By Net Applications' numbers, Windows 10's growth still shows signs of speeding up. The average per-month change over the past 12 months has been +0.84 of a percentage point. But over the last 6 months, the average climbed to +1.1 points, representing an increase of about 24%.

However, Windows 7's decline has not kept pace. Rather than accelerate, it has slowed. While Windows 7's average per-month movement over the last 12 months has been -0.53 percentage points, the 6-month average was only -0.25 points, or less than half. If Windows 7's fall was speeding up, the 6-month average decline should be larger not smaller than the 12-month.

That's why Windows 7's forecast — based, as always, on the operating system's 12-month average change — now pegs its January 2020 user share at 35.7%, nearly half a point higher than the prognostication of the month before. (Windows 7 will exit support Jan. 14, 2020.) That's a lot of PCs destined to go without security updates.

Meanwhile, Windows 10 should stand at about 58% of all Windows installations when the older OS drops off support, a decrease of approximately two points from the early-June forecast. A year later — January 2021 — Windows 7 and Windows 10 will be at 28.5% and 69.5%, respectively.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' June reporting, the user share of macOS slipped by more than a tenth of a percentage point to 9.2%, the lowest mark for Apple's desktop operating system in over a year. macOS has lost user share for three straight months. Linux's user share climbed by almost two-tenths of a point to 2.1%, while Google's Chrome OS stayed flat at 0.4%.

Windows by the numbers: May 2019

Windows 10 in May added another 1.6 percentage points to its user share total, finally pushing the four-year-old operating system over the 50% mark.

According to California web analytics vendor Net Applications, Windows 10's share of the PCs running Windows reached 51.8% last month, the first time the OS accounted for a majority. Windows 10's May growth put it at 45.7% of all personal computers. (The first number was significantly larger than the second because Windows does not power every personal computer; in May, Windows ran 88.3% of the world's machines. All but a tiny fraction of the rest ran macOS, Linux or Chrome OS.)

May's gain was only about half that in March, when Windows 10 went on a binge and added a record 3.3 points, the most since August 2015 when Microsoft was offering a free upgrade for consumers. But it was the sixth in the past year where the increase was of one or more percentage points.

Meanwhile, Windows 7 fell one point in May, sliding to 35.4% of all PCs and 40.1% of those running Windows. The dead-OS-walking Windows XP — which recently was patched by Microsoft, five years after its official retirement — also shed some weight, dispensing with two-tenths of a point, ending at 2.2% of all PCs and 2.5% of the PCs powered by Windows.

 

Windows 8 and 8.1 — Computerworld tosses both in the same bucket — got with the program, too, as between them they lost two-tenths of a percentage point, dwindling to 4.8% of all personal computers and 5.4% of those running Windows.

In general terms, Windows played out May as it should have, with the newest edition gaining ground and all its ancestors giving up share.

Windows 10's growth accelerates

The prognosis for Windows 7's retirement, though, remained grimmer than Microsoft would prefer.

Computerworld's new prognostication — based, as always, on the operating system's 12-month average movement — has Windows 7 at a too-high 35.3% of all Windows machines at the end of January. (The 2009 OS will exit support Jan. 14, 2020.) That's in line with forecasts of the last several months and a figure unlikely to budge; as the number of months before retirement shrinks, it becomes increasingly difficult to move the forecast needle.

Meanwhile, Windows 10 should stand at about 60% of all Windows when 7 drops off support. A year later — January 2021 — the two will be at 28% (Windows 7) and 73% (Windows 10).

Those numbers for Windows 7 — 35% in 2020 and 28% in 2021 — are higher than the same-time figures for Windows XP when and after it got kicked to the curb. That means millions of machines will be running an unpatched Windows 7 OS come February. How many millions? Our estimate: 530 million, give or take, based on the well-established rule of thumb that around 1.5 billion personal computers run Windows worldwide.

That's a lot of potential exploit-ready targets.

There are signs that the switch from Windows 7 to Windows 10 has accelerated, as one would expect as the deadline approaches and customers get serious about migrations.

The average per-month gain over the past three months has been 1.8 percentage points, which was 30% higher than the 1.3 points averaged over the last six months. The six-month average, meanwhile, was 27% greater than the nine-tenths of a point during the preceding 12 months.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' May numbers, the overall user share of macOS slid by a tenth of a percentage point to 9.3%, the lowest mark for Apple's desktop operating system in nearly a year. Linux's user share also dipped by a tenth of a point to 1.9% while Google's Chrome OS edged up to 0.4%.

 [Also read: How Windows 10 users can dial back upgrades to just one a year ... ]

Windows by the numbers: April 2019

Windows 7 will remain a widely-used OS for at least the next half-decade if its predecessor Windows XP serves as even a crude yardstick.

Five years ago last month, Microsoft moved Windows XP onto its do-not-support list. The company retired the well-worn operating system on April 8, 2014. Yet even now, 60 months after the milestone, more than 40 million PCs worldwide rely on the now-ancient software.

Windows XP's post-retirement trajectory can be instructive when forecasting what may happen to Windows 7 when it falls off the support list in eight months, on Jan. 14, 2020.

Windows 7: Going, going ... and still going

Windows XP exited support with a user share – the measurement of personal computer operating systems' usage as defined by analytics vendor Net Application – of approximately 29% of all Windows.

That puts Windows 7 in a spot, what with the current Computerworldprediction that at the end of January 2020, Windows 7 will account for just over 35% of all Windows. (That number has fluctuated over the last two years between the low and high 30s, depending on the rate of Windows 7's user share decline over the preceding 12 months.)

Not surprisingly, Windows XP saw its largest after-retirement drop-off in the first year after Microsoft pulled the support plug. During that span, XP's share of all Windows fell from 29% to 17.5%, representing a 65.5% decrease. This large wave was almost certainly composed of the conscientious who for one reason or another had missed the deadline but knew they needed a newer OS if they were to keep getting security updates.

(Net Applications' data seemed to confirm that suspicion, since XP's decline from April 2014 to April 2015 was front-loaded; the first six months of that year accounted for 60% of the 12-month total.)

Over the next three years, Windows XP's share of all Windows dropped by about 50% each year. From April 2015 to April 2016, for example, Windows XP slid from 17.5% to 12%, a 5.5-percentage point fall and a decline of 46%. The next two years each saw a decline of 56%. Think of those years as the gradual surrender of XP users who had felt no great pressure to upgrade. They remained sanguine about running an outdated OS, security updates be damned, but eventually left the 2001 XP behind or dumped PCs altogether.

However, in the fifth year after Windows XP's retirement – April 2018 to April 2019 – XP's rate of decline accelerated to nearly 77% as its share of all Windows plunged from 5% to 2.8%. The faster fall could represent last-ditch users who finally woke up to the fact that their OS was not only old, but Microsoft's Methuselah.

If Windows 7 follows Windows XP, here are the numbers

No two operating systems are alike. If they were, Windows Vista – the intended replacement for Windows XP – would have a user share larger than two-tenths of a percentage point. (That's about one-thirteenth as much as XP, from an OS five years younger.) And Windows 8, theoretically 7's successor, would account for more than just 5.7% of all Windows.

But if Windows 7 does end up following XP's lead in post-retirement, here is what will happen.

if windows 7 follows xpIDG/Gregg Keizer

We know how Windows XP's share shriveled after its support ended in 2014. If Windows 7 behaves the same way, here's how it will shrink. (Data: Net Applications.)

The first year, through January 2021, Windows 7 will slump from 35.3% (again, that's the latest forecast, based on the 12-month average) to 21.3%. That 14-point fall – a 66% decline – would represent users and organizations scrambling to upgrade in time but missing the deadline. Expect a majority of that year-long slide, say about 8.5 percentage points, to happen before July 31, 2020.

Over the next three years, Windows 7 would drop further, hitting 14.6%, 9.3% and 6% at the end of January 2022, 2023 and 2024, respectively. The trio may not look harmful to the Windows ecosystem – organizations in particular are at risk from even a small number of unpatched PCs, as attackers can exploit them to gain a beach head on the network for damage and theft within the perimeter – but expressed a different way, the first number means that one out of every seven Windows personal computers will still be running 7 two years after it's put to pasture. For comparison, about one in eight Windows computers ran XP at retirement +2 years.

(Microsoft's decision to offer paid extended support for Windows 7 to corporate customers looks smart under this scenario. That support can be purchased to cover devices through January 2023.)

The fifth year of Windows 7's after-support timeline – January 2025 – would end with 3.4% of all Windows PCs running the ancient OS.

Windows 7 milestones before retirement

In the coming months, Windows 7 will continue to shed user share, but almost certainly not every month. Net Applications, for instance, has claimed Windows 7 gained share in three of the past 12 months.

The operating system is on a 12-month trend of -0.6%, meaning that on average it loses six-tenths of a percentage point monthly. If it keeps to that average, Windows 7 would slip under the 40% (of all Windows PCs) mark in late June, end September with 38% and then close the year at an even 36%.

Meanwhile, Windows 10 – which in the zero-sum OS game wins when Windows 7 loses – should make 52% in June, 56% in October and fall under 59% by the time Microsoft crosses 7 off the support list in January.

A year after Windows 7's retirement – in January 2021 – Windows 10 should stand at more than 70% of all Windows PCs.

 [Also read: Microsoft cranks up Windows 10 1803-to-1903 forcible upgrades ...]

Windows by the numbers: March 2019

Windows 10 made up for lost ground last month, adding the most user share since the OS's first full month of availability four years ago.

The large March increase stood in stark contrast to February's odd couple: a decline in Windows 10 share and a corresponding boost to the aged Windows 7.

According to California web analytics company Net Applications, Windows 10's share leaped by 3.3 percentage points in March, closing the month at 43.6% of all personal computers and 49.9% of all PCs running Windows. (The second number is always larger than the first because Windows does not power all personal computers; in March, Windows ran 87.5% of the world's machines. All but a tiny fraction of the rest ran macOS, Linux or Chrome OS.)

The 3.3 points was the largest one-month gain since August 2015's 4.9 percentage points during the initial explosion of installations caused by Microsoft's free upgrade offer. Windows 10 launched July 31, 2015, and the offer ran a full year.

Meanwhile, Windows 7 dropped 1.9 points in March, falling to 36.5% of all PCs and 41.7% of those running Windows. Even the walking-dead Windows XP — officially retired from support five years ago this month — chipped in, shedding 1.1 points, sliding to 2.3% of all PCs and shrinking to an insignificant 2.6% of PCs powered by Windows.

The upturn of Windows 10 and downturn of all other editions flipped the world from its February upside-down state, returning it right-side-up so the newest OS grew and older OSes didn't. A month ago, Computerworldpointed out that Net Applications' baffling February data would quickly sort itself out, as it had before. It has.

 [Also read: Windows 7 boost could stop you upgrading to Windows 10…for now ...]

Windows forecasts turn more favorable for Microsoft

The massive increase in Windows 10's user share and the smaller-but-still-significant decrease in Windows 7's made a mess of the predictions Computerworld posted 30 days ago.

Our new forecast — based on the operating system's 12-month average movement — puts Windows 10 in the majority spot sometime this month, not in October as said the previous prediction. According to the latest projection, Windows 10 should be at nearly 51% of all Windows by the end of April.

Likewise, Windows 7's return to its normal state of decline means that fewer machines should be running the operating system on Jan. 14, 2020, Microsoft's retirement date for the 2009 OS. At the end of January, Windows 7 should be powering around 35% of all Windows PCs, not the 40% that February's forecast asserted from skewed numbers.

(Windows 10 should be running 59% of all Windows systems when 7 shuffles to OS assisted living.)

Even if Windows 7 runs the smaller number — 35% — of PCs come its retirement party, the OS would have a bigger problem than did Windows XP, which ended support still running about 29% of all Windows personal computers at the time. A few more months posting declines like March's — between 1 and 2 percentage points — would ease the pressure to purge Windows 7 as the deadline looms.

There's some hope that will happen: In Windows XP's final 10 months — about the time Windows 7 has left — the OS had five with declines of 1.4 points or larger, and three of 2 points or more. If Windows 7 sees similar drops during its remaining time, it would reach retirement running just under 29% of all Windows systems, almost exactly the same as did XP a half decade ago.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' March data, the overall user share of Windows climbed less than one-tenth of a percentage point to 87.5%. MacOS and OS X rose, too, by two-tenths of a point, to 9.9%. Linux's user share stabilized at 2.1% while Google's Chrome OS edged up slightly to 0.4%.

Credit: Gregg Keizer, Computerworld.

 

Forget Windows Phone: With the right set of software, you can turn any Android device into a Microsoft-centric, PC-syncing machine.

Microsoft experience on Android

Microsoft's Windows Phone platform may effectively be dead at this point, but don't despair: You can still get a fantastic Microsoft experience on your mobile device. You just have to look to an unlikely bedfellow.

With Windows Phone (a.k.a. Windows 10 Mobile) out of the picture, Microsoft is devoting an ever-increasing amount of energy to creating its own mini-platform within Google's Android ecosystem. And given Android's immense flexibility and customization potential, that opens the door to some pretty compelling possibilities.

With the right set of apps, in fact, you can basically create a Windows-centric environment on any Android device — with everything from the services you adore to the phone-to-PC harmony you crave.

Here are the ingredients and the steps to get started.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Home screen and basic Microsoft connections

The core of your Android setup is your home screen — and the app that'll turn it into a hub for your Microsoft-Android experience is the aptly named Microsoft Launcher.

On the surface, Microsoft Launcher has the same sorts of features you'll find in other Android launchers — the typical tools for customizing your home screen's appearance, creating gesture-based shortcuts, and so on. But beyond that, it adds a hefty dose of Microsoft into the mix, with Bing-powered search (by default), one-tap access to Cortana, and prominent placement of recommended Microsoft apps.

And then there's the most distinguishing element of all: To the left of the main home screen panel sits Microsoft's take on the Google Feed — a card-based collection containing items such as news, weather, agenda info, and quick glances at your notes, tasks, and recent documents from the appropriate Microsoft services.

01 microsoft launcher 2019 Microsoft Launcher's feed and main home screen panel.
See that tab labeled "Timeline"? That lets you link your Windows 10 PC to your Android phone and then pull up recent computer-based activities — like documents you were working on or websites you had open. (The feature is presently available only with personal Microsoft accounts, unfortunately, though Microsoft says support for work and school accounts will arrive in a future update.) The Microsoft Launcher also empowers you to send documents, photos, and web pages directly from your phone to your PC.

We'll get into more phone-to-PC connecting possibilities in a second, but first, an alternate home screen option for anyone who's really missing the Windows Phone look: Try Square Home 3. The launcher — which isn't actually developed by Microsoft — emulates the tile-centric "Metro UI" from the Windows Phone platform. You'll sacrifice the tight integration with Microsoft services provided by the official Microsoft Launcher, but if your phone's interface is a top priority, you might just be happy with the tradeoff (even if only for an occasional bit of weekend nostalgia).

02 squarehome windows phone launcher 2019

A taste of Windows Phone on Android via the Square Home 3 launcher.

PC-phone continuity

All right — so your home screen is all set with a hearty helping of Microsoft magic. Now let's get your PC fully connected with your phone for the full Microsoft-Android experience.

The first thing you'll want to do is download and install the Microsoft Your Phone Companion app for Android. Open it and follow the steps it provides for establishing a link between your phone and your Windows 10 computer. It'll make sure you're signed into the same Microsoft account in both places and then prompt you to find or download the equivalent app for Windows and get everything squared away on the PC side of things.

Once you do all of that and authorize a handful of pertinent permissions, you'll be able to access recent photos taken with your phone from your computer and also send and receive text messages via your PC. Eventually, the app will allow you to view and manage Android notifications from your computer and even mirror your phone's screen within Windows in order to effectively use your mobile device on your desktop system. Both features are currently being tested with a limited range of users and devices.

Browser

Download Microsoft Edge. The cross-platform browser will give you a decidedly Microsoft-like framework for web browsing — one that'll be relatively consistent from your mobile device to your desktop computer.

Like the launcher, Edge makes it easy to move content between your phone and PC. And beyond that, it automatically syncs your history, favorites and reading list — a built-in system for saving articles to read later — so you can seamlessly move between different devices.

02a microsoft edge android browser 2019

Microsoft's Edge browser provides a familiar web browsing environment with seamless syncing between your phone and PC.

Storage

Microsoft's OneDrive is built into Windows 10 — and with a couple of taps, it can be built into your Android device, too. Grab the OneDrive app and have easy always-synced access to your files, no matter where you may roam.

Office apps

Microsoft's Office apps on Android have come a long way. These days, the Android versions of WordExcel, and PowerPoint are fully featured, polished and pleasant to use. Plus, if you're already living in Microsoft's universe, they'll give you a completely consistent experience with your desktop-based software and let you work on your files from any device without the need for conversions or adjustments.

(Note that you'll need an active Office 365 subscription in order to utilize all of the apps' features — and to use them at all for editing on any large-screen mobile devices.)

Don't forget, too, that Outlook and OneNote are both available on Android. If you're using either program on your Windows desktop, you'll probably appreciate having it on your Android phone.

Assistant (everywhere)

Cortana is part of Microsoft's Android launcher, but a launcher is relevant only when you're on your actual home screen. With a quick visit to your device's settings, you can set Cortana to serve as your device's default assistant — and thus be accessible via the same systemwide commands typically occupied by Google Assistant (such as pressing and holding your Home key, on many Android devices).

Start by opening the Apps section of your system settings, then scrolling down until you see the line labeled "Default apps." (You might first have to tap a line labeled "Advanced" to get that to appear.) Tap "Assist & voice input," then tap "Assist app" and select "Microsoft Launcher" from the list.

And there you have it: Microsoft's soft-voiced virtual assistant will be at your beck and call, wherever and whenever you need it.

03 cortana android 2019

                        With a couple quick adjustments, Cortana can help you anywhere in Android.

Want to use Cortana by default without installing the Microsoft Launcher? No problem: Just install the standalone Microsoft Cortana app. Open the app, sign in, and follow the steps to get it up and running — then follow the same steps described above but select "Cortana" as your "Assist app" option.

Got a recent Samsung Galaxy phone? If you want to remap that silly Bixby button so it'll pull up Cortana, make sure you're running the latest version of the Bixby app (which, in typical Samsung fashion, can be updated only via the Samsung Galaxy Store — not the regular Play Store) and then open the Advanced Features section of your system settings. Find and select the option labeled "Bixby Key," and you'll be able to set the button to open the Cortana app whenever it's pressed.

Authentication

Make your life a little easier and let your phone serve as the key to your Windows 10 computer with the Microsoft Authenticator app. Authenticator can act as a regular two-factor authentication code generator, but it also has the ability to let you avoid entering your Microsoft password entirely and instead authorize access to your computer simply by unlocking your phone and approving a notification.

Other odds and ends

The apps and procedures above are the most significant pieces of the Microsoft-Android puzzle, but Microsoft has a handful of other noteworthy offerings that might be worth your while:

  • If you find yourself needing to scan physical documents or whiteboards often, Microsoft's Office Lens app is up to the task. It'll crop and clean up such snapshots and save 'em as PDFs, Word files, or PowerPoint files — in OneNote or OneDrive or even just on your device's own local storage.
04 office lens android 2019

Office Lens simplifies the process of capturing physical documents and saving them to your Microsoft storage.

05 bing search android 2019

Microsoft's Bing Search app brings the full Bing experience to your Android phone, complete with customizable tabs for your own search interests.

And a footnote, just for funsies: While I can't recommend this for your own device (for obvious reasons), an unofficial Clippy app brings the original Microsoft assistant into the realm of Android — hovering on your screen and irritating you endlessly with its unwavering stare. Keep it in mind for the next time your co-worker accidentally leaves his phone unattended.

Credit: J R Rahpael, Computerworld.

Mozilla’s browser continued its downward slide in June, and even mighty Chrome took a step back. Microsoft’s Edge gained ground, reaching its highest point ever.

browsers
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Mozilla's Firefox took a user share beating for the second straight month, slipping under 9% for the first time since November 2018.

According to web analytics vendor Net Applications, Firefox's June user share fell seven-tenths of a percentage point to 8.9%. The month's decline was the second-most since Net Applications reset shares — to purge bot traffic from its data — more than a year and a half ago. Firefox's largest one-month decline since then? May's slide of just over seven-tenths of a point.

As Computerworld pointed out a month ago, Firefox has had a very tough time generating share growth over the last two years. Every once in a while, the browser posts a positive number, but those gains are quickly erased. Over the last 14 months, for example, Firefox recorded a share of 10% or more just twice, most recently in April. But then May and June came along and washed Firefox back under the 9% bar.

Firefox's long-term prognosis remains dire. In the past year, the browser shed 1.3 percentage points of user share, a depressing amount for an application that has no fat on its frame. Computerworld's newest forecast has Firefox slipping below 8% by March 2020, then flirting with a sub-7% share near the end of that year.

But Mozilla's browser has been in a slightly deeper hole before, then climbed up if not out of that hole. Three years ago, Firefox sank under 8%. Yet in six months, it had added more than four percentage points to its share total. Firefox largely held those gains for the next year before again heading into a downturn. Maybe Mozilla can pull another rabbit from a hat, perhaps on the back of its anti-tracking initiative, which has garnered attention if not users.

More for Microsoft's Edge

While Mozilla's browser lost user share, Microsoft's found some more.

The combined user share of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge climbed by three-tenths of a percentage point to 13.3%. But the added share did little to change Microsoft's overall trend, which has been negative for much longer than CEO Satya Nadella has held the company's top spot: IE + Edge lost 3.1 points in the past 12 months.

The user share drop-off came from IE, the legacy browser Microsoft maintains with monthly security updates but won't upgrade with new features. Over the last year, IE's share dropped 4.9 points; meanwhile, Edge added 1.9 percentage points during the same period.

As digital security threats multiply online, companies are using predictive algorithms and machine learning to detect fraud—especially in financial services.

In June, just 8.3% of all Windows users ran IE, a record low for the iconic browser. At its current 12-month average, IE will zero out within two years. That's unlikely — someone will be running the creaky application in July 2021 — but the projection still speaks a truth, that like the rivals Microsoft crushed, IE will eventually go extinct.

Edge's user share of all personal computers grew by seven-tenths of a percentage point in June, ending the month at 6%. The latter was a record high for Windows 10's default browser. Edge accounted for an estimated 13.2% of all Windows 10 browsing activity last month, up 1.5 points from May and that metric's highest point since April 2018.

It was unclear why Edge's user share jumped in June, but it was almost certainly not due to the still-under-construction "full-Chromium" Edge, the revamp that will be powered by the same open-source rendering and JavaScript engines as drive Google's Chrome. Full-Chromium Edge has yet to reach beta status, much less a production-quality stable build, and has been available to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 for less than two weeks.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, Chrome stalled for the second time in three months, losing 1.6 percentage points to drop to a still-overwhelming-user-share-lead of 66.3%. June's decline was the third largest for Chrome, beaten only by August 2013's 1.8 points and April 2019's 2.2 points. The whacky up-down-up-down-up rhythm of Chrome's short-term moves thus continues.

Even the April and June losses, however, didn't eliminate the year-long gain by Chrome: Google's browser added 3.5 percentage points in user share over the past 12 months. June did, though, confuse Chrome's future. Where the prior prediction pegged the browser making the 70% mark by October, the latest losses postponed that milestone to July 2020, near the prognosis put forward after April.

Apple's Safari stayed stable in June at 3.3%, its lowest mark since the end of 2008. Safari's smaller share was yet again partly due to the continued shrinking of macOS, which slipped between one- and two-tenths of a point last month. Just like IE, Edge and Firefox, Safari has been damaged by Chrome's growth; Safari's share of all macOS stood at 36.3% in June. Even though that was slightly better than the month prior, it was a shadow of its past. Four years ago, Apple's browser accounted for two thirds of all Mac browser activity.

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people use to reach the websites of Net Applications' clients. The firm tallies visitor sessions to quantify browser user activity.

Top browsers, May 2019

Chrome in May bounced back from a massive April decline to reach a record user share of nearly 68%, sending rivals' shares tumbling.

As Computerworld pointed out a month ago when reporting on Chrome's record loss during April, short-term browser movements often lead nowhere. Such was the case when Chrome did a 180-degree turn, adding 2.3 percentage points in May, more than it had lost the month before.

The bounce-back was the fourth straight time that, when Chrome lost user share, it regained enough to erase the loss a month later.

According to Internet analytics company Net Applications, Chrome's May user share reached 67.9%, a new high for the Google browser. The increase was the largest since August 2016, when Chrome accounted for 54% of all user share and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge still owned over a third of global share. Over the last 12 months, Chrome has gained five percentage points.

May's gain put Chrome back on track to break the 70% barrier before year's end. Where last month's forecast pegged the browser making that mark by June 2020, the latest calculation - based on the 12-month average - pegs Chrome at 70% by October.

Firefox retreats..., again

As Chrome climbed, other browsers descended the user share ladder. Mozilla's Firefox lost seven-tenths of a percentage point in May, its largest single-month decline since November 2017, when Net Applications reset shares across the board because it eliminated bot-driven traffic from its data. Firefox last month fell to 9.5%, returning the browser to its December 2018 level.

Firefox has had a terrible time sustaining any user share growth. In the last year, the longest uptick has been just two months, so May's quick retreat wasn't unexpected. But it has to concern Mozilla that the browser, the mainstay of its efforts, can't shake itself out of the single-digit doldrums, climb into 10%+ territory and stay there.

Computerworld's latest forecast for Firefox now concludes the browser will remain under 10% for the foreseeable future, sliding below 9% in August 2020. Somehow, Mozilla's engineers and designers have to come up with features that will entice new users to join up (or old ones to return). The November 2017 release of "Quantum," a Firefox redesign that rolled out to some fanfare, has failed to translate into greater share. In fact, it's been the opposite: Firefox's user share has fallen about 2 percentage points since, representing a 20% decline.

Only Microsoft's browsers have dropped more than that in the same stretch.

IE's share of all Windows slides below 9%

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, the combined user share of Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge slid nine-tenths of a percentage point to 13%. The decline added to the ongoing slide for Microsoft's browsers, which have lost 3 percentage points in the last 12 months. May's fall erased more than two-thirds of April's out-of-the-blue gains.

Most of the user share drop-off came from IE, the legacy browser Microsoft maintains with monthly security updates but won't upgrade with new features. During May, an anemic 8.7% of all Windows users ran IE. No wonder some - including Computerworld - expect IE to vanish, or at best be absorbed into Edge when that browser adds an IE mode to its Chromium foundation.

Edge slipped as well, dipping in May by two-tenths of a percentage point, even as Windows 10's user share grew by 1.6 points. Edge accounted for an estimated 11.7% of all Windows 10 browsing activity last month, down eight-tenths of a point from April. That was, however, the first decline since December.

Apple's Safari fell three-tenths of a point - three times what it had lost in April - to end at 3.3%, its lowest since the end of 2008. Safari's smaller share was again at least partly due to the continuing shrinking of macOS user share, which slipped about a tenth of a point. But like IE, Edge and Firefox, Safari has suff

According to Internet analytics company Net Applications, Chrome's May user share reached 67.9%, a new high for the Google browser. The increase was the largest since August 2016, when Chrome accounted for 54% of all user share and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge still owned over a third of global share. Over the last 12 months, Chrome has gained five percentage points.

May's gain put Chrome back on track to break the 70% barrier before year's end. Where last month's forecast pegged the browser making that mark by June 2020, the latest calculation - based on the 12-month average - pegs Chrome at 70% by October.

Firefox retreats..., again

As Chrome climbed, other browsers descended the user share ladder. Mozilla's Firefox lost seven-tenths of a percentage point in May, its largest single-month decline since November 2017, when Net Applications reset shares across the board because it eliminated bot-driven traffic from its data. Firefox last month fell to 9.5%, returning the browser to its December 2018 level.

Firefox has had a terrible time sustaining any user share growth. In the last year, the longest uptick has been just two months, so May's quick retreat wasn't unexpected. But it has to concern Mozilla that the browser, the mainstay of its efforts, can't shake itself out of the single-digit doldrums, climb into 10%+ territory and stay there.

Computerworld's latest forecast for Firefox now concludes the browser will remain under 10% for the foreseeable future, sliding below 9% in August 2020. Somehow, Mozilla's engineers and designers have to come up with features that will entice new users to join up (or old ones to return). The November 2017 release of "Quantum," a Firefox redesign that rolled out to some fanfare, has failed to translate into greater share. In fact, it's been the opposite: Firefox's user share has fallen about 2 percentage points since, representing a 20% decline.

Only Microsoft's browsers have dropped more than that in the same stretch.

IE's share of all Windows slides below 9%

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, the combined user share of Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge slid nine-tenths of a percentage point to 13%. The decline added to the ongoing slide for Microsoft's browsers, which have lost 3 percentage points in the last 12 months. May's fall erased more than two-thirds of April's out-of-the-blue gains.

Most of the user share drop-off came from IE, the legacy browser Microsoft maintains with monthly security updates but won't upgrade with new features. During May, an anemic 8.7% of all Windows users ran IE. No wonder some - including Computerworld - expect IE to vanish, or at best be absorbed into Edge when that browser