Clippy briefly resurrected as Teams add-on, brutally taken down by brand police


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Clippy briefly resurrected as Teams add-on, brutally taken down by brand police

Enlarge (credit: theaelix)

On Microsoft’s official Office GitHub repository (which contains, alas, not the source code to Office itself but lots of developer content for software that extends Office), the widely loved (?) Clippy made a brief appearance with the publication of a Clippy sticker pack for Microsoft Teams. Teams users could import the stickers and use them to add pictures of a talking paperclip to their conversations.

The synergy between the two seems obvious. With its various machine learning-powered services and its bot development framework, Microsoft finally has the technology to make Clippy the assistant we always wanted him to be: a Clippy that can be asked natural language questions, that we can actually speak to and that can talk back to us, that can recognize us by sight and greet us as we sit down to the working day. Teams, an interface that’s conversational and text

The Clippy sticker pack in Teams.

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Windows Virtual Desktop now in public preview


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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A VT100 remote terminal, which is basically the same thing as Windows Remote Desktop.

Enlarge / A VT100 remote terminal, which is basically the same thing as Windows Remote Desktop. (credit: Wolfgang Stief)

Initially announced last September, Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) service has now entered public preview.

The service brings together single-user Windows 7 virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and multi-user Windows 10 and Windows Server remote desktop services (RDS) and is hosted on any of Azure’s virtual machine tiers. Microsoft is pricing WVD aggressively by charging only for the virtual machine costs; the license requirements for the Windows 7- and Windows 10-based services will be fulfilled by Microsoft 365 F1/E3/E, Windows 10 Enterprise E3/E5, and Windows VDA subscriptions. The Windows Server-based services are similarly fulfilled by existing RDS client access licenses. This means that for many Microsoft customers, there will be no additional licensing cost for provisioning desktop computing in the cloud. The virtual machine costs can be further reduced by

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Microsoft ships antivirus for macOS as Windows Defender becomes Microsoft Defender


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Microsoft is bringing its Windows Defender anti-malware application to macOS—and more platforms in the future—as it expands the reach of its Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) platform. To reflect the new cross-platform nature, the suite is also being renamed to Microsoft Defender ATP, with the individual clients being labelled “for Mac” or “for Windows.”

Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac will initially focus on traditional signature-based malware scanning.

Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac will initially focus on traditional signature-based malware scanning.

macOS malware is still something of a rarity, but it’s not completely unheard of. Ransomware for the platform was found in 2016, and in-the-wild outbreaks of other malicious software continue to be found. Apple has integrated some malware protection into macOS, but we’ve heard from developers on the platform that Mac users aren’t always very good at keeping their systems on the latest point release. This situation is particularly acute in corporate environments; while Windows has a range of tools to

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Windows 10 version 1903 heads for the finish line


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Who doesn't love some new Windows?

Enlarge / Who doesn’t love some new Windows? (credit: Peter Bright / Flickr)

It’s clear that Microsoft is in the very final stages of development of Windows 10 version 1903, the April 2019 Update. The fast distribution ring has seen two builds arrive this week after two last week, bringing with them no new features but a slowly whittled-down bug list following the development pattern we’ve seen in previous updates. In the past, the company has tried to release Windows 10 feature upgrades on Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of each month, meaning there’s just under three weeks left to go.

A little alarmingly, a couple of long-standing issues with the release still appear to be unresolved. A green-screen-of-death error caused when games with BattlEye anti-cheat software are used has been a feature of the 1903 previews for many months, and Microsoft is still listing it as unresolved.

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“Energizing Times”: Microsoft to “go big” at E3 in response to Google Stadia


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Sea of Thieves streaming to a smartphone with an attached Xbox One controller.

Enlarge / This controller attachment was shown in Microsoft’s Xcloud promo video, and Bluetooth wireless controller support is also planned. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft announced its Xcloud game-streaming service last August, with the ambition of streaming console-quality games to gamers wherever they are—on their tablets, smartphones, PCs or even consoles. Yesterday, Google joined the streaming gaming fray with its announcement of Google Stadia, one-upping Redmond by offering the assembled press limited hands-on access to Stadia games.

Google promises that Stadia will be “coming 2019,” potentially stealing a march on Xcloud, which is due only to enter public trials this year. But in an internal email sent to rally the troops, Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s gaming chief, seemed unsurprised and apparently unconcerned.

Spencer wrote that Google “went big” with its Stadia announcement, but Microsoft will have its chance to do that, too: he promised that the company will “go big”

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Guidemaster: The best Windows ultrabooks you can buy right now


This post is by Valentina Palladino from Ars Technica


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Guidemaster: The best Windows ultrabooks you can buy right now

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Buyers looking for premium Windows laptops today have plenty of choices; every few months sees some splashy launch of a new high-end PC. Ultrabooks have become the standard design for most premium Windows laptops, and they represent the best of what companies like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft have to offer in terms of design, power, and innovation.

If you’re looking for a thin-and-light laptop that’s still powerful enough to handle work and play with ease—and doesn’t run macOS—a Windows ultrabook is what you want. But not all ultrabooks are created equal. That’s why Ars has tested some of the most popular Windows laptops to see which are worthy for consideration as your next high-end notebook.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Google Project Zero, Microsoft collaborate for 12 months to find new kind of Windows bug


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Google Project Zero, Microsoft collaborate for 12 months to find new kind of Windows bug

Enlarge (credit: Marco Verch / Flickr)

One of the more notable features of Google Project Zero’s (GPZ) security research has been its 90-day disclosure policy. In general, vendors are given 90 days to address issues found by GPZ, after which the flaws will be publicly disclosed. But sometimes understanding a flaw and developing fixes for it takes longer than 90 days—sometimes, much longer, such as when a new class of vulnerability is found. That’s what happened last year with the Spectre and Meltdown processor issues, and it’s happened again with a new Windows issue.

Google researcher James Forshaw first grasped that there might be a problem a couple of years ago when he was investigating the exploitability of another Windows issue published three years ago. In so doing, he discovered the complicated way in which Windows performs permissions checks when opening files or other secured objects. A closer

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US conducts criminal investigation into Facebook’s data deals


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Investigations into Facebook’s data handling keep piling up. The New York Times has learned that federal prosecutors are in the midst of a criminal investigation into the data deals Facebook arranged with tech companies. It’s not known when the investigation began or just what the focus is, but a New York grand jury reportedly used subpoenas to obtain records from two or more “prominent makers of smartphones.” The deals included heavyweights like Apple, Microsoft and Sony.

Source: New York Times

Windows 10 passes 800 million devices


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Everywhere Windows 10 can be. And on the server, too, though there it gets a different branding.

Everywhere Windows 10 can be. And on the server, too, though there it gets a different branding. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft says that Windows 10 has reached more than 800 million devices. This is 100 million more than it had six months ago

When Windows 10 was launched—and when Windows on phones was expected to add tens of millions of devices—Microsoft set itself a target of one billion devices within two to three years. The end of its smartphone ambitions put paid to that hope, but Windows 10 is nonetheless the fastest-growing version of Windows of all time.

If it can continue to grow at 100 million devices every six months, then the one billion target should be about a year away. There’s a good chance that the growth rate might actually tick up over the next year, due to Windows 7’s impending end of support. In nine months, the

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calc.exe is now open source; there’s surprising depth in its ancient code


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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calc.exe is now open source; there’s surprising depth in its ancient code

Enlarge (credit: jakeandlindsay)

Microsoft’s embrace and adoption of open source software has continued with the surprising decision to publish the code for Windows Calculator and release it on GitHub under the permissive MIT license.

The repository shows Calculator’s surprisingly long history. Although it is in some regards one of the most modern Windows applications—it’s an early adopter of Fluent Design and has been used to showcase a number of design elements—core parts of the codebase date all the way back to 1995.

The actual calculations are performed by this ancient code. Calculator’s mathematics library is built using rational numbers (that is, numbers that can be expressed as the ratio of two integers). Where possible, it preserves the exact values of the numbers it is computing, falling back on Taylor series expansion when an approximation to an irrational number is required. Poking around the change history shows that the very

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Discless Xbox “Maverick” could arrive as soon as May


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Prepare to say goodbye to this slot...

Enlarge / Prepare to say goodbye to this slot… (credit: Sam Machkovech)

A download-only Xbox One that doesn’t include a Blu-ray optical drive could be on the market very soon.

Windows Central reports that the device, codenamed “Maverick” and carrying the pithy branding “Xbox One S All-Digital Edition,” will be available for pre-order in April, with hardware shipping in May. Pricing hasn’t leaked, but the removal of the optical drive should make it the cheapest Xbox One yet.

The discless Xbox has been rumored for a while. Online purchases and direct downloads have long been a part of the Xbox platform, and Microsoft has recently been taking advantage of the freedom that ditching physical media gives with the Xbox Game Pass, which offers access to dozens of downloaded games in return for a monthly fee. The cost of this flexibility is a greater dependence on Internet connectivity and the

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Microsoft is first major cloud provider to open African data centers


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Microsoft is first major cloud provider to open African data centers

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

A little later than planned, two new Azure data centers have gone live in South Africa. With these, Microsoft has become the first major cloud provider to have any infrastructure on the African continent.

First announced in 2017, the company originally intended to open its facilities—South Africa West in Cape Town and South Africa North in Johannesburg—in 2018. Even with the delays, Microsoft has still beaten Amazon to the punch; an AWS datacenter is to open in Cape Town in 2020. As well as offering Azure services, Microsoft is going to use the facilities for hosting Office 365 from the third quarter of the year and Dynamics 365 from the fourth quarter.

Microsoft is also investing in connectivity in Africa, with a fibre network reaching Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and soon Angola. The customer profile in Africa is perhaps a little more varied than in

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Chromium-based Edge screenshots might as well be Chrome


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Some early screenshots of Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser have leaked to Neowin. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft seems to be working on a development cycle that’s similar to that of Chrome, with pictures of both a Canary channel, shipped daily, and a Dev channel, shipped weekly.

In many ways the browser is what one would expect of a Microsoft Chromium browser: in those places where Chrome would use a Google account for syncing or a Google store for extensions, Edge-on-Chromium uses a Microsoft account and a Microsoft store. Similarly, the homepage is similar to that of Edge, using Bing pictures and Microsoft News links. Perhaps the biggest change is the settings page, which adopts a similar look-and-feel to the Windows 10 settings app—section headings down the left, the actual settings on the right.

But the screenshots also show just what a challenge Microsoft has to win people over

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Engadget at 15: A look at how much tech has changed


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A lot has changed since Engadget was born, both in the gadgets we use and what we do with them on a regular basis. When the site started in 2004, fitness trackers, voice assistants and electric cars were the stuff of fiction. Now most of these are commonplace, so much so that we put our trust in them on a daily basis. To celebrate Engadget’s 15th birthday, here are 15 things that didn’t exist 15 years ago.

Mandatory update coming to Windows 7, 2008 to kill off weak update hashes


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Mandatory update coming to Windows 7, 2008 to kill off weak update hashes

Enlarge

Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 users will imminently have to deploy a mandatory patch if they want to continue updating their systems, as spotted by Mary Jo Foley.

Currently, Microsoft’s Windows updates use two different hashing algorithms to enable Windows to detect tampering or modification of the update files: SHA-1 and SHA-2. Windows 7 and Server 2008 verify the SHA-1 patches; Windows 8 and newer use the SHA-2 hashes instead. March’s Patch Tuesday will include a standalone update for Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and WSUS to provide support for patches hashed with SHA-2. April’s Patch Tuesday will include an equivalent update for Windows Server 2008.

The SHA-1 algorithm, first published in 1995, takes some input and produces a value known as a hash or a digest that’s 20 bytes long. By design, any small change to the input should produce, with high probability, a wildly different

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Microsoft shaking up how Windows feature updates are rolled out—again


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Microsoft shaking up how Windows feature updates are rolled out—again

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

Customers using Windows Update for Business will lose some ability to delay the deployment of each new Windows feature release once version 1903 goes live.

When Microsoft first started delivering Windows 10 “as a Service” with a regular flow of feature updates, the company planned to have two release tracks: a “Current Branch” (CB) that was consumer-oriented and “Current Branch for Business” (CBB) aimed at enterprises. The CBB track would trail the CB one by a few months, with consumers acting as guinea pigs to iron out bugs before the quality of each release was deemed good enough for corporate customers.

That naming, though not the underlying concept, was changed in 2017 when Microsoft formalized the Windows 10 release schedule and settled on two feature updates per year, one in April and the other in October. The CB track became the “Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted)” (SAC-T), and

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Microsoft begins work on its 2020 Windows releases in new preview


This post is by Peter Bright from Ars Technica


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Stylized image of glass skyscrapers under construction.

Enlarge / Windows is now perpetually under construction. (credit: David Holt)

Microsoft has published a new preview release of Windows 10, build 18836, to participants of the “Skip Ahead” group. But it’s not quite the preview that they were expecting to get.

Microsoft’s preview program has a number of different channels to let people use and test Windows feature updates, Microsoft’s twice-yearly Windows 10 upgrades. The two main channels are Fast and Slow; Fast receives builds more regularly, while Slow generally receives only those builds that are felt to be stable. Both channels look ahead to the next feature update. For example, right now, the stable Windows 10 version is 1809. The Fast and Slow channels are receiving previews of version 1903, codenamed 19H1, which is due for release in April.

Skip Ahead is a third channel. Most of the time, Skip Ahead is identical to the Fast channel,

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Crackdown 3 review: Half-baked action with tasty triple-jumping


This post is by Kyle Orland from Ars Technica


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The views are pretty nice.

Enlarge / The views are pretty nice.

Originally announced way back in 2014 for a 2016 launch, Crackdown 3 has certainly taken its time in finally reaching Xbox One and Windows PC players this week. Despite all that time in the proverbial oven, though, Crackdown 3 comes out feeling dated and half-baked—though it’s still a fun world to jump around in.

This time around, the super-powered agents of, uh, The Agency, are unleashing their carnage-filled version of justice on the secluded city of New Providence. The metropolis is controlled by Terra Nova, an immensely powerful corporation that apparently organized a blackout of every major city in the world (and incinerated most of the Agency agents dispatched to stop them) in order to attract new citizens to their futuristic haven. Once there, though, these refugees find they’re forced to exist as impoverished grist for Terra Nova’s economic mill, enriching company

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