Archive for Microsoft

So…. What Did Microsoft Announce Today At The Surface Event?

Posted in Commentary with tags on October 2, 2019 by itnerd

Microsoft had a media event in New York today and the company announced a ton of new Surface related hardware. Here’s the highlights:

  • Microsoft announced the Surface Pro X. It has a 13″ screen with a resolution of 2880 x 1920 at 267 PPI with a 1400:1 contrast ratio. The unit weighs 1.68 pounds, has USB-C and constant LTE connectivity.” It has a pen that lives in the cover/keyboard and uses a custom Qualcomm processor called the Microsoft SQ1 and runs “full Windows 10.” Additionally, the Pro X has a removable solid-state drive.
  • Microsoft is taking dead aim at the MacBook Pro with the Surface Laptop 3. It comes in 13″ and 15″ sizes. The former uses the Intel 10th-gen “Ice Lake” quad-core processor which Microsoft claims that makes it faster than the MacBook Air. The 15″ uses an AMD Ryzen processor that is custom made for Microsoft. The trackpads are supposed to be spacious and the keyboard is designed to have travel and be silent. Something that isn’t the case with the MacBook Pro at the moment. Something else that the MacBook Pro can’t touch is the fact that these laptops are modular and repairable which should make a whole lot of people happy.  Preorders are open now from the online Microsoft Store, Expect to pay $999 USD and $1,199 USD for the 13-inch and 15-inch models respectively, with Microsoft shipping them on October 22.
  • Up next is the The Surface Pro 7 retains the same size as the previous model. Microsoft has kept the Surface Connector for power, but has replaced the mini DisplayPort with a USB-C port because USB-C is what all the cool kids use in their devices. The Surface Pro 7 will ship on October 22, and will start at $749 USD.
  • Microsoft has joined Samsung, Amazon and others in coming out with an Apple AirPods killer. The Surface Buds have a charge case with 24 hours or so of charge. But of more interest, they have Spotify integration, and each earbud has a disc-like exterior that provides a huge looking flat surface for users to tap on and interact with. The company showed off being able to swipe through a Power Point presentation using them. Expect to pay $249 USD for a pair this holiday season.
  • Microsoft has a new flavor of Windows 10 called Windows 10 X. designed for dual-screen PCs. Windows 10X will power dual-screen PCs from Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and of course Microsoft.
  • Coming for the holiday season next year is the Surface Neo foldable tablet. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the Neo is a foldable tablet that has a 360 degree hinge that separates two 9″ displays. It also runs Windows 10 X. The Neo features a keyboard that seems to magnetically attach to the foldable tablet, as well as a Surface Pen that attaches to its rear. Both of which I am sure are “borrowed” the iPad.
  • Microsoft also announced the Surface Duo which is a folding smartphone that uses two 5.6-inch displays that are connected by a hinge. Google, yes that Google is working with Microsoft on the device to make it work with Android apps. Beyond that, there wasn’t a whole lot else that was shared. This too will ship next year in time for the holidays.

In case you missed the event or you want more details, I can help you with that:

Advertisements

Buggy Windows 10 Updates Presents Users With Multiple Issues…. WTF Microsoft?

Posted in Commentary with tags on September 9, 2019 by itnerd

Windows 10 is a dog’s breakfast at the moment. And the best example of this is latest cumulative update that brings users a laundry list of issues. I’m specifically talking about Cumulative Update KB4512941 for Windows 10 May 2019 Update (1903) which is plagued with issues related to high CPU usage and crippled search functionality.

Now reports of a new bug are filtering in, with users reporting that their screenshots all have an orange tint, no matter which method or app they use to take them. That’s right. Orange screen shots. You’d think this would be caught in QA. But as we all know, Microsoft QA isn’t what it used to be. Now the issue appears to be related to older video drivers, as updating drivers (or uninstalling KB4512941) appears to fix this problem. But a lot of people, gamers or graphic designers for example don’t want to update video drivers as there is always a chance that by doing so, it will break something and they will have difficulty rolling back. Thus simply updating the drivers may be a non-starter for some.

You have to wonder at what point will Microsoft prove that they are serious about putting out a quality product by having updates that reflect those efforts? Because the current state of play is frankly a joke where users aren’t laughing about it.

Microsoft Contractors Are STILL Listening To Cortana Requests And Skype Calls…. WTF?

Posted in Commentary with tags on August 15, 2019 by itnerd

You might recall that Microsoft was one of a number of companies who were using humans to listen in on requests to their respective voice assistants. Which of course has now become a major story in the world of tech as it’s seen as a privacy invasion. Microsoft didn’t really back down from this. Though I suggested that they should.

Motherboard is now reporting that Microsoft is still doing this with Cortana requests and Skype calls. And since there’s no opt out (though you can delete existing recordings), your choices are to either live with this, or turn off Cortana (I have done so on my Windows 10 computers) and stop using Skype (I’ve cut back on using Skype but I cannot ditch it completely). Seeing as the other companies in this mess have pledged to make changes now or in the very near future, it perplexes me why Microsoft would decide that this is worth fighting for. If I were them, I’d be altering course as at the moment, they are on an island all by themselves and the optics don’t look good.

Microsoft Contractors Listen To Some Skype Calls And Cortana Interactions

Posted in Commentary with tags on August 8, 2019 by itnerd

Microsoft has a bit of an issue on its hands in a similar fashion as Apple, Google, and Amazon.

Motherboard has found that Microsoft contractors have been listening into Skype calls only if users are performing a translation function in Skype and not during any other typical Skype voice or video call. As a result, they’ve listened in on intimate conversations between couples and more. And to add to that, Microsoft contractors listen to voice commands spoken to Cortana too. Now Microsoft, much like Apple says right up front that it analyzes audio of translated calls in Skype to improve its services, but it does not mention that some of the analysis will be done by humans. I guess Microsoft assumes that you’ll figure that out on your own. But a better strategy would be for Microsoft to spell that out so that there is no ambiguity.

Having said that, You should also consider what this contractor said to Motherboard:

“The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” a Microsoft contractor who provided the cache of files to Motherboard, said. 

The contractor said, “I generally feel like that while we do not have access to user identifiable information, that if Microsoft users were aware that random people sitting at home in their pajamas who could be joking online with friends about the stuff they just heard that they wouldn’t like that.”

Yeah. This is a bit of an #EpicFail. Now Microsoft says in short that it’s doing nothing wrong and this is all spelled out for you so that you know that this is going on, but this really doesn’t feel right. I say that because Amazon, Apple, and Google decided to take a sober second look at how they do things when this issue was brought to their attention. Microsoft at present doesn’t seem to be heading in a similar direction. Perhaps they want to reconsider that for no other reason than to avoid being sued like Apple.

 

Windows 10 Version 1903 Update Is Disabling GPUs On Some Surface Book Devices… Among Other Issues

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 16, 2019 by itnerd

Remember when I said that you should likely wait for a bit before installing the latest Windows 10 feature update? Here’s an example why I put out that advice. Microsoft has had to admit on a list that has all the known issues with Windows 10 version 1903 that this update can make the dGPU on Surface Book devices to disappear which forces the Surface Book to run with the slower and less capable integrated graphics.

Now the list that I linked to above is pretty long, which is not at all encouraging if you were thinking of upgrading. Which based on that list alone, is a hell no. Combine that with Microsoft’s recent reputation for putting out feature updates that break your system, and the conclusion is clear. Avoid this update for as long as you can.

Office365, Google Docs, And iWork Verboten From Some German Schools

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , on July 15, 2019 by itnerd

Privacy regulators in Germany have ruled out the use of Office 365, Google Docs or Apple’s iWork suite citing privacy concerns over the way these cloud services work. TNW reports the following:

Microsoft’s cloud services has run into a fresh roadblock in Germany, after the state of Hesse ruled it is illegal for its schools to use Office 365 citing “privacy concerns.”

The Hesse Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HBDI) ruled that using the popular cloud platform’s standard configuration exposes personal information about students and teachers “to potential access by US authorities.”

And:

The use of cloud applications by schools is generally not a data protection problem. Many schools in Hesse are already using cloud solutions. Whether, for example, the learning platform or the electronic class book: Schools can use digital applications in compliance with data protection, as far as the security of the data processing and the participation of the pupils is guaranteed.

The core issue is that telemetry data is sent out of Germany to the US, and this can include personal data.

This information can include anything from regular software diagnostic data to user content from Office applications, such as email subject lines and sentences from documents where the company’s translation or spellchecker tools were used.

Collection of such information is a violation of GDPR laws that came into effect last May.

And what makes the situation worse is that switching away from Microsoft to a Google or Apple solution is not possible:

What is true for Microsoft is also true for the Google and Apple cloud solutions. The cloud solutions of these providers have so far not been transparent and comprehensibly described. Therefore, it is also true that for schools the privacy-compliant use [of these alternatives] is currently not possible.

Thus schools have to run local copies of these apps and store data locally. Although the ruling has so far been made by only one state in Germany, it seems likely that the same issue would apply across the country. That means that Microsoft, Google and Apple will have to address this quickly to avoid a blanket ban across Germany.

Microsoft Slips Code Into Windows 7 “Patch Tuesday” Update That Phones Home

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 12, 2019 by itnerd

How comfortable are you with this that popped up on ZDNet. Assuming that you are on Windows 7 of course and you just did updates on this past “Patch Tuesday”:

As expected, Windows Update dropped off several packages of security and reliability fixes for Windows 7 earlier this week, part of the normal Patch Tuesday delivery cycle for every version of Windows. But some hawk-eyed observers noted a surprise in one of those Windows 7 packages.

What was surprising about this month’s Security-only update, formally titled the “July 9, 2019 — KB4507456 (Security-only update),” is that it bundled the Compatibility Appraiser, KB2952664, which is designed to identify issues that could prevent a Windows 7 PC from updating to Windows 10. 

Under Microsoft’s rules, what it calls “Security-only updates” are supposed to include, well, only security updates, not quality fixes or diagnostic tools. Nearly three years ago, Microsoft split its monthly update packages for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 into two distinct offerings: a monthly rollup of updates and fixes and, for those who are want only those patches that are absolutely essential, a Security-only update package.

What was surprising about this month’s Security-only update, formally titled the “July 9, 2019—KB4507456 (Security-only update),” is that it bundled the Compatibility Appraiser, KB2952664, which is designed to identify issues that could prevent a Windows 7 PC from updating to Windows 10.

Among the fierce corps of Windows Update skeptics, the Compatibility Appraiser tool is to be shunned aggressively. The concern is that these components are being used to prepare for another round of forced updates or to spy on individual PCs. The word telemetry appears in at least one file, and for some observers it’s a short step from seemingly innocuous data collection to outright spyware.

My longtime colleague and erstwhile co-author, Woody Leonhard, noted earlier today that Microsoft appeared to be “surreptitiously adding telemetry functionality” to the latest update:

With the July 2019-07 Security Only Quality Update KB4507456, Microsoft has slipped this functionality into a security-only patch without any warning, thus adding the “Compatibility Appraiser” and its scheduled tasks (telemetry) to the update. The package details for KB4507456 say it replaces KB2952664 (among other updates).

Come on Microsoft. This is not a security-only update. How do you justify this sneaky behavior? Where is the transparency now.

I for one am not comfortable with this. Though given Microsoft’s previous behavior on this front, it’s not all that shocking seeing as they’ve been caught doing this sort of thing before. The thing is that forced updates, the mandatory telemetry, and the complete lack of transparency is going to bite Microsoft at some point as options like the Mac and Linux exist. Thus Microsoft needs to be really careful as this sort of behavior will send people towards those options faster than Lance Armstrong on steroids while riding a bike.