Tag Archive | "Microsoft"

Microsoft Ventures Into Checkout-Free Retail, Takes on Amazon

Microsoft is reportedly taking on Amazon, as the company ventures into retail territory. The company is said to be looking into checkout-free shopping, an innovation that Amazon has pioneered.

Reuters reported that at least six people have talked to them about Microsoft developing technology that will give retail companies the option to have cashier and checkout-free shops. Microsoft is said to have partnered with fellow Redmond-based company AVA Retail. The company develops systems that can collate information about shoppers. This time around, it will be working with the renowned software company on innovations that could be used on brick-and-mortar stores.

Interestingly, Microsoft will not be installing said technology in their own stores. According to the sources, it has instead reached out to Walmart about the possibility of a joint effort. If this pushes through, the two companies could give Amazon a run for its money.

Microsoft is said to have around 10 to 15 employees working on researching and developing their new retail technology. There aren’t a lot of concrete details at the moment, but one report said the research team has explored using cameras attached to shopping carts as a means to track the customer’s purchases.

If successful, this could potentially do away with the need for cashiers. It also means a store won’t need to put up hundreds of cameras the way that the Amazon Go pilot store did.

This approach suggests that Microsoft is looking to offer retailers a more cost-effective system. Stepping into the checkout-free store arena would also pit the software company against retail giant Amazon. Heated competition between the two is nothing new. Microsoft’s Azure cloud service is second only to Amazon’s AWS.

Walmart has declined to comment on the news and a Microsoft spokesman said the company “does not comment on rumors or speculations.”

There’s no question that Amazon leads the way when it comes to changing the face of retail. If Microsoft or other businesses want to get ahead of the company, or at least be on the same standing as Amazon, they better get a move on.

Amazon has already opened to the public its first cashier-less convenience store, Amazon Go, in Seattle early this year. Shoppers entering the store are required to swipe an app which enables computer-vision technology to monitor and track them and their purchases as they walk around the store. Once done with their shopping, consumers simply walk out and their purchases are charged via their Amazon app.

[Featured image via Pixabay]

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Microsoft is Reportedly on the Verge of Acquiring Github

Microsoft is reportedly in acquisition talks with GitHub, according to sources privy to the matter. Based on the Bloomberg report, the deal to purchase one of the biggest code repository companies will be announced as early as Monday.

Founded in 2008, GitHub was a popular hosting site of codes, projects, and documentation for several developers and companies. It is the commonly used platform for open-source software projects, boasting of more than 20 million developers working across 67 million repositories in 2017. GitHub has come a long way from having just 2,000 users when it first started 10 years ago.

Back then, Microsoft disparaged open-source programs built on GitHub because of its proprietary software in the market. Open-source software allows developers to play around, improve, and share codes, making it a threat to Microsoft applications. Over time, the software giant became more receptive to the idea, launching its own open-source community over a decade ago and shifting its bigger projects on GitHub in 2015.

These days, Microsoft is the top contributor to the site, while other big tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple also use GitHub. Microsoft’s seismic move to open-source technology, as well as cloud computing, began when CEO Satya Nadella took over the top post in 2014. Since then, the company has been pushing for ways to support Linux as it veers away from depending on the Windows operating system.

It’s likely that Nadella’s vision has impressed GitHub, opting to sell instead of going public. Although the terms of the deal remain under wraps, GitHub was reportedly valued at $ 2 billion in 2015. This was lower than its $ 5 billion asking price when acquisition talks were discussed previously, say sources familiar with the deal.  

 GitHub is viewed by many as the de-facto source code platform where developers can connect and collaborate. However,  it suffers from a few operational problems such as monetizing its products and turnover in its executive ranks. One of the company’s co-founders, Chris Wanstrath, stepped down as its CEO in August 2017. Since then, there has been no replacement while Chief Business Officer Julio Avalos handles daily leadership in the interim.          

GitHub posted losses of about $ 66 million for three quarters in 2016 but reported revenue of $ 98 million during the same year, according to Bloomberg. However, its annual revenue doubled to $ 200 million in 2017, driven mainly by its paying corporate accounts. The company began offering GitHub Enterprise, a paid option for corporations with additional features and services, such as 24/7 support, dynamic hosting alternatives, and private workspaces, among others.

With GitHub’s push for more corporate clients, investors anticipate an initial public offering in the future. The company seems to benefit significantly from selling out instead of going public, particularly since Microsoft appears eager to snap up the platform based on their intermittent talks over the years.

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Microsoft Warns of Rising Tech Support Scams, Calls for Industry-Wide Cooperation

Incidents of tech support scams targeting susceptible PC users are increasing, Microsoft warned. The company received 153,000 reported complaints from consumers in 2017, 24 percent higher than the prior year, according to its detailed security report released on Friday.

Tech support scams reported to Microsoft

Image via Microsoft cloud blog

Reported incidents came from 183 countries, suggesting a widespread global problem. Of those who fell prey to the scam, roughly 15 percent lost money averaging between $ 200 and $ 400. There were cases of victims paying significantly more. In December 2017, Microsoft was notified of a tech support fraud in the Netherlands that resulted in the financial loss of 189,000, or about $ 109,000.

Called social engineering attacks, scammers use a variety of ways to initiate the fraud. Cybercriminals send phishing emails, display strategic online ads or full-screen error messages, install malware, or place unsolicited phone calls to convince victims that their systems or devices have been compromised.

Once victims contact the call center for help, a fake technical support specialist instructs them to install remote administration tools (RATs). This allows fraudsters to have complete control over the device and unrestricted access to sensitive information. They make changes inside the device and point out system errors to convince victims of the ‘problem’. This then prompts unsuspecting consumers to pay for the removal of fake or nonexistent malware.

According to Microsoft, the widespread problem is not limited to its platform but has affected users of MacOS, iOS, and Android systems as well. The FBI received 11,000 tech support fraud complaints in 2017 from 85 countries. Of these, claimed losses amounted to approximately $ 15 million, representing an 86 percent increase compared to prior year.  

The FBI also noticed an emerging trend: re-targeting past victims of tech support fraud. Scammers pose as government officials or law enforcement and offer assistance in recovering losses in exchange for fees. Other fraudsters act as collection services and threaten the victim with legal action for nonpayment of outstanding tech support fees. Some criminals use obtained personal information to commit additional fraud, such as unauthorized bank transfers or opening of new accounts for unlawful payments.  

Microsoft expressed concern over tech support scams that bypass secure platforms like Windows 10 easily and coerce users into giving unrestricted access to their devices. Because the problem is far-reaching, the company called for industry-wide collaboration and law enforcement partnership. Microsoft continues to form partnerships with web hosting providers, telecom networks, browser developers, antivirus solutions, and financial networks in detecting tech support scammers.  

The graphic below shows how the scam usual works.

Image via Microsoft cloud blog

Customers, on the other hand, can protect and empower themselves through education. Be wary of error or warning messages with phone numbers or emails with malicious attachments. Shut down your device once you receive a pop-up message or locked screen. If you have been a victim, notify your bank to reverse the charges and change all your passwords. Uninstall any application used during the tech support and run a virus scan for remaining malware.

[Featured image via Pixabay]

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Microsoft is Now Offering AI Certification Courses, Job-Ready Skills and Real-World Experience Included

Professionals wanting to polish their skills or add machine learning to their resume can now do so via the Microsoft Professional Program. Recognizing the need for companies to train their employees in the latest AI trends, the software giant is now offering a series of courses to the public that comes with “a digitally shareable, résumé-worthy credential.”

The new program is called the Microsoft Professional Program for AI where, as promised by Microsoft, participants will get “job-ready skills and real-world experience.” The seminar is targeted to engineers who want to improve their data science and artificial intelligence skills.

The online courses will be under the guidance of expert instructors as well as hands-on labs. The AI program consists of nine skills where each skill is estimated to take between eight and 16 hours for participants to complete. There is also a final project that each student must complete to pass the course.

The program emphasizes hands-on learning where students are taught “how to work with data to build and train machine learning models that power interactive bots.” In addition, the series covers a variety of topics that are relevant in today’s workplace such as ethics in AI, using Python as the programming language for manipulating data and different types of machine learning models and how to create them.

However, participants do not have to complete each segment in one go. Students can opt to complete each module within three months while the final project has a six-week deadline. Each segment or course is only offered four times in one year.

Enrollees earn credit for finishing a course or segment. Should they require it, they can get Verified Certificates from edX.org.

AI skills are becoming increasingly useful in today’s workplace. As explained by Microsoft  Research AI assistant director:

“AI is increasingly important in how our products and services are designed and delivered and that is true for our customers as well. Fundamentally, we are all interested in developing talent that is able to build, understand and design systems that have AI as a central component.”

For employees, getting AI certified is time well spent. With salaries for AI professionals going through the roof it should be considered a worthwhile investment in their future earning potential.

[Featured image via Microsoft]

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Microsoft to Ban Language It Finds Offensive on Private Accounts

Microsoft users might want to take a closer look at the company’s update to its service agreement. Set to take effect this May, privacy experts are alarmed about the changes seem to suggest that Microsoft will now have the right to review user content even without prior consent.

The questionable changes were first reported on by Jonathan Corbett at the Professional Troublemaker site. Microsoft warned against the use of offensive language as well as the sharing of inappropriate content. The company stated that violating the modified rules could result in the closure of a user’s Microsoft account.

“In the Code of Conduct section, we’ve clarified that use of offensive language and fraudulent activity is prohibited. We’ve also clarified that violation of the Code of Conduct through Xbox Services may result in suspensions or bans from participation in Xbox Services, including forfeiture of content licenses, Xbox Gold Membership time, and Microsoft account balances associated with the account.”

But what worried privacy experts, even more, is that aside from banning users from the company’s services, using offensive language can even be used by Microsoft as grounds to conduct an investigation and go through the user’s private data. As pointed out by Corbett, the term “offensive language” is a bit too ambiguous and its definition can vary greatly between different people.

“Enforcement. If you violate these Terms, we may stop providing Services to you or we may close your Microsoft account. We may also block delivery of a communication (like email, file sharing or instant message) to or from the Services in an effort to enforce these Terms or we may remove or refuse to publish Your Content for any reason. When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue. However, we cannot monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so.”

The updated rules could be particularly problematic for users of Microsoft’s gaming service Xbox Live. This is because, within gaming circles, trash-talking is normal among players.

This was pointed out by Corbett who couldn’t help but ask, “If I call someone a mean name in Xbox Live, not only will they cancel my account, but also confiscate any funds I’ve deposited in my account?”

Aside from Xbox Live, the updated agreement will also cover users of other Microsoft services such as Skype and Office. Given the scope, Corbett fears that the amended terms would allow any Microsoft staff to pry open anyone’s private data such as Skype call recordings as long as they are “investigating” something.

At the moment, Microsoft declined to comment on the issues raised related to the amended agreement.

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Microsoft Previews New Privacy Controls for Windows 10 in Insider Test

With the rising concern over online privacy, Microsoft is taking greater steps to improve security for users of its browser. The software giant is testing out a new Windows 10 preview build for PCs which is already available on Windows Insider, its open software testing program. The new build comes with 13 bug fixes as well as a layout for the browser’s privacy screen settings.

Microsoft released the Windows 10 preview build 17115 on Tuesday which offers a host of fixes and improvements. One of the major changes that will be introduced with the new update is the redesign of its privacy setting which, according to the company, “conveys focused information to help our customers make focused choices about their privacy.”

A blog post by the company included a snapshot of the new privacy settings screen showing a very streamlined way Windows 10 users may tweak their browser experience. For instance, they can turn on or turn off Find My Device, Location, and even Speech Recognition very easily because these options can be all found on the same page.

Windows 10 Privacy Setup

For those who really want absolute control over their browser data, they can disable the Inking & Typing option which prevents the browser from sending data to Microsoft. This is good news for users who are a little bit concerned over the potential privacy issues posed by Windows 10’s built-in “keylogger,” a feature that records typed characters and other data with the aim of improving next word prediction and autocompletion features.

However, Windows Insiders participants might not be seeing the same kind of privacy setting. Apparently, Microsoft is testing two very different styles of the redesign. While one design favors a single screen crammed with all options available, the other design opts for seven separate screens to handle all privacy settings tweaks. It seems that the software giant is hoping to gain insight from participant’s feedback to find the right balance between the two designs.  

Microsoft announced that the Windows 10 update will arrive this spring. No specific release date was announced.

[Featured image via Microsoft]

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Google Rolls Out Hangouts Chat, Set to Compete with Slack and Microsoft Teams

It seems that Google is seriously eyeing a bigger slice of the workplace communications market. Recently, the company announced that Hangouts Chat is now rolling out to the general public which puts it on a collision course with rival Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Hangouts Chat was first announced in March of 2017 and was previously available as part of an Early Adopter Program. However, the feature is now making its way to all users over the course of seven days starting yesterday.

Google is positioning Hangouts Chat as the perfect tool to handle the communication needs of companies especially those that require team members from different parts of the globe to collaborate. The feature, which can be accessed by all G Suite users, supports 28 languages while each room can even accommodate up to 8,000 members.

Chat also allows plenty of customization options so that companies can tweak the tool to suit their specific needs. For instance, developers may build bots or integrate their services into the feature. The feature is also compatible with Google’s existing ecosystem of partners making it easier for the tool to be integrated with other workplace collaboration apps such as Xero, RingCentral, UberConference, Salesforce, Zenefits, Zoom.ai, Jira, Trello, Wrike, and Kayak.

Of course, Hangouts Chat is very compatible with Google’s own suite of products and workplace tools. From Chat, users can easily start Hangouts Meet video conferences as well as document and file sharing.

The rise of online jobs, as well as teams of workers opting to work remotely, has spawned a new segment of services catering to the collaborative and communication needs of modern day businesses. As a newcomer, Hangouts Chat needs to put more effort to catch up with more established players in the market. At the moment, Microsoft Teams has a 37 percent share of the global market collaboration software while rival Slack has 5 percent share.

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Google’s Project Zero Team Exposes Microsoft Edge Bug

Microsoft has been pretty aggressive in marketing its Edge browser and even launched two commercials earlier this year specifically pointing out its advantages over rival Chrome. After being silent for a while, it appears that Google finally counterattacked by disclosing Edge’s security flaw.

Google’s Project Zero, which found the vulnerability last November, h released the technical details of their discovery. Due to the existence of the flaw, it is theoretically possible for hackers to bypass Edge’s security features and insert their own malicious code into their target’s computer. While indeed a possibility, it must be noted there has been no reported instance of the problem being successfully taken advantage of by hackers so far.

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Amazon is Now Worth More Than Microsoft, Becomes the World’s Third Most Valuable Company

The race in becoming the first company to reach the trillion dollar mark in terms of market capitalization is still ongoing. However, Amazon is a strong contender as its long-running market rally continues unabated. Thanks to a sharp rise in its company’s shares on Wednesday, Amazon became the world’s third most valuable company, overtaking Microsoft for the first time.

Amazon shares surged by 2.6 percent on Wednesday—an increase of $ 36.54 a share in just a single day of trading. Closing at $ 1,451.05 per share, the online retail giant is now valued at $ 702.5 billion. Its market value went up by $ 17.69 from the previous day’s close.

While Microsoft managed to post some gains on the same day, it was not enough to offset Amazon’s increase. The software giant’s stock rose by 1.6 percent or $ 1.40 per share, translating to an increase in total market cap by $ 10.78 billion. The company is now valued at $ 699.22 billion on Wednesday’s close.

At the moment, only two companies are worth more the Amazon. Gadget maker Apple is still number one with a market valuation of $ 849.2 billion. Meanwhile, Google’s parent firm Alphabet is in the second spot currently valued at $ 746 billion.

Amazon continues to dazzle investors and has managed to post a 73 percent increase in the past year. As a result, CEO Jeff Bezos overtook Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as the world’s richest person. Microsoft’s 41 percent increase in the past 12 months was not enough to offset the online retailer’s meteoric rise.

[Featured image via Amazon]

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Microsoft Announces Huge Price Cut for Azure Cloud Services, Now Just $100 Per Month

Microsoft Azure customers were pleasantly surprised today. The cloud computing company just announced that it has substantially dropped the price for its Azure Standard support to just $ 100 per month, making it the most affordable support package among the big three cloud computing firms.

The price slash of the Azure Standard support, which was previously priced at $ 300 per month, was announced in a post via Microsoft Azure’s website. Despite the drop, however, the company promised an even faster initial response time of 1 hour, which was previously set at 2 hours, for critical cases. The company also promised the continuation of the current package’s feature of unlimited 24/7 technical and billing support for the client’s entire organization.

The price cut is being offered to eligible Azure customers. These are customers who purchased the Azure Standard support package directly from the Azure.com site under the Microsoft Online Subscription Agreement (MOSA).

However, the $ 100 per month offer is not applicable to all regions. For still unspecified reasons, customers based in Germany are apparently not included in the price cut.

Azure’s drastic price reduction for its Standard support could start a price war among the big three players in the cloud computing industry. It is possible that competitors Amazon Web Services (AWS), as well as Google Cloud Platform, might be forced to introduce price cuts of their own to make the pricing of their services even more competitive.

At $ 100 per month, the AWS Business plan costs as much as the new Azure Standard support. However, that is only the starting price because clients usually end up paying more for additional charges based on their monthly usage fees.

Meanwhile, Google is charging a higher monthly rate for its standard support at the moment. Basic support costs $ 150 per month and its response time for business critical issues is even slower at 4 hours compared to 1 hour for Azure customers.

[Featured image via Microsoft]

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