Slack to integrate more features with Microsoft Teams

Slack has added a voice-calling app for Microsoft Teams, alongside integrations with other voice over IP (VoIP) vendors. With the Teams Calls app, available now in beta, users will be able to launch a call directly from Slack.

Slack said it has seen almost 350% growth in the volume of calls made or received in the past month as demand for collaboration and communication tools booms amid a major shift to remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are also new integrations with Zoom Phone, Cisco Jabber, RingCentral and Dialpad. The voice integrations let users make calls with actual phone numbers by clicking on the “lightning” button added in the recent refresh of Slack’s user interface.

Many companies use multiple vendors for video versus phone calls, team meetings versus one-on-ones. But in a remote-work world, having all of your calling tools at your team’s fingertips in Slack keeps people connected and productive,” Slack’s  general manager of platform, Brian Elliott, said in a keynote for the Enterprise Connect virtual event on Wednesday.

Slack already integrates with Teams in a variety of ways. The company announced last year that it would connect with a range of Office 365 apps in several ways. That includes the ability to export emails from Outlook to Slack, as well as preview Word, PowerPoint and Excel files without switching between the tools.

Although the two companies are considered to be competitors in the workstream collaboration market, integrations between the two rival platforms are to be expected. Slack prides itself on having a wide array of integrations available to users, with more than 2,000 third-party tools in its app store. 

Both apps have seen a huge increase in use in recent weeks as the Covid-19 outbreak has forced more people to work from home. Teams, which launched in 2017 and has replaced Skype for Business as Microsoft’s core video meetings tool, now has 44 million daily active users – and added 12 million in one week as remote working surged. 

“This is a symbiotic relationship: Slack does not want the video conferencing market, and Microsoft recognizes the significance of the Slack and its growing corporate customer base,” said Wayne Kurtzman, a research director at IDC.  

“In my view, Slack and Microsoft work better together, and that underscores what a Slack partnership can offer Microsoft,” he said. “It would not surprise me to see more companies selecting Slack and Microsoft Teams integrations that are very beneficial to customers with fast-evolving needs.”

Butterfield announced in a series of tweets last week that use of Slack has increased rapidly as demand for team collaboration tools surges. 

The number of simultaneously concurrent users rose from 10 million on March 10 to 12.5 million on March 25, particularly in areas most affected by the outbreak; the creation rate of new Slack workspaces increased by “hundreds of percent” between March 12 and to March 25, the company said.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Prep for an AWS Solutions Architect Associate cert for just $13

The annual salary for an AWS Solutions Architect certification holder is well into the six-figure range. If you’re a current IT professional who wants to expand your knowledge base ― and income at the same time ― then the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Course, discounted by over 90 percent, represents a way of training that minimizes risk.

Amazon Web Services has cemented itself as the go-to solution for corporate-level cloud-based infrastructure. In fact, some of the most popular companies in the world have long since adopted it, with more signing up every year. But there aren’t enough skilled professionals to go around, which is why salaries have increased as dramatically as they have to this point.

Which brings us to the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Course. It’s an intermediate-level training resource that familiarizes students with this specialized technology. The course is only 17 hours in length, so it could be completed over a weekend or two and is presented by the skilled folks at Total Seminars, who are well known for delivering quality instruction.

After completing all 136 lectures, students will possess the knowledge required to take and pass the coveted AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate exam. Since the course is delivered online, it’s easy to fit it into even the busiest work schedule. And, as it’s discounted right now from its usual price of $200, it’s easier than ever to afford. If you’re looking for a low-risk way to enhance your skillset, then this opportunity may be the best you’ll ever find.

The bottom line is that AWS Solutions Architects are needed right now. If you are currently working in the information technology field, or plan to be in the near future, then this AWS Solutions Architect Associate course will be right up your alley. And, since it’s been temporarily discounted to just $12.99, it’s certainly cost-effective, too.


AWS Solutions Architect Associate Course – $12.99

See Deal

Prices are subject to change.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Top web browsers 2020: Firefox sheds share, falls behind Edge

Firefox last month continued a march toward ruin, falling twice its average loss over the past year and losing its place as the world’s second-most-used browser.

According to data posted today by analytics company Net Applications, Firefox’s share in March slumped to 7.2%, down four-tenths of a percentage point. It was the fifth month in the last six in which the browser shed users – and much more importantly – a record low since Firefox climbed out of obscurity to threaten Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) 15 years ago.

This record was the second in a row for Firefox, after February’s debut below the 2016 slump that previously marked the browser’s trough. Two do not a dataset make, but if a legitimate trend develops with, say, another month or two of declines, Mozilla will be, to say the least, in deep trouble.

Notably, Firefox’s fall meant it ceded second place to Microsoft’s Edge. Although Mozilla’s browser had handed second place to Chrome in March 2014 as the latter climbed ahead in the race against the still-dominant IE, Firefox resumed the silver spot in December 2018 when Microsoft’s browser lost it for good.

Computerworld again has had to adjust its forecast based on the latest losses. A month ago, that prediction – based on Firefox’s 12-month average – signaled the browser would fall under 7% in June; now, that mark should be reached in the first few days of May. By year’s end, Firefox’s share could be as low as 5.6%.

Now No. 2, Edge

Microsoft’s browsers – IE and Edge – lost three-tenths of a percentage point in March to end at 13.5%.

But as has been the case recently, the Redmond, Wash. company’s two browsers forged different paths, with Edge rising and IE falling. IE shed half a percentage point last month, plunging to 5.9%, while Edge added two-tenths of a point, climbing to 7.6%, another record high for the five-year-old browser.

Edge’s increase was the fourth consecutive, matching the longest stretch yet of that browser’s gains. In the last two months, Edge has added nearly six-tenths of a percentage point to its total, which represented a growth rate of 8%.

That two-month span was not randomly selected; February and March were the first two complete months after Microsoft released a stable, polished version of the revamped Edge – built atop Chromium code, the same that powers Chrome – on Jan. 15.

Yet the cause of that increase remains unknown. It may be that Microsoft’s decision to clone Chrome is behind the increase, but it is far from certain. More data is needed.

There was a positive-for-Microsoft signal, however. March’s percentage of Windows 10 PCs running Edge – assuming that Edge on Windows 7 and macOS has added little to the total – was 13.2%, tying the record previously set by the browser several times since its introduction. The growth on Windows 10 may be from the beginnings of Microsoft’s automatic swap of old-Edge for new-Edge, even though the firm promised it would not make the latter the default on systems where it wasn’t already set so.

IE’s downturn, meanwhile, was also a positive for anyone rooting for Windows. The browser – in this case IE11, last of its kind – is on what appears to be its deathbed, now under 6% and by all rights should slide under 5% by the end of July. Getting rid of IE – along with its ancient technologies and security vulnerabilities – will be a win for everyone, even if that means shifting legacy labors from that browser to the IE mode inside Edge.

Chrome jumps, again

Chrome leaped 1.2 percentage points last month – the most since September – to reach 68.5%, the highest mark since July, when the browser peaked at a tenth of a point higher.

The increase improved Chrome’s 12-month forecast, putting the browser on a slow river of growth: The prediction now pegs Chrome at around 69% by the end of this year. Computerworld wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t pan out, however, as the two times Chrome crested 68%, both because of 1.2-point or larger increases, it immediately slumped, albeit not by as much, the month following.

Elsewhere, Apple’s Safari slipped three-tenths of a point to 3.6%, and Opera Software’s Opera remained flat at 1.1%. Safari’s impressive growth of last year, estimates that were flawed because Net Applications counted iPads running iPadOS 13 as macOS devices, was erased from the record when the metrics vendor revised several months of data. By March, Safari had settled into a dead tie with its year-ago number. All the fuss, then, had been for naught.

Net Applications calculates share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers used to reach the websites of Net Applications’ clients. The firm counts visitor sessions to measure browser activity.

Have work-at-home, stay-at-home orders impacted the browser shares?

To answer that question: Who knows at the moment? But the general drift of the browser shares does hint at an affirmative.

The downturn in Firefox’s fate, for example, makes sense, as it’s the least likely of the top three – Chrome, Edge and Firefox – to be favored by IT. Sent home to work with company devices or told after that to download the preferred browser to their personal PCs to, say, access corporate assets, Firefox may have been replaced in many instances, if only temporarily, by Chrome or Edge.

Meanwhile, Chrome, and to a lesser extent Edge, might have received usage boosts based on the same conceit, that commercially-approved browsers – and both those would certainly apply – would benefit from a mass work-at-home order as has happened in large swaths of the U.S. and elsewhere.

An April of continued gains by Chrome and Edge – and a concurrent loss by Firefox – might confirm the theory, since few companies, at least in the U.S. asked employees to work at home all that month. (Microsoft and Google, for example, ordered theirs home in the first week of March.)

If the COVID-19 pandemic did spark a browser usage shift, will that become permanent? Too soon to know.

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Get the March Windows and Office patches installed, but watch out for known bugs

It’s been another Keystone Kops month, with a reasonably stable Patch Tuesday, followed by a hasty Patch Thursday to cover a security hole Microsoft accidentally blabbed, then the usual buggy “optional, non-security, C/D Week” patch, finishing with a fix for yet another bug introduced by earlier patches.

Plus ça change …

Along the way we got a quiet fix for a bug in Windows Defender. And a warning about yet another bad-font-takes-over-your-PC security hole. Microsoft has toned down its original warning about that Type 1 Font Parsing security hole, and now says it’s mostly a less-severe problem with Windows 7 and related servers.

All the while, in spite of loud sirens from many corners, there have been exactly zero emergencies, where a Microsoft patch fixed a hole that’s being widely exploited.

Which means it’s a good time to make sure you have the March patches installed, in preparation for what awaits in WFH April. Here’s how to do it.

Make a full backup

Make a full system image backup before you install the latest patches.

There’s a non-zero chance that the patches — even the latest, greatest patches of patches of patches — will hose your machine. Best to have a backup that you can reinstall even if your machine refuses to boot. This, in addition to the usual need for System Restore points.

There are plenty of full-image backup products, including at least two good free ones: Macrium Reflect Free and EaseUS Todo Backup

Install the latest Win10 March Cumulative Update

If you haven’t yet moved to Win10 version 1909 (in the Windows search box type winver and hit Enter), I recommend that you do so. The bugs in version 1903 are largely replicated in 1909 and vice versa, so there’s very little reason to hold off on making the switch — although, admittedly, there’s almost nothing worthwhile that’s new in version 1909. I have detailed instructions for moving to 1909 here.

To get the latest March Cumulative Update installed, click Start > Settings > Update & Security. If you see a Resume updates box (screenshot), click on it.

1903 updates paused Woody Leonhard/IDG

That’s all you need to do. Windows, in its infinite wisdom, will install the March Cumulative Update at its own pace. If you don’t see a Resume updates box, you already have the March Cumulative update and you’re good to go.

If you see a come-on for the “optional, non-security, C/D Week” patch KB 4541335 (screenshot), simply ignore it. There’s absolutely nothing in that patch that you need or want, and it’s causing all sorts of problems.

1909 optional update available 2 Woody Leonhard/IDG

There’s a reason why Microsoft is discontinuing these step-in-the-mess “optional” patches.

When your machine comes back up for air, don’t panic if your desktop doesn’t look right, or you can’t log in to your usual account. You got bit by the “temporary profile” bug, which we’ve known about — and complained about — for more than a month. We have three separate threads on AskWoody about solving the problem (1, 2, 3) and if you need additional help, you can always post a question. (Thx @PKCano.)

Also, don’t be overly surprised if you discover that, after installing the March patches, your internet connection disappears when you connect to a virtual private network. Yep, that’s another bug introduced by this month’s patches. For a change, Microsoft has actually documented the bug — and released a fix. You should only install the manual-download-only patch of a patch KB 4554364 if you’re getting knocked offline when connecting to a VPN. If your internet stays connected, simply ignore this warning. You’ll get updated in April. At least, theoretically.

While you’re mucking about with Windows Update, it wouldn’t hurt to pause updates, to take you out of the direct line of fire the next time Microsoft releases a buggy bunch of patches. Click Start > Settings > Update & Security. Click “Pause updates for 7 days.” Next, click on the newly revealed link, which says “Pause updates for 7 more days,” four more times. That pauses all updates for 35 days, until early May. With a little luck that’ll be long enough for Microsoft to fix any bugs it introduces in April. And the March stragglers, for that matter.

Patch Win7, Win8.1, or associated servers

If you’ve paid for Win7 Extended Security Updates and you’re having trouble getting them installed, Microsoft has a new article called Troubleshoot issues in Extended Security Updates that may be of help. We’re also fielding questions on AskWoody. 

0patch continues to provide patches for Win7, going so far as to fix the announced new font parsing bug, which Microsoft itself hasn’t even fixed as yet. 

If you’re running Win7 and haven’t been able to get Extended Security Updates working (there are lots of reported problems!), @abbodi86 offers a script that’ll let you install the latest Win7 security patches, bypassing the ESU restrictions.

Several high-profile security guri, including Patch Lady Susan Bradley, have called on Microsoft to open up its March 2020 Win7 patches to everybody, particularly considering the number of people who are working from home, on older machines, through no fault of their own.

Windows 8.1 continues to be the most stable version of Windows around. To get this month’s puny Monthly Rollup installed, follow AKB 2000004: How to apply the Win7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollups. You should have one Windows patch, dated March 10 (the Patch Tuesday patch). No, you don’t want the Preview of Monthly Rollup.

After you’ve installed the latest Monthly Rollup, if you’re intent on minimizing Microsoft’s snooping, run through the steps in AKB 2000007: Turning off the worst Win7 and 8.1 snooping. If you want to thoroughly cut out the telemetry, see @abbodi86’s detailed instructions in AKB 2000012: How To Neutralize Telemetry and Sustain Windows 7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollup Model.

Thanks to the dozens of volunteers on AskWoody who contribute mightily, especially @sb, @PKCano, @abbodi86 and many others.

We’ve moved to MS-DEFCON 3 on the AskWoody Lounge.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Apple’s AR plans are becoming a little easier to see

Apple’s take on augmented reality will leverage its existing solutions to deliver personalized experiences, with a particular focus on health, location and entertainment.

Why do I think this?

Yesterday I broke the news that Apple is working with a company called Dent Reality on indoor mapping technologies.

The smaller company has been working with ARKit since the system made its debut. Now it uses Apple’s Indoor Maps ecosystem to provide highly accurate indoor mapping solutions it claims are highly accurate and don’t require beacons.

The focus of the demonstrations on the Dent Reality site are very much on navigating shopping centers and malls, but this can easily be extended.

The key is how the system works. On its website, Dent Reality explains:

“We’ve re-imagined how an indoor map should be designed, to match people’s perceptions of the indoor environment. It displays more info when you need it, and is engineered to work seamlessly side-by-side with the AR experience. Hold your phone down, we show the map. Hold your phone up, you’re in AR.”

In other words, you explore virtual experiences in two ways – on your phone, or using AR googles with information overlaid above what you see.

That’s a step toward..

The (augmented) human interface

Apple failed in its recent attempt to acquire Plessey Semiconductor.

One of the world’s few manufacturers of microLEDs as used in AR displays, Plessey chose to take a tech licensing and supply deal with Facebook.

Announcing this news, the company said:

“We have decided to work with Facebook to help achieve their vision of the next computing platform centred around people.”

(Italics mine).

Facebook plans to use the technology to build AR glasses.

That’s clearly set to be competition for Apple, which we know is attempting to build something similar.

What’s interesting about Plessey is its statement that the company seems to have preferred Facebook’s vision for a “next computing platform centred around people”.

Explore Plessey’s site, and you’ll find augmented humans are prevalent across its many illustrative uses of its technology. Examples include:

  • Swimming goggles that provide wearers with information on depth, speed and vital signs.
  • Ski googles that provide similar data points.
  • Car windshields that provide access to relevant data as you drive.

Each one of these is an appealing application for AR and Apple’s interest in the company suggests it has similar deployments in mind.

Apple’s own patents (and its rich seam of previous AR-related acquisitions) also show this. They include AR communication patents, virtual physical objects, and even advanced VR gloves for use in AR. Patently Apple keeps a useful list.

Apple’s own AR apps

Earlier this month, 9to5Mac claimed Apple to be building its own AR app, code-named Gobi. Gobi is described as a solution that augments what you see on your iPhone with additional information.

Apple is apparently developing it so retail store visitors can quickly access pricing and product information at an Apple Store, and the app will also support some form of API third party developers can use to build their own experiences based on the technology.

In similar vein, Apple is reportedly developing an AR-based user interface for a revamped version of its Find My app it intends introducing in iOS 14.

This will make it easier to locate friends and Apple products, and is designed to work with the company’s rumoured Tile-competing AirTags as an AR-based interface to find lost things.

We’ve also heard claims the company is developing some form of immersive AR-based bowling game.

It is important to consider the significance of Apple’s addition of LiDAR to iPad Pro, which means the tablet can become a very capable tool for indoor mapping, object identification, and precise AR-based experiences.

And, of course, we recently heard potentially apocryphal claims around a new AR controller design hidden inside Apple’s iOS code.

Put it all together and what have we got?

Apple incrementally builds and improves its technologies. One of the best examples of this being the iPhone, whose existence goes back both to Unix/Mac/NeXT and iTunes.

With this in mind, when thinking about Apple’s future direction it makes sense to put speculation through a filter based around those things it already makes.

Take Maps, Arcade and Activity on Apple Watch.

Each one of these solutions could make a leap to goggles.

  • Look Around in Maps would help you find people (in AR mode), or help you familiarize yourself with a destination when planning a trip.
  • Activity data would be useful on your goggles when you take a swim (which happens to be a usage case Plessey is exploring, as mentioned above). I believe health, including health provider applications, will be one of the key foundations around which Apple builds future AR products.
  • The opportunity to add VR/AR elements to Arcade games is hard to ignore.

One more thing

Plessey Semiconductor is one of a very few firms making microLED displays.

That Apple failed to acquire it suggests:

  1. Apple’s development has moved far enough forward that it must now secure future component supply.
  2. That Apple will now intensify efforts to license or acquire technologies from other companies that might fill this gap.
  3. Apple may already have reached a more complex arrangement (involving other trusted partners) with other players in the space.
  4. That Apple will soon need to discuss its plans a little more openly as it attempts to focus developers on AR experience development.

Perhaps this is one of the more substantial discussions to anticipate at Apple’s online WWDC event in 2020? It is also sadly true to suggest that virtual experiences and interactions will possibly play a greater part in everybody’s future than we thought.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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