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The Top 3 Reasons for Building Wi-Fi and IoT Convergence Networks

In the near future, human and robot collaboration will be the norm for digital enterprises of all sizes. According to the 10 technology megatrends predicted in Huawei’s Global Industry Vision (GIV) 2025 report, there will be an average of 103 robots for every 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry by 2025.

The overall digitization trend sweeping industry extends far beyond manufacturing, too, as other industry verticals deploy wireless technologies and Internet of Things (IoT) to become more competitive. For example, in the automobile industry, in-vehicle software is updated over Wi-Fi while the energy and construction industries use IoT to realize predictive Operations and Maintenance (O&M). Elsewhere, remote medical care is increasingly common in the healthcare industry, and cities and public sectors are incorporating more technology into asset management systems.

Indeed, investment in IoT and wireless technologies is creating opportunities for enterprises to create groundbreaking business models, improving the user experience and increasing operational efficiency. As detailed in Forrester’s Internet-Of-Things Heat Maps for Operational Excellence, 2019 report, more than 70% of enterprises have already implemented or plan to implement IoT solutions and applications. And it’s worth noting that such a notably high — and growing — adoption rate is mainly driven by rising requirements from service departments, rather than coming from IT departments.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for IoT networks, however. Solutions must be tailored to individual enterprises, since requirements for bandwidth, reliability, transmission distance, and power consumption of IoT terminals vary depending on production needs. But the abundance of aspect-specific IoT protocols make finding the optimal solution a challenging task for any enterprise.

IoT protocols are largely divided into two kinds, based on transmission distance: Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) and Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networking (LoWPAN). LPWA is applicable to long-distance Wide Area Network (WAN) coverage, while LoWPAN performs better in medium- and short-distance indoor coverage scenarios. Furthermore, typical LoWPAN protocols include Bluetooth for precise locations (with meter-level accuracy), ZigBee for mesh networking at low-power consumption, power-hungry Wi-Fi technologies for providing large transmission bandwidth, and low-power Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

The transmission distances of these protocols are at different tiers, ranging from 10 centimeters to 200 meters. Most LoWPAN protocols comply with IEEE 802.15.4, which means they can be applied on IoT networks connected to the same gateway. The wide range of deployment modes for these IoT networks, however, can lead to unnecessary IoT network reconstruction, complicating network construction and management. Enterprises would therefore certainly benefit from an open network architecture that is compatible with multiple, mutually independent IoT networks.

Wi-Fi and IoT converged deployment and management is a vital component for creating an open and well-performing network architecture. The deployment of multiple LoWPAN protocols on a single unified enterprise Wi-Fi network offers:

Reduced network construction costs: Built-in or external IoT modules on Access Points (APs) enable Wi-Fi and IoT networks to share network infrastructure, including sites and backhaul lines. This effectively reduces hardware investment, cuts down on hardware installation time, and reduces Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) by 50%.

Reduced network management costs: A Wi-Fi and IoT converged management platform offers intelligent analysis that optimizes network planning. For example, wireless technologies with similar frequency bands are selected to minimize interference; when interference does occur, it can be automatically detected. This new approach is vastly superior to traditional networks, where multiple siloed management platforms can only detect and rectify interference after services have been affected, and administrators have to go through the arduous process of collecting information on each platform, manually analyzing and troubleshooting faults.

Broadens business opportunities: With the agreement and approval of customers, terminal data such as location and status is integrated and sent to the service platform. This approach improves the accuracy of customer profiles and customer behavior analysis, enabling enterprises to provide personalized services.

In recent years, traditional brick-and-mortar shopping malls and supermarkets have increased their efforts to transition into the new retail arena, as pressure from e-commerce mounts. For example, a large European supermarket chain has taken the initiative to modernize by optimizing the shopping experience at their facilities while also improving operational efficiency. The initiatives, targeting both customers and employees, range from new shopping guides and marketing campaigns, to delivering office services via Wi-Fi and adopting RFID-based Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs).

Using ESLs, the supermarket chain’s operation capabilities have been expanded, enabling remote price updates in batches and electronic shelf management. To achieve this, the supermarket chain deployed Huawei AirEngine APs with built-in RFID modules and a unified network management platform, achieving converged access and simplified management of multiple terminals. As a result, it is estimated that each of the chain’s stores in Germany deploying the technology saves up to US$37,000 per year in costs related to price updates, including labor costs. Given this success, the supermarket plans to adopt the technology across more than 10,000 stores worldwide.

Such benefits are not limited to new retail, however. Huawei also offers leading Wi-Fi & IoT convergence networks for a wide range of industries, including smart buildings, logistics, and education, driving innovations in specialized digital services.

The question then is: how can an enterprise select a Wi-Fi & IoT convergence solution best adapted to its requirements?You can find the answer in the latest edition of “The Forrester New WaveTM: Wireless Solutions, Q3 2019” report, which covers the LoWPAN market. In the report, Forrester analyst Andre Kindness suggests that Huawei’s Wi-Fi & IoT convergence solution “is the best fit for companies needing to use multiple wireless technologies.”

Learn more about Huawei’s Wi-Fi & IoT convergence solution to plan your network deployment.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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This month’s Windows and Office security patches: Bugs and solutions

The big patching problems this month fell at the feet of admins who had to deal with an unholy mess of pressing exposures: Fixing the holes in Microsoft’s RD Gateway (CVE-2020-0610; see Susan Bradley’s Patch Watch, paywalled); dealing with Server 2008 R2 systems that booted to Recovery mode after installing the January patches; scrambling to pick up after breaches in Citrix networking products; or the 334 Oracle security patches. They all took a toll.

Those of us not in charge of multinational networks could breathe a little easier. In spite of a stellar advertising campaign from the National Security Agency (NSA), the Chain of Fools/CurveBall CVE-2020-0601 hole hasn’t turned into an active attack. As I said at the time, it’s a long way from a third-degree polynomial to working ransomware.

Yes, you need to patch sooner or later. But, no, the sky isn’t falling. Those reports of the internet’s impending CurveBall doom were just a little bit overblown.

As usual.

Still no ‘optional, non-security’ patches

I would conjecture that the January Patch Tuesday crop is relatively well-behaved because, at least apparently, they only contain security patches. Normally, Microsoft releases dozens of “optional, non-security” patches every month – bug fixes – but those annoying little gnats haven’t made an appearance since October.

I expect that will change shortly. We’ll no doubt see dozens – if not hundreds – of smaller patches out in the usual “C Week/D Week” cadence soon. Since we’ve seen no such infestation in three months, you’d be smart to avoid the “optional” patches, once they arrive, until they’ve been well vetted.

Common patching problems persist

Günter Born has put together a comprehensive list of printing problems associated with recent patches. They seem to come and go – many different printers, many different symptoms.

There are also many reports of January cumulative updates failing to install, with various error message.

None of the problems seem particularly remarkable – or even replicable – to me, but if you get stuck trying to install one of the January patches, your opinion may vary.

Upgrades to 1909 press forward, Microsoft continues to honor 1803 deferrals

If you “seek” by clicking on the “Check for updates” button in Win10 1809 or 1903, Microsoft warns that it may upgrade you to Win10 version 1909:

Current status as of Jan. 21:

Windows 10, version 1909 is available for any user on a recent version of Windows 10 who manually selects “Check for updates” via Windows Update. The recommended servicing status is Semi-Annual Channel.

Of course, Microsoft disavowed any use of the bafflegab phrase “Semi-Annual Channel” a year ago. Consistency. Hobgoblins. Little minds. Microsoft may feel that 1909 is ready for widespread deployment, but I’m still seeing many reports of problems with Win10 version 1909 – the well-documented Search in File Explorer bugs, power problems, video problems, Your Phone oddities.

In addition, Microsoft has warned that it’s starting to force Win10 version 1809 customers onto 1909:

“We are starting the next phase in our controlled approach to automatically initiate a feature update for an increased number of devices running the October 2018 Update (Windows 10, version 1809) Home and Pro editions, keeping those devices supported and receiving the monthly updates that are critical to device security and ecosystem health. Our rollout process starts several months in advance of the end of service date to provide adequate time for a smooth update process.”

For reference, Win10 version 1809 is supposed to hit end of service on May 12. You 1809 users are getting four months shaved off of your promised end of life. As a Service.

Remarkably, tests by @PKCano show that Microsoft is still honoring the “Defer feature updates” setting in Win10 version 1803 Pro. It looks like the methods for staying on 1803, 1809, and 1903 as documented in How to block the Windows 10 November 2019 Update, version 1909, from installing still work. And if you want to upgrade to 1903, avoiding 1909 for the time being, the method described here also works.

Windows 7 gets its butt slapped on the way out

Everybody’s favorite whipping boy, Windows 7, got slapped with two bugs in the final round of free patches.

Anybody using Win7 who installs the January patches will find that their “stretched” desktop wallpaper comes out black, which can look disconcertingly like a Black Screen of Death. Lawrence Abrams has a full description, and a clever workaround, at BleepingComputer.

More alarmingly, Microsoft posted Security Advisory ADV200001 on Jan. 17. The Advisory details yet another security hole in Internet Explorer’s JScript engine, CVE-2020-0674. There’s a manual workaround with numerous side-effects, at least some of which have been overcome by a 0patch micropatch that you can install if you feel threatened.

Here’s the big open question: Will Microsoft fix Windows 7 later this month, in spite of the Jan. 14 end of service deadline? Or will Win7 drift into the sunset with a Black Screen bug and a known IE hole?

Seven semper fi.

Microsoft’s tone-deaf threat to hijack Google Chrome’s search engine

This isn’t a widespread problem. It only applies to those who are running Office 365 ProPlus, which is directed at (but not limited to) Enterprises with savvy admins. But it’s an astounding push nonetheless.

In an official post from ‘Softie Daniel Brown entitled, Microsoft Search in Bing and Office 365 ProPlus, Microsoft seems to be saying that everyone who installs the latest patch for Office 365 ProPlus will have their default search engine in Google Chrome changed to Bing.

I fully expect someone with some sense at Microsoft will swoop down in the next week or two and rescind the decision. But until that happens, this stands as a browser hijacking threat of unprecedented proportions.

Join us for the latest on AskWoody.com.

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The 20-minute Android tune-up | Computerworld

Ah, the beginning of a new year: What better time to clean up, start fresh, and make sure your various work spaces are primed for productivity?

Making your physical desk presentable is all on you (seriously, pal, would it kill ya to do a little dusting once in a while?), but when it comes to that virtual office in your pocket — y’know, that shiny ol’ smartphone of yours — I’m here to help.

A handful of simple-seeming steps can go a long way in clearing out the virtual clutter, y’see, and turning your Android phone back into the optimal work companion it oughta be. And best of all? It shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes to complete.

So pop open your hood, put on the nearest pair of coveralls, and get ready to get your hands metaphorically dirty: It’s time to step into the garage and get your mobile device in tip-top shape for 2020.

Step 1: Uninstall unnecessary apps

Time required: 2 minutes

This first step may sound silly, but believe you me, it can make a world of difference: Whether they’re apps that came preinstalled or programs you downloaded once upon a time, there’s a decent chance you have at least some unused items taking up space on your phone. And guess what? Those forgotten icons do more than just collect virtual dust; they actively work against your efficiency-oriented interests.

First, superfluous apps take up space — both in the physical sense of your phone’s internal storage and in the sense of clutter that makes it tougher to find what you actually need. But beyond that, abandoned apps often take a toll on a phone’s performance and stamina by needlessly eating up resources. And beyond that, they open the door to some easily avoidable privacy problems (more on those in a minute).

You can probably scan through your app drawer pretty quickly and figure out which programs you haven’t opened in the past month or two. If you see something you aren’t using — or something you really don’t need (cough, cough, third-party security suites) — touch and hold its icon and then drag it up to the “Uninstall” command at the top of your screen.

If an app can’t be uninstalled, it probably came preinstalled on your device and is baked into the system courtesy of your phone’s manufacturer and/or carrier. You should still be able to disable it, though: Either long-press it and then touch the “i” icon that appears or find and tap its title within the Apps section of your system settings. Then, look for the “Disable” command, tap it with gusto, and send the thing off to app hell, where it belongs.

Bonus tip: Want a helping hand in identifying your unused apps? Grab Google’s standalone Files utility (which notably isn’t the same as the Files app that may have been preinstalled on your phone), and set yourself a reminder to check back on it in a month. By then, Files will have built up enough data to be able to tell you which apps you aren’t actually ever using — and to give you a super-simple way to get rid of any of all of ’em with a few quick taps.

Android Phone Tune-Up: Unused Apps JR

Step 2: Lock down battery drainers and background data abusers

Time required: 5 minutes

Maybe there’s an app you genuinely do use but that drags your phone down with over-the-top background activity — in other words, doing stuff you don’t need it to do while you aren’t actively looking at it. Facebook and Instagram are both notorious for this sort of obnoxious behavior, and they’re anything but the only offenders.

Lucky for us, though, even when an app is poorly designed in this way — with abusive background activity and no easy option to stop it — you can still reclaim control. Start by opening up the Battery section of your system settings and looking at the app-by-app battery usage breakdown. (If your phone is running Android 9 or higher, you may have to tap the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner of the Battery settings to find that option.) This’ll work best if you do it toward the end of a day, when your phone has plenty of activity to analyze.

Tap any app with high battery usage and then see how much of its activity is happening in the background — while you aren’t actively using it. For any programs with high amounts of background activity, ask yourself: Is this app doing something in the background that actually matters? For instance, do you really need Facebook, Twitter, or other social media and news tools to be refreshing their feeds while you aren’t looking at ’em? Probably not. But lots of apps in those areas do that by default and end up draining your device’s battery (and sometimes even taking a toll on your phone’s performance) as a result.

For any such items you come across, you’ve got two options: Look in the app’s own settings to see if there’s a way to turn off its background activity (something that’s possible in Twitter and many news apps but, naturally, not in Facebook or Instagram) — or, provided your phone is running 2017’s Android 8 release or higher, use Android’s own background restriction option on that same screen within your phone’s battery settings to shut it down at the system level.

Android Phone Tune-Up: Restrict App JR

Let’s check one more place, just to round things out: Head over to the Network & Internet section of your system settings (or the Connections section, if you’re on a Samsung phone) and tap the line labeled “Data usage” — or, if you’re using Android 10 and don’t see that line, tap “Mobile network.” Now tap the line labeled either “Mobile data usage” or “App data usage.”

Select any apps with high amounts of use and see how much of their data transferring is going on in the background. If an app is using a significant amount of background data for no apparent reason, take away its ability to do so by deactivating the “Background data” toggle on that same screen — which in turn will free up precious processing power and battery juice in addition to stopping the needless toll on your mobile data plan.

With both parts of this step, just be sure to use common sense and avoid disabling background permissions for any system-level tools — things like your Phone app or “Android OS” — as well as for any apps that genuinely need such capabilities in order to operate (like a messaging app, for instance, which wouldn’t be able to look for new incoming messages if it didn’t have background data and battery access).

Step 3: Check up on app permissions

Time required: 5 minutes

It’s 2020. Do you know what data your apps have access to? (Please read that in your best booming TV announcer voice for maximum effect.)

At a time when personal data is essentially equal to money for lots of companies, you can’t be too careful with keeping tabs on which apps want which bits of your information and why. And it’s up to you to play the role of permission police — because while most reputable apps won’t ask for types of access they don’t genuinely need, you’d better believe there are apps (and, ahem, device-makers) out there looking to tap into your info for all the wrong reasons.

Take five minutes now to go through what permissions you’ve granted to different apps on your phone and make sure they all seem sensible. Open up the Privacy section of your system settings and tap the “Permissions manager” option. (On some devices, including Samsung phones, the option may be labeled “App permissions” and buried toward the bottom of a broader Security section.)

Go through each permission listed there and see which apps have been authorized. Think carefully about whether every app that has access to a given area really needs access to that area — and anytime you see something that strikes you as unnecessary, tap the app in question and then revoke its permission (either by deactivating a toggle next to its name or by tapping the app’s name and then changing its setting to “Deny,” depending on your specific Android version and implementation).

If your phone has Android 10, pay extra-close attention to the “Location” section of app permissions — as Android 10 gives you the power to get even more nuanced in that domain and specify whether apps should have access to your location all of the time, none of the time, or only when they’re actively in use. Especially if your phone was upgraded to Android 10 (as opposed to shipping with it out of the box), you’ll want to be sure to revisit every single app with location access and consider whether it needs such access all the time — which is what any apps that had location access at all prior to the upgrade will default to having — or whether it makes more sense for them to have such access only when you’re actively using ’em.

Android Phone Tune-Up: App Permissions JR

Step 4: Nuke annoying notifications

Time required: 3 minutes

This next part of our tune-up is less about system performance and more about your own sanity and ability to get stuff done. Notifications are distractions, after all — and odds are, your phone’s giving you plenty of attention-grabbing alerts you don’t really need.

Think about all the notifications that show up on your Android device — and then think carefully about how many of them give you truly pertinent info that warrants the interruption. Do you need to know about every breaking news story the second it happens instead of finding that info when you actively seek it out on your own? What about social media mentions or incoming emails? Only you can decide what makes sense for you, but I’d be willing to wager you have at least a couple types of notifications you’d be better off without.

If you think of any such examples, head back into the Apps section of your system settings and tap the line labeled “Notifications” (or, on Samsung phones, look instead for the standalone Notifications sections in the main settings menu). There, you can select any app installed on your phone and then turn off either all of its alerts, at the system level, or disable only certain types of alerts it tends to send — for instance, leaving on notifications for direct messages in Twitter but shutting off all of the app’s other types of interruptions. You can also get even more nuanced and change the way certain types of alerts appear — maybe setting an app’s less important alerts to show up silently so you’ll see ’em eventually but won’t be bothered when they arrive.

Bonus tip: If your phone is running Android 9 or higher, there’s an easy way to find your worst notification offenders: On that same “Notifications” screen of your system settings, look for the line labeled “See all from last 7 days.” (On Samsung phones, it’ll just say “See all.”) Tap that, then tap the selector at the top of the screen and change it from “Most recent” to “Most frequent” — and then, you’ll see an ordered list of exactly which apps are interrupting you the most. You can tap on any app’s name from that list to jump directly to its notification controls and tell it to hush.

Android Phone Tune-Up: Notifications JR

Step 5: Clean up your storage

Time required: 3 minutes

Android phones frequently have limited amounts of local storage — so the next step in our tune-up will clear out the cobwebs and free up some of your device’s local space. That will give you more room for future downloads and can also help your phone run a bit more smoothly, especially if your available storage is getting low.

The biggest storage-sucking culprit, not surprisingly, tends to be content from your camera — so if you aren’t already using Google Photos’ excellent and (generally) free cloud-syncing capability, head into the app’s settings and set that up now.

The rest is easy as can be: Remember that Google Files app we were talking about a few minutes ago? Open it up and look through the cards on its main screen. They’ll show you a bunch of smart suggestions for stuff you can clean up and delete, ranging from junk files and duplicates to already backed-up photos, videos, and other files you aren’t using and likely don’t need. You can review all of the suggestions and then click a button to sweep any of the associated files away without ever leaving the app.

Android Phone Tune-Up: Storage JR

Bonus tip: If you’re using a Pixel or Android One phone, look for the “Smart Storage” option within the Storage section of your system settings. Activating it will allow your phone to automatically remove already-backed-up photos and videos whenever your storage is running low or after the files have been on your phone for a certain amount of time.

Step 6: Spruce up your home screen

Time required: 2 minutes

Last but not least, a tune-up step that’s all about organization and efficiency: getting your home screen tidied up and in optimal working order.

An organized home screen makes it faster and easier to get to the stuff you use the most — and realistically, for most of us, that’s a relatively small number of items. Look at every item on your home screen and think carefully about how often you use it. If it isn’t something you open at least once daily (or close to it), take it off. That way, your home screen will be an uncluttered launching board for your most essential apps, shortcuts, and widgets — the stuff you actually access on a regular basis — and then everything else can be pulled up quickly as needed via your scrolling alphabetical app drawer.

Android Phone Tune-Up: Home Screen JR

Bonus tip: If you’re using an older phone or a non-Google device, consider a third-party Android launcher that’ll upgrade your home screen environment. The free Lawnchair Launcher provides a nice balance of simplicity and functionality, using Google’s basic Pixel home screen interface as a base and then adding in plenty of extra options and opportunities for customization.

And with that, my dearest darling, your annual Android tune-up is complete. Give yourself a hearty pat on the back and grab a well-deserved donut; your phone is ready to pull out of the shop and rev its engine all over the world.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Apple says it’s healthy to be sceptical about digital health

Is technology really good for your health? Can Apple really make a difference in future healthcare? Questions like this are all perfectly appropriate, argues Apple’s VP health, Dr Sumbul Desai.

You have to test what tech firms claim

Desai leads Apple’s teams in developing health focused software and sensors, such as Activity, Health, ECG reading on Apple Watch and the company’s selection of health-focused research apps. She joined the company in 2017.

While she clearly believes in the potential of digital health technologies, (as does her boss, Tim Cook), she’s also a health professional in her own right, and understand how important it is that patients and healthcare providers are sceptical as big tech attempts to get into the market.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion in London, she said: “The scepticism from providers and patients is healthy because you should ask questions, and make sure you’re using information in the way you should be using it,” as reported by The Independent.

She stressed that she believes the best approach to resistance is to work closely with healthcare providers, scientists and across the medical communities in order to make sure the digital health solutions tech firms provide are actually effective.

Proof is essential

In essence, that’s the big difference between true healthcare product and service provision and snake oil salespeople.

In the absence of regulation or effective testing, any tech firm could claim its product delivers health benefits.

Stringent testing and the limitations of tight regulatory environments mean technology companies must move at a much slower pace than the “move fast and break things” workflow the sector is used to. You really don’t want to break things if those “things” are actually people seeking healthcare outcomes.

And that’s the challenge for all the digital health firms engaged in the application of connected technologies and health. It’s why you see so much of the focus in the space on prevention and lifestyle outcomes – as it’s perfectly permissible to say something “might” be good for your health, but not acceptable at all to say it “will be” good unless a product or service has been tested.

The need to evidence health-related claims is why Apple is investing in research studies to explore things like women’s medical conditions, hearing and heart health. It is also why the company works closely with key medical organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

[Also read: Tim Cook keeps promising new health features, probably for Apple Watch]

The data-grabbing thing

Many of the potential big picture outcomes around health relate to artificial intelligence, remote patient monitoring and data analytics, all of which rely on patient data in order to function.

The idea that your devices will be able to monitor your habits in order to pre-emptively warn you of an oncoming problem demands sensors to gather your data and machine intelligence to analyse that information.

For quite natural reasons, people are more protective of their health data than most other forms of personal data. That’s why Apple’s approach in which it only gathers the information it needs to make its products work as describe  and give users the chance to decide if they want to share it with, for example, research projects, gives it an edge in this sector.

“It’s the user’s data and we only ever have access to it if the user is participating in a study they consented too,” said Desai. It helps even more that the information is never gatherd in one place in the first place.

Of course, one place medical information is gathered is in your patient records, and this is certainly a space in which there is space for improvement.

Many existing EHR systems simply don’t work well together, and this is where Apple’s Health Records app is making a difference. (Desai spoke in a great deal of depth on this just last year).

Once a patient’s data is held on devices equipped with up to the moment personal health data as well as historical data, that’s an opportunity for data analytics to come into its own.

This is the kind of thinking that’s evidenced by the atrial fibrillation detection feature inside of Apple Watch, the efficacy of which is confirmed by the sheer number of reports of people whose lives have been saved by these devices.

The only question around such solutions will be if data is handled privately on the device, or in public using cloud-based systems. The former is secure, if limited by the size of machine learning models used and device processor efficiency; the latter is far less private and therefore more open to abuse.

There is some work to do until our primary care provider really sits on our wrist, but Apple seems to be committed to engaging in that task.

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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Microsoft to force Bing on Chrome users in the enterprise

Microsoft quietly announced last week that it will change the default search engine of Google’s Chrome to Bing – Microsoft’s own search service – on personal computers running Office 365 ProPlus, the productivity applications that serve as the heart of the enterprise-grade subscriptions.

The swap of search defaults within Chrome will begin next month and wrap up in July, the timing dependent on when corporate IT administrators have scheduled Office 365 ProPlus’ upgrades.

“Starting with Version 2002 of Office 365 ProPlus, an extension for Microsoft Search in Bing will be installed that makes Bing the default search engine for the Google Chrome web browser,” Microsoft said in the support document announcing the switcheroo. “This extension will be installed with new installations of Office 365 ProPlus or when existing installations of Office 365 ProPlus are updated.”

Microsoft upgrades Office 365 ProPlus, like Windows 10, twice a year: in the late summer (around August) and the late winter or early spring (February or March). Also, like Windows 10, ProPlus is tagged with a four-digit label in the yymm format. Thus, ProPlus 2002 marks, not a version of the productivity suite from 18 years ago, but the one first issued in February of this year.

ProPlus is included with higher-end Office 365 subscriptions, including Office 365 Enterprise E3, Office 365 Enterprise E5, the corresponding academic and government plans, and the even more sweeping Microsoft 365 E3 and Microsoft 365 E5 subscriptions. (Office 365 ProPlus also comes in a stand-alone version that omits the usual subscription plans’ services.) It is not part of Office 365 Business Premium, Office 365 Business Apps or Microsoft 365 Business – all designed for small businesses – or the consumer-grade plans Office 365 Personal or Office 365 Home.

Also omitted from the switch: the “perpetual” license versions of Office, like Office 2019 or Office 2016.

Google’s gone, but why?

“By making Bing the default search engine, users in your organization with Google Chrome will be able to take advantage of Microsoft Search, including being able to access relevant workplace information directly from the browser address bar,” Microsoft said.

That will put Chrome on an equal level with Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser, which launched a week ago. Edge, which not surprisingly has Bing as its default search, can look up certain internal-to-the-company information – notably documents and other files stored on OneDrive or SharePoint – but also search through Teams chats and the like, from the browser’s address bar.

Users must be logged in to their account – the one that lets them access their personal computer as well as Office 365 – to use these search tools.

IT admins can preempt Microsoft’s move and block the Chrome add-on from installing by setting a group policy or configuring Office 365 using Intune or Configuration Manager. This must be done before Office 365 2002 arrives with the extension. IT can uninstall the add-on once it’s present using a script or through Configuration Manager; individual users can also switch Chrome’s default search engine back to what it was before Microsoft interceded (Google, most likely).

Microsoft said that the Chrome search switch would occur, at least initially, only on devices in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, the U.K. and the U.S.

Because Office 365 ProPlus 2002 will be the final upgrade on Windows 7 PCs – after that, Microsoft will provide the retired OS only with security patches for the applications – the changing of Chrome’s default search to Bing will presumably happen on those machines as well. It was unclear if Macs running ProPlus – those systems covered by Office 365 Enterprise plans, in other words – would also receive the Chrome add-on.

Microsoft also said that it had plans to swap out the default search in Mozilla’s Firefox at “a later date” but was not more specific than that. “We will keep you informed about support for Firefox through the Microsoft 365 Admin Center and this article,” the support document stated.

User: ‘Are you out of your mind?’

Not surprisingly, initial feedback on Microsoft’s plan was almost universally negative. People really don’t like others mucking around with their software settings.

“Are you out of your mind?” asked someone identified as thx1200 in a comment appended to the Microsoft support document used to announce the swap. “Who greenlit this? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. And I say that as a Bing daily user. Nobody wants an app to change the default search engine. Remove this ‘feature’ or you might find a lot of people suddenly switching to Google Docs.”

“Browser hijacking like in the 90s. Are you nuts?” questioned kgbvax in another comment. “Words fail me. When will [Microsoft] stop shoving unwanted ‘features’ down our throats? The Old Microsoft is back it seems. Please don’t go through with this.”

Others used phrases like “insanely stupid,” “keep smoking that good stuff, Microsoft,” and “sick joke” in their comments.

Elsewhere, users criticized the scheme on reddit.com as did IT administrators on the PatchManagement.org mailing list. An item on Microsoft’s Office Deployment Insiders user voice – where testers can up-vote feedback or feature requests – also gained momentum Wednesday, doubling the vote tally in less than a couple of hours. As of 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, the “Do not force push Bing as the default search engine” item had collected 160 votes, accompanied by nearly three-dozen comments.

“This is a malware-esque change, Microsoft,” asserted someone identified only as Michael.

“Dumbest, most hostile thing Microsoft has done in years,” decried Anonymous.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Throwback Thursday: Help is right around the corner

Sysadmin pilot fish is working at home when he gets a trouble ticket that was logged the night before.

“The guy reported that he can’t print from an application in location 1 (about 10 miles away),” says fish. “He spoke to the help desk in location 3 (about 300 miles away), and left a location-4 number (about 40 miles away).

“Location 3 passed it to the applications admins in location 5 (about 180 miles away), who called me at location 2 (about 15 miles away) last night.

“I can’t get the guy on the phone. Try to ring him on the location-4 number this morning, still wondering why he can’t print in location 1, to find it’s the guy who lives at the end of my road, who is also home as he got called out last night.

“So the call has been passed around the country, when he was only four doors down from where I was working. I could have walked along and seen him in about 30 seconds.”

Your message to Sharky may bounce all over too. But send me your true tale of IT life at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Work toward a top Cisco certification with this $39 prep course

Adding certifications to your resume is the best way to get ahead in the increasingly lucrative world of IT. Beginning in 2020, the renowned Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification will be replaced with an entirely new certification that encompasses several subjects at once, and the Complete 2020 Cisco CCNA Certification Prep Course will get you up to speed for just $39.

With over 30 hours of content delivered by a leading provider of eLearning courses, this training will prepare you to earn one of Cisco’s leading certifications so you can build a career as an in-demand network administrator.

This subscription offers unlimited access to 64 lectures that will help you ace the latest CCNA 200-301 certification exam, through instruction that focusses on how to configure and manage a wide range of wired and wireless networks and servers.

There’s also material that covers essential exam topics such as automation, programmability, and network security.

Prepare to add one of the most valuable certifications in IT to your resume with the Complete 2020 Cisco CCNA Certification Prep Course for just $39—over 85% off its usual price.

Prices are subject to change.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Prep to earn some of the most in-demand IT certifications with this bundle

If you’re struggling to get ahead in the increasingly competitive world of IT, you may need to have more certifications under your belt. With nine courses and over 1,000 lessons led by industry pros, the Complete 2020 IT Certification Exam Prep Mega Bundle will help you earn some of the most valuable certifications in the field, and it’s available for over 95% off at $39.

You’ll prep for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect certification through lessons that walk you through the essentials of cloud computing, the CompTIA Security+ certification through instruction that teaches you about web security and cyber warfare, the famed Cisco CCNA certification through training that introduces you to network and server installation, and more.

There are also courses that focus on the latest Cisco CCENT certification along with a variety of increasingly popular Microsoft Azure certifications.

Start growing your IT career by preparing to earn some of the most respected certifications in the field with help from the Complete 2020 IT Certification Exam Prep Mega Bundle. Usually priced at $1,800, this training is currently available for just $39.

Prices are subject to change.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Will Apple’s iPhone 9 be ‘Made in India’?

The morning runes suggest Apple may be preparing to increase the scale of iPhone manufacturing in India, as component orders, market speculation and news from supply chain partners combine to suggest just that.

The iPhone 9 unicorn is (almost) here, maybe

Industry watchers believe Apple will very soon replace iPhone 8 with a new device called, (appropriately enough given the company’s naming conventions) “iPhone 9”.

We’ve glanced at the rumors already, but here’s a quick reprise of what we think we know:

  • A13 processor.
  • Touch ID.
  • 64GB and 128GB models.
  • 3GB RAM.
  • U1 chip.
  • LCD display, from 5.4-inches. (Though other reports suggest 4.7-inches).
  • Single lens camera.
  • Space grey, silver, red.
  • Don’t forget, rumors are rumors and just because people say things might happen doesn’t mean they will. I’m glad to have got that out the way.

More recently, we learn Apple plans to commence manufacturing these things in February 2020, following previous claims it intends putting them on sale perhaps as soon as March.

Sure, but what about manufacturing?

Apple already makes iPhones in India where its partner Wistron already has two factories which have been occupied manufacturing iPhone SE and iPhone 6S.

Digitimes now tells us it has opened a third factory which will also begin making iPhones. Foxconn is also making iPhones in India and Pegatron is also looking to place factories there. Smaller Apple partners such as Salcomp are also investing in production facilities in the country.

Given current trade tension between the current U.S. administration and China, it makes sense for Apple to diversify its supply chain in order to protect shoppers against unexpected price hikes.

The company has been applying a great deal of energy in India for some time both because it wants to both generate new business in India’s rapidly expanding economy and also because it really, really wants to diversify its supply chain.

Apple has also been ever so keen to stress that it is looking to make a long-term commitment to the country.

“We’re not here for a quarter, or two quarters, or the next year, or the next year,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said on a 2016 visit there. “We’re here for a thousand years.”

Jaw-jaw beats war-war

It’s fair to say Apple hit some hurdles. Not only were its products quite expensive in terms of the local economy, but India enforced a number of regulations that made expanding its business there difficult. To mitigate these challenges, it appears Apple has engaged with local government to find a mutually useful compromise.

That’s why news that India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is exploring a range of initiatives it hopes will encourage big tech firms to set up shop there seems so well timed – with tax breaks, loan subsidies, infrastructure investment and the creation of special tech industry zones all being discussed.

In other words, the timing seems pretty good for at least some expansion of Apple’s manufacturing presence in India, even as its iPhone 11 series devices have re-ignited local interest in the company’s products. The iPhone 11 is selling strongly in India with queues of people ready to shop when the device launched.

Apple’s move to improve its current low end offering (the iPhone 8 is currently the entry-level model) with an iPhone 9 will widen the breadth of what it has available. The company already makes the iPhone XR there, reports have claimed, and these devices are apparently exported elsewhere.

Made in India?

With a new model set to go into production in February, news that Apple has asked TSMC to increase production of Apple’s A-series processors is likely not just spurred by strong sales, but also to address what’s coming in FY20 Q3, which is: Even stronger sales as a lower cost model hits the shelves.

If successful (and there’s little reason an A13-powered but more affordable device shouldn’t be) the new model is going to require the company to ramp up its manufacturing capacity – and with so many partners investing deeply in manufacturing centres there, it seems possible we’ll see at least some of these new iPhone models designed in California, but Made in India.

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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Can developers dictate how their software is used?

The political leanings of the Silicon Valley are no secret, a strange brew considering the Silicon Valley resembles the era of the robber barons like JD Rockefeller and JP Morgan. Rampant capitalism making instant billionaires has thus far co-existed with rabid supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has said billionaires should not exist.

But lately, the progressive attitudes of the Valley and tech industry in general are coming into conflict, with the loudest recent incident coming last September when a software engineer pulled a personal project down from GitHub after he learned it was being used by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The developer, Seth Vargo, cited the ICE’s “inhumane treatment, denial of basic human rights, and detaining children in cages” as the reason for taking down his project, known as Chef Sugar, a Ruby library for simplifying the use of Chef, a platform for server configuration management. Varga developed the library while he worked at Chef, and the library was later integrated into Chef’s platform.

The company restored it to the service, with Chef CEO Barry Crist noting the removal of the software had impacted “production systems for a number of our customers.” Crist went on to say he did not think it was appropriate, practical, or within Chef’s mission to decide which U.S. agencies it should or should not do business with. 

The resulting blowback saw Microsoft, which owns GitHub, and GitHub itself under

The political leanings of the Silicon Valley are no secret, a strange brew considering the Silicon Valley resembles the era of the robber barons like JD Rockefeller and JP Morgan. Rampant capitalism making instant billionaires has thus far co-existed with rabid supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has said billionaires should not exist.

But lately, the progressive attitudes of the Valley and tech industry in general are coming into conflict, with the loudest recent incident coming last September when a software engineer pulled a personal project down from GitHub after he learned it was being used by the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The developer, Seth Vargo, cited the ICE’s “inhumane treatment, denial of basic human rights, and detaining children in cages” as the reason for taking down his project, known as Chef Sugar, a Ruby library for simplifying the use of Chef, a platform for server configuration management. Varga developed the library while he worked at Chef, and the library was later integrated into Chef’s platform.

The company restored it to the service, with Chef CEO Barry Crist noting the removal of the software had impacted “production systems for a number of our customers.” Crist went on to say he did not think it was appropriate, practical, or within Chef’s mission to decide which U.S. agencies it should or should not do business with. 

The resulting blowback saw Microsoft, which owns GitHub, and GitHub itself under pressure not to work with the government. Microsoft employees also staged a revolt over the company’s work with the Department of Defense (DoD) over the military’s use of the HoloLens headset. Google employees have also revolted against their company bidding for the $10 billion DoD JEDI contract and forced it to drop out of the bidding.

Whose software is it anyway?

The issue comes down to software ownership vs. customer dependence. Stephen O’Grady, principal analyst with IT research firm Redmonk, notes there are two issues at play here: Do you have an obligation to your customers to support products in a predictable way? And can you deny the right to a particular product or products for a particular customer?

“The answer to the first question, in my opinion, is yes. Particularly for enterprise buyers, the assurance that investments made will be supported over time rather than unpredictably abandoned is huge. It’s part of the basis, in fact, for the old adage that you don’t get fired for buying IBM: the company has a reputation for standing behind the products it sells for long periods of time, making investments in them safe,” O’Grady said.

As for the second question, that’s more complicated, but he still says yes. “In general, companies try not to discriminate against certain types of buyers, both because it goes against the business interests of maximizing revenue, but also because it’s a difficult practice to manage both in terms of legal liability and the public relations appearance and precedent,” he added.

Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris, a PC maintenance and repair site, says ultimately, it is the developer’s prerogative to decide whether or not they want to keep their app on the market.

“It doesn’t matter whether or not others have become invested or dependent on the program. Companies go under all the time and to expect that there should be consequences for no longer providing their services would be unrealistic. The same would be true if a developer deliberately chose to no longer offer their program,” he said.

[ Related article: The many overlaps of politics and technology ]

He added that there is no moral obligation on the developer to continue to offer their program, however, there might be legal obligations. “If the developer sold the distribution rights, the developer might no longer have a say in whether or not they can close an app. Open source would suggest the app is not under such legal obligations. The main issue would likely be if others had access to the original source code for the app, meaning someone else could potential redistribute this app without legal repercussions,” he said.

Akshay “Ax” Sharma, a security researcher at Sonatype and IDG Influencer, said things depend on the license used. “Once you release under a copyleft license, you have already released partial rights to work. How do you take it back? [Essentially,] you forfeit your own right to say I want it back once I released it under an open-source license,” he said.

Copyleft licenses, used in many open-source licenses, are meant to be freer and more permissive than standard copyrights. Those who download the software are within their rights to modify and release their own version so long as they make the code available and include the copyleft license with the code.

Vargo’s move “essentially makes [copyleft] no different from copyright. One of the criticisms of copyright was content creators get to control the culture,” he said. “When I read these articles, it was like, ok you partially waived your right to your work, and then you did not like how that work was used, so you want to reclaim that right even though you’ve already waived it.”

[ Related article: Is open source the transformative solution for activism? ]

Potential blowback for open source?

The question then becomes what does this do for open-source software’s image. This type of activity is unthinkable coming from Microsoft, Oracle or SAP, but will enterprises be reluctant to use a product from a small development house if the developer gets woke?

Rick Stafford, professor public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, said he understands the ethical dilemma for a developer to want their product to be used and then it gets used in a way they don’t agree with. But what if a new administration comes along and uses the product in a way you agree with?

“If you set the precedent that it can be withdrawn and disrupted, the next administration might say I’m not going to use that again. I’m gonna go elsewhere because I’m not going to go back to the people who withdrew the code. There is too much risk there,” he said.

“You could in essence blackmail people,” he added. “That’s the problem with this. It flies in the face of what open source was supposed to be about. It’s like making a promise. Open source is saying OK you can use this, then say you can’t? Open source is a promise in a sense.”

Stafford said he believes the industry has to work it out on its own because otherwise it falls to the government for a legislative solution, and we all know how that usually goes. Poorly. “If there is to be a law, the industry should play the first role and say let’s work this out among ourselves. We’re not going to get elected officials to figure this all out,” he said.

O’Grady said it can raise questions, certainly, but doesn’t believe it’s a systemic concern for buyers at present. “It’s at least in theory of no greater concern than for proprietary software, because once the code has been published under an open-source license, it can be legally used according to the terms of that license in perpetuity,” he said.

Sharma has discussed the Chef incident with peers and said the reaction was “very polarized” and it came down to personal ethics and morals. “Some colleagues said this is open-source software, why is he pulling back, but others said they don’t like the purpose it was used for. Most sided with developer, but I also saw the backlash about how this impacts open source in general,” he said.

So for now, it seems there is no negative reaction to Vargo’s actions, but if it happens a few more times the mood could turn negative, and trust is not easily regained.

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