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Delays, deals and drastic actions: Microsoft responds to the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has postponed the Tokyo Olympics, scrubbed all college sports and silenced presidential campaign rallies, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that the crisis has also upended plans Microsoft once had set in similar stone.

But because of the work-at-home mandate set by many businesses, Microsoft has faced other pressures by dint of its place as the maker of Windows and Office, two technology cornerstones of modern corporations.

Along with rivals Google and Apple, Microsoft was among the first U.S. firms to send employees home, one of the first to start tearing up calendars. Since early March, it’s made a score and more changes to product timelines, launched deals specific to work-at-home or the pandemic, and taken action to shutter stores and symposiums.

Computerworld has collected some of the many modifications Microsoft’s made – think of this as a one-stop-shop for the changes that most affect customers, enterprise above all – and we’ll continue to add to the catalog as long as the disruption lasts.

Bookmark this page, come back soon and often. We’ll try to keep it as fresh as possible.

Delays and new dates

Windows 10 1709 retirement deadline extended

In mid-March, Microsoft added six months to the support lifecycle of Windows 10 Enterprise 1709 and Windows 10 Education 1709, telling customers that it would provide security updates until Oct. 13. The original drop-dead date had been April 14.

The extension pushed the support lifecycle from 30 months to a total of 36 months, the longest ever for a Windows 10 upgrade.

Third- and fourth-week Windows non-security updates cease in May

Microsoft will stop serving all optional non-security releases – those designated as C and D updates, issued during the third and fourth weeks of each month, respectively – as of May. The reason: “We are prioritizing our focus on security updates,” the company said in March.

The stoppage will apply to all versions of Windows and Windows Server, from the newest (Windows 10 1909) to the oldest (Windows Server 2008 R2).

Directive that would have disabled Basic Authentication in Exchange Online postponed to ’21

In September 2019, Microsoft told customers using Exchange Online – a key component of Office 365 – that it would turn off Basic Authentication for several separate services and protocols, including Exchange ActiveSync, IMAP and POP, on Oct. 13, 2020. (Basic Authentication is the simple yet familiar username + password model; it is less secure from attack than Modern Authentication, which typically includes a multi-factor authentication (MFA) backup, such as sending a security code to the user’s smartphone.)

That Microsoft commandment has been postponed to “the second half of 2021.” (Microsoft said it would declare a precise date “when we have a better understanding of the impact of the [COVID-19 crisis] situation.”

Edge will support TLS 1.0 and 1.1 until July

Rather than follow through on a multi-vendor pledge to drop support for these obsolete encryption protocols in early 2020, Microsoft instead gave them a limited reprieve. Edge will ban TLS 1.0 and 1.1 “no sooner” than Edge 84, slated to release around July 1.

The not-dead-yet Internet Explorer (IE) and the legacy Edge are to disable the protocols by default as of Sept. 8.

Certifications’ retirement deferred to January 2021

Near the end of March, Microsoft bowed to a rising tide of users’ demands that they have more time to finish their work toward numerous certifications the company was going to retire this summer.

In February, Microsoft announced that all “remaining exams associated with Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) [and] Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) will retire on June 30, 2020.”

The retirements were part of an overhaul of Microsoft’s certification programs that emphasized role-based training versus the product-based certifications of before.

A user-generated petition sought more time for people to finish exams for which they’d put time and money into preparation. Once the COVID-19 pandemic went global, test centers were shuttered and training classes canceled, making it impossible to complete everything by the deadline.

Microsoft set the new retirement date as Jan. 31, 2021.

The new deals

Teams set free

Microsoft launched free Teams in early March as one of its first responses to the developing pandemic. Restrictions apply, naturally, but they’re not onerous. Sign up starts here.

Businesses can also get everyone in the company onto Teams for free. The “Microsoft Teams Exploratory” program lets employees without Teams but with an Azure Active Directory-managed email address request a Teams license. (The request must be initiated by the user; it cannot be claimed by an IT administrator for a user.) The no-charge license will be good until the company’s next enterprise agreement anniversary or subscription renewal that falls in or after January 2021.

More information, including how administrators can manage the Teams license, can be found in this support document.

Free Office 365 E1

In March, Microsoft rolled out a free offer for Office 365 E1 “in response to the increased need for employees to work from home (WFH) in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.” Interested businesses must work with their current Microsoft account representative – if they have one – or failing that, with a Microsoft reseller. (Customers can search here for a reseller if they’re not now working with one.)

The offer provides an E1 license for up to six months. The subscription plan, which costs $8 per user per month when purchased on an annual basis, is the lowest-priced Office 365 Enterprise plan and includes web-based apps (Word, Excel and so on) rather than the more capable desktop applications. It also includes cloud-based email, cloud storage and Teams, the so-hot-it’s-on-fire video conferencing/meeting software.

At that price, the offer is worth around $50 per user.

More information is available here.

(A plan analogous to E1, but for U.S. government agencies and offices, G1, can also be trialed free of charge for six months. Those details are available here.)

Drastic actions

Build 2020 goes just-digital, all Microsoft events follow suit

Microsoft’s annual developers conference, originally to take place in Seattle, was kept on the calendar but went digital-only in March, when Washington state was the U.S. viral hotspot. In early April, the company said that all its events through the end of June 2021 would be “digital-first,” although like many organizations, simultaneously promised that it would “continue to evaluate the situation” and return to a pre-COVID approach “when the situation allows.”

Closed all retail

Microsoft shuttered its retail stores – the bulk of the 80-plus locations are in the U.S. – in mid-March. “All Microsoft Store locations are currently closed until further notice,” the company said on its location portal.

The company has offered virtual workshops to replace the in-store training sessions it had run earlier. Not surprisingly, among those workshops is one called “Microsoft Teams Training for Business – Master working at home with Microsoft Teams.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Is the age of Apple over? iPhone speculation and delays

Apple’s 2020 iPhone launch plans seem to have been undermined by coronavirus, with both its anticipated smartphone launches delayed, possibly for months.

Hey Siri, what on earth is happening?

If everything had gone according to plan (it didn’t), Apple was expected to introduce an iPhone 9 in March and the first 5G-enabled iPhone 12 in September.

However, as the human, economic and societal damage wrought by COV-19 reverberates across a planet on which the leading nations can’t even agree on what to call the disease, Apple may delay both launches. Nativism is clearly making the world more fragile to global challenge.

Apple hasn’t fully committed to delay. A report on Nikkei says it is “considering” the option.

What’s driving the question is executive concern at multiple challenges: logistics, component supply, market weakness, consumer confidence.

In the background, we’ve heard the company is intensifying its work to manufacture components in multiple countries, breaking its reliance on China. Yet India, where some manufacturing was expected to begin in earnest this year, has also gone into lockdown as central government attempts to mitigate the human and economic cost of the virus on its people. This has halted production there, creating yet more challenges for the company’s Operations team.

Social isolation means consumer electronics sales are in free fall as the world’s stressed out shoppers stay home.

Not only aren’t most shops open (including all Apple’s own retail stores outside China) but given hundreds of millions of people have had to make income sacrifices, new smartphones aren’t particularly high on the ‘must buy’ list when people are more concerned about mortgage/rent payments, health and food.

Coronavirus has fractured the social and political landscape, probably forever. We’re seeing a shift in consciousness, and it hurts.

So, is the age of Apple over?

To answer that question, we have to see what emerges from the disaster.

We may end up with a planet on which people have a deeper understanding of the global interrelationships between everyone who lives here, or we may find ourselves stranded on isolated islands defined by arbitrary national borders.

The truth is we’ll probably have a bit of both, with some nations resolutely locking the gates and hiding behind nationalist doors. Though doors offer no protection against flood, famine or disease.

In this patchwork of philosophies, Apple will need to dance delicately. It is, after all, a global company based on a multi-national supply chain.

It is, however, also an American-first company: Its headquarters are in the U.S.; it supports tens of thousands of U.S. jobs – and the company nearly always introduces new products and services to the U.S. first.

This means that however global the company’s supply chain, the majority of the benefits of that chain go to the company’s home country.

At the same time, Apple is also a global company that works to provide some support in all the nations it does business in.

That’s a perfectly reasonable position for any enterprise to take – indeed, enterprises that lack such values tend to have a tougher time attracting and keeping talented staff. In what feels an increasingly nihilistic age, people seek out employers who evidence values they agree with.

However, within this context the human and economic scars of the pandemic will take time to heal, and we don’t yet know what consensus reality will be shaped like yet.

Why would we?

Most of us are still in shock.

Apple’s challenge will be in defining its business around the primary values of the post-pandemic society, and we have not arrived there yet.

What I think will happen

I think Apple may delay introduction of iPhone 9, but I’d urge it not to delay that launch too long.

People will still need mobile devices, and introduction of a lower cost iPhone may not achieve the sales volume the company originally anticipated but will send a message that the company understands the needs of consumers in a contracted economy.

It’s more complex with iPhone 12.

The big pull of that device (other than the huge changes in its design) will be 5G networks and services.

However, 5G infrastructure deployment will inevitably slow as carriers instead invest in beefing-up existing services to accommodate growing work from home demand.

That’s point one, point two is how interested mass market users will or won’t be in high bandwidth services that demand they invest in additional monthly fees.

I believe demand and deployment of the technology will be muted in comparison to where we expected it to be by the end of the year.

Humans have got bigger things on their mind at present than fast mobile broadband. Everyone is at home, for a start. In other words, 5G is going to be a hard sell.

Meaning and relevance

In the end it’s all about relevance.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs understood relevance.

The iMac – a uniquely designed computer with internet access inside – was the epitome of relevance in consumer electronics. The iBook introduced the world to real mobility. The iPod and iTunes captured the zeitgeist and iPhone changed the world.

The problem when it comes to future iPhone launches is that at this point in history what the world is becoming is harder to see than before.

All we do know is that the future has become more uncertain and no one really knows what values and philosophies will define tomorrow.

These challenges make it incredibly difficult to design relevance into the heart of any product, let alone the world’s most sophisticated device.

But we do know that humans have a tendency after disaster to attempt to create meaning. In the UK, that’s why we ended up with the National Health Service following the dark terror of the Second World War.

Apple as a follower strives to do the right thing. That’s commendable. Doing the right thing (if there is a right thing) is the right thing to do, by definition. But, as a leader, Apple must dig deeply into its corporate DNA to figure out not what the world needs today, nor what it needs for its business, but what we’ll all need tomorrow.

Delivering this is where its success always lies.

Leadership has consequences. 

Good luck.

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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Google delays Hangouts migration deadline for G Suite customers

Google has pushed back the migration deadline for its Hangouts collaboration app, offering G Suite customers more time to make the switch to its Hangouts Chat and Meet tools

Google unveiled Hangouts Chat and Meet in 2017, effectively separating the classic Hangouts app with individual chat and video functions. 

Earlier this year, the company said it would begin to migrate users to the new platforms, with plans to retire classic Hangouts in October 2019. 

Last week, Google said it has delayed the migration date in response to customer demands. “…[W]e’ve heard feedback from many of you that you’d like more time to migrate your organizations from classic Hangouts to Hangouts Chat,” the company said in a blog post. 

The final transition date will be “no sooner” than June 2020, Google said; a more precise time frame will be announced closer to the deadline. Customers that want to move to the latest versions of Hangouts can do so later this year by requesting an invitation to the Accelerated Transition Program. 

In the meantime, Google promised to add new features to the classic Hangouts software, such as read receipts, and to make it easier for users to migrate to the new apps. 

Although Google has struggled in the past with overlapping products, the company has recently upped its efforts to streamline and consolidate its portfolio, according to Raúl Castañón-Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research. 

Nevertheless, it makes sense to cater to customers that have been slow to move to the new versions of Hangouts by extending support, he said. 

“Ensuring a smooth transition of their enterprise customers is no easy task and while it can be a bit confusing in the near term, it is a better option to extend the deadline rather than pressure customers to make the transition if they – both Google and their customers – are not ready to do so,” said Castañón-Martínez.

In another G Suite-related announcement, Google said it will introduce enhanced AI spelling and grammar correction to help Gmail users draft emails faster and more efficiently. Mistakes are highlighted with a wavy blue line under the text, with users able to accept changes by clicking on the suggested tweak.

The features are available only to G Suite subscribers and not Gmail consumer users, Google said. 

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Samsung Delays Galaxy Fold Launch Citing Need For “Further Improvements”

Samsung has decided that its upcoming Galaxy Fold smartphone isn’t quite ready for primetime just yet. The company has pushed back the release of the device, saying that early reviewers showed Samsung “how the device needs further improvements that could ensure the best possible user experience.”

What Happened?

Basically, Samsung thought its revolutionary Galaxy Fold was ready for the masses, but as it turns out, it wasn’t. You may have heard rumblings about the phone’s actually cracking a few days ago, and obviously, word of that got back to Samsung, which is ultimately what forced the company’s hand.

It appears that the issue with the device was two-fold. First, Samsung cites issues on the display that “showed that they could be associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge.” So basically, if the device was physically impacted in a certain way, the screen could break, which is not surprising. However, based on early reviews, the impact wasn’t too forceful to break the phone.

But the issue appears to go further than that, as Samsung also noted that there “was also an instance where substances found inside the device affected the display performance.”

In the interim, Samsung plans to “take measures to strengthen the display protection.” This sounds like a necessary step, as the phone is extremely expensive and shouldn’t be breaking easily.

The company also plans to “enhance the guidance on care and use of the display including the protective layer so that our customers get the most out of their Galaxy Fold.” Essentially, it’s going to include documentation that’ll help buyers understand how to protect their device better. There’s a “screen protector” that isn’t actually a screen protector at all on the Fold (it’s a permanent protector), and removing it can cause an issue with the device.

Obviously, the Fold is using some pretty new technology, but we’re hopeful that the company can do more than just educate buyers and that it can actually fix the problem.

When Can You Get A Galaxy Fold?

Unfortunately, while Samsung was rather transparent in its reasons for delaying the Galaxy Fold

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, it wasn’t so open about when buyers will be able to get their hands on the device. Instead, the company simply said that it will announce a new release date in the “coming weeks.”

Explore more about: Samsung.

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