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Microsoft launches enterprise preview of all-cloud printing service

Microsoft this week opened a private preview of its all-cloud Universal Print service to customers running Windows 10 Enterprise or Windows 10 Education.

Those customers also require an available Azure Active Directory (AAD) tenant, to which the personal computers accessing the cloud printing preview must be joined.

Elsewhere, Microsoft described Universal Print as “a Microsoft 365 subscription-based service;” it was unclear whether that meant only customers licensing Microsoft 365 – the subscription bundling Windows 10, Office 365 and a host of management and security tools – would be eligible for the preview, the final when it debuts or both.

From other support documents, Microsoft implied that Universal Print will require a license, which hint that it will be an add-on expense.

“Universal Print moves key Windows Server print functionality to the Microsoft 365 cloud, so organizations no longer need on-premises print servers and do not need to install printer drivers on devices,” Kristin Carr, group program manager, print and networking services, wrote in a March 2 post to a company blog.

Like other vendors’ cloud print services, Universal Print allows printing without direct device-to-printer links – thus enabling printing from mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets – without printer servers to manage printer access and handle department billing, and centralizes printing so that swaths of users can share more sophisticated printers.

Ironically, Microsoft has kicked off its cloud printing service just as Google is winding down its several-year-old effort. Google’s “Cloud Print,” which debuted in 2010 and never left beta status, will cease operation at the end of this year.

“Beginning January 1, 2021, devices across all operating systems will not be able to print using Cloud Print,” Google said in an enterprise support document.

One of the barriers to cloud-based printing is that printer makers must support the functionality of each variation. That typically has meant a lag between the introduction of, say, Google’s Cloud Print and Apple’s AirPrint, and the appearance of supportive hardware. Microsoft’s Universal Print will fight the same headwind.

“You will get the best cloud experience with printers that natively support Universal Print,” said Carr. “We are working with our partner ecosystem to bring you the latest printers with native support.” She mentioned Canon as one such partner.

In lieu of native support, administrators must install a proxy, dubbed Universal Print connector. The connector install can be downloaded from the link on this support page.

To register for the Universal Print preview, company IT administrators should complete and submit this form.

universal print preview Microsoft

After registering printers in Azure Active Directory (AAD), company employees will be able to access the remote printers from Windows 10 devices. Until printer manufacturers provide native support for Microsoft’s Universal Print – or update existing models’ firmware – most printers will have to be registered using the Universal Print connector proxy app.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Kadena launches a hybrid platform to connect public, private blockchains

Brooklyn-based spinoff Kadena has launched a hybrid blockchain that can scale horizontally, enabling multiple electronic ledgers to talk to each other via smart contracts – and letting users transfer cryptocurrency between the chains.

Hybrid blockchains combine permissioned chains for businesses to transact in the background while connecting to a public blockchain (via an API) for consumers and others to make money transfers or access information about products moving across supply chains.

“Their hybrid blockchain model looks interesting, mainly because it enables interoperability via smart contracts that run on public chains and talk to/with private chains,” said Avivah Litan, a vice president of research at Gartner. “That way, enterprises can keep their private data and transactions limited to the private chain but benefit from the liquidity and cross-chain access available by leveraging smart contracts running on the public chain.”

kadena blockchain Kadena

Kadina’s Chainweb architecture depicted in a graphic.

Kadena is being piloted for interoperability, scalability and increased security across industries, including financehealthcare and insurance, according to Kadena co-founder and CEO Will Martino. For example, Rymedi, a North Carolina medical technology firm, plans to test the platform this year as part of an FDA-backed pilot of prescription drug tracking via a blockchain supply chain.

Kadena is the first startup to come out of JP Morgan’s Blockchain Center for Excellence, a development project started in 2018. Last year, JP Morgan announced it had created its own cash-backed cryptocurrency called JPM Coin, which it plans to pilot with institutional clients for international funds transfers.

Kadena’s Chainweb platform also relies on sharding to increase transactional throughput by creating multiple proof-of-work consensus-based partitions on its blockchain ledger through which multiple parallel chains can operate.

Because a single platform can be parsed, there’s theoretically no limit to the number parallel chains that can be created on the company’s platform, according to Martino.

“We’ve figured out how to horizontally scale this core concept of the ledger found at Layer 1 without needing to centralize any part of the platform,” Martino said. “It’s a major moment for decentralized distributed systems, as horizontal scaling this far down the stack has been a dream of many for at least a decade.”

In Kadena’s blockchain, Layer 1 is the layer over which currency and a state ledger operates. There is infrastructure beneath Layer 1 related to propagation, peer-to-peer communications, storage, cryptocurrency mining and more, but Layer 1 is where cryptocurrency and smart contracts first show up. 

A metaphor for Layer 1 would be one bank account and three credit cards; the  bank account would be the fundamental Layer 1 ledger, and the three credit cards would represent Layer 2 scaling.

Kadena blockchain Kadena

“The cards settle through your bank account, but your bank account doesn’t settle through anything else. Your bank account has a single sequential ledger of transactions, as it has to decide the order of transactions,” Martino said “But, you can do transactions simultaneously on Layer 2 by using more than one card at the same time. Most other blockchain projects are trying to scale via adding cards. Kadena scaled by figuring out how to let you have a bank account at more than one bank.”

So far, the company has gone live with 10 chains on a single platform, but it plans to pilot ones with as many as 50 this year. Kadena’s “braided” blockchain network has so far demonstrated it can process up to 750 transactions per second or 40 terahashes per second (40 trillion hashing operations per second). The higher the number of terahashes, the more difficult it is for someone to attempt to game the system.

“Instead of hashing and mining pointing at a single block, miners can mine blocks for any of 10 chains in a network,” Martino said. “Instead of one chain and one conduit for throughput for transactions, we have 10.”

Gartner’s Litan, however, said Kadena’s technology does have challenges, not the least of which is its permissioned-public hybrid environment. That could complicate challenges that already exist with enterprise blockchain smart contracts.

Those challenges include:

  • Keeping immutable smart contracts current with business agreements, which is already problematic as they represent a shared system of record.
  • Keeping interfaces between off-chain events and data with smart contracts secure and authorized.
  • Maintaining umbrella legal frameworks across network members, as well as clear, documented and agreed-upon governance rules regarding blockchain participation and smart contracts. [Gartner believes] these are needed on top of smart contract automation so that the parties understand exactly what they need to do if things ‘go wrong.’

“Kadena would likely disagree with these challenges, but that’s how we see them,” Litan said.

Kadena’s proprietary smart-contract language called Pact, can also instruct a node (computer) on what the code means, or its purpose. For example, a smart contract coded with Pact can instruct a blockchain ledger to forbid users of cryptocurrency from going into debt, meaning the ledger balance can never go below zero.

“It’s the idea that I can run my code and then write what I intended it to do with it, and the computer can understand both my intent and what code means,” Martino said.

Essentially, the single blockchain platform can host multiple ledgers, each new ledger connected via an API to previous ones. In connecting the ledger, the processing power or hashing capability of nodes is divided among them and cryptocurrency and other data can be shared between the ledgers.

“If one [ledger] gets saturated, it doesn’t affect the throughput of another. You can horizontally scale this,” Martino said.

Kadena is also integrating its digital wallet, Chainweaver, with the Cosmos Network, an inter-blockchain communications protocol that enables multiple blockchains to communicate between one another, enabling cryptocurrency transfers across disparate blockchains.

“Kadena is one of the start-ups that stands out from the crowd,” said Martha Bennett, a Forrester vice president of research. “A key differentiator is the firm’s focus on, and understanding of, the requirements of enterprise-grade systems. Clearly, it’s too soon to tell how much traction Kadena will gain – it’s early days yet. But from a technology perspective, it’s one of the few that I regard as worth watching; the hybrid model is also a differentiator.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Kadena launches Chainweb, a hybrid platform to connect public, private blockchains

Brooklyn-based startup Kadena has launched a hybrid blockchain that can scale horizontally, enabling multiple electronic ledgers to talk to each other via smart contracts – and letting users transfer cryptocurrency between the chains.

Hybrid blockchains combine permissioned chains for businesses to transact in the background while connecting to a public blockchain (via an API) for consumers and others to make money transfers or access information about products moving across supply chains.

“Their hybrid blockchain model looks interesting, mainly because it enables interoperability via smart contracts that run on public chains and talk to/with private chains,” said Avivah Litan, a vice president of research at Gartner. “That way, enterprises can keep their private data and transactions limited to the private chain but benefit from the liquidity and cross-chain access available by leveraging smart contracts running on the public chain.”

kadena blockchain Kadena

Kadina’s Chainweb architecture depicted in a graphic.

Kadena is being piloted for interoperability, scalability and increased security across industries, including financehealthcare and insurance, according to Kadena co-founder and CEO Will Martino. For example, Rymedi, a North Carolina medical technology firm, plans to test the platform this year as part of an FDA-backed pilot of prescription drug tracking via a blockchain supply chain.

Kadena is the first startup to come out of JP Morgan’s Blockchain Center for Excellence, a development project started in 2018. Last year, JP Morgan announced it had created its own cash-backed cryptocurrency called JPM Coin, which it plans to pilot with institutional clients for international funds transfers.

Kadena’s Chainweb peer-to-peer platform also relies on sharding to increase transactional throughput by creating multiple proof-of-work consensus-based partitions on its blockchain ledger through which multiple parallel chains can operate.

Because a single platform can be parsed, there’s theoretically no limit to the number parallel chains that can be created on the company’s platform, according to Martino.

“We’ve figured out how to horizontally scale this core concept of the ledger found at Layer 1 without needing to centralize any part of the platform,” Martino said. “It’s a major moment for decentralized distributed systems, as horizontal scaling this far down the stack has been a dream of many for at least a decade.”

In Kadena’s blockchain, Layer 1 is the layer over which currency and a state ledger operates. There is infrastructure beneath Layer 1 related to propagation, peer-to-peer communications, storage, cryptocurrency mining and more, but Layer 1 is where cryptocurrency and smart contracts first show up. 

A metaphor for Layer 1 would be one bank account and three credit cards; the  bank account would be the fundamental Layer 1 ledger, and the three credit cards would represent Layer 2 scaling.

Kadena blockchain Kadena

“The cards settle through your bank account, but your bank account doesn’t settle through anything else. Your bank account has a single sequential ledger of transactions, as it has to decide the order of transactions,” Martino said “But, you can do transactions simultaneously on Layer 2 by using more than one card at the same time. Most other blockchain projects are trying to scale via adding cards. Kadena scaled by figuring out how to let you have a bank account at more than one bank.”

So far, the company has gone live with 10 chains on a single platform, but it plans to pilot ones with as many as 50 this year. Kadena’s “braided” blockchain network has so far demonstrated it can process up to 750 transactions per second or 40 terahashes per second (40 trillion hashing operations per second). The higher the number of terahashes, the more difficult it is for someone to attempt to game the system.

“Instead of hashing and mining pointing at a single block, miners can mine blocks for any of 10 chains in a network,” Martino said. “Instead of one chain and one conduit for throughput for transactions, we have 10.”

Gartner’s Litan, however, said Kadena’s technology does have challenges, not the least of which is its permissioned-public hybrid environment. That could complicate challenges that already exist with enterprise blockchain smart contracts.

Those challenges include:

  • Keeping immutable smart contracts current with business agreements, which is already problematic as they represent a shared system of record.
  • Keeping interfaces between off-chain events and data with smart contracts secure and authorized.
  • Maintaining umbrella legal frameworks across network members, as well as clear, documented and agreed-upon governance rules regarding blockchain participation and smart contracts. [Gartner believes] these are needed on top of smart contract automation so that the parties understand exactly what they need to do if things ‘go wrong.’

“Kadena would likely disagree with these challenges, but that’s how we see them,” Litan said.

Kadena’s proprietary smart-contract language called Pact, can also instruct a node (computer) on what the code means, or its purpose. For example, a smart contract coded with Pact can instruct a blockchain ledger to forbid users of cryptocurrency from going into debt, meaning the ledger balance can never go below zero.

“It’s the idea that I can run my code and then write what I intended it to do with it, and the computer can understand both my intent and what code means,” Martino said.

Essentially, the single blockchain platform can host multiple ledgers, each new ledger connected via an API to previous ones. In connecting the ledger, the processing power or hashing capability of nodes is divided among them and cryptocurrency and other data can be shared between the ledgers.

“If one [ledger] gets saturated, it doesn’t affect the throughput of another. You can horizontally scale this,” Martino said.

Kadena is also integrating its digital wallet, Chainweaver, with the Cosmos Network, an inter-blockchain communications protocol that enables multiple blockchains to communicate between one another, enabling cryptocurrency transfers across disparate blockchains.

“Kadena is one of the start-ups that stands out from the crowd,” said Martha Bennett, a Forrester vice president of research. “A key differentiator is the firm’s focus on, and understanding of, the requirements of enterprise-grade systems. Clearly, it’s too soon to tell how much traction Kadena will gain – it’s early days yet. But from a technology perspective, it’s one of the few that I regard as worth watching; the hybrid model is also a differentiator.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Spotify Launches Your Daily Podcasts Playlist

Spotify has launched another personalized playlist in the same vein as Discover Weekly and Release Radar. It’s called Your Daily Podcasts, and, unlike all of the previous personalized playlists Spotify has released, this one is all about podcasts.

Spotify Adds Podcasts to the Music Mix

Spotify is obviously full of songs you can listen to whenever you want. However, sometimes you don’t know what music you want to listen to. Which is where Spotify’s capacity to surface music you’re likely to enjoy comes into play.

The streaming service aids music discovery in a number of ways, but it’s now keen to help you discover new podcasts as well. In June 2019, Spotify launched Your Daily Drive


Spotify Launches “Your Daily Drive” for Commuters




Spotify Launches “Your Daily Drive” for Commuters

Spotify has launched a new playlist for commuters called Your Daily Drive. However, you don’t have to be a commuter to listen to it.
Read More

, with a mix of music and podcasts. And now it’s launching a playlist dedicated solely to podcasts.

How to Listen to Your Daily Podcasts

Your Daily Podcasts is a personalized playlist packed full of podcasts. As with the music playlists, Spotify will analyze your listening habits. Then, based on your streams and follows, Spotify will make recommendations accordingly.

You’ll see classic episodes of podcasts you follow, the next episodes of podcasts you listen to, plus new podcasts based on your listening habits. And with so many great podcasts around these days, finding the best new podcasts is half the battle.

As detailed on For The Record, Your Daily Podcasts is available to Spotify listeners who have “listened to at least four podcasts in the past 90 days”. It’s available in the US, UK, Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

How to Add Podcasts to Spotify Playlists

Spotify has invested heavily in podcasts in recent years. So it’s no surprise to find the streaming service trying to get more people to listen to more podcasts. Whether this strategy will work as well as it does with music remains to be seen.

Even if none of the podcasts Spotify recommends to you through Your Daily Podcasts appeal, you can also add podcasts to Spotify playlists


You Can Now Add Podcasts to Spotify Playlists




You Can Now Add Podcasts to Spotify Playlists

Spotify now lets you add podcasts to playlists. These can be new or existing playlists, and contain a mix of music and podcasts.
Read More

yourself. Which means you can create the perfect blend of music and podcasts to suit any occasion.





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Walmart launches ‘world’s largest’ blockchain-based freight-and-payment network

The Canadian division of Walmart has launched a blockchain-based supply chain that includes freight tracking and payment processing for 70 trucking companies whose goods are transported to more than 400 retail stores.

The system is now live and all of Walmart Canada‘s third-party freight carriers are scheduled to be on the network by Feb. 1, 2020, the company said in a statement. Walmart claims the blockchain network is the largest of its kind in the world, a claim not disputed by industry analysts.

For example, TradeLens is a blockchain-based supply chain launched by Maersk and IBM with more than 100 participants. Those participants include four of the world’s largest ocean carriers, three inland carriers and 61 ports around the globe. But for all its participants, it purportedly has only 14 blockchain distributed nodes.

Meanwhile, Cisco runs a track-and-trace system for hundreds of its suppliers worldwide, reportedly with 12 nodes.

Walmart’s new private blockchain, in contrast, has 27 distributed nodes, some of them on premise, others in the cloud – provided by a blockchain vendor.

“It probably is the largest,” said Avivah Litan, a Gartner vice president of research.

The distributed ledger network, called DL Asset Track, was created by Walmart and its tech partner, Toronto-based DLT Labs. The system automates the tracking of freight shipments and invoice creation; it uses IoT sensors and GPS tracking in semi-trailer trucks as well as a web portal and a mobile app where information can be input manually by operators and suppliers.

While Walmart’s blockchain may be industry leading, it’s not without vulnerabilities. Unlike a public blockchain-based network such as those used by Bitcoin or Ethereum, which can have thousands of nodes, a permissioned or private blockchain like Walmart’s only contains dozens of nodes. The rule of thumb for blockchain is the more distributed nodes you have, the most secure the system is because each node gets an immutable copy of the data, so gaming the system is nearly impossible.

“It means your network can tolerate corruption,” Litan said. “The more nodes, the more the consensus” that the data being shared is accurate and hasn’t been tampered with.

While Walmart and DLT Labs’ blockchain supply chain may not have the same resilience to attack and fault tolerance as a Bitcoin cryptocurrency network, what it does have over traditional business databases is that it’s a shared, immutable audit trail. Blockchain natively is a write-once, append-many technology; once an entry is made, it cannot be changed.

What also sets Walmart’s blockchain apart from other business blockchains is the deep level of integration with existing corporate data systems, according to Martha Bennett, a vice president of research for Forrester.

“And, we’re talking proper technical integration, not just [electronic] message passing,” Bennett said. “This project also takes an innovative approach to invoice generation and payment, in that Walmart’s payments [are] triggered and executed automatically as part of the smart contract process. I’ve not seen that elsewhere yet in a production system.”

The DL Asset Track is based on an iteration of Hyperledger Fabric – an open source, enterprise-grade, permissioned blockchain platform developed by the Linux Foundation. Through a set of APIs, the blockchain ledger can connect to Walmart and carrier legacy data systems, such as SAP ERP and accounting systems, as well as transportation management systems, according to Louden Owen, CEO of DLT Labs.

dlt labs freight for walmart graphic blockchain DLT Labs

External data sources such as ERP systems or transporation management systems  that feed information into a blockchain are known as “oracles” in the industry.

Because Hyperledger Fabric is open source, it can be readily adapted through APIs to communicate with any electronic data source. “We’re agnostic as to the blockchain, agnostic as to infrastructure, agnostic as to the cloud. Think of it as a complete oracle offering for enterprise blockchain,” Owen said.

The blockchain ensures accuracy because variable information, such as transport time input by freight truckers, is matched against IoT and GPS tracking data automatically uploaded to the blockchain ledger in real time.

Traditionally, supply chain invoices have been generated primarily through third-party EDI (electronic data interchange) systems. They often depend on manual data input. Walmart’s blockchain network will eliminate the need for third-party invoice creation and reduce both processing time, and – perhaps more importantly – invoice disputes and reconciliation.

From 50% to 75% of all invoices experience some form of dispute that requires resolution, and those disputes can take weeks or even up to two months to resolve, according to Louden Owen, CEO of DLT Labs.

“It’s a gargantuan issue for everyone simply to verify these highly complex, highly variable transactions,” Owen said.

Walmart Canada operates 8.75 million square feet of distribution center and moves more than 853 million cases of merchandise a year. The goods are transported by a by a third-party fleet and Walmart Canada’s own collection of 180 tractors, 2,000 trailers and more than 350 drivers. Each third-party trailer tracks approximately 200 data points per shipment. Automating the data collection and management using blockchain can result in a significant cost-saving, the company said.

Transport and shipping systems invariably have both fixed and variable costs. For example, the mileage reimbursement may be a fixed price, but vary depending on the contract. Delivery times can vary between time spent on the road and time spent waiting to offload a shipment once a truck reaches its destination. Often, trucks must wait in line for hours to offload shipments; the reimbursement for that is different than for miles driven and can vary according to the amount of time spent in queue.

Additionally, Walmart has more than 70 carriers and they all have different rates. “What was happening is that Walmart and its carriers had their own set of data. It was getting mismatched and [settlement] was getting delayed,” said DLT Labs CTO Neeraj Srivastava.

DLT Labs took Walmart’s paper-based contracts with its carriers and converted them  into a smart contract, Srivastava said. A smart contract is business software that can be embedded into a blockchain network and automatically executed when certain conditions are met.

Logistics and transportation is an $8 trillion industry and as much as $140 billion per day can be tied up in disputes or settlements between supply chain participants, according to Laurie Tolson, chief digital officer of GE Transportation.

Disputes arise because information between supply chain participants often varies,  depending on who’s in-putting data, as well as poor contract management at the outset of supplier-buyer relationships, according to Sarah Rathke, an attorney with the international law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

Having a real-time, actionable data for invoice creation, and a smart contract with terms for each carrier helps head off any payment disputes, Owen said.

“That’s the real beauty of the system… real-time actionable data,” Owen said. “Walmart and a carrier, together, in real-time, agree on the invoice, which doesn’t need a third-party audit.”

For freight carriers, the blockchain network alleviates the need to find financing as they wait weeks or months to be paid for goods because of invoice disputes.

A single invoice can cost up to $11 to generate and if they’re not resolved, further expenses are incurred by shippers waiting for payment, according to Litan.

More accurate, real-time data can also be used for enhanced analytics and predictive modelling, Owen said.

“They hit all the sweet spots with this [blockchain network]. Invoice and payment resolution is low-hanging fruit because there are so many disputes,” Litan said. “It’s really EDI 5.0. It’s an immutable audit trail and a system of shared processes. Because it’s a private blockchain, it still means you have to trust all the participants.”

Bison Transport was the carrier partner in the pilot for the new freight and payment network. According to Rod Hendrickson, vice president of finance for Bison Transport, the end result is “a mutually beneficial solution.”

“This project is a new paradigm that will greatly improve workflows, reduce paperwork, and make the business we do with Walmart more efficient,” Hendrickson said.

This is not Walmart’s first foray into blockchain-based track-and-trace systems. U.S.-based Walmart and Sam’s Club have asked all their suppliers to come on board an IBM-based blockchain supply chain system for tracking produce from farm to shelf. That project, however, is a proof-of-concept restricted to the shipment of some farm produce, while DL Asset Track will literally track every shipment to Walmart’s Canadian stores.

“Clearly, there are still dependencies on tech providers to ensure that the system is running smoothly,” Forrester’s Bennett said. “Yes, Walmart is the dominant partner; but Walmart Canada has put in a lot of work to ensure that there’s benefit for the whole ecosystem – if ecosystem partners don’t see what’s in it for them, they won’t fully participate.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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