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Apple as a service: One day you’ll rent it all…

With iPhone 11 ordering about to begin, the world may be waiting to join the iPhone Upgrade Program, it is becoming clear Apple is slowly but inexorably moving to a business model in which its products and services are available for a monthly fee.

Fewer highs, predictable lows

The advantages for Apple shareholders are clear:

They get predictable recurring income, though the cost of that stability may be the loss of the extreme revenue highs you saw when Apple’s fate was completely determined by hit product releases.

There’s an advantage for Apple customers, too: They know they can get an Apple Card, a new iPhone every year, TV+, Arcade, Music and (most recently) AppleCare protection for a monthly fee.

An entry-level iPhone 11 ($35.33/m under iPhone Upgrade Program), and subscriptions to TV+, Arcade and Music will cost $55/month – though you will receive TV+ for free in year one, which reduces the cost to $50.

If you pay using an Apple Card you’ll get $18/year returned to you in daily cash for a total outlay of c.$582/year.

If you damage your device, you’ll have AppleCare protection as part of this deal, under the iPhone Upgrade Program. If you need more than the miserly 5GB iCloud space Apple offers you for free, you can step up to 200GB for a cost of c.$36/year ($2.99/month).

Add it up and you have access to some of the company’s key services, product insurance and the latest iPhone for around $615 (w. Apple Card), or a little more without.

I’m no accountant and all these numbers are beginning to get me down, but the bottom line is that you can already rent your way into Apple’s ecosystem.

Apple gets an income it can predict. You get access for a price you can (I hope) more easily afford, and the platform remains unfragmented.

That’s a win/win.

But why not take this further?

Where is the iPad Upgrade Program?

Apple’s iPad range lends itself to similar treatment.

Apple doesn’t yet offer an iPad Upgrade Program, but it does let you purchase these devices on a finance deal (3% cashback thanks to Apple Card), and offers trade-ins.

I think the company could easily go further.

The iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + Cellular, from $1,149) costs just $50 more than an iPhone 11 Pro Max (from $1,099). Other iPad configurations cost less.

If Apple can take the risk to offer an upgrade program for iPhone, surely it can take the same risk to buoy iPad sales and bring them into reach of a larger slice of the potential market? After all, the numbers are similar.

Once you reach that conclusion, it’s hard not to think about a similar scheme for Macs.

An entry-level MacBook Air sets you back $1,099 – the same price as an iPhone 11 Pro Max and $400 more than the iPhone 11 which costs you $35.33/month.

What might the cost be?

The iPhone 11 Pro Max costs $49.91/month under the iPhone Upgrade Program.

That gives us a guideline figure that suggests a similar scheme to get an iPad Pro and entry-level MacBook Air (as well as the phone) would cost around $150/month.

That’s a large number, and it gets bigger once you add other Apple services, but it’s predictable both for you and for Apple, and gives you access to the latest kit.

You don’t have to look too deeply for reasons why the actual cost of such a scheme may be higher:

  • Part of the reason Apple can support the scheme for iPhones is because there’s big demand for those products and refurbished units can be sold for good money, and recycled components poured into the manufacturing chain.
  • There may be other economies of scale which don’t necessarily exist for iPads and Macs. I’m reasonably confident both CEO Tim Cook and COO Jeff Williams already have precise data on this.

What about the Apple Card?

You could argue that Apple Card means Apple already has some form of infrastructure to support an ‘Apple as a service’ model.

If you hold one of those cards you can already purchase these products, get some cash returned to you, and pay for them over the year before you upgrade.

But Apple could make this easier.

After all, if you hold an Apple Card then you’ve already passed your credit check and your identity and fiscal probity have already been verified.

Equipped with this information, Apple could conceivably offer Apple Card users access to iPad and Mac Upgrade Programs. 

After all, it is already offering you credit.

Responding to change

I think models like these are inevitable.

Not only are existing economic models transitioning from expectation of continuous growth as capitalism hits the walls of environmental/political crisis, but people outside the highest income brackets are moving away from conspicuous consumption toward more discerning models.

Rental models – particularly rental models supported by highly effective recycling schemes and (more green, if not greener) manufacturing processes will become more attractive in future.

Schemes that provide consumers with access to the products they most want at a cost they can tolerably afford will become increasingly valuable as models of ownership change.

Access, not ownership, so they say.

Apple has a chance to benefit from this.

How to get an iPhone 11 today

It seems only fair that to end this op-ed with some useful information.

If you are in the market for an iPhone 11 and want to get hold of one under the iPhone Upgrade Program, when they become available at 8am EST today, then you should now follow these steps:

  • You should download the Apple Store app and sign in with your Apple ID before the launch.
  • If you don’t have the app, visit the Apple Store online (it may help to have both open when the launch takes place).
  • Prior to launch, double-check your Apple Store information – if you recently secured an Apple Card, make sure it is entered as your preferred payment method and your personal details are up-to-date.
  • You should also get your carrier account data and credit card security code and have them to hand.
  • Take a note of which iPhone you want, and make sure you know the carrier, finish and which capacity you need.
  • Then when ordering goes live jump in and hope to get a connection – it’s often better to use a direct wired connection rather than Wi-Fi for this, as everyone who has ever tried to get a Glastonbury ticket can tell you.

Ordering iPhones will get much easier in future…

Point and click

iPhone 11 introduces the new U1 chip. This is an Ultra Wideband (UWB) processor with a bunch of talents. Apple has described only one so far – the capacity to point a U1 equipped iPhone at a person holding another U1 device to beam content directly to them via AirDrop.

It won’t stop there, and transforms the world of indoor location, particularly in retail.

In future, you will walk into an Apple retail store, point your U1-equipped device at the product you want there in store, tap the Buy button and you will quicky receive a notification to let you know when your product will be available for collection, and where.

You’ll be offered help setting it up and a quick tutorial from the retail staff. 

The entire experience will be friction free (probably).

The only time you’ll think about the money you are spending is when you look at the informative chart on your Apple Card app – which could make it too easy to spend too much.

(Though I guess you’ll eventually be able to ask Siri if you can afford the purchase.)

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

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Mozilla previews Firefox VPN, will charge for service at some point

Mozilla this week resurrected its Test Pilot preview program, offering Firefox users a free VPN-like service to encrypt browser-to-site-and-back transmissions over public networks.

“The Firefox Private Network is an extension which provides a secure, encrypted path to the web to protect your connection and your personal information anywhere and everywhere you use your Firefox browser,” wrote Marissa Wood, vice president of product, in a post to the Mozilla blog.

The free service is available immediately, but only to U.S.-based users running the desktop version of Firefox. A Firefox account – typically used for syncing copies of the browser on multiple devices – and an accompanying add-on are required.

Wood trumpeted Firefox Private Network using examples highlighting privacy, Mozilla’s raison d’être. The encryption, she argued, would “protect all your sensitive information like the web addresses you visit, personal and financial information” at unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspots. The service also masks the originating IP address “to keep advertising networks from tracking your browsing history.”

Website security vendor Cloudflare provided the proxy server for Firefox’s VPN (virtual private network), Mozilla said. (Cloudflare offers a VPN service, dubbed “Warp,” to its customers, as part of the new-this-year DNS resolver app for iOS and Android.)

Once the add-on is installed and the user logs in with his or her account credentials, Firefox Private Network is extremely simple to operate: It’s either on or off. There are no settings, no options. Computerworld did notice a performance hit while browsing with Firefox Private Network engaged; sites appeared slower than with it disabled.

Firefox VPN Mozilla

Firefox Private Network has an on-off switch and that’s it. There are no options. There are no settings. Stupid-proof VPN.

Mozilla was clear that the free part of Firefox Private Network would likely not last, as the organization intends to charge a fee at some point.

“Your feedback will be essential in making sure that we offer a full complement of services that address the problems you face online with the right-priced service solutions,” wrote Wood, referring not just to the VPN but also to other, still-undisclosed offerings. She added that the Firefox Private Network beta testing, which is what Test Pilot now is, will run through some variations to “explore technical and possible pricing options” for the service.

Mozilla has not hidden its desire to branch into new revenue territories to divest from the more-or-less-single-source of search engine royalties. In June, CEO Chris Beard and other Mozilla officials said that paid service subscriptions would roll out this fall, but assured users that the browser itself would remain free of charge. The VPN could be the first of several paid services pitched to Firefox users, or part of a larger all-in-one package; Mozilla hasn’t been clear about the form(s) this new revenue stream may take.

Nor did Wood say how long her team will test Firefox Private Network. However, she did position this iteration of Test Pilot differently than before. “The difference with the newly relaunched Test Pilot program is that these products and services may be outside the Firefox browser, and will be far more polished, and just one step shy of general public release,” she said.

Mozilla has been back and forth with Test Pilot. The name harks to 2009, when it described a data-gathering effort on how people used the web. In 2016, Test Pilot was refocused, that time for users to “try out experimental ((in-browser)) features and let us know what you think,” according to Nick Nguyen, a now-former vice president of Firefox. That version was written off in January, Mozilla saying at the time that it no longer needed a separate test bed for add-ons.

“Third time’s the charm,” said Wood.

Users can sign up for the VPN beta test at the service’s website. More information about Firefox Private Network can be found online here.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Windows 10’s fall upgrade: Yep, it’s a service pack

Microsoft last week tacitly confirmed that this year’s fall upgrade for Windows 10 will, in fact, be service pack-like, in effect a rerun of the May 2019 Update, aka Windows 10 1903

On Thursday, Microsoft delivered two previews to what it continues to call 19H2, a reference to the second-half upgrade in its twice-annual cadence for Windows 10. Some Insiders – the volunteer participants in the Windows 10 beta program – would get one build while others would get another.

The difference? “A subset of Insiders in the Slow ring will have features turned off by default, and another subset will have them turned on by default,” wrote Dona Sarkar and Brandon LeBlanc, Microsoft employees and the public faces of Windows Insider. “We are testing the ability to ship these updates with features turned off by default so that we can then turn them on via controlled feature rollouts. This helps us gain better feedback on overall build quality.”

It wasn’t this off-on that corroborated the service pack-esque nature of Windows 10 1909, the likely official yymm label for 19H2 when it launches next month.

Early last month, when Microsoft announced that the year’s second refresh would not be the usual feature upgrade but instead a scaled-back update delivered via the same service that feeds monthly fixes to Windows, Computerworld decoded the company’s statements and concluded – as did others – that the fall update would be very, very similar to the old service packs of Windows 7 and before.

A service pack contained the cumulative updates of the past, recent or not, but only rarely included new features. Microsoft last issued one in February 2011, when it released Windows 7’s Service Pack 1, or SP1.

The service pack-ness of 19H2/1909 was central to Computerworld‘s later analysis of the upgrade changes’ impact, to wit that Microsoft had scaled back feature upgrades, real feature upgrades, to only one a year, labels be damned. What had been the fall refresh would shrink to service pack stature. Under such a regime, enterprise customers could reduce refreshes to one each year, possibly even further, to one every two years.

That 19H2/1909 will be a service pack, little more than a retread of May’s Windows 10 1903, was clear from the small number of features Sarkar and LeBlanc touted last week, and those features’ even smaller impact.

“The navigation pane on the Start menu now expands when you hover over it with your mouse to better inform where clicking goes,” the pair said. Another feature was described as “… a ‘Manage notifications’ button [at] the top of Action Center that launches the main ‘Notifications & actions’ Settings page.”

There’s clearly nothing ground-shaking or ground-breaking for the service pack.

(Note: As Microsoft promised when it first described 19H2/1909’s content, Sarkar and LeBlanc said that it will include performance improvements. Processors with a “favored” core – one logical processor may be better suited for a particular task because of its standard or boosted clock speed, and so is selected for that job – will be used by Windows to “distribute work more fairly.”)

Microsoft has not set a release date for Windows 10 1909 but has said it would be “a September-targeted release.” With just four weeks to Sept. 10 – the month’s Patch Tuesday, which may also be the release date for the service pack – and under seven weeks to the month’s end, it seems unlikely 19H2/1909 will get many, if any, additional “features.”

Service pack? Yes. Everything old is new again.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Get Free Home Phone Service with an Inexpensive OBi200 VoIP Box – Review Geek

A red corded telephone handset next to a green piggy bank with some cash sticking out the top.
Karen Roach/Shutterstock

Having a telephone other than your cell phone can be handy. If you find yourself needing one, you might as well choose a solution with no monthly cost!

The OBi200 by Polycom provides everything you need for a home phone or office through Google Voice. For a one-time purchase of about $50, this little box has provided me with years of free phone service, and a few other benefits, as well.

So, What Is It?

Voice over IP (VoIP) is a technology that, essentially, provides digital phone service. Typically, a VoIP device requires specialized hardware or phones to function. But the OBi VoIP box bridges this digital technology with standard analog devices, like phones and fax machines.

Google Voice provides the digital phone service for free. This means you can use any standard phone connected to the telephone jack on the OBi to make local and long-distance calls at no cost. You can also connect the telephone jack OBi to any telephone jack in your home with a standard phone cable. This effectively activates a dial tone on every phone jack in your home!

There are two OBi VoIP boxes, and they can both connect directly to your internet router through an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi with an optional adapter. Both devices bridge digital phone service to a standard phone or fax machine.

Both OBi VoIP devices have a USB port that can extend the capabilities of the device. For example, the proprietary OBiWiFi adapter uses this port to provide Wi-Fi internet connection capability. This is particularly handy if you can’t easily connect the OBi directly to the router with an actual network cable.

The OBi VoIP devices also support advanced call features, such as call forwarding, caller ID, call waiting, three-way calling, caller ID blocking, anonymous call block, automatic callback, repeat dialing, message waiting, speed dialing, and many more.

A side benefit of Google Voice is you can configure it to ring one or more additional phone numbers simultaneously. When someone calls your Google Voice number, any phone physically attached to the OBi rings, as does any other phone number you’ve set up. This means you can have one phone number that rings both your home (the OBi) and cell phones, so anyone can easily reach you, any time.

The E911 Emergency Services

An operator talking on the phone in front of an emergency call center computer screen.

Enhanced 911 (E911) service is available for an annual fee (usually around $20 to $25). I’ve had Anveo E911 service on my OBi device for years. It worked flawlessly the one time I had to use it for a medical emergency.

The nice thing is all your essential information—such as your name and address—pop up on the 911 operator’s screen as part of the enhanced 911 profile. I highly recommend you enable and configure this service. Otherwise, if someone who isn’t familiar with the OBi VoIP system tries to dial 911 as they would on a standard phone, precious time might be lost in an emergency.

To configure your OBi device to work with Google Voice or an E911 service provider, check out our guide to ditching your home phone bill.

Which OBi Device Do I Need?

The OBi200 and OBi202 VoIP devices.

The OBi VoIP device comes in two models—here are their features:

  • OBi200: The standard one-line device works well if you just want to add one standard phone to your home, or if you need a business line for your home office.
  • OBi202: You can use the two-line box for several scenarios. Perhaps you need one line for your home and one for your office. Maybe you need two lines and basic call routing for a small home office. If you need a phone line and a dedicated fax line, this device can handle that, too.

There’s a third device (the OBi212) that allows two VoIP lines and a traditional analog line to coexist. This is particularly handy when using the OBi because you can route incoming calls to either of the two digital VoIP lines or the analog POTS line. However, it appears Polycom is phasing out this model.

However, for most home or Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) users, either the OBi200 or OBi202 will suffice.

What to Expect From Your OBi

VOIP icon with a web of lines connecting user icons.

Once you pick up an OBi and configure it, this is what you can expect:

  • Free phone calls! You’ll never get a bill for basic phone service, including local and long-distance calls.
  • You can use any standard telephone.
  • You can use a standard fax machine without paying for phone service
  • You get support from Polycom—a well-respected communication technology company.

While there are a lot of upsides to these devices, there are a few caveats, as well:

  • If you change the password to your Google account, it can disrupt the OBi’s ability to connect with Google Voice. If your OBi VoIP box stops working, your Google credentials might be the cause.
  • Google can change the Google Voice service interface at any time. The good folks at Polycom are usually on top of this. However, sometimes, you might have to update the firmware or reconfigure the OBi device to re-establish its connection.
  • Your internet must be connected and functioning for your OBi to work correctly. You should be aware of this because, for example, if the internet goes out in a bad storm, you won’t be able to call 911 on a phone connected to an OBi box.

That last point can be a bit of a benefit in other situations, though. When your OBi goes offline, you receive an email reporting that status. This lets you know when you’ve lost internet service at home, even when you’re not there. You also receive a notification when the OBi comes back online. This can be helpful if you have other devices, like smarthome equipment or security cameras, that require an internet connection for you to access their services away from home.

Final Thoughts

These days, most companies strive for recurring revenue; it seems like everything comes with a monthly fee.

However, Polycom markets a reliable device that serves its purpose, without a recurring fee. The money you save from not paying a monthly phone bill will easily cover the upfront cost of the OBi device in just a few months.

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Which Cloud Service Is Best?

Cloud computing has changed the way that businesses think about their IT infrastructure. No longer do you need to invest in expensive hardware or maintain your own server rooms. You can now have access to computing power and storage as and when you need, thanks to cloud services.

There are two dominant players in the cloud computing game: Amazon and Microsoft. We’re comparing them in this epic showdown between Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure to find out which cloud service is the best.

AWS vs. Microsoft Azure: Storage

You can’t have cloud computing services without storage solutions in mind. Let’s run through what cloud storage solutions Amazon and Microsoft have to offer.

Amazon Web Services

There are no less than nine different storage products on offer from Amazon. Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) is the most flexible storage solution. It can be used as the storage for cloud-based apps, disaster recovery, media hosting, or as a plain-old cloud store for your files. You could use an S3 store as a back up for your Linux devices

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, for instance.

If you’re looking for a low-cost solution for your backups (and to use with AWS Backup), then Amazon S3 Glacier is a better option. You sacrifice regular access for a lower storage fee. The retrieval fees differ depending on how quickly you want to access your data.

There are some more specialist storage products on offer from Amazon, like Cloud Data Migration Services, which will securely move files between other AWS storage services or from an external provider. Other products like Amazon FSx or Elastic File System will give you optimized storage for your specialist cloud projects, like machine learning applications or enterprise databases.

Microsoft Azure

In a direct Azure vs. AWS comparison, Azure Blob is a lot like Amazon S3. It’s structured a little differently, however. Azure Blob comes in three flavors—Hot, Cool, and Archive.

Blob Hot is for general purpose storage, intended for frequent access. Blob Cool is optimized to store data you might storage for a long-term—at least 30 days. Amazon’s S3 Infrequent Access product has a minimum storage period of at least 30 days.

There are no prizes for guessing that Blob Archive is Microsoft’s archiving storage product. It’s the best option for data you need to store long-term. Azure Archive has a minimum storage duration of 180 days, which is twice as long as the 90-day minimum for Amazon Glacier.

Microsoft also offers Azure Backup, a service intended for backing up and restoring your data in the cloud, storing data in “Recovery Services vaults” which you can access from the Azure Portal. If you want to mount your cloud storage like you would a network drive, Azure Files should cover your requirements.

There’s also Azure Disk, Microsoft storage products for virtual machines. Azure Disk is useful for specialist operations you might have involving high-performance computing, similar to Amazon FSx.

AWS vs. Microsoft Azure: Computing Power

Both cloud computing services have an impressive array of products offering the widest selection of compute power for customers, whether it’s to host a simple web server or an enterprise database cluster.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon’s flagship compute offering is Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which offers scalable virtual machines using pre-provided Amazon Machine Images. Each AMI is a virtual machine you can run, including an operating system like Linux or Windows and any extra software you might need.

You can set up automated scaling of your AMIs, so you’ll never run out of the system resources you need. Amazon offers hundreds of different variations of EC2 for you to try. They range from the general purpose and cheap to the niche and expensive.

To give you an idea of the range, you could spin up an “a1.medium” EC2 instance with 1 virtual CPU and 2GB of RAM. Alternatively, you could go for an “r5ad.24.xlarge” memory-optimized EC2 instance with 96 virtual CPUs and 768GB of RAM.

The choice is yours—the flexibility means that it’s unlikely that you won’t find an EC2 instance that isn’t ideally matched to your needs. While you can switch between instance types, you can’t customize them (for example, by increasing RAM on an “a1.medium” EC2 instance from 2GB to 4GB).

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft’s compute instances are simply called Virtual Machines, and you can opt to run either Linux or Windows.

Looking at Azure vs. AWS, Azure’s Virtual Machines are categorized in a similar way to AWS EC2 instances. They come with optimized alternatives for your specific storage, memory, and GPU requirements. If you need to render a lot of 4K videos, for instance, you might rent a GPU-optimized Azure NV instance. These come with 24 virtual CPUs, 224GB RAM, and 4 GPUs with 48GB graphics RAM each.

For standard users, the Azure B-series will cover you. B-series VMs come with virtual CPUs ranging from one to 20 virtual CPUs, and RAM ranging from 0.5GB to 80GB. Like AWS, while you can switch between instance types, you can’t customize them. You have to choose from the pre-set configurations already available.

Microsoft also offers the Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) to make it easy to deploy containers using the Kubernetes management tool. If you’ve got complex web apps you need to quickly deploy, AKS can get you up and running quickly.

AWS vs. Microsoft Azure: Pricing and Value

AWS Pricing Options

The biggest decision in choosing a cloud service could be the price.  Unfortunately, there are thousands of different product variations, with everything from location to resource allocation having an impact on pricing.

Let’s look at things more generally, covering some of the most common services, whether you choose AWS or Azure.

Amazon Web Services

Starting with Amazon, there are a few different pricing models for AWS, which can affect the price you pay. You can pay less for resource usage, how often you access your data, and how much data you use. You can also receive discounts for paying in advance, rather than paying for your use on-demand.

Prices are usually displayed per-hour or per-GB. Amazon S3 Standard storage, for instance, is $0.023 per GB for the first 50TB, compared to $0.00099 per GB for Amazon Glacier. If you wanted to rent an EC2 instance, you’re billed per second. A reasonably powered “t2.medium” instance, with 2 virtual CPUs and 2GB RAM running Linux, would cost around $0.046/hour, or around $33.97/month.

The good news is you can try some AWS products out for free. New customers can receive 12 months free use of a general-purpose EC2 “t2.micro” instance,  with one virtual CPU and 1GB RAM.

Amazon’s AWS simple monthly calculator can give you a clear, up-to-date estimate of the monthly fee you might pay for any AWS service.

Microsoft Azure

Like AWS, Microsoft also offers 12 months free to trial certain Azure services. You also get $200 credit to try any service for 30 days.

You’re also charged by the second for the services you use unless you’re prepared to pay upfront for one to three years, for a large discount. In a like-for-like comparison, while a “t2.medium” AWS instance cost $0.046/hour, a similar Azure “B1MS” instance (with 2 virtual CPUs and 4GB RAM) costs $0.04/hour, or around $30.36/month.

If you want scalable storage using Azure Blobs, it’ll cost you from $0.0208 per GB for Blob Hot, down to $0.0010 per GB for Archive. You may also have to pay extra for your data access, such as a $0.02 per GB data retrieval cost for Archive storage.

You can find specific costs for individual packages using the Microsoft Azure pricing calculator.

AWS vs. Microsoft Azure: The Winner Is…

The short and honest answer, based on the criteria we’ve looked at, is that there is no clear winner. Both services offer similar features and performance. Although Amazon pioneered cloud services, Microsoft has done a good job of catching up in recent years. If the price is your biggest concern, Azure is slightly cheaper per-hour when you look at Azure vs. AWS directly.

You’ve also got Google using their vast resources trying to compete in the same market, with customizable virtual machines and an impressive $300 in free credit for new users. Of course, you might want to build your own cloud storage

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with a Raspberry Pi if you’d rather go for the DIY approach instead.

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Which Public Service Announcement Mascot Has Their Own ZIP Code?

Vintage Smokey the Bear fire prevention poster reading "Only You" where the O in You is Smokey's face
U.S. Forest Service/Ad Council

Answer: Smokey Bear

There are lots of hard-working public service announcement mascots out there: Woodsy Owl, McGruff the Crime Dog, and Eddie Eagle to name a few. None of those mascots are so popular as to merit having their own specialized mail-delivery zip code, however, except for Smokey “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” Bear (the slogan was updated in April 2001).

What boosted Smokey to the kind of fame that brings in truckloads of fan mail was the decision of the U.S Forest Service to adopt an actual bear to serve as the mascot. In 1950, firefighting crews rescued an American black bear cub from a massive wildfire in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico and the Forest Service adopted it as a living embodiment of Smokey Bear. The bear cub proved to be so popular with children across the country that the Forest Service started receiving piles of fan mail. So much fan mail, in fact, that by 1964, the U.S. Postal Service assigned Smokey his own mailing zip code to make sorting the bags of fan mail easier. That zip code, for the curious, is 20252 (which is still in use).

Smokey the Bear went on to live at the National Zoo for the remaining 26 years of his life and, after dying of old age, was buried in Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico. The Smokey Bear character remains the most popular public service announcement mascot in U.S. history and licensing of his image brings in millions of dollars every year to help fund fire prevention education efforts.

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Get Lifetime VPN Service, Developer Training, and 8 Top Mac Apps for $29.99

Shopping in the Mac App Store can be pretty expensive. Add online courses and digital subscriptions to your expenses, and your bank account will quickly run dry. Thankfully, there is a cheaper way to upgrade. The Mighty Mac Bundle offers lifetime online protection from VPNSecure, plus 167 hours of developer training and eight top Mac apps — and it’s currently just $29.99 at MakeUseOf Deals.

Mighty Bundle

Whether you’re interested in privacy or just trying to get things done, this bundle has you covered. What’s more, the line-up is worth over $1,800.

One of the headliners is VPNSecure. This highly-rated service helps you to stay anonymous online, block hackers, and unlock restricted content. With this bundle, you get lifetime unlimited protection on one Mac.

In addition, the bundle contains eight great Mac apps. CrossOver 13 lets you run Windows software inside macOS, and WALTR 2 makes it easier to sync your iOS devices. CleanMyMac X can speed up your machine, while MacPilot 10 and ActiveDock allow you to customize your workflow. You can also handle torrents with Folx Pro, share files instantly with Dropshare, and keep track of your bills with Chronicle Pro.

If that wasn’t enough, the bundle even contains 10 beginner-friendly courses on web development.

Less Than $30

With this deal, you can get all of the above for just $29.99. At that price, the bundle is worth buying for the lifetime VPN subscription alone!

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Microsoft delivers Defender ATP security service to Macs

Microsoft on Monday made good on a March pledge by announcing that its most sophisticated endpoint security service is now available for Macs.

Microsoft Defender ATP (Advanced Threat Protection) for Mac shifted to what the company calls “general availability” on June 28, wrote Helen Allas, a principal program manager on the enterprise security team, in a July 8 post to a company blog. Core components of Defender ATP, including the latest – “Threat & Vulnerability Management,” which made it to general availability a week ago – now serve Macs.

Not everything, though. “Full Microsoft Defender ATP integration is not available yet,” Microsoft said in the “Known issues” section of the still-sparse online documentation.

Microsoft Defender ATP detects ongoing attacks on corporate networks, blocks what it recognizes as malicious, then follows up to investigate the attack – or in the worst cases, the breach – and provides response recommendations and attack remediation.

The service is a component within the most expensive Windows 10 licenses, such as those provided by the subscription-based Windows 10 Enterprise E5 or Microsoft 365 E5. (The company touts ATP as the differentiator between those SKUs (stock-selling units) and the tier-lower bundles.) Microsoft also sells ATP as an add-on to Microsoft 365 E3 – one of those lower-tier subscriptions – for an extra $12 per user per month.

To add Macs to the Windows PCs already reporting to and covered by ATP, customers must license Microsoft 365 E5, Windows 10 Enterprise E5 or Windows 10 Education E5 (Microsoft 365 E5 includes Windows 10 Enterprise E5). The Macs must run one of the three newest editions of macOS (at this writing): 2018’s Mojave, 2017’s High Sierra, or 2016’s Sierra. At the September release of 2019’s Catalina, Microsoft will presumably drop the oldest, Sierra, since Apple will stop supporting that OS with security updates.

Microsoft has published instructions on deploying Microsoft Defender ATP to Macs. There, the company warned users that they would need “beginner-level experience in macOS and BASH scripting” as well as administrative privileges to the device(s) in case the fallback of manual deployment was necessary. Otherwise, admins can deploy the service to Macs using Microsoft Intune, JAMF or other MDM (mobile device management) platforms.

Details on configuring Defender ATP for Mac were posted elsewhere.

Customers can register for a free trial of Defender ATP online.

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Updates to Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac will be delivered by Microsoft AutoUpdate, the same application and service that upgrades Office on macOS.

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Game Service Hacker Sentenced to 27 Months in Prison

On Christmas day, 2013, many delighted people opened up new Xbox and Playstation gifts. That excitement turned to disappointment when they were unable to log onto game services and play. Now the hacker responsible will spend 27 months in jail.

Austin Thompson is the worst kind of trendsetter. Back in 2013, many game services, whether it be Xbox, PlayStation, or Steam, were ill prepared for DDOS attacks. That fact became readily apparent when Thompson easily took down multiple services over the Christmas holiday break.

Under the name DerpTrolling, the hacker took requests, made announcements of next targets, and then frequently brought another game service to its knees.

Others took notice and followed suit, DerpTrolling inspired Lizard Squad, Phantom Squad, and others, some of which set up DDOS-for-hire services.

Later in 2014, Federal Agents found and arrested Thomson. In late 2018 he pleaded guilty. Now the hacker has been sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay $95,000 in restitution. If you think 27 months doesn’t seem that long, keep in mind Thomson has been in jail since his arrest in 2014. [ZDNet]

RELATED: What Are Denial of Service and DDoS Attacks?

In Other News:

  • Superhuman Promises to turn off Super Tracking: Superhuman, an email app that comes with fancy features and a $30 a month price tag, had a tracking problem. By default, it injected a tracking pixel into every email sent out that would tell you how many times a person opened an email and that person’s location. It was overkill, and problematic, and thankfully, Superhuman is rolling the feature back. [TechCrunch]
  • You should really stop using your ISP Wi-Fi router: Confirming what we’ve been saying for years, ISP provided routers tend to be subpar at best and only cost you extra money in the long run. A study shows that ISP supplied routers were unable to achieve full speeds on 100 Mbps networks. Worse yet the 2.4 GHz bands lost speed at a distance at a faster pace than 5 GHz band, which defies all logic. [TechRadar]
  • Apple may soon ditch its terrible keyboards:  When you consider all the recalls as of late, the MacBook’s sterling reputation is a little bit damaged. One of the biggest reasons is the terrible keyboard that tends to stick or break altogether. Now Apple may be planning to change to a better design. Unfortunately, we don’t have confirmation yet; this is still a rumor. But here’s hoping the rumor is true. [Engadget]
  • Samsung sued for allegedly misleading ads:  Samsung regularly touts its phones as water resistant. And they are, under the right conditions. If you drop many Samsung phones in fresh water and it doesn’t go deeper than 1.5 meters, it will likely be fine. But water resistance ratings doesn’t cover salt water or pool water scenarios, which is where Samsung shows its phones in ads. Now an Australian watchdog is suing the company, claiming the ads are misleading. [Slashgear]
  • YouTube bans Infosec videos in a bid to ban hacking videos: Kody Kinzie, a co-founder of Hacker Interchange, was in for a rude surprise when he went upload the latest video to the Cyber Weapons Lab channel. He couldn’t upload it: the channel had a strike for “teaching about hacking.” While the subject of hacking is covered, it’s not about how to do it illegally. Instead, it covers how to use hacking skills to protect against illegal uses. YouTube doesn’t see the distinction it seems. [The Verge]
  • User Inyerface is the worst—on purpose: A well-designed user interface is incredibly important. To drive that point home, design firm Bagaar created a site that features the most frustrating user interface you will ever use. If you manage to complete it (instead of tossing your keyboard at the wall), User Inyerface will reward you with a celebratory gif and show the time it took you to finish. Our best is 5:19. What can you do?  [Ars Technica]
  • SwiftKey Beta adds its own take on Animoji: Apple’s Animoji is all the rage, but you need an iPhone from the X series to use them. Now Microsoft has its own version of Animoji called Puppets, and the company is showing them off in a beta of SwiftKey. The most impressive part is just about any Android phone can use them, no special kinect-like camera needed. [9to5Google]
  • Google’s upcoming camera app makes Night Sight easier to find: We think Google’s Night Sight is amazing. But one of the main problems with it is the feature is buried in a submenu which may make it hard to discover. An upcoming update will solve that by moving the Night Sight option to an easier to find location. Very nice. Now if we could just get it on non-Pixel phones… [XDA Developers]

Bad news: too much exposure to sunlight is generally bad for you. Good news: the Earth does a decent job of protecting you from that damage (but wear your sunscreen).

Astronauts, however, don’t get that protection when they’re in space. So we’ve always naturally assumed that an Astronauts is more likely to face cancer and heart disease thanks to that greater exposure to the Sun’s harmful rays.

But a new study suggests that may not necessarily be the case, at least for the short trips we’re currently taking to space. The study focused on over 400 astronauts and cosmonauts, and how they fared after their return to Earth. What scientists discovered is, despite the time spent in space, the spacefaring individuals haven’t contracted cancer or heart disease at a higher rate than the general populous.

But the study doesn’t make clear if it controlled for the better healthcare astronauts and cosmonauts are likely to receive, and it cautions that all things considered our trips are short. A trip to Mars and back will be much longer, and thus more likely to be damaging. [Gizmodo]


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Microsoft’s Next Big Update Is Really a Service Pack

Microsoft finally let us know what’s going on with the next Windows Update, code-named 19H2. And it seems the update will be relatively minor, more of a service pack than anything else. New features may even be off by default.

After the release of Windows 10 May 2019 Update, previously known as 19H1, Microsoft took an unusual step. It skipped past the usual next update (19H2) and pushed Windows Insider testers straight to Windows 10 20H1, next year’s update.

That left everyone in the dark about what was going on with 19H2 (usually an October update). The typical sequence had been to start testing the “xxH2” update soon after xxH1 releases, and then begin finalizing the update in September of each year. The goal is an October release (barring issues). So moving Windows Insider testers past the update was surprising.

Now Microsoft is explaining what the plan is. The company released the first 19H2 update to Windows Insiders on the Slow Ring. And in a blog post, Microsoft said that 19H2 would have “a scoped set of features for select performance improvements, enterprise features and quality enhancements.”

The company goes on to explain that even the release of this update will look different, it will behave more like a Cumulative update instead of a large feature update. All in all, it seems 19H2 is shaping out to be something more of a service pack for the May 2019 Update than the late year feature update we’ve seen in the past. What we don’t know is if this will be the new norm. [The Verge]

RELATED: Microsoft Still Isn’t Testing Windows 10’s Next October Update

In Other News:

  • A Chinese Smarthome platform is actively leaking passwords: SmartMate, a smarthome management platform, misconfigured a backend server two weeks ago, making it accessible to the public. The server contains IP addresses, user names, passwords, and even reset password info. And while the passwords are hashed using MD5, they’re unsalted. That means the password encryption is easy to crack. Bad form all around. [ZDNet]
  • PlayStation Vue live streaming prices are increasing: PlayStation Vue is a terribly named live tv streaming service from Sony, similar to SlingTV (and not a gaming service as the name suggests). The company announced yesterday it will raise all of its prices by $5, meaning its cheapest plan is now $50 a month, and the most expensive plan will set you back $85 a month. Boy that’s so much better than dropping cable, right? [TechCrunch]
  • Samsung’s Unpacked Event scheduled for August 7th: Samsung is sending out invites for a product launch event it calls “Unpacked.” The invites heavily feature a black stylus, suggesting we’ll be hearing about the next Galaxy Note. Hopefully, this phone doesn’t try to fold[CNET]
  • Amazon Alexa’s skills will soon work together: Currently, if you want to move from one Alexa skill to another (say a movie theater booking to a restaurant reservation skill), you’ll have to ask for the new skill explicitly and repeat information (times, location, etc.). Amazon’s new skill connections feature aims to solve that by letting some skills work together and hand over information. Sounds useful. [TechRadar]
  • Windows Phone 8 won’t update apps anymore: If you’re still using Windows Phone 8 or Windows Phone 8.1, you really should stop. Starting today, Microsoft will not push app updates to these two mobile operating systems. Any updates Windows Phone Developers release for their apps will only push to Window 10 mobile. [Windows Central]
  • Google seems to have cut off the Pixel C from updates: Google only guarantees 18 months of updates for Pixel devices, and it seems the Pixel C tablet has hit that mark. As 9to5Google points out, the Pixel missed the last round of updates, and its 2015 release date puts in the right timeframe for a cutoff. You could try moving your tablet to LineageOS, but that’s behind in updates as well. [9to5Google]
  • Ryuk Malware continues its reign of terror and ransom:  Georgia’s Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts is the latest in a long line of victims to Ryuk malware. The infection encrypted essential data and seems to have taken the court’s website offline. Representatives at Emisoft, an antivirus company, tells us they can decrypt computers infected with Ryuk about three to five perceent of the time. It’s a long shot, but it may be worth trying as opposed to paying the perpetrators ransom, which would encourage them to keep going. [Ars Technica]

A solar eclipse is coming, but unless you happen to live in Chile or Argentina, chances are you can’t see the total eclipse in person.

That’s OK, NASA has you covered with the next best thing. The Space Agency will livestream the eclipse today. You can choose from three different streams, one without any audio, one with commentary in English, and one in Spanish. The streams start at 3 PM Eastern Time (7 PM UTC), with commentary beginning an hour into the stream.

The bonus to livestreaming is, you can’t forget to wear solar eclipse glasses, look straight at the moon covered sun, and blind yourself. Despite the many warnings, people still take this risk at nearly every eclipse, and they do suffer the consequences. If you’re there in person, wear solar eclipse glasses and enjoy the eclipse safely. [Engadget]

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