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Win10 1909 will be a Service Pack: Good news, but many unanswered questions

Conventional wisdom for Windows upgraders has always been, “Wait for Service Pack 1.” Microsoft generally screws up the first release of a new version of Windows (although I would argue it did a good job with the first release of Windows 7). We now have more-or-less official word that the latest version of Windows, version 1903, is going to get a Service Pack sometime later this year. And to that I say, “Hallelujah and amen, brother!”

Granted, Microsoft didn’t use the term “Service Pack.” That would be too old-fashioned. Instead we get New Age gobbledygook that goes something like this:

The next feature update for Windows 10 (known in the Windows Insider Program as 19H2) will be a scoped set of features for select performance improvements, enterprise features and quality enhancements. To deliver these updates in a less disruptive fashion, we will deliver this feature update in a new way, using servicing technology (like the monthly update process) for customers running the May 2019 Update who choose to update to the new release. In other words, anyone running the May 2019 Update and updating to the new release will have a far faster update experience because the update will install like a monthly update. …

[The next version] will be delivered to customers running … [version 1903] using servicing technology (like the monthly Cumulative Update process).

Permit me to translate:

Win10 version 1909 will be Service Pack 1 for version 1903, presented as a super-sized cumulative update.

That “super sized” part is purely conjecture at this point, on my part, based on Microsoft’s marketing announcements. You have to ask yourself if Microsoft will intentionally hold back bug fixes from regularly monthly cumulative updates, in order to stuff them into the Service Pack.

The “scoped set of features for select performance improvements” part is more marketing pablum describing what you should expect from any Service Pack.

When it comes to beta testing — Service Pack 1 is being tested on the Insider Slow Ring right now — we also got this gobbledygook:

[S]ome Insiders may not see the new features right away as we are using a controlled feature rollout (CFR) to gain better feedback on overall build quality. … Specific to CFRs, we may ship features in these updates turned off by default and turn them on independently of bits getting downloaded to Insiders’ PCs.

So we have yet another three-letter acronym for something simple but daunting — Microsoft may change your beta testing bits without installing a new test version. Expect hilarity to ensure.

I realize that many people involved in Windows development weren’t around in the Service Pack punching days, but for those of us who were, the route is clear. At least for 1903 (and, hopefully, for the foreseeable future), Microsoft is ditching its hell-bent two-versions-a-year insanity, replacing it with a frenetic one-version-per-year pace, each with a Service Pack that will have full support for Enterprise users, for 30 months.

Those of you who have been pushing for some sanity should feel very good about this change. It’s still too early to start the victory, laps, though. Microsoft may yet screw up the implementation, as it has with the harebrained Win10 1903 Pro update deferral settings.

OK, take a lap on the AskWoody Lounge.

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Which DNA Testing Service Is Best for You?

Researching your family tree is exhaustive. However, unless you can claim direct lineage to the aristocracy, you’re probably going to run into trouble around the 16th century. One way around this is becoming increasingly popular: DNA testing.

Put simply, it gives you a better idea of where your family line originated. DNA testing can also give you answers to questions you haven’t even asked yet.

If you’re looking for a DNA testing service to trace your ethnic origin, you’ve probably considered 23andMe and AncestryDNA. But which service is right for you?

Why Use 23andMe or AncestryDNA?

You want to know more about your heritage. Perhaps you’ve been looking into researching your family tree, or you simply want to know where a family trait originated.

Either way, a DNA testing service can help and 23andMe and AncestryDNA are the market-leading options.

The procedure is remarkably simple. You choose a service (hopefully based on the results of our comparison below) and pay for the testing pack. This is shipped out to you; all you need to do is sign the relevant documents and provide a sample.

Which DNA testing service should you use - ancestrydna or 23andme

DNA is sent to the testing service in a test tube. Your DNA is present in your saliva, so all you need to do is spit into the tube, place it in the envelope, and post it!

When the test is complete, you’ll be informed by mail, around two months later. 23andMe and AncestryDNA both compare results with a pool of existing DNA samples, enabling you to establish your ancestry.

For example, many white North Americans are likely to have Northern Europe as the bulk of their DNA. However, small portions of north African or Middle Eastern DNA may also be present. This represents thousands of years of human exploration and diaspora across the globe.

While standard family tree research typically only stretches back 500 years (records permitting), DNA testing can potentially take you back to the beginning.

How Many Tests Do 23andMe and AncestryDNA Offer?

Each of the services we’re looking at offer different DNA testing.

AncestryDNA will provide autosomal testing, specifically looking at the DNA sample’s ethnicity.

23andMe, meanwhile, will test your DNA for autosomal, broad Y-DNA (paternal DNA), and broad mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA from the mother). There is also an optional upgrade to health testing (see below).

Winner: 23andMe offers a greater range of DNA testing, although the results may not be what genealogy researchers are looking for.

23andMe vs. AncestryDNA: How Much Do They Cost?

Having your DNA sample tested isn’t cheap. But which of the two services we’re looking at offers the best value?

Well, what you get from your chosen DNA service it depends on what you’re hoping to find out. Fortunately, standard DNA testing from both 23andMe and AncestryDNA is just $99 per person.

23andme health DNA testing

However, as noted earlier, 23andMe also offers an optional Health + Ancestry testing service for $199.

Winner: It’s clearly a draw for basic ethnicity DNA tests.

23andMe vs. AncestryDNA: Which Is Most Accurate?

If you’re paying for DNA testing, you want it to be accurate. So, which of these two DNA testing services is going to help you uncover your hidden ethnic background?

AncestryDNA claims to be more comprehensive, using autosomal DNA testing that covers maternal and paternal branches. It also references the entire genome, rather than single tests, is gender neutral, and can fill in recent holes in your family tree. AncestryDNA also has a more diverse database.

23andMe, meanwhile, can monitor common US and Canadian migrant populations, as well as some Asian and Oceanic branches. It is less adept at African and Slavic testing. The Y-DNA and mtDNA testing has a wider focus than autosomal tests, giving you a picture of your ancestors 10,000-50,000 years ago.

Winner: AncestryDNA

23andMe vs. AncestryDNA: Security and Privacy

It’s vital that your chosen DNA testing service treats the results of your data with respect and privacy. We don’t want to live in a world where someone’s DNA is causing them to pay higher insurance premiums, or allowing hackers to blackmail them.

So, will AncestryDNA and 23andMe look after your DNA and personal data?

AncestryDNA provides a detailed privacy statement noting that it “use[s] industry standard security practices to store your DNA sample, your DNA test results, and other personal data.” Additionally, AncestryDNA “do not share with third parties your name or other common identifying information linked to your genetic data, except as legally required or with your explicit consent.”

However, your data will remain available to Ancestry to use for other purposes, including expanding its pool of DNA.

DNA testing reveals your ethnicity

23andMe’s privacy policy is far more detailed. It notes “Everyone deserves a secure, private place to explore and understand their genetics. At 23andMe, we put you in control of deciding what information you want to learn and what information you want to share.”

To this end, 23andMe provides a detailed five-step explanation of key ways it ensures your privacy. This covers giving you control over your data, explaining how data is stored, its policy on third party data, security measures in place to protect your data, and how the use of your data in research is purely voluntary.

Winner: 23andMe has a far more detailed policy than AncestryDNA, offering wider controls over your DNA data.

However, the future of commercial DNA testing may result in data being made more widely available. As such, it is worth keeping an eye on the service you use in order to opt-out of any future sharing of your DNA. For more on this, see our feature on the safety of online DNA testing services

Are Online DNA Testing Services Safe and Secure?

Are Online DNA Testing Services Safe and Secure?

DAN testing services are popping up online, but is it a good idea to send your DNA off to a corporation? What do they do with it? Is this a potential privacy concern?
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Family Matching With 23andMe and AncestryDNA

One of the benefits of commercial DNA testing is that not only do you find information about your heritage, you can find people who share it with you.

DNA testing services online

Both 23andMe and AncestryDNA offer a family matching service. This essentially matches your sample up with other customers with close matches, thereby highlighting potentially unknown relatives.

The results of this may be surprising, or it might unearth some long-forgotten family skeletons, so tread carefully! As noted, both sites offer family matching, although AncestryDNA does a far better job than 23andMe’s limited service.

Winner: AncestryDNA

Which DNA Testing Service Is Best?

We’ve seen how both services offer affordable, feature-packed DNA testing, although 23andMe can upgrade you to medical testing too. Meanwhile, a larger pool of samples means that AncestryDNA is more likely to deliver accurate results.

23andMe has superior privacy standards and controls in place, however. But in the end, there is little to choose between the two services.

Overall, we think that if you’re certain of your recent heritage, and you’re based in North America, 23andMe is more likely to deliver good results. Of course, you can also pay extra for some all-important health screening, too. For everyone else in the world, wherever your heritage may hail from, choose AncestryDNA.

Need more help tracing your family tree? Use these genealogy websites to trace your ancestors

The 10 Best Free Genealogy Websites to Find Your Ancestors

The 10 Best Free Genealogy Websites to Find Your Ancestors

Researching your family tree is fun! Here are several free genealogy websites you can use without spending a dollar.
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Automotive group assures great customer service, improved productivity, enhanced security with Microsoft 365

“Moving to Microsoft 365 was important to us for broader functionality, improved security, and more transparent conversations with customers.”

– Amy Frost, Director of Engineering, Hendrick Automotive Group

Hendrick Automotive Group is one of the largest privately owned automotive dealership groups in the United States. The Charlotte, North Carolina–based company operates more than 130 dealerships, collision centers, accessories dealership installers, and support offices across the country and employs more than 10,000 professionals. At its core, Hendrick Automotive Group is dedicated to serving its employees and delivering a premium experience to its customers, whether on the showroom floor, in the service center, or in the parts department.

Though this guiding principle has remained the same since the company’s inception in 1976, the way Hendrick Automotive Group goes about exceeding its customers’ expectations has changed drastically with the times. “Our customers today are more educated about our products than they’ve ever been in the past,” says Robert Taylor, Vice President of Information Technology at Hendrick Automotive Group. “They’ve fallen in love with a specific vehicle, so they know every single nut and bolt. It’s our job not to diminish that level of excitement, and the Microsoft 365 experience is an important part of how we meet expectations.”

For Taylor, part of the premium experience that Hendrick Automotive Group delivers is technological. This includes the way customers access the internet at dealerships, the solutions that enable employees to share information with customers, and the familiarity that comes with modern operating systems and devices.

Traditionally, businesses looking to update their technology will wait until their hardware needs replacing and then opt to switch over to the newest, most feature-rich operating environment. Without the presence of an alternative, Hendrick Automotive Group had undergone this process a number of times itself. Installing up to 400 new computers in each of the company’s 96 locations across 14 states had been a slow process, which demanded the involvement of a sizable onsite IT team.

As a result of these time-consuming rollouts, leadership at Hendrick Automotive Group found it difficult to operate the business from a single, unified platform. The search for a better solution was on.

Moving to the modern workplace

Windows 7, the company’s existing operating system, will reach the end of support in 2020. With the concepts of easing future technological transitions and providing a premium experience to employees and customers, company leadership chose to implement Microsoft 365—a complete, intelligent solution that includes Windows 10, Office 365, and the Enterprise Mobility + Security suite. Because the capabilities of each of these are constantly expanding, companies can more easily keep their operating environments current.

“Moving to Microsoft 365 was important to us for broader functionality, improved security, and more transparent conversations with customers,” says Amy Frost, Director of Engineering at Hendrick Automotive Group. “We also wanted our end users to have the same computing experience at work that they do at home. It increases efficiency right from the start. We’ve even had employees teach us a few new tricks, just because they were already familiar with the solution.”

One such employee is Retail Operations Manager Jhoda Edquist. “I’m an Excel fan, an Outlook fan. I use Word all the time,” says Edquist. “I’m copied in real time when we get a new lead. When new customers come in, I can print out a spreadsheet that shows them the percentages of price, miles, and of certified preowned vehicles. It’s all about making our customer conversations convenient, transparent, and full of value. And we can do that with Microsoft 365 technology.”

Easing the transition

The next hurdle for leadership was finding a way to minimize the disruption that comes with hardware replacement. Starting with a handful of the company’s newest computers, leadership began to explore the concept of in-place upgrades. “With an in-place upgrade to Windows 10, our end users keep their files,” says Frost. “Everything remains just where they left it, including their computer. The upgrade is done overnight, and they can hit the ground running first thing in the morning.”

To help assure that Windows 10 was configured for every aspect of the company’s work environment, Hendrick Automotive Group engaged with Microsoft for assistance. Microsoft helped the company build a baseline configuration that worked well with all of its third-party applications, after which deployment began. “When we started this project, we thought in-place upgrades would be useful for a handful of newer computers, but that most of our hardware would need replacing,” says Frost. “But when we saw the benefits of those upgrades, we stopped replacing hardware. We decided to use that budget for something else.”

Even in the most rural of dealership locations, where download speeds are limited, Hendrick Automotive Group has been able to complete its upgrades overnight. By making use of peer caching, a refinement to the upgrade process introduced with Windows 10, the company can download Microsoft 365 update files to a single computer and then distribute the update to the rest of a dealership’s network Thanks to peer caching, Hendrick Automotive Group has reduced its dependence on download speeds and assured quick, seamless adoption.

In-place upgrades have been a sweeping success. No longer do dealerships need to manage a large IT presence or prolonged installation periods. Instead, a single IT representative arrives on the morning of the upgrade to answer questions and assure deployment. For the Hendrick Automotive Group IT team, this has meant a dramatic reduction in work hours for each upgrade and a faster overall adoption rate. The process of upgrading every compatible computer across the company, which took years in the past, has only taken months this time. Furthermore, future updates will be a single night’s work, with minimal support from IT needed in the morning.

Modernizing operations

To take advantage of the unified, cross-device user experience created by Windows 10, Hendrick Automotive Group has introduced more mobile devices to its dealerships, including Microsoft Surface and HP devices, smartphones, and tablets. “We chose Surface over other devices because Microsoft has, over the last few years, moved the market,” says Taylor. “We wanted our technology to come from a company capable of seeing a need and creating the device to fill it. That’s what Surface does.”

Sales representatives can now take their devices to the lot with customers, meaning conversations concerning options, pricing and inventory can take place on the hood of the buyer’s potential new car. These firstline employees frequently manage single-use devices provisioned to keep them and their customers focused on the task at hand. “I think we’re all guilty of distraction from notifications and texts these days,” says Taylor. “These single-use devices allow our workers to keep those distractions at bay, while assuring us that the device will work as intended 100 percent of the time. If a device breaks, we can easily replace it with a new one that operates exactly the same way.”

By using Office Mobile apps, these employees can pull up Office 365 ProPlus to access Excel sheets detailing the specifics of a potential sale price and share them with customers, increasing transparency. Similar gains in transparency and communication have been realized in dealership auto shops. “We’ve empowered our technicians with the latest and greatest Surface devices, so they can connect to the vehicles, troubleshoot any issues, and directly communicate with our customers as the work is being done,” says Taylor. “All of that is made possible through the use of Windows 10 and Office 365.”

Realizing change

Hendrick Automotive Group has implemented the Microsoft 365 experience, easily adopted platform across multiple devices for its employees and customers. The transition has come at a much lower cost in terms of IT working hours, hardware maintenance and replacement, and dealership productivity loss.
“Moving to Office 365 meant we didn’t need to operate Outlook or Skype for Business from on-premises servers or hire a massive server maintenance team,” says Frost. “Instead, Microsoft created and maintains our server infrastructure for us.”  

The company has also enhanced the partnership between employees working in its headquarters and those in dealerships. “The ability for us to remotely deploy and manage our new platform has been a godsend,” says Taylor. “We’ve been able to automate more than ever before, allowing our 51 IT employees in Charlotte, North Carolina, to support each of their 10,000 teammates and a $9 billion entity. We’re in our fortieth year of operation, and the work that we’re doing now is helping lay the groundwork for the next 40 years at Hendrick Automotive Group.”

Find out more about Hendrick Automotive Group on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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Going Viral Is Often the Only Way to Get Good Customer Service

A man throwing his phone in a Youtube video
Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

Businesses often try their best to ignore customer complaints, but they have a serious weak point: social media. With enough views or retweets, anyone can pull the attention of even the worst corporations.

Well, maybe not “anyone.” It’s hard for the average person to go viral. And as a result, it’s hard for most people to get wonderful customer service that comes with a viral complaint.

The Beginning of Social Media Damage Control

Businesses spend a ton of time and money building up a good reputation. Whether they sell quality products at a low price, give back to their local communities, or hire celebrity spokespeople, the goal is to gain the trust and recognition of consumers.

But in the words of Sentium, “bad news seems to travel faster than good news.” In the age of the all-powerful internet, a website like “www.your-business-sucks.com” can be set up and operational in about an hour.” A business could spend years building up a good relationship with consumers, only for that relationship to be torn apart by a viral complaint.

As an example, let’s look at the “United Breaks Guitars” video. In 2009, United Airlines baggage handlers broke a $3,500 guitar owned by a musician named Dave Carroll. Unsurprisingly, United Airlines refused to compensate Carroll for the guitar and made an effort to leave him in a bureaucratic customer service loop.

But Carroll had a trick up his sleeve. He uploaded the “United Breaks Guitars” music video to YouTube, and it quickly racked up more than a million views. While United made an effort to resolve the issue (after all, it was a PR nightmare), the damage was already done. United stock dropped 10% that month, and the viral complaint cost shareholders $180 million.

Wait, Businesses Don’t Really Care About Customers?

Over the last decade, businesses have had to deal with more and more viral complaints, from Patrick Stewart’s hatred of Time Warner to millions of complaints about counterfeit Amazon listings. Of course, as the internet continues to expand into infinity, these complaints will only grow more numerous.

That’s why, according to Forbes, customer service has blossomed into a 350 billion dollar industry. But that money is rarely spent on improving the solving the problems that create customer complaints (like poorly handled bags or counterfeit products). It’s mostly spent on social media damage control.

A Google search for “customer service viral” will yield a surprising number of articles from marketing websites and business magazines that are centered around the existential threat of viral complaints. Some of them even put together lists of “customer service wins.”

While most of these articles are peppered with jargon about “connecting with the customer” through social media, they’re heavily slanted toward the idea of damage control. They encourage businesses to use social media as a platform for customer service, but with the heavy-handed suggestion that only potentially viral complaints should be taken seriously.

As a result, people whose complaints can’t (or don’t) go viral are usually redirected to online customer service forms. The @AmazonHelp Twitter account, for example, spends most of its time redirecting customers to the Amazon website, even when customers claim to have already asked for help on the Amazon website.

Here’s the Problem: Not Everyone Can Go Viral

The ability to punish businesses for poor customer service is excellent for consumers. Going viral can resolve a bad customer experience while simultaneously forcing companies and shareholders to implement better customer service policies.

It’s a shame not everybody has the means to go viral—and that those who don’t are often left with customer service experiences.

Remember Dave Carroll, the guy whose guitar was mangled by United Airlines baggage handlers? He went viral because he could put together a fun, well-edited, and well-written video about his experience. That experience resonated with a ton of other airline passengers (which helped the video go viral), but only Carroll benefited from the controversy. Need proof? In 2017, a Reddit thread full of United Airlines nightmare stories accumulated over 3,000 posts. Unsurprisingly, the thread is full of complaints about poorly handled bags.

For a similar (but more topical example) let’s compare how Amazon handled a complaint from rapper Ice-T to the way that Amazon handles other, lower-profile complaints. Ice-T complained on Twitter that he almost shot an Amazon delivery driver and that delivery drivers should wear “Amazon” vests. He didn’t even tag Amazon in the post, but he got a clear response in less than half an hour.

Looking at the @AmazonHelp Twitter page, it’s clear that many people (with less ridiculous complaints) don’t get the same treatment. One customer complained that he didn’t receive a package after ten days, couldn’t get in touch with Amazon, and was then repeatedly patronized by Amazon on Twitter. He was also told that Amazon support takes 6-12 hours to respond to complaints, but Ice-T received a response in less than half an hour. Isn’t that odd?

Are There Alternatives to Going Viral?

There’s no one secret to going viral. In the end, the answer is probably “luck” and “preexisting fame,” so there needs to be a better way to get good customer service.

If you’re stuck in an endless loop of phone calls, unanswered emails, or underfunded items, then the best thing that you can do is shout into the void and hope that someone hears you. Try to get the issue resolved by dealing directly with the company, and if that doesn’t work, try taking the complaint public on Twitter, YouTube, or Reddit (or all three). Be sure to tag the company’s social media accounts in your public complaint, throw in some hashtags, and see what happens.

You could also piggyback on other social media posts to let the company (and potential customers) know that their customer service sucks. As public complaints gain more attention, businesses feel the urge to perform more damage control. They might even step up their customer service game and start treating non-viral complaints seriously. Wouldn’t that be nice?

If social media isn’t working and you’ve had a particularly bad experience, you could try contacting the local news or a news outlet or website that covers the company you’ve had a problem with. Platforms like that can get more eyes on your story and encourage the company to resolve it.

RELATED: I Called Out a Counterfeit Item on Amazon. Then They Banned Me.

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Mozilla to launch premium service subscriptions in new bid to diversify revenue

Mozilla will introduce subscriptions to one or more as-yet-unknown services this fall, but will not charge people to use its Firefox browser, the company said.

“A high-performing, free and private-by-default Firefox browser will continue to be central to our core service offerings,” David Camp, Mozilla’s top executive for the browser, said in an email reply to questions Tuesday.

Camp’s assertion that Firefox will remain free followed reports that the company will introduce paid subscriptions to the browser’s users, likely starting in October. In a June 7 interview with t3n, a German business magazine, CEO Chris Beard acknowledged the firm sees subscriptions as an important source of revenue.

“We are working on three sources of income and we want to rebalance them,” Beard said, ticking off search – which provides the bulk of Mozilla’s revenue – and content, citing Pocket and sponsored content as examples of the latter. “The third one we are working on and developing as we think about products and services, are premium levels for some of these offerings.”

He offered up two examples of services Mozilla could provide: online storage and a VPN (virtual private network). “You can imagine we’ll offer a solution that gives us all a certain amount of free VPN bandwidth and then offer a premium level (via) a monthly subscription,” Beard said.

Beard didn’t just pull VPN out of his example hat: last October, Mozilla offered a small number of American customers a $10 per month subscription to ProtonVPN, a Swiss VPN provider. Although Mozilla touted the VPN’s added security and privacy, the firm wasn’t shy about the financial angle.

“We need to have diverse sources of revenue,” asserted Chris More, product lead of what Mozilla called “Firefox Growth.”

Mozilla has mined alternate revenue veins before, but with little luck. Whether they were attempts to create an in-browser advertising infrastructure or an entire smartphone ecosystem, with the latter ranging from handsets to an OS, all were eventually abandoned. That’s reflected in Mozilla’s financials. During 2017, the latest year for which Mozilla has published numbers, the organization continued to rely on search – struck with the likes of Google to make a search engine the default in Firefox – for nearly all its revenue.

That year, nearly 90% of Mozilla’s total revenue came from search.

The company has recently dabbled with other service-related projects that could conceivably be sold through subscriptions or added to a longer list for a more ambitious plan. In March, for example, Mozilla introduced a free file-sharing service, labeled “Send,” that encrypts data from one end of the transmission to the other. It has also launched Lockwise, née Lockbox, a password manager that leverages the Firefox Account sync service, and Monitor, a data breach notifier that warns users when their email address and credentials may have been acquired by hackers.

All of these add-on services have been free to Firefox users.

It’s unclear how Mozilla would package such services. In separate subscriptions? Several – or even all – in a single subscription that, when added to Firefox creates something akin to Firefox Premium or Firefox Pro?

“We recognize that there are consumers who want access to premium offerings, and we can serve those users, too, without compromising the development and reach of the existing products and services that Firefox users know and love,” said Mozilla’s Camp, using “premium offerings,” as in plural, perhaps hinting at the approach.

Mozilla also trumpeted some of the already-in-place services as separate entities when it unveiled new branding on Tuesday. Send, Monitor and Lockwise each received an individual logo that graphically ties it to that for Firefox itself.

More telling was the commentary by Tim Murray, Mozilla’s creative director, in the post he wrote to announce the branding and logo changes.

“The ‘Firefox’ you’ve always known as a browser is stretching to cover a family of products and services,” Murray said. “Firefox is a browser AND an encrypted service to send huge files. It’s an easy way to protect your passwords on every device AND an early warning if your email has been part of a data breach. That’s just the beginning of the new Firefox family.”

Murray and others hammered home the point that the new logos – including one labeled “Firefox” that was separate from another marked “Firefox Browser” – were needed because of this march toward services. “That fox ((imagery)) could not stretch to cover all the different products and services that we’re going to be bringing out to the world,” contended Murray.

“Firefox is more than a browser,” added Mary Ellen Muckerman, vice president brand strategy & marketing, in the same video. “It’s actually a whole family of products and services. All focused on privacy. All connected together.”

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Microsoft touts its first managed blockchain service: JPMorgan’s Quorum

Microsoft today announced its first Azure-based, managed blockchain platform using JPM’s Quorum enterprise-class distributed ledger technology.

Since 2015, Microsoft’s Azure cloud service has allowed users to install a number of blockchain platforms, including Enterprise Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric, R3 Corda, and Quorum. That service only offered provisioning and setup. Now, however, Microsoft will handle not only the installation of the Quorum permissioned platform but software patches and updates, a full suite of application development tools as well as a template to govern the ledger, such as who can join a Quorum blockchain.

“None of that existed before. Customers had to figure all that out on their own,” said JT Rose, senior marketing manager for blockchain at Microsoft.

Microsoft unveiled its new Azure Blockchain Service ahead of its Build developer conference next week.

In November, Microsoft launched Azure Blockchain Workbench, a cloud-based development kit that enabled Azure services for encryption key management, off-chain identity and data management, and messaging APIs into a reference architecture that could be used to quickly build blockchain-based applications.

“What customers increasingly wanted was a managed infrastructure from us as well as a set of tools with Visual Studio Code and Logic Apps and Flow to write smart contracts to live on that network, manage the code of those smart contracts and interact with them – send data to and from smart contracts,” Rose said. “In our conversations with JMMorgan, they were seeing the same things.

“So, I think what we’ve evolved into is going from an infrastructure view of this in the early days…to a much more applications approach and set of offerings,” Rose added.

By making JPMorgan’s Quorum blockchain platform available as a managed service on its Azure cloud service, Microsoft said both its and the bank’s customers will be able to more easily build and scale blockchain networks in the cloud – without the need for capital expenditures on internal infrastructure.

Avivah Litan, a Gartner vice president of research, said that while there is movement into managed services in the blockchain market they’re not fully managed services –  as in an on-premesis model. And most of them are not interoperable with other clouds.

“So Azure blockchain is only talking to other Azure blockchain nodes. It can’t talk to AWS or Google,” Litan said. “Frankly, the only one that does interoperate to some extent, not on all levels, is IBM’s blockchain cloud. You can run a node on an IBM cloud, or AWS cloud or on-premise.”

The market’s still years away from true interoperability across clouds or for smart contracts to run everywhere, “which is really what you need for blockchain.

“That’s one of the pieces that still needs to be developed,” Litan added. “I think the big point here is companies do have trouble deploying blockchain, so cloud-based managed services certainly help them move faster.”

JPMorgan developed Quorum last year based on the Ethereum open-source, public  blockchain, which has smart contract functionality. JP Morgan’s version, however, is a permissioned or private blockchain, meaning a company using it can control who can join the ledger. Conversely, public blockchains, such as bitcoin, have no access restrictions.

“By utilizing Quorum, enterprise businesses across all industries will be able to shift their focus from infrastructure management to application development, ultimately driving transformative business value,” Microsoft said in a joint statement with JP Morgan. “Customers will benefit from rapid network growth, lower costs, simplified deployment and built-in governance enabled through Azure Blockchain Service.”

In addition to providing a platform for customers to build blockchain networks and applications, Quorum will continue to power JPMorgan and Microsoft blockchain programs and first-party apps, such as the Interbank Information Network, JPM Coin (a stablecoin or fiat-backed digital currency) and Microsoft’s Xbox royalty payment process.

JPMorgan likely chose Microsoft’s Azure platform out of necessity, Litan said, as it is the only managed cloud service already covering Ethereum, on which Quorum is based. Whlle it has announced its intent to support Ethereum, AWS currently only supports Hyperledger, as does IBM in terms of its managed service.

Google does not have a managed blockchain service.

“There really wasn’t anyone left other than Microsoft,” Litan said.

JPMorgan in February announced JPM Coin, making it the first major bank to offer a cryptocurrency backed by fiat money; the coin could be used on its Quorum blockchain platform for cross-border transactions. One JPM Coin has the same value as one U.S. dollar. Trials for the new cryptocoin are expected to begin in the next few months.

“When one client sends money to another over the blockchain, JPM Coins are transferred and instantaneously redeemed for the equivalent amount of U.S. dollars, reducing the typical settlement time,” JPMorgan said in an online FAQ. The technology also reduces fees by cutting out a central bank middleman typically responsible for clearance and settlement.

Microsoft and JPMorgan are among a growing community of Blockchain-as-a-Service  providers that includes Amazon, Google, IBM, and Oracle.

Blockchain continues to grow and evolve and is expected to generate upwards of $160 billion by 2023.

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Amazon goes live with its blockchain managed service

After nearly a year of testing, Amazon on Tuesday announced the general availability its Amazon Managed Blockchain, a fully managed service that makes it easy to create and manage scalable blockchain networks.

Amazon originally announced the blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) at its AWS re:Invent conference last June, inviting companies to sign up for a pilot of it.

Jeff Barr, chief evangelist at Amazon Web Services, said the offering is now available for production use in the U.S. East (North Virginia) Region.

“You can use it to create scalable blockchain networks that use the Hyperledger Fabric open source framework, with Ethereum in the works,” Barr said in a blog post today. “You can create your network in minutes. Once created, you can easily manage and maintain your blockchain network. You can manage certificates, invite new members, and scale out peer node capacity in order to process transactions more quickly.”

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has joined a list of BaaS providers that already includes IBM, HP, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

As enterprises look to deploy the online distributed ledger technology, the industry’s largest software and services providers have launched BaaS offerings as a way to allow customers to test the still-emerging technology without the capital costs or risk of deploying it in-house. The BaaS offerings also address a shortage of in-house blockchain developers, who are in hot demand.

While Amazon’s BaaS offering may seem like just another tool in the AWS box, the adoption of BaaS isn’t going to look or function anything like the adoption of other cloud services, according to Michael Fauscette, chief research officer of G2 Crowd, a business-to-business software review site.

“The use case ideas are really exploding around blockchain in a way that will drive in a wave of adoption that will happen faster than others,” Fauscette said in an earlier interview.

In addition to making it easy to set up and manage blockchain networks, Amazon said its BaaS provides simple APIs that allow customers to vote on memberships in their networks and scale up or down more easily.

Amazon Managed Blockchain offers a range of instances with different combinations of compute and memory capacity to give customers the ability to choose the right mix of resources for their blockchain applications. The service secures certificates for access control using AWS Key Management Service technology, eliminating the need for customers to set up their own secure certificate storage.

Armin Nehzat, digital technology manager for Nestlé Oceania, said transparency in supply chains is increasingly important to consumers, who want to know what is in their food and where it comes from.

“While Nestlé has begun to release information on its supply chains for its 15 key commodities, using blockchain technology enables a more precise tracking,” Nahzat said in a statement. “With Amazon Managed Blockchain, we are able to set up our Hyperledger Fabric network and easily invite our partners to collaborate in our supply chain transparency efforts.”

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Unfortunately Google Play Service Has Stopped? Here’s How to Fix It

If you see the “Google Play Service has stopped” error message, don’t fear. We’ve summarized 10 of the fastest and easiest fixes for when the Play Store stops working.

You should follow these steps in order to start with the low-hanging fruit before moving onto more complicated options. Note that the tips in this guide won’t apply if you’ve modified Android with a custom ROM, since doing so introduces more variables.

What Causes “Unfortunately, Google Play Service Has Stopped”?

Almost all Play Store stoppages are caused by either bad software or network issues.

However, there is a major exception: The Play Store is hard-wired for specific devices, so sometimes Google accidentally rolls out the wrong version of Google Play for your device.

Let’s start with the most common methods and easiest to use fixes before moving onto more complicated steps.

1. Restart Your Device

This step might sound obvious, but we’re not trying to insult you. Turning your device off and back on again can fix most Play Store problems.

To restart your Android device:

  1. Hold down the power button until the shutdown menu appears.
  2. Choose the power down icon.
  3. After the device completely shuts off, start it back up by holding the power button.
  4. Open the Play Store and see if your issue is fixed.

2. Update the Play Store and Google Services

Sometimes an outdated version of Google Play or the Google Service Framework can cause a problem. You should thus check for updates for both of these when you run into trouble

  1. Launch Google Play Store.
  2. Tap on the Menu button located at the top-left of the Play Store menu. It’s represented by an icon with three horizontal lines.
  3. Tap My apps & games and you’ll see a list of pending updates. Find and download the latest version of Google Services Framework if available.
  4. Open the left menu again and tap Settings. Scroll to the bottom of this page and tap Play Store version to check for updates to the Google Play app.
  5. Restart your device and then launch the Play Store again.

3. Change From Cellular Data to Wi-Fi (or Vice-Versa)

If your internet connection is poor, you might see the “Unfortunately, the Play Store has stopped working” error. In some cases, you won’t see the error message at all. Other times, the Play Store might fail in the middle of downloads or refuse to start them altogether.

In either case, the fix is pretty simple. If you’re currently online via Wi-Fi, change over to your mobile network or try another wireless network. If you’re on mobile data, try changing over to a Wi-Fi network and see if that fixes the problem.

4. Change the Time and Date

Google Play Services may fail if your time and date settings are incorrect. Correcting these is pretty easy:

  1. Launch Settings and select System.
  2. Choose Date & time from the menu.
  3. Check Automatic date & time if it’s not enabled already. Make sure your device picks up the right time.
  4. If you still have trouble, you can try setting a manual time by disabling the automatic function and tapping on Set time.
  5. Restart your device and then retry the Play Store.

5. Clear Google Play Services Data (and Cache)

Google Play Store and the Google Play Services app (the Google Services Framework app no longer appears as a separate app) both support Google’s apps. If anything goes wrong with Google Play, we recommend wiping data on both services and restarting your phone.

Note that the Wipe Data option also wipes the “cache,” which is a location where app data is stored. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Navigate to Settings > Apps & notifications > See all X apps > and find the Google Play Store.
  2. On the app’s page, choose Storage and then Clear storage or Clear data.
  3. Repeat this process for Google Play Services. You may need to tap the Menu button in the corner and choose Show system to reveal it.
  4. Restart your phone.

6. Revert to an Older Version of Google Play Store

Reverting (or “rolling back”) to the version of the Google Play Store that came with your phone or tablet can resolve issues with a glitched version. Doing so is easy:

  1. Open Settings and choose Apps & notifications.
  2. Tap See all X apps and find the Google Play Store app in the list.
  3. Choose Disable from the following menu. Disabling system apps does not uninstall them, but rather replaces them with original the version that came with your phone.
  4. Restart your device.

After rolling back, your device will eventually update to the latest version of the Google Play Store again. Hopefully, by then, your issue will be cleared up.

7. Remove Your Google Account

Sometimes an Android device fails to add a user account correctly. If this is the problem, removing and re-adding the account can sometimes resolve Google Play Store issues. To do this:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Choose Accounts.
  3. Tap on the Google account you want to remove and choose Remove account. Make sure you’ve backed up everything synced to that account so you don’t lose it.
  4. Re-add that Google account and see if the Play Store works again.

8. Install a Third-Party Copy of the Play Store

If the above steps have failed, downloading a copy of the Play Store from third-party APK websites is worth a try. This can let you update the Play Store if normal methods won’t work.

You should have a file manager installed to make it easy to browse to the downloaded APK and install it. Ghost Commander is a fine choice if you don’t have one yet.

You’ll also need to enable sideloading of apps on your device

How to Manually Install or Sideload Apps on Android

How to Manually Install or Sideload Apps on Android

Want to sideload apps on your Android phone? Installing APKs manually on Android opens up a whole new world of apps, and it’s easy to do.
Read More

, which is a bit different on Android 8 Oreo and newer. Then head to the below links on your phone and download the APKs to your device.

Open them from the download prompt in your browser, or find them with your file manager app. Android will install them like any other app, which includes updating them if they’re stuck.

Download: Google Play Services from APKMirror (Free)
Download: Google Play Store from APKMirror (Free)

9. Factory Reset Your Device

A factory reset will restore your device to its original state. That means it will revert to the original versions of the Play Store and other apps, almost certainly resolving your issue.

Unfortunately, doing so will also cause you to lose all data on your phone, including apps, photos, texts, and more. If you choose this option, make sure to back up your Android phone

Back up Your Android Phone Today Before It’s Too Late

Back up Your Android Phone Today Before It’s Too Late

If you lost your phone today (or it was stolen or damaged), would you still have all your photos, contacts, and data? Let’s make sure everything is properly backed up.
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To reset your device, plug it into a power source and then take the following actions:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Tap System > Advanced > Reset options.
  3. Choose Erase all data (factory reset).
  4. Tap Erase everything from the next menu.
  5. Walk through the steps to set up your device anew.

Is the Play Store Still Not Working?

The “Google Play Service has stopped” error message is difficulty to fix if the methods here do not work.

Some people have had success fixing Play Store issues by rooting their device and sideloading special copies of the Play Store. But for most people, it’s probably best to just install an alternative to the Play Store

Why You Should Replace Google Play With an Alternative App Store

Why You Should Replace Google Play With an Alternative App Store

Should you bypass the Google Play Store to install Android apps? Here are good reasons to do so, plus some drawbacks to consider.
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and move along.

Explore more about: Android Tips, Google Play, Google Play Store, Troubleshooting.

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Disney Unveils Its Disney+ Streaming Service

Disney has finally unveiled Disney+, its long-awaited and much-anticipated streaming service. We now know when Disney+ will be launching, how much Disney+ will cost, and the names of the original movies and shows which will be exclusive to Disney+.

Disney Drip-Feeds Us Information About Disney+

In August 2017, Disney announced it was launching its own streaming service. At the time, details were thin on the ground. However, in November 2018, Disney revealed its streaming service would be called Disney+ and it would be launched sometime in 2019

The Disney+ Streaming Service Is Launching in 2019

The Disney+ Streaming Service Is Launching in 2019

Disney’s streaming service, called Disney+, is set to launch in late 2019. And it’s going to be packed with original content.
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Now, Disney has officially unveiled Disney+, revealing the launch date, the price, and the shows which will be populating this streaming service. And if Disney can deliver on its promises, Disney+ could be a serious worry for the likes of Netflix.

How Much Will Disney+ Cost?

Disney+ will launch in the United States on November 12, 2019. It will cost $6.99/month or $69.99/year for those willing to commit to 12 months. This compares favorably to Netflix, which starts at $8.99/month for the Basic streaming plan.

Disney+ will boast movies and shows from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. All of which will have their own sections in the app. Beyond that the user interface looks almost identical to Netflix’s UI, with rows of content.

What Content Will be Available on Disney+?

Streaming services live or die on content, and in that regard Disney+ is coming out swinging. Taking its cue from Netflix, there will be a host of original programming, with 25 original series and 10 original films, documentaries, and specials due within the first year.

Original programming includes The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and WandaVision from Marvel, Forky Asks a Question and Lamp Life from Pixar, The World According to Jeff Goldblum from National Geographic, and The Phineas and Ferb Movie from Disney.

As for older content, all 30 seasons of The Simpsons will be available from day one. And Disney will be adding “more than 7,500 television episodes and 500 films” including The Sound of Music, The Princess Bride, and Malcolm in the Middle within the first year.

What Devices Will Disney+ Support?

At launch, Disney+ will be available on a range of devices, including games consoles such as the PS4, media streamers such as Roku, and smart TVs. There will be support for up to 4K HDR video playback, and some content will be available to watch offline.

While it’s initially only going to be available in the U.S. Disney is planning to launch Disney+ worldwide within two years. To find out if and when Disney+ is launching in your area you can register for email updates at DisneyPlus.com.

In the meantime here’s some help choosing between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime

Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Which Should You Choose?

Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Which Should You Choose?

It has been years since we’ve compared heavy-hitting streaming services, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. And with changes in pricing, content, quality, and interface, we thought it was time to revisit the topic.
Read More


Explore more about: Disney, Media Streaming, Star Wars.

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A Popular Sci-Fi Show Forced The U.S. National Park Service To Post Warning Signs Where?

Cover art for the show Alcatraz

Answer: Alcatraz

Between January and March of 2012, Alcatraz, a serialized sci-fi thriller and drama, aired on FOX. The show focused on the history of the prison island and how an unexplained event in 1963 led to the prisoners and staff appearing in the present day. The opening sequence of the show begins with a sweeping view of the island and actor Sam Neill explaining:

On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz officially closed. All the prisoners were transferred off the island. Only, that’s not what happened. Not at all.

Not at all indeed—the show depicts an alternative history of Alcatraz that involves many locations on the island that don’t exist (and were, in fact, filmed in Vancouver). The compelling story of the show has led to more than a few fans searching the island for their favorite spots from the show, often putting themselves in danger as a result of their explorations of the aging infrastructure outside of the approved tourist areas. As a result, the National Park Service has posted multiple signs around the island bearing this text:

The TV show Alcatraz is fictional, many areas it depicts are not real. Closed areas protect you, historic structures, and nesting birds.

A much better (and park ranger approved) plan would be to enjoy the spooky, atmospheric, and fictional interior of Alcatraz from the comfort of your living room.

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