mardi 30 septembre 2014

Watch the Windows 10 presentation


Microsoft disappointed a lot of people yesterday by not livestreaming its Windows 10 reveal. It was a strange move considering that most tech companies offer a stream these days (and even a bad livestream, as Apple gave us for the iPhone 6 launch, is better than none at all).

The reason why the Microsoft didn’t offer a stream is that it wasn’t a product launch as such, or even a presentation aimed at consumers. The company revealed the name -- Windows 10! -- talked about the benefits for the enterprise, and then quickly ran through an early build of the product. But while there was no livestream, the event was recorded, and it’s now available to watch.

Even if you don’t usually bother to watch tech demos, this one is worth your attention. It’s only short (under 40 minutes), and you can skip ahead to the action if you prefer. The public demo start around the ten minute mark.

In the video we get to see the new Start menu in action, windowed apps, Windows 10 snapping, the improved command prompt and more.

The Windows 10 Technical Preview is set to arrive later today, so you’ll soon be able to have a play with the next version of Microsoft’s OS for yourself.

With Windows 10, Microsoft leaves lots of questions unanswered

With Windows 10, Microsoft leaves lots of questions unanswered

So… we now know that Windows 9 is by far the least successful version of Windows ever, grossing Microsoft a total of $0. But Microsoft is as keen as ever to look to the future, and it's pinning its hopes on the newly revealed Windows 10. At the unveiling in San Francisco we learned quite a lot about the upcoming version of the successor to Windows 8.1 (yep... it's going to sound weird for a long time), but there were also a lot of unanswered questions. It was interesting to see that the demonstration used build 9841 which we have already seen in leak, and in this regard there were few surprises. Between the release of Windows 10 Technical Preview Microsoft still has a lot of work to do, and a lot of people to convince to upgrade.

What do we not yet know? We don’t have a release date, at least nothing that has been pinned now. We know it will be some time in the second half of 2015 -- if everything goes to plan -- but that's quite a big Window. We also don’t know what costs, if any, might be associated with the operating system. It has been suggested that Microsoft would make Windows 10 available free of charge, but nothing official has been said on this front. We have no idea what sort of upgrade path may be available -- would this be Microsoft's opportunity to usher everyone away from Windows XP once and for all? Simply offer a free upgrade to an operating system that addresses the issues users have raised and the security problems associated with an ancient version of Windows should diminish.

One of the hardest battles Microsoft has is convincing people that it is worth upgrading. In showcasing the early build, a great deal of emphasis was placed on upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10. A lot of Windows 7 user refused to upgrade to Windows 8 because they didn’t like what they saw. At first glance, Windows 10 is very similar to Windows 8. There are certainly differences there, but taken at face value this is Windows 8 with a few tweaks -- there hasn’t even been a new coat of paint. This is in spite of the fact that Microsoft claims the Windows 10 will be "built from the ground-up".

Why built from the ground up? This is to embrace Microsoft's vision of a "mobile-first, cloud-first world". But the reality is that many people just want an operating system that works on their desktop computer or laptop. They're not necessarily interested in moving from one device to another -- that's quite niche, quite geeky. There's talk of blurring the boundaries betwen desktop Windows and mobile Windows. But who cares? Microsoft is far, far to late to the party with Windows Phone. Mobile users have voted with their cash and shown that iOS and Android are what they want, not a mobile OS offered by Microsoft. So the focus on mobile is curious.

The San Francisco event was, and the Technical Preview is, aimed at enterprise and techy users. But in the home computing market, Microsoft lost a lot of its audience. Gone are the days when every new version of Windows is welcomed with open arms, users are now more discerning, more demanding. People are no longer willing to accept what is handed to them, they expect to be given what they want. This didn’t happen with Windows 8, so it was simply ignored by a lot of would-be upgraders.

Microsoft has, as ever, something of a delicate line to walk. This is a company now obsessed with listening to feedback -- just look to Windows Phone and Xbox One -- but there is a danger in listening to customers too much. Whatever form Windows takes it will, of course, never please everyone, but Microsoft will be understandably keen to satisfy as many people as possible. But users are impatient. Users lose interest. Take too long "getting things right" and there's a strong chance that people will just give up waiting and start looking elsewhere. Rush to hit a deadline and corners will be cut -- we could end up with another Windows 8.

There's a problem of a better cross-device experience, but Apple already has this in the bag. Will people sitting on the fence hold on for (possibly) a year to see if Microsoft can nail it, or jump to the Apple ecosystem which is well-established? The promise that "Windows 10 will run on the broadest amount of devices" is intriguing. When does this happen? Will Window Phone 8 users be able to upgrade their handsets to Windows 10? Should someone thinking of investing in a new phone hold off until they know whether they have a software upgrade path available to them? With the launch of Windows 10 still some months off, this might seem like jumping the gun but many people hang on to a phone for two years -- and often much longer -- but it's still something to keep in mind.

Upgrade next week only to discover that you've chosen a handset that isn’t getting any Windows 10 love, and you have one less reason to upgrade your desktop operating system. No hints have been made at system requirements, and this is something potential users are going to need to know. There has also been no mention of Cortana, despite the fact many expected the assistant to make an appearance in this version of Windows.

Today's demonstration was very short -- under forty minutes from start to finish. This may have been a very early build, but there really should have been more to show off, more to talk about, more to pique people's interest with. What today showed is that while Microsoft may to be taking steps in the right, there's still a long way to go, and the company needs to take care not to get complacent -- users are not going to forget Windows 8 any time soon. Windows 10 needs to impress. We've skipped an entire version number; we need to see something absolutely ground-breaking for that to make any sense.

Photo credit: Sergio Foto / Shutterstock

One way (maybe the only way) Yahoo can succeed


Alibaba’s IPO has come and gone and with it Yahoo has lost the role of Alibaba proxy and its shares have begun to slide. Yahoo’s Wall Street honeymoon, if there ever was one, is over, leaving the company trying almost anything it can to avoid sliding into oblivion. Having covered Yahoo continuously since its founding 20 years ago it is clear Y! has little chance of managing its way out of this latest of many crises despite all the associated cash. But -- if it will -- Yahoo could invest its way to even greater success.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, thinking like Type A CEOs nearly always seem to think, wants to take some of the billions reaped from the Alibaba IPO and dramatically remake her company to compete again with Google , Microsoft , Facebook, and even Apple. It won’t work.

Those ships have, for the most part, already sailed and can never be caught. Yahoo would have to do what it has been trying to do ever since Tim Koogle left as CEO in 2003 and regain its mojo. There is no reason to believe that more money is the answer.

It’s not that Mayer isn’t super-smart, it’s that the job she is attempting to do may be impossible. She has the temperament for it but the rest of Yahoo does not. Even if she fires everyone, Yahoo still has a funny smell.

In practical terms there are only two logical courses of action for Mayer and Yahoo. One is to wind things down and return Yahoo’s value to shareholders in the most efficient fashion, selling divisions, buying back shares, and issuing dividends until finally turning out the lights and going home. That’s an end-game. The only other possible course for Yahoo, in my view, is to turn the company into a Silicon Valley version of Berkshire Hathaway. That’s what I strongly propose.

Mayer seems to be trying to buy her way ahead of the next technology wave, but having been at this game for a couple of years so far, it isn’t going well. Lots of acqui-hires (buying tech companies for their people) and big acquisitions like Tumblr have not significantly changed the company’s downward trajectory. That’s because that trajectory is determined more by Google and Facebook and by changes in the ad market than by anything Yahoo can do. It’s simply beyond Mayer’s power because no matter how much money she has, Google and Facebook will always have more.

It’s time to try something new.

While Berkshire Hathaway owns some companies outright like Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad and GEICO, even those are for the most part left in the hands of managers who came with the businesses. At Coke and IBM, too, Berkshire tends to trust current management while keeping a close eye on the numbers. Yahoo should do the same but limit itself to the tech market or maybe just to Silicon Valley, keeping all investments within 50 miles of Yahoo Intergalactic HQ in Sunnyvale.

Yahoo’s current stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan are worth $36 billion and $8 billion respectively and Alibaba at least appears to be on an upward trajectory. With $9 billion in cash from the Alibaba IPO Yahoo has at least $50 billion to put to work without borrowing anything. $50 billion is bigger than the biggest venture, private equity or hedge fund.

Mayer is smart, but maybe not smart enough to realize the companies in which she is interested could do better under their own names with a substantial Yahoo minority investment. That would leverage Yahoo’s money and allow a broader array of bets as a hedge, too. Mayer can pick the companies herself or -- even better -- just participate in every Silicon Valley B Round from now on, doing a form of dollar cost averaging that puts $15 billion to work every year. With future exits coming from acquisitions and IPOs (and possibly winding-down its own tech activities) Yahoo ought to be able to fund this level of investment indefinitely. Yahoo would literally own the future of tech.

Silicon Valley companies that make it to a B Round (the third round of funding after seed and A) have dramatically better chances of making successful exits. Yahoo wouldn’t have to pick the companies, Hell they wouldn’t even have to know the names of those companies, just their industry sectors and locations. Forty years of VC history show that with such a strategy investment success would be practically guaranteed.

As opposed to the company’s current course, which is anything but.

Occupy Hong Kong protesters are locked in a technology arms race with the Chinese government


Thousands of protesters have flooded into the heart of central Hong Kong over recent days to demonstrate against the Beijing government's plans to phase out the semi-autonomous province's democratic elections by 2017. The campaign seeks to blockade Hong Kong's financial center, and represents the first major challenge to the rule of the new Chinese President, Xi Jinping.

For anyone confused by the protests, here's a bit of background: when the UK handed the territory of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, the Chinese government agreed to a policy of "one country, two systems" that allowed the city a high degree of control over its own affairs and kept in place civil liberties unseen on the mainland. It also promised the city's leader would eventually be chosen through "universal suffrage". That appears to not have been entirely true, and it's got thousands of people taking to the streets.

As with protest movements around the world, from Gaza to the UK, from Thailand to New York, technology has played a major part in civil unrest and the organization of protest. Let's look at some of the ways tech has defined the #OccupyHongKong protest movement, and how the constant arms race between repression and freedom of expression is holding up. Here's three ways we've noticed that technology has impacted the protests.

1. Instagram

Over the weekend, the Chinese government took the unprecedented step of censoring Instagram on mainland China. Mostly used for sharing heavily-filtered images of one's own food, Instagram accounts belonging to protesters were soon filled with images of massing crowds, clouds of tear gas and suited-up riot police in Hong Kong's Central financial hub.

As of Sunday, monitoring services such as and showed that Chinese mainlanders do not have access to Instagram.


While the image-sharing site is still available in Hong Kong itself, it seems Chinese censors have taken steps to ensure that the Chinese mainland isn't flooded with pictures of thousands of protesters. Particularly of concern are the images of gas-masked police officers firing tear gas and pepper spray into crowds of peaceful protesters, which evoke the painful and repressed memories of the brutally crushed Tienanmen Square protests of 1989.

Of course, many Internet users in China are already well-versed in the need for a virtual private network (VPN) to access certain banned pages like Facebook and Twitter.

2. Twitter and Weibo

Microblogging sites like Twitter and Weibo have been instrumental in the spreading of #OccupyCentral message. While the hashtag has been blocked from the heavily-monitored Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo in the wake of the protests, the trend has skyrocketed on Twitter.

You can also follow the protests' official Twitter account, @OCLPHK, for updates and pictures from Central Hong Kong.


While Twitter is blocked in China, some Chinese users access it through a VPN, and images from the protest have inundated users' Twitter feeds over recent days.

3. Apps to break the communications blackout

Amid rumors of a complete communications blackout of all phone and Internet coverage, protesters in Hong Kong have taken to an app called FireChat. The app uses technology from the Wi-Fi tethering whizzes at Open Garden to go off the grid, allowing conversations with anyone with 200 feet of your location using absolutely no network coverage of mobile data. Using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks to hop between communicants, FireChat is also fully anonymous, which is a plus given the circumstance.

This kind of peer-to-peer communication has caught people's imagination during the protests, and some 100,000 people have downloaded the application for smartphones over the last 24 hours in Hong Kong, according to the developers.

They also claim that the application was used simultaneously by around 33,000 people between Sunday and Monday morning. The live and anonymous discussion groups set up on FireChat can gather as many as 10,000 people simultaneously. If you're interested, you can download the app here.

Published under license from, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.

eBay and PayPal to split into separate businesses in 2015

eBay and PayPal to split into separate businesses in 2015

A giant of the modern web is to be cleft in twain. eBay Inc is set to split its online payment service PayPal into a separate, independent, publicly traded company; eBay and PayPal will be divided into two in the second half of 2015.

By keeping the auction and payment services at arm's length from each other, eBay will be hoping to breathe new life into the beleaguered selling site. The move comes after a review of the company’s structure and growth strategies by the board of directors, and is described as providing "shareholders with more targeted investment opportunities".

It's around 12 years since PayPal was snapped up by eBay, but it has been decided that it makes more sense for each arm of the business to concentrate on its own field. eBay Inc President and CEO John Donahoe said that the two businesses "will be sharper and stronger, and more focused and competitive as leading, standalone companies in their respective markets".

Although no mention has been made of possible future ventures for either eBay or PayPal, splitting in this way will give the two the opportunity to branch out in slightly different directions. "As independent companies, eBay and PayPal will enjoy added flexibility to pursue new market and partnership opportunities. And we are confident following a thorough assessment of the relationships between eBay and PayPal that operating agreements can maintain synergies going forward. Our board and management team believe that putting eBay and PayPal on independent paths in 2015 is best for each business and will create additional value for our shareholders," said Donahoe.

The move will be welcomed by investors who are keen to see money put to particular uses. Splitting into eBay and PayPal is something that has been talked about for some time, with fuel having been added to the fire when activist Carl Icahn called for the breakup many months ago. But eBay insists that the decision has nothing to do with Ichan's demands. When the split takes place, Dan Schulman from American Express will become PayPal's new CEO.

Photo credit: Chukcha / Shutterstock

Windows 9 -- What to expect from the new OS


Microsoft will be announcing its new OS later today, with things kicking off at 10am PT/6pm BST. Although we’ve already seen various leaked images and videos, this will be our first official look at Windows 9 (aka Threshold) and Microsoft will reveal what it has planned for the successor to the much maligned Windows 8.

There isn’t a live stream unfortunately, and although a technology preview will be released for the new OS, it isn’t expected to be made available today. So what can we expect from Windows 9?

The return of the Start menu

Of course top of the list of changes in Windows 9 is the reintroduction of the Start menu. Before Windows 8 even launched people were crying out for its return, and that demand has never wavered. The Windows 9 Start menu looks good, and is exactly what most keyboard and mouse users have been asking for. It works much like the Start menu in Windows 7, but adds tiles from the Windows 8.x Start screen which, for me, is the perfect compromise.

Tiles can be added, removed and resized, and you can resize the Start menu itself.

You can use the Start screen if you prefer simply by switching to it in the Navigation properties window. Tablets running Windows 9 won’t have the Start menu, only the Start screen which makes sense.

Better integrated Modern UI

If you hate the Modern UI then you won’t really have to worry about it in Windows 9. You can switch off the tiles in the Start menu, and never see the Start screen or Charms bar. Apps can be run full-screen, or snapped, but also run in a windowed mode on the desktop, which is great news. A new Options button on the right lets you customize them and access system commands.

Switching between running apps is done using the new Task view button on the taskbar.

Virtual desktops

Linux and Mac OS X users are very familiar with the idea of virtual desktops, where you can switch between different workspaces, but Windows 9 will be the first time Microsoft has offered this featured natively. It’s a big boost for productivity, and great news for power users.


Microsoft’s personal assistant is expected to find her way from Windows Phone to Windows 9, which makes sense. Cortana wasn’t in any of the leaked builds, so whether she’s included in the technical preview remains to be seen, but we’d bet on the feature being added at some point.

Notifications center

Windows 9 will gain a new Notifications center which will provide a single place to view all of the alerts and messages that the operating system flashes up. You’ll be able to view all of the Windows notifications directly from the system tray, including Skype messages, and delete individual ones, or all notifications at once.

General improvements

Windows 8.x has been a work in progress since launch, and Windows 9 will continue the improvements we’ve seen, while adding a further layer of polish.

What are you hoping for from Windows 9?

Audacity refines user interface, improves selected effects


Popular open-source, cross-platform sound recording, editing and mixing tool Audacity 2.0.6 has been released. The new build contains a number of minor improvements and various bug fixes.

Most of these changes affect the user interface. Both Cut and Delete options have been moved to the top of the Edit menu, for example. The Transport menu has also been altered to offer a single Play/Stop button as well as a "Play/Stop and Set Cursor" option for leaving the cursor set where playback has halted.

One consequence of this change is that users must now access the Keyboard preferences menu -- accessible via Edit > Preferences -- to set separate keyboard shortcuts for Play and Stop.

Speaking of which, the Keyboard preferences has been redesigned and made searchable to speed up the process of adding or modifying keyboard shortcuts. It also now provides a choice of three views: Tree, Name and Key.

Elsewhere, the Tracks menu gains a new "Mix and Render to New Track" selection, while the Track drop-down menu offers "Move Track to Top" and "Move Track to Bottom" options.

The context menu gains a "Delete Label" entry for removing single labels, while the "Snap To" option offers a choice of snapping to the closest or prior position. Snap To settings are now independent for each project, and the old "Snap To On" keyboard shortcut no longer works.

Version 2.0.6 also improves its selection of effects: Truncate Silence adds a new "Truncate Deleted Silence" setting to shorten the specified length without compressing the silence.

The VST Effects dialog has been redesigned with a new Settings dialog, while VST effects now support standard FXP presets. LV2 effects are now also supported -- via a textual interface only -- across all platforms.

Platform-specific changes see Windows builds now supporting FLAC exports of more than 2GB in size, while the OS X DMG installer has been made easier to use. Self-compiled Linux builds now search for system LADSPA effects in the /usr/lib/ladspa folder.

The update is rounded off by a number of bug fixes for both user interface and effects, but as with all new releases, a number of known issues remain -- see the release notes for details.

Audacity 2.0.6 is available now as a free, cross-platform download for Windows, Mac and Linux. A portable build of Audacity 2.0.5 is also available -- this should be updated to the latest release shortly.

Simpler, faster, more secure file transfers with Send Anywhere 2.0

files folders pc transfer move

Sending files to someone else has always been a bit of a problem. Often they’re too big for email, sharing via public cloud services raises security concerns and of course flash drives and DVDs can fall into the wrong hands.

Korea-based startup Send Anywhere has an answer to making file transfers easily and safely in the form of an updated version of its iOS app and a new app for Windows Phone.

Send Anywhere uses peer-to-peer file transfer technology. The way it works means that users don't need to sign-up, log-in, or even know their recipients' contact information. They simply select the files they want to send and get a six-digit one-time key that is only available for 10 minutes before it self-destructs. The code is then sent to the recipient who uses it to download the files.

The updated iOS version offers more complex encryption codes for better security along with a fresher, cleaner design. In addition it has a feature to make sharing the key easier, holding the center of the Send screen automatically copies the key to the clipboard. Pressing a Share button then gives easy access to email and messaging in order to send it.

The Windows Phone app currently offers just basic sending and receiving functions but the company says it will be used as a platform to develop the Windows offering.

Send Anywhere is also available on Android and as a web service, allowing files to be sent and received on any type of PC or mobile device. There's a plugin for Chrome browsers as well. Version 2.0 is available on the app stores from today.

Image Credit: dny3d/Shutterstock

OnePlus will launch One successor around mid-2015, ponders smaller devices

OnePlus One

By now I am sure that everyone with an interest in smartphones has heard about One Plus and its One phablet. It is undoubtedly among the most interesting Android devices launched this year, and one of the most hyped also. How did OnePlus, basically a new player in the mobile space, achieve that? Well, One managed to make a splash in no small part thanks to its $299 entry-level price, which allows it to undercut virtually every known rival, paired with some of the best and most powerful hardware around. That's a recipe for success in the Android realm, and OnePlus knows it all too well.

But, what tops its lovely hardware and the low asking price is that One has never actually been available to the general public, per se. Sure, people have been able to buy One, but they have been able to do so only through invites. As a way to sell smartphones -- commodities, really -- that is crazy. But, what is even crazier is that, even as One is still not generally available, OnePlus reveals a launch date for its successor.

In a Reddit Q&A, answering a question regarding the successor of One, OnePlus says that 2, as it is apparently referred to as now, will be available in Q2 or Q3 of 2015. One of the hosts of the Q&A adds that Android L should be running the show on the device (assuming Google doesn't launch anything newer in the meantime).

OnePlus is also pondering launching smartphones that are smaller than One, which is a pretty huge device (152.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm, but just 162 grams) thanks to that large display, that would cater to a wider audience, one that is not yet ready to embrace phablets. That does not mean that OnePlus 2 will be a smaller affair, as it will likely be the company's next flagship, and these things do not get smaller -- they either grow in size or stay the roughly the same, generally speaking.

There are no other details at this point, but it is fair to say that OnePlus will be doing its best at offering potential customers the top hardware at the time 2 is available. Next year, we should see Qualcomm's mighty Snapdragon 810, which is 64-bit ready, popping up, and Quad HD displays becoming the norm for new flagships.

Of course, by the time 2 is available, I am sure we all hope that OnePlus figures out a way to make it generally available from the get-go, without making prospective buyers go through the ordeal of having to beg, enter contests or do some crazy things to get invites.

Weak passwords are still a major problem for business security

Obvious password

According to data released by security company Trustwave which has analyzed evidence from almost 700 security breaches that took place in 2013, retail is the most compromised industry, accounting for 35 percent of attacks investigated.

The food and drink industry ranks second on 18 percent followed by hospitality on 11 percent. Perhaps not surprisingly e-commerce is most at risk, making up 54 percent of assets targeted whilst data centers account for only 10 percent. Point of sale breaches made up 33 percent of Trustwave’s investigations.

A little worrying is that the median time from an initial intrusion to its being detected was 87 days. Also over 70 percent of compromise victims didn’t detect the breach themselves.

The report looks at the top 10 vulnerabilities found in network penetration testing too. This reveals that weak passwords are still a major problem when it comes to security. During its penetration tests Trustwave collected 626,718 stored passwords and managed to recover more than half of them in minutes. 92 percent of the sample were able to be cracked in 31 days.

Weak or default passwords contributed to a third of the investigated breaches. The three most common passwords in order are "Password1", "Hello123", and "password". Password length is mostly around eight characters -- probably because many systems use that as a minimum.

The report suggests that administrators need to, "Educate users on the value of choosing longer pass-phrases instead of simple, predicable, easy-to-crack passwords". It also recommends deploying two-factor authentication.

More details of Trustwave's 2014 Global Security Report are available in interactive form on the company's website.

Image Credit: Africa Studio / Shutterstock

Microsoft rolls out the new MSN, rebrands Bing apps for Windows, Windows Phone


Microsoft did something rather unexpected earlier this month. The software giant unveiled a revamped MSN, saving the online portal from oblivion -- its biggest merit lately is being the default website for Internet Explorer. The new MSN looks great, connects users to Microsoft's consumer-facing cloud services, and can be tailored to suit their preference. It also makes it easy to trigger a search across the InterWebs. Heck, I have even said it might work as the Bing landing page.

Fast forward to today and Microsoft announces that more than 10 million users have tested the new MSN, with more than 80,000 of them also submitting feedback. Those numbers look really good. And they should, considering the online portal's Microsoft-focused audience. The feedback it has received must have been good also, as Microsoft announces it is rolling out the new MSN in the next three days.

Microsoft says that "more than 425 million people in over 50 countries around the world [...] come to the site each month", which makes this a very important change, that can either attract a bigger crowd or, in the worst-case scenario, alienate the existing user base. The way I see it, the former sounds much more likely. (As you can probably tell, I like what Microsoft has done with the new MSN.)

Microsoft is confident that you will love the new MSN so much so that it has even decided to rebrand the Bing app suite to MSN, on Windows and Windows Phone. The writing has been on the wall for the Bing brand on those operating systems, as the software giant has long removed it from app names. The MSN name hasn't surfaced next to the app's title, however, but it can now be easily seen once they're open. Corresponding MSN apps will launch on Android and iOS next, in "the coming months".

New MSN cross platform

"While Bing will continue to provide search and intelligent experiences, now the apps will be branded to reflect their alignment with MSN as a premium experience for content, combined with personal productivity features", adds Microsoft. "Aside from Bing Finance, which will now be MSN Money, all of the apps retain their existing names".

At this point, I should mention that Health & Fitness and Weather for Windows Phone have received something extra in the latest round of updates, which mainly replaces the Bing brand with MSN. Lockscreen support for the latter has been extended to include additional weather information, while the former gains a step counter and GPS tracking information on the lockscreen on certain Windows Phones, like Lumia 630 and Lumia 1520. It's rather nice of Microsoft to do that; it certainly increases the value of those offerings and improves the mobile experience for users. Here's what those changes look like.

MSN-Health Fitness Lockscreen Weather

Microsoft reveals that it built the new MSN on its Azure cloud platform. It makes use of more than 30,000 cores and 100 TB for data storage -- that sounds rather impressive, doesn't it? Microsoft says it needed those sort of resources to deliver a "consistent experience" to its customers, no matter if they are using Money, Sports, Food & Drink or any other major feature of the new MSN. As it is customary in what Microsoft calls a "cloud-first, mobile-first world", Microsoft accounts tie users' preferences across the new MSN and today's major platforms, including Android, iOS, Windows, Windows Phone and the web.

For the new MSN, Microsoft has partnered with the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN and AOL, in US, while, in other markets, it has teamed up with publications like The Yomiuri Shimbun, The Asahi Shimbun, Sky News, The Guardian, NDTV, Le Figaro and Le Monde.

Say hello to Amelia -- the 'cognitive knowledge worker' set to transform business


As 2014 races into the home straight, a new artificially intelligent computer system has been unveiled with the promise of transforming the global workforce. She's called Amelia.

Named after the American aviator and pioneer Amelia Earhart, the intelligent system is designed around the idea that it can shoulder tedious and labor-intensive tasks, freeing up its human co-workers to focus on more creative opportunities.

Amelia has been created by IPsoft, a New York based company whose ethos revolved around automating IT processes for enterprise across a wide range of industries.

"Amelia, our cognitive knowledge worker, interfaces on human terms," reads IPsoft's blog introducing the new technology. "She is a virtual agent who understands what people ask -- even what they feel -- when they call for service.

Like a human, she learns through written instructions. However, the difference is that Amelia will absorb the information she reads (across 20 languages) in a matter of seconds. She can also use context, applied logic and inferred implications to understand the full meaning of what she reads rather than just individual words.

When exposed to new information, she will apply what she already knows to solve problems across a broad range of business processes. IPsoft also claims that she can observe the work of her human colleagues and use what she sees to keep building her knowledge.

It's an interesting step forward for the AI industry. Intelligence is, by definition, the ability to not just acquire but to apply knowledge. A truly intelligent system shouldn't just be able to read a document, but it should be able to understand and answer questions on it too.

IPsoft recognizes this, and has been working on Amelia's technology for 15 years with the core premise that she will not merely mimic human thought processes -- she should be able to comprehend their underlying meaning too.

According to the Telegraph, so far Amelia has been trialed "within a number of Fortune 1000 companies." Here she has successfully helped staff helplines, taken control of procurement processing, financial trading operations support, and provided "expert advice" for field engineers.

By the end of a two month trial period, she was able to answer 64 per cent of queries independently with the figure set to rise month-on-month as she learns more.

Amelia is the latest in a string of AI breakthroughs. In February 2011, IBM Watson used a powerful concoction of intelligent skills including natural language processing, knowledge representation, reasoning and machine learning to beat two Jeopardy champions at their own game.

A year later in 2012, Google combined the power of 16,000 processors to achieve the ultimate goal of human intelligence: correctly identifying cats in YouTube videos.

More practically, Microsoft's Kinect system and voice assistants like Cortana and Apple's Siri are all built around artificial intelligence research. IPsoft's claim that the next few decades will see the advent of tangible androids wandering office corridors is a debate for another article, but clearly the notion of intelligent software systems is already being realized.

Published under license from, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.