United States

US Spending Bill Contains CLOUD Act, a Win For Tech and Law Enforcement (axios.com) 3

The 2,232 page spending bill released Wednesday by House and Senate leaders includes the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data [CLOUD] Act, which provides a legal framework for law enforcement to request data from overseas servers. The CLOUD Act currently sits high atop the wish list of tech firms, law enforcement and even foreign nations. Axios reports: The Supreme Court is currently mulling a case determining whether the Department of Justice had the right to force Microsoft to produce client emails stored on a server in Ireland without permission from Ireland's government. Microsoft fears the DOJ will force it to violate the laws of Ireland. The DOJ hopes to avoid the often years long process of abiding by treaties dealing with evidence. But both have publicly urged lawmakers to render the pending decision moot by passing the CLOUD act, a way to streamline the treaty process for requesting digital data.

The CLOUD Act provides a framework for reciprocal treaties for nations to request data from computers located within each other's borders. It also provides a mechanism for a Microsoft to take a law enforcement demand to court if it would force them to violate another country's rules. But when neither apply, law enforcement will be able to demand files in accordance with U.S. law.


Microsoft Says Windows 10 Spring Creators Update Will Install in 30 Minutes (bleepingcomputer.com) 153

An anonymous reader shares a report: Microsoft has announced that the upcoming Windows 10 major feature upgrade -- dubbed the Spring Creators Update -- will take around 30 minutes to install, unlike previous variants that took between one and two hours to complete. This boost in installation time is attributed to work engineers have done on the "Feature Update" process -- the name Microsoft uses to refer to its bi-annual major OS updates. Microsoft says that this Feature Update process actually consists of two separate phases -- the "online" and "offline" stages. During the "online" phase, the user's computer downloads the necessary update files and executes various operations in the OS' background without affecting the device's battery life or system performance.

NVIDIA RTX Technology To Usher In Real-Time Ray Tracing Holy Grail of Gaming Graphics (hothardware.com) 147

HotHardware writes: NVIDIA has been dabbling in real-time ray tracing for over a decade. However, the company just introduced NVIDIA RTX, which is its latest effort to deliver real-time ray tracing to game developers and content creators for implementation in actual game engines. Historically, the computational horsepower to perform real-time ray tracing has been too great to be practical in actual games, but NVIDIA hopes to change that with its new Volta GPU architecture and the help of Microsoft's new DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API enhancements. Ray tracing is a method by which images are enhanced by tracing rays or paths of light as they bounce in and around an object (or objects) in a scene. Under optimum conditions, ray tracing delivers photorealistic imagery with shadows that are correctly cast; water effects that show proper reflections and coloring; and scenes that are cast with realistic lighting effects. NVIDIA RTX is a combination of software (the company's Gameworks SDK, now with ray tracing support), and next generation GPU hardware. NVIDIA notes its Volta architecture has specific hardware support for real-time ray tracing, including offload via its Tensor core engines. To show what's possible with the technology, developers including Epic, 4A Games and Remedy Entertainment will be showcasing their own game engine demonstrations this week at the Game Developers Conference. NVIDIA expects the ramp to be slow at first, but believes eventually most game developers will adopt real-time ray tracing in the future.
Open Source

Microsoft Joins Group Working To 'Cure' Open-Source Licensing Issues (zdnet.com) 102

Microsoft is joining Red Hat, Facebook, Google and IBM in committing to extending right to "cure" open source licensing noncompliance before taking legal measures. From a report: On March 19, officials from Microsoft -- along with CA Technologies, Cisco, HPE, SAP and SUSE -- said they'd work with open together with the already-committed vendors to provide more "predictability" for users of open source software. "The large ecosystems of projects using the GPLv2 and LGPLv2.x licenses will benefit from adoption of this more balanced approach to termination derived from GPLv3," explained Red Hat in a press release announcing the new license-compliance partners. The companies which have agreed to adopt the "Common Cure Rights Commitment" said before they file or continue to prosecute those accused of violating covered licenses, they will allow for users to cure and reinstate their licenses.

Microsoft Brings Native HEIF Support to Windows 10 (thurrott.com) 150

An anonymous reader shares a report: Microsoft is bringing support for the new HEIF image format to Windows 10. First popularized by Apple with iOS 11, HEIF is a new image format that uses less storage space while preserving image quality. The new image format is used by default on Apple's iPhone X and other devices running iOS 11. While Microsoft's online services like OneDrive already supported HEIF since the release of iOS 11, Windows 10 didn't natively support the new format as of yet. But with the upcoming Redstone 4 update -- possibly called the Spring Creators Update -- the Microsoft Photos app in Windows 10 will support HEIF by default. Further reading: CNET.

Ghana's Windows Blackboard Teacher And His Students Have a Rewarding Outcome (qz.com) 81

Quartz: A lot has changed in the life of Richard Appiah Akoto in the fortnight since he posted photos of himself on Facebook drawing a Microsoft Word processing window on a blackboard with multi-colored chalk, to teach his students about computers -- which the school did not have. The photos went viral on social media and media stories like Quartz's went all around the world. Akoto, 33, is the information and communication technology (ICT) teacher at Betenase M/A Junior High School in the town of Sekyedomase, about two and half hours drive north of Ghana's second city, Kumasi. The school had no computers even though since 2011, 14 and 15-year-olds in Ghana are expected to write and pass a national exam (without which students cannot progress to high school) with ICT being one of the subjects.

The story of the school and Twitter pressure from prominent players in the African tech space drew a promise from Microsoft to "equip [Akoto] with a device from one of our partners, and access to our MCE program & free professional development resources on." To fulfill this promise, the technology giant flew Akoto to Singapore this week where he is participating in the annual Microsoft Education Exchange.


Are Google and Facebook Surveilling Their Own Employees? (theguardian.com) 106

The Guardian just ran an article titled " 'They'll squash you like a bug': how Silicon Valley keeps a lid on leakers," which begins with the story of an employee confronted by Facebook's secretive "rat-catching" team: They had records of a screenshot he'd taken, links he had clicked or hovered over, and they strongly indicated they had accessed chats between him and the journalist, dating back to before he joined the company. "It's horrifying how much they know," he told the Guardian, on the condition of anonymity... "You get on their bad side and all of a sudden you are face to face with Mark Zuckerberg's secret police"... One European Facebook content moderator signed a contract, seen by the Guardian, which granted the company the right to monitor and record his social media activities, including his personal Facebook account, as well as emails, phone calls and internet use. He also agreed to random personal searches of his belongings including bags, briefcases and car while on company premises. Refusal to allow such searches would be treated as gross misconduct...

Some employees switch their phones off or hide them out of fear that their location is being tracked. One current Facebook employee who recently spoke to Wired asked the reporter to turn off his phone so the company would have a harder time tracking if it had been near the phones of anyone from Facebook. Two security researchers confirmed that this would be technically simple for Facebook to do if both people had the Facebook app on their phone and location services switched on. Even if location services aren't switched on, Facebook can infer someone's location from wifi access points.

The article cites a 2012 report that Microsoft read a French blogger's Hotmail account to identify a former employee who had leaked trade secrets. And it also reports that tech companies hire external agencies to surveil their employees. "One such firm, Pinkerton, counts Google and Facebook among its clients." Though Facebook and Google both deny this, "Among other services, Pinkerton offers to send investigators to coffee shops or restaurants near a company's campus to eavesdrop on employees' conversations...

Al Gidari, consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, says that these tools "are common, widespread, intrusive and legal."

Microsoft Wants To Force Windows 10 Mail Users To Use Edge For Email Links (theverge.com) 172

Microsoft has revealed today that "we will begin testing a change where links clicked on within the Windows Mail app will open in Microsoft Edge." What this means is that if you have Chrome or Firefox set as your default browser in Windows 10, Microsoft will simply ignore that and force you into Edge when you click a link within the Mail app. The Verge reports: "As always, we look forward to feedback from our WIP community," says Microsoft's Dona Sarkar in a blog post today. I'm sure Microsoft will receive a lot of feedback over this unnecessary change, and we can only hope the company doesn't ignore it.

Hacker Adrian Lamo Dies At 37 (zdnet.com) 136

Adrian Lamo, a well-known hacker known for his involvement in passing information on whistleblower Chelsea Manning and hacking into systems at The New York Times, Microsoft, and Yahoo in the early-2000s, has died at 37. ZDNet reports: His father, Mario, posted a brief tribute to his son in a Facebook group on Friday. "With great sadness and a broken heart I have to let know all of Adrian's friends and acquittances that he is dead. A bright mind and compassionate soul is gone, he was my beloved son," he wrote. The coroner for Sedgwick County, where Lamo lived, confirmed his death, but provided no further details. Circumstances surrounding Lamo's death are not immediately known. A neighbor who found his body said he had been dead for some time.

Microsoft Launches Bounty Program For Speculative Execution Side Channel Vulnerabilities (betanews.com) 21

An anonymous reader shares a report: Microsoft has launched a bug bounty program that will reward anyone who finds the next Meltdown or Spectre vulnerability. Known as speculative execution side channel vulnerabilities, Microsoft is willing to reward anyone who reports bugs that could cause problems like earlier in the year. The rewards on offer range from $5,000 up to $250,000 depending on the severity of the vulnerability, and the bounty program runs until the end of 2018. Microsoft says that it will operate under the principles of coordinated vulnerability disclosure.

Microsoft Removes Antivirus Registry Key Check for Windows 10 Users (bleepingcomputer.com) 38

Microsoft has backtracked on a decision it took back in January when it conditioned that computers without a special registry key would not receive any more security updates. From a report: That particular "requirement" was introduced as part of the Meltdown and Spectre patching process. At the time, Microsoft said that antivirus vendors would have to add a key to the Windows Registry to signal that they are compatible with Microsoft's original Meltdown and Spectre patches. This was a big issue at the time because Microsoft detected during testing that some antivirus vendors would inject code into parts of the kernel that the company was trying to patch against Meltdown and Spectre flaws.

Microsoft Announces Breakthrough In Chinese-To-English Machine Translation (techcrunch.com) 72

A team of Microsoft researchers announced on Wednesday they've created the first machine translation system that's capable of translating news articles from Chinese to English with the same accuracy as a person. "The company says it's tested the system repeatedly on a sample of around 2,000 sentences from various online newspapers, comparing the result to a person's translation in the process -- and even hiring outside bilingual language consultants to further verify the machine's accuracy," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The sample set, called newstest2017, was released just last fall at the research conference WMT17. Deep neural networks, a method of training A.I. systems, allowed the researchers to create more fluent and natural-sounding translations that take into account broader context that the prior approaches, called statistical machine translation. Microsoft's researchers also added their own training methods to the system to improve its accuracy -- things they equate to how people go over their own work time and again to make sure it's right.

The researchers said they used methods including dual learning for fact-checking translations; deliberation networks, to repeat translations and refine them; and new techniques like joint training, to iteratively boost English-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-English translation systems; and agreement regularization, which can generate translations by reading sentences both left-to-right and right-to-left. Zhou said the techniques used to achieve the milestone won't be limited to machine translations. The researchers caution the system has not yet been tested on real-time news stories, and there are other challenges that still lie ahead before the technology could be commercialized into Microsoft's products.
You can play around with the new translation system here.

'Women At Microsoft Are Sexualized By Their Male Managers,' Lawsuit Alleges (arstechnica.com) 181

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to a newly unsealed court filing, women at Microsoft who work in technical jobs filed 238 internal complaints pertaining to gender discrimination or sexual harassment from 2010 through 2016. The new document was first reported Monday evening by Reuters. The figures were revealed as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit originally filed in 2015 (Moussouris v. Microsoft). The female plaintiffs argue that the company's internal rating system discriminates against women and disfavors professional advancement for women.

As part of the class certification process and civil discovery, Microsoft handed over years of records to the plaintiffs' lawyers. In the Monday-released filing, which was originally submitted to the court in October 2017, Moussouris' lawyer, Michael Subit, wrote that "Microsoft's Culture is Rife with Sexual Harassment" before continuing: "Company records indicate that women at Microsoft are sexualized by their male managers and coworkers, leading to a substantial number of incidents of alleged sexual harassment, and even several incidents of sexual assault, that often go unpunished." Specifically, Subit continued, Microsoft's internal unit (known as "ERIT") received 108 complaints of sexual harassment filed by female US-based technical employees, 119 complaints of gender discrimination, eight complaints of retaliation, and three complaints of pregnancy discrimination. Out of all of the claimed instances of gender discrimination, Microsoft's internal investigation only found that one such complaint was "founded."


Developers Love Trendy New Languages, But Earn More With Functional Programming: Stack Overflow's Annual Survey (arstechnica.com) 111

Stack Overflow has released the results of its annual survey of 100,000 developers, revealing the most-popular, top-earning, and preferred programming languages. ArsTechnica: JavaScript remains the most widely used programming language among professional developers, making that six years at the top for the lingua franca of Web development. Other Web tech including HTML (#2 in the ranking), CSS (#3), and PHP (#9). Business-oriented languages were also in wide use, with SQL at #4, Java at #5, and C# at #8. Shell scripting made a surprising showing at #6 (having not shown up at all in past years, which suggests that the questions have changed year-to-year), Python appeared at #7, and systems programming stalwart C++ rounded out the top 10.

These aren't, however, the languages that developers necessarily want to use. Only three languages from the most-used top ten were in the most-loved list; Python (#3), JavaScript (#7), and C# (#8). For the third year running, that list was topped by Rust, the new systems programming language developed by Mozilla. Second on the list was Kotlin, which wasn't even in the top 20 last year. This new interest is likely due to Google's decision last year to bless the language as an official development language for Android. TypeScript, Microsoft's better JavaScript than JavaScript comes in at fourth, with Google's Go language coming in at fifth. Smalltalk, last year's second-most loved, is nowhere to be seen this time around. These languages may be well-liked, but it looks as if the big money is elsewhere. Globally, F# and OCaml are the top average earners, and in the US, Erlang, Scala, and OCaml are the ones to aim for. Visual Basic 6, Cobol, and CoffeeScript were the top three most-dreaded, which is news that will surprise nobody who is still maintaining Visual Basic 6 applications thousands of years after they were originally written.


Microsoft Admits It Updated Some Windows 10 Computers To Newest Build Despite Users Telling It Not To Do That (bleepingcomputer.com) 137

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: The admission came in a knowledge base article updated last week. Not all users of older Windows versions were forcibly updated, but only those whose machines were running Windows 10 v1703 (Creators Update). This is the version where Microsoft added special controls to the Windows Update setting section that allow users to pause OS updates in case they have driver or other hardware issues with the latest OS version. But according to reports, a Microsoft snafu ignored these settings and forcibly updated some users to Windows 10 v1709 (Fall Creators Update).

Apple Must Explain Why It Doesn't Want You To Fix Your Own iPhone, California Lawmaker Says (vice.com) 195

A California state lawmaker says she hopes to make Apple explain specifically why it has opposed and lobbied against legislation that would make it easier for you to repair your iPhone and other electronics. Motherboard reports: Last week, California assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman announced that she plans to introduce right to repair legislation in the state, which would require companies like Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and Samsung to sell replacement parts and repair tools, make repair guides available to the public, and would require companies to make diagnostic software available to independent shops. Public records show that Apple has lobbied against right to repair legislation in New York, and my previous reporting has shown that Apple has privately asked lawmakers to kill legislation in places like Nebraska. To this point, the company has largely used its membership in trade organizations such as CompTIA and the Consumer Technology Association to publicly oppose the bill. But with the right to repair debate coming to Apple's home state, Talamantes-Eggman says she expects the company to show up to hearings about the bill.

"Apple is a very important company in the state of California, and one I have a huge amount of respect for. But the onus is on them to explain why we can't repair our own things and what damage or danger it causes them," Talamantes-Eggman told me in a phone interview. Talamantes-Eggman told me that the bill she plans to introduce will apply to both consumer electronics as well as agricultural equipment such as tractors. Broadly speaking, the electronics industry has decided to go with an "authorized repair" model in which companies pay the original device manufacturer to become authorized to fix devices.


JavaScript Rules But Microsoft Programming Languages Are On the Rise (zdnet.com) 141

Microsoft languages seem to be hitting the right note with coders across ops, data science, and app development. From a report: JavaScript remains the most popular programming language, but two offerings from Microsoft are steadily gaining, according to developer-focused analyst firm RedMonk's first quarter 2018 ranking. RedMonk's rankings are based on pull requests in GitHub, as well as an approximate count of how many times a language is tagged on developer knowledge-sharing site Stack Overflow. Based on these figures, RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady reckons JavaScript is the most popular language today as it was last year. In fact, nothing has changed in RedMonk's top 10 list with the exception of Apple's Swift rising to join its predecessor, Objective C, in 10th place. The top 10 programming languages in descending order are JavaScript, Java, Python, C#, C++, CSS, Ruby, and C, with Swift and Objective-C in tenth.

TIOBE's top programming language index for March consists of many of the same top 10 languages though in a different order, with Java in top spot, followed by C, C++, Python, C#, Visual Basic .NET, PHP, JavaScript, Ruby, and SQL. These and other popularity rankings are meant to help developers see which skills they should be developing. Outside the RedMonk top 10, O'Grady highlights a few notable changes, including an apparent flattening-out in the rapid ascent of Google's back-end system language, Go.


China's Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources -- and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon (technologyreview.com) 30

Alibaba is already using AI and machine learning to optimize its supply chain, personalize recommendations, and build products like Tmall Genie, a home device similar to the Amazon Echo. China's two other tech supergiants, Tencent and Baidu, are likewise pouring money into AI research. The government plans to build an AI industry worth around $150 billion by 2030 and has called on the country's researchers to dominate the field by then. But Alibaba's ambition is to be the leader in providing cloud-based AI. From a report: Like cloud storage (think Dropbox) or cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), cloud AI will make powerful resources cheaply and readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, enabling new kinds of businesses to grow. The real race in AI between China and the US, then, will be one between the two countries' big cloud companies, which will vie to be the provider of choice for companies and cities that want to make use of AI. And if Alibaba is anything to go by, China's tech giants are ready to compete with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to serve up AI on tap. Which company dominates this industry will have a huge say in how AI evolves and how it is used.

[...] There have been other glimpses of Alibaba's progress in AI lately. Last month a research team at the company released an AI program capable of reading a piece of text, and answering simple questions about that text, more accurately than anything ever built before. The text was in English, not Chinese, because the program was trained on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), a benchmark used to test computerized question-and-answer systems. [...] One advantage China's tech companies have over their Western counterparts is the government's commitment to AI. Smart cities that use the kind of technology found in Shanghai's metro kiosks are likely to be in the country's future. One of Alibaba's cloud AI tools is a suite called City Brain, designed for tasks like managing traffic data and analyzing footage from city video cameras.


Windows 10's Next Update Will Be Called 'Spring Creators Update' (theverge.com) 92

The Verge reports: Microsoft is planning to reuse its "Creators Update" naming for a third Windows 10 update. The software giant has strangely not yet officially named its next Windows 10 update, due next month, but it has been testing a future update that appears to reveal the spring update name. "Windows 10 Spring Creators Update" has been spotted in the latest test builds of the Redstone 5 update expected to be released later this fall. Microsoft first launched Windows 10 Creators Update last spring, followed by the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update in the fall. The new Windows 10 Spring Creators Update naming was originally spotted in Microsoft blog posts last year, but this is the first time it has appeared in the operating system itself.

Windows 10 Is Finally Adding Tabs To File Explorer (bleepingcomputer.com) 161

Microsoft has released insider preview build 17618 that includes tabs in File Explorer as part of its Sets feature. Bleeping Computer reports: Windows 10 Sets is an upcoming feature where you can group documents and apps into one tabbed window that are related to the particular task at hand. This feature was released for testing to a small controlled group of insiders in Insider Preview Build 17063 and was subsequently removed after the test. With build 17618, Sets are back and with it come tabs in File Explorer. You can now open different folders in the same File Explorer window with each one having their own tabs. This way one File Explorer window can have a tab for the pictures folder, a tab for the documents folder, and a tab for your documents, which you can easily switch between. If you look closely, though, the Sets feature does more than just allow you to have different tabs for different folders, but also allows you to add applications as a tab in File Explorer. According to Microsoft, in addition to File Explorer, Notepad, Command Prompt, and Powershell are also getting tabbed support.

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