Category Archives: Tech News

Why the cloud? The cloud became an irresistible ecosystem of the most exciting new enterprise tech

In 2016, it was the lure of the new. This year the cloud became not only the new normal, but also an irresistible ecosystem of the most exciting new enterprise tech


Enterprises have all sorts of justifications for moving to the cloud: avoiding capital expense, adding scalability to applications, even cloud lust on the part of CEOs who want to “get out of the IT business”.

But 2016 saw one reason rise to the top: Incredible new features all pre-provisioned and waiting for you in the cloud. Sure, you could stand up a GPU cluster and run your own deep learning algorithms, or jump into IoT by assembling an event-driven platform in your own data center.

Not every potential cloud customer wants to leap into machine learning or IoT right away. But the major public clouds offer so much new functionality and the potential is so great, particularly with machine learning, that lack of access to that stuff amounts to a competitive disadvantage.

For a simple example, say you want real-time language translation with near-human levels of accuracy. You could try and set up the software and infrastructure to do that yourself, but in a year or two when the accuracy beats that of humans, how quickly can you upgrade? A cloud service will deliver those improvements as they arrive.

Besides, developers play with new cloud APIs whether they tell management about it or not, so you might as well harness that and at least experiment with developing new cloud applications. Your other choice is to prohibit developers from experimenting with that stuff on company time – and chase away the best and brightest.


Here are the four main areas where the cloud offers not just functionality, but continuous improvement:

Machine learning: Welcome to the hottest area in tech. Google’s TensorFlow deep learning service seems to be the main reason potential customers consider Google Cloud Platform. Microsoft offers its Azure Machine Learning; IBM Bluemix provides Watson in the cloud. Amazon played aggressive catch-up at its re:Invent conference, introducing its Rekognition, Polly, and Lex machine learning services and announcing that MXNet would be its deep learning framework.

IoT platforms: The top five public clouds – AWS, Salesforce, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and IBM Bluemix – all have IoT platforms for securely connecting devices and developing event-driven applications. Amazon stirred the pot at re:Invent when it announced AWS Greengrass, a software core (and SDK) designed to run on IoT devices, enabling those devices to run AWS Lambda functions and connect securely to the AWS IoT platform.

Serverless computing: The industry has a long history of piling abstraction on top of abstraction. With serverless computing, worrying about infrastructure, even the virtual kind, becomes a thing of the past for developers. Serverless computing also encourages developers to grab functions from a library and string them together, minimizing the amount of original code that needs to be written. AWS Lambda is the best-known example of serverless computing, but other clouds have followed suit. Microsoft has Azure Functions and Google offers Cloud Functions.

Container management: Containers promise all sorts of agility benefits, but they need to be managed and orchestrated. The industry appears to have settled on Kubernetes as the solution of choice, one supported by all the major public clouds. Kubernetes is open source so it can be set up on premises, but rest assured most customers will opt for it as a cloud service instead. Plus, the recent introduction of the Amazon EC2 container scheduler Blox proves that you can expect all sorts of related services to emerge over time.

These are just the highest profile advanced technology areas. For example, the public cloud is also a natural place for compute-intensive analytics, because you can spin up and spin down servers as needed as well as take advantage of machine learning to make sense of results. The ever-shifting, open source Hadoop/Spark ecosystem keeps adding new projects, which the public clouds are quick to absorb and make available as services to customers.

Tapping compute, storage, and networking resources without having to procure, provision, and maintain them on premises is one thing. That was the first-order value proposition of the cloud. Today, we’re seeing vast cloud ecosystems emerge, which are becoming the go-to platforms for the most exciting new technology.



Why Windows 10 users have better anti-virus protection

The latest Microsoft Security Intelligence Report shows an increase in the use of anti-virus software following the introduction of Windows Defender, and highlights the extra security improvements in Windows 10


Almost all Windows 10 PCs are now running anti-virus software because the built-in Windows Defender is turned on automatically unless an alternative program is installed. With up-to-date versions of Windows 10, the “unprotected rate” has fallen to around 3 percent of the PCs that Microsoft updates.

Historically, Microsoft has been reluctant to protect its users, partly because of anti-trust threats from anti-virus software providers. Back in 2006, when up to half of PCs were unprotected, McAfee and Symantec threatened European anti-trust lawsuits over Microsoft’s plan to include Kernel PatchGuard in Windows Vista. Just before the Windows 7 launch in 2009, AVG told me: “At this point, we’re watching in Brussels to ensure they don’t bundle [anti-virus software] with Windows and trigger about a trillion lawsuits.”

Today’s PCs still show the aftermath, in that about 28 percent of Vista PCs and more than 20 percent of Windows 7 PCs are still unprotected, according to the latest Microsoft Security Intelligence Report (No 21). Indeed, the reality is probably somewhat worse: many unprotected PCs are not counted because they don’t have Windows Update turned on.

Why are the numbers so high? The virus threat has been well publicised, and AVG, Avast and many other companies have been offering free anti-virus programs for more than a decade. Partly, it’s a regional issue. The countries with the highest average number of unprotected PCs – Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Iraq and Tanzania – don’t have the best internet connections.

Other reasons are shown in the barchart at the end of this post.

In Windows 7’s case, more than 60 percent of unprotected PCs still don’t have any anti-virus software installed. In another 20 percent of cases, it’s installed but turned off. In some cases, AV is turned on but the definitions and signatures are out of date. That may be because of expired subscriptions, but Vista and Windows 7 don’t report those.

That changed after Microsoft bundled Defender with Windows 8, and it emerged that one major reason for a lack of protection was that the PC’s anti-virus software subscription had expired. With Windows 10, the main problems are users failing to update their PCs or turning off their anti-virus software or “snoozing” it.

Of course, the “expired subscription” problem may yet appear on Windows 10, because most new PCs have not been running Windows 10 for more than one year.

Windows 10’s improved security

Having taken on the burden of protecting PCs, Microsoft is now trying to make Defender more capable, which should be confirmed by better scores in group anti-virus tests. Microsoft is also using multiple approaches so it’s not wholly dependent on Defender. For example, some malware is blocked by Windows 10’s SmartScreen or “safe browsing” filter.

Microsoft has also added features from EMET, its Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit. Windows 10 now includes DEP (Data Execution Prevention), SEHOP (Structured Exception Handler Overwrite Protection), and ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) as standard, and Enterprise users also get post-breach feedback from ATP (Advanced Threat Protection). Microsoft therefore plans to stop offering EMET on July 31, 2018, though not everyone thinks that’s a good idea.

Windows 10 also includes cloud-based protection, which was turned on by default in the Anniversary Update version. When Defender notices a suspicious file that it doesn’t recognise, it refers it to the cloud service, which uses heuristics, automated file analysis and machine learning to decide whether or not to block it. Microsoft says: “In many cases, this process can reduce the response time when a new threat emerges from hours to seconds.”

Cloud-based heuristics have already made a contribution to blocking ransomware attacks that were not detected by traditional virus signatures. Of course, users will be less secure if they change the defaults in a misguided attempt to protect their privacy.

Another factor is that Windows 10’s new browser, Edge, has better security than IE. Also, Edge doesn’t support ActiveX or Java add-ins, so it isn’t vulnerable to many of the attacks that compromised earlier versions of Internet Explorer.

Infection rates

Microsoft’s Security Report counts “malware encounters” separately from malware infections: PCs often run into malware without being infected by it. This has produced an oddity: Microsoft reports that “two of the five most commonly encountered operating system exploits on Windows computers in 1H16” – Unix/Lotoor and AndroidOS/GingerMaster – “actually target the Android mobile operating system.”

Microsoft sees Android malware when users attach their smartphones or storage cards to Windows PCs, or use their Windows PCs to download programs to transfer to their phones.

The average infection rate for Windows PCs, according to Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), is currently 1.01 percent. It’s less than 0.4 percent in the best countries (Finland, Japan, Denmark, Norway Germany) and around 8 percent in Libya, which also scores highest for unprotected PCs. The five worst areas are Libya, Iraq, Mongolia, the Palestinian Authority and Morocco.




UEFI vs Legacy Mode and what’s the UEFI BIOS Advantages

The difference between UEFI Boot and Legacy boot is the process that the firmware uses to find the boot target.

Legacy Boot is the boot process used by BIOS firmware. The firmware maintains a list of installed storage devices that may be bootable (Floppy Disk Drives, Hard Disk Drives, Optical Disk Drives, Tape Drives, etc…) and enumerates them in a configurable order of priority. One the POST procedure has completed, the firmware loads the first sector of each of the storage targets into memory and scans it for a valid Master Boot Record (MBR). If a valid MBR is found, the firmware passes execution to the boot loader code found in the MBR which allows the user to select a partition to boot from. If one is not found, it proceeds to the next device in the boot order. If no MBR is found at all, the user is presented with the famous “Please insert system disk”.

UEFI boot is the boot process used by UEFI firmware. The firmware maintains a list of valid boot volumes called EFI Service Partitions. During the POST procedure the UEFI firmware scans all of the bootable storage devices that are connected to the system for a valid GUID Partition Table (GPT). Unlike a MBR, a GPT does not contain a boot loader. The firmware itself scans the GPTs to find an EFI Service Partition to boot from. If no EFI bootable partition is found, the firmware can fall back on the Legacy Boot method. If both UEFI boot and Legacy boot fail, the famous “Please insert system disk” will be presented.

UEFI BIOS Advantages

When the option is available to choose between a Legacy BIOS boot mode or UEFI boot mode operating system installation, the advantages to choosing a UEFI boot mode installation include the following:

  • Avoids Legacy Option ROM address constraints.
  • Supports operating system boot partitions greater than 2 terabytes (2 TB) in size.
  • PCIe device configuration utilities are integrated with Setup Utility menus.
  • Bootable operating system images will appear in the boot list as labeled entities, for example Windows boot manager label versus raw device labels.

Benefits of UEFI boot mode over Legacy BIOS boot mode include:

  • Support for hard drive partitions larger than 2 Tbytes
  • Support for more than four partitions on a drive
  • Fast booting
  • Efficient power and system management
  • Robust reliability and fault management



Facebook Live Audio makes talk radio social, starting with the BBC

Book readings, interviews, and news radio are coming to Facebook thanks to its new Live Audio feature launching today with a few publishers and authors before opening up next year. A complement to its Facebook Live video streaming, it could bring audio-first content like podcasts to the News Feed, and provide a low-bandwidth real-time broadcasting options to publishers in low-connectivity areas.

The first publishers with access will be BBC World Service (news radio), LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation talk radio), Harper Collins (book publisher), and authors Adam Grant (Originals, pop psychology), and Britt Bennett (fiction addressing race). Facebook writes “Early next year, we plan to make this new format more broadly available to publishers and people.”

In case you want to keep browsing while you listen, Android users will be able to close Facebook and use any other app while Live Audio keeps playing. iOS users can only browse the rest of Facebook with the stream running, while opening another app will cut the sound.

“We know that sometimes publishers want to tell a story on Facebook with words and not video” Facebook tells me. When publishers create a stream, they can either use their Page’s cover image as the default Live Audio image in the News Feed, or upload a different one. Notifications will be sent to a Page’s Live subscribers, and some of their most active followers. Broadcasts have a nice, long limit of four hours so they should accommodate a wide range of content, such as:

  • Radio stations could broadcast their programs
  • Podcasters could find new online distribution for their episodes
  • Authors could do live readings of their books
  • Celebrities could do Q&As without worrying about how they look on camera
  • News anchors could broadcast audio from disaster zones or areas of crisis where bandwidth may be too overloaded for video streaming
  • Musicians could broadcast concerts or studio sessions

Facebook has been rapidly expanding its real-time content offering. After rolling out Live video at the end of 2015, last week it beta launched Live 360 video and Livestreaming from Oculus VR to the News Feed. Facebook’s engineering might may allow it to leap-frog Twitter, which got its Periscope acquisition launched before Facebook Live, but has stagnated since.

Between being a free streaming format, and the traffic that Facebook can drive, Live Audio could appeal to a wide range of publishers. And for average users who have something to say but are camera-shy, Live Audio reduces the friction to becoming a broadcaster.

Let’s Talk Tablets

Tablets are definitely becoming a staple in the consumer electronics world. For the longest time, the tablet PC was an expensive, clunky device that just didn’t wow consumers. Some businesses had adopted tablets back in the day, but they were difficult to use, hard to support, and they simply didn’t perform for the price tag. However, like many consumer electronics, Apple reinvigorated the tablet market with the original iPad, and now it would seem tablets are here to stay. The question is, are they right for businesses?

Tablet devices are very similar to modern day smart phones. In fact, in most cases, the apps you run on the phone usually translate to the apps ran on the tablet. You get the basics; email, web surfing, streaming video, calendar, note taking, and more, but the difference is you get all that on a larger device. Ask yourself if you would like that basic functionality that your smart phone gets with a larger playing field, and you’ll have a pretty good inclination of you want to jump on the tablet bandwagon. However, the future of tablets is looking even more robust; Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system is being built for both desktops and laptops and also tablets. This means you’ll get the same OS you would run on a desktop PC on your handheld tablet. Although the hardware in a tablet isn’t quite as beefy as what you’d find in a desktop, dual and quad-core CPUs and integrated graphics and generous amounts of memory are found in the cutting-edge devices, so expect tablets in the not-too-distant future to be major contenders to laptops as far as mobility and compatibility.

As for the tablets on the market now, there are plenty to choose from. Let’s take a short look at a few of the leading contenders.

iPad 2

The Apple iPad established itself as the gold standard for tablets. The device is sleek, well designed, easy-to-use, and boasts a great set of features and capabilities. With it being the most popular tablet device, it also has the most apps developed for it. Remember, you can’t just take software that works on your desktop and put in on a tablet; so you are limited to the apps available. Fortunately the Apple App market place is very extensive, and often enough when a developer makes software for tablets, they start with the iPad. The iPad2 starts at $499.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

The Galaxy Tab is essentially the iPad’s closest rival. Instead of using Apple’s iOS, the Galaxy Tab is powered by Google’s Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS. If you own and like your Android smart phone, you’ll feel right at home with this tablet. Android’s App marketplace is continually growing, and while it isn’t as massive as Apple’s, it’s getting very close. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10,1 is also $499, although some carriers offer a 4G mobile version for a little bit more.

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon’s foray into the tablet world is a little smaller than the 10 inch tablets mentioned so far. The 7-inch tablet is also cheaper at $199, and packs quite a bit of functionality using Amazon’s multimedia ecosystem. The Kindle Fire lets you surf the web, read books, watch streaming videos, and more. Since the Kindle Fire has just come out, it’s a little too early to decide if it has what it takes for business use, but the low price makes it very attractive for multimedia and ebooks.

Nook Tablet

Much like the Kindle Fire, the Nook isn’t really built to perform. At $250, the tablet is more geared towards handling ebooks, email and other basic multimedia.

Toshiba Thrive

Not the prettiest tablet of the bunch, the 10 inch Thrive is thick and heavy. However, it supports a full USB port, HDMI and SD card slot, making it easier to connect with other devices. The Thrive runs Android, so email, web surfing, and basic productivity tools are easy to come by. The Thrive runs at about $379.

There are dozens of other great tablets out there; many of which are provided by mobile carriers such as Sprint, AT&T and Verizon. Be careful when shopping around; most of the time carriers want you to commit to the device for two years – a long time in an emerging market. Not sure what tablet would be a good fit for your business? Give us a call