All posts in “Microsoft”

Microsoft calls for better facial-recognition regulation to prevent abuse

Microsoft is joining the movement for face-recognition technology regulation.

The software giant the first major tech company to make such a brazen call to the government to impose limits on this type of technology, and the company’s grievances are outlined in a blog post published today by its president Brad Smith.

“Facial-recognition technology raises issues that go to the heart of fundamental human rights protections like privacy and freedom of expression,” reads the post.

“The only effective way to manage the use of technology by a government is for the government proactively to manage this use itself. And if there are concerns about how a technology will be deployed more broadly across society, the only way to regulate this broad use is for the government to do so.”

Microsoft is somewhat of a leader within facial recognition software — Uber even uses the company’s technology to verify drivers’ identities. But Microsoft’s technology is far FROM the best in the industry. Its Windows 10 facial recognition was so subpar that printed out photographs could fool the tool. 

It’s also interesting to note that while Smith’s blog post today is forward-thinking among large tech companies, calls like this have been made by other, smaller tech companies and activist groups for a long time. In fact, Smith even seems a bit removed from the realities of how far face-recognition technology has come.

He beckons the readers to imagine a world where governments track where people have walked over the past month without permission. That happened in Orlando and other cities across the United States that used Amazon’s deep learning surveillance technology Rekognition, which can identify almost every single face in a crowd.

Smith also paints the image of shopping malls using face-recognition technology as well that can share information about consumer shopping habits. Although this exact incident hasn’t happened, it is reminiscent of Orange County malls secretly collecting license plate data for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (an agency that Microsoft has a contractual partnership with, though it claims the partnership is not for face recognition).

He writes how these situations have “long been the stuff of science-fiction and popular movies — like ‘Minority Report,’ ‘Enemy of the State’ and even ‘1984’,” and possibly gave the surveillance examples as irony. But it’s alarming that the head of such a large tech company is so removed from what tech is already doing today.

So while this is a good first step at a national level for such a large technology company, there is clearly still a lot of work to do. Maybe Smith should have checked to see what people have already been doing before publishing this blog post.

Microsoft did not say anything further beyond Smith’s blog post.

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Microsoft Windows Notepad app gets first update in years

While we can finally see some modern functions in Notepad,  the updates on this cult classic will probably still not change its notoriously not user-friendly reputation.
While we can finally see some modern functions in Notepad,  the updates on this cult classic will probably still not change its notoriously not user-friendly reputation.

Image: Valentin Wolf/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

There’s good news for people who still use Windows Notepad: For the first time in years, big changes are coming to the app — and some of those changes are all thanks to you.

Windows announced yesterday that the next Windows 10 update will include some quality of life improvements for its iconically clunky app. Microsoft wrote in the announcement that it employed user feedback to determine its new features, which include the ability to delete a whole word by hitting Ctrl + Backspace.

This update, which is right on the heels of Microsoft Office’s revamp last month, will come with Redstone 5 (the codename for Microsoft’s impending update) predicted to launch later this year. If it goes smoothly, the update would be a positive move for the tech giant after a spate of — shall we say — less-than-smooth rollouts these past few months.

While Notepad most recently remedied its problem with mixing up files from other operating systems, the app has not changed much since its inception 33 years ago. Its upcoming update will make the platform more compatible with larger files, and will also improve its find-and-replace function.

Find-and-replace will soon give users the option to wrap around, and will also remember your previous settings to populate a new search automatically. Notepad is also introducing the ability to zoom in on the text, which you’ll be able to perform by pressing Ctrl + the plus or minus key, or pressing Ctrl while using the mouse to adjust the zoom level.

Perhaps most excitingly, Notepad will display lines that do not fit the screen entirely.

While we can finally say goodbye to infinitely long lines of text, this update on a cult classic will probably still not change the notoriously not user-friendly reputation of this app.

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Slack wants to make search a little easier with search filters

Slack’s search functions are getting another little quality-of-life update today with the introduction of filters, which aims to make search a little more granular to find the right answers.

The company also says searches are going to be more personalized. All of this is an attempt to get to the right files or conversations quickly as Slack — a simple collection of group chats and channels that can get out of hand very fast — something a little more palatable. As companies get bigger and bigger, the sheer amount of information that ends up in it will grow faster and faster. That means that the right information will generally be more difficult to access, and if Slack is going to stick to its roots as a simple internal communications product, it’s going to have to lean on improvements under the hood and small changes in front of users. The company says search is now 70% faster on the back end.

Users in Slack will now be able to filter search results by channels and also the kinds of results they are looking for, like files. You can go a little more granular than that, but that’s the general gist of it, as Slack tries to limit the changes to what’s happening in front of users. Slack threads, for example, were in development for more than a year before the company finally rolled out the long-awaited feature. (Whether that feature successfully changed things for the better is still not known.)

Slack now has around 8 million daily active users with 3 million paid users, and is still clearly pretty popular with smaller companies that are looking for something simpler than the more robust — and complex — communications tools on the market. But there are startups trying to pick away at other parts of the employee communications channels, like Slite, which aims to be a simpler notes tool in the same vein as Slack but for different parts of the employee experience. And there are other larger companies looking to tap the demand for these kinds of simpler tools like Atlassian’s Stride and Microsoft’s teams.

Microsoft’s $399 Surface Go is here to nuke Apple’s iPad

Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Microsoft’s new Surface Go really is a shrunken version of its popular Surface Pro.

The 10-inch Surface Go is Microsoft’s smallest, thinnest, and lightest Surface tablet to date. And with a starting price of $399, the Go is also the cheapest Surface as well.

A Surface RT (remember that disastrous tablet?) the Go is not. This mini Surface runs Windows 10 in its entirety and all x86 apps.

My first thought after a Microsoft executive pulled the Go out of her purse wasn’t, “Oh, that’s really small” but “Why?” Why would anyone need a mini Surface Pro? And it really is a smaller version of the 2-in-1 — hinge, keyboard cover, stylus, and all.

Microsoft didn’t really answer my question. I was told many Surface device users (Pro, Laptop, Book, etc.) used their devices primarily for work and they wanted something personal that would still work with all of their existing Surface work accessories, (i.e. dock and magnetic charger) and could easily be carried around.

I was also told there was a huge price range to fulfill — the $500-and-under premium tablet category, which is dominated by the iPad. This makes a lot more sense. Apple’s increasingly adding more productivity-friendly features to the iPad (the $329 iPad got Apple Pencil support this year), and the iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard, running iOS 11, has made doing work on the machine more realistic.

With the iPads encroaching on Surface Pro territory, it’s only logical to fight them head-on with the similarly-priced Surface Go, which arguably does more with Windows 10.

It’s a baby Surface

Much like how new iPads are unmistakably iPads, the Surface Go is unmistakably a Surface. It’s smaller — only 8.3mm (0.33 inch) thick and 1.15 pounds — and the corners and edges are rounder and softer, but the build quality is still top-notch.

Look at how small the Surface Go (center) is compared to the Surface Pro (left) and Surface Laptop (right).

Look at how small the Surface Go (center) is compared to the Surface Pro (left) and Surface Laptop (right).

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The body’s still the same smooth and sturdy magnesium alloy as the Surface Pro. The screen is the same 3:2 aspect ratio as well. The 10-inch PixelSense Display’s got fewer pixels (1,800 x 1,200) than the Pro, but it still looks sharp and supports multi-touch with up to 10 fingers. The bezels are a little thick for a modern tablet, but on the plus side, there are two front-firing speakers built into them.

The 10-inch screen is small, but it can still open two apps side-by-side.

The 10-inch screen is small, but it can still open two apps side-by-side.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Like the Surface Pro, the Go has an excellent kickstand. It doesn’t click into place at certain angles, though. Instead, it’s just one smooth tilt as far back as 165 degrees. From what I could tell, it’s very well-built. 

The Go’s port selection is a bit limited, though. There are just three on the right side: the magnetic Surface port, one USB-C 3.1 port, and a headphone jack. A microSD card slot is hidden underneath the hinge.

You get a Surface port, one USB-C, a headphone jack, and a microSD card slot (behind hinge).

You get a Surface port, one USB-C, a headphone jack, and a microSD card slot (behind hinge).

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The front-firing stereo speakers support Dolby Audio Premium.

The front-firing stereo speakers support Dolby Audio Premium.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

On the front is a 5-megapixel HD camera and on the back is an 8-megapixel shooter. The cameras are okay — you’re not really gonna be taking selfies or Instagram photos with them — and are more  for Skype calls and scanning documents than serious photography. So they should be more than adequate. Oh, and the Surface Go supports Windows Hello face log-in. 

On the back's a 8-megapixel camera.

On the back’s a 8-megapixel camera.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

So that’s a rundown of the Go’s external hardware. But what about its guts? What corners did Microsoft have to cut in order to get the Go down to a $399 starting price? 

For starters, the processor’s not as beefy as the Surface Pro’s. The Go comes with seventh-generation Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y processor (yeah, Pentium chips still exist) and Intel HD Graphics 615. These chips, I’m told, are just a step below Intel’s Core M chips. The Go’s also fanless, which means it runs silent.

According to Microsoft’s benchmarks, though, the Go’s no slouch. It has 33 percent faster graphics than a Surface Pro 3 with an Intel Core i5 chip and 20 percent faster graphics performance than a Pro 3 with Core i7 chip. I didn’t get a whole lot of hands-on time with the Go, but Windows 10 ran smoothly on a demo unit. 

The kickstand tilts back up to 165 degrees.

The kickstand tilts back up to 165 degrees.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Go configurations come with either 4GB or 8GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. 

Microsoft says the Go gets up to 9 hours of battery life for continuous video playback. I’m skeptical since an iPad gets up to 10 hours of battery life, and Windows 10 is more of a power hog than iOS. But if the Go really does get up to 9 hours of battery, I’ll be really impressed.

Keyboard and stylus cost extra

The $100 keyboard has the same felt-like Alcantara material as the Surface Pro's.

The $100 keyboard has the same felt-like Alcantara material as the Surface Pro’s.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

As with the Surface Pro, the Go supports its own Microsoft Type Cover keyboard and all existing Surface Pens.

These two essential accessories (at least, I consider them to be) are sold separately. $100 for the keyboard and $100 for the stylus. 

That means the cost of a Surface Go is really +$100-200. I grilled Microsoft on why they didn’t bundle the keyboard together and got your typical canned response: They want to give people choice.

I just don’t understand why companies keep doing this — like the Surface Pro, the Go is clearly designed to work best with a keyboard cover. So why not bundle them together to make the device truly irresistible?

On the bright side, the Go retains the Surface Pro’s magnetic edge so you can clip the Surface Pen to it. 

The keyboard is a joy to type on.

The keyboard is a joy to type on.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The touchscreen is every bit as responsive as the Surface Pro's.

The touchscreen is every bit as responsive as the Surface Pro’s.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Both of these accessories are precision-made and work to the caliber you’d expect from Microsoft. The keyboard has keys with great travel, unlike the ultra-flat ones on Apple’s MacBooks. And the trackpad is very responsive.

Likewise, the touchscreen is fantastic. To better suit the smaller screen, Microsoft says it’s optimized Windows 10 with ever-so-slightly larger touch elements. 

All hail the iPad killer?

Microsoft's also got a $40 new wireless mouse and Touch Cover Keyboards in a number of colors.

Microsoft’s also got a $40 new wireless mouse and Touch Cover Keyboards in a number of colors.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

It’s hard to say if Microsoft’s Surface Go is better or worse than an iPad or iPad Pro. Can the Intel Pentium Gold processor keep up with the demands of Windows 10? (Note: The Go ships with Windows 10 in S Mode, but you can switch it to Windows 10 Pro with a one-way setting.) Will the battery life hold up?

There are a lot of unanswered questions that will only be answered once we’ve tested the Go. But, first impressions: I liked what I saw. 

The value also seems to be much better than an 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $650 without keyboard. For the same price, you can get a Surface Go with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage ($550), and a keyboard.

The Surface Go will be available on Aug. 2 from Microsoft and select retailers. Microsoft’s also going to sell an LTE version for an $130 extra later this year.

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Light is building a smartphone with five to nine cameras

Light, the company behind the wild L16 camera, is building a smartphone equipped with multiple cameras. According to The Washington Post, the company is prototyping a smartphone with five to nine cameras that’s capable of capturing a 64 megapixel shot.

The entire package is not much thicker than an iPhone X, the Post reports. The additional sensors are said to increase the phone’s low-light performance and depth effects and uses internal processing to stick the image together.

This is the logical end-point for Light. The company introduced the $1,950 L16 camera back in 2015 and starting shipping it in 2017. The camera uses sixteen lenses to capture 52 megapixel imagery. The results are impressive especially when the size of the camera is considered. It’s truly pocketable. Yet in the end, consumers want the convenience of a phone with the power of a dedicated camera.

Light is not alone in building a super cameraphone. Camera maker RED is nearing the release of its smartphone that rocks a modular lens system and can be used as a viewfinder for RED’s cinema cameras. Huawei also just released the P21 Pro that uses three lenses to give the user the best possible option for color, monochrome and zoom. Years ago, Nokia played with high megapixel phones, stuffing a 41 MP sensor in the Lumia 1020 and PureView 808.

Unfortunately addtional details about the Light phone are unavailable. It’s unclear when this phone will be released. We reached out to Light for comment and will update this report with its response.