All posts in “Windows 10”

Without its own phone OS, Microsoft now focuses on its Android Launcher and new ‘Your Phone’ experience

Microsoft may have retreated from the smartphone operating system wars but that doesn’t mean it has given up on trying to get a foothold on other platforms. Today, at its Build developer conference, the company announced three new services that bring its overall cross-platform strategy into focus.

On Android, the company’s Trojan Horse has long been the Microsoft Launcher, which is getting support for the Windows Timeline feature. In addition to that, Microsoft also today announced the new “Your Phone” experience that lets Windows Users answer text messages right from their desktops, share photos from their phones and see and respond to notifications (though that name, we understand, is not final and may still change). The other cornerstone of this approach is the Edge browser, which will soon become the home of Timeline on iOS, where Microsoft can’t offer a launcher-like experience.

There are a couple of things to unpack here. Central to the overall strategy is Timeline, a new feature that launched with the latest Windows 10 update and that allows users to see what they last worked on and which sites they recently browsed and then move between devices to pick up where they left off. For Timeline to fulfill its promise, developers have to support it and as of now, it’s mostly Microsoft’s own apps that will show up in the Timeline, making it only marginally interesting. Given enough surfaces to highlight this feature, though, developers will likely want to implement it — and since doing so doesn’t take a ton of work, chances are quite a few third-party applications will soon support it.

On Android, the Microsoft Launcher will soon support Timeline for cross-device application launching. This means that if you are working on a document in Word on your desktop, you’ll see that document in your Timeline on Android and you’ll be able to continue working on it in the Word Android app with a single tap.

Kevin Gallo, Microsoft’s head of the Windows developer platform, tells me that if you don’t have the right app installed yet, the Launcher will help you find it in the Google Play store.

With this update, Microsoft is also giving enterprises more reasons to install the Launcher. IT admins can now manage the Launcher and control what applications show up there.

On iOS, Microsoft’s home for the Timeline will be the Edge browser. I’d be surprised if Microsoft didn’t decide to launch a stand-alone Timeline app at some point in the future. It probably wants to encourage more use of Edge on iOS right now, but in the long run, I’m not sure that’s the right strategy.

The new Your Phone service is another part of the strategy (though outside of Timeline) and its focus is on both consumers and business users (though there is often no clear line between those anyway). This new feature will start rolling out in the Windows Insider Program soon and it’ll basically replicate some of the functionality that you may be familiar with from apps like Pushbullet. Besides mirroring notifications and allowing you to respond to text messages, it’ll also allow you to move photos between your phone and Windows 10 machines. Oddly, Microsoft doesn’t mention other file types in its materials, though it’ll likely support those, too.

Going forward, we’ll likely see Microsoft embrace a wider range of these experiences as it looks to extend its reach into third-party platforms like Android.

Microsoft and Xiaomi to collaborate on AI, cloud computing and hardware


After Microsoft signed a deal to test Windows 10 on Xiaomi devices in 2015 and then Xiaomi bought a trove of patents to help run other Microsoft services on its devices in 2016, today the two companies announced another chapter in its collaboration. Xiaomi and Microsoft have signed a Strategic Framework Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work more closely in the areas of cloud computing, AI (including Microsoft’s Cortana business) and hardware.

To date, Xiaomi has largely focused its mobile phone strategy in Asia Pacific, where Gartner revealed yesterday that it (and Huawei) were the only two vendors to increase their market shares at a time of general decline. This deal could point to how Xiaomi is looking to raise its game in the West, specifically in the US.

On the side of Microsoft, it’s particularly interesting given that the company has largely pulled back on a lot of its hardware efforts, and has visibly had some major stumbles in this area especially in mobile — most recently with its failure to take on and grow the Nokia mobile business and Windows Mobile.

Understanding that this isn’t an area that Microsoft can quite quit altogether, it seems that the company is going to have one more go now on a slightly different framework.

“Xiaomi is one of the most innovative companies in China, and it is becoming increasingly popular in various markets around the world,” said Harry Shum, EVP of Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research Group, in a statement. “Microsoft’s unique strengths and experience in AI, as well as our products like Azure, will enable Xiaomi to develop more cutting-edge technology for everyone around the world.”

“Microsoft has been a great partner and we are delighted to see both companies deepening this relationship with this strategic MoU,” Wang Xiang, Global Senior Vice President and Head of International Business, Xiaomi, added in his statement. “Xiaomi’s mission is to deliver innovation to everyone around the world. By collaborating with Microsoft on multiple technology areas, Xiaomi will accelerate our pace to bring more exciting products and services to our users. At the same time, this partnership would allow Microsoft to reach more users around the world who are using Xiaomi products.”

The deal covers four major areas of services for the two companies.

Cloud support will include Xiaomi using Microsoft Azure for data storage, bandwidth and computing and other cloud services. Meanwhile, Xiaomi’s efforts in laptops and “laptop-style devices” that run Windows will be co-marketed by Microsoft. Then Microsoft is also going to be talking with Xiaomi on how to improve collaboration on AI-powered speakers using Cortana.

That appears to be just the start for the company’s AI collaborations. They also “intend to explore multiple cooperative projects based on a broad range of Microsoft AI technologies, such as Computer Vision, Speech, Natural Language Processing, Text Input, Conversational AI, Knowledge Graph and Search, as well as related Microsoft AI products and services, such as Bing, Edge, Cortana, XiaoIce, SwiftKey, Translator, Pix, Cognitive Services and Skype,” Microsoft said in a statement.

No financial terms to the arrangement are being given but we are asking.

4 reasons why you should be using VLC 3.0, the best media player ever

Image: videolan organization, mashable composite

VLC, the world’s best open-source media player (it plays like virtually every format), just reached a big milestone in its 17-year history.

The free app’s been updated to version 3.0 “Vetinari” and with it comes a hefty list of new features like the ability to natively play 360-degree videos and HDR content.

You can find the full list of detailed feature additions on the VideoLAN Organization’s website. We’ve plucked out the four most important new features.

1. Supports HDR videos

Phones like the Razer Phone (pictured) have HDR-ready screens.

Phones like the Razer Phone (pictured) have HDR-ready screens.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

The future of all video content is HDR (High Dynamic Range). The video format makes videos pop more with higher contrast, wider range of color, and increased brightness. Simply put: HDR videos look superior to non-HDR content.

There are several competing HDR formats. VLC 3.0 supports HDR10. You still need a TV, computer, tablet, or phone that supports HDR to play HDR10 content. But if you’ve got both the hardware and software pieces, you’re good to go.

2. Plays 360-degree videos

Shooting 360-degree video has never been easier. It’s watching and sharing the immersive videos that’s a pain in the ass. Up until now, you either had to use proprietary software that’s specific to your 360 camera or upload the video to YouTube or Facebook and deal with the compression. 

But not anymore. Now you can play your 360-degree videos in VLC 3.0 and pan around in full resolution. And, so can your friends and family, so long as they install it, too. And why shouldn’t they? The app’s free.

3. Stream to Chromecast

Plug these cheap Google Chromecast dongles into your TV's HDMI port, and blammo, you can now beam video to it from your phone or laptop with VLC 3.0.

Plug these cheap Google Chromecast dongles into your TV’s HDMI port, and blammo, you can now beam video to it from your phone or laptop with VLC 3.0.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

You got content. Lots of delicious, crispy, high-res content, and you want to view it all on your big high-res TV without needing to wire up via HDMI. How do you it? 

Simple: Chromecast. In the works since 2016, VLC 3.0 finally lets you easily beam your content to another screen. Chromecast support is only available for Windows and Android devices (macOS isn’t supported yet).

4. Smoother 4K and 8K video playback 

For power users and real AV nerds, VLC 3.0 also supports hardware acceleration for 4K and 8K resolution videos. What that means is, the media player can tap into the processing power of your device’s graphics chip to render videos smoothly without any stuttering or jitteriness. 

Here’s an 8K, 48 frames per second, 360-degree video playing, smooth as butter, on a Samsung Galaxy S8:

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And here’s a hardware-accelerated 8K, 60 frames per second, 360-degree video playing on a Lenovo laptop running Windows 10:

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Cybersecurity researchers breach Windows 10 facial recognition with a photo

Researchers at the German IT Security company SySS GmbH successfully fooled the Windows 10 facial recognition system by using a printed photo of the user’s face.

Their spoofing efforts were published on the cybersecurity site Seclists on Dec. 18. The cybersecurity experts bypassed Windows Hello — which is Microsoft’s password-free security software — on both a Dell and Microsoft laptop running different versions of Windows 10, which is cause for concern for anyone using this feature to log into their account. 

Deceiving Windows 10 didn’t take too much effort. It just required “having access to a suitable photo of an authorized person” to “easily” bypass the system, wrote the experts. The photo required is the full image of someone’s face — so if someone really wants to attempt to deceive the facial recognition system, the barriers aren’t too great. 

Similar to Apple’s Face ID, it might be wise to view Windows Hello as a convenience feature, not a security feature. 

Similar to the iPhone X’s Face ID camera, Hello Windows uses an infrared camera (either built-in the or added separately) to recognize the unique shape and contours of a face before granting or denying access to a Windows account. But a flaw was found, specifically “an insecure implementation of the biometric face recognition in some Windows 10 versions.”

They show their work below:

[embedded content]

Many — but not all — Windows versions are vulnerable. In 2016, Microsoft included a new feature called Enhanced Anti-Spoofing to limit this sort of picture trickery. But even if this feature is enabled in your Windows settings, the researchers found a way to bypass the facial recognition system that ran older Windows versions, such as a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 device running 2016’s Windows 10 Anniversary update, for instance.

However, the SySS researchers found that two new Windows versions, 1703 and 1709, are not vulnerable to their most simple spoofing attacks (using a printed photograph) if Enhanced Anti-Spoofing is enabled. 

Their ultimate recommendation: Updating to Windows 10 version 1709, enabling anti-spoofing, and then having Windows Hello reanalyze your face.

If this sounds unappealing or risky, you can always go back to using a (not dumb) password. Infrared facial recognition in consumer applications is still relatively new, so flaws should be expected. 

Similar to Apple’s Face ID, it might help to view Windows Hello as a convenience feature, not a security feature. 

Mashable has contacted Microsoft for comment and will update this story upon hearing back.

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Caught between Mac and Windows? This crossover program could help.

Operate Windows on a Mac, without a Windows license.
Operate Windows on a Mac, without a Windows license.

Image: Pexels

As Mick Jagger once moaned into a microphone, you can’t always get what you want — and computers are no exception.

Windows-powered computers are still some of the most popular models money can buy. But with their razor-sharp aesthetics and user-friendly edge, Apple’s slew of MacBooks are climbing their way to the top.

Switching from Windows to Mac may be a logical decision, but there’s just one problem: You bought a bunch of Windows-only programs. So what are you supposed to do, start from scratch?  And waste plenty of resources and money? Um, no thank you. Fortunately, a program called CrossOver 17 offers a way for you to run all your favorite apps and games on your new computer.

Once you download CrossOver 17 onto your Mac, you can install and run Windows programs without buying a Windows license, rebooting your computer, or investing in some virtual machine. Simply drag and drop your favorite programs onto your Mac dock and you’re all set.

If you’re looking to kick it old school with a Linux computer, which has been around since the ’90s, CrossOver 17 has a Windows to Linux version, too.

CrossOver 17 usually costs $40, which is a steal when you think about how much money you’re saving on new software. But for the next few days, you can buy it for $19 — that’s more than 50% off. Whether you’re getting a new computer for the holidays or looking for the perfect gift for your tech-obsessed kid, it’s a no-brainer.