Microsoft is enabling IT pros to keep tabs on the security of their Linux devices using the company’s Defender for Endpoint product (formerly known as Microsoft Defender Advanced Thread Protection). The Threat and Vulnerability Management (TVM) capabilities already available for Windows, and Windows Server are now also in public preview for macOS and Linux as of today, May 11. And Microsoft plans to bring TVM to Android and iOS devices later this summer, officials said today.
TVM allows users to review recently discovered vulnerabilities within applications and potential misconfigurations across Linux and remediate any affected managed and unmanaged devices. Users currently can discover, prioritize and remediate more than 30 known unsecure configurations in macOS and Linux with this capability. Initially, Microsoft is supporting RHEL, CentOS and Ubuntu Linux, with Oracle Linux, SUSE and Debian being added shortly, according to a Microsoft security blog post.
The ability to assess secure configurations in threat and vulnerability management is a component of Microsoft Secure Score for Devices. It also will be part of Microsoft Secure Score all up once generally available.
In other Patch Tuesday news, Microsoft rolled out the 21H1 of the Windows Holographic OS today. This is the version of Windows 10 that works on HoloLens devices, not 21H1 for regular PCs. (Windows 10 21H1 still has yet to start rolling out to mainstream users and remains in preview.)
Windows Holographic 21H1 (build 20346.1002) features the new Chromium-based Edge; more granular controls in the settings app; support for “Swipe to Type” in the holographic keyboard; a new Power menu; the ability to display multiple user accounts on the sign-in screen and more.
Today also is the last day that several versions of Windows 10 will get security updates. Windows 10 1803 for Enterprise and Education, Version 1809 for Enterprise and Education and Version 1909 Home/Pro are all at end-of-service as of today. Users should upgrade to a newer version of Windows 10 to continue to get security updates.
New ‘safety by design’ toolkit to help the global tech industry care a little bit more
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has published a set of assessment tools that it hopes will be used by tech companies to ensure they are building safety into their products and services.
While eSafety is an Australian agency, the “safety by design” assessment tools are available globally, as the majority of tech industry innovation occurs far away from Australia’s shores.
Released today are two interactive assessment tools: The startup edition for early-stage technology companies and the enterprise edition for mid-tier or enterprise companies.
“For tech companies developing platforms that enable social interaction, safety risks should be assessed upfront. Protective measures need to be put in at the start of the product design and development process. We call this ‘safety by design’,” eSafety said.
The tools are aimed at helping organisations develop safe products, and assist them to embed safety into the culture, ethos, and operations of their business.
The tools and accompanying guidance materials steps participants through five interactive and modules, each with a specific set of questions addressing core safety topics and issues: Structure and leadership; internal policies and procedures; moderation, escalation, and enforcement; user empowerment; and transparency and accountability.
The user is served a report at the end of each module, which acts as a safety health check, but also, eSafety said, as a learning resource that can be drawn upon and used to help make refinements or innovations in the future.
The online tool is around a seven-hour commitment. eSafety said it receives no personal or corporate information or data from those using the tools and it is completely voluntary.
“Our entire mission is about helping Australians have safer and more positive experiences online, one of the ways we achieve that is by helping the industry lift their standards and achieve better levels of safety,” eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant told ZDNet.
The safety by design initiative kicked off in 2018 with the major tech platforms. In April, eSafety said it was engaged with about 180 different technology companies and activists through the initiative. 40 companies took part in the preview of the toolkit.
Inman Grant previously called it a “cultural change issue“; that is, tweaking the industry-wide ethos that moving fast and breaking things gets results.
The solution, she said, isn’t the government prescribing technology fixes, rather a duty of care should be reinforced when companies aren’t doing the right thing, such as through initiatives like safety by design.
In a former life, Inman Grant was the director of public policy for Twitter in Australia and Southeast Asia; she was also Microsoft’s global director of privacy and internet safety.
Speaking with media on the launch of safety by design, Inman Grant said she raised the idea during her time with the Windows-maker.
“While I was there, I tried to introduce safety by design as an initiative for Microsoft to take on, they were doing security by design, privacy by design really well and I just wanted them to slip safety in,” she said.
“But they felt like they were becoming an enterprise company and were never going to be a social media company, even when I pointed out that Xbox at the time was a bit toxic and Skype was a primary vector for child sexual abuse material, wasn’t something that was taken up.”
It was a similar story at Twitter, she disclosed.
While the ideal scenario would be to prevent the harms from happening in the first place, behavioural change takes a long time, so eSafety is hopeful initiatives like safety by design can “move the needle and minimise the threat surface for the future”.
“Safety by design is fundamental because online safety is a shared responsibility and we needed to find a way to shift the responsibility back onto platforms themselves, just as product liability serves to do around toy and goods manufacturing, or food safety standards,” Inman Grant said.
“None of these standards exist in the technology world and I also believe, philosophically, that mandating protections and innovations that companies should take is not going to achieve the right end.
“We had to do this with the industry rather than to the industry.
“We’d love to see a race to the top in terms of online safety standards and this is precisely what this tool is meant to do.”
eSafety is also working with universities on how to insert a safety by design ideal into studies.
“Creating that next generation of engineers and computer scientists … to code with conscience or to think ethically and responsibly about what they’re doing,” she said. “We’re working with four different universities right now in embedding elements of this curriculum into multi-disciplinary programs … safety by design won’t just be this tool, it will grow and evolve.”
MORE FROM ESAFETY
The eSafety Commissioner has defended the Online Safety Act, saying it’s about protecting the vulnerable and holding the social media platforms accountable for offering a safe product, much the same way as car manufacturers and food producers are in the offline world.
The eSafety Commissioner has only been able to action 72 of the 3,600 adult cyber abuse complaints it has received, and it’s hopeful the new Online Safety Act will allow it to do more.
Quantum computers take up a lot of space. Researchers decided to shrink this one down
Quantum computers still require large, dedicated rooms and complex installations, but now, in a new step towards bringing the technology out of the lab, researchers have designed a prototype quantum computer that is compact enough to fit in ordinary data center racks.
As part of an EU-funded project called AQTION, a group of scientists from the University of Innsbruck in Austria successfully set up a fully functional ion trap quantum computer into two 19-inch server racks, as typically found in data centers around the world. The device only requires a single wall-mounted power plug and is otherwise self-contained.
The prototype is an exciting development in an industry that relies mostly on lab-based implementations, where quantum computers can only be controlled thanks to purpose-built infrastructure. Developing a set-up that is more accessible is therefore key to expanding the reach of the technology.
This is why the EU recently launched AQTION, a €10 million project that aims to create a compact ion-trap quantum computer that meets industry standards without needing an ultra-stable lab environment for operation.
“Our quantum computing experiments usually fill 30- to 50-square-meter laboratories,” says Thomas Monz, AQTION project coordinator. “We were now looking to fit the technologies developed here in Innsbruck into the smallest possible space while meeting standards commonly used in industry.”
The new device, said the research team, shows that quantum computers will soon be ready for use in data centers.
The researchers used ions, which are single-charged atoms, as qubits. Quantum information is encoded in the electronic state of ions, and operations are performed with laser pulses that modify and control the state of the particles.
While the approach differs from the well-known superconducting qubits used by IBM and Google in their quantum computers, ion trap devices are gaining attention in the industry. Honeywell, for instance, made its quantum debut last year with trapped-ion technology.
To fit in a couple of 19-inch racks, every individual building block of AQTION’s quantum computer had to be downsized, from the ion trap processor to the vacuum chamber. The biggest challenge, therefore, was to ensure that the device did not compromise on performance – but the researchers are confident that their prototype is already delivering promising results.
Even outside of the controlled environment that can be achieved in a lab, the device was stable enough to operate without interruption from external disturbances, and the physicists were able to individually control and entangle up to 24 ions. Measurements showed that the system’s performance and error rate were on par with lab-based implementations.
“We were able to show that compactness does not have to come at the expense of functionality,” said Christian Marciniak, researcher at the University of Innsbruck.
By next year, the team is expecting to create a device with up to 50 individually controllable qubits.
For now, however, the prototype’s hardware and software capabilities will be further upgraded before it is made available online. Researchers will access the device over the cloud to test quantum algorithms on a hardware-agnostic quantum computing language.
The Surface Duo keeps getting cheaper. What does that mean for Microsoft’s mobile strategy?
“This is industry pushing technology, and it’s technology pushing possibilities,” said Microsoft’s chief product officer Panos Panay two years ago as he revealed the company’s first dual-screen device, the Surface Duo, to the public.
Microsoft went all-in and sold the Surface Duo as a premium product, with two side-by-side 5.6-inch displays that come together in a foldable device that stands right between a phone and a tablet. In September 2020, the device started shipping for an eyebrow-raising $1,400. But before long, catchy discounts were showing up, suggesting at least a slight excess of ambition on Microsoft’s part.
Two months after the Surface Duo was released, fans spotted that the device could be bought for $200 less; the sale dropped to $699 last May, and now Microsoft’s futuristic flagship is selling for the same price as an ordinary smartphone, at $549.
SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
After much less than a year in the market, the successive price cuts are showing that the Surface Duo has been met with less enthusiasm from consumers than expected.
The Surface Duo was meant to help Microsoft make a serious dent in the mobile market after years of failure. “Microsoft was aiming to get back in the smartphone business,” Himank Joshi, researcher at analyst Forrester, tells ZDNet. “Launching the Surface Duo was part of the company’s strategy to ensure that it has a place in the future of mobile computing.”
The Redmond giant is not new to the world of mobile, but it is not best known for its successes.
Microsoft showcased its very own operating system for handsets, Windows Phone, as early as 2010, while Android was already taking off. A few years later, the company announced that it was acquiring Nokia’s phones business for a mighty €5.44 billion ($6.6 billion), in a bid to push Microsoft software on cutting-edge hardware.
Microsoft lost the bet. The purchase was completed in 2014; two years later, the company had to swallow a $7.6 billion writedown on the acquisition and cut around 20,000 jobs. Then Microsoft dropped support for Windows Phone altogether.
In the face of the growing Android-iOS duopoly, the company’s offer simply wasn’t appealing enough; and Windows Phone’s share of the market by 2017 was so small that it didn’t make sense for developers to rewrite their apps to run on Microsoft’s OS.
Yet Microsoft had little choice but to persevere. As demonstrated by Apple and Google, succeeding in the smartphone market is indeed the first step before locking loyal customers into an ecosystem of connected apps and services – an appealing prospect for a company like Microsoft that, from Outlook to Cortana, has plenty to offer when it comes to running software on mobile.
Faced with the failure of its Windows Phone, and a market virtually dominated by Google and Apple’s operating systems, Microsoft changed strategies for the Surface Duo. The Redmond giant decided to forget trying to make its own mobile operating system the star, and embrace Android instead in the hope of grabbing the attention of the wider world.
This means that the Duo comes with pre-installed Google apps, as well as the Play Store and Google Search bar.
“Partnering with Google and adopting Android was the right thing to do on the OS front as Microsoft has been failing with its Windows Phone operating systems for a long time,” says Joshi. “This provided Microsoft with a huge addressable Android user base and a rich ecosystem of apps and services which could have driven device adoption.”
It’s a strategy that has been in the works for some time now, and has seen Microsoft signing various deals that enable the company to push its ecosystem of apps and services on alternative operating systems.
When Samsung launched the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, for example, the South Korean giant announced that it had agreed to pre-install OneNote, OneDrive and Skype on the devices. Samsung also pre-installed Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Skype on some of its Android tablets.
In another effort to strengthen its ecosystem despite the lack of a hand in the mobile market, Microsoft also released the Microsoft Your Phone app, which enables Windows 10 users to interact with their photos, messages and notifications on their Android devices directly from their PC screens.
“Microsoft, just like other players, is going after an ecosystem approach with its products and services. This means it will pursue all avenues that would help them strategically in this effort,” Maurice Klaehne, research analyst at Counterpoint Research, tells ZDNet.
Consumers clearly weren’t excited about having Windows on their smartphone. In that context, partnering with Android seemed the right call – and it could have worked had Microsoft not decided to base the company’s comeback in mobile on a brand-new form factor that is yet to win users’ hearts.
In a marketplace crowded with smartphones and tablets, Microsoft had to find a way to differentiate itself. The company pitched the Surface Duo as a complete rethink of productivity, driven by the ability to multitask. Using both screens, users can view their Outlook email and Calendar side-by-side, for example; or they can participate in a Teams meeting on the left, while watching their colleague’s presentation on the right.
What’s more: both screens are connected with a custom hinge that can rotate 360 degrees, which effectively means that the Duo falls under the category of foldable devices.
All of these specs come together to justify the unusually high price point that the Surface Duo was originally selling at. The problem? The device is innovative in principle, but in practice, it seems to have failed on a key aspect: understanding what consumers actually want.
“Duo is one of the examples of product development being done without learning user behavior,” Mikako Kitagawa, analyst at Gartner, tells ZDNet. “I don’t believe consumers are looking for all-in-one devices with smartphone and tablet combined.”
The device is too bulky as a smartphone and too clumsy as a tablet, continues Kitagawa, who is adamant that the series of price cuts since launch are a reflection of the Surface Duo’s unsuccessful performance so far.
Especially at a $1,400 price tag, the Duo was widely found not to do much apart from providing a Microsoft-optimized Android phone. Worst still, some of the specs that are key to the appeal of a mobile device failed to convince: for example, the 11 MP camera, the older Snapdragon 855 processor and the relatively heavy weight of the device disappointed many users.
Microsoft told ZDNet that it believes there’s always room for new perspective rooted in solving unmet customer needs, and that Surface Duo makes a compelling case for this new “dual-screen” category, helping to solve challenges that three out of four customers report facing while attempting to compete complex tasks away from their PCs. It said, regarding recent promotions, “Microsoft offers competitive pricing on all its products, which includes offering discounts and promotions on an ongoing basis”.
For Neil Mawston, analyst at Strategy Analytics, the Surface Duo was a “flop”, and without much surprise. “Microsoft has struggled in smartphones for decades because its business-led culture does not resonate with the consumer,” Mawston tells ZDNet.
“Businesses want dull stability, while consumers desire excitement,” he continues. “Microsoft’s hardware, software and apps are too often clunky and fail to match the slick styling of Apple iPhone or the usability of Android.”
The mobile market has been consolidating between Apple, Samsung, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi. Each of these manufacturers has now amassed large customer bases, and it will be challenging for Microsoft to compete and thrive against such strong market shares.
For Mawston, Microsoft’s best move would be to focus on segments that have already shown that they can bring growth – namely, tablets like the Surface Book, Pro and Go devices. The company is already a leader in the market, and its outlook there seems much brighter, according to the analyst.
But there is another perspective on the Surface Duo story. Perhaps the dual-screen device was not all that big a deal to Microsoft after all, and instead was designed to be an experimental shot at a new form factor in mobile – a way to test the water with consumers, as part of a wider attempt to deliver Microsoft services on new devices.
For Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, there was less at stake for Microsoft with the Surface Duo than it might seem. The ambition was to take device design into new directions, says Wood, and the Duo was a first try at understanding what might work best.
Rather than a failure, therefore, the device’s lack of success is more of a learning point that the company can use to design its next innovation. Indeed, there are suggestions that a Surface Duo 2 is on the horizon.
“I believe Microsoft will continue to experiment with devices like the Surface Duo,” Wood tells ZDNet. “It provides a chance to expand the reach of its increasingly successful Surface devices business and as technology evolves, and new components like flexible displays start to get integrated into devices, the lessons from the Surface Duo could be very valuable.”
The mobile market is entering a phase of growth, and after a year of cautious spending, consumers are now eager to replace their handsets. What’s more: the arrival of 5G-enabled devices is triggering a new wave of innovation that analysts are describing as a smartphone “supercycle”.
In other words, now is the right time to win consumers’ favors with innovative devices that offer exciting experiences. The question is whether Microsoft will continue to try to seize that opportunity.
Huawei Mate X2, hands on: A feature-packed foldable flagship
Huawei may have lost access to Google Mobile Services, but that hasn’t stopped the company pushing on with smartphones, building its own app store, and taking a generally bullish attitude. Its Mate 40 Pro, for example, a top-flight handset costing £1,099.99 (inc. VAT) at launch last year, sported a great camera, fast charging, a super screen, and some neat software features. But without key Google services, it was always going to struggle in the UK.
Once the world’s number-one smartphone vendor, Huawei (which no longer includes Honor), occupied seventh place in Q1 2021, according to analyst firm Canalys, shipping 18.6 million units worldwide. Meanwhile, top-placed Samsung shifted 76.5m phones in the first quarter. In its home China territory, Huawei was third in Q1 2021, behind Vivo and Oppo, with 14.9m units shipped.
What we have here is Huawei’s latest flagship folding smartphone, the 8-inch (interior), 6.45-inch (exterior) Mate X2.
SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
The Mate X2 has not, at the time of writing, been given a UK release date or price, but currency conversions suggest that if, or when, it lands on our shores you shouldn’t expect much change out of £2,000.
The Mate X2 I was sent ran on a Chinese software version, so while I could set it to English language I don’t feel it’s fair to fully review and benchmark it. As a result, this is more of an extended hands-on preview.
Huawei is no stranger to folding handsets. Its Mate X appeared in November 2019, and was followed in March 2020 by the Mate Xs. These two previous handsets had a folding screen wrapped around the front and back of the phone, allowing you to open it out for a bigger view as required. The Mate X2, by comparison, looks at first like two phones hinged together down a long edge, with a camera array on the back and a standard (6.45in.) screen on the front. The hinge allows the two sections to open out and reveal the larger (8in.) folding screen. This more Samsung Fold-like design is an improvement because the large screen is protected when it’s not in use.
As you’d expect, the Mate X2 is big, heavy, and a bit unwieldy compared to a regular smartphone. It weighs 295g, and measures 161.8mm high. When folded it is 74.6mm wide and a maximum of 14.7mm thick. Unfolded, it is 145.8mm wide with a maximum thickness of 8.2mm, tapering on the outer screen section to 4.4mm.
There is a super-reflective finish to the glass back that, unfortunately, was very keen on grabbing my fingerprints, but that aside, build quality is excellent. This aluminium-frame phone is solidly built, with superb attention to detail.
If the Mate X2 falls within your budget, you’ll get a handset with top-end specifications. The 5nm Huawei/HiSilicon Kirin 9000 SoC is blisteringly fast — every tap, every screen refresh was smooth and immediate. Naturally this is a 5G handset, and my review unit had 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. According to Huawei’s website, a 512GB version will also be available. Internal storage can be boosted via Huawei’s proprietary Nano Memory (NM) cards, which share one of the handset’s two SIM slots. There is a fingerprint sensor in the side-mounted power button.
The Mate X2’s 4500mAh battery might prove a weak point in everyday use, depending on how much you use the massive 8-inch inner screen. I didn’t feel a formal battery rundown test was a fair test at this stage, but I did find that consistent use of the inner screen was, as expected, hard on the battery. For example, a half-hour video stream to the large screen took 7% of charge from the battery. Fast charging will clearly come in handy, but there’s no support for wireless charging. I hope to do formal battery tests with a final version of the handset, at which time I’ll run other performance benchmarks.
The core software is Android 10 (minus Google Mobile Services), with Huawei’s EMUI 11 on top. This includes Huawei’s AppGallery, plus music, video, wallet, health and other apps. There were some Chinese apps on my review unit, for example, which will obviously not be present on a UK phone, but it looks as though Huawei will take the same approach it has with recent Google-free phones in terms of providing its own applications.
There are four rear cameras: 50MP f/1.9 wide angle; 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle; 12MP f/2.4 telephoto (3x optical zoom); and 8MP f/4.4 super-zoom (10x optical zoom). All bar the ultra-wide angle camera feature optical image stabilisation (OIS). On the front, in an in-screen lozenge, is a 16MP f/2.2 selfie camera. There’s no camera on the inner screen, but it can be used to frame shots taken with the main camera array (the camera software automatically detects whether you want to use the outer or inner screen for this purpose).
The outer screen is a very serviceable 6.45-inch OLED panel with 2700-by-1160 (456ppi) resolution, a 90Hz refresh rate and a 240Hz touch sampling rate. This is fine for many tasks, but inside there’s an 8-inch OLED screen with 2480-by-2200 (413ppi) resolution, 90Hz refresh and 180Hz touch sampling rate.
The inner screen sits in quite large bezels by today’s standards, but that doesn’t present a usability issue and image quality is simply superb. It’s not quite square, with edges measuring 13.5cm and 15.5 cm. The screen rotates through all four possible orientations, so you can easily select the slightly wider or slightly taller option. It can be divided into two, displaying what in effect are dual front-screen-sized windows, allowing you to, for example, read a website on one side with social feeds ticking over on the other.
The hinge mechanism is smooth as silk. I was not the first to see the sample I was sent, and repeated opening and closing of the handset had resulted in a bit of unevenness in the screen around the hinge area, creating a bumpy surface visible when the screen was off, but not when it was switched on, so the overall viewing experience was not hampered. The effects of longer-term usage are impossible to know at this stage.
The Huawei Mate X2 is an astounding device, with top specifications, a solid build and an 8-inch inner screen that’s simply amazing. It is likely to command a very high price when it launches outside China, and will still be hampered by the absence of Google Mobile Services. It’s also relatively heavy and, although I didn’t do a formal battery rundown test, I fear battery life might be a key downside.
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