Microsoft Archive

The Microsoft team racing to catch bugs before they happen

As a rush of cybercriminals, state-backed hackers, and scammers continue to flood the zone with digital attacks and aggressive campaigns worldwide, it’s no surprise that the maker of the ubiquitous Windows operating system is focused on security defense. Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday update releases frequently contain fixes for critical vulnerabilities, including those that are actively being exploited by attackers out in the world. The company already has the requisite groups to hunt for weaknesses in its code (the “red team”) and develop mitigations (the “blue team”). But recently, that format evolved again to promote more collaboration and interdisciplinary work in the hopes of catching even more mistakes and flaws before things start to spiral. Known as Microsoft Offensive Research & Security Engineering, or Morse, the department combines the red team, blue team, and so-called green team, which focuses on finding flaws or taking weaknesses the red team has found and fixing them more systemically through changes to how things are done within an organization. Cheap jokes from the Windows XP era aside, I feel like there haven’t really been any massive security problems with Windows that we used to see in the XP days. Working for any of Microsoft’s security teams can’t be an easy job, and it’s always interesting to get an insight into how they operate.

Microsoft still plans to block Office macros by default after temporary rollback

Microsoft is still planning to block Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros by default in Office apps. The software giant rolled back planned changes last week, surprising IT admins who had been preparing for Microsoft to prevent Office users from easily enabling macros in Office files downloaded from the internet. The change, designed to improve security in Office, was supposed to go live in June before Microsoft suddenly reverted the block on June 30th. “Following user feedback, we have rolled back this change temporarily while we make some additional changes to enhance usability,” explains Kellie Eickmeyer, principal product manager at Microsoft, in a blog post update. “This is a temporary change, and we are fully committed to making the default change for all users.” It seems bonkers that in this day and age VBA macros are still a thing, but I guess the business world is quite dependent on them.

Microsoft open-sourced the code for 1995’s 3D Movie Maker because someone asked

Ars Technica writes: Back in 1995, the Microsoft Kids division of the company released a program called Microsoft 3D Movie Maker. The same year that the original Toy Story proved that feature-length 3D computer animation was feasible, people could install software on their home computers that could spit out crude-but-creative 3D animated movies at 6 to 8 frames per second. Aside from releasing Doraemon and Nickelodeon-specific versions of Movie Maker later on, Microsoft never really returned to this software… until now. Microsoft Developer Division Community Manager Scott Hanselman announced yesterday that Microsoft was open-sourcing the code for 3D Movie Maker, posting it to Github in a read-only repository under an MIT license. Microsoft made some seriously weird products back in the ’90s, and this is definitely one of them. It’s great to see things like this released as open source – these are not the products that set the world on fire, but the idea to get it to compile and run on modern systems will surely spark the imagination of quite a few developers.

Microsoft set to purchase Activision Blizzard in $68.7 billion deal

Microsoft announced plans on Tuesday morning to purchase gaming mega-publisher Activision Blizzard for a record-setting $68.7 billion. When finalized, the acquisition would bring franchises like Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and many more under the umbrella of the Xbox maker. That’s a lot of money for a bunch of games and a ton of sexual harassment claims.

Shareholders pressure Microsoft into expanding its right-to-repair efforts

Microsoft’s Xbox and Surface hardware may be getting easier to repair, according to a press release from shareholder advocacy nonprofit As You Sow. According to the announcement, Microsoft has agreed to evaluate and expand the repair options for its products “by the end of 2022.” The promises are a bit vague for now, but hopefully this will have a real-world impact.

Remembering Radio Shack’s Windows competitor: Tandy DeskMate

In the 1980s, Radio Shack parent Tandy Corp. released a graphical user interface called DeskMate that shipped with its TRS-80 and Tandy personal computers. It made its PCs easier to use and competed with Windows. Let’s take a look back. I’ve never used DeskMate – or Tandy computers in general – but there was a whole (cottage) industry of DOS graphical user interfaces and alternative Windows shells during the 3.x days, most notably Norton Desktop. If you ever have an empty weekend you want to fill up- fire up a DOS or windows 3.x virtual machine, and go to town. You can easily lose days researching this particular technological dead end.

A bit of XENIX history

An old post from 2014. From 1986 to 1989, I worked in the Xenix group at Microsoft. It was my first job out of school, and I was the most junior person on the team. I was hopelessly naive, inexperienced, generally clueless, and borderline incompetent, but my coworkers were kind, supportive and enormously forgiving – just a lovely bunch of folks. Microsoft decided to exit the Xenix business in 1989, but before the group was dispersed to the winds, we held a wake. Many of the old hands at MS had worked on Xenix at some point, so the party was filled with much of the senior development staff from across the company. There was cake, beer, and nostalgia; stories were told, most of which I can’t repeat. Some of the longer-serving folks dug through their files to find particularly amusing Xenix-related documents, and they were copied and distributed to the attendees. These are kinds of stories that need to be written down for posterity, of we risk losing a lot of valuable information and backstories to some of the less successful technology products of our time.

A visit from the Zune squad

It was weird to own a Zune in 2005. It is even weirder to own a Zune in 2021 — let alone 16 of them. And yet, 27-year-old Conner Woods proudly shows off his lineup on a kitchen table. They come in all different colors, shapes, and sizes, and each can be identified by that telltale black plastic D-pad just below the screen. He owns the entire scope of the brief Zune lineup — from the svelte Zune 4 to the chunky Zune HD — and among the microscopic community of people who still adore Microsoft’s much-derided MP3 player, no collection of dead tech could possibly be more enviable. But today, almost a decade after Microsoft terminated the brand, there is a small bastion of diehards who are still loving and listening to their Zunes. If you talk to them, they’ll tell you that these MP3 players are the best pieces of hardware to ever run a Windows operating system. Preserving the Zune legacy has just become another part of the hobby. I’ve never once seen a Zune in real life.

Microsoft designing its own chips for servers, Surface PCs

Microsoft Corp. is working on in-house processor designs for use in server computers that run the company’s cloud services, adding to an industrywide effort to reduce reliance on Intel Corp.’s chip technology. The world’s largest software maker is using Arm Ltd. designs to produce a processor that will be used in its data centers, according to people familiar with the plans. It’s also exploring using another chip that would power some of its Surface line of personal computers. Of course they are. At this point, any major consumer platform company not working on their own ARM chips is being irresponsible.

Microsoft unveils Pluton security processor

Today, Microsoft alongside our biggest silicon partners are announcing a new vision for Windows security to help ensure our customers are protected today and in the future. In collaboration with leading silicon partners AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., we are announcing the Microsoft Pluton security processor. This chip-to-cloud security technology, pioneered in Xbox and Azure Sphere, will bring even more security advancements to future Windows PCs and signals the beginning of a journey with ecosystem and OEM partners. Pluton immediately rings a ton of alarm bells, since initiatives like this tend to not be a good thing for alternative platforms. There’s good news, though, too – Pluton will take care of firmware updates for your motherboard, which I welcome with open arms, since the current state of firmware updates where you have to use garbage OEM applications is dreadful.

Microsoft’s Surface Duo arrives on September 10th for $1399

Microsoft has put the Surface Duo up for preorder. While Microsoft had revealed the design of the Surface Duo back in October, the company has kept the specs relatively secret. The device includes two separate 5.6-inch OLED displays (1800 x 1350) with a 4:3 aspect ratio that connect together to form a 8.1-inch overall workspace (2700 x 1800) with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Unlike foldables like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the Surface Duo is using real Gorilla Glass, and the displays are designed to work in a similar way to multiple monitors on a Windows PC. One big question over the Surface Duo has been the camera. Microsoft is using an 11-megapixel f/2.0 camera, which will include auto modes for low light, HDR multi-frame captures, and a “super zoom” up to 7x. Both 4K and 1080p video recording will be supported at 30fps and 60fps, with electronic image stabilization. There’s only a single camera on the Surface Duo, which can be used both for video calls and as a main camera. The basic Surface Duo hardware also consists of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, and up to 256GB of storage. LTE is available on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, but there’s no 5G support at all. Microsoft is also shipping a bumper cover in the box, designed to protect the Duo. That’s a lot of money for what are last year’s specifications, especially regarding the camera and SoC. Sure, this is a new kind of device category, but I have a hard time seeing any mass-market appeal in a device like this matched with such a high price.

Microsoft is reportedly in talks to buy TikTok’s US operations

Amid reports that President Donald Trump plans to order TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell the social-media app’s US operations, Microsoft has emerged as a potential buyer. I would think there are a lot bigger fish to fry when it comes to Chinese interests controlling western corporations, such as Apple, which is all but a Chinese company at this point, or the influence of Tencent, which has stakes in countless western companies.

Microsoft’s new Fluid Office document is Google Docs on steroids

Microsoft is creating a new kind of Office document. Instead of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, the company has created Lego blocks of Office content that live on the web. The tables, graphs, and lists that you typically find in Office documents are transforming into living, collaborative modules that exist outside of traditional documents. Microsoft calls its Lego blocks Fluid components, and they can be edited in real time by anyone in any app. The idea is that you could create things like a table without having to switch to multiple apps to get it done, and the table will persist on the web like a Lego block, free for anyone to use and edit. This is quite awesome, but I hope Microsoft won’t be tying functionality like this to its Chromium-based browsers, leaving others in the dust.

Microsoft Word now flags double spaces as errors, ending the great space debate

Microsoft has settled the great space debate, and sided with everyone who believes one space after a period is correct, not two. The software giant has started to update Microsoft Word to highlight two spaces after a period (a full stop for you Brits) as an error, and to offer a correction to one space. Microsoft recently started testing this change with the desktop version of Word, offering suggestions through the Editor capabilities of the app. There’s normal spacing, and everything else. I’m glad Microsoft is normal.

Microsoft buys corp.com so bad guys can’t

In February, KrebsOnSecurity told the story of a private citizen auctioning off the dangerous domain corp.com for the starting price of $1.7 million. Domain experts called corp.com dangerous because years of testing showed whoever wields it would have access to an unending stream of passwords, email and other sensitive data from hundreds of thousands of Microsoft Windows PCs at major companies around the globe. This week, Microsoft Corp. agreed to buy the domain in a bid to keep it out of the hands of those who might abuse its awesome power. I had no idea that a seemingly innocuous default chosen decades ago had this much of an impact.

Bill Gates steps down from Microsoft’s board of directors

Microsoft today announced that Co-Founder and Technology Advisor Bill Gates stepped down from the company’s Board of Directors to dedicate more time to his philanthropic priorities including global health, development, education, and his increasing engagement in tackling climate change. He will continue to serve as Technology Advisor to CEO Satya Nadella and other leaders in the company. Microsoft is in a pretty good spot, so Gates’ company seems to be in good hands.

PowerShell 7.0 released

For those unfamiliar, PowerShell 7 is the latest major update to PowerShell, a cross-platform (Windows, Linux, and macOS) automation tool and configuration framework optimized for dealing with structured data (e.g. JSON, CSV, XML, etc.), REST APIs, and object models. PowerShell includes a command-line shell, object-oriented scripting language, and a set of tools for executing scripts/cmdlets and managing modules. Do we have any PowerShell users on OSNews? If so, why are you using it, and what for?

Microsoft to combine its Windows client and hardware teams under Panos Panay

The biggest and boldest move in the Feb. 5 reorg being announced internally today involves the Windows Experience (client) and the hardware teams. Microsoft is going to roll up these two businesses into a single team, known as Windows and Devices — reporting to Chief Product Officer Panos Panay, I’ve confirmed with a person familiar with the changes who asked not to be named. The move takes effect on Feb. 25. This means even tighter integration between the people designing and building Surface devices and the people developing Windows. Panay is the driving force behind the Surface products, and those have been doing relatively well, so it makes sense to allow him to take a stab at the future of Windows.

Teams is now available on Linux as Microsoft’s first Office Linux app

Starting today, Microsoft Teams is available for Linux users in public preview, enabling high quality collaboration experiences for the open source community at work and in educational institutions. Users can download the native Linux packages in .deb and .rpm formats here. We are constantly improving based on community feedback, so please download and submit feedback based on your experience. The Microsoft Teams client is the first Microsoft 365 app that is coming to Linux desktops, and will support all of Teams’ core capabilities. Teams is the hub for teamwork that brings together chat, video meetings, calling, and collaboration on Office 365 documents and business processes within a single, integrated experience. I genuinely hope this is the harbinger of the rest of Microsoft Office also finding its way to Linux natively. LibreOffice is workable in a pinch, but for proper compatibility nothing beats the real Office (sadly). I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft has long had Linux versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so on, much like how Mac OS X has been running on Intel all along before Apple made the switch.

What happened if you tried to access a network file bigger than 2GB from MS-DOS?

One of my friends is into retrocomputing, and he wondered what happened on MS-DOS if you asked it to access a file on a network share that was bigger than what FAT16 could express. My friend was under the mistaken impression that when MS-DOS accessed a network resource, it was the sector access that was remoted. Under this model, MS-DOS would still open the boot sector, look for the FAT, parse it, then calculate where the directories were, read them directly from the network hard drive, and write raw data directly to the network hard drive. This is not how it works. Raymond Chen is an international treasure.