10 cool things to check out at Microsoft Build 2019 – The Official Microsoft Blog

Microsoft Build is underway in Seattle, and this year’s premier developer conference is focused on empowering developers of all kinds, from experienced computer scientists to tech beginners with big ideas. We’re sharing the latest on Microsoft platforms, tools and services that are making it easier to create and innovate using AI and mixed reality with the intelligent cloud and the intelligent edge, as well as helping people and organizations do more each day.

Here’s a peek at some of the event’s highlights:

Check out the new features in Microsoft Edge built on Chromium OSS that will make it easier to collect, organize and share content, and give you additional privacy controls to make your own decisions about how third parties can track you.

See how technology is helping Starbucks and their baristas deliver great customer experiences including managing predictive maintenance on coffee machines with Azure Sphere; giving personalized recommendations to customers via the Starbucks mobile app with reinforcement learning on Azure; and powering digital traceability efforts to track coffee beans from farm to store with Azure blockchain service.

Photo of Starbucks barista smiling and making an espresso drink
Technology is helping Starbucks and their baristas deliver great customer experiences (Photo courtesy of Starbucks)

Read about Fluid Framework, a web-based platform expected to be available later this year that will give teams new ways to create together, enabling content to be deconstructed and reconstructed into modular components and allowing intelligent agents to work alongside people to co-author, provide photo suggestions, translate data and more.

Learn more about Microsoft’s vision for intelligent agents that leverage breakthroughs in conversational AI and machine learning pioneered by Semantic Machines, which Microsoft acquired in May 2018. We’re showcasing a calendaring application of the technology that can make organizing your day with an intelligent assistant a more natural and powerful experience, and the same technology will eventually be integrated into our conversational AI moving forward across all of Microsoft’s products and services.

Photo of woman holding smartphone and screenshots of her calendaring activity in the background
A woman engages in a smooth, back-and-forth dialogue with an intelligent assistant that helps her juggle upcoming appointments on her calendar.

See how more everyday uses of AI in Microsoft 365 and Office 365 can help improve productivity, including Ideas in Word for Word Online, which can help you easily design and present polished documents, and Microsoft Search, a new enterprise search experience that applies AI technology from Bing and deep personalized insights surfaced by the Microsoft Graph.

Learn more about a new platform that can help make it easier for companies to create autonomous systems, whether it’s a robot that can help in life-threatening situations, a drone that can inspect remote equipment or systems that can autonomously calibrate factory equipment. The first component in this platform is now available in a limited preview program.

Photo of snake-like robot with two lights on the front
An experimental version of the Sarcos Guardian S, a robot that can be used in disaster recovery or for industrial inspections, uses Microsoft’s autonomous systems platform. (Photo by Dan DeLong)

Learn what developers will be able to do with Microsoft Graph data connect, a service that helps organizations bring together productivity data from the Microsoft Graph with their own business data securely, providing new opportunities to create insight-powered apps while helping address the challenges of moving and managing large amounts of data.

Learn about the new tools and capabilities in Azure AI for developers and data scientists, including Ink Recognizer, which lets developers embed digital ink recognition, an advanced speech-to-text capability that transcribes meeting conversations in real time so participants can fully engage in the discussion and know who said what later on.

See how the new Azure Blockchain Service will empower developers, letting them deploy a fully managed consortium network with a few simple clicks and use built-in governance to add new members, set permissions and authenticate user applications. They’ll also be able to monitor their network’s health and activity.

Check out IoT Plug and Play. One of the greatest challenges customers face when deploying Internet of Things solutions broadly is connecting their IoT devices to the cloud. IoT Plug and Play offers a new open modeling language to help make this happen seamlessly, as well as a large ecosystem of partner-certified devices that simply work, with over a dozen certified devices now available.

Get more details on all of these announcements and more on our Microsoft Build 2019 website.


Lead photo by Brian Smale

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Announcing Altaro Office 365 Backup – Available Now

If you follow the Altaro Blogs, you may have noticed back in November we went to market with a new product designed to protect Office 365 workloads. This offering has been very positively accepted amongst managed services providers and their customers because it offers a very low cost, hassle-free way of providing backup services for Office 365 mailboxes, attachments, contacts, and calendars. Add on the fact that Altaro provides the cloud storage needed for the solution, and MSPs have had a great simple way to protect customer mail data. MSPs are loving it, but there has been a segment of the market that has been feeling left out…

Altaro Office 365 Backup download

Altaro Office 365 Backup

I’m happy to announce that by popular demand, we’re now bringing these same great features to companies and organizations who don’t want to subscribe to an MSP model! Altaro Office 365 Backup offers end-user customers the ability to backup and restore all their company’s Office 365 mailboxes as part of an annual subscription. Using our amazingly simple Cloud Management Console, the administrator walks through a simple setup wizard, the desired mailboxes are selected, and backups start occurring automatically to Azure-based storage that Altaro manages and maintains, as part of the service. No infrastructure required for the end customer! This includes 24/7 access to our all-star support team should any issues or questions arise!

The Importance of Office 365 Backup

The importance of having an official backup product for your Office 365 workloads can’t be overstated. Many organizations believe that Microsoft is providing backup services for mail hosted in Office 365. Sure, you may have some archival options in the higher O365 licensing tiers, but retention settings are limited, and recovery options are even more limited. Plus, those features don’t protect you from things like:

  • Ransomware (Yes, ransomware can affect O365 mail)
  • Malicious User Deletions
  • Deleted mail from extended time ago
  • And more

To quote our CEO David Vella: “This is where Altaro Office 365 Backup comes in, providing robust backup, recovery, and backup storage and management services that customers can rely on. We’ve built on our backup expertise and proven track record in the industry to help set Office 365 subscriber’s minds at rest.”

Start Your Free Trial of Altaro Office 365 Backup

Resellers, consultants and organizations wishing to try Altaro Office 365 Backup can do so for free and with no commitment for 30 days. What are you waiting for?

Andy Syrewicze

I currently have the distinct pleasure of acting as a Technical Evangelist for Altaro Software, makers of Altaro VM Backup. I’m heavily involved in IT community, on Altaro’s behalf, in a number of different ways, including, podcasts, webinars, blogging and public speaking. Prior to that, I spent the last 12+ years providing technology solutions across several industry verticals working for MSPs and Internal IT Departments. My areas of focus include, Virtualization, Cloud Services, VMware and the Microsoft Server Stack, with an emphasis on Hyper-V and Clustering. Outside of my day job, I spend a great deal of time working with the IT community, I’m a published author, and I’ve had the great honor of being named a Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP by Microsoft. I have a passion for technology and always enjoy talking about tech with peers, customers and IT pros over a cup of coffee or a cold beer.

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Author: Andy Syrewicze

RHEL 8 launches with AI, container and hybrid cloud focus

BOSTON — Red Hat Inc. released its much anticipated Red Hat Enterprise Linux RHEL 8, built to improve the company’s position in the rapidly evolving world of hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

Rolled out at today’s annual Red Hat Summit conference, the company’s ambitions for RHEL 8 stretch beyond having the operating system just better compete in multiple cloud environments, however. The company also positioned it to serve as the foundation of its platform to support its corporate-wide container strategy and the launch pad for its AI-based applications development.

“What we did differently in preparing RHEL 8 was focus on two things: scalability and automation for hybrid and multi-clouds,” said Ron Pacheco, Red Hat’s director of product management for Enterprise Linux. “With past versions it was about overachieving for virtualized data centers and things like OpenStack.”

Red Hat spent a generous amount of its development time on version 8 to make it more intelligent and intuitive, so it can be deployed and managed at scale more easily, according to Pacheco.

“We spent a lot of time hardening technologies like the web console, as well as improving the RHEL System Roles to help with automating various functions across the environment, including security,” Pacheco said.

Making its official debut in RHEL 8 is Application Streams, designed to separate user-space packages from the operating system’s kernel. This feature allows users to quickly deliver new versions of their on-premises or cloud-based applications with minor versions of RHEL, so they don’t have to wait for major versions to come to market.

The offering is an evolution of the company’s Software Collections, a technology that has been used to update a range of languages, databases and frameworks. The company said there will be versions of applications for a variety of offerings, including MongoDB, Node.js and MySQL.

“We see Application Streams as a way of delivering innovation at the same rate that innovation is happening upstream, where we can then curate, secure and give lifecycle support to all of the user space packages,” Pacheco said.

Some analysts see the Application Streams capability as a necessary feature because it gives Linux a more modern look and could serve to attract the new breed of corporate and third-party developers.

RHEL 8 will serve as the foundation of the company’s hybrid cloud strategy going forward, company officials said, including the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform 4 and the unreleased Red Hat OpenStack Platform 15. RHEL 8 will also serve as the foundation for Red Hat Enterprise Linux CoreOS, a scaled down version of RHEL 8 that will host Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform deployments.

“OpenShift is co-engineered among OpenShift and Kubernetes engineers and the RHEL team,” Pacheco said. “There is a direct relationship between Kubernetes and the underlying kernel and core services. For that reason, Core OS is considered a feature of OpenShift, so we will not be shipping a separate version of CoreOS for the foreseeable future.”

Some analysts gave the new version a thumbs up, saying they liked the idea of RHEL 8 serving as the underlying infrastructure, not just for version 8, but for future versions as well, which will make IT professionals lives a bit easier when they upgrade to newer versions. One analyst believes the company did what it needed to do, namely give RHEL a facelift to accommodate the latest infrastructure technology.

“Enterprises are looking to modernize their infrastructure built on a more secure and stable platform,” said Ashish Nadkarni, group vice president of IDC’s infrastructure systems, platforms and technologies group.

Another analyst with a major research firm in the Northeastern U.S. said he liked some of the features included in RHEL 8 but thought Red Hat put too much strategic emphasis on the new version. The more strategic technology from Red Hat involves shifting to OpenShift, he said.

What we did differently in preparing RHEL 8 was focus on two things: scalability and automation for hybrid and multi-clouds.
Ron PachecoDirector of product management for Enterprise Linux, Red Hat

Recent numbers from IDC show that 70% of IT shops now deploy multi-cloud environments and, on average, 64% of applications are based in a cloud environment. Red Hat executives believe version 8 can be a central launching pad for just such applications.

Some users at the conference anticipate difficulty upgrading to RHEL 8 from RHEL 6 and weren’t clear on which applications will run on RHEL 8.

“We have an older version of RHEL and I’m not looking forward to the upgrade experience [to RHEL 8], although they have a new version of the [Red Hat Enterprise Linux Upgrade Helper] tool,” said one sys admin from a large Colorado-based university. “I would like to know what apps I can start working with,” he said.

Another new feature is Red Hat Insights, a SaaS-based offering capable of identifying and remediating a range of different IT issues, including security vulnerabilities and other problems threatening the stability of the environment. The software uses predictive analytics, drawing on Red Hat’s experience of open technologies, to help system administrator’s problems and downtime in production environments.

RHEL 8 supports the OpenSSL 1.1.1 and TLS 1.3 cryptographic standards that can be now implemented system-wide using just one command, according to Red Hat. This capability cuts down on the need for application-specific policies and tuning.

Also generally available is the Red Hat Universal Base Image, a user space image derived from Red Hat Enterprise Linux intended for building Red Hat-certified Linux containers. The offering is available to all developers whether or not they have a RHEL subscription.

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Wanted – WFH SFF or Chromebox (budget)

Discussion in ‘Desktop Computer Classifieds‘ started by IceAx, Apr 17, 2019.

  1. IceAx

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    Morning all

    Does anyone have a cheapie SFF or chromebox they are looking to shift for working from home.

    just needs to be able to run a browser with tabs open etc – would probably run linux on SFF.

    Thanks
    A

    Location: Warrington

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    By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
    Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

    • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
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    DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

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Microsoft gives developers a sneak peek into Azure updates

SEATTLE — Microsoft developers at Build got a sneak peek of what’s cooking in Redmond, including possible Azure updates, an open source project called Como and extensions to Azure IoT Central.

The Sneak Peek session track at the Build conference enables Microsoft to fine-tune its plans via feedback from the would-be early adopters. Here’s a look at three that hold particular interest for developers involved with Azure updates.

Project Como

Microsoft has hatched an open source project called Como, which is geared around the composition of cloud-native applications. Como is supposed to work like familiar code-based package managers, but evolved for the cloud-native world.

Developers will get an abstraction layer for declaring their code’s external dependencies, such as a database. Once the app is live, Como gives operators tools to manage how app components are updated and secured via prebuilt modules, rather than more complicated wire-up methods, according to Microsoft.

Ultimately, Como is aimed at teams that have to wrangle large amounts of application components across a series of environments. A more formal rollout is planned for the open source project soon, presenters said.

One session attendee said his company has traditionally run web apps on its own servers, but is keen on migrating workloads and building new apps on Azure going forward.

“It’s really the ability for things like extended disaster recovery, and the ease and ability to scale up and scale out,” said Scott Bradford, software development manager at U.S. Anesthesia Partners, a healthcare provider based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “But that’s definitely not coming without some challenges. We’ve got a lot of staff that have been building on-prem, server-based applications for a long time and we’ve got to get them up to speed on Azure.”

As for Como, “[Microsoft] presented some ideas for maybe reducing some of that complexity, but it doesn’t mean that complexity goes away,” he added. “This is a tool that’s well worth having, but there’s probably a lot of ways to skin that cat.”

The future of IoT SaaS apps

Microsoft plans to add a series of extensions to Azure IoT Central, its SaaS platform for rapid development of IoT applications without the need to manage infrastructure.

While the premise of IoT Central is that it offers a simplified way to build IoT apps, Microsoft wants to make the platform more sophisticated via additional APIs for device management, data and visualization, app provisioning and user management, according to the presentation at Build.

[Como] is a tool that’s well worth having, but there’s probably a lot of ways to skin that cat.
Scott BradfordSoftware development manager, U.S. Anesthesia Partners

Connectors for Power BI, Dynamics, MuleSoft, SAP, Azure Data Lake and SQL are also in the works. Finally, Microsoft is fine-tuning Azure IoT’s development environment. It’s possible that both a Power Apps-style experience and an IDE-based one via a VS Code plugin will be available on an ongoing basis.

Flex has been building out a SaaS IoT platform based on Microsoft’s technology for several years, said Alan Lindsay, senior director at the large electronics manufacturer, which was previously named Flextronics.

“What we find with our customers is they want the cost of device connectivity really to go down to pennies,” said Lindsay, who attended the Build session. “Commoditizing and building a SaaS solution like this allows us to provide it at a lower cost.”

“The roadmap is great — the APIs coming down the line,” he said of Microsoft’s IoT Central plans. “I’m excited. I just want it all now.”

RPaaS plan looks to broaden Azure’s back-end services

Today, Azure includes more than 150 services, or resources, for building applications. Only about 15% of these were created by partners, Microsoft presenters said at another Sneak Peek session.

It can take months for a third party to stand up a new resource on Azure due to factors such as tying together storage, monitoring, telemetry and billing. Microsoft wants to speed up that process for partners through something it calls Resource Provider as a service, or RPaaS, now in development.

The goal is for partners to focus on the business logic associated with their service, and not so much on the wiring and plumbing work required to get Azure resources live.

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Modernizing Windows CE systems with Windows 10 IoT – Windows Developer Blog

Microsoft has provided platforms and operating systems for embedded devices for decades. As new offerings such as Windows 10 IoT have become available, our customers and partners are increasingly interested in the advanced security, platform and cloud connectivity features that these OSes provide. Customers moving from most earlier editions of Windows, like Windows XP and Windows 7, can do so with little effort because of binary-compatible applications. Other operating systems, like Windows CE, require device builders to modify source code. Porting applications like this can be challenging.
To help these customers move to Windows 10 IoT and harness the full power of the intelligent edge including artificial intelligence and machine learning, Microsoft is developing technology that will allow most customers to run their existing, unmodified Windows CE applications on Windows 10 IoT while they continue to invest in updating their applications. Today at the Microsoft Build conference, we are sharing preliminary information on this CE migration technology and asking customers to give us feedback by registering at the link below.
How simplified CE migration worksThe CE migration technology used on Windows 10 employs pico process technology to run applications in an isolated environment, with the application’s OS dependencies decoupled from the underlying host OS. Pico process technology is used in Windows Subsystem for Linux, which allows Linux distributions to run on Windows, and SQLPAL, which allows SQL Server to run on a Linux host.
The entire Windows CE environment, both user mode and kernel mode, is lifted into the pico process, which runs in the user mode of the underlying Windows 10 IoT OS. A Windows 10 platform abstraction layer handles syscalls (e.g., virtual memory allocations) from the pico process and delivers them to the Windows 10 host OS for processing. You can learn more about how this technology works in the recent IoT Show episode “Modernizing Windows CE Devices.”

Work with Microsoft to simplify CE migrationOver the coming months, we want to gather input from developers to help us better understand the requirements for this CE migration technology and determine how to bring it to our customers.
If you have a Windows CE solution that you want to move forward to Windows 10 IoT, please register your interest here and attend the “Windows IoT: The Foundation for Your Intelligent Edge” session at Build on May 8 at 2 p.m. PT.

Lenovo introduces latest Windows 10 ThinkPads | Windows Experience Blog

Lenovo has announced the latest additions to its ThinkPad portfolio: the T495, T495s and X395. These new Windows 10 laptops, with up to the 2nd Gen AMD Ryzen 7 Pro Mobile Processors and integrated AMD Vega graphics, are designed to boost productivity, enhance multimedia and improve energy efficiency.

Lenovo ThinkPad T495

The new T and X series offer feature upgrades – without compromising a high level of hardware security and manageability. They have a longer battery life, too: up to four more hours on a single charge [1] and increased performance by up to 18 percent (compared to benchmarks of prior generations).
With Radeon FreeSync technology, users will experience a fluid frame refresh rate, free of screen stutters—perfect for videos, presentations and light PC gaming on the side. New to the AMD series, the 14-inch Full HD (1920×1080) display at 400 nits makes text and icons easier to see in dim surroundings even at a lower power setting than other PCs its size.

Lenovo ThinkPad T495s

For those who’ve struggled with garbled voices and distracting background noise on group calls, ThinkPad’s dual far-field microphones on the AMD models deliver improved 360-degree reception to enhance VoIP conferencing performance, especially when you’re in noisy environments.
And since security is top of mind for everyone, Lenovo is delivering greater peace of mind with just a slide of the ThinkShutter, the all-in-one integrated camera security cover that physically protects ThinkPad users from view of malicious webcam snoopers. For an extra layer of security, there’s an optional ePrivacy filter, the ThinkPad PrivacyGuard on both the T495s and X395, shielding your screen content from any unwanted side glances. Packed with these features and more, this line of ThinkPad laptops comes protected by Lenovo ThinkShield.

Lenovo ThinkPad X395

The ThinkPad T495 (14-inch) will be available in late May, with a starting price of $939. [2]
The ThinkPad T495s (14-inch) and ThinkPad X395 (13-inch) will be available starting in early June, with a starting price of $1089. [2]
Find out more about these devices at Lenovo.
[1] All battery life claims are approximate and based on test results using the MobileMark 2014 ver 1.5 battery life benchmark test. Actual results will vary and depend on numerous factors including product configuration and usage, software, operating conditions, wireless functionality, power management settings, screen brightness and other factors. The maximum capacity of the battery will naturally decrease with time and usage. See https://bapco.com/products/mobilemark-2014/ for additional details.
[2] Prices do not include tax, shipping or options and are subject to change without notice; additional terms and conditions apply. Reseller prices may vary. On-shelf dates may vary by geography and products may only be available in select markets. All offers subject to availability. Lenovo reserves the right to alter product offerings, features and specifications at any time without notice.

Protecting democratic elections through secure, verifiable voting – Microsoft on the Issues

Today, at the Microsoft Build developer conference, CEO Satya Nadella announced ElectionGuard, a free open-source software development kit (SDK) from our Defending Democracy Program. ElectionGuard will make voting secure, more accessible, and more efficient anywhere it’s used in the United States or in democratic nations around the world. ElectionGuard, developed with the assistance of our partner Galois, will be available starting this summer to election officials and election technology suppliers who can incorporate the technology into voting systems. Among ElectionGuard’s many benefits, it will enable end-to-end verification of elections, open results to third-party organizations for secure validation, and allow individual voters to confirm their votes were correctly counted.

We are also announcing today that we have partnered with major election technology suppliers who are exploring the integration of ElectionGuard into their voting systems. We currently have partnerships with election technology suppliers responsible for more than half of the voting machines sold in the U.S. To help these partners, other vendors and election officials to visualize how ElectionGuard can modernize and secure the vote, we are building a reference voting system, which we will make public later this year, that will showcase the capabilities that ElectionGuard enables.

We believe technology companies have a responsibility to help protect our democratic processes and institutions. Modern technology can be used to ensure the voting process is resilient. At the same time, ElectionGuard is not intended to replace paper ballots but rather to supplement and improve systems that rely on them, and it is not designed to support internet voting. In short, ElectionGuard is a new tool for use by the existing election community and government entities that run elections.

ElectionGuard can be used to build systems with five major benefits that will protect the vote against tampering by anyone, and improve the voting process for citizens and officials:

  • Verifiable: Allowing voters and third-party organizations to verify election results.
  • Secure: Built with advanced encryption techniques developed by Microsoft Research.
  • Auditable: Supporting risk-limiting audits that help assure the accuracy of elections.
  • Open source: Free and flexible with the ability to be used with off-the-shelf hardware.
  • Make voting better: Supporting standard accessibility tools and improving the voting experience.

Verifiable

ElectionGuard democratizes the ability to verify election results by enabling direct public confirmation of the accuracy of those results. Voters are able to verify the correct recording of their votes, and anyone – including voters themselves – can verify that all of the recorded votes are correctly counted. As with current election systems, voters will remain unable to disclose their recorded votes to protect their privacy.

ElectionGuard verification is accomplished in two ways.

First, ElectionGuard provides each voter a tracker with a unique code that can be used to follow an encrypted version of the vote through the entire election process via a web portal provided by election authorities. During the process of vote-casting, voters have an optional step that allows them to confirm that their trackers and encrypted votes accurately reflect their selections. But once a vote is cast, neither the tracker nor any data provided through the web portal can be used to reveal the contents of the vote. After the election is complete, the tracker codes can be used by voters to confirm that their votes were not altered or tampered with and that they were properly counted.

Second, ElectionGuard also includes an open specification – or a road map – which allows anyone to write an election verifier. Voters, candidates, news media and any observers can run verifiers of their own or downloaded from sources of their choosing to confirm tabulations are as reported. The combination of the tracker – which allows individual voters to verify that their votes have been accurately recorded – and the verifier – which allows anyone to verify that the recorded votes have been accurately counted – enables full “end-to-end verification” of the correctness of election results. It will not be possible to “hack” the vote without detection.

ElectionGuard provides a complete implementation of end-to-end verifiable elections. It is designed to work with systems that use paper ballots, supplementing today’s tabulation process by providing a means of public verification of the accuracy of reported results.

Secure

To enable these two forms of verification, ElectionGuard uses something called homomorphic encryption – which enables mathematical procedures – like counting – to be done with fully encrypted data. The use of homomorphic encryption in election systems has been pioneered by Microsoft Research under the leadership of Senior Cryptographer Josh Benaloh. With homomorphic encryption, individually encrypted votes can be combined to form an encrypted tabulation of all votes which can then be decrypted to produce an election tally that protects voter privacy. By running an open election verifier, anyone can securely confirm that the encrypted votes have been correctly aggregated and that this encrypted tabulation has been correctly decrypted to produce the final tally. This process allows anyone to verify the correct counting of votes by inspecting the public election record, while keeping voting records secure. The use of homomorphic encryption to enable verification is separate from and in addition to the process of paper ballots counted as an official election tally.

Auditable

Auditing the outcomes of elections further helps increase public confidence in the outcome as well as improving operational performance of elections. In addition to the public verification enabled by ElectionGuard, the SDK explicitly supports an enhanced form of statistical administrative auditing. Efficient risk-limiting audits are conducted by election officials with the aid of an electronic record of every ballot cast in an election. In this process, ballot records are selected at random and then compared against corresponding paper ballots to confirm that they match. By individually comparing paper against corresponding electronic records, high confidence in an election result can be achieved by examining far fewer ballots than would be necessary by traditional means. The process used by ElectionGuard allows these efficient risk-limiting audits to be publicly observable and verifiable without publishing the full set of electronic vote records.

Open source

The ElectionGuard SDK, as well as components of the reference voting system we’re building, will be released under the MIT Open Source License and made available on GitHub. Microsoft is offering this software to the election industry free of charge and with the intent of election technology vendors adopting components as they see fit. The SDK is designed to be used stand-alone or easily integrated as part of a vendor’s larger system. Because it’s open source, ElectionGuard can be used not just on devices running Windows but on off-the-shelf devices from other major technology companies as well as custom hardware designed by election technology suppliers. We believe this will enable ElectionGuard to be deployed in a variety of ways.

Make voting better

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person on the planet to achieve more, and that commitment extends to those with disabilities who want to exercise their right to vote. Disability advocates we speak with want primary voting systems that are more accessible. The reference voting system we are building will demonstrate how ElectionGuard can be combined with readily available devices to build accessibility into the primary systems everyone uses.

We also wanted to make the whole voting experience easier and more modern for everyone and spent significant time thinking about the challenges people face on election day. One frustration is the difficulty of doing research on candidates and initiatives at the polling place. Our sample reference will showcase how people can make their selections at home, where they can easily research their choices, then bring a QR code to the polling place to scan and pre-populate their ballot.

When it’s time to vote, ElectionGuard supports the use of standard tablets and PCs running a variety of operating systems as a ballot marking device, which can be used to create an interface that looks and feels like modern applications people interact with every day on their phones and tablets. After people make their choices, their selections can be printed on a physical sheet of paper that they can review for accuracy and place in the ballot box as the official record of their vote.

Finally, voters will receive trackers that confirm their votes and can be used to verify that their votes were counted correctly after an election. ElectionGuard can also be used to enable optional scenarios for people to share on social media the fact that they voted, serving as a virtual “I voted” sticker encouraging others to participate in the democratic process.

Partnerships

We are working with a range of election technology suppliers who are excited to explore incorporating ElectionGuard into their current offerings or build new product lines incorporating the technology. These partnerships represent organizations that supply more than half of the voting systems used in the United States today including Democracy Live, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, BPro, MicroVote, and VotingWorks. We will continue to work with these partners, and any other interested vendors, over the coming months as they evaluate ElectionGuard. The early feedback has been exciting.

The code for ElectionGuard is being built together with our development partner, Galois. We are excited that Galois recently received $10 million in funding from DARPA to build a demonstration voting system to help evaluate secure hardware DARPA researchers are developing as part of a separate DARPA program. The agency views ensuring the integrity and security of the election process as a critical national security concern and plans to implement the ElectionGuard SDK as part of their effort to enable an end-to-end verifiable component in future versions of their demonstration voting system. It is encouraging to see DARPA investing in technology, which will not only find an application in securing the voting process but could contribute to more secure and transparent computing for a variety of devices and applications.

We are also pleased to announce a partnership with Columbia University’s Columbia World Projects. Columbia professors in statistics, political science, computer science, and international and public affairs and Microsoft will be joining forces to bring ElectionGuard to life by piloting the technology in the coming election cycle.

Availability

The ElectionGuard SDK will be available through GitHub beginning this summer. We encourage the election technology community to begin building offerings based on this technology and expect early prototypes using ElectionGuard will be ready for piloting during the 2020 elections in the United States, with significant deployments for subsequent election cycles. Over time we will seek to update and improve the SDK to support additional voting scenarios such as mail-in ballots and ranked choice voting. Microsoft will not charge for using ElectionGuard and will not profit from partnering with election technology suppliers that incorporate it into their products.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Is Windows Server troubleshooting on the way out?

Whenever an important Windows Server workload breaks, a clock starts to tick on how quickly you can get it working.

There are multiple options to get a server back online, but which is the right one? As is the case with many questions related to IT, the answer is: It depends. Knowing which one to choose is critical — and this decision-making process can be incredibly stressful — because each has varying levels of effort and time to complete.

It’s inevitable for Windows Server to break due to a variety of reasons, such as a bad update or an abrupt shutdown. You have three distinct choices to correct a defective server, which have evolved over time. Correcting issues on the server 20 years ago had a lot of value, but the Windows Server troubleshooting process slowly gave way in favor of backups. Today, a restore operation is still valid, but there’s another shift toward replacement.

Why resolving a server breakdown is different

To see how we got to where we are today, let’s look at how we used to fix Windows desktops as an example. Years ago, no matter what the issue was, you went through a Windows Server troubleshooting exercise to correct it as quickly as possible. This was due to both the expense of the hardware and loss of data if a desktop needed replacing.

Today, with servers and cloud storage for your applications and data and relatively inexpensive desktop hardware, the concept of fixing a desktop is archaic. No company enjoys losing money on hardware, but the cost of keeping an employee offline is more than keeping a few spare desktops around to swap in and out.

While this substitution process worked for lower-cost desktops, it was too expensive for server hardware. However, this changed when virtualization gave us a new option for servers and made the repair-or-replace decision fuzzy. Unlike desktops, servers often are backed up, so we can revert back to points in time. We also have the traditional option of fixing what is broken, and because of virtualization, we can create a new instance of that server.

Windows blue screen
When a Windows Server workload stops running after an error, there are three options for administrators to get the deployment functioning.

Option 1: Restore the server

One of the first and traditional methods of server repair is restoring what is missing or damaged. Server restore can be ideal for rolling back updates or other changes quickly, provided the server functions and has a working backup agent. This method can be the right choice for minor repairs or missing files. Even if the server is not working, it’s possible to restore the server from a full backup to a previous state.

The benefit here is you have less configuration work and changes to make, but on the flip side, the restore process can take some time. Plus, what damaged the server might still be present, so a successful server restore doesn’t mean you fixed the original problem.

Option 2: Fix the server

This brings up the second option: Repair the server. For applications or OS pieces that break, you might be able to correct the issue — if you can find it.

If you run Server Core — the GUI-free Windows Server OS — you’ll need to be well-versed in the requisite command-line interface commands to troubleshoot the OS. In a time of crisis, looking up commands on the internet isn’t ideal. You should have at least one tools server with a GUI that you can quickly navigate from as long as the broken server can be remotely managed.

To some degree, the modern server is a black box that is designed for replacement rather than repair. Fixing the server comes back to the desktop example where the path of least resistance is either a restore or replacement. This also becomes a business driver, not a technology driver, as there is often a lot of pressure associated with certain applications that must get working as quickly as possible.

The downside to a decline in Windows Server troubleshooting is it reduces the admin’s ability; when you fail to use a skill, it tends to get rusty and outdated. The same goes for the vendors that make the troubleshooting tools. If fixing the issue is done less often, then there is little need for these tools, and they begin to disappear from the market. It’s a vicious circle that, in the end, means, if it’s something that can’t be fixed quickly, then you have only two other options.

Option 3: Replace the server

This brings up the third and most unique option: replacement. Replacing a broken server was unheard of until virtualization became mainstream.

Before virtualization, applications were a monolithic design where a small group of servers handled the applications at a single focal point and were sized accordingly. This meant a single server was more critical, and fixing it or restoring data was the only option.

Virtualization introduced the ability to scale out rather than up. This distributed model avoids the single point of failure and keeps applications online despite the loss of a single server. This approach makes server replacement a more viable option than a restore or a repair effort, especially when paired with an automation routine that can deploy a replacement virtual server with minimal effort or time.

Not all applications support swapping out pieces, but this does seem to be the direction the servers are going as the industry continues to embrace containers and other GUI-less server platforms.

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Cloud Skype phones require firmware update by July 1

Businesses using third-party desk phones with Skype for Business Online must update the devices’ firmware by July 1. The phones will be unable to connect to the Office 365 cloud without the update.

Microsoft is changing the authentication model for cloud-based Skype phones. Currently, devices from four certified vendors — AudioCodes, Crestron, Poly and Yealink — connect to Office 365 using the same identification code.

Moving forward, Microsoft is giving each vendor a unique identification code, a change that will take effect on July 1. In addition to installing new firmware, businesses must grant each hardware vendor permission to access their Office 365 accounts.

However, AudioCodes, Poly and Yealink have not yet released new firmware. Crestron first released desk phones for Skype for Business Online in March, so the firmware of those devices is already up to date.

“This is a little bit rushed,” said Tom Arbuthnot, principal solutions architect at Modality Systems, a Microsoft-focused systems integrator. “Microsoft has announced, ‘You have to do this.’ But none of the firmware is [available] yet, so you can’t really do it.”

“For bigger customers with a slow process, this may be a bit of time pressure on them,” he said.

The change affects Skype phones that connect to Microsoft Teams through a cloud gateway. Businesses with on-premises Skype for Business that use cloud email or cloud voicemail also need to update the firmware. Companies with only premises-based equipment are unaffected.

The new authentication model will provide greater security. For example, it would prevent phones from an unapproved hardware vendor from connecting to a company’s Office 365 account.

Although not revolutionary, it’s a nice addition to the security features of Office 365, Arbuthnot said. “It’s Microsoft tightening its model,” he said.

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