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How technology has transformed my working life – Microsoft News Centre Europe

“We’re sorry to announce that the 07:12 Thameslink service to London St. Pancras International has been cancelled. Please stand by for further announcements. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused to your journey.”

A few years ago, my working life was very different. For six years, I spent four hours each day crammed across six trains, commuting to work and back. It was financially and emotionally draining, but it was simply the way that things were done.   

It was only two and a half years ago, when I joined Microsoft as editor of its European news centre, that I realised that the traditional way we work, and our accustomed routines, could be different. Today, I have the freedom and flexibility to work from home, with my cat Meze purring away beside me.

I want to share my experiences here, not because I work for Microsoft, but because I’m truly passionate about this new way of working, and am grateful for the hugely positive impact it’s had on my life. This is my future of work.

Microsoft MunichBuilding bridges
On my first day, I had some reservations. They say that no man is an island, but in a professional, geographical sense, I come pretty close – I’m the only one in my direct team that lives and works in the UK. Others are scattered across Germany, Ukraine, Turkey, Bulgaria, and even South Africa – not to mention all the other people I work with around the globe, from the USA to Singapore. Bar the occasional business trips, I attend meetings and work with everyone remotely. It was a daunting prospect. I worried about being isolated, and the quality of work that could be achieved with colleagues that were hundreds of miles away. Would I feel close to them? Would I achieve my best work? Would I make friends?

Three years on, I look back on my first day jitters and realise that they were totally unfounded. Thanks to Teams, I truly feel like I’m working in the same office with my colleagues. A quick question or discussion is a mere chat window away, allowing me to instantly solve problems and give/receive advice – not to mention sending the occasional cat gif or two.

Beyond ad-hoc chats, we use video calls – a prospect which I found daunting, until I actually tried it. There’s something vulnerable, I feel, about putting yourself on camera, and I was worried it would be a distraction. In fact, I’ve found it’s the opposite.

Being able to see the people you’re talking to increases personal connections and engagements. It transforms someone from an ethereal voice to an actual person, and it doesn’t take long for the technology to melt away and become invisible. You’re just a group of people, in a room, having a chat – nothing more, nothing less.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

7 smart tech developments for people who are blind or have low vision | Microsoft On The Issues

It’s estimated that there are about 36 million people in the world who are blind, and a further 216 million who live with moderate to severe visual impairments. Although the World Health Organization points out that up to 80% of vision impairment around the world is avoidable with better access to treatment, the number of people who are blind or have low vision is rising as the global population ages.

But technology is playing a vital role in tearing down barriers, and artificial intelligence is making real inroads into improving accessibility.

Here are seven examples of how smart technology can be a game-changer, allowing everyone to interact with the world in new ways.

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The eye in AI

As we’ve reported, Microsoft’s Seeing AI is an app designed to help people with low vision or who are blind. It enhances the world around the user with rich audio descriptions. It can read a handwritten note or scan a barcode and then tell the user what the product is. Point a camera at something and the app will describe how many people it can see and where they are in the image – center, top left and so on.

3-D Sound Maps

YouTube Video

For a sighted person, walking along the street can mean taking in every detail that surrounds them. Microsoft Soundscape replicates that behavior by building a detailed audio map that relates what’s taking place around a person with visual impairment.

It creates layers of context and detail by drawing on location data, sound beacons and synthesized 3-D stereo sound to build a constantly updating 3-D sound map of the surrounding world.

Knowledge at your fingertips

Braille has been used for nearly 200 years as a tactile way of reading with fingertips. It has now jumped from the page to the screen with the updated version of Narrator, the screen-reader for Microsoft Windows, supporting digital Braille displays and keyboards.

Outside of Microsoft’s efforts, Braille touchscreens that work in the same way as tablets have already proved popular among students and teachers. At the Assistive Technology Industry Association’s 2019 conference in Orlando, Florida, innovations on display included the BraiBook, a Braille e-reader that fits into the palm of a hand, and even an electronic toy called the Braille Buzz, designed to teach Braille to preschoolers.

Beacons of change

Bluetooth beacons, such as those being used by the company Foresight Augmented Reality, act like highly precise, personalized guides for people who are blind or partially sighted. While basic GPS technology can take users to a location, beacons mounted in a store, restaurant or public building can guide them to the entrance of the building in question. And when the user is inside, other beacons can direct them to the bathroom or other important facilities.

Electric vehicles

The European Union is taking no chances with people’s safety. New legislation means electric vehicles have to be audible  at low speeds and while reversing. Some manufacturers are already incorporating artificial noise into their electric vehicles.

Smart Glasses

Researchers at Ajman University in the United Arab Emirates are working on the development of a set of smart glasses that can use AI to read, provide navigation information and potentially identify faces. Glasses are connected to a smartphone through a processing unit, allowing the system to function without an internet connection.

These smart glasses are still in the early stages of development but are said to work with a reading accuracy rate of 95%.

AI for Accessibility

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program was launched last year, with a $25 million commitment to put Microsoft technology in the hands of start-ups, developers, researchers and non-profits in order to drive innovation and amplify human capability for people with disabilities. The program is continuously looking at new projects to support.

For more on these innovations and accessibility initiatives at Microsoft, visit microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility and follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Protect against BlueKeep

Worms are the cause of many cyber headaches. They can easily replicate themselves to spread malicious malware to other computers in your network. As the field responders providing Microsoft enterprise customers with onsite assistance to serious cybersecurity threats, our Detection and Response Team (DART) has seen quite a few worms. If you’ve met the DART Team, then you know your worms are our concern and that’s why we keep an eye out for BlueKeep.

Protect against BlueKeep

This summer, the DART team has been preparing for CVE-2019-0708, colloquially known as BlueKeep, and has some advice on how you can protect your network. The BlueKeep vulnerability is “wormable,” meaning it creates the risk of a large-scale outbreak due to its ability to replicate and propagate, similar to Conficker and WannaCry. Conficker has been widely estimated to have impacted 10- to 12-million computer systems worldwide. WannaCry was responsible for approximately $300 million in damages at just one global enterprise.

To protect against BlueKeep, we strongly recommend you apply the Windows Update, which includes a patch for the vulnerability. If you use Remote Desktop in your environment, it’s very important to apply all the updates. If you have Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) listening on the internet, we also strongly encourage you to move the RDP listener behind some type of second factor authentication, such as VPN, SSL Tunnel, or RDP gateway.

You also want to enable Network Level Authentication (NLA), which is a mitigation to prevent un-authenticated access to the RDP tunnel. NLA forces users to authenticate before connecting to remote systems, which dramatically decreases the chance of success for RDP-based worms. The DART team highly recommends you enable NLA regardless of this patch, as it mitigates a whole slew of other attacks against RDP.

If you’re already aware of the BlueKeep remediation methods, but are thinking about testing it before going live, we recommend that you deploy the patch. It’s important to note that the exploit code is now publicly and widely available to everyone, including malicious actors. By exploiting a vulnerable RDP system, attackers will also have access to all user credentials used on the RDP system.

Why the urgency?

Via open source telemetry, we see more than 400,000 endpoints lacking any form of network level authentication, which puts each of these systems potentially at risk from a worm-based weaponization of the BlueKeep vulnerability.

The timeline between patch release and the appearance of a worm outbreak is difficult to predict and varies from case to case. As always, the DART team is ready for the worst-case scenario. We also want to help our customers be prepared, so we’re sharing a few previous worms and the timeline from patch to attack. Hopefully, this will encourage everyone to patch immediately.

Chart showing vulnerability, patch release, and outbreak. Vulnerability: MS08-067; Patch release: October 23, 2008; Outbreak: late December 2008. Vulnerability: MS17-010; Patch release: March 14, 2017; Outbreak: May 12, 2017. Vulnerability: CVE-2019-0708; Patch release: May 13, 2019; Outbreak column shows three question marks.

Learn more

To learn more about DART, our engagements, and how they are delivered by experienced cybersecurity professionals who devote 100 percent of their time to providing cybersecurity solutions to customers worldwide, please contact your account executive. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us at @MSFTSecurity for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.

This document is for informational purposes only and Microsoft makes no warranties, express or implied, in this blog.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Closing the rural broadband gap is an urgent national crisis – Microsoft on the Issues

It’s been clear to us for some time that the digital divide in this country is an urgent national crisis that must be solved. Since 2017, we’ve been working with internet service providers to do just that, through our Airband Initiative, and we’re on track to cover 3 million Americans in unserved rural areas by 2022.

It’s encouraging to see this issue rise in national prominence, through funding from the administration, congressional legislation and most recently new proposals introduced by several candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. While there’s been some progress already, solving the broadband gap will require active engagement as well as effective policy proposals from all parts of the public sector.

It’s time to recognize that inequal access to broadband translates into inequality of opportunity. People in rural areas that lack broadband face higher unemployment rates, see fewer job and economic opportunities and place children from these communities behind their suburban and peers in school. Of course, this is not just a rural issue – broadband deserts exist within very urban areas as well, where costs can be unaffordable and availability non-existent.

To be sure, there are efforts underway to provide the funding and assistance needed to expand broadband coverage for rural areas, by the administration, Congress, governors and the private sector, including Microsoft and our Airband partners. But much more needs to be done to translate proposals into action.

That’s why we’re at the Iowa State Fair this week as well. Microsoft is hosting a booth, where we’ll learn from Iowans about their digital realities, discuss what we can do through the Airband Initiative to help and what other opportunities can be unlocked with reliable, affordable broadband access. We hope to discuss the issue with political leaders attending the fair as well.

Solving the broadband gap should be a national issue because we are leaving millions of Americans behind. We look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to make meaningful progress on this important national issue.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Crazy about chocolate, serious about people: meet the Dutch chocolate company that dared to be different – Microsoft News Centre Europe

Now, staff can build annual reports with Teams, easily sharing multiple source documents while knowing that team members are always working with the most current versions. As with every other aspect of work life for Tony’s employees, that strategy is carefully aligned with company values. “We use the chat feature in Teams to build the personal relationships we want to encourage,” says Ursem. “Email is more formal, more time-consuming. Chat lends itself to the shared humor and quick check-ins that naturally fit our culture and make us more efficient.”

With Teams, Tony’s team members have an informal, easy way to collaborate on projects with each other and with suppliers by using Teams Rooms. For IT Manager Rick van Doorn, otherwise known as Chocomatic Fanatic, nurturing spirit drives key decisions made by company leadership. “We say that our team comes first,” he explains. “Without the team, there is no company. And keeping that team collaborating optimally is vitally important to everything we do.”

Since implementing Teams, the company has averaged a 10 to 15 percent decrease in its total email volume. Ursem and van Doorn point out that this is happening despite steady company growth. “We’re pushing communication to the channels where it can happen most effectively,” says van Doorn.

A new world of work
The company focuses intently on messaging, both internally and externally. Even the design of its chocolate bars has a message – each bar is divided into unequal pieces, to mirror the inequalities in traditional profit sharing.

Internally, employees mix up workspaces every six months, sharing space with colleagues from different departments to build stronger team relations. That dedication to cultivating teamwork led the company to experiment with various apps purported to propel teamwork forward.

One of the biggest successes to come out of this experimentation was consolidating telephony with Office 365 in April 2019. As a result, employees can now access the company landline through Teams with the Vodafone Calling in Office 365 solution. For customer contact, Teams is extended with the Anywhere365 Contact Center. Because the solution interoperates with Salesforce, incoming calls can be logged in the company’s customer relationship management system for inclusion in the customer database.

“Using Teams with Vodafone Calling in Microsoft Office 365 amplifies the personal and transparent approach we’re known for,” says van Doorn. “We can talk to our chocofans with full knowledge of their prior backgrounds, orders, and feedback.” Incoming calls automatically route to the best person to handle the call, no matter where that person is, and contact information is included for the convenience of the person receiving the call.

A future in the cloud
Ten years ago, the company migrated to the cloud. “We were growing rapidly and needed to be scalable,” recalls van Doorn. “And we also looked at the growing number of relationships we were managing—both customers and suppliers, plus our rapidly expanding staff. We felt that committing to a complicated IT landscape in terms of connections, interfaces, and equipment would have been a risk.”

Cross-functional collaboration also underpins daily and strategic operations at Tony’s Chocolonely. Teamwork fans out from internal teams to a swath of partners that support different aspects of operations, including web developers, product wrapper suppliers, retail stores, and many more.

The company is so committed in fact, that its suppliers also now collaborate in Teams. “We’ve implemented the entire Microsoft 365 suite,” van Doorn. “All of our data is on SharePoint. With this modern working platform, we can easily collaborate with our partners, suppliers, and with each other.” The company also hopes to reduce business travel expenses by 10 percent now that so much collaboration takes place in the cloud.

For the people behind the Tony’s Chocolonely brand, it comes down to relationships. “By growing long-term relationships and paying a higher price—above the market price plus the Fairtrade Premium—to West African farmers, we’re trying to create an equal partnership,” says Ursem. “And if we’re performing well, other companies will be inspired to shoulder this responsibility, too.”

For more information, please visit the Microsoft Customer Stories blog.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Four steps to get involved in the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship | | Microsoft EDU

Students around the world are using their Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification to show colleges and future employers that they have a true mastery of the Microsoft Office suite. In fact, some talented students even go on to compete in a world competition for Microsoft Office.

Each year, Certiport, a Pearson VUE business, and the leading provider of learning curriculum, practice tests and performance-based IT certification exams that accelerate academic and career opportunities, hosts the MOS World Championship. This event is a global competition, testing top students’ skills on Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Are you a hard-working student, looking to show the world your Microsoft Office skills? Check out these four easy steps below to find out how you can get involved in the Microsoft Office Specialist Championship.

  1. Learn. Before you’re ready to compete, make sure you’re a master of the Microsoft Office Suite. Certiport has collaborated with multiple learning partners to make preparation easy. You can learn the skills you need to earn a top score on your MOS exam.
  2. Practice. Now that you’ve expanded your knowledge, it’s time to apply it. You can hone your Microsoft Office skills using various practice exams. These performance-based assessment and test preparation tools will prepare you to earn your MOS certification by creating a true “live in the app” experience. You’ll be a master in no time, because you’ll be practicing skills as if in the Microsoft Office application.
  3. Certify. You’re ready to show your skills! Microsoft Office Specialist exams are only delivered in Certiport Authorized Testing Centers. However, with more than 14,000 testing centers worldwide, there’s bound to be one close by. Find a testing center near you, and don’t forget to reach out to the testing center to schedule an appointment. Make sure to push for a score over 700 to be eligible for the MOS World Championship!
  4. Compete. If you’ve earned a top score, then the MOS Championship is your next step. Qualification is simple. When you take a Microsoft Office Specialist exam in Word, Excel or PowerPoint, you’ll automatically enter the MOS Championship and could be chosen to represent your country.

To represent your country at the MOS World Championship, you’ll need to first be named your nation’s champion by competing in a regional competition hosted by Certiport’s network of Authorized Partners. You can see the full list of partners and nations that compete here. In addition, each country has its own selection process, so make sure to connect with your local Partner to find out how you can prepare to compete in the MOS World Championship in 2020.

Interested in learning more about the MOS World Championship? Connect with us at [email protected].

Click here for free STEM resourcesExplore tools for student-centered learning

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These innovations are driving collaboration in the Cascadia region | Microsoft On The Issues

As far as enviable commutes go, a short hop in a seaplane, flying over water and past snow-capped mountains, is up there.

Connecting Seattle and Vancouver, a recently launched flight route is testament to the growing ties between the locations.

The two-way trading relationship between Canada and the United States remains one of the largest in the world – and the links between British Columbia and Washington state are growing. In 2016, the launch of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor formalized the connection. And a July 2019 study also found that a high-speed rail line connecting Vancouver, Seattle and Portland could bring $355 billion in economic growth in the region.

Here are a few of the ways this region is coming together.

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Innovation at scale

Microsoft, along with many other business, academic and research institutions, has been working to maximize the opportunities the corridor presents – and the Canadian Digital Technology Supercluster consortium is one example.

Bringing together names in tech, healthcare and natural resources, this consortium hopes to advance technologies by developing innovation and talent. It will also be a boon to the local economy, with the goal of creating 50,000 B.C. jobs over the next 10 years, fuelling growth across multiple sectors and expanding opportunity across the region.

A meeting of minds

Home to some of the world’s leading research and medical organizations, the Cascadia region is also aiming to become a global leader in biomedical data science and health technology innovation.

Stock image of people working in technology

Accelerating cancer research has been a key target. Working in collaboration with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Microsoft has established the Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative, which is tackling the barriers that make research breakthroughs difficult, such as data discovery and access.

Microsoft’s partnership with BC Cancer is taking another approach to finding a cure for the disease. Using Azure, scientists can collaboratively analyze vast amounts of data, accelerating the pace of research. Interns from the Microsoft Garage program have been working to take this a step further, using the HoloLens platform to create mixed reality tools to help researchers visualize the structure of a tumor.

Inspiring the next generation

Work is also happening at the grass-roots level, helping to create the next generation of graduates ready to build the technologies of the future. Through a partnership with Microsoft, the British Columbia Institute of Technology is delivering a first-of-its-kind mixed-reality curriculum, with the goal of training students for jobs in digital media and entertainment along the Cascadia Corridor.

British Columbia students are also benefiting from a Microsoft initiative to help high schools build computer science programs. The TEALS program first started in Washington state in 2009 and recently expanded to B.C. It pairs computer science professionals with teachers, giving schools the training and support to help their students build skills for in-demand local careers.

A lesson for others

The Cascadia Corridor is already helping Vancouver, Seattle and the region achieve more than they could do independently.

A steering committee established at the end of 2018 will help build on the economic opportunities, growing human capital in the region, investing in and expanding transport and infrastructure, and helping to foster an ecosystem that encourages innovation.

For more on the Cascadia Corridor and other Microsoft work follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Heineken’s Athina Syrrou and Microsoft’s Brad Anderson talk Teams in ‘The Shiproom’ | Transform

In this episode of “The Shiproom,” Athina Syrrou, who leads collaboration and end user devices for Heineken, joins Microsoft’s Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, to discuss what got Heineken interested in using Microsoft Teams and what they’ve learned about it since beginning the pilot – including how to introduce and adopt it efficiently.

Syrrou explains how she chooses the tools she provides to her global workforce, and how she uses the cloud to give her users maximum flexibility to choose the apps and devices they need.  She also schools Anderson on how to use common Greek idioms around the office (which explains why he’s recently been mumbling things about roller skates, chair legs and ducks).

Other discussion topics: The superiority of Greek yogurt, the perfect beer to pair with cereal, the benefits of moving to Intune, elephants and how deploying Microsoft 365 gives users the flexibility needed to do their best work and enable BYOD.

Stop by The Shiproom on YouTube to view more episodes. To learn how you can shift to a modern desktop with Microsoft 365, visit Microsoft365.com/Shift.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Tune-In Tomorrow to the ELEAGUE Gears Summer Series: The Bonds and Betrayals of Brotherhood Finale – Xbox Wire

Tomorrow night, ELEAGUE Gears Summer Series: The Bonds and Betrayals of Brotherhood concludes on TBS with the sixth and final episode of the docu series focused on the stories and players behind the world of Gears Esports. If you’d like to catch up with the entire series of The Bonds and Betrayals of Brotherhood ahead of the finale, you can watch all five aired episodes through VOD on the Gears Esports website.

Stemming from Xbox’s partnership with ELEAGUE, the six-part docu series focused on the stories and players behind the world of Gears Esports on TBS, the ELEAGUE Gears Summer Invitational was held three weeks ago, crowning Tox Gaming as the inaugural champions of the first Gears 5 esports event. In addition to a thrilling weekend of competition, we announced the first details of the Gears Esports 2019-2020 season, including a partnership with PGL to create a new Pro League.

To continue the Gears Esports journey, be sure to tune-in to the sixth and final episode of The Bonds & Betrayals of Brotherhood airing on TBS tomorrow, Friday, August 2, at 11 pm ET/8 pm PT. The docu series will continue to explore each player’s intense connection to the game and each other as they navigate to become the best players in the world on Gears 5 Esports.

Episode 6 of The Bonds & Betrayals of Brotherhood highlights pro player Justin “Kenny” Kenny’s career in Gears Esports – spanning across numerous titles, teams, and organizations over the years. Kenny reflects upon how the Gears Esports scene has both itself grown and allowed him to grow along with it.

The final episode also provides an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the recent ELEAGUE Gears 5 Invitational event and allows each of the six featured series pro players to reflect upon on their performance competing in the unreleased title. Through the eyes of these players, viewers will get the chance to experience the Gears 5 esports mode, Escalation, and prepare for the upcoming Gears 5 Esports season.

To stay updated, follow @EsportsGears on Twitter and visit Gears.gg. Be sure to also check out ELEAGUE’s channels; @ELEAGUETV and www.ELEAGUE.com.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Microsoft Investigator Fellowship seeks PhD faculty submissions

August 1, 2019 | By Jamie Harper, Vice-President, US Education

Microsoft is expanding its support for academic researchers through the new Microsoft Investigator Fellowship. This fellowship is designed to empower researchers of all disciplines who plan to make an impact with research and teaching using the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform.

From predicting traffic jams to advancing the Internet of Things, Azure has continued to evolve with the times, and this fellowship aims to keep Azure at the forefront of new ideas in the cloud computing space. Similarly evolving, Microsoft fellowships have a long history of supporting researchers, seeking to promote diversity and promising academic research in the field of computing. This fellowship is an addition to this legacy that highlights the significance of Azure in education, both now and into the future.

Full-time faculty at degree-granting colleges or universities in the United States who hold PhDs are eligible to apply. This fellowship supports faculty who are currently conducting research, advising graduate students, teaching in a classroom, and plan to or currently use Microsoft Azure in research, teaching, or both.

Fellows will receive $100,000 annually for two years to support their research. Fellows will also be invited to attend multiple events during this time, where they will make connections with other faculty from leading universities and Microsoft. They will have the opportunity to participate in the greater academic community as well. Members of the cohort will also be offered various training and certification opportunities.

When reviewing the submissions, Microsoft will evaluate the proposed future research and teaching impact of Azure. This will include consideration of how the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform will be leveraged in size, scope, or unique ways for research, teaching, or both.

Candidates should submit their proposals directly on the fellowship website by August 16, 2019. Recipients will be announced in September 2019.

We encourage you to submit your proposal! For more information on the Microsoft Investigator Fellowship, please check out the fellowship website.

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Author: Microsoft News Center