Hello, I’m looking for a 14″ laptop without a DVD bay, budget around £150 to max £200. Just to give you an idea, a dell latitude 7440/7450/7470 would be enough for my needs. HP Probook/elitebook or that sort of model but has to be 14″. Thanks
We are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of people around the world and changed the way we go about our daily lives. Here at Microsoft, we’re constantly asking ourselves what we can do to support people during this challenging time. To me, the most important thing to remember is that we’re all living and learning through this together.
I have previously stated that I believe gaming has a unique power to bring people together, to entertain, to inspire and connect us, and I believe that’s even more true under these unique circumstances. Many are looking to gaming to remain connected with their friends while practicing social distancing, and we are seeing an unprecedented demand for gaming from our customers right now.
With hundreds of millions of kids at home due to coronavirus-related school closures more kids are going online to spend time with their friends, explore online worlds and learn through play. Families are trying to navigate the need to help their children with distance learning and balance that with taking time to have fun. That’s why we announced today that we are adding a new Education category to the Minecraft Marketplace with free educational content players and parents can download.
The educational content we’ve curated lets players explore the International Space Station though a partnership with NASA, learn to code with a robot, visit famous Washington D.C. landmarks, find and build 3D fractals, learn what it’s like to be a marine biologist, and so much more. This is launching for free download today and will be available through June 30, 2020.
With so many turning to gaming, helping everyone stay safer online is also a top priority for us. This is why we provide family settings that help parents choose the screen time limits, content filters, purchase limits, communication and sharing settings that are right for their families. While kids may be home from school, family settings can help balance gaming with offline schoolwork and other responsibilities.
There are also some ways that we can bring brand-new players into the fold. For example, our Copilot feature can be especially helpful for children, new gamers or those who need unique configurations to play, allowing two controllers to play as if they were one.
We understand the important role gaming is playing right now to connect people and provide joy in these isolating and stressful times, and our teams are working diligently to ensure we can be there for our players. To that end, we are actively monitoring performance and usage trends to ensure we’re optimizing the service for our customers worldwide and accommodating for new growth and demand.
While these are unprecedented times we are living in, I have no doubt that we’ll come through this experience stronger than ever.
With COVID-19 continuing to impact people and countries around the world, teams everywhere are moving to remote work. Earlier this week, I posted a letter from Lily Zheng, our colleague in Shanghai, detailing her team’s experience using Microsoft Teams to work from home during the outbreak. Lily’s team is one of many. Here at Microsoft in the Puget Sound, we’re encouraging our teams to work from home as much as possible, as are many organizations in this region. And we expect this trend to continue across the world. At Microsoft, our top priority is the health and safety of employees, customers, partners, and communities. By making Teams available to as many people as possible, we aim to support public health and safety by keeping teams connected while they work apart.
As we have read through your responses to Lily’s letter, it has become clear that there are two big questions on your minds. First, how can people access the free Teams offerings that Lily referenced? Second, what is our plan for avoiding service interruptions during times of increased usage? Below, you’ll find detailed answers to both. And over the next few days we’ll be sharing more tips, updates, and information related to remote work here. So check back often.
Making Teams available for everyone
Teams is a part of Office 365. If your organization is licensed for Office 365, you already have it. But we want to make sure everyone has access to it during this time. Here are some simple ways to get Teams right away.
If you want to get started with Teams, we can get you up and running right away.
If you have an email address through work or school, sign in using this link. We’ll get you into Teams in no time.
If you’re using an email address like Gmail or Outlook, you can sign up for the freemium version of Teams by following this link.
The self-service links above work great for individuals, but if you’re an IT professional who wants to roll out Teams centrally, here’s what to do.
If you work for a business that isn’t currently licensed for Teams, we’ve got you covered with a free Office 365 E1 offer for six months. Contact your Microsoft partner or sales representative to get started today. (Note: the same offer is available in the Government Cloud, but not available in GCC High and the Department of Defense.)
If you work in education and want to set up teachers, students, and administrators on Teams, use Office 365 A1. This free version of Office 365 is available to all educational institutions. Sign up by following this link.
Keeping Teams up and running
You and your team depend on our tools to stay connected and get work done. We take that responsibility seriously, and we have a plan in place to make sure services stay up and running during impactful events like this. Our business continuity plan anticipates three types of impacts to the core aspects of the service:
Systems: When there’s a sudden increase in usage, like the surge we recently saw in China.
Location: When there’s an unexpected event that is location-specific, such as an earthquake or a powerful storm.
People: When there’s an event that may impact the team maintaining the system, like the COVID-19 outbreak in the Puget Sound area.
We’ve recently tested service continuity during a usage spike in China. Since January 31, we’ve seen a 500 percent increase in Teams meetings, calling, and conferences there, and a 200 percent increase in Teams usage on mobile devices. Despite this usage increase, service has been fluid there throughout the outbreak. Our approach to delivering a highly available and resilient service centers on the following things.
Active/Active design: In Microsoft 365, we are driving towards having all services architected and operated in an active/active design which increases resiliency. This means that there are always multiple instances of a service running that can respond to user requests and that they are hosted in geographically dispersed datacenters. All user traffic comes in through the Microsoft Front Door service and is automatically routed to the optimally located instance of the service and around any service failures to prevent or reduce impact to our customers.
Reduce incident scope: We seek to avoid incidents in the first place, but when they do happen, we strive to limit the scope of all incidents by having multiple instances of each service partitioned off from each other. In addition, we’re continuously driving improvements in monitoring through automation, enabling faster incident detection and response.
Fault isolation: Just as the services are designed and operated in an active/active fashion and are partitioned off from each other to prevent a failure in one from affecting another, the code base of the service is developed using similar partitioning principles called fault isolation. Fault isolation measures are incremental protections made within the code base itself. These measures help prevent an issue in one area from cascading into other areas of operation. You can read more about how we do this, along with all the details of our service continuity plan, in this document.
Adjusting to remote work can be a challenge. We get it, and we are here to provide the tools, tips, and information you need to help you and your team meet that challenge. We’re inspired by the agility and ingenuity that impacted schools, hospitals, and businesses have shown throughout COVID-19, and we are committed to helping organizations everywhere stay connected and productive during this difficult time.
Q. What happens when an individual signs in with work or school credentials? A. If the individual is licensed for Teams, they will be logged into the product. If the individual is not licensed for Teams, they will be logged into the product and automatically receive a free license of Teams that is valid through January 2021. This includes video meetings for up to 250 participants and Live Events for up to 10,000, recording and screen sharing, along with chat and collaboration. Details for IT.
Q. What does the freemium version of Teams include? A. This version gives you unlimited chat, built-in group and one-on-one audio or video calling, 10 GB of team file storage, and 2 GB of personal file storage per user. You also get real-time collaboration with the Office apps for web, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. There is no end date. Details here.
Q. Is there a user limit in the freemium version? A. Beginning March 10, we are rolling out updates to the free version of Teams that will lift restrictions on user limits.
Q. Can I schedule meetings in the freemium version? A. In the future, we will make it possible for users to schedule meetings. In the meantime, you can conduct impromptu video meetings and calls.
Q. How can IT admins access Teams for Education? A. Teams has always been free to students and education professionals as a part of the Office 365 A1 offer. Access it here.
COVID-19 has impacted the lives of people around the world. As Jared and Lily Zheng shared yesterday, the daily routines of millions, including educators and students, have been impacted. And our Microsoft Education team is committed to helping teachers and students stay connected and engaged.
As some schools look to continue learning remotely for the safety of their students and faculty, Microsoft Teams for Education provides an online classroom so students and teachers can find new ways to continue to focus on learning. Free for schools and universities, Teams provides an online classroom that brings together virtual face-to-face connections, assignments, files and conversations into a single place accessible on either mobile, tablet, PC or browser.
We have heard incredible stories about how educators are supporting students and have also received questions regarding how students and educators can stay connected using technology. We want to take this time to share some of the ways you can stay connected and engaged with classrooms and faculty during this time.
To learn more about Microsoft Teams and how to get started, you can join the live webinars on March 5th, from 8:00 – 9:30 AM PST, after which they will be available on demand. To see all the webinars, click here.
Part 1 – Online lectures & classes with students: Explore how you can create a persistent online classroom with meetings for up to 250 participants. This webinar is designed to help first time users of Teams get started and host classes and lectures with online meetings.
Part 2 – Online meetings with a selected group of your students: Discover how you can keep students engaged with online meetings for small groups. This webinar is for educators who need to create ad-hoc meetings with selected groups of students and will cover virtual office hours, tutoring sessions, and other group meetings.
Microsoft Teams is included in Office 365 A1, which is free for educational institutions. For IT guidance on how to deploy Office 365 and get your entire school started on Teams, check out this page. Once Teams is enabled, students and faculty can start using it by entering their school email address at teams.microsoft.com. For any support questions or issues, file a ticket here and for more information on Teams training or other professional development workshops, contact your local Microsoft store.
We are learning so much from schools all around the globe that are enabling remote learning in ingenious ways and you can learn more about Microsoft Teams for Education here. No matter which tools you use, we wish your students, faculty, staff, and families all the best.
Organizations around the world are going through rapid digital transformation. This is especially true in the US Market, where we see this phenomena being accelerated by the scale and agility of the Cloud and fueled by the latest innovation in machine learning and artificial intelligence. As they progress through their transformations and examine impacts on employees, partners, customers, and society, new strategies are emerging with socio-environmental factors with sustainability at the center.
We’re just at the beginning of what is possible with AI, endless possibilities not only for companies and partners but for everyone to benefit from improved societal impact, social good and sustainability. All requiring the need for a strong ecosystem and strategic private & public partnerships to build a trusted and secure future with new AI innovations and solutions. I’m delighted to share I’ve taken a new role at Microsoft to address both of these challenges: Vice President, AI Country Strategy & Sustainability Partnership for the US Microsoft Subsidiary. Focused on driving cross-boundary collaboration and transformation at scale, my new team and I will build strategies and partnerships that strengthen Microsoft’s position in the US as the leader in Cloud & AI, and leverage that knowledge into delivering in the US on Microsoft’s sustainability promise to be carbon negative by 2030.
Microsoft is making big, strategic bets on Cloud & AI and I look forward to driving digital transformation the US with a holistic view of the partner ecosystem—from customers and partners to developers and other strategic partnerships. Through the development of private and public partnerships we will drive technology innovation and ecosystem activation and begin to utilize Microsoft’s $1B investment in support of sustainability agendas across the US.
I have always been passionate about building teams that help shape the future of new technologies; and this new role creates the connections and opportunities for expansion of Microsoft’s mission to empower people, and drive growth and economic prosperity at a global level. The chance to leverage AI and sustainability to help us solve the world’s most vexing challenges is an opportunity for us all—and I’m grateful to be at a company that supports this mission.
While this will be a transition from my current charter in leading Go-To-Markets as a strategic advantage for Microsoft’s commercial partners, I’m excited to see the role the Microsoft community and its tens of thousands of partners will play in driving the future of AI and sustainability.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we are partnering with customers, commercial partners, developers, students and startups, follow along!
There are thousands of AI startups around the world. Many aim to do similar things — create chatbots, develop hardware to better power AI models or sell platforms to automatically transcribe business meetings and phone calls.
These AI vendors, or AI-powered product vendors, have raised billions over the last decade, and will likely raise even more in the coming years. Among the thousands of startups, a few shine a little brighter than others.
To help enterprises keep an eye on some of the most promising AI startups, here is a list of those founded within the past five years. The startups listed are all independent companies, or not a subsidiary of a larger technology vendor. The chosen startups also cater to enterprises rather than consumers, and focus on explainable AI, hardware, transcription and text extraction, or virtual agents.
Explainable AI vendors and AI ethics
As the need for more explainable AI models has skyrocketed over the last couple of years and the debate over ethical AI has reached government levels, the number of vendors developing and selling products to help developers and business users understand AI models has increased dramatically. Two to keep an eye on are DarwinAI and Diveplane.
DarwinAI uses traditional machine learning to probe and understand deep learning neural networks to optimize them to run faster.
Founded in 2017 and based in Waterloo, Ontario, the startup creates mathematical models of the networks, and then uses AI to create a model that infers faster, while claiming to maintain the same general levels of accuracy. While the goal is to optimize the deep learning models, a 2018 update introduced an “explainability toolkit” that offers optimization recommendations for specific tasks. The platform then provides detailed breakdowns on how each task works, and how exactly the optimization will improve them.
Founded in 2017, Diveplane claims to create explainable AI models based on historical data observations. The startup, headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., puts its outputs through a conviction metric that ranks how likely new or changed data fits into the model. A low ranking indicates a potential anomaly. A ranking that’s too low indicates that the system is highly surprised, and that the data likely doesn’t belong in a model’s data set.
In addition to the explainability product, Diveplane also sells a product that creates an anonymized digital twin of a data set. It doesn’t necessarily help with explainability, but it does help with issues around data privacy.
According to Diveplane CEO Mike Capps, Diveplane Geminai takes in data, understands it and then generates new data from it without carrying over personal data. In healthcare, for example, the product can input patient data and scrub personal information like names and locations, while keeping the patterns in the data. The outputs can then be fed into machine learning algorithms.
“It keeps the data anonymous,” Capps said.
To help power increasingly complex AI models, more advanced hardware — or at least hardware designed specifically for AI workloads — is needed. Major companies, including Intel and Nvidia, have quickly stepped up to the challenge, but so, too, have numerous startups. Many are doing great work, but one stands out.
Cerebras Systems, a 2016 startup based in Los Altos, Calif., made headlines around the world in 2019 when it created what it dubbed the world’s largest computer chip designed for AI workloads. The chip, about the size of a dinner plate, has some 400,000 cores and 1.2 trillion transistors. By comparison, the largest GPU has around 21.1 billion transistors.
The company has shipped a limited number of chips so far, but with a valuation expected to be well over $1 billion, Cerebras looks to be going places.
Automatic transcription companies
It’s predicted that more businesses will use natural language processing (NLP) technology in 2020 and that more BI and AI vendors will integrate natural language search functions into their platforms in the coming years.
Numerous startups sell transcription and text capturing platforms, as well as many established companies. It’s hard to judge them, as their platforms and services are generally comparable; however, two companies stand out.
Fireflies.ai sells a transcription platform that syncs with users’ calendars to automatically join and transcribe phone meetings. According to CEO and co-founder Krish Ramineni, the platform can transcribe calls with over 90% accuracy levels after weeks of training.
The startup, founded in 2016, presents transcripts within a searchable and editable platform. The transcription is automatically broken into paragraphs and includes punctuation. Fireflies.ai also automatically extracts and bullets information it deems essential. This feature does “a fairly good job,” one clientsaid earlier this year.
The startup plans to expand that function to automatically label more types of information, including tasks and questions.
Meanwhile, Trint, founded in late 2014 by former broadcast journalist Jeff Kofman, is an automatic transcription platform designed specifically for newsrooms, although it has clients across several verticals.
The platform can connect directly with live video feeds, such as the streaming of important events or live press releases, and automatically transcribe them in real time. Transcriptions are collaborative, as well as searchable and editable, and included embedded time codes to easily go back to the video.
“It’s a software with an emotional response, because people who transcribe generally hate it,” Kofman said.
Bots and virtual agents
As companies look to cut costs and process client requests faster, the use of chatbots and virtual agents has greatly increased across numerous verticals over the last few years. While there are many startups in this field, a couple stand out.
Boost.ai, a Scandinavian startup founded in 2016, sells an advanced conversational agent that it claims is powered by a neural network. Automatic semantic understanding technology sits on top of the network, enabling the agent to read textual input word by word, and then as a whole sentence, to understand user intent.
Agents are pre-trained on one of several verticals before they are trained on the data of a new client, and the Boost.ai platform is quick to set up and has a low count of false positives, according to co-founder Henry Vaage Iversen. It can generally understand the intent of most questions within a few weeks of training, and will find a close alternative if it can’t understand it completely, he said.
The platform supports 25 languages, and pre-trained modules for a number of verticals, including banking, insurance and transportation industries.
Formed in 2018, EyeLevel.ai doesn’t create virtual agents or bots; instead, it has a platform for conversational AI marketing agents. The San Francisco-based startup has more than 1,500 chatbot publishers on its platform, including independent developers and major companies.
Eyelevel.ai is essentially a marketing platform — it advertises for numerous clients through the bots on in its marketplace. Earlier this year, Eyelevel.ai co-founder Ryan Begley offered an example.
An independent developer on its platform created a bot that quizzes users on their Game of Thrones knowledge. The bot operates on social media platforms, and, besides providing a fun game for users, it also collects marketing data on them and advertises products to them. The data it collects is fed back into the Eyelevel platform, which then uses it to promote through its other bots.
By opening the platform to independent developers, it gives individuals a chance to get their bot to a broader audience while making some extra cash. Eyelevel.ai offers tools to help new bot developers get started, too.
“Really, the key goal of the business is help them make money,” Begley said of the developers.
Startup launches continuing to surge
This list of AI-related startups represents only a small percentage of the startups out there. Many offer unique products and services to their clients, and investors have widely picked up on that.
According to the comprehensive AI Index 2019 report, a nearly 300-page report on AI trends complied by the Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence initiative at Stanford University, global private AI investment in startups reached $37 billion in 2019 as of November.
The report notes that since 2010, which saw $1.3 billion raised, investments in AI startups have increased at an average annual growth rate of over 48%.
The report, which considered only AI startups with more than $400,000 in funding, also found that more than 3,000 AI startups received funding in 2018. That number is on the rise, the report notes.
There are close to 7,000 languages spoken around the world today. Yet, sadly, every two weeks a language dies with its last speaker, and it is predicted that between 50% and 90% of endangered languages will disappear by next century. When a community loses a language, it loses its connection to the past – and part of its present. It loses a piece of its identity. As we think about protecting this heritage and the importance of preserving language, we believe that new technology can help.
More than many nations, the people of New Zealand are acutely aware of this phenomenon. Centuries ago, the Māori people arrived on the islands to settle in and create a new civilization. Through the centuries and in the isolation of the South Pacific, the Māori developed their own unique culture and language. Today, in New Zealand, 15% of the population is Māori yet only a quarter of the Māori people speak their native language, and only 3% of all people living in New Zealand speak te reo Maori. Statistically, fluency in the language is extremely low.
New Zealand and its institutions have taken notice and are actively taking steps to promote the use of te reo Māori in meaningful ways. More and more schools are teaching te reo Māori, and city councils are revitalizing the country’s indigenous culture by giving new, non-colonial names to sites around their cities. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promoted the learning of te reo Māori, calling for 1 million new speakers by 2040. In a simple, yet profound, statement Ardern said, “Māori language is a part of who we are.” Despite all these efforts, today the fluency in te reo Māori is low.
For the past 14 years, Microsoft has been collaborating with te reo Māori experts and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) to weave te reo Māori into the technology that thousands of Kiwis use every day with the goal of ensuring it remains a living language with a strong future. Our collaboration has already resulted in translations of Minecraft educational resources and we recently commissioned a game immersed entirely in the traditional Māori world, Ngā Motu (The Islands).
To focus only on shaping the future ignores the value of the past, as well as our responsibility to preserve and celebrate te reo Māori heritage. This is why we are proud to announce the inclusion of te reo Māori as a language officially recognized in our free Microsoft Translator app. Microsoft Translator supports more than 60 languages, and this means that the free application can translate te reo Māori text into English text and vice versa. It will also support Māori into and from all other languages supported by Microsoft Translator. This is really all about breaking the language barrier at home, at work, anywhere you need it.
Dr. Te Taka Keegan, senior lecturer of computer science at the University of Waikato and one of the many local experts who have helped guide the project from its inception, says: “The language we speak is the heart of our culture. The development of this Māori language tool would not have been possible without many people working towards a common goal over many years. We hope our work doesn’t simply help revitalize and normalize te reo Māori for future generations of New Zealanders, but enables it to be shared, learned and valued around the world. It’s very important for me that the technology we use reflects and reinforces our cultural heritage, and language is the heart of that.”
Te reo Māori will employ Microsoft’s Neural Machine Translation (NMT) techniques, which can be more accurate than statistical translation models. We recently achieved human parity in translating news from Chinese to English, and the advanced machine learning used for te reo Māori will continue to become better and better as even more documents are used to “teach” it every nuance of the language. This technology will be leveraged across all our M365 products and services.
But while the technology is exciting, it’s not the heart of this story. This is about collaborating to develop the tools that boost our collective well-being. New Zealand’s government is also spearheading a “well-being” framework for measuring a nation’s progress in ways that don’t solely reflect economic growth. We need to look at cultural heritage the same way. Preserving our cultural heritage isn’t just a “nice thing to do” – according to the U.N., it’s vital to our resilience, social cohesion and sense of belonging, celebrating the values and stories we have in common.
I was fortunate to visit New Zealand this year, and it is a country that is genuinely working to achieve a delicate cultural balance, one that keeps in mind growth as well as guardianship, which maintains innovation and a future focus whilst preserving a deep reverence for its past. This kind of balance is something all nations should be striving for.
Globally, as part of our AI for Cultural Heritage program, Microsoft has committed $10 million over five years to support projects dedicated to the preservation and enrichment of cultural heritage that leverage the power of artificial intelligence. The ultimate role of technology is to serve humankind, not to replace it. We can harness the latest tools in ways that support an environment rich in diversity, perspectives and learnings from the past. And when we enable that knowledge and experience to be shared with the rest of the world, every society benefits.
Although it’s only been around since 2001, DreamWorks Animation has several blockbuster movies to its credit, including How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and Shrek. To get the finished product ready for the big screen, digital animators at the Hollywood, Calif., studio share huge data sets across the internal cloud, built around NetApp Data Fabric and its other storage technologies.
An average film project takes several years to complete and involves up to tens of thousands of data sets. At each stage of production, different animation teams access the content to add to or otherwise enhance the digital images, with the cloud providing the connective tissue. The “lather, rinse, repeat” process occurs up to 600 times per frame, said Skottie Miller, a technology fellow at the Los Angeles-area studio.
“We don’t make films — we create data. Technology is our paintbrush. File services and storage is our factory floor,” Miller told an audience of NetApp users recently.
‘Clouds aren’t cheap’
DreamWorks has a mature in-house cloud that has evolved over the years. In addition to NetApp file storage, the DreamWorks cloud incorporates storage kits from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). The production house runs the Qumulo Core file system on HPE Apollo servers and uses HPE Synergy composable infrastructure for burst compute, networks and storage.
Miller said DreamWorks views its internal cloud as a “lifestyle, a way to imagine infrastructure” that can adapt to rapidly changing workflows.
“Clouds aren’t magic and they’re not cheap. What they are is capable and agile,” Miller said. “One of the things we did was to start acting like a cloud by realizing what the cloud is good at: [being] API-driven and providing agile resources on a self-service basis.”
DreamWorks set up an overarching virtual studio environment that provides production storage, analytics on the storage fabric and automated processes. The studio deploys NetApp All-Flash FAS to serve hot data and NetApp FlexCache for horizontal scale-out across geographies, especially for small files.
The DreamWorks cloud relies on various components of the NetApp Data Fabric. NetApp FAS manages creative workflows. NetApp E-Series block storage is used for postproduction. NetApp HCI storage (based on SolidFire all-flash arrays) serves Kubernetes clusters and a virtual machine environment.
To retire tape backups, DreamWorks added NetApp StorageGrid as back-end object storage with NetApp FabricPool tiering for cold data. The company uses NetApp SnapMirror to get consistent point-in-time snapshots. Along with StorageGrid, Miller said DreamWorks has adopted NetApp Data Availability Services (NDAS) to manage OnTap file storage across hybrid clouds.
“NDAS has an interesting characteristic. Imagine a cloud thumb drive with a couple hundred terabytes. You can use it to guard against cyberattacks or environmental disasters, or to share data sets with somebody else,” Miller said.
The need for storage analytics
The sheer size of the DreamWorks cloud — a 20 PB environment with more than 10,000 pieces of media — underscored the necessity for deep storage analytics, Miller said.
“We rely on OnTap automation for our day-to-day provisioning and for quality of service,” he said.
In addition to being a NetApp customer, DreamWorks and NetApp have partnered to further development of Data Fabric innovations.
A DreamWorks cloud controller helps inform development of NetApp Data Fabric under a co-engineering agreement. The cloud software invokes APIs in NetApp Kubernetes Service.
The vendor and customer have joined forces to build an OnTap analytics hub that streams telemetry data in real time to pinpoint anomalies and automatically open service tickets. DreamWorks relies on open source tools that it connects to OnTap using NetApp APIs.