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Open source contributions face friction over company IP

Enterprises’ increased reliance on open source software has brought pressure on them to contribute back to open source communities — a dynamic that has prompted new thinking about the business value of giving things away.

The initial appeal of open source software (OSS) to mainstream enterprises was in its price tag — freely available to companies with the expertise to implement it, in contrast to costly proprietary software from traditional IT vendors. Mainstream enterprises have also discovered that open source contributions are necessary to recruit and train scarce developer talent, as DevOps and cloud-native technologies increasingly rely on familiarity with open source software.

The connection between open source and DevOps is not coincidental, experts say.

Tobie LangelTobie Langel

“The way open source [projects] are built and designed and the ethos behind [them] are actually extremely close to the DevOps culture,” said Tobie Langel, principal at Unlock Open, an independent open source strategy consulting firm in Geneva. “It comes essentially from the same places, and there’s a lot of overlap — a lot of the tools of DevOps are essentially open source tools. And there’s a reason for that. [Open source] is just more practical; it goes faster.”

Open source users become open source contributors

OSS use has increased dramatically among mainstream enterprises in the last decade. According to the 2020 Open Source Security and Analysis Report by IT security firm Synopsys, 99% of the 1,253 enterprise codebases it audited last year contained open source components; in nine of the 17 industries it tracked, 100% of codebases contained open source parts. Overall, open source components made up 70% of the audited codebases.

By comparison, a similar 2017 Synopsys report said that when the company began its examination of open source usage in 2006, it tracked a total of 120 open source software projects. By 2017, it monitored more than 4,600 active projects.

Open source by the numbers chart
Open source by the numbers

“Open source components and libraries are [now] the foundation of literally every application in every industry,” according to the 2020 report.

But open source communities used their increased clout to enforce their custom of giving back as enterprises sought to donate to their projects.

Companies such as Amazon Web Services, for example, have been accused of taking more than they give to open source communities, and as a result, company leaders have had to fight against the perception that they’re poor corporate citizens. AWS has countered by launching its own distro of Elasticsearch and denying Elastic’s claims, saying Elastic is the one with too much proprietary code in its project and that the AWS-led Open Distro for Elasticsearch is the truly open version of the code. However, other companies such as MongoDB and Redis have expressed similar concerns about AWS and changed their licensing to try to protect their revenue from it and other major cloud providers that might offer a service based on their projects.

Meanwhile, rival Google has made bold bets on open source donations that have massively paid off, from widely used AI and data analytics utilities such as Tensorflow to the now-ubiquitous Kubernetes container orchestration platform. Google also made clear that it views OSS as the future of its business when it made open source skills part of its summer internship programs for budding engineers this month.

Enterprise developers steeped in open source culture also pressured enterprises from within to be able to make contributions to OSS projects that had become essential parts of the infrastructure.

There’s a generation of software engineers now, working in all sorts of companies, for whom open source is just the most natural way to think about how to do software development.
Richard FontanaSenior commercial counsel, IBM Red Hat

“There’s a generation of software engineers now, working in all sorts of companies, for whom open source is just the most natural way to think about how to do software development,” said Richard Fontana, senior commercial counsel at IBM Red Hat. “They’re bringing that kind of outlook to the companies they’re working for, which may be very conservative and not otherwise inclined to get involved in open source.”

Thus, for mainstream enterprises, a dilemma emerged as open source usage began to evolve into open source contributions. The expectation that companies would give away corporate intellectual property (IP), the fruits of paid employees’ labor, for free to the wider world — including, potentially, to competitors — initially created culture shock among business stakeholders, particularly legal and compliance departments tasked with protecting corporate assets and minimizing business risk.

Until as recently as three years ago, changing corporate culture to embrace open source contributions required a painstaking struggle, according to enterprise IT pros who have established open source programs.

Kevin FlemingKevin Fleming

“When Bloomberg was created, no one had even considered whether employees would need to be able to contribute IP to projects outside the company,” said Kevin Fleming, who oversees research and development teams in the office of the CTO at Bloomberg, a global finance, media and tech company based in New York. “That’s one of the reasons that the position I have was created. … I’ve been here almost seven and a half years, and the first five of those years, [nobody] has said Bloomberg seems to be a forward-thinking company in this area. … It took a long time to get there.”

Enterprise IT pros navigate corporate IP concerns

Still, this stance has softened considerably among even the most conservative enterprises in the last three years, at least when it comes to contributing code to existing projects. A 2019 Linux Foundation survey of 2,700 IT practitioners found that 52% are involved in a formal or informal open source contribution program, or their company is planning to create one. 

Why the change? Companies that have established open source programs say the most important factor is developer recruitment.

“We want to have a good reputation in the open source world overall, because we’re hiring technical talent,” said Bloomberg’s Fleming. “When developers consider working for us, we want other people in the community to say ‘They’ve been really contributing a lot to our community the last couple years, and their patches are always really good and they provide great feedback — that sounds like a great idea, go get a job there.'”

While companies whose developers contribute code to open source produce that code on company time, the company also benefits from the labor of all the other organizations that contribute to the codebase. Making code public also forces engineers to adhere more strictly to best practices than if it were kept under wraps and helps novice developers get used to seeing clean code.

Chris JudsonChris Judson

“It’s something experienced developers want to participate in and it’s a great way to coach and mentor people early in their career,” said Chris Judson, VP of engineering at Choice Hotels, a hotel chain based in Rockville, Md. “It also helps us improve our own practices — the more quality code someone sees, the quicker they learn as a developer.”

Moreover, no testing system can replicate a community’s collective eyes on a piece of code, catching bugs and correcting errors, IT pros say.

Christopher MaherChristopher Maher

“You can have thousands of engineers looking at it to find bugs that you never noticed,” said Christopher Maher, software engineering manager at Alaska Airlines, which says it has the largest GitHub presence of any U.S.-based airline. “From a security standpoint, it’s almost like free QA.”

You can have thousands of engineers looking at it to find bugs that you never noticed. From a security standpoint, it’s almost like free QA.
Christopher MaherSoftware engineering manager, Alaska Airlines

A network of fellow developers that can help solve problems is increasingly crucial for software engineers to maintain a quick pace of feature releases and bug fixes, Langel added, and can make a marked difference in how quickly an enterprise can resolve incidents and keep customers happy.

“When you know the right person … that can solve a problem for you, and that person actually knows you and answers your email, solving the problem is going to take you half an hour,” Langel said. “If you don’t know who to ask or what the problem is, you can literally spend a week on it.”

A mark of open source maturity: Wholesale IP donations

Recent research suggests that open source contributions ultimately have a significant positive impact on the business, and that impact is increased by the size and significance of those contributions.

A July 2018 research study by an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, Frank Nagle, examined 56 public companies that used open source software, and found that those that contributed to open source gained an employee productivity boost of 100% over those that did not.

“Measuring contribution at a more granular level — the number of contributors and the types of contributions — reveals that firms that contribute more to OSS gain more from their use of OSS than those that contribute less,” the research report adds.

Moreover, the research shows that companies whose employees contributed substantive content to open source projects, rather than smaller editorial changes such as error corrections, benefited most of all.

However, most mainstream companies, even those that have already made a substantial number of open source contributions, are still navigating the process of creating a formal open source advisory council or open source program. Most companies are also focused on contributing to existing projects rather than building communities around open source projects of their own.

“We have a preliminary pattern that we’ve established where anybody with an open source contribution, essentially, has some criteria that they have to go through,” said Alaska Airlines’ Maher. “We have an internal review board that will look at any project an employee wants to be open sourced.”

However, Maher said, the airline has yet to establish a formal rubric for evaluating open source contributions. Choice Hotels is also still working on establishing an organizational process to ensure key corporate IP isn’t exposed in open source contributions, according to Judson.

But while change within traditional enterprises is a slow process, it is possible, as demonstrated by  companies such as Bloomberg and Comcast, which have established open source contribution processes that pull in collaborators from all levels of the business.

John RivielloJohn Riviello

At Comcast, that culture began with chief software architect and senior fellow Jon Moore, whose early open source contributions inspired other engineers within the company, including John Riviello, now a Comcast fellow and a member of the company’s Open Source Advisory Council.

In 2011, Riviello developed a novel way to connect multiple open source projects used by Comcast IT that required a contribution to upstream codebases to work and began the process of getting approval for that contribution, which took months.

“People saw me do that, and over the next year, a couple people approached me to say, ‘Hey, how did you actually make that happen?'” Riviello recalled. Eventually, the company established the Open Source Advisory Council and put in place an open source contribution approval process that draws on business managers, legal staff and IT security teams as well as software engineers and has resulted in a more than tenfold increase in the number of open source contributions made by Comcast employees since 2013.

Nithya RuffNithya Ruff

Now, the overwhelming majority — more than 90% — of proposed open source contributions are approved by the council, said Nithya Ruff, the head of the Comcast open source program office. Under the current advisory council process, once engineers are approved to contribute to existing projects, they can make further contributions without having to go through the process all over again, according to Ruff. The process typically takes a few days at most. And since 2016, Comcast has donated several entire projects to open source, such as its Traffic Control CDN and Web PA client-server interface.

The case against IP overprotectiveness

Some bleeding-edge IT practitioners have begun to reconsider the overall value of IP ownership, especially when weighed against the business gains to be had in increased developer productivity and faster incident resolution from open source contributions.

Proponents of this view, including Langel, point to a 2018 Business Insider interview with Facebook chief AI scientist Yann LeCun, in which he stated that owning IP has become less important than delivering innovative products at scale as quickly as possible.

Practices that help speed up the development process and the deployment process are well worth trading in IP. [IP] is no longer where the core of the business is.
Tobie LangelPrincipal, Unlock Open

“Essentially, practices that help speed up the development process and the deployment process are well worth trading in IP,” Langel said. “[IP] is no longer where the core of the business is.”

Bloomberg has mostly contributed code to open source projects that aren’t customer-facing, five or six layers deep in the IT infrastructure, but recently, that has changed with some contributions to open source of IP related to Jupyter notebooks, which are a significant component of the company’s customer-facing financial terminals.

“So even in that case, even where the function is a client-facing part of our primary product that company makes, it was still the right choice for us … to contribute [it] to the rest of the world,” Fleming said.

This is because, as many enterprises on the cutting edge of open source contributions have discovered, maintaining a proprietary version, or fork, of an open source codebase isn’t worth the trouble in the long run.

“Maintaining a fork has a long-term cost,” Fleming said. “If you create a fork, and then a year later, the community of that project has decided to change some fundamental aspect of the software — the kind of thing that open source projects do all the time — and you have 40% of your code sitting on top of it, you’re going to have to rewrite all of it.”

Comcast engineers declined to comment on the long-term value of corporate IP, but the company made a similar decision to Bloomberg’s Jupyter notebook donation when it open sourced its Traffic Control CDN via the Apache Software Foundation in 2016.

“It’s core to the company’s business, but we felt that it’s better to have it thrive and work in a global open source setting, where it’s maintained by Comcast and a number of other [contributors],” said Comcast’s Ruff. “[We don’t contribute IP] in very, very few cases and frankly, it’s a matter of time before things get opened up again, because technology keeps moving forward.”

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For Sale – Corsair HS60 Surround headset, Carbon/white, boxed as new

Bought these late August 2019 from Amazon but don’t find them that comfortable as I wear glasses. Balance of 2 year warranty – happy to help out in any future claim, although I’ve no idea how practical that would be.

Corsair HS60 Stereo gaming headset with 7.1 surround sound USB dongle
Carbon/white
Perfect, as new working condition – under 10 hours use
Boxed with all accessories inc detachable mic (unused), USB dongle and manual/warranty booklets
Compatible with PC, Mac, PS4, XBOX, Switch and mobile devices
Precision-tuned 50mm audio drivers
Plush memory foam ear pads
CUE software compatible
Have been fully cleaned with anti bacterial wipes etc

Ideally you will collect but can post at additional cost

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For Sale – Ryzen 3 3200G | 3700x (sold)

I’ve got a couple of things to get rid of so will list them below.

  • Ryzen 3 3200G 4C/4T Zen+ APU – £65

About 6 or so weeks old which I’ve been using as a backup for a second system as it meant I didn’t need to install a GPU. It was purchased new, and comes wtih the spire stealth heatsink, however I’ve lost the box. Still covered by the warranty of course, and I will provide the original receipt to go with it (from Amazon).

< Currently still in the system I am using right now I don’t have any pictures of it yet. >

  • ASUS RX 5700 XT TUF Gaming X3 – £320

About a month old, It was purchased new so I’m the only owner and it has barely seen much use. This card does have a bad rep, because ASUS were unfortuately too lazy to run it through QC so the GPU heatsink doesn’t apply enough pressure onto the die, and the GDDR6 modules have no heatsinks on them. I’ve addressed both of those so now it runs pretty much perfectly, and sees similar temps to a 5700 XT Pulse (which I’ve had previously). Original receipt will be provided to go with it.

< Will add pictures tomorrow. >

Collection welcome from Wolverhampton.

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For Sale – 8TB HDD’s

I have the following 8TB drives for sale, warranty is up on all of them but all working as they should.
Reason for sale is I upgraded to 14TB drives.

Seagate ST8000DM002 No Warranty (ended August 2018) Power On Hours
Seagate ST8000VN002 No Warranty (ended April 2019) Power On Hours 18579
Seagate ST8000VN002 No Warranty (ended April 2019) Power On Hours 18584

£125.00 each shipped RMSD mainland UK

Have a 6TB WD Red potentially to list once I get around to it.

Sold
I have a 14TB Western Digital Red drive for sale, it came out of a external duo drive but it’s a red label with 3 years warranty (will get exact warranty date)
Reason for sale is I upgraded all of my NAS drives and this one was left over/not needed, opened but unused.

£280.00 shipped RMSD mainland UK

Sold to alitech £440
Seagate ST8000DM002 No Warranty (ended August 2018) Power On Hours 926
Seagate ST8000DM002 No Warranty (ended August 2018) Power On Hours 939
Western Digital WD80EFZX No Warranty (ended July 2019) Power On Hours 973
Western Digital WD80EFZX No Warranty (ended July 2019) Power On Hours 953

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For Sale – Ryzen 3200G | Threadripper 3960x

I’ve got a couple of things to get rid of so will list them below.

  • Ryzen 3 3200G 4C/4T Zen+ APU – £65

About 6 or so weeks old which I’ve been using as a backup for a second system as it meant I didn’t need to install a GPU. It was purchased new, and comes wtih the spire stealth heatsink, however I’ve lost the box. Still covered by the warranty of course, and I will provide the original receipt to go with it (from Amazon).

< Currently still in the system I am using right now I don’t have any pictures of it yet. >

  • ASUS RX 5700 XT TUF Gaming X3 – £320

About a month old, It was purchased new so I’m the only owner and it has barely seen much use. This card does have a bad rep, because ASUS were unfortuately too lazy to run it through QC so the GPU heatsink doesn’t apply enough pressure onto the die, and the GDDR6 modules have no heatsinks on them. I’ve addressed both of those so now it runs pretty much perfectly, and sees similar temps to a 5700 XT Pulse (which I’ve had previously). Original receipt will be provided to go with it.

< Will add pictures tomorrow. >

Collection welcome from Wolverhampton.

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For Sale – Various Hard Drives & WTB Lian Li cases

I have decommissioned some workstations and moving these drives on. None of them have any warranty remaining however all have passed a Passmark diskcheck with no errors. I’m looking to sell in bundles and have been priced accordingly. My preference is to have these collected or I meet part way. Delivery will be £10 on top of any agreed sale.

3 x 3TB Seagate Constellation (7200rpm high performance drives) – £100

2 x 3TB Western Digital Black (7200rpm high performance drives) – £80

5 x 2TB Western Digital Black (7200rpm high performance drives) – £130

Will listen to offers on the whole lot

also looking for used Lian li cases. Preferably with lots of HDD capacity.

Location
North Kent
Price and currency
Various
Delivery cost included
Delivery is NOT included
Prefer goods collected?
I prefer the goods to be collected
Advertised elsewhere?
Not advertised elsewhere
Payment method
BT

Last edited:

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What’s new with PowerShell error handling?

Hitting errors — and resolving them — is an inevitable part of working with technology, and PowerShell is no exception.

No one writes perfect code. Your scripts might have a bug or will need to account for when a resource gets disconnected, a service hits a problem, or an input file is badly formatted. Learning how to interpret an error message, discover the root cause and handle the error gracefully is an important part of working with PowerShell. The development team behind the open source version of PowerShell 7 has improved PowerShell error handling both when you run a script and when you enter commands in a shell.

This article walks you through PowerShell error handling in a simple script and introduces several new features in PowerShell 7 that make the process more user-friendly.

How to find PowerShell 7

To start, be sure you have PowerShell 7 installed. This is the latest major release for the tool that had been called PowerShell Core up until the release of version 7. Microsoft still supports the Windows PowerShell 5.1 version but does not plan to give it the new features that the project team develops for open source PowerShell.

PowerShell 7 is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. The latest version can be installed from the PowerShell GitHub page.

On Windows, you can also use PowerShell 7 in the new Windows Terminal application, which offers improvements over the old Windows console host.

Error messages in previous PowerShell versions

A common problem for newcomers to Windows PowerShell 5.1 and the earlier PowerShell Core releases is that when something goes wrong, it’s not clear why.

For example, imagine you want to export a list of local users to a CSV file, but your script contains a typo:

Get-LocalUser |= Export-Csv local_users.csv

This is what you would see when you run the script:

PowerShell error message
Before the PowerShell 7 release, this is the type of error message that would display if there was a typo in a command.

The error code contains critical information — there’s an equals symbol that doesn’t belong — but it can be difficult to find in the wall of red text.

A longtime variable gets new purpose

Did you know that PowerShell has a preference variable called $ErrorView? Perhaps not because until now, it hasn’t been very useful.

The $ErrorView variable determines what information gets sent to the console and how it is formatted when an error occurs. The message can vary if you’re running a script file as opposed to entering a command in the shell.

In previous versions of PowerShell, $ErrorView defaulted to NormalView — this is the source of the wall of red text seen in the previous screenshot.

That all changes with PowerShell 7. There’s a new option for $ErrorView that is now the default called ConciseView.

Errors get clearer formatting in PowerShell 7

When we run the same command with the error in PowerShell 7 with the new default ConciseView, the error message is easier to understand.

ConciseView option
The new ConciseView option reduces the clutter and highlights the error location with a different color.

The new PowerShell error handling highlights the problem area in the command with a different color and does not overload you with too much information.

Let’s fix the typo and continue testing.

Shorter errors in the shell

Another error you might encounter when writing to a CSV is that the target file is locked. For example, it’s possible the file is open in Excel.

If you’re using PowerShell as a shell, the new default ErrorView will now give you just the error message with no extraneous information. You can see the length of the error from Windows PowerShell 5.1 and its NormalView below.

Windows PowerShell error message
The default error message in Windows PowerShell 5.1 provides a lot of information but not in a useful manner.

In contrast, PowerShell error handling in the newest version of the automation tool provides a more succinct message when a problem occurs due to the ConciseView option.

PowerShell 7 error message
The ConciseView option provides a more straightforward error message when a problem with a command occurs.

You can much more easily see that the file is locked and start thinking about fixing the problem.

Learning how to explore error records

We’ve seen how PowerShell 7 improves error messages by providing just the information you need in a more structured manner. But what should you do if you need to dig deeper? Let’s find out by continuing to use this error as an example: “The process cannot access the file … because it is being used by another process.”

Taking the terror out of $Error

Every time PowerShell encounters an error, it’s written to the $Error automatic variable. $Error is an array and the most recent error is $Error[0].

To learn more about the your most recent error in previous versions of PowerShell, you would explore $Error[0] with cmdlets such as Select-Object and Format-List. This type of examination is laborious: You can only expand one property at a time, and it’s easy to miss vital nested information contained in a handful of properties.

For example, look at the output from the command below.

$Error[0] | Select-Object *
$Error automatic variable
The $Error automatic variable in PowerShell before version 7 stored errors but was not flexible enough to give a deeper look at the properties involved.

There’s no way of knowing that a wealth of valuable data lives under the properties Exception and InvocationInfo. The next section shows how to get at this information.

Learning to explore with Get-Error

PowerShell 7 comes with a new cmdlet called Get-Error that gives you a way to survey all the information held within a PowerShell error record.

Run without any arguments, Get-Error simply shows the most recent error, as you can see in the screenshot below.

Get-Error cmdlet output
The new Get-Error cmdlet in PowerShell 7 gives you an easier way to get more information about errors.

You are immediately shown the hierarchy of useful objects and properties nested inside the error record. For example, you can see the Exception property isn’t a dump of information; it contains child properties, some of which have their own children.

If you want to reuse the error message in your code to write it to a log file or the Event Viewer, then you can use the following command to store the message:

$Error[0].Exception.Message

Use ErrorVariable to store error records

The Get-Error cmdlet also accepts error records from the pipeline. This is particularly handy if you use the -ErrorVariable common parameter to store errors for later inspection, which you can do with the following code:

# +myErrors means "add error to $myErrors variable"
Get-LocalUser | Export-Csv local_users.csv -ErrorVariable +myErrors
# Inspect the errors with Get-Error
$myErrors | Get-Error

By using Get-Error, you can see that an ErrorVariable holds information somewhat differently than the $Error variable. The error message is present in several places, most simply in a property named Message, as shown in the following screenshot.

ErrorVariable parameter
Using the ErrorVariable parameter gives a more flexible way to log errors rather than using the $Error variable, which saves every error in a session.

Bringing it all together

You’ve now used Get-Error to inspect error records, both from your shell history and from an ErrorVariable, and you’ve seen how to access a property of the error.

The final step is to tie everything together by reusing the property in your script. This example stores errors in $myErrors and writes any error messages out to a file:

Get-LocalUser | Export-Csv local_users.csv -ErrorVariable +myErrors
if ($myErrors) {
$myErrors.Message | Out-File errors.log -Append
}

If you want to get serious about scripting and automation, then it’s worth investigating the PowerShell error handling now that it got a significant boost in version 7. It’s particularly helpful to store errors to a variable for later investigation or to share with a colleague.

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Creating a more accessible world with Azure AI

At Microsoft, we are inspired by how artificial intelligence is transforming organizations of all sizes, empowering them to reimagine what’s possible. AI has immense potential to unlock solutions to some of society’s most pressing challenges.

One challenge is that according to the World Health Association, globally, only 1 in 10 people with a disability have access to assistive technologies and products. We believe that AI solutions can have a profound impact on this community. To meet this need, we aim to democratize AI to make it easier for every developer to build accessibility into their apps and services, across language, speech, and vision.

In view of the upcoming Bett Show in London, we’re shining a light on how Immersive Reader enhances reading comprehension for people regardless of their age or ability, and we’re excited to share how Azure AI is broadly enabling developers to build accessible applications that empower everyone.

Empowering readers of all abilities

Immersive Reader is an Azure Cognitive Service that helps users of any age and reading ability with features like reading aloud, translating languages, and focusing attention through highlighting and other design elements. Millions of educators and students already use Immersive Reader to overcome reading and language barriers.

The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, New York, brings together an incredible diversity of students with different backgrounds and learning styles. The teachers at The Young Women’s Leadership School support many types of learners, including students who struggle with text comprehension due to learning differences, or language learners who may not understand the primary language of the classroom. The school wanted to empower all students, regardless of their background or learning styles, to grow their confidence and love for reading and writing.

A teacher and student looking at a computer together

Watch the story here

Teachers at The Young Women’s Leadership School turned to Immersive Reader and an Azure AI partner, Buncee, as they looked for ways to create a more inclusive and engaging classroom. Buncee enables students and teachers to create and share interactive multimedia projects. With the integration of Immersive Reader, students who are dyslexic can benefit from features that help focus attention in their Buncee presentations, while those who are just learning the English language can have content translated to them in their native language.

Like Buncee, companies including Canvas, Wakelet, ThingLink, and Nearpod are also making content more accessible with Immersive Reader integration. To see the entire list of partners, visit our Immersive Reader Partners page. Discover how you can start embedding Immersive Reader into your apps today. To learn more about how Immersive Reader and other accessibility tools are fostering inclusive classrooms, visit our EDU blog.

Breaking communication barriers

Azure AI is also making conversations, lectures, and meetings more accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. By enabling conversations to be transcribed and translated in real-time, individuals can follow and fully engage with presentations.

The Balavidyalaya School in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India teaches speech and language skills to young children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The school recently held an international conference with hundreds of alumni, students, faculty, and parents. With live captioning and translation powered by Azure AI, attendees were able to follow conversations in their native languages, while the presentations were given in English.

Learn how you can easily integrate multi-language support into your own apps with Speech Translation, and see the technology in action with Translator, with support for more than 60 languages, today.

Engaging learners in new ways

We recently announced the Custom Neural Voice capability of Text to Speech, which enables customers to build a unique voice, starting from just a few minutes of training audio.

The Beijing Hongdandan Visually Impaired Service Center leads the way in applying this technology to empower users in incredible ways. Hongdandan produces educational audiobooks featuring the voice of Lina, China’s first blind broadcaster, using Custom Neural Voice. While creating audiobooks can be a time-consuming process, Custom Neural Voice allows Lina to produce high-quality audiobooks at scale, enabling Hongdandan to support over 105 schools for the blind in China like never before.

“We were amazed by how quickly Azure AI could reproduce Lina’s voice in such a natural-sounding way with her speech data, enabling us to create educational audiobooks much more quickly. We were also highly impressed by Microsoft’s commitment to protecting Lina’s voice and identity.”—Xin Zeng, Executive Director at Hongdandan

Learn how you can give your apps a new voice with Text to Speech.

Making the world visible for everyone

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, more than 250 million people are blind or have low vision across the globe. Last month, in celebration of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Seeing AI, a free iOS app that describes nearby people, text, and objects, expanded support to five new languages. The additional language support for Spanish, Japanese, German, French, and Dutch makes it possible for millions of blind or low vision individuals to read documents, engage with people around them, hear descriptions of their surroundings in their native language, and much more. All of this is made possible with Azure AI.

Try Seeing AI today or extend vision capabilities to your own apps using Computer Vision and Custom Vision.

Get involved

We are humbled and inspired by what individuals and organizations are accomplishing today with Azure AI technologies. We can’t wait to see how you will continue to build on these technologies to unlock new possibilities and design more accessible experiences. Get started today with a free trial.

Check out our AI for Accessibility program to learn more about how companies are harnessing the power of AI to amplify capabilities for the millions of people around the world with a disability.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

For insider threat programs, HR should provide checks and balances

Insider threats are on the rise and firms are doing more to stop them, according to a new report from Forrester Research. But it warns that insider threat programs can hurt employee engagement and productivity.

One of the ways companies are trying to curtail insider threats is by analyzing employee personal data to better detect suspicious or risky behavior. But IT security may go overboard in its collection process, security may be too stringent, and practices such as social media monitoring might “lead to eroded employee trust,” Forrester warns.

An insider threat program can turn adversarial, impacting employees in negative ways. It’s up to HR to work with IT security to provide the checks and balances, said Joseph Blankenship, vice president and research director of security and risk at Forrester.

Blankenship further discussed project delays in this Q&A. His responses were edited for clarity and length.

Insider threats are increasing. In 2015, malicious insiders accounted for about 26% of internal data breaches. And in 2019, it was 48%, according to Forrester’s survey data. Why this increase?

Joseph BlankenshipJoseph Blankenship

Joseph Blankenship: I think it’s twofold. You have the ability for users to monetize data and move data in large quantities like they’ve never had before. The ease of moving that data — and the portability of that data — is one factor. The other big factor is we’re looking for [threats] more often. The tools are better. Whenever we see a new capability for threat detection, that’s usually the period when we see this increase [in discovered incidents].

Nonetheless, this must be a stunning finding for a lot of firms. How do they respond to it?

Blankenship: Probably like the stages of grief. We see that pattern quite a bit in security. An event happens, and we realized we are at risk for that event happening again. So now we put effort behind it. We put budget behind it, we buy technology, we build a program and things improve.

Accidental release of internal data accounted for 43% of all insider incidents. What does that say about training?

Blankenship: It’s also culture. Do employees actually understand why the [security] policy is there? Some of that is people trying to get around policies. They find that the security policy is restrictive. You see some of that when people decide to work on their own laptop and their laptop gets stolen. It’s usually people that are somewhat well-meaning, but they find that the policy is getting in their way. Those are all mistakes. Those are all policy violations.

Types of insider threats
Types of insider threats

Who is responsible in a company for ensuring that the employees understand the rules?

Blankenship: Typically it’s the CISO’s responsibility to do this kind of security education.

Is this primarily the job of the IT security department?

Blankenship: Certainly, it’s in partnership with human resources.

IT manages the internal security program, but many of the risks from an insider threat program are HR-related such as increased turnover or hiring. The HR department’s metrics suffer if the program creates employee friction. Is that the case?

Blankenship: I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. You have to make the employee aware: ‘Hey, we’re doing this kind of monitoring because we have important customer data. We can’t afford a breach of customer trust. We’re doing this monitoring because we have intellectual property.’ Things become a lot less scary, a lot less onerous, when people understand the reasons why. If it’s too heavy-handed, if we’re doing things to either punish employees or make their jobs really difficult, it does create that adversarial relationship.

What is the best practice here? Should HR or IT spell out exactly what they do to protect company security?

Blankenship: I don’t know if you get into all the specifics of a security program, but make the employees aware. ‘We’re going to be monitoring things like email. We may be monitoring your computer usage.’  

What is HR’s role in helping the company implement these policies?

Because HR is the part of the company responsible for employee experience, it is very much incumbent on them to work with the security department and keep it a little bit honest.
Joseph BlankenshipVice president and research director, Forrester Research

Blankenship: Because HR is the part of the company responsible for employee experience, it is very much incumbent on them to work with the security department and keep it a little bit honest. I’m sure there are a lot of security folks that would love to really turn up the dial on security policies. If you remember some years ago, the big debate was should we allow personal internet usage on company issued devices. There were lots of security reasons why we would say, ‘absolutely not.’ However, the employee experience dictated that we had to allow some of that activity, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to recruit any new employees. We really had to find the balance.

It sounds as if HR’s responsibility here is to provide some checks and balances.

Blankenship: There’s checks and balances as well as helping [IT security] to design the education program. There’s probably not a lot of security technologists that are amazing at building culture, but that is absolutely the job of good HR professionals.

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How to Resize Virtual Hard Disks in Hyper-V

We get lots of cool tricks with virtualization. Among them is the ability to change our minds about almost any provisioning decision. In this article, we’re going to examine Hyper-V’s ability to resize virtual hard disks. Both Hyper-V Server (2016+) and Client Hyper-V (Windows 10) have this capability.

An Overview of Hyper-V Disk Resizing

Hyper-V uses two different formats for virtual hard disk files: the original VHD and the newer VHDX. 2016 added a brokered form of VHDX called a “VHD Set”, which follows the same resize rules as VHDX. We can grow both the VHD and VHDX types easily. We can shrink VHDX files with only a bit of work. No supported way exists to shrink a VHD. Once upon a time, a tool was floating around the Internet that would do it. As far as I know, all links to it have gone stale.

You can resize any of Hyper-V’s three layout types (fixed, dynamically expanding, and differencing). However, you cannot resize an AVHDX file (a differencing disk automatically created by the checkpoint function).

Resizing a virtual disk file only changes the file. It does not impact its contents. The files, partitions, formatting — all of that remains the same. A VHD/X resize operation does not stand alone. You will need to perform additional steps for the contents.

Requirements for VHD/VHDX Disk Resizing

The shrink operation must occur on a system with Hyper-V installed. The tools rely on a service that only exists with Hyper-V.

If no virtual machine owns the virtual disk, then you can operate on it directly without any additional steps. Be aware that if a

If a virtual hard disk belongs to a virtual machine, the rules change a bit:

  • If the virtual machine is Off, any of its disks can be resized as though no one owned them
  • If the virtual machine is Saved or has checkpoints, none of its disks can be resized
  • If the virtual machine is Running, then there are additional restrictions for resizing its virtual hard disks

Special Requirements for Shrinking VHDX

Growing a VHDX doesn’t require any changes inside the VHDX. Shrinking needs a bit more. Sometimes, quite a bit more. The resize directions that I show in this article will grow or shrink a virtual disk file, but you have to prepare the contents before a shrink operation. We have another article that goes into detail on this subject.

Can I Resize a Hyper-V Virtual Machine’s Virtual Hard Disks Online?

A very important question: do you need to turn off a Hyper-V virtual machine to resize its virtual hard disks? The answer: sometimes.

  • If the virtual disk in question is the VHD type, then no, it cannot be resized online.
  • If the VM attached the disk in question to its virtual IDE chain, then no, you cannot resize the virtual disk while the virtual machine is online.
  • If the VM attached the disk in question to its virtual SCSI chain, then yes, you can resize the virtual disk while the virtual machine is online.

Resize a Hyper-V Virtual Machine's Virtual Hard Disks Online

Does Online VHDX Resize Work with Generation 1 Hyper-V VMs?

The generation of the virtual machine does not matter for virtual hard disk resizing. If the virtual disk is on the virtual SCSI chain, then you can resize it online.

Does Hyper-V Virtual Disk Resize Work with Linux Virtual Machines?

The guest operating system and file system do not matter. Different guest operating systems might react differently to a resize event, and the steps that you take for the guest’s file system will vary. However, the act of resizing the virtual disk does not change.

Do I Need to Connect the Virtual Disk to a Virtual Machine to Resize It?

Most guides show you how to use a virtual machine’s property sheet to resize a virtual hard disk. That might lead to the impression that you can only resize a virtual hard disk while a virtual machine owns it. Fortunately, you can easily resize a disconnected virtual disk. Both PowerShell and the GUI provide suitable methods.

How to Resize a Virtual Hard Disk with PowerShell

PowerShell is the preferred method for all virtual hard disk resize operations. It’s universal, flexible, scriptable, and, once you get the hang of it, much faster than the GUI.

The cmdlet to use is Resize-VHD:

The VHDX that I used in the sample began life at 20GB. Therefore, the above cmdlet will work as long as I did at least one of the following:

  • Left it unconnected
  • Connected it to a VM’s virtual SCSI controller
  • Turned the connected VM off

Notice the gb suffix on the SizeBytes parameter. PowerShell natively provides that feature; the cmdlet itself has nothing to do with it. PowerShell will automatically translate suffixes as necessary. Be aware that 1kb equals 1,024, not 1,000 (although both b and B both mean “byte”).

Had I used a number for SizeBytes smaller than the current size of the virtual hard disk file, I might have had some trouble. Each VHDX has a specific minimum size dictated by the contents of the file. See the discussion on shrinking at the end of this article for more information. Quickly speaking, the output of Get-VHD includes a MinimumSize field that shows how far you shrink the disk without taking additional actions.

This cmdlet only affects the virtual hard disk’s size. It does not affect the contained file system(s). We will cover that part in an upcoming section.

How to Resize a Disconnected Virtual Hard Disk with Hyper-V Manager

Hyper-V Manager allows you to resize a virtual hard disk whether or not a virtual machine owns it.

  1. From the main screen of Hyper-V Manager, first, select a host in the left pane. All VHD/X actions are carried out by the hypervisor’s subsystems, even if the target virtual hard disk does not belong to a specific virtual machine. Ensure that you pick a host that can reach the VHD/X. If the file resides on SMB storage, delegation may be necessary.
  2. In the far right Actions pane, click Edit Disk.
    Resize a Disconnected Virtual Hard Disk with Hyper-V Manager
  3. The first page is information. Click Next.
  4. Browse to (or type) the location of the disk to edit.
    locate virtual hard disk
  5. The directions from this point are the same as for a connected disk, so go to the next section and pick up at step 6.

Note: Even though these directions specify disconnected virtual hard disks, they can be used on connected virtual disks. All of the rules mentioned earlier apply.

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How to Resize a Virtual Machine’s Virtual Hard Disk with Hyper-V Manager

Hyper-V Manager can also resize virtual hard disks that are attached to virtual machines.

  1. If the virtual hard disk is attached to the VM’s virtual IDE controller, turn off the virtual machine. If the VM is saved, start it. If the VM has checkpoints, remove them.
  2. Open the virtual machine’s Settings dialog.
  3. In the left pane, choose the virtual disk to resize.
  4. In the right pane, click the Edit button in the Media block.
    Resize a Virtual Machine's Virtual Hard Disk with Hyper-V Manager
  5. The wizard will start by displaying the location of the virtual hard disk file, but the page will be grayed out. Otherwise, it will look just like the screenshot from step 4 of the preceding section. Click Next.
  6. Choose to Expand or Shrink the virtual hard disk. Shrink only appears for VHDXs or VHDSs, and only if they have unallocated space at the end of the file. If the VM is off, you will see additional options. Choose the desired operation and click Next.
    edit virtual hard disk wizard
  7. If you chose Expand, it will show you the current size and give you a New Size field to fill in. It will display the maximum possible size for this VHD/X’s file type. All values are in GB, so you can only change in GB increments (use PowerShell if that’s not acceptable).
    expand virtual hard diskIf you chose Shrink (VHDX only), it will show you the current size and give you a New Size field to fill in. It will display the minimum possible size for this file, based on the contents. All values are in GB, so you can only change in GB increments (use PowerShell if that’s not acceptable).
    shrink virtual hard disk
  8. Enter the desired size and click Next.
  9. The wizard will show a summary screen. Review it to ensure accuracy. Click Finish when ready.

The wizard will show a progress bar. That might happen so briefly that you don’t see it, or it may take some time. The variance will depend on what you selected and the speed of your hardware. Growing fixed disks will take some time; shrinking disks usually happens almost instantaneously. Assuming that all is well, you’ll be quietly returned to the screen that you started on.

This change only affects the virtual hard disk’s size. It does not affect the contained file system(s). We will cover that in the next sections.

Following Up After a Virtual Hard Disk Resize Operation

When you grow a virtual hard disk, only the disk’s parameters change. Nothing happens to the file system(s) inside the VHD/X. For a growth operation, you’ll need to perform some additional action. For a Windows guest, that typically means using Disk Management to extend a partition:

After a Virtual Hard Disk Resize Operation

Note: You might need to use the Rescan Disks operation on the Action menu to see the added space.

Of course, you could also create a new partition (or partitions) if you prefer.

Linux distributions have a wide variety of file systems with their own requirements for partitions and sizing. They also have a plenitude of tools to perform the necessary tasks. Perform an Internet search for your distribution and file system.

VHDX Shrink Operations

As previously mentioned, you can’t shrink a VHDX without making changes to the contained file system first. Review our separate article for steps.

What About VHD/VHDX Compact Operations?

I often see confusion between shrinking a VHD/X and compacting a VHD/X. These operations are unrelated. When we talk about resizing, then the proper term for reducing the size of a virtual hard disk is “shrink”. That changes the total allocated space of the contained partitions. “Compact” refers to removing the zeroed blocks of a dynamically expanding VHD/VHDX so that it consumes less space on physical storage. Compact makes no changes to the contained data or partitions. We have an article on compacting VHD/Xs that contain Microsoft file systems and another for compacting VHD/Xs with Linux file systems.

Note: this page was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated to be relevant as of December 2019.


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Author: Eric Siron