Featured Article : New 365 “Cloud PC” From Microsoft

Microsoft has announced its new hybrid Windows 365 cloud service where the operating system is stored in Microsoft’s Cloud and which securely streams each user’s apps, data, and settings to personal or corporate devices, acting as a full Windows desktop PC in the cloud.

New Era of Hybrid Personal Computer

Microsoft is calling the new subscription (SaaS) Windows 365 service (which is a simplified version of its Azure Virtual Desktop) as a “new era of hybrid personal computing” because it “draws on the power of the cloud and the capabilities of the device”.

Work From Anywhere, On Any Device, Pick Up Where You Left Off

The new Windows 365 service enables the streaming of a full Windows desktop from the cloud.  With the service, Windows 10 and 11 users can:

– Stream all their personalised applications, tools, data, and settings from the cloud across any device including a Mac, iPad, Linux device, or Android.

– Work from anywhere (e.g. a hotel room or a tablet from their car) and pick up where they left off because their individual PC in the cloud remains the same, even when switching devices.

Supports Business Apps

Windows 365 cloud service also supports business apps such as Microsoft 365, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft Power Platform, and Microsoft is offering to stand by its promise of app compatibility with App Assure, a Microsoft service that helps customers with 150 or more users fix any app issues they might run into at no additional cost.

Ideal For Remote Working

The fact that users can experience their whole, individual Windows PC streamed through to any chosen device from the cloud and saved/back-up in the cloud for whenever they log on makes it ideal for remote working and for the many businesses that look like continuing flexible working practices post-pandemic.  As Microsoft points out, “we’re seeing a new world of work emerge. Organizations everywhere have transformed themselves through virtual processes and remote collaboration. And as people embrace hybrid work—with people returning to the office, continuing to work from home, or some mix of the two—things will be different all over again”.

Microsoft also points to the finding of its recent Work Trend Index as proof of the need for a cloud-based hybrid solution of this kind.  The Index has boiled down a study of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries plus an analysis of trillions of productivity and labour signals across Microsoft 365 and LinkedIn to arrive at some key statistics and 7 trends.

For example, the Work Trend Index found that 73 percent of workers now want flexible remote work options to stay, but 67 percent also want more in-person collaboration, post-pandemic. 

Analytics and Watchdog Service

The 365 cloud service also has built-in analytics that looks at connection health across networks to make sure Cloud PC users can reach everything they need on the network to be productive. The analytics are not only able to identify Cloud PC environments where a user’s performance needs aren’t being met, but also give recommendations and enable upgrades for users at the touch of a button, thereby saving time, simplifying problem-solving and quickly boosting productivity.

Zero Trust Architecture

The Zero Trust Architecture means that security needs can be met by storing and securing information in the cloud (not on the device) and using Multifactor authentication (MFA) to verify any login or access attempt to a Cloud PC through integration with Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD).

Solves Some Old Problems

The fact that the individual Windows desktop PCs are stored securely in (and streamed from) the cloud as and when needed could solve a lot of traditional IT management problems.  For example, this hybrid system looks likely to give business greater flexibility and scalability, help productivity and support innovation by making remote work and collaboration easier, tackle many of the hardware challenges (cost and maintenance), allow faster problem solving (watchdog and diagnostics), and help reduce security risks and threats. Microsoft is also keen to stress the simplicity of the service.

When?

Microsoft says that the new 365 cloud service will be “generally available later this calendar year”, although it looks set to launch for business users from August 2. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The new Windows 365 cloud service sees Microsoft adapting and building upon its existing, popular Azure platform and virtualisation technology to try and create a hybrid service that should appeal to business users, particularly at a time where effectively managing the challenges of flexible (hybrid) and remote working look like being ongoing trends. This service also enables Microsoft to expand its subscription model and will appeal to the large businesses that are now ready to commit more to the cloud. The power, control, flexibility, simplicity, and security aspects of the service are also likely to appeal to businesses that need to be able to manage their computing needs and maximise the possibility of improved productivity at a time which seems very uncertain and where there are already enough risks to cope with in the rapidly changing business environment.

Tech-Insight : What Is 2FA?

Two-Factor-Authentication (2FA) refers to another piece of information that users are required to provide (in addition to username and password login details) to access a website/platform/account. Requiring another piece of information protects against others accessing the account if they simply know the username and password.

Reasons

The reasons for 2FA include:

– A huge increase in cybercrime and data breaches in recent years, and increasingly sophisticated attack methods that are more widely available, many of which can be bought off-the-shelf for relatively small amounts.

– Simply relying on passwords has become less safe.  This is because passwords are frequently stolen or cracked (a computer recently set a record by guessing 100 billion passwords per second), and we can only successfully remember shorter, more uniform, or more memorable strings of characters, and consequently these often end up being partly words, names, dates, or a combination (i.e. easier passwords to crack). Many people also still choose really simple passwords.  For example, in 2019, a study by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) into breached passwords revealed that 123456 featured 23 million times, making it the most widely used password on breached accounts.  The study also showed that the second-most popular string was 123456789 and that the words “qwerty” and “password”, and the string 1111111 all featured in the top five most popular breached passwords.  Christian names and the names of favourite football teams were found to be widely used as passwords. Also, password sharing (using the same password between many sites and platforms) is an all-too-common high-risk strategy. Add to this Moore’s law (the idea that computer-processing power available at a certain price doubles roughly every two years) and the fact that cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in their methods and can buy cyber-attack tools and lists relatively cheaply on the Dark Web, and the risks of weak passwords is even more clear.

– Legislation, compliance, reputation, and tightened security policies have meant that online sites and apps must offer tighter security (i.e. not just passwords).

Living With Passwords

Ways of making passwords more secure include basic specifications of what passwords must contain (how many and what characters), indications of password strength, and the use of password managers (as browser extensions).

2FA Types

2FA is usually based around something you know (e.g. a PIN or answer to a security question), something you have (e.g., a smartphone).  Multi-factor can also be based on something you are/something that’s inherent (e.g. biometrics). Popular types of 2FA include:

– SMS. Having a code texted to a phone number that has been linked with the account.

– Security questions.  Several answers to personal questions about the account holder are stored securely in the account and on login, the user is asked for the answer to one question.

– Hardware tokens. These are small physical devices (like a key fob) that generate a new numeric code every 30-seconds.

– Software tokens/ authenticator apps, such as Google Authenticator. These also generate a stream of new numeric codes that are valid for less than a minute, and the app is linked to an account by scanning a QR code.

– Push Notifications. Websites and apps send the user (to their device) a notification that an authentication attempt is taking place. The device owner can then view the details and approve or deny access. This can help prevent social engineering and/or human error-reliant attacks such as phishing, or man-in-the-middle.

– Biometrics. For example, this could be a fingerprint or face scan.

The Future

Although 2FA has gone a long way to making accounts more secure, the future is likely to be passwordless, based upon biometrics and, therefore, multi-factor e.g. fingerprint scans, face scans, iris scans, voice recognition and more.  Biometrics is, however, in its relatively early stages of development thereby making it vulnerable to a degree, and this in itself has led to it being tricked/faked (e.g. voice recognition). Also, biometrics can’t be remotely revoked, and if a fingerprint, for example, is compromised, it can’t be replaced (as a password can).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Most businesses are no longer able to remain compliant with data laws or to act responsibly towards staff, customers, and stakeholders by trusting just passwords. 2FA has added a valuable, additional layer of security, with the drawback being that it still relies upon human action and decisions, thereby leaving a possible human error element. The addition of biometrics seems more difficult again to get around, but the increasing sophistication and wider availability of attack methods are always threats to all security systems.

Tech News : New Lease of Life For Microsoft Paperclip ‘Clippy’

Following a vote of likes via Twitter and Instagram, Microsoft says it will be bringing back ‘Clippy’ the paperclip virtual assistant, but in as new, friendly-looking Emoji.

Clippy

From 1997 and until the mid-2000s, Microsoft Office users were used to seeing a paperclip symbol popping up on the screen to give help and advice about a wide variety of tasks. Unfortunately, ‘Clippy’ the paperclip was phased out after many users found the symbol’s constant appearances to be more annoying than helpful, and it was not included in XP. Users of Apple or Google smartphones, however, will still only be able to see the basic, old version of Clippy as a 2D paperclip.

Tweet & Insta Post

Microsoft’s Insta post and Tweet included a picture of the new, 3D emoji ‘Clippy’ with the massage “If this gets 20k likes, we’ll replace the paperclip emoji in Microsoft 365 with Clippy.”  As it turned out, that number of likes was surpassed within a day.

Part of Bigger Emoji Re-Design Push

The resurrection of the modernised ‘Clippy’ was, in fact, a way for Microsoft to help publicise a general upgrading of all its emojis to 3D versions ahead of last Saturday’s ‘World Emoji Day’. July 17 is the date of the annual “emoji day” which is reported to be the day chosen by the London-based founder of Emojipedia, Jeremy Burge.

Will Clippy Be Annoying Again?

Clippy was brought back for only one day back in 2019 as an animated pack of sticker freebies for Teams software users on Microsoft’s official Office developer GitHub page.

This now inevitable second return of Clippy has prompted many who remember the original Clippy to ask whether the emoji-fied version will be used in a way that could be as annoying as the first generation Clippy. It is, however, unclear how Clippy will be deployed and received this second (technically third) time around.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Microsoft has used World Emoji Day to introduce a branding element that it has been waiting to re-introduce for some time, and to give leverage to its promotion of the upgrading and modernising of all its emoji characters. This announcement, plus other recent Tweets from Microsoft, such as showing a screenshot of Tetris for Windows in 1990, helps to remind users of the brand history, nostalgia, and their connection with the brand over time, thereby, hopefully strengthening loyalty and triggering other positive memories about the Microsoft brand, which can only help as it steps up its competition with Apple.

Tech News : WhatsApp Without A Smartphone

Facebook’s WhatsApp is testing a new feature that will allow users to send messages without using just their smartphone.

Tied To A Phone

WhatsApp is currently linked to just a user’s phone, and to use the Web/desktop version, the user must select ‘Linked Device’ (formerly ‘WhatsApp Web’) mode to scan an on-screen QR code.

Multi Device Experience

WhatsApp is currently beta testing multi-device capability for WhatsApp which means that WhatsApp can be used on your phone and up to four other non-phone devices simultaneously, even if your phone battery is dead. This device-capability enables each companion device to connect with the user’s WhatsApp independently while still maintaining the same level of privacy and security through end-to-end encryption.

Smartphones Out of the Equation

Currently, a smartphone (app) is used as the primary device for WhatsApp with any companion devices maintaining a persistent (secure) connection with the phone and simply mirroring its contents on their own UI.

Removes Common ‘Hurdles’

Facebook says that the new multi-device architecture is a way of “taking smartphones out of the equation” and will remove “hurdles” such as avoiding companion devices getting slower or frequently disconnecting because the phone has to do all the work, may itself have a poor connection or low battery charge, or may be subject to the OS having problems.

Also, only having one companion device operative at a time means that people can’t be on a call in Portal while also being able to check their messages on their PC for example.

What About Security?

Facebook says that the new multi-device architecture will still be secure because the WhatsApp server will maintain a mapping between a person’s account and all their device identities. Also, extended security codes, Automatic Device Verification, QR code scanning plus biometric authentication will protect users from threats such as eavesdropping on communications.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Facebook sees this latest upgrade of WhatsApp as a way of solving a few issues, and making it even more appealing to today’s multi-device owning (business) users. Facebook has been working hard over the last year to cement WhatsApp’s place as the go-to free, secure messaging/chat platform and to retain the loyalty that it already has among business users. For example, in November, WhatsApp stepped up its security for users by introducing the “disappearing messages” whereby users can opt-in to placing a 7-day time-limit on read and unread messages before they are erased. Also, back in December, WhatsApp announced that it would be introducing voice and video calling to its WhatsApp Web desktop as part of its plan to improve the interoperability of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger, and to help Facebook to compete with other messaging and cloud-based collaborative working /communications platforms. This latest update is another feature that will add value for business users and is another opportunity to remind users of the key benefits of the WhatsApp platform that haven’t changed which are that it offers value – it is free, it’s effective, it’s widely used by other businesses and customers, (and therefore compatible), and its end-to-end encryption (and new security upgrade) means that it continues to offer security.

Tech Tip – Help Improve Your Productivity With Microsoft’s MyAnalytics

If you’d like to get data-driven insights into your work habits to improve your productivity, you could try Microsoft 365 MyAnalytics platform. Here’s how:

– Sign into your Microsoft 365 account.

– Select MyAnalytics from the app drawer or click on the 9-dot square menu (top left) and select the ‘All Apps’ link and click on the ‘MyAnalytics’ link.

– Here you can get insights into (and address issues like) ‘Focus’ (time you typically have leftover to focus on your tasks outside of meetings, emails, chats, and calls), ‘Well-Being’ /’Quiet Days’ (days without interruptions), ‘Collaboration’ (the percentage of your time spent in meetings, emails, chats, and calls), and ‘Network’ (whether you are proactively managing your network of collaborators).

– MyAnalytics also shows what percentage of your week spent in meetings and what percentage of your calendar is booked when the week starts and makes recommendations to help.