Categories
Security

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser has tools to protect your privacy

One of the things that many people look for in a browser is how it protects their privacy against all the various trackers that are hidden in many of the sites out there. Microsoft Edge, the Chromium-based browser that is built into current versions of Windows, has its share of protections as well — it’s even adding its own VPN to the mix. Edge includes tools to block both first-party cookies (used to keep you logged in or remember the items in your shopping cart) and third-party tracking cookies (used to keep track of your browsing activity).

Here are instructions on how to change your settings, see what trackers are stored on your browser, and delete any cookies. We also address how Edge deals with fingerprinting, another method of tracking that identifies users by collecting details about their system configuration.

Deal with trackers

Edge blocks trackers by default using one of three different levels of protection. Balanced, which is active upon installation, blocks some third-party trackers along with any trackers designated as “malicious.” This mode takes into account sites you visit frequently and the fact that an organization may own several sites; it lowers tracking prevention for organizations you engage with regularly. Basic offers more relaxed control; it still blocks trackers but only those Microsoft describes as “malicious.” You can also switch to Strict, which blocks most third-party trackers across sites.

To change your level of protection:

  • Click on the three dots in the top-right corner of your browser window and go to Settings. Select Privacy, search, and services from the left-hand menu.
  • Make sure Tracking prevention is switched on, and then select which level you want.

Showing Edge’s three levels of privacy protection.

Edge blocks trackers by default using one of three different levels of protection.

Adjust your tracking settings

While Edge provides you with the three easy-to-choose tracking modes, you can also dive deeper to see which trackers are blocked and make exceptions for specific sites.

  • On the Privacy, search and services page, look for the Blocked trackers link just beneath the three tracking prevention modes. Click on that to see all of the trackers Edge has blocked.
  • Beneath the Blocked trackers link is the Exceptions link, where you can specify any sites where you want tracking prevention turned off.

The Blocked tracker page shows all of the trackers Edge has blocked. 

The Blocked tracker page shows all of the trackers Edge has blocked.

When you’re at a site, you can see how effective your tracking prevention is by clicking on the lock symbol on the left side of the top address field. The drop-down box allows you to view the associated cookies and site permissions, allow or disable pop-ups, tweak the tracking permissions for that site, and see what trackers have been blocked.

A drop down menu listing various privacy features.

Click on the lock symbol to see a count of your blocked trackers.

Clean up your cookies

Conveniently, Edge can delete several types of data each time you close it, including browsing history, passwords, and cookies.

  • Go back to Settings > Privacy, search, and services and scroll down to Clear browsing data.
  • Click the arrow next to Choose what to clear every time you close the browser.
  • Toggle on any of the data categories you’d like to be cleared each time you exit Edge. If you select Cookies and other site data, you can also choose any sites whose cookies you want to retain by clicking on the Add button.

Choose what data you want deleted when you close the browser.

Choose what data you want deleted when you close the browser.

You can also manually clear your cookies and other data at any point:

  • On the Privacy, search, and services page, look for Clear browsing data now, and click on the button labeled Choose what to clear. This will open up a smaller window with several options.
  • Select the type of data you want to delete.
  • You can also select a time range within which to delete that data: the last hour; the last 24 hours; the last seven days; the last four weeks; or all time.
  • There is also a link to clear your data if you’ve been using legacy websites in Internet Explorer mode. You are also warned that clearing your data will clear it across all synced devices. (But you can sign out of your Microsoft account to clear it only on that specific computer.)
  • Ready? Click Clear now.

Menu for manually deleting data.

You can also manually delete data.

There are other privacy features on the Privacy, search, and services page, including options to send “Do Not Track” requests. (Although the usefulness of such a request can be questionable.)

If you scroll down to the Security section of that page, you will see a number of features that you can turn on or off. They include Microsoft Defender SmartScreen, which can help protect from malicious sites and, if you turn it on, will block downloads of possibly dangerous apps. There is also a feature that will stop you from accidentally going to a problematic site due to a mistype.

Fingerprinting and ad blocking

According to Microsoft, the three tracking prevention modes will help protect against the type of personalization that leads to fingerprinting.

Edge does not block ads natively, but you can download ad-blocking extensions. Because the browser is now based on Chromium, many Chrome extensions (as well as extensions from the Microsoft Store) will work with this latest version of Edge, a distinct advantage.

Update May 10th, 2022, 10:30AM ET: This article was originally published on February 13th, 2020, and has been updated to reflect changes in the OS and the Edge app.

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Categories
Game

Engadget Podcast: Google I/O and hands-on with Microsoft’s Adaptive Mouse

This week, Engadget Deputy Editor Nathan Ingraham joins Cherlynn and Devindra to dive into everything announced at Google I/O. There were plenty of new devices, of course, but Google also showed off how its improved AI tech is making maps, translation and more features even smarter. Also, Cherlynn discusses her exclusive feature on Microsoft’s Adaptive Mouse, as well as the company’s new Inclusive Tech Lab. And in other news, we bid farewell to the iPod and reminisce about the early days of MP3 players.

Listen above, or subscribe on your podcast app of choice. If you’ve got suggestions or topics you’d like covered on the show, be sure to email us or drop a note in the comments! And be sure to check out our other podcasts, the Morning After and Engadget News!

Subscribe!

Topics

  • Google IO overview – 1:45

  • A return for Google Glass? – 13:24

  • Pixel 6a announcement – 29:11

  • Pixel Watch – 33:49

  • Pixel Buds Pro – 38:27

  • Notes from Microsoft’s Ability Summit – 43:43

  • Apple officially discontinues the iPod – 1:01:04

  • Sonos Ray is real and it’s $279 – 1:08:53

  • New info on Intel’s 12th Gen HX Chips – 1:20:45

  • Pop culture picks – 1:26:21

Video livestream

Credits
Hosts: Devindra Hardawar and Jessica Conditt
Guest: Nathan Ingraham
Producer: Ben Ellman
Music: Dale North and Terrence O’Brien
Livestream producers: Julio Barrientos
Graphic artists: Luke Brooks and Brian Oh

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Categories
Game

Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series 2 controller is just $135 for today only

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

If you’re an Xbox or PC gamer, there’s a pretty high probability that you’ve taken a peek at Microsoft’s Xbox Elite Series 2 controller. The customizable peripheral comes in its own case, offers interchangeable thumbsticks and paddles, and delivers up to 40 hours of gaming thanks to its integrated battery pack. 

The only problem is that the controller can often retail for $180 and rarely gets a significant price cut. With Black Friday gaming sales starting to ramp up, Woot is hoping to tempt those looking to upgrade their controller experience by offering the Elite Series 2 for just $135, one of the lowest prices we’ve seen.

Buy Xbox Elite Series 2 controller at Woot – $135

The Elite Series 2 comes complete with a USB-C port, Bluetooth connectivity and can charge inside its carrying case. It also supports programmable profiles, allowing you to select between three stored configurations using the Profiles button on its front. 

If you’re looking for a solid controller upgrade during the holidays, you may have just found it. However, you’ll need to move quickly as the Elite Series 2 will only remain at $135 for 24 hours or until it sells out, whichever comes first. 

Get the latest Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers by visiting our deals homepage and following @EngadgetDeals on Twitter.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.



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Categories
Game

Microsoft’s virtual Xbox museum is a very detailed stroll down memory lane

If you haven’t heard by now, the Xbox brand turned 20 this year. With anniversary livestreams, controllers, and even a surprise Halo Infinite multiplayer release, we’re not sure how you could have missed the news, but that’s neither here nor there. The anniversary train hasn’t stopped rolling yet, as Microsoft has launched a new virtual museum that takes us through the history of Xbox.

From 1990s concept to present day

At first blush, a virtual museum celebrating 20 years of Xbox might sound a bit self-indulgent, but it’s well worth visiting for any Xbox fans out there. The browser-based museum starts you right at the beginning of the Xbox’s history, when Microsoft’s DirectX team began developing the Xbox as a competitor to the upcoming PlayStation 2.

From there, we’re taken through many of the significant events in Xbox history, looking at the development and reveal of the first console and the subsequent launches of other consoles that comprise the Xbox family. It isn’t just console releases that the museum covers, as big events like the launch of Kinect and Microsoft’s acquisition of Mojang are included in the museum. We also get a look at some of the stumbles in Xbox history, with the museum covering the Xbox 360’s “Red Ring of Death” problem, too.

Visitors to the museum get to use avatars to run through a digital track that takes them through the history of each console. There’s also a separate museum for Xbox’s biggest franchise, Halo, which shows all of the major happenings in that franchise alongside Xbox history. You might want to set aside some time over the upcoming holiday weekend to explore the museum, as seeing every exhibit and watching every video will take quite a while.

A quick note: we’ve tried visiting the Xbox museum in both Chrome and Edge, and for us, at least, the museum runs much more smoothly in Edge. Perhaps that’s not a coincidence, but, in any case, if you have Edge installed on your machine, you might want to start by using that browser.

The biggest exhibit is you

While the trip down Xbox memory lane is cool, the virtual museum also recaps the Xbox histories of the players visiting. Logging into your Microsoft account will show you statistics on your years with Xbox, dating all the way back to the original Xbox (assuming you actually connected a LAN cable to it and signed into the early iteration of Xbox Live).

For instance, even though I had an original Xbox back in the day, I never connected it to the internet, so as far as Microsoft is concerned, my first Xbox console was the Xbox 360. The first Xbox game Microsoft has a record of me playing is Halo 3, and my first sign-on to Xbox Live was on October 2nd, 2007.

These statistics go pretty deep, showing you the first time you logged in on each Xbox console throughout the years, the first game you played on each of those consoles, and even the first time you played your most-played Xbox game of all time (for me, that date is September 25th, 2010 and the game in question is Halo: Reach).

The virtual Xbox museum is a very fascinating trip, and it’s something that all Xbox users should check out, if for no other reason than to see their history with the consoles.

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Categories
AI

Microsoft’s Tutel optimizes AI model training

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Microsoft this week announced Tutel, a library to support the development of mixture of experts (MoE) models — a particular type of large-scale AI model. Tutel, which is open source and has been integrated into fairseq, one of Facebook’s toolkits in PyTorch, is designed to enable developers across AI disciplines to “execute MoE more easily and efficiently,” a statement from Microsoft explained.

MoE are made up of small clusters of “neurons” that are only active under special, specific circumstances. Lower “layers” of the MoE model extract features and experts are called upon to evaluate those features. For example, MoEs can be used to create a translation system, with each expert cluster learning to handle a separate part of speech or special grammatical rule.

Compared with other model architectures, MoEs have distinct advantages. They can respond to circumstances with specialization, allowing the model to display a greater range of behaviors. The experts can receive a mix of data, and when the model is in operation, only a few experts are active — even a huge model needs only a small amount of processing power.

In fact, MoE is one of the few approaches demonstrated to scale to more than a trillion parameters, paving the way for models capable of powering computer vision, speech recognition, natural language processing, and machine translation systems, among others. In machine learning, parameters are the part of the model that’s learned from historical training data. Generally speaking, especially in the language domain, the correlation between the number of parameters and sophistication has held up well.

Tutel mainly focuses on the optimizations of MoE-specific computation. In particular, the library is optimized for Microsoft’s new Azure NDm A100 v4 series instances, which provide a sliding scale of Nvidia A100 GPUs. Tutel has a “concise” interface intended to make it easy to integrate into other MoE solutions, Microsoft says. Alternatively, developers can use the Tutel interface to incorporate standalone MoE layers into their own DNN models from scratch.

A line graph comparing the end-to-end performance of Meta’s MoE language model using Azure NDm A100 v4 nodes with and without Tutel. The x-axis is the number of A100 (80GB) GPUs, beginning at 8 and going up to 512, and the y-axis is the throughput (K tokens/s), beginning with 0 and going up to 1,000 in intervals of 100. Tutel always achieves higher throughput than fairseq.

Above: For a single MoE layer, Tutel achieves an 8.49 times speedup on an NDm A100 v4 node with 8 GPUs and a 2.75 times speedup on 64 NDm A100 v4 nodes with 512 A100 GPUs, Microsoft claims.

“Because of the lack of efficient implementations, MoE-based models rely on a naive combination of multiple off-the-shelf operators provided by deep learning frameworks such as PyTorch and TensorFlow to compose the MoE computation. Such a practice incurs significant performance overheads thanks to redundant computation,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post. (Operators provide a model with a known dataset that includes desired inputs and outputs). “Tutel designs and implements multiple highly optimized GPU kernels to provide operators for MoE-specific calculation.”

Tutel is available in open source on GitHub. Microsoft says that the Tutel development team will “be actively integrating” various emerging MoE algorithms from the community into future releases.

“MoE is a promising technology. It enables holistic training based on techniques from many areas, such as systematic routing and network balancing with massive nodes, and can even benefit from GPU-based acceleration. We demonstrate an efficient MoE implementation, Tutel, that resulted in significant gain over the fairseq framework. Tutel has been integrated [with our] DeepSpeed framework, as well, and we believe that Tutel and related integrations will benefit Azure services, especially for those who want to scale their large models efficiently,” Microsoft added.

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Categories
AI

Mesh for Teams is Microsoft’s metaverse for meetings

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A week after Facebook articulated its future in the metaverse, Microsoft offered its vision for augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) meetings in Microsoft Mesh for Teams at its November Ignite developer event. The service, the company says, combines the AR/VR capabilities of Microsoft Mesh — which allows people in different physical locations to join collaborative experiences through AR and VR — with the productivity tools of Teams.

Mesh builds on existing Teams features such as Together mode and Presenter view that make remote and hybrid meetings more immersive, according to Microsoft corporate VP Jeff Teper. Presenter view offers different views to, for example, show slides and notes while the audience only sees slides, while Together mode uses AI to place everyone on a call in a shared room-like environment, like a coffee shop.

“[These tools are all ways] to signal we’re in the same virtual space, we’re one team, we’re one group, and help take the formality down a peg and the engagement up a peg,” Teper wrote in a blog post. “We’ve seen that those tools have accomplished both goals of helping a team be more effective and also helping individuals be more engaged.”

Mesh for Teams

Mesh for Teams — which Microsoft says anyone will be able to access from smartphones, PCs, and AR/VR headsets when it launches in preview in the first half of 2022 — is ostensibly designed to make meetings more “personal” and “engaging.” Users join a standard Teams meeting as a customized avatar of themselves, and organizations can build spaces — “metaverses” — within Teams. Mesh for Teams users can then take their avatars (or, alternatively, video, static picture, or bubble with initials) into these spaces to mingle.

Mesh for Teams will roll out with a set of prebuilt immersive spaces, and over time, organizations will be able to build custom immersive spaces and deploy them to Teams. Avatars will follow users from the Teams meeting to other Mesh-enabled experiences, including immersive spaces within Teams.

“To start, we will take audio cues so as you talk your face will animate,” Katie Kelly, a principal project manager at Microsoft working on Mesh for Teams, said in a statement. “You’ll also have animations that bring additional expressivity to the avatars. Your hands will move. There will be a feeling of presence even though it’s as simple as being able to take your audio and manifest that as facial expressions. That’s the first release. The ambition is to closely follow that with Microsoft’s plethora of AI technologies so that we can use the camera to insinuate where your mouth is and mimic your head and facial movements.”

Metaverse ambitions

Tech giants including Microsoft and Facebook are chasing after the metaverse, a speculative, virtual universe of interconnected communities where people meet, work, play, and live their lives online. Bloomberg Intelligence estimates that the market size for metaverse could reach $800 billion by 2024 if the current trend holds.

In Microsoft’s view, one aspect of the metaverse is “the culmination of the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge” working in harmony. “[The enterprise metaverse] brings together internet of things, digital twins, mixed reality,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during a keynote at Microsoft Inspire this summer. “With our metaverse stack, you can start with the digital twin, building a rich digital model of anything physical or logical — whether it’s assets, products, a complex environment spanning people, places, things, and their interactions. The digital twin is bound to the physical world in real time so you can monitor the environment and collaborate within it using mixed reality. You can run simulations. You can apply AI to analyze and predict future states.”

Definitions of the metaverse — and what it encompasses — vary from stakeholder to stakeholder. But the competition is becoming fiercer. Last week, Facebook rebranded as Meta in a new focus on the metaverse and unveiled a host of updates to Horizon Worlds, Horizon Homes, Horizon Workrooms, Messenger VR, and fitness VR, its platforms where users can create virtual worlds, conference rooms, and home spaces of their own designs

“I think digital goods and creators are just going to be huge … in terms of people expressing themselves through their avatars, through digital clothing, through digital goods, the apps that they have, that they bring with them from place to place,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during Facebook’s Q2 earnings call in response to a question about revenue opportunities in the metaverse. “Commerce is going to be a big part of the metaverse. You’re going to be able to sell both physical and digital products.”

Beyond its envisioned enterprise use cases, a consumption-based model is potentially Microsoft’s play for the metaverse, too. Teams has nearly 250 million monthly active users, and if only a fraction paid for premium Mesh for Teams services — e.g., Azure development tools —  it’d be worth the company’s while.

Underlining the investment it’ll take to achieve that ambition, however, Facebook told shareholders that it expects spending on metaverse-related technologies will top $10 billion in 2021. Reaching the point where a return on the metaverse can be realized clearly won’t happen overnight — and it won’t be cheap.

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Categories
AI

GPT-3 comes to the enterprise with Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service

During its Ignite conference this week, Microsoft unveiled the Azure OpenAI Service, a new offering designed to give enterprises access to OpenAI’s GPT-3 language model and its derivatives along with security, compliance, governance, and other business-focused features. Initially invite-only as a part of Azure Cognitive Services, the service will allow access to OpenAI’s API through the Azure platform for use cases like language translation, code generation, and text autocompletion.

According to Microsoft corporate VP for Azure AI Eric Boyd, companies can leverage the Azure OpenAI Service for marketing purposes, like helping teams brainstorm ideas for social media posts or blogs. They could also use it to summarizing common complaints in customer service logs or assist developers with coding by minimizing the need to stop and search for examples.

“We are just in the beginning stages of figuring out what the power and potential of GPT-3 is, which is what makes it so interesting,” he added in a statement. “Now we are taking what OpenAI has released and making it available with all the enterprise promises that businesses need to move into production.”

Large language models

Built by OpenAI, GPT-3 and its fine-tuned derivatives, like Codex, can be customized to handle applications that require a deep understanding of language, from converting natural language into software code to summarizing large amounts of text and generating answers to questions. People have used it to automatically write emails and articles, compose poetry and recipes, create website layouts, and create code for deep learning in a dozen programming languages.

GPT-3 has been publicly available since 2020 through the OpenAI API; OpenAI has said that GPT-3 is now being used in more than 300 different apps by “tens of thousands” of developers and producing 4.5 billion words per day. But according to Microsoft corporate VP of AI platform John Montgomery, who spoke recently with VentureBeat in an interview, the Azure OpenAI Service enables companies to deploy GPT-3 in a way that complies with the laws, regulations, and technical requirements (for example, scaling capacity, private networking, and access management) unique to their business or industry.

“When you’re operating a national company, sometimes, your data can’t [be used] in a particular geographic region, for example. The Azure OpenAI Service can basically put the model in the region that you need for you,” Montgomery said. “For [our business customers,] it comes down to question like, ‘How do you handle our security requirements?’ and ‘How do you handle things like virtual networks?’ Some of them need all of their API endpoints to be centrally managed or use customer-supplied keys for encryption … What the Azure OpenAI Service does is it folds all of these Azure backplane capabilities [for] large enterprise customers [into a] true production deployment to open the GPT-3 technology.”

Montgomery also points out that the Azure OpenAI Service makes billing more convenient by charging for model usage under a single Azure bill, versus separately under the OpenAI API. “That makes it a bit simpler for customers to pay and consume,” he said. “Because at this point, it’s one Azure bill.”

Enterprises are indeed increasing their investments in natural language processing (NLP), the subfield of linguistics, computer science, and AI concerned with how algorithms analyze large amounts of language. According to a 2021 survey from John Snow Labs and Gradient Flow, 60% of tech leaders indicated that their NLP budgets grew by at least 10% compared to 2020, while a third — 33% — said that their spending climbed by more than 30%.

Customization and safety

As with the OpenAI API, the Azure OpenAI Service will allow customers to tune GPT-3 to meet specific business needs using examples from their own data. It’ll also provide “direct access” to GPT-3 in a format designed to be intuitive for developers to use, yet robust enough for data scientists to work with the model as they wish, Boyd says.

“It really is a new paradigm where this very large model is now itself the platform. So companies can just use it and give it a couple of examples and get the results they need without needing a whole data science team and thousands of GPUs and all the resources to train the model,” he said. “I think that’s why we see the huge amount of interest around businesses wanting to use GPT-3 — it’s both very powerful and very simple.”

Of course, it’s well-established that models like GPT-3 are far from technically perfect. GPT-3 was trained on more than 600GB of text from the web, a portion of which came from communities with pervasive gender, race, physical, and religious prejudices. Studies show that it, like other large language models, amplifies the biases in data on which it was trained.

In a paper, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism claimed that GPT-3 can generate “informational” and “influential” text that might radicalize people into far-right extremist ideologies and behaviors. A group at Georgetown University has used GPT-3 to generate misinformation, including stories around a false narrative, articles altered to push a bogus perspective, and tweets riffing on particular points of disinformation. Other studies, like one published by Intel, MIT, and Canadian AI initiative CIFAR researchers in April, have found high levels of bias from some of the most popular open source models, such as Google’s BERT and XLNet and Facebook’s RoBERTa.

Even fine-tuned models struggle to shed prejudice and other potentially harmful characteristics. For example, Codex can be prompted to generate racist and otherwise objectionable outputs as executable code. When writing code comments with the prompt “Islam,” Codex outputs the word “terrorist” and “violent” at a greater rate than with other religious groups.

More recent research suggests that toxic language models deployed into production might struggle to understand aspects of minority languages and dialects. This could force people using the models to switch to “white-aligned English” to ensure the models work better for them, or discourage minority speakers from engaging with the models at all.

OpenAI claims to have developed techniques to mitigate bias and toxicity in GPT-3 and its derivatives, including code review, documentation, user interface design, content controls, and toxicity filters. And Microsoft says it will only make the Azure OpenAI Service available to companies who plan to implement “well-defined” use cases that incorporate its responsible principles and strategies for AI technologies.

Beyond this, Microsoft will deliver safety monitoring and analysis to identify possible cases of abuse or misuse as well as new tools to filter and moderate content. Customers will be able to customize those filters according to their business needs, Boyd says, while receiving guidance from Microsoft on using the Azure OpenAI Service “successfully and fairly.”

“This is a really critical area for AI generally and with GPT-3 pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with AI, we need to make sure we’re right there on the forefront to make sure we are using it responsibly,” Boyd said. “We expect to learn with our customers, and we expect the responsible AI areas to be places where we learn what things need more polish.”

OpenAI and Microsoft

OpenAI’s deepening partnership with Microsoft reflects the economic realities that the company faces. It’s an open secret that AI is a capital-intensive field — in 2019, OpenAI became a for-profit company called to secure additional funding while staying controlled by a nonprofit, having previously been a 501(c)(3) organization. And in July, OpenAI disbanded its robotics team after years of research into machines that can learn to perform tasks like solving a Rubik’s Cube.

Roughly a year ago, Microsoft announced it would invest $1 billion in San Francisco-based OpenAI to jointly develop new technologies for Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. In exchange, OpenAI agreed to license some of its intellectual property to Microsoft, which the company would then package and sell to partners, and to train and run AI models on Azure as OpenAI worked to develop next-generation computing hardware.

In the months that followed, OpenAI released a Microsoft Azure-powered API — OpenAI API — that allows developers to explore GPT-3’s capabilities. In May during its Build 2020 developer conference, Microsoft unveiled what it calls the AI Supercomputer, an Azure-hosted machine co-designed by OpenAI that contains over 285,000 processor cores and 10,000 graphics cards. And toward the end of 2020, Microsoft announced that it would exclusively license GPT-3 to develop and deliver AI solutions for customers, as well as creating new products that harness the power of natural language generation, like Codex.

Microsoft last year announced that GPT-3 will be integrated “deeply” with Power Apps, its low-code app development platform — specifically for formula generation. The AI-powered features will allow a user building an ecommerce app, for example, to describe a programming goal using conversational language like “find products where the name starts with ‘kids.’” More recently, Microsoft-owned GitHub launched a feature called Copilot that’s powered by OpenAI’s Codex code generation model, which GitHub says is now being used to write as much as 30% of new code on its network.

Certainly, the big winners in the NLP boom are cloud service providers like Azure. According to the John Snow Labs survey, 83% of companies already use NLP APIs from Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Azure, and IBM in addition to open source libraries. This represents a sizeable chunk of change, considering the fact that the global NLP market is expected to climb in value from $11.6 billion in 2020 to $35.1 billion by 2026. In 2019, IBM generated $303.8 million in revenue alone from its AI software platforms.

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Categories
Security

Microsoft’s ‘Super Duper Secure Mode’ for Edge trades speed for better security

Microsoft’s browser vulnerability research team is working on a mode to make the Edge browser more secure, and it’s given it an incredible name: “Super Duper Secure Mode” (via The Record). The mode is currently very experimental, but could help make it harder for attackers trying to exploit bugs in Microsoft’s browser by turning off certain optimizations.

To make the browser “super duper secure,” the mode turns off a feature of Edge’s JavaScript engine that’s meant to make a website’s code run faster. The technology is called Just-In-Time compilation (or JIT), and while it can help improve performance, it’s also fiendishly complex. This makes it easy for bugs to slip in, which can lead to security exploits — Microsoft points to analysis by Mozilla that showed that over half of the real-world Chrome exploits since 2018 were related to JIT.

(If you’ve got some programming knowledge, this video provides an interesting overview of how Just-In-Time works for JavaScript.)

Of course, there are concerns that turning off technology meant to make a huge part of modern websites run faster could hurt performance. The blog post notes that disabling JIT can lead to significantly lower JavaScript benchmark scores, but the team says that, in the real world, people didn’t usually notice much of a difference.

I can at least somewhat back that up — I turned on Super Duper Secure Mode for myself (if you’re running a test version of Edge, you can enable the mode using a flag), and haven’t noticed any sites feeling particularly sluggish. Of course, everyone’s web use is different, so it’s possible that you’d notice a difference if you spend your days in complex webapps. The Microsoft team does note, though, that it’s looking into making the mode smart by having it turn protections on and off based on the risk a website may pose, or how resource intensive it may be.

The experimental mode still seems to be in its very early stages — there are things the team wants to enable but hasn’t, it doesn’t work on all the platforms that Edge supports, and the team says there are “quite a few technical challenges to overcome” before the feature launches. It is, however, exciting work being done — since Edge is now based on Chromium, it uses the same JavaScript engine that Chrome does. This makes it conceivable that the feature could end up being adopted by other browsers if it’s successful on Edge.

As for the Tesla-esque name, vulnerability research lead Johnathan Norman says that at some point it will have to change, in part because explaining how secure something described as “super duper secure” is to lawyers would be challenging. Still, if there’s any way that Microsoft can make it happen without incurring extra liability (people may understandably be upset if they fell victim to an exploit in Super Duper Secure Mode), it would bring some welcome whimsy to the browser alongside the additional protection.



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Game

Xbox Series X|S break console records in Microsoft’s Q4 2021 earnings report

With its most recent financial results, Microsoft is giving us an update on how well the Xbox Series X|S are selling. Of course, Microsoft stopped reporting exact Xbox sales numbers partway through the previous generation, and while it doesn’t look like the company will start reporting specifics in this new generation, it is still nonetheless sharing big milestones for its latest consoles.

In a call with investors after delivering its Q4 2021 financial results (as transcribed by the folks at Seeking Alpha), Microsoft boss Satya Nadella revealed that Xbox Series X and S are the fastest-selling consoles in company history. Even without precise sales numbers, that’s enough to say that Xbox Series X|S are off to a strong start.

Nadella also had good things to report about Xbox Game Pass, though again, we weren’t treated to exact subscriber numbers. Nadella did say, however, that Game Pass is “growing rapidly and it’s transforming how people discover, connect, and play games.” According to Microsoft’s own metrics, Xbox Game Pass subscribers play “approximately 40% more games and spend 50% more than nonmembers.”

That metric about playing more games makes a lot of sense, but at first blush, it’s certainly surprising to learn that Xbox Game Pass subscribers spend that much more than those who aren’t subscribed. Then again, Xbox Game Pass subscribers are offered a discount on all games that are available that are through the service, so perhaps subscribers are finding games they want to add to their own libraries more often and taking advantage of those discounts as a result.

We’ll likely never know the precise sales numbers for Xbox Series X|S, but if nothing else, we can say that the consoles are off to a good start. They face stiff competition, though, as Sony confirmed today that the PS5 has hit 10 million sales worldwide, making it the fastest-selling PlayStation in Sony’s history.

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Categories
Computing

Microsoft’s New Teams Experience for Windows 11 is Now Live

Windows Insiders who are testing Microsoft’s Windows 11 — which has been announced but not yet available for consumers — are getting an update that brings a new experience to Microsoft Teams. With the update, Microsoft is focused on transforming Teams from an enterprise tool into an accessible experience where all PC owners can stay connected with loved ones through chat and video calls. Part of this transformation includes a new fly-out Chat experience from the taskbar and an overall redesign of the Teams desktop experience that makes it feel more like a natural extension of the Windows 11 operating system, the company said.

With the new chat experience on Teams, Microsoft announced that you can now start a chat from the Chat icon in the taskbar, which can also be accessed via keyboard shortcuts. If you’d rather not hover over the icon, you can alternatively use the Win + C shortcut, Microsoft said. From the fly-out window, you can view recent chats or group conversations, and you can also reply or start a new chat.

Microsoft had initially showcased the new chat experience for Teams when it publicly announced the new changes to Windows 11. However, the new feature wasn’t immediately ready when the Insider program rolled out. Microsoft said that it will use a staged rollout for the new Teams experience, so it will take some time before all the features are available to you.

“In this first stage, you’ll be able to sign in, add contacts, and connect via individual and group chats,” Microsoft said of its strategy. “Over the coming weeks, we will enable audio and video calling, meetings, screen sharing, and other capabilities.”

An in-line Teams notification.

And to make multitasking easier, the new Teams preview also allows Insiders to reply to chat notifications directly in-line. Teams notification will also respect Windows 11’s focus assist settings, Microsoft said.

For general PC users who may not have used Teams as part of their workflow in the past, Microsoft is making it easy to connect with family and friends, especially if you’ve used Skype or Outlook in the past.

“If you’ve used Skype or Outlook for personal communications with your Microsoft Account in the past, you’ll have the option to sync those contacts to start using them from day one,” the company said in a detailed blog post outlining all the changes to Teams on Windows 11. “You can also sync contacts from your mobile device by installing the Teams mobile app and turning on contact sync, further saving you time.”

And if you’ve never used a Microsoft account to message or communicate in the past, you can simply enter your contact’s email or phone number into the Teams app, and they’ll receive a message with an invitation to join Teams.

The new Teams experience is available now to Windows 11 Insiders to test. The operating system should be available to consumers later this year. Microsoft previously gave a rough timeline of a launch by the holiday season. If you’re interested in the new Teams experience and don’t mind testing out a non-stable release of Windows 11 right now, be sure to check out our guide on how to sign up for the Windows Insiders program.

Microsoft isn’t the only one working on revamping its communication tools. Rival Apple recently announced big updates to FaceTime and iMessage on the Monterey MacOS. One big change is that non-Apple users will finally be able to join FaceTime video chat calls. Formally known as MacOS 12, Apple’s next operating system is due this fall. Google is also working on replacing its legacy Hangouts platform for enterprise Workspace users with Google Chat.

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