Quote to Note: Microsoft and Scrutiny

October 11, 2018

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Tech Industry Spotlight: ‘Having the Scrutiny Is Actually Good’” called my attention to an interesting idea. The article states:

Nadella told The Post that Microsoft learned from earlier cyberattacks during the Bill Gates era and has since designed products and services with revamped security protocols. He added that “having the scrutiny is actually good, I think,” in regard to the extra attention being placed on tech companies.

Ah, Windows and security. Didn’t Microsoft’s update service fail again. Deleted data for some I heard.

Scrutiny is good as long as it doesn’t get in the way of what the company does best: Great quality processes and verbal arabesques seem to be scrutiny free.

Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2018

Is Bing Stuck Like a 45 RPM Recording?

October 1, 2018

At least twice a year, Microsoft releases a press statement explaining how it has made Bing smarter. The questions are always,”how and in what way?” Bing pales in comparison to rivals DuckDuckGo and Google, but it also has its staunch supporters. Thurott has shared one of the prerequisite Bing cheerleading pieces, “Bing Just Got A Whole Lot Smarter.”

Bing has added a brand new list of features to enhance user experience. One of the new features is a hotel booking option that shows higher-ranked hotels with the same nightly rate to save you money, historical price trends, hotel comparisons, and other neat tools.

If you are frugal and/or always searching for a deal, Bing will now share information about details, such as if it is in stores or expiring soon. This augments Bing’s discount feature that displays different deals in search results.

“The last area where Bing is getting improved is an interesting one: home services. Bing is partnering with Porch, a service that helps you find professionals for home services, to help surface better results within search. It will now show you things like cost ranges, which are meant to help find a “fair” or the average cost for a certain service based on your location. It will also now let you get a quote for supported home service providers from within search.”

Word about whether advertisers will get priority in search results, but they are already labeled in search results. When it comes to making Bing smarter, this is not bad. Good job, Microsoft!

Whitney Grace, October 1, 2018

Amazon: Device Proliferation and One Interesting Use Case

September 21, 2018

The technology “real news” channels are stuffed with Amazon gizmo news. Interesting stuff if one considers that these devices may snap into the eCommerce company’s policeware subsystems.

Here in Harrod’s Creek, we noted one announcement almost lost in the flood of device announcements. “Skype Calling Coming to Amazon Alexa Devices Later This Year” indicates that the tension between the two companies may be lessening. Years ago Microsoft had database envy generated by the eCommerce giant’s innovations in data management and data wrangling. Then there were the skirmishes over staff and office space.

If the information in the ZDNet “real news” write up is accurate, this statement may be more interesting than using an Alexa gizmo as a telephone:

Alexa users will be able to make outgoing Skype voice and video calls, accept incoming Skype calls and make SkypeOut calls to most phone numbers around the world, according to Microsoft officials. Users will be able to say “Alexa, call Jimmy on Skype,” or to say “Alexa, answer” when a Skype call comes in.

But the “real news” continues with an admission from the author:

I have to admit at this point I am kind of lost as to how Microsoft hopes to differentiate and position Cortana. Granted, Microsoft execs said they want Cortana not to be just about convenience, but about built-in assistance, but Skype is a Microsoft service….

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, the tie up in voice may be more than a test. In fact, the deal may signal another victim of the Amazon strategy. Microsoft may be losing without knowing that it is in a fight.

Stephen E Arnold, September 21, 2018

Deep Learning Helps Bing Spotlight Aggregate Breaking News

September 20, 2018

News aggregators sift through the vast number of news stories out there to focus on the content users want to see (and lead to filter bubbles, but that is another topic.) Now, Microsoft has built an aggregator for breaking content right into its browser. VentureBeat reports, “Bing Spotlight Uses AI to Highlight Developing News Stories.” Writer Kyle Wiggers informs us:

“A spokesperson told VentureBeat via email that Bing Spotlight is an ‘evolving feature,’ and that the team will evaluate options based on feedback. Bing Spotlight spots trending topics with the help of deep learning algorithms that ingest millions of search queries and news articles every day. Leaning on a web graph of ‘hundreds of millions’ of websites, it factors in signals such as browser logs, the number of publishers covering a story, and how prominently each publisher featured their respective stories on their sites.’ Articles have to be ‘original, readable, newsworthy, and transparent’ before they’re considered for a top spot, and must demonstrate ‘sound journalistic practices’ such as identify sources and authors, giving attribution, and labeling opinion and commentary.”

Wiggers reproduces a diagram that illustrates the sections of a Spotlight results page—a carousel at the top revolves through related stories; a section titled Perspectives offers various points of view on the topic; the Rundown presents the story’s development over time; and, of course, there’s a section that shares related social media posts. ­­­Notably, this development comes on the heels of a similar move from Google—that company recently retooled their Google News app for smartphones. I suppose all users must do is decide who they want assembling their news for them.

Cynthia Murrell, September 20, 2018

Bing: No More Public URL Submissions

September 19, 2018

Ever wondered why some Web site content is not indexed? Heck, ever talk to a person who cannot find their Web site in a “free” Web index? I know that many people believe that “free” Web search services are comprehensive. Here’s a thought: The Web indexes are not comprehensive. The indexing is selective, disconnected from meaningful date and time stamps, and often limited to following links to a specified depth; for example, three levels down or fewer in many cases.

I thought about the perception of comprehensiveness when I read “Bing Is Removing Its Public URL Submission Tool.” The tool allowed a savvy SEO professional or an informed first time Web page creator to let Bing know that a site was online and ready for indexing.

No more.

How do “free” Web indexes find new sites? Now that’s a good question, and the answers range from “I don’t know” or “Bing and Google are just able to find these sites.”

A couple of thoughts:

  • Editorial or spidering policies are not spelled out by most Web indexing outfits
  • Users assume that if information is available online, that information is accurate
  • “Free” Web indexing services are not set up to deliver results that are necessarily timely (indexed on a daily basis) or comprehensive.

Bing’s allegedly turning off public url submissions is a small thing. My question, “Who looked at these submissions and made a decision about what to index or exclude from indexing?” Perhaps the submission form operated like a thermostat control in a hotel room?

Stephen E Arnold, September 18, 2018

Microsoft: Becoming a Socially Focused Giant

September 6, 2018

US citizens have a love-hate relationship with Microsoft.  Microsoft’s technology powers most of the country’s infrastructures, businesses, personal lives, and more.  At the same time, however, Microsoft’s technology is prone to problems, causing an endless amount of headaches.  Microsoft also has a reputation about caring more about a profit than its customers.  Has it suddenly had a change of heart?  According to a new post on Microsoft’s blog, the company is now interested in participating and/or protecting democracy, “We Are Taking New Steps Against Broadening Threats To Democracy.”

Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote the post about how the Internet is being used by foreign entities to disrupt governments, steal information, and spread disinformation.  Smith cites the 2016 US election and the 2017 French elections.  Smith and by proxy Microsoft says that the tech sector has a responsibility to defend democracy against further security threats:

“We’re concerned that these and other attempts pose security threats to a broadening array of groups connected with both American political parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections. That’s why today we are expanding Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program with a new initiative called Microsoft AccountGuard. This initiative will provide state-of-the-art cybersecurity protection at no extra cost to all candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state and local level, as well as think tanks and political organizations we now believe are under attack. The technology is free of charge to candidates, campaigns and related political institutions using Office 365.”

The post goes on to explain how Microsoft’s crime unit tracked six web sites associated with Strontium, a group associated with the Russian government and known for interference.  These web sites were designed to mimic real US non-profit political organizations and other political groups with the goal to spread disinformation.  The blog post also advertises Microsoft’s new AccountGuard and advocates its Microsoft Defending Democracy Program started in 2018.

Microsoft is interested in protecting the US electrons from interference, but it also interested in protecting its reputation and political supporters. Does Microsoft have stakes in social media companies? Facebook, maybe?

Whitney Grace, September 6, 2018

Some Happy, Some Sad in Seattle Over Cloud Deal Review

July 12, 2018

I know little about the procurement skirmishes fought over multi billion dollar deals for cloud services. The pragmatic part of my experience suggests that the last thing most statement of work and contract processes produce is efficient, cost effective contracts. Quite a few COTRs, lawyers, super grades, and mere SETAs depend on three things:

  1. Complex, lengthy processes; that is, work producing tasks
  2. Multiple vendors; for example, how many databases does one agency need? Answer: Many, many databases. Believe me, there are many great reasons ranging from the way things work in Washington to legacy systems which will never be improved in my lifetime.
  3. Politics. Ah, yes, lobbyists, special interests, friends of friends, and sometimes the fact that a senior official knows that a person once worked at a specific outfit.

When I read, “Deasy Pauses on JEDI Cloud Acquisition,” I immediately thought about the giant incumbent database champions like IBM Federal Systems and Oracle’s government operations unit.

deasy

Department of Defense CIO Dana Deasy wants a “full top down, bottom up review” of the JEDI infrastructure acquisition.

But there was a moment of reflection, when I realized that this procurement tussle will have significant impact on the Seattle area. You know, Seattle, the city which has delivered Microsoft Bob and the Amazon mobile phone.

Microsoft and Amazon are in the cloud business. Microsoft is the newcomer, but it is the outfit which has the desktops of many government agencies. Everyone loves SharePoint. The Department of Defense could not hold a briefing without PowerPoint.

Let’s not forget Amazon. That is the platform used by most government workers, their families, and possibly their friends if that Amazon account slips into the wild. Who could exist in Tyson’s Corner or Gaithersburg without Amazon delivering essential foods such as probiotic supplements for the dog.

Microsoft is probably thrilled that the JEDI procurement continues to be a work in progress. Amazon, on the other hand, is likely to be concerned that its slam dunk for a government cloud game home run has been halted due to procedural thunderstorms.

Thus, part of Seattle is really happy. Another part of Seattle is not so happy.

Since I don’t’ have a dog in this fight, my hunch is that little in Washington, DC changes from administrative change to administrative change.

But this Seattle dust up will be interesting to watch. I think it will have a significant impact on Amazon and Microsoft. IBM Federal Systems and Oracle will be largely unscathed.

Exciting procurement activity is underway. Defense Department CIO Deasy Deasy’s promise of a “full top down, bottom up review” sounds like the words to a song I have heard many times.

With $10 billion in play, how long will that review take? My hunch is that it will introduce the new CIO to a new concept, “government time.”

Stephen E Arnold, July 12, 2018

Microsoft Tweaks Bing Thing

June 26, 2018

Microsoft, do you know that many non-Internet savvy people use Bing? Perhaps that is too much of a generalization, but experience will tell you that Google does deliver better results. It seems, however, that Microsoft has made a decent Bing upgrade, says the eWeek article, “Microsoft Uses Intel FPGAs For Smarter Bing Searches.”

Google has a feature where you type in a search term and it will spit out a small, informative blurb about it. Bing is “copying” that idea, so Microsoft added Intel field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to make the search engine smarter.  This endeavor is based on the deep learning acceleration platform Project Brainwave.  The FPGAs allow Bing to gather information from multiple sources and spit out an information tidbit:

“‘Intel’s FPGA chips allows Bing to quickly read and analyze billions of documents across the entire web and provide the best answer to your question in less than a fraction of a second,’ wrote Microsoft representatives in a blog post. ‘Intel’s FPGA devices not only provide Bing the real-time performance needed to keep our search fast for our users, but also the agility to continuously and quickly innovate using more and more advanced technology to bring you additional intelligent answers and better search results.’”

Bing is also using the new FPGAs to translate jargon, working on a how-to answer feature, and upgrading image search with an object detection tool. eBay and Pinterest may be exploring similar functionality.

Whitney Grace, June 26, 2018

Bing Engineers Serendipity, Not Just Irrelevant Results

May 5, 2018

It is Saturday. Innovation in search never rests. I read “Bing: Search Engines Have a Responsibility to Get People Out of Their Bubbles.” The headline is one guaranteed to give me a headache.

My view is that when I use a search system I expect, want, and need the system to:

  1. Process my keyword query, accept Boolean logic (AND, OR, and NOT arguments), and generate a list of results that optimize relevance.
  2. If I need more results, synonyms, Endeca-like “facets”, I want a button or a menu option that allows me to specify what I think I need to get the information I seek.
  3. I want to have ads, sponsored content, and SEO skewed content flagged in a color which is easily visible and put within a ruled “box.”
  4. I want to know [a] the date at which the displayed result was indexed, [b] the date assigned by whoever wrote the item to the specific article, and [c] an explicit link to a cache in the event the page indexed has been removed or is otherwise unavailable.

I have other requirements for a commercial search system; for example, Diffeo’s or Recorded Future’s approach. But these are specialized and inappropriate for a Bing style Web index.

The Bing approach, according to the write up:

Bing has launched a new feature called Intelligent Answers. When you enter a question with several valid answers, the search engine summarizes them all in a carousel to give a balanced overview.

I don’t want answers. I want a list of relevant locations which may contain the information I seek. For example, I needed to identify the term for a penance device and access images of these gizmos. Bing, Google, Yandex, and even lesser known systems like iSeek.com and Qwant.com failed.

The systems returned everything from a church calendar to a correction of penance to pennant. I did not want baseball information.

Now Bing is going to identify from my query my “question” and provide a range of answers. I don’t want this to happen. If I search LOCA, I want information about a loss of coolant accident, not this:

loca the song

I am happy to add a field code for power, nuclear if such a feature were supported by Bing. I would also add key words to get something close to my term.

The complete and utter silliness of Bing results exists right now. The company which has managed minimal progress in search now expects me to believe that its “smart software” can provide answers.

The write up states:

“Take a simple query like ‘Is coffee good for you?’” said Ribas. “There are plenty of reputable sources that tell you that there are good reasons for drinking coffee, but there are also some very reputable ones that say the opposite. Deep learning allows us to project multiple queries in the passages to what we call the semantic space and find the matches.

Based on my limited experience with whizzy 2018 search technology, I am not sure if Bing’s innovation will be helpful to me. When “semantic space” is concerned, the systems with which I am familiar, provide a number of other tools and functions to ensure relevance and accuracy.

Even with those tools, including state of the art systems from developers from Madrid to San Carlos, the user has to think, analyze, and run additional queries. Phone calls, interviews, and even visits to libraries are often required to obtain helpful information.

Bing promises “intelligent answers.”

Sounds like MBA infused marketing with a few notes added from engineers with better things to do than explain exactly what a content processing component can do with 80 percent accuracy.

Time out. The referee wants the coach to get the MBA marketers off the field for intellectual fantasizing. This is the same outfit which owns Fast Search & Transfer, created the racist chatbot, and missed the mobile phone business by a country mile. Why not ask Bing a question like, “How did these missteps occur?” Perhaps Watson would be able to take a crack at “intelligent answers”?

Stephen E Arnold, May 5, 2018

Munich Migrates To Windows 10

March 28, 2018

Despite the superiority of other operating systems, Microsoft Windows still tops the list as a popular office enterprise tool.  Windows PCs have easy user interfaces, applications for easy management, and are understood at a near universal level.  It does not come as a surprise when Munich, Germany decided to implement a change to Windows 10, says Silicon: “Munich Approves 49.3 million Euro Windows 10 Migration Plan.”

Munich’s city council decided to spend over 50 million euros to migrate their computer system to Microsoft Windows 10.  This is the first major overhaul the city council has had since 2004 when they implemented a Linux desktop program.  Linux is the open source software of choice and the city council decided to use it to reduce their dependency on Microsoft.

The “LiMux” programme saw a customised version of Ubuntu Linux rolled out to about 14,800 of the city’s 29,000 users and LibreOffice used by more than 15,000, in a bid to reduce the government’s dependence upon Microsoft.  In 2012 then-mayor Christian Ude said LiMux had saved Munich more than €4m in licensing costs.  The rollout was completed in 2013, nearly 10 years after it began, but a political shift the following year saw leadership turn in favour of a return to Windows.

The transition back to Microsoft comes with a change in the city council’s leadership.  Dieter Reiter pushed fo have Microsoft license and he won.  The Microsoft Windows transition cost of over 49 million euros is only part of the 89 million euro IT overhaul that is in progress.  The IT overhaul also includes retraining and testing staff.

The Munich city council will not be migrating to Microsoft Office, which would incur an even higher price tag.  Munich will instead continue to use LibreOffice, because of the staff’s familiarity and the custom templates.  The city council also hopes to implement cloud application usage.

As with anything related to politics, opposing parties are critical of the return to Microsoft and say it wastes money.  Nothing new on that end and it only points to more organizational problems than a simple OS.

Whitney Grace, March 28, 2018

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