Microsoft is bringing the Bash shell to Windows 10

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Here is an announcement from Microsoft Build you probably didn’t see coming: Microsoft today announced that it is bringing the GNU project’s Bash shell to Windows. Bash (Bourne Again SHell) has long been a standard on OS X and many Linux distribution systems, while the default terminal for developers on Windows is Microsoft’s own PowerShell.

More importantly than bringing the shell over to Windows, developers will now be able to write their .sh Bash scripts on Windows, as well (or use Emacs to edit their code). Microsoft noted that this will work through a new Linux subsystem in Windows 10 that Microsoft worked on with Canonical.

“The native availability of a full Ubuntu environment on Windows, without virtualization or emulation, is a milestone that defies convention and a gateway to fascinatingly unfamiliar territory,” Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said in a statement today. “In our journey to bring free software to the widest possible audience, this is not a moment we could have predicted. Nevertheless we are delighted to stand behind Ubuntu for Windows, committed to addressing the needs of Windows developers exploring Linux in this amazing new way, and excited at the possibilities heralded by this unexpected turn of events.”

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The idea here is clearly to position Windows as a better operating system for developers who want to target other platforms besides Microsoft’s own. Under its new CEO Satya Nadella, the company has quickly embraced the idea that it wants to target all developers and platforms — not just its own. While seeing Microsoft doing anything even remotely associated with a rival operating system like Linux was unthinkable only a few years ago, the company now offers support for Linux on Azure, has open sourced numerous of its technologies and even plans to bring its flagship database product SQL Server to Linux in the near future.

Bash will arrive as part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update this summer, but it’ll be available to Windows Insiders before that. And looking ahead, Microsoft says it may bring other shells to Windows over time, too.

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Microsoft's multipronged strategy for bringing speech to IoT devices

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Microsoft has been stepping up its game around connecting its Azure cloud services to Internet of Things (IoT) devices. But few may realize the company also is simultaneously working to bring its various speech capabilities to IoT devices, too.

Microsoft provides IoT developers with various tools for integrating speech with their devices. There are built-in Windows 10 speech application programming interfaces (APIs) for tasks like dictating a simple message and Web search. There are natural-language services -- known as Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS) -- that are part of Microsoft Research's Oxford API set, and are available for non-Windows platforms, too. There's Bing Translate. And there's Cortana, Microsoft's personal digital assistant.

Figuring out which of these tools is best for which kinds of tasks seemingly can be a bit tricky. Company officials provided a framework for guidance during WinHEC, listing some potential scenarios, like controlling a sous-vide machine by voice (using a combination of LUIS with Windows 10 or Oxford Speech APIs), and controlling a robot using voice (using Windows 10 local speech APIs).

In the home automation/device control example, Microsoft showed how a user could check whether her/his garage door is closed with voice queries without having to use a phone or tablet.

World's First Autonomous Drone, The DJI Phantom 4, Revealed

Recently, the Irish Internet of Things chip maker Movidius, has won a multi-million dollar deal with Google, and it has been revealed as the brain behind the breakthrough autonomous drone, the DJI Phantom 4.

This autonomous drone, which went on sale in Apple Stores across the US last week, features a new visual guidance facet, which sticks to and follows a subject, and can stay in a fixed position without the need of a GPS signal.

Described as the first in the industry, the addition of Movidius chips technology and algorithms allows spatial computing and 3D depth sensing.

This gives the DJI Phantom 4 drone the capability to sense and avoid obstacles in real time, which means that it has more autonomous flight functions – along with improved awareness of flight space in air. Additional intelligence features include improved vision based on tracking modes and advanced mapping capabilities.

The Phantom 4 drone is understood to be the only visually intelligent drone available in the market which has the ability to see the world through six different sensors, and it can also sense obstacles.

This comes with included features such as Tap Fly -- which would enable pilots to tap a spot on their display, which causes the drone to fly to that particular spot on its own. Active Track is also present, which would allow the pilot to track objects by using advanced image recognition algorithms.

In recent weeks, it materialized that Movidius’s internet of things chips will be the intelligence within an extremely powerful new VR headset which is being created by Google, and it will not need to be tethered to a PCs or the smartphone.

Microsoft, others join forces to work on encrypted email protocols

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In the world of the Internet, technology is constantly changing. The SMTP technology behind email, however, has not changed much since it was first released a very long time ago. Despite the invention of SMTP SMARTTM to solve this problem, most emails are still unencrypted, and thus open to a man in the middle hack. Luckily though, a team of engineers from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Comcast, and other leading companies have been working on a proposal which would cut out the middle man hacker

The proposal which has been submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force attempts to protect against hackers who want to intercept or modify emails. Under the proposal, when sending emails to a domain that supports SMTP STS,  a technology will automatically check if the email’s destination supports encryption and if the email’s certificate is valid. Essentially, this will ensure that your email is talking to the right server. In the event that anything is seen as invalid, the email should fail to deliver and then tell the user why.

275 million Android phones imperiled by new code-execution exploit

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Almost 300 million phones running Google's Android operating system are vulnerable to a newly developed drive-by attack that can install malware and take control of key operations, a security firm has warned.

A proof-of-concept exploit dubbed Metaphor works against Android versions 2.2 through 4.0 and 5.0 and 5.1, which together are estimated to run 275 million phones, researchers from Israeli security firm NorthBit said. It attacks the same Stagefright media library that made an estimated 950 million Android phones susceptible to similar code-execution attacks last year. The following video demonstrates how a malicious attacker might use a Metaphor-style attack to take control of a phone after luring an unsuspecting end user to a booby-trapped website.

The NorthBit-developed attack exploits a Stagefright vulnerability discovered and disclosed last year by Zimperium, the security firm that first demonstrated the severe weaknesses in the code library. For reasons that aren't yet clear, Google didn't fix the vulnerability in some versions, even though the company eventually issued a patch for a different bug that had made the Zimperium exploits possible. While the newer attack is in many ways a rehash of the Zimperium work, it's able to exploit an information leak vulnerability in a novel way that makes code execution much more reliable in newer Android releases. Starting with version 4.1, Android was fortified with an anti-exploitation defense known as address space layout randomization, which loads downloaded code into unpredictable memory regions to make it harder for attackers to execute malicious payloads. The breakthrough of Metaphor is its improved ability to bypass it.

"They've proven that it's possible to use an information leak to bypass ASLR," Joshua Drake, Zimperium's vice president for platform research and exploitation, told Ars. "Whereas all my exploits were exploiting it with a brute force, theirs isn't making a blind guess. Theirs actually leaks address info from the media server that will allow them to craft an exploit for whoever is using the device."

The other big advance offered by Metaphor is that it works on a wider base of phones. Previous patches published by Google make anyone with version 5.1 or higher immune, and in some cases those may also protect users of 4.4 or higher, Drake said. Metaphor, by contrast, exposes users of 5.1, which is estimated to run on 19 percent of Android phones. Currently, Metaphor works best on Nexus 5 models with a stock ROM, but it also works on the HTC One, LG G3, and Samsung S5, the company said. Depending on the vendor, a drive-by attack requires anywhere from 20 seconds to two minutes to work.

Microsoft Edge finally supports Extensions, available to Insiders now

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Last night, Microsoft introduced Extensions support for Edge in Windows 10 Build 14291. The company released three official Extensions for Microsoft Edge yesterday, and more are expected to come later this year. Now, Microsoft’s Jacob Rossi today announced on Twitter that the company will be releasing a porting tool which will allow developers to port their Chrome extensions to Microsoft Edge. The company is apparently working on it now, and it isn’t finished as not all the APIs are supported just yet.

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It is worth noting that porting Chrome extensions to Microsoft Edge is actually quite easy. If you are a developer, you will be able to port your Chrome extension to Edge pretty easily after changing several lines of code. Nonetheless, this upcoming tool should make porting Chrome extensions to Edge even easier, and we hope to hear more about it from Microsoft at Build 2016 later this month.

Microsoft adds 'non-security updates' to security patches

MS16-023, billed as a “Security update for Internet Explorer” and issued on March 8, includes six “General distribution release (GDR) fixes”.

Five are innocuous as they address glitches like “Empty textarea loses its closing tag in Internet Explorer 11 after conversion from XML to HTML.”

But the last item on the list item 3146449, has the rather more interesting title “Updated Internet Explorer 11 capabilities to upgrade Windows 8.1 and Windows 7.”

A great many users just accept all Windows updates, so will never see item 3146449. Even if you are diligent enough to visit the page for MS16-023 you'll probably miss it, because it's far enough down the page that scrolling is required to see it.

Only once you visit 3146449's knowledge base page you'll find the following explanation for the patch:

This update adds functionality to Internet Explorer 11 on some computers that lets users learn about Windows 10 or start an upgrade to Windows 10.

We've no idea what that means, so have asked Microsoft what that sentence means in an effort to understand the sentence and the purpose of item 3146449.

Some users report that the update adds ads to older versions of Windows. Those ads include a button to initiate a Windows 10 upgrade.

Windows 10 is growing nicely, gaining one per cent of global market share in February alone. Microsoft's made no secret of its ambitions to quickly kill off Windows 8.x and its predecessors.

Microsoft has released a Debian Linux switch OS

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Put down your coffee gently. Microsoft has today released a homegrown open-source operating system, based on Debian GNU/Linux, that runs on network switches.

The software is dubbed SONiC, aka Software for Open Networking in the Cloud. It's a toolkit of code and kernel patches to bend switch hardware to your will, so you can dictate how it works and what it can do, rather than relying on proprietary firmware from a traditional networking vendor.

It also pits Redmond against white-box network operating systems from the likes of HP, Dell, and Cumulus Networks.

SONiC builds upon the Windows giant's Linux-based Azure Cloud Switch (ACS) operating system that we learned about in September.

ACS is the brains of switches in Microsoft's Azure cloud: the code can run on all sorts of hardware from different equipment makers, and uses a common C API – the Switch Abstraction Interface (SAI) – to program the specialist chips in the networking gear. This means ACS can control and manage network devices and implement features as required regardless of who made the underlying electronics.

This underlying hardware must therefore implement the SAI, an API that Microsoft contributed to the Open Compute Project (OCP) in 2015. The OCP, launched by Facebook in 2011, encourages hardware manufacturers to produce generic gear to the project's open standards and specifications so large organizations can buy the machines cheaply in bulk and use software to customize and control the gear as they wish.

Redmond – backed by Arista, Broadcom, Dell and Mellanox – now hopes to contribute ACS's sibling SONiC to the OCP so organizations can pick and choose their switch hardware and shape their networks as needed using Redmond's software.

"SONiC is a collection of software networking components required to build network devices like switches," said Azure CTO Mark Russinovich, who will give a keynote at the OCP Summit in San Jose, California, in the next few minutes.

"Together with SAI, SONiC will enable cloud operators to take advantage of hardware innovation, while giving them a framework to build upon open source code for applications on the network switch.

"We believe it’s the final piece of the puzzle in delivering a fully open sourced switch platform that can share the same software stack across hardware from multiple switch vendors."

SONiC is available for download now from Microsoft's Azure GitHub repo under a mix of open-source licenses including the GNU GPL and the Apache license.

Today's news follows Microsoft's other bombshell this week: a port of SQL Server for Linux, due out in 2017. This is all extremely surprising given the Windows giant was hell bent on destroying Linux until very recently.

Now, according to Russinovich, more than 25 per cent of virtual machines running on Azure are Linux-powered, up from 20 per cent six months ago.

Redmond fans insist their favorite IT giant has turned a new leaf, that it no longer likens open-source to cancer and communism, and that it now truly loves Linux. Those of us who found themselves on the business end of Microsoft in the 1990s will be thinking of the old words from a nearly forgotten age. Embrace. Extend... ®

Updated to add

Russinovich has blogged about SONiC here.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has said it "has no plans to sell SONiC to customers or provide any network engineering or development support." It also stressed that "SONiC is a collection of networking software components required to have a fully functional L3 device that can be agnostic of any particular Linux distribution. Today SONiC runs on Debian."

Announcing SQL Server on Linux

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It’s been an incredible year for the data business at Microsoft and an incredible year for data across the industry. This Thursday at our Data Driven event in New York, we will kick off a wave of launch activities for SQL Server 2016 with general availability later this year. This is the most significant release of SQL Server that we have ever done, and brings with it some fantastic new capabilities. SQL Server 2016 delivers:

  • Groundbreaking security encryption capabilities that enable data to always be encrypted at rest, in motion and in-memory to deliver maximum security protection
  • In-memory database support for every workload with performance increases up to 30-100x
  • Incredible Data Warehousing performance with the #1, #2 and #3 TPC-H 10 Terabyte benchmarks for non-clustered performance, and the #1 SAP SD Two-Tier performance benchmark on windows
  • Business Intelligence for every employee on every device – including new mobile BI support for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices
  • Advanced analytics using our new R support that enables customers to do real-time predictive analytics on both operational and analytic data
  • Unique cloud capabilities that enable customers to deploy hybrid architectures that partition data workloads across on-premises and cloud based systems to save costs and increase agility

These improvements, and many more, are all built into SQL Server and bring you not just a new database but a complete platform for data management, business analytics and intelligent apps – one that can be used in a consistent way across both on-premises and the cloud. In fact, over the last year we’ve been using the SQL Server 2016 code-base to run in production more than 1.4 million SQL Databases in the cloud using our Azure SQL Database as a Service offering, and this real-world experience has made SQL Server 2016 an incredibly robust and battle-hardened data platform.

Gartner recently named Microsoft as leading the industry in their Magic Quadrant for Operational Database Management Systems in both execution and vision. We’re also a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Data Warehouse and Data Management Solutions for Analytics, and Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms, as well as leading in vision in the Magic Quadrant for Advanced Analytics Platforms.

Microsoft now plans March Windows 10 Mobile rollout

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February has come and gone without the highly anticipated Windows 10 Mobile upgrade for legacy Lumia handsets. In an email to partners, seen by VentureBeat, Microsoft is now targeting a release this month, to occur after the regular monthly service updates for the two Windows 10-powered handsets already on the market, the Lumia 950 and 950 XL.

Unlike the previous schedule this one separates the upgrade from the service update. In other words, whereas the February rollout would have seen the update bundled into the upgrade, in March they are expected to be two distinct processes.

The rollout is said to begin passively, from Microsoft’s perspective, in that users will need to initiate it manually from their handsets. Only afterwards, on an unspecified timetable, will the company begin actively pushing the new firmware to eligible devices.

Microsoft had initially intended to upgrade in-market Lumias this past December, but the self-imposed deadline came and went. The February target was only messaged internally, so there has technically been just a single — albeit months-long — delay.

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