Kubos Unveils Operating System for Small Spacecraft

 

A NanoAvionics-designed CubeSat. NanoAvionics has signed a distribution deal with Kubos. Photo: NanoAvionics.

Kubos has announced the release of KubOS 1.0, which according to the company is the first complete, end-to-end software solution for small spacecraft. The operating software can be downloaded from the Kubos website, and Kubos is encouraging users and developers to join the community to improve the open-source product.

This release is also Kubos’ first major product that has been tested by and supports the On Board Computer (iOBC) from Innovative Solutions in Space.

 A NanoAvionics-designed nanosatellite. NanoAvionics has signed a distribution deal with Kubos. Photo: NanoAvionics.

Kubos has stated it hopes the software will become the default industry operating system. In the past year, it has signed distribution deals with three nanosatellite manufacturers: Innovative Solutions in Space, NanoAvionics, and Pumpkin.

Packaged into an integrated distribution, KubOS 1.0 is comprised of three parts: a customized operating system (RTOS or Linux), Kubos’ Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), and Kubos Core flight middleware. KubOS RT and KubOS Linux provide the satellite runtime and Application Programming Interface (APIs) that unlock common satellite functionality such as telemetry, command and control, subsystem and ground station communications, and remote software updates. The company also offers the Hopper Test Bed, a development and testing environment available remotely to the satellite industry.

 

Ransomware Attacks: Ukrainian Police Seize Servers of Software Firm

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Servers of M.E.Doc seized as part of an investigation into the attack
  • Initial infections were spread via a malicious update issued by M.E.Doc
  • At least 3 M.E.Doc updates had been issued with backdoor vulnerability

Ukrainian police on Tuesday seized the servers of an accounting software firm suspected of spreading a malware virus which crippled computer systems at major companies around the world last week, a senior police official said.

The head of Ukraine’s Cyber Police, Serhiy Demedyuk, told Reuters the servers of M.E.Doc – Ukraine’s most popular accounting software – had been seized as part of an investigation into the attack.

Though they are still trying to establish who was behind last week’s attack, Ukrainian intelligence officials and security firms have said some of the initial infections were spread via a malicious update issued by M.E.Doc, charges the company’s owners deny.

The owners were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

Premium Service, which says it is an official dealer of M.E.Doc’s software, wrote a post on M.E.Doc’s Facebook page saying masked men were searching M.E.Doc’s offices and that the software firm’s servers and services were down.

Premium Service could not be reached for further comment.

Cyber Police spokeswoman Yulia Kvitko said investigative actions were continuing at M.E.Doc’s offices, adding that further comment would be made on Wednesday.

The police move came after cyber-security investigators unearthed further evidence on Tuesday that the attack had been planned months in advance by highly-skilled hackers, who they said had inserted a vulnerability into the M.E.Doc progamme.

Ukraine also took steps on Tuesday to extend its state tax deadline by one month to help businesses hit by the malware assault.

Researchers at Slovakian security software firm ESET said they had found a “backdoor” written into some of M.E.Doc’s software updates, likely with access to the company’s source code, which allowed hackers to enter companies’ systems undetected.Ransomware Attacks: Ukrainian Police Seize Servers of Software Firm

“Very stealthy and cunning”
“We identified a very stealthy and cunning backdoor that was injected by attackers into one of M.E.Doc’s legitimate modules,” ESET senior malware researcher Anton Cherepanov said in a technical note. “It seems very unlikely that attackers could do this without access to M.E.Doc’s source code.”

“This was a thoroughly well-planned and well-executed operation,” he said.

ESET said at least three M.E.Doc updates had been issued with the “backdoor vulnerability”, and the first one was sent to clients on April 14, more than two months before the attack.

ESET said the hackers likely had access to M.E.Doc’s source code since the beginning of the year, and the detailed preparation before the attack was testament to the advanced nature of their operation.

Oleg Derevianko, board chairman at Ukrainian cyber-security firm ISSP, said an update issued by M.E.Doc in April delivered a virus to the company’s clients which instructed computers to download 350 megabytes of data from an unknown source on the Internet.

The virus then exported 35 megabytes of company data to the hackers, he told Reuters in an interview at his office in Kiev.

“With this 35 megabytes you can exfiltrate anything – emails from all of the banks, user accounts, passwords, anything.”

Little known outside Ukrainian accounting circles, M.E.Doc is used by around 80 percent of companies in Ukraine. The software allows its 400,000 clients to send and collaborate on financial documents between internal departments, as well as file them with the Ukrainian state tax service.

Ukraine’s government said on Tuesday it would submit a draft law to parliament for the country’s tax deadline to be extended to July 15, and waive fines for companies who missed the previous June 13 cutoff because of the attack.

“We had programme failures in connection to the cyber-attack, which meant that businesses were unable to submit account reports on time,” Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman told a cabinet meeting.

Separately, Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, said it had discussed cyber defence with NATO officials and had received equipment from the alliance to better combat future cyber-attacks. Ukraine is not in NATO but is seeking closer ties.

On Saturday Ukrainian intelligence officials accused Russian security services of being behind the attack, and cyber-security researchers linked it to a suspected Russian group who attacked the Ukrainian power grid in December 2016.

A Kremlin spokesman dismissed charges of Russian involvement as “unfounded blanket accusations”.

Derevianko said the hacker’s activity in April and reported access to M.E.Doc’s source code showed Ukraine’s computer networks had already been compromised and that the intruders were still operating inside them.

“It definitely tells us about the advanced capabilities of the adversaries,” he said. “I don’t think any additional evidence is needed to attribute this to a nation-state attack.”

 

Best Windows 10 apps

One of the principal benefits of Windows 10 is having a single, homogeneous app library that works across all your devices, including your Windows Phone, PC and Xbox.

However, as Windows 10 for Phones is still some months from release, this facet of the Windows 10 platform has time yet before it comes into its own.

However, this doesn’t mean that your new Windows 10 computer is going to be bereft of apps; far from it. Paradoxically, one of the major changes for Windows 10 is that many aspects haven’t changed.

While there have been some shake-ups in the way apps are presented and laid out, the fact remains that Windows 8 apps are still fully compatible with Windows 10.

Rather than having to write an entirely new version of their app for the new platform, developers can just stick with the old version, and update it with Windows 10 functionality as they go along.

This means that the vast majority of popular apps on Windows 10 are going to be largely identical to their Windows 8.1 counterparts.

There are already a large selection of apps and desktop programs for you to start using with Windows 10, and we’ve rounded up the best offering available on day one. This list will be updated with new entries, as the Windows 10 library continues to grow.

Best Windows 10 apps: Get Started

A handy guide for new users, Get Started uses slideshows and video tutorials to walk you through the new platform.

It’s a useful feature considering the new OS was only released in July 2015, and represents quite a departure from operating systems like Windows 7, which many are more familiar with.

Just type Get Started into the search bar to pull up the app, and scroll through the tabs on the left to pick a feature you want to learn about.

Best Windows 10 apps: Microsoft Edge

In terms of Killer apps, Microsoft Edge is the new big-ticket item. Replacing Internet Explorer as the default Windows browser, Microsoft has put a lot of effort into sprucing up Edge for the new, internet-centric generation.

One of the most obvious changes is a new visual design, which blends the sparse, stripped-down appearance of Windows 8’s touch-optimised Internet Explorer with the added utility seen in rivals like Chrome and Firefox, along with unique annotation tools.

Elsewhere, it’s sporting a built-in Pocket or Instapaper-syle reading list, which allows you to save interesting articles for later perusal. There’s also a new Reading View, which breaks down and reformats the page to give a basic, uncluttered view of whatever article you’re reading.

As a default browser, it’s a massive step up from Internet Explorer, and Microsoft now has a viable rival to other companies’ more impressive offerings.

Best Windows 10 apps: Uber

Uber has arrived on Windows 10 PCs thanks to the Universal Windows Platform, which lets developers build an app that works across different types of devices.

You can pinpoint your location on your desktop app to request a driver to pick you up, or, if you’re too busy, you can just request Cortana to request a cab for you, by saying: “Hey Cortana, get me an uberX to [name an address here]”.

If you’re already working on your Windows 10 device, it means there’s no need to pull out your phone to book a ride.

Additionally by pinning the app to your Start menu, Uber will count down the estimated time of arrival of your taxi.

Best Windows 10 apps: OneNote

As one of the comparatively recent additions to the Office stable, OneNote is often – unfairly – overlooked as a basic note-taking tool. In reality, it can have a surprising amount of functionality outside this.

There’s a full suite of drawing tools for use with touchscreens and styluses, so you can handwrite notes as well as type them. In addition to this, you can also record audio via your device microphone and link it to specific sections of your notes for easy reference.

Be warned though – the desktop Office 2013 version of OneNote is the one to go for. The app version that comes preinstalled with many Windows machines has its uses, but it’s severely lacking in functionality compared to its big brother.

Best Windows 10 apps: Cortana

Microsoft’s answer to the recent wave of digital assistants like Siri and Google Now, Cortana is now built into Windows 10 on desktops. Like all DAs, it works best in conjunction with a paired phone on the same ecosystem, but Cortana is still useful even if you’re on Android or iOS.

By default, Cortana appears as a search box just next to the start button on the taskbar. From there, you can search your computer and the internet, just like in Windows 8. However, Cortana will also organise your appointments, giving you context-sensitive reminders based on time, place or contacts.

Through machine learning, Cortana utilises your search history and other data to learn more about your likes and dislikes, building an intelligent profile of what to suggest to you in its notebook.

Naturally, it’s got voice-activation options – via the ‘hey Cortana’ keyphrase – and Microsoft claims that it can understand more natural speech patterns than competitors. It’s a useful tool purely on desktop, but it’ll be a downright essential once Windows 10 arrives on phones.

Best Windows 10 apps: Twitter Moments

Twitter updated its Windows 10 app in December 2015 to include Moments, a feature that enables you to see the highest trending stories of the day.

Moments lets you browse conversations, video clips and pictures to check out the latest news relevant to you, and when you find a subject that piques your interest, you can follow it, with Twitter curating the best tweets about it to send to your feed.

Best Windows 10 apps: Microsoft Word Mobile

Most people may be more familiar with its full-fat Office cousin, but unlike OneNote, the app version of Microsoft Word is actually our favourite of the two.

Like with all the mobile-friendly Office apps, Word is a lot more slimmed down compared to the desktop version. However, while this means a loss of functionality for many apps, for word it actually results in a much more streamlined experience.

Some of the more fine-grained control is gone, but all the core options and elements remain intact. Font and paragraph options are present and correct, as well as change tracking and media insertion tools.

For the day-to-day needs of most users, the Word app is a perfect lightweight document editor, with a clean layout and a great set of cloud syncing tools to boot.

Best Windows 10 apps: Xbox

Consider this a must-have for any Xbox gamer. Through the Xbox app, Windows 10 now includes functionality for streaming games from an Xbox One directly to a PC, without the need for a high-end processor or graphics card.

Gamers no longer need to be confined to the bedroom or living room while playing their favourite games. Streaming to a Windows 10 laptop, games can be taken anywhere, as long as you’re within range of your home WiFi network.

The app can also be used to capture game footage through the Game DVR system, then browsed and uploaded remotely. Acting as a Facebook-esque social hub for all your gaming activity, the Xbox app is a real leap forward for cross-platform support.

How to download and and carry out a clean install of Windows 10

Now that Windows 10 is available for free to any users of Windows 7 and Windows 8, it is somewhat of a no-brainer to upgrade.

This marks a very real drive by the company to get its user base onto the latest and greatest version of its successful operating system. As it is also one of the first to be available online only, installing Windows 10 is a different proposition altogether.

There are many ways to install Windows 10; if you want to upgrade to Windows 10 from 7/8.1 for free then you’ll need to use the install in place using one of the two methods outlined below.

While installing in place with older versions of Windows was a scary enough process that we wouldn’t have recommended it, it’s a far easier thing with Windows 10. The first way is the most straightforward but will take longer. If you’re apprehensive to use Microsoft’s latest and greatest, go for the latter method instead which is faster but involves a little more work.

It’s worth noting that if you have a retail copy of Windows 7 or 8/8.1, you can transfer your licence to a new computer by first installing Windows 7/8.1 on another computer and then upgrade to Windows 10 using one of the methods below. Once Microsoft’s offer of a free upgrade to Windows 10 expires on 29 July 2016, you’ll no longer be able to to this. In other words, once you’ve upgraded you’ll be on a new licence with more restrictive terms about you can and can’t do with your copy of Windows 10.

Method One: Windows 10 reservation tool

1. While we didn’t have any problems during our installation, it’s always a good idea to backup your computer prior to installing any new software – particularly something as important as a new operating system. Should anything go wrong, at least, you’ll still have duplicates of all your files.

2. In advance of installing Windows 10, you’ll need to ensure that all the latest updates available for your existing installation of Windows (7 SP1 or 8.1) are installed. Go to Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Windows Update (Windows 7) or Control Panel\System and Security\Windows Update and follow the on-screen prompts to install all available Important updates.

3. Once these updates are installed, you’ll see a tiny Windows icon in your System Tray. Click it and follow the on-screen prompts – a wizard will check your computer for compatibility and ‘reserve’ your copy of Windows 10 in Microsoft’s staggered worldwide download queue.

4. When your reserved copy of Windows is ready, you’ll see a dialog box prompting you to download the installer. Accept and the long wait begins. The exact size of the installer will vary depending on your existing setup, but it will be in the region of at least 2.5GB.

5. Once the installer has downloaded, another dialog box will prompt you to finally start the installation itself (hooray!) either straight away or at a later time. The lengthy download will be followed by an equally lengthy ‘preparing for installation’ phase, so scheduling for installation will be a good idea. Follow the on-screen prompts to start installation – it’ll be another lengthy process, but it’ll be worth it.

Method Two: Windows 10 Media Creation Tool

1. Backup your existing Windows installation, as in step 1 above.

2. Install all available Important updates, as in step 2 above.

3. Find out whether you’re running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows. Under Windows 7, you can find this information in Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\System. Under Windows 8.1, it’ll be in Control Panel\System and Security\System

4. Download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. Although intended primarily for creating a Windows installation DVD or USB stick, you can also use it to upgrade Windows in place. Make sure you download the right version for your PC – either the 32-bit version or the 64-bit version.

5. Once the Tool has downloaded, run it and follow the on-screen prompts to download and install Windows 10. As with Method One, download and installation can take a long time, so don’t do it if you’re in a hurry.

Method Three: Performing a clean install of Windows 10

The upgrade process in Windows 10 takes old files, settings, and programs from a previous system to a new one. You can, however, refresh your computer completely by carrying out a clean install. However, the activation process can be trickier.

A clean install can come in handy if you want to dodge the ton of bloatware that manufacturers install. It is also necessary when you have replaced a hard drive.

By far the easiest way to do a clean install is to use Windows 10’s Reset function. This differs from the Windows 8 Reset function as that feature used a recovery image from manufacturers that was customised for their software. Sure, that would include the specific drivers from them, but this also included bloatware and in some cases (*cough* Lenovo) undesirable software such as Superfish.

Windows 10 purports to have a system in place that rebuilds Windows without the need for a separate recovery image. This cleans up the system and keeps the latest files. This also means that you don’t have to run Windows Update directly after a reset.

Microsoft claims this resetting brings “Windows devices back to a pristine state” with only Windows files installed.

To reset your Windows 10 PC, open the Settings app, choose Update & security, choose Recovery, and click the “Get started” button under Reset this PC. Choose “Remove everything.” This will wipe all your files, so be sure you have backups.

Windows taskbar icons: How to clean up the clutter

1203 primary taskbar

Lis has a taskbar “running over with icons,” and needs to clean things up a bit.

If you keep a lot of programs running at the same time, or if you have pinned a lot of them to the taskbar, that row of icons at the bottom of the screen will overflow. You won’t be able to see all of them.

One obvious solution is to close some of those programs. This will clear the taskbar and improve performance. Shutting down your PC in the evening and booting fresh in the morning will help.

But if you have to keep all those programs running, there are some other solutions.

First, you can change how the running programs are displayed on the taskbar: Right-click the taskbar and select Properties. In the Taskbar tab, click the Taskbar buttons pulldown menu and pick an option.

1203 taskbar properties

These are the options:

  • Always combine, hide labels: This saves the most space, showing one icon per application—without descriptive labels.
    1203 always combine

  • Never combine: This is the real space-waster. If you have four Chrome windows open, the taskbar will display four Chrome icons, each with a space-wasting label.
    1203 never combine

  •  Combine when taskbar is full: This will display as one or the other of the above options, depending on the circumstances.

Some other tricks:

You can unpin some of the programs you’ve permanently pinned to the taskbar. Right-click the icon on the taskbar and select Unpin this program from taskbar. There are other ways to make a program easy to launch—such as pinning it to the Start menu.

1203 unpin

You can also shrink the notification area—sometimes called the systray. It’s that line of tiny icons on the right end of the taskbar. Once again, right-click the taskbar and selectProperties. In the Taskbar tab’s Notification area box, click the Customize button.

In the resulting dialog box, you can select how each of these icons is displayed. Any option other than “Show icon and notifications” will give you a bit more room.

1203 notification area

Windows 10’s Search field takes up a lot of space on the taskbar…unless you hide it. Right-click the taskbar, select Search, and then select any option other than the default “Show search box.”

1203 search options

If you select Show search icon, you can bring up the search field by clicking on the magnifying glass. If you select Hidden, click Start and just start typing.

1203 search samples

Uber tests color-coded ride pickups to avoid getting into the wrong car

uber spot color pickups

Uber is trying to help you avoid that awkward moment when you into the wrong car.

The ride-sharing company will start testing a color-coded “Spot” lighting system that promises to “light your way to a smoother pickup.” As part of Spot, Uber cars in Seattle will start flashing a color LED light near the windshield that will match the color on your smartphone.

This is how it works: After you hail a ride on the Uber app, you will be asked to choose one of the six colors. When your ride arrives, the LED light will glow in that chosen color. Then you can press and hold the color on your smartphone to light up your screen so the driver can identify you as the correct pickup.

“When riders and drivers can easily find each other, we’re able to trim down wait times, which is a win for everyone,” the company posted on its news blog. Uber is hoping that Spot will be most helpful after crowded events, when a fleet of Uber rides are all requested to arrive at once. Previously, the only way you could identify your Uber ride is by looking at the car’s license plate number, which is shown on the Uber app after hailing a ride.

This is the second new feature Uber has added to its ride-sharing service this week. On Wednesday, the company announced an API update for iOS and Android developers to add an official “Uber Ride Request Button” on their apps. This request button can pull address data from the third-party app, so Uber will automatically know where you intend to go once you tap it.

Asus Chromebit CS10 review: What it’s like to have Chrome OS in your pocket

chromebit 4

Asus’s Chromebit CS10 is small enough to go just about anywhere. Still, you may wonder why anyone would actually want Chrome OS on a stick—when you could buy a Chromebook for travel, a Chromebox for home use, or even the much-cheaper Chromecast for media streaming. There are users who don’t fit tidily into any of those categories, though, and by taking the best aspects of the Chromebit’s sister devices and combining them into a single, cheaper product, Google and Asus fill in the gaps.

Specs

When you first hold a Chromebit in your hand, it looks and feels like an overgrown Chromecast. But this $85 device is really a Chromebox, shrunk down to roughly 4.75 x 1.25 x 0.625 inches and weighing 2.65 ounces. To use it, you’ll need a display with an HDMI port. You’ll also need a mouse and keyboard.

Outside is a single USB 2.0 port capable of supporting USB hubs. If you want to use the single USB 2.0 Type A port, you must use a combo setup or a hub. Otherwise, you’ll have to use a Bluetooth setup.

Inside is a quad-core ARM-based Rockchip RK3288 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of eMMC storage. Initially I encountered some latency when testing a Belkin USB 2.0 hub with my USB mouse, but it cleared up after removing the hub and plugging it back in.
The Chromebit also offers dual-band 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0, with built-in support at the setup screen to pair Bluetooth peripherals like keyboards and mice. Its ability to handle web-authenticated Wi-Fi networks seems to be superb—I was able to log into my finicky guest WiFi network easily, something I’ve rarely achieved on other devices. That’s promising if you intend to use it while staying at a hotel.

Performance

Overall, the Chromebit performed reliably well for its size constraints. While it lacks the zip you’d get from a beefier Chrome OS machine, it loads webpages and handles most streaming video without a hitch. Major sites optimized for streaming, like Netflix and YouTube, ran flawlessly, but some framerate drops and buffering did appear in a large MP4 file served by a niche site for dance competition videos. While I could still watch the dance performances, it wasn’t nearly as smooth as I wanted from video involving so much movement.

Synthetic benchmarks backed up this subjective experience: On the whole, whether handling cr-XPRT 2015’s basic productivity tasks or Google Octane 2.0’s more advanced browsing-based activities, the Chromebit performed as well as other, similar ARM-based chips. You can’t really expect any surprises from hardware squeezed into such tight quarters. If anything, the startling aspect of performance was just how relatively cool and silent this dongle was during tests. Under load, Intel’s Compute Stick becomes audible and fairly warm. In fairness, Windows is far more demanding, but if tucked out of sight, most people wouldn’t even know the Chromebit was present.


chromebit 1

Who will love Chromebit

Unlike Intel’s Compute Stick or even other Chrome OS machines, the Chromebit is actually an easier sell to a wider variety of people. It’s not necessarily a replacement for a streaming box or a full Windows PC. Instead, it’s a nice complement to the overall ecosystem of gadgets you may already own. For the times that you need more flexibility than a Chromecast for streaming, require only a very dependable, basic, and cheap device for everyday web-based tasks, or want to have both while traveling, you can have it for just $85—that’s almost half of what Intel’s Compute Stick costs. And unlike Intel’s Compute Stick, you won’t notice nearly as much compromise in performance.

That said, the Chromebit’s struggles with presumably non-optimized streaming video does hint that we’ll see it age faster relative to other, more powerful Chrome OS devices. In that way, it is similar to the Compute Stick— a product line that needs internal hardware to catch up to the concept. Subsequent iterations should improve the experience; hopefully, the idea of the Chromebit will survive long enough for that to happen.

This chipset may prevent a network cacophony in your smart home

Home IoT products at Connections

Choosing smart-home products might get easier a year from now thanks to a Broadcom chipset that will be able to work with several competing network systems.

There’s a long list of protocols and software frameworks going into the Internet of Things for the home, and a lot of them don’t work together. The vision of a house full of devices that can automatically find each other and work in perfect harmony is still just that, and it’s unlikely any one product will make that possible. But Broadcom is trying to solve a small piece of the problem while simultaneously cutting costs and power consumption.

The chipset that could help to simplify IoT purchases is the BCM20739, the top of the line in Broadcom’s new family of integrated IoT chipsets. All are designed to power small, energy-efficient client devices like wearables and home appliances but could also go into hubs that link those gadgets. The components are shipping in sample quantities now and should be in consumer products for the 2016 holiday shopping season.

The BCM20739 can work with Bluetooth Smart plus four other important short-range, low-power network technologies: ZigBee, Thread, 6LoWPAN and IEEE 802.15.4. That last standard is key, because it defines the hardware that runs the other three systems.

ZigBee is already used in many home devices like lightbulbs and motion detectors. Thread is backed by Samsung, ARM Holdings, Nest and even Broadcom chip rival Qualcomm, and products have just begun to be certified.

If a home electronics device had to communicate with residents’ smartphones as well as with other wireless objects nearby, it could use all the included protocols at the same time, said Brian Bedrosian, senior director of product marketing for Broadcom’s embedded wireless business. Including all of them can also help manufacturers achieve economies of scale by using the same chip in multiple products.

Implementing all those protocols would require some software for each. Bluetooth, Bluetooth Smart and ZigBee 3.0 software stacks come integrated in the chipset. There are other networks the chipset doesn’t include, plus competing standards at other layers that could conflict. But it’s a start.

The WICED Core ELP (enhanced low-power) chipsets all include memory and flash storage, with the latter being integrated in a Broadcom low-power MCU (microcontroller unit) for the first time. The more components are built into a chipset, the less it costs to design and build a product. Broadcom says the new family is as much as 30 percent less expensive than current, comparable solutions from Broadcom and others.

The specs for a WICED Core ELP chipset read like an ad for a mid-1990s PC: Up to 100MHz clock speed, 512KB of RAM, and 1MB of storage. But the new components have as much as four times the RAM, storage, processor speed of current products from Broadcom and other vendors, Bedrosian said. Meanwhile, power consumption is down by 4X.

The chipsets are designed for use in devices with small, long-lasting batteries. They include native support for wireless charging with the A4WP and Airfuel technologies.

Microsoft’s new Bing election site tracks candidates, will predict the next U.S. president

bing election donald trump

Microsoft’s Bing has launched an election site for those who prefer their nuanced political positions boiled down into easy-to-read charts and graphs—and yes, Bing will try and predict the outcome at a later date.

On Tuesday, Microsoft launched the Bing Political Index, an informational box that will appear when users access the site through a direct link, Bing.com/elections. But a candidate-specific box will also appear when users begin searching for that candidate’s name, such as “Donald Trump”.

The site lists the candidates alphabetically by name in a horizonal carousel, with candidates who have withdrawn from the race (Bobby Jindal, at press time) at the end. Bing breaks down each candidate by their position on the issues, a timeline of key quotes and events, how the candidate has fared on Twitter or Bing by number of queries, and, finally, a general biographical overview complete with funding numbers.

Why this matters: It seems a little condescending to boil each candidate’s viewpoint on a given issue down to a numerical score—though, if you try to follow the twists, turns, and quotes from each candidate on a daily basis, it begins to make a bit more sense. Voters start to tune in as the primaries draw closer, and the political winds can dramatically shift, and fast. One example: though Donald Trump is considered to be the de facto front-runner for the GOP nomination at this stage of the game, FiveThirtyEight.com considers him to be an absolute non-entity, considering his lack of endorsements from established politicians. Soon, we’ll know who was right.

bing election

Scoring the liberals, conservatives

Most of the site is devoted to what Bing calls the “Bing Political Index” (BPI), a relative position on abortion, tax reform, environmental policy, gun control, health care, and more. The comparison, according to Bing, relies on two scores— a “Candidate Score,” derived from issue analysis work done by ontheissues.org, and a “Public Score,” the public’s consensus on a given issue, using data collected by the Bing Predicts team and its predictive learning algorithms. Each BPI score will be updated on a monthly basis, reflecting the evolving positions of the public and each of the candidates.

By default, each candidate is compared against the Public Index across a variety of issues. Users can also compare each candidate to another. Alternatively, users can track a given issue, and see where each of them stands on it. And if you’d like, you can take a short quiz designed by Ontheissues.org to determine how you lean on each issue—then find the candidate who is most aligned with your views.

Bing, however, has developed a reputation for its “Bing Predicts” algorithms, which have had varying degrees of success. In the knockout rounds of the last World Cup, Bing correctly predicted the outcomes of each match, including the final; Bing didn’t fare nearly as well in last year’s NBA playoffs, with just 61.7 percent accuracy, according to its own estimates. Bing has also predicted the winners of reality programs such as Dancing With the Stars (95 percent) and The Voice (85 percent) whose outcomes are at least partially determined by social media.

As for the 2014 midterm elections, Bing claimed to be 97 percent accurate in predicting the outcome of the Senate races, 96 percent accurate for the House, and 89 percent accurate in predicting the various governors.

Microsoft releases major System Center update to the world

A Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10

Microsoft released the latest version of its System Center Configuration Manager to the world on Tuesday, giving system administrators new tools to manage fleets of devices across their organizations.

The release gives users a bunch of new features, including new ways to deploy Windows 10. That’s particularly important, as more companies look into rolling out Microsoft’s new operating system. It’s also key for Microsoft, since the company wants more and more companies to adopt Windows 10 in the coming year.

In addition to deploying Windows 10, administrators using SCCM can also manage updates for devices on the new operating system using Microsoft’s new Windows Update for Business service. The software lets them set up deployment rings that determine when different devices receive the mandatory cumulative updates for Windows 10 that Microsoft rolls out on a somewhat frequent basis.

Microsoft is also taking a different approach with this release than it has with other versions of SCCM: The company will now begin releasing monthly preview updates to the configuration manager software that will allow users to test new features as soon as possible. If companies need a particular feature in order to take advantage of some new capability, they’ll be able to try it out as soon as Microsoft makes it available.

On top of that, Microsoft will then designate a few monthly releases as part of the “Current Branch” of System Center, and encourage administrators to update to it. Those releases are supposed to be stable and good enough for general use, in addition to bringing a passel of new features to users.

According to a blog post by Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson, 500 companies have tested the early preview builds of this release, which was managing more than 500,000 production machines before Microsoft made it generally available. Administrators interested in downloading the public release version of the software can do so through MSDN, the Microsoft Evaluation Center and the Volume Licensing Center.