BlackBerry seeks sales force to match software focus

 

TORONTO: Software maker BlackBerry Ltd’s long-running recovery effort has been slowed by a dearth of salespeople to promote its revamped and more complex products, with CEO John Chen pledging to hire more sales specialists to help achieve its growth target.

While BlackBerry’s traditional customers were security executives in top global companies, its reboot from smartphone maker to seller of everything from automotive software to cyber security consulting and asset tracking for the trucking industry has seemingly moved faster than its sales force can keep up.

BlackBerry’s revenue started declining in 2013 after Apple Inc and Alphabet Incwrested control of the smartphone market from the Canadian company. Chen took over as chief executive to fashion a turnaround and has been adding new software businesses to boost revenue, which remains a fraction of what it was in its heyday.

Chen told analysts on Friday he planned to hire more salespeople for industrial software maker QNX, acquired in 2010, as well as for its Internet of Things business, which connects computing devices in everyday objects and includes the Radar asset tracking service for trucking.”Our issue is get it out there and get the deal done,” he said. “And so we really need to ramp up our distribution channels.”BlackBerry seeks sales force to match software focus

A sales force boost will likely eat into profit, at least in the short-term, as the metrics of success BlackBerry wants to achieve typically depend on higher commissions to motivate sales staff.

“Salespeople are coin-operated,” said Berkeley Warburton, managing director of advanced customer strategy at Accenture. “If you want the right behaviours out of them you have to incentivise them in the right way.”

BlackBerry, which ended February with just over 4,000 employees compared with more than 4,500 a year earlier, declined to say how many of them were involved in sales. Five years ago the company had 16,500 employees, with 1,500 working in sales and marketing.

BlackBerry on Friday disappointed investors with an unexpected software sales decline, pushing its shares down as much as 13 percent after a sharp rally in recent months.

BlackBerry’s quarterly revenue miss prompted caution about Chen’s efforts to revive growth.

“It’s really different, in terms of who makes decisions about those things, it’s no longer the IT (information technology) team. It’s now the product design team,” said Eric Johnson, the dean of Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management.

Coupled with that, many of the products and services it is now pitching are much more complicated than selling smartphones.

“The product doesn’t sell itself in the way that they used to. They have more complex products,” so BlackBerry’s salespeople need to shift focus and sell solutions instead, Accenture’s Warburton said.

For example, BlackBerry’s QNX unit must integrate its automotive software with that of many other vendors as well as the carmaker on a production timeline of years rather than months.

“It’s a highly consultative sales process,” Vanderbilt’s Johnson said. “They’re going to have to make significant investments in their sales force to make it work.”

BlackBerry reached a deal to work directly with Ford Motor Co last year, but Chen told reporters in a briefing on Friday that talks with other automakers were taking a long time to bear fruit.

“The reason is they are going to have to adopt most of our technology for it to make sense,” Chen said. “This is not a technology issue. … The contractual terms and requirements are the long goal.”

Chen also said he might buy companies to boost sales, with a focus on growth areas including cyber security, machine learning and artificial intelligence, connected cars, and in asset tracking to compliment its Radar product.

 

Now you can try Microsoft’s supersized Surface Hub before buying

Microsoft’s program allowing potential customers to try a Surface Hub for 30 days before buying it will start on Feb. 15.Stephen Byrd NASCAR Race Management app demo

The try-and-buy program is available only through Surface Hub resellers in North America, Asia, and Europe. A list of resellers can be found on Microsoft’s website.

The Surface Hub is a gigantic Windows 10 computer available with a 55-inch or 84-inch screen. The 55-inch model is priced at US$8,999 and the 84-inch model is $21,999.

The computer is designed for collaboration, videoconferencing, and whiteboarding.  It runs a custom version of Windows 10.

It makes sense to try out a Surface Hub before plunking down a large sum to buy it. The Hub is different from a regular Surface tablet or PC, with a bit of a learning curve to get familiar with the large-screen computer.

But once mastered, Surface Hub could change the way people interact and collaborate in meetings.

Here’s how the try-and-buy program works: A reseller will install Surface Hub for a one-time fee, and you’ll be able to try it for 30 days. The fee may vary, and Microsoft couldn’t provide an estimate. You can then decide whether to buy it after 30 days.

So far, Microsoft has shipped the Surface Hub to 2,000 customers in about 24 countries. The try-and-buy program isn’t available through Microsoft’s retail stores.

Among Microsoft’s Surface Hub customers is Convene, a company that hosts a network of hundreds of meeting spaces in three cities. The Surface Hub aids in the transition of the workplace from analog to digital, said Chris Kelly, president and co-founder of Convene.

Using the Surface Hub isn’t complicated, Kelly said. It feels like an extremely versatile digital white board, and it can host video conferencing or collaboration session without affecting the flow of a meeting.

At the end of a meeting session, all the data is wiped out, just like on a regular whiteboard, Kelly said.

For Convene, the Hub has been an effective brainstorming tool for both remote and in-office users. It improves the level of productivity from a meeting, Kelly said.

There are other innovative uses of Surface Hub emerging. Microsoft and SoftBank Robotics are developing a system for Surface Hub panels to make retail shopping recommendations based on buying trends collected from sources like mobile devices, point-of-sale purchases, and other data repositories. Microsoft’s Azure cloud service will play a big role in that system.

The 55-inch model has a high-definition 1080p screen, while the 84-inch model has a 4K screen. One drawback is Intel’s old Core chips based on the Haswell architecture, which was introduced in 2013.

Other features include 128GB SSDs, 8GB RAM, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and two full HD front-facing cameras. The Surface Hub also has a gigabit ethernet port, one USB 3.0 port, and two USB 2.0 ports. The display slots include HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort.

Microsoft officially dumps Internet Explorer 8, 9, and 10

internet explorer logo

Microsoft recently announced another step that puts Internet Explorer that much closer to oblivion. Beginning next Tuesday, January 12, Microsoft will officially retire Internet Explorer versions 8, 9, and 10 for most Windows operating systems, according to aMicrosoft support page.

Internet Explorer 11 will be the only officially supported version of the browser for Windows 7, 8.1, and 10.

The only exception will be Windows Vista users, who will stick with Internet Explorer 9. Vista’s mainstream support ended more than a year before IE11 rolled out. The unpopular OS is almost up for retirement anyway. It reaches the end of its extended support phase in April 2017. After that, Vista will be unsupported just like Windows XP.

Anyone running a Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 system has nothing to worry about, as both of those systems came with IE11 preinstalled. Windows 7 users who don’t have automatic updates enabled, however, may not be running the latest version of IE.

During “Patch Tuesday” on January 12, Microsoft will roll out an update for Windows 7 that prompts non-IE11 users to upgrade their built-in browser. If you insist on sticking with an older version of IE, there’s a registry hack to disable notifications. You can find more information on Microsoft’s support pages.

Users still on Windows 8, meanwhile, won’t receive updates of any kind, as Microsoft only supports PCs that upgraded to Windows 8.1.

Why this matters: Internet Explorer is already living on borrowed time. Internet Explorer 11 rolled out in 2013 with Windows 8.1, and it is officially the last version of Microsoft’s famous browser. Microsoft is now focused on developing the Edge browser for Windows 10 instead. Retiring IE 8, 9 (not including Vista), and 10 is long overdue especially since the three major versions of Windows (7, 8.1, and 10) can all run IE11.

Besides, running older versions of a web browser is never a good idea. The biggest issue is the potential for malicious actors to capitalize on unpatched security holes. But older browsers can also hamper your online experience. As web technologies progress older browsers often cease to work well with modern websites and web apps.

Rotate an image, another one appears

Rotate an image, another one appears (w/ Video)Hidden elements can now be placed into an inkjet printed image, thanks to EPFL software. These hidden elements become visible by simply rotating the print.

Hide an image within an image. EPFL scientists have developed a printing algorithm that does just that onto metallic sheets. Two images are printed together using an inkjet printer so that only one image can be seen at a time from a given angle.

The technique could one day be used as a security element in passports and printed money to prevent counterfeit.

Roger Hersch holds a printed image of a colourful butterfly. He then turns the print 90 degrees to reveal an entirely new image, the Mona Lisa. “Elements can only be seen upon rotation, ” says Hersch of EPFL’s Peripheral Systems Laboratory. “This rotation effect has never been done before.”

Messages have been hidden in documents for over two millennia, starting with the chemical properties of substances from lemon juice to bodily fluids. Modern techniques use the fluorescence of substances under ultraviolet light, the precision of nanoparticle printing or even engineered bacteria that glow under certain circumstances. Printing is part of that game.

Printers spray ink as tiny dots into precise patterns, a standard technique called halftoning. Different patterns of cyan, magenta and yellow dots produce a wide range of colours.

When the halftone is printed along lines onto metallic sheets, the researchers noticed that the resulting colour depends on the viewing angle. This is because incoming light traversing the ink lines cast shadows onto the metallic surface. Ink lines perpendicular to the incoming light create a large shadow and appear as “strong colors”. Ink lines parallel to the incoming light do not induce a shadow and appear as “weak colors”. When the print is rotated by 90 degrees, strong colors become weak and weak colors become strong.

This effect would not be noticeable on paper. Unlike the mirror properties of a metallic sheet, paper diffuses light in many directions and gets rid of directional shadows.

Based on these observations, the researchers developed both a mathematical model and associated software that predict the colours that will be observed from different viewing angles. Currently, the software supports standard inkjet prints onto metallic sheets.

Their algorithm essentially superposes two images during the printing process, creating a print with visible and hidden elements. By changing the viewing angle, and hence the way light casts shadows, hidden elements literally come to light.

Adobe updates Flash amid renewed exploit fears

US software maker Adobe released an update for its widely used Flash player on December 28, 2015, amid reports that vulnerabilit

Adobe said it was aware of a report of “limited, targeted attacks” against unprotected versions of the software.

“These updates address critical vulnerabilities that could potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system,” the company said in a statement.

“Adobe recommends users update their product installations to the latest version.”

But some websites and services have been abandoning Adobe for security reasons.

Facebook this month said it was switching software for its embedded videos while adding that “we are continuing to work together with Adobe to deliver a reliable and secure Flash experience for games on our platform.”

Apple notably dropped the use of Flash in its iPhones several years ago, and earlier this year Amazon said it had stopped accepting advertising in Flash format.

Google also blocked Flash ads from its Web browsers this year by converting the content to a different format known as HTML5.

The moves come amid concerns that hackers could insert malicious software into video ads, a technique known as “malvertising.”

Security blogger Brian Krebs said that Internet users should at least update their Flash programs or “better yet, get rid of Flash altogether, or at least disable it until and unless you need it.”

 

Office 2016’s November update finally rolls out to early testers

PowerPoint presentation

Last month, Microsoft showed off a group of new features for its Office 2016 client applications on Windows that it said would begin rolling out to users in November, first to those who want to test the latest functionality as part of the newly minted Office Insider program.

That … didn’t quite happen. Because of unforeseen delays with the update, it’s just now rolling out to members of the Office Insider program, giving them access to new features including the Morph transition in PowerPoint 2016 and the ability to embed online video in OneNote 2016. Enterprise users who are enrolled in First Release from organizations on the Office 365 Current Branch will also start getting the updates Wednesday.

It’s not clear how long it will take for the updates to roll out to people who aren’t Office Insiders, but Microsoft said last month that it expected to wait a few weeks to gather feedback before sending the updates out to consumers and enterprise users on the Current Branch of Office 365.

Consumers and university users who are interested in trying out the new features can sign up for the Office Insider program here. Doing so won’t just offer early access to the updates that were released Wednesday, but also future sneak peeks at features Microsoft plans to release in the future. People who opt into the program will get support from Microsoft if they encounter any problems.

It’s not just you: Azure Active Directory is down for Europe

Azure status page

A configuration error in Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory service is preventing customers from accessing a wide range of Microsoft services hosted in Europe, including Office 365 and Visual Studio Team Services.

The most recent problems began around 9 a.m. UTC Thursday, and were still ongoing shortly after midday UTC, Microsoft reported on its Azure status page.

However, they first showed up in Visual Studio Team Services on Wednesday, between 9.44 p.m. and 11.44 p.m. UTC, Microsoft said. Customers using Microsoft’s West Europe, South Central U.S., North Central U.S., and Australia East data centres may have run into HTTP 500 Internal server errors during this time, the company said.

Staff traced those errors back to a recent configuration change in Azure Active Directory — but rolling back the change did not eliminate the errors.

“Some of the roles in the farm across our Scale Units hit a caching bug that was triggered by the earlier outage. At this moment, we do not understand root cause of the caching bug, however we have taken the required dumps to do final root cause analysis and get to the bottom of the issue,” Microsoft staff explained shortly after midnight UTC.

The problems Thursday morning affected a wider range of services depending on Azure Active Directory, including Stream Analytics, Azure management portals, Azure Data Catalogue, Operational Insights, Remote App and SQL databases.

Some Office 365 customers were also unable to log in or access the service.

In preparing a failover to working servers, “The Azure Active Directory team identified an issue with the failover mitigation path, which would have blocked the mitigation,” Microsoft reported.

With that path ruled out, the team has been forced to take a more laborious one: updating Azure Active Directory front ends to call a known good configuration in the hope that this will improve performance.

Microsoft promised another status update at around 1.10 p.m. UTC (8.10 a.m. ET)

Snowden-endorsed encrypted messaging app Signal comes to your browser

signal desktop

The much-lauded encryption app Signal has launched a beta program for a desktop version of the app, which will run through Google’s Chrome browser.

Signal Desktop is Chrome app that will sync messages transmitted between it and an Android device, wrote Moxie Marlinspike, a cryptography expert who had helped develop Signal, in a blog post on Wednesday.

The app comes from Open Whisper Systems, which developed Signal’s predecessors, Redphone and TextSecure, which were two Android applications that encrypt calls and messages. Both have been consolidated into Signal.

Signal Desktop won’t be able to sync messages with iPhone just yet, although there are plans for iOS compatibility, Marlinspike wrote. It also won’t support voice initially.

Signal, which is free, has stood out in a crowded field of encrypted messaging applications, which are notoriously difficult to engineer, and has been endorsed by none other than former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The mobile version of Signal for the iPhone and Android uses end-to-end encryption for voice calls, messaging and sending photos.

Open Whisper Systems itself can’t see the plain text of messages or get access to phone calls since it doesn’t store the encryption keys.

Signal is open source, which allows developers to closely inspect its code. There has been growing concern that software vendors may have been pressured into adding capabilities in their products that would assist government surveillance programs. In theory, having open-source code means such tampering could be identified.

Expect more meetings: Microsoft’s new Outlook add-in makes it easier to set them up

FindTime Tryptich

Scheduling meetings with multiple people can be a pain. Finding time between a maze of competing schedules is frustrating at best, and Microsoft is trying to make that a little bit easier with a new tool the company released Thursday.

FindTime is a tool from the Microsoft Garage that ties into Outlook and helps people set up meetings with anyone they need to get in touch with. Here’s how it works: Organizers write an email, launch the FindTime add-in from Outlook Online, Outlook 2013 for Windows or Outlook 2016 for Windows, and then select all of their available times for a meeting. After that, the system sends all of the people included on the email a list of available times that they can vote on.

Recipients can vote to show when they’re available, when they’re unavailable, and what times they would prefer to meet, alongside a list of how other invitees have responded. If none of the suggested meeting times work, recipients can add new ones for other people to vote on.

Once all of that is taken care of, the organizer can then generate a meeting invitation with one click that goes out to everyone so they can easily add the final meeting to their calendar.

Right now, FindTime requires that organizers have an Office 365 subscription, but that isn’t necessary for people who are receiving invites through the system. If there’s one downside to the system, it’s that organizers need to either access it through Outlook Online or Outlook for Windows. It’s not clear if it will be making a cross-platform jump, however.

It’s interesting that Microsoft launched FindTime as a separate product rather than extend the reach of Invite—an application it launched earlier this year that performs a similar function on iOS.

Microsoft teams with law enforcement to disrupt Dorkbot botnet

hack security malware

Microsoft said Thursday it aided law enforcement agencies in several regions to disrupt a four-year-old botnet called Dorkbot, which has infected one million computers worldwide.

The Dorkbot malware aims to steal login credentials from services such as Gmail, Facebook, PayPal, Steam, eBay, Twitter and Netflix.

It was first spotted around April 2011. Users typically get infected by browsing to websites that automatically exploit vulnerable software using exploit kits and through spam. It also has a worm functionality and can spread itself through through social media and instant messaging programs or removable media drives.

Microsoft didn’t provide much detail on how Dorkbot’s infrastructure was disrupted. The company has undertaken several such actions over the last few years in cooperation with law enforcement.

Coordinated actions to take botnet servers offline have an immediate impact, but the benefits can be short-lived. Cybercriminals often set up new hosting and command-and-control infrastructure and begin rebuilding the botnet by infecting new computers.

Microsoft said it worked with security vendor ESET, the Computer Emergency Response Team Polska, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, Europol, the FBI, Interpol, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Cybercriminals have sold a kit that allows other bad actors to build botnets using Dorkbot. The kit, called NgrBot, is sold in underground online forums, Microsoft wrote in a blog post.