Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Rolls Out World’s Largest Aeroplane, the Stratolaunch

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Microsoft’s Paul Allen has been building world’s largest aeroplane
  • It is called Stratolaunch, will be larger than Howard Hughes’ 1947 plane
  • It’s not to carry passengers, but rather rockets

The initial construction on the massive aeroplane Paul Allen has been quietly building in the California desert is complete, and the vehicle, which would be the world’s largest aeroplane with a wingspan wider than Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, was wheeled out of its hangar for the first time on Wednesday.

Called Stratolaunch, the plane has some impressive stats: a wingspan of 385 feet, or longer than a football field, a height of 50 feet. Unfueled, it weighs 500,000 pounds. But it can carry 250,000 pounds of fuel, and its total weight can reach as high as 1.3 million pounds.

But, really . . .. How big is it? It’s so big that it has 28 wheels and six 747 jet engines. It’s so big that it has 60 miles of wire coursing through it. It’s so big that the county had to issue special construction permits just for the construction scaffolding.

It’s so big that to truly get a sense of it, you have to see it from a distance – like a mountain.

But why is Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks, building such a massive plane?

It’s not to carry passengers, but rather rockets. The bigger the plane, the larger the rockets, or the greater the number.

Allen’s Stratolaunch company has partnered with Orbital ATK to “air launch” the company’s Pegasus XL, a rocket capable of delivering small satellites, weighing as much as 1,000 pounds, to orbit. The rockets would be tethered to the belly of the giant plane, which would fly them aloft, and once at an altitude of 35,000 feet or so, the rockets would drop and “air launch” to space.
“With airport-style operations and quick turn-around capabilities,” the company said it believes “air launch” is a cheaper and more efficient way to get satellites into space than rockets that launch vertically and can be extraordinarily expensive.

For Allen, it’s all about LEO, or low-Earth orbit. He, and others, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, are betting that they can reduce the cost of launching small satellites to space. And that, in turn, will lead to new ways to beam the internet all across the globe, provide better Earth sensing capabilities, better communication, and open up all sorts of avenues.Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Rolls Out World's Largest Aeroplane, the Stratolaunch

“When such access to space is routine, innovation will accelerate in ways beyond what we can currently imagine,” Allen said in a statement a year ago. “That’s the thing about new platforms: when they become easily available, convenient and affordable, they attract and enable other visionaries and entrepreneurs to realize more new concepts.”

More than a decade ago, Allen had hoped to spark a revolution in space travel when he funded SpaceShipOne, which became the first commercial vehicle to cross the threshold of space. The project ultimately won the Ansari X Prize, and a $10 million (roughly Rs. 64.5 crores) award. He then licensed the technology to Branson and moved on to other pursuits. But with Stratolaunch, he is back in the space business.

“Thirty years ago, the PC revolution put computing power into the hands of millions and unlocked incalculable human potential,” he wrote. “Twenty years ago, the advent of the Web and the subsequent proliferation of smartphones combined to enable billions of people to surmount the traditional limitations of geography and commerce. Today, expanding access to LEO holds similar revolutionary potential.”

In a statement Wednesday, Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch’s chief executive, said the company would be “actively exploring a broad spectrum of launch vehicles that will enable us to provide more flexibility to customers.”

He added: “Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be actively conducting ground and flightline testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we’re going to be diligent throughout testing and continue to prioritize the safety of our pilots, crew and staff. Stratolaunch is on track to perform its first launch demonstration as early as 2019.”

 

Microsoft Modern Keyboard With ‘Hidden’ Fingerprint Scanner Launched

 

Microsoft on Thursday silently unveiled a new keyboard, called the Microsoft Modern Keyboard. Priced at Rs. $129.99 (roughly Rs. 8,500), the new Modern Keyboard is listed as “coming soon” on the company’s US website with no word when the accessory will go on sale. The highlight of the keyboard is that it comes with a fingerprint scanner that just looks like any other key on the keyboard.

“Our vision was to blend the Fingerprint reader into a keyboard, so it would appear to be any other key. We iterated relentlessly to improve each layer, making sure they came together to create a flawless typing experience that felt like any other key,” Microsoft says on the product page of the Modern Keyboard.

The keyboard comes with aluminium frame and Microsoft claims it sports “highest quality” and is “virtually indestructible.”

The Modern Keyboard will allow Windows 10 users to enable Windows Hello fingerprint authentication on their devices. The fingerprint scanner has been placed on the second Windows key on the right side of the keyboard, and can be used for signing in to the system or any website using Windows Hello.Microsoft Modern Keyboard With 'Hidden' Fingerprint Scanner Launched

The Microsoft Modern Keyboard with Fingerprint Scanner will work will Windows 8 and above devices, macOS 10.10.5 and above devices, Android 4.2 and above, and iOS 8 and iOS 9. Users need to make sure that the device should support Bluetooth 4.0 or higher for the Microsoft Modern Keyboard to work. Microsoft will also let users choose between using the Modern Keyboard with wireless/ wired interface.

It comes with dimensions 420.9×112.6×19.3mm and weighs roughly 420 grams. The wireless Microsoft Modern Keyboard runs on two AAA alkaline rechargeable batteries. Microsoft claims a battery life of up to 2 months on full charge. The Redmond giant will be offering one-year limited warranty on the keyboard.

 

Microsoft, Accenture Partner on Blockchain-Based Digital ID Network for UN

 

HIGHLIGHTS
Microsoft, Accenture to build digital ID network using blockchain
The companies unveiled a prototype of the network at the UN
“Having a digital identity is a basic human right”
Accenture and Microsoft are teaming up to build a digital ID network using blockchain technology, as part of a United Nations-supported project to provide legal identification to 1.1 billion people worldwide with no official documents.

The companies unveiled a prototype of the network on Monday at the UN headquarters in New York during the second summit of ID2020, a public-private consortium promoting the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of providing legal identity for everyone on the planet.

The project aims to help individuals such as refugees prove who they are in order to gain access to basic services such as education and healthcare.

Blockchain, first developed as a public ledger of all transactions in the digital currency Bitcoin, is increasingly being used to securely track data in other fields.

“Without an identity you can’t access education, financial services, healthcare, you name it. You are disenfranchised and marginalized from society,” David Treat, a managing director in Accenture’s financial services practice, said in an interview.Microsoft, Accenture Partner on Blockchain-Based Digital ID Network for UN

“Having a digital identity is a basic human right.”

The new platform will connect existing record-keeping systems of commercial and public entities through blockchain, allowing users to access to their personal information wherever they are.

For example, refugees who have fled their country leaving behind birth or education paper certificates would still be able to provide proof of those credentials through the system.
One of the main advantages of blockchain is that it allows systems of different organizations to communicate with each other, Yorke Rhodes, global business strategist at Microsoft, said in an interview.

The prototype was built on top of an existing Accenture platform, which powers the biometric identity management system used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Accenture and Microsoft, which worked on the prototype with managed service provider Avanade, are inviting other companies to join their project.

PricewaterhouseCoopers and Cisco Systems are among the organizations involved in ID2020.

“What ID2020 is truly focused on is bringing together an alliance of stakeholders to ensure the technology that is being developed is responsive to the needs of individuals,” Dakota Gruener, executive director at ID2020, said in an interview.

“Technology is only one piece of this.”

 

Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft took another step away from the smartphone business after it announced stopping all kind of support for Windows Phone 8.1. Users of the mobile OS will no longer receive updates or support, the company announced.

Starting in 2010, Microsoft previous attempt at restarting its mobile OS failed to gain much traction and is now all but a distant memory. Lack of crucial features and popular third-party apps were the main issue Windows Phone struggled with.

Halting Windows Phone 8.1 support will probably be followed by the discontinuation of Windows 10 Mobile at some point in the next few years. With virtually no new devices for the platform in the past two years non-existent market share the platform is clearly on the way out.

 

Killing Cortana: How to disable Windows 10’s info-hungry digital assistant

 

Killing Cortana isn’t as easy as it used to be.

When Windows 10 first released, turning off Cortana was as simple as flipping a switch in the digital assistant’s settings, but Microsoft removed the option in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Now there’s no obvious way to disable Cortana—but it is possible using not-so-obvious methods.

Completely eradicating Cortana requires a quick and easy registry edit, which we’ll detail here. If you don’t want Cortana spying on you but also detest the idea of mucking with your PC’s deepest software innards, PCWorld’s guide to privacy-boosting Cortana tweaks can show you how to limit the personal information it sends Microsoft. Cortana will still run in the background with limited functionality if you don’t perform the registry edit, though.

How to turn off Cortana in Windows 10

Hold your horses! As simple as this is, it’s always a good idea to create a system restore point before editing the Windows registry—so go ahead and do that now. It only takes a minute. (Ironically, the easiest way to do so is to search for “restore point” with Cortana.)

With that out of the way, let’s start registry hacking.

regedit

Brad Chacos/IDG

Press Windows Key simultaneously on your keyboard to bring up the Run interface, then type regedit into the box and press Enter. Depending on your security settings you may be prompted to give Windows permission to run the Registry Editor. If so, do so.

Once the Registry Editor is open, navigate to the following folder in the left-hand navigation pane: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > Software > Policies > Microsoft > Windows > Windows Search.

new key

Brad Chacos/IDG

Here’s the only potentially tricky part: You might not see a Windows Search folder. If it isn’t there, right-click the Windows folder, select New > Key, and name it Windows Search.

dword value 2

Brad Chacos/IDG

With the Windows Search folder selected in the left-hand navigation pane, right-click in the main portion of the window and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value. A new listing will appear in the main pane, ready to be named; christen it AllowCortana. Afterward, double-click it and in the box that appears, ensure that the Value Data is set to ‘0’—minus the quotation marks.

allowcortana 2

Brad Chacos/IDG

That’s it! Close the Registry Editor, then sign out of Windows 10. When you sign back in, Cortana will be long gone. The digital assistant’s former field remains in the Windows 10 task bar, but it now reads “Search Windows” and tellingly lacks Cortana’s all-seeing eye icon.

You won’t be able to use any Cortana-enabled features in the dumbed-down search field, like setting reminders, getting personalized news, receiving up-to-date travel info, or asking goofy questions. You will be able to search for files, system settings, and terms as before. That said, you won’t be able to tap Cortana’s smarts to perform natural language queries like “Find pictures from June” either, so narrowing down file search results may take a bit more work.

adios cortana

Brad Chacos/IDG

Adios, Cortana.

Speaking of which, wiping Cortana’s previous memories of you from Microsoft’s servers takes an extra step. Head to Microsoft’s privacy dashboard website, sign into your Microsoft account, and clear whatever personal data you want Microsoft to forget. Be warned: Your choices may also affect other Microsoft services, like Bing, Edge, and Maps.

Cortana isn’t totally dead, though. You’ll still see the process lurking in Task Manager if you pay attention. Kill it and it’ll immediately spring back to life. Your search queries nevertheless stay strictly local.

If you ever decide resummon Cortana, simply retrace your steps in the Registry Editor and either delete the AllowCortana value, or simply set it to “1” instead of “0.”

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Windows 10 Creators Update FAQ: Everything you need to know

More than five months after its grand unveiling last October, the Windows 10 Creators Update is finally here—and the wait was worth it.

Following in the footsteps of last August’s sweeping Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the Creators Update tweaks and tunes the core Windows 10 experience while heaping on a pile of handy all-new features. While PCWorld’s comprehensive Windows 10 Creators Update review contains detailed impressions of Microsoft’s refreshed operating system, here’s a higher-level look at what you need to know about the Creators Update.

How do I get it?

Just sit tight! The Windows 10 Creators Update starts rolling out to the general public on April 11 via the standard Windows Update process, just like every other Windows 10 update. There’s no way for home users to opt out of the upgrade.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll receive it today, however; the Anniversary Update took about four months to propagate to 80 percent of Windows 10 users. Microsoft prioritizes newer PCs with optimal specs for Windows 10 first. If you’re the impatient type, you can manually kick off the Creators Update installation by using Microsoft’s Update Assistant. (Warning: Clicking that link will download an executable file for the Update Assistant to your PC.)

So what’s the big deal?

Microsoft releases two major Windows 10 updates each year, and the Creators Update is the first of those.

desert island with chest primary preferred view

IDG / Mark Hachman

With a little practice, the Creators Update’s Paint 3D app can be used to construct fun 3D scenes like this one.

It includes some helpful quality-of-life changes, such as a high-level privacy dashboard, an easier setup process, and usability tweaks to various settings and features throughout the operating system. The Creators Update also packs in new goodies, the most notable being the Paint 3D app, native video game-streaming, a Game Mode that improves gaming performance, and Edge support for native ebooks and 4K Netflix streams. And, oh yeah! Themes are back and better than ever.

Seriously, there’s a lot of stuff in the new-look Windows 10. Check out PCWorld’s roundup of the Creators Update’s best new features for much, much more.

 

Microsoft Research Is In Deep Talks With Lumia Devices Team To Include Secondary Displays In Flip Covers

000021_WMPU

Yesterday, Bloomberg wrote a story on how Microsoft Research is transforming itself within Microsoft. Instead of leaving most of research work in patents and papers, Microsoft Research’s MSR Next group is working with product teams in improving Microsoft products significantly using their research work. Microsoft Research is working on a technology to include secondary display on the inside of the Flip Covers. There are several use cases for this idea, the secondary low power display can act as a touch keyboard when you want to type something, it can display Cortana and its contextual info always-on when you open the cover and more. Microsoft Research is aware of the fact that startup like Yotaphone is exploring similar idea by including e-ink display on the back of the device, but Microsoft thinks there are usability issues when you have the display on the back.

The good news is that Microsoft Research is already in deep talks with Lumia devices team in Finland to explore the possibilities of including this technology in Lumia devices. How about a Surface Phone with Display Cover?

Microsoft’s new News Pro app for iOS delivers news related to your job

newspro

Microsoft today launched News Pro – a new news delivering service from the company, powered by Bing News. The new service is from Microsoft Garage, and it available for the iPhone and the Web right now. News Pro will help you search for news related to your work every day, and the app will also provide relevant news for your work every day. The app works kind of like Flipboard, where you can select the topic you are interested in.

Here are some of the screenshots of News Pro for iOS:

Here’s how Microsoft describes the app:

News Pro helps you search for news around your work every day. Fuel your unique interests with over a million topics to choose from. Get informed efficiently by locating the most important and relevant articles each day based off what interests you. Leverage the power of social networks for your daily news. You can sign-in on Facebook and LinkedIn to tailor your daily news highlights to your work experience and interests.

Find articles and topics you didn’t know you needed. News Pro allows you to extend the scope of your daily news updates by suggesting new topics to search based off your current interests and by helping you discover websites where you can read articles that are interesting to you. You can also search for news related to any topic right in the app so you can always be fully informed.

Microsoft News Pro probably won’t be coming to Windows or Android anytime soon as it’s a Microsoft Garage product. However, you can checkout the web app on any device here. It is worth noting that the folks at Garage created a Twitter account for the project, which you can follow here and a Facebook Page which you can like here.

News Pro does not seem to be available in the United Kingdom for iOS. Nonetheless, if you live in the US, you can get it here from the App Store.

Microsoft Lumia 650 Launch Date, Price Tipped

Microsoft Lumia 650 Launch Date, Price Tipped

Microsoft’s long-rumoured Lumia 650 smartphone with Windows 10 Mobile is said to launch on February 1. In a separate leak, pricing details of the Lumia 650 smartphone have been tipped.

Windows Central citing multiple sources reports that Microsoft will reveal details of the handset via an official blog post entry. The report adds that the company will announce the availability and pricing of the Lumia 650 as well.

According to the preliminary leaks, the Lumia 650 smartphone is said to run Windows 10 Mobile and feature a 5-inch HD display; powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 or 212 processor; 1GB of RAM; 8GB of inbuilt storage; expandable storage via microSD card; 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash; 5-megapixel front-facing camera, and a 2000mAh battery. The handset is said to come in White and Black colours. Some of the other features hinted for the smartphone are Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0, dual-SIM configurations, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, HD Voice, and Wi-Fi calling.

The Lumia 650 has also been leaked via a listing by a smartphone distributed in the Czech Republic. According to the distributor, the Lumia 650 will be priced at CZK 5,491 (approximately Rs. 15,000) in the Czech Republic for the unlocked version.

Previously, the Lumia 650’s image was purportedly leaked featuring a metal frame. The Black colour model was also seen sporting a speaker grille below the display.

Last week, Microsoft started pushing the Windows 10 Mobile software update to low-cost Lumia 535 in at least one region. Prior to the Lumia 535, the Lumia 640 started receiving the update.

T-Mobile’s first Windows 10 phone will be the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL

T-Mobile U.S. may have been brushed off for the latest Lumias, but they are not finished with Windows 10 Mobile. Windows Central has verified that the carrier is expected to announce support for the upcoming Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL.

News of the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL was first revealed by @evleaks back in September with an unofficial render (see above) of the phone posted by him in October. (Note: despite the Windows Hello screen in the render the Fierce XL does not have bio-authentication). The Fierce XL is by all means an entry-level device and fits in with T-Mobile’s previous efforts with Windows Phone.
Interestingly, the T-Mobile variant will ship in cyan and is a nice nod to old-school Lumia fans who preferred a more colorful phone. Marketing also appears to have dropped ‘Mobile’ from Windows 10 Mobile to keep sloganeering for the phone direct.

T-Mobile U.S. Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL

Windows 10 Mobile OS
Black bezel but cyan back
5.5-inch 720p display
Capacitive buttons
Snapdragon 210
2GB of RAM
16GB internal memory with micro SD slot
8MP rear and 2MP front camera
WiFi Calling 2.0
VoLTE
Non-removable 2500mah battery

Alcatel OneTouch has an extensive history making Android smartphones e.g. the recent Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. They have also boldly claimed that the future of Windows Phone is in the entry-level and that does look to be holding true.

As to when the T-Mobile version will launch in the U.S. it is expected in the coming weeks, and it should be less than $100 off contract. Alcatel OneTouch is likely to feature the phone at CES in Las Vegas next week and Windows Central will be on hand to cover it and any other launches.

On a final note, T-Mobile has also set up an extensive training guide for employees on Windows 10 Mobile suggesting the Fierce XL may be part of a larger portfolio. Although the Fierce XL does not support Continuum the Windows 10 Mobile training guides do hinting a higher-end phone that supports the ‘phone as a PC’ experience may be coming to T-Mobile.