Firefox arrives for Snapdragon Windows and Slack sidles up to Office 365

Also: Azure goes big in Britain, Bletchley Park to teach tech and Skype shares some more

Australia in a frame
Look Skip, Bruce has shared his swipes with us

Roundup As the twin horsemen of the PC apocalypse, the Windows 10 May 2019 Update and Chromium Edge, saddled up to charge at users (in preview form), there were a few other emissions last week from Microsoft.

Windows on Arm is getting foxy

While the rest of the Windows world squeaked excitedly about the arrival of a Chromium-powered Edge browser, the Mozilla gang sneaked out something to delight the brave early adopters of Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 PCs in the form of a beta for its Firefox browser.

The release is aimed squarely at developers keen to try out the latest code, or those desperate for something a little more native in the operating system.

Running the likes of Chrome in x86 emulation has reportedly not been the greatest of experiences and there are good reasons for Microsoft sending Edge out to pasture.

Mozilla is keen to talk up the performance of its new baby, describing its multi-core enabled web botherer a "fast, personal and convenient experience".

ARM64 users can find out just how fast and personal it is by downloading the beta now.

Mobile screen sharing arrives and the Skype Meetings App for Mac departs (for some)

Mac users participating in meetings hosted on Skype for Business Online or Server 2015 (configured for the Microsoft Content Delivery Network) will now be directed to the Skype For Business desktop app rather than the Skype Meetings App (SMA) previously inflicted on participants.

Microsoft, known for giving its own products a bit of a kicking from time to time, described the desktop app as "significantly more reliable", pointing to a switch from the venerable Remote Desktop Protocol to Video-based Screen Sharing for sharing desktop content during online meetings. Oh, and the desktop app works with Dark Mode if you must.

The switch only applies to servers configured for the company's online Content Delivery Network. Nothing will change for those that aren't.

Screen sharing with mobile phones also cropped up in preview form for Skype insiders in Microsoft's iOS and Android apps as the company emitted another feature already on some competing platforms.

Posting on the Skype forums, a Microsoft employee named Karah breathlessly announced the functionality, suggesting that sharing a phone's screen during a Skype call would be a neat way of sharing a PowerPoint presentation, doing some online shopping or, er, let users "share your swipes on dating apps".

Hmm.

Coming after Skype expressed its enthusiasm for capturing its users' "special moments", we await this new feature with... trepidation.

Slack gets cosier with Office 365

Doubtless with a eye on the rise of Microsoft's Office 365-integrated Teams platform, hipster chat outfit Slack sought to retain its crown as the collaboration technology of choice by adding some enterprise-friendly features aimed at playing nicely with Redmond's productivity suite.

There'll be no ignoring meeting requests for Outlook users as the Calendar app for Slack will message users as soon as an invitation arrives. It will also send notifications when meetings are due to start, replete with a link for Skype for Business, Webex or Zoom.

The thinking is that not having to switch apps and hunt for login links will make life easier for users happy to bathe in the warm waters of Slack.

The Calendar app will also automatically update a user's Slack status based on what is in the Outlook calendar.

Going at things from the other direction, Slack has also emitted an add-in for Outlook, allowing users to spam forward emails to a chat channel rather than creating a nightmarish Reply-To-All email thread when group discussion is needed.

Attachments and notes can be added within the add-in to provide a bit of context.

Documents also get a bit of love, with the ability to attach a searchable and previewable OneDrive file, which looks similar to the Skype add-in released some months ago by Microsoft.

The preview functionality is also extended to Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, which can now be peeked at without having to download the things.

Azure goes big in Blighty

The Brits (well, just over half of them) told the world back in 2016 that they were not keen on the antics taking place beyond the famed White Cliffs of Dover and so will welcome news that Microsoft has doubled the size of its Azure regions in the UK with the arrival of Availability Zones.

The move is good news for organisations which, for compliance or regulatory reasons, really can't allow cloud data to drift offshore. Microsoft suggests that the public sector might be particularly interested. The UK government's keenness on Redmond's wares is, of course, well documented.

Availability Zones in the Azure world means separate physical locations within an Azure region, with independent networking, power and cooling, so a failure in one location shouldn't hit the other. It is, however, only UK South that has received Redmond's largesse at the time.

While it still remains firmly in second place behind AWS, Microsoft was also keen to point out that in the three years it has had a cloudy presence in the UK it has also increased the compute capacity of Azure in the country by 1,500 per cent.

The sign-ins, they are a-changing

Microsoft is tinkering with its Azure Active Directory (AD) sign-in page in an effort to improve usability and deal with potentially nefarious activities.

Looking towards a glorious password-free future thanks to the likes of FIDO 2.0, Azure AD checks where a user needs to authenticate based on the username entered on the sign-in page. However, a miss-typed username could still drop the user into the credentials collection screen if they managed to get the domain correct.

No more! Starting from May, with federated domains being hit by the end of 2019 (depending on feedback), Azure AD will check if the username actually exists in the specific domain and redirect accordingly.

So if you depend on how it works now, probably best to unleash a bit of training.

The team reckons that as well as giving the user a more useful error message, the change will also help mitigate the abuse of large scale username enumeration.

Skilling up at Bletchley Park

Finally in this week's roundup, Microsoft is among eight organisations on which the UK government has spanked £28m. Not on some sort of cloud-based AI technology, as one would expect these days from the Windows giant, but to refurbish Block D at the historic site, famously home to Britain's code breakers during the second world war.

The cash will go towards setting up an Institute of Technology, which intends to teach digital skills to around 1,000 students (18 or over) per year. The plan aims to close a perceived UK skills gap in areas such as cybersecurity. McAfee is also part of the consortium, led by Milton Keynes College.

The goal is to eventually create 12 such institutes around the country, and £170m of funding is on the table. ®




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