You bought it, but is it yours?

Microsoft has changed its mind about selling e-books. Not only is it not selling any more, but it’s unselling those it sold previously.

Microsoft removes the Books category from the Microsoft Store
Previously purchased books and rentals will be accessible until early July, but after this, books will no longer be accessible, officials said in a customer-support article today. The company is promising full refunds for all content purchased from the Books category; anyone who bought books via the Store will receive further details on how to get refunds via email from Microsoft.

People aren’t happy though, as you can imagine.

Microsoft announces it will shut down ebook program and confiscate its customers’ libraries
This puts the difference between DRM-locked media and unencumbered media into sharp contrast. I have bought a lot of MP3s over the years, thousands of them, and many of the retailers I purchased from are long gone, but I still have the MP3s. Likewise, I have bought many books from long-defunct booksellers and even defunct publishers, but I still own those books.

When I was a bookseller, nothing I could do would result in your losing the book that I sold you. If I regretted selling you a book, I didn’t get to break into your house and steal it, even if I left you a cash refund for the price you paid.

Via the Wired newsletter, which added that “this remains a stark illustration of the fact that you never really buy digital media that’s locked down with DRM: merely a licence to access it for as long as its provider sees fit.”

Breaking up is hard to do

The techlash continues.

Elizabeth Warren proposes breaking up tech giants like Amazon and Facebook
At a rally in Long Island City, the neighborhood that was to be home to a major new Amazon campus, Ms. Warren laid out her proposal calling for regulators who would undo some tech mergers, as well as legislation that would prohibit platforms from both offering a marketplace for commerce and participating in that marketplace.

“We have these giants corporations — do I have to tell that to people in Long Island City? — that think they can roll over everyone,” Ms. Warren told the crowd, drawing applause. She compared Amazon to the dystopian novel “The Hunger Games,” in which those with power force their wishes on the less fortunate.

“I’m sick of freeloading billionaires,” she said.

She’s far from the lone voice on this issue.

Elizabeth Warren is right – we must break up Facebook, Google and Amazon
The current effort is bipartisan. At a Senate hearing I attended last week, the arch-conservative Missouri Republican Josh Hawley asked me, rhetorically: “Is there really any wonder that there is increased pressure for antitrust enforcement activity, for privacy activity when these companies behave in the way that they do?”

Hawley added: “Every day brings some creepy new revelation about these companies’ behaviors. Of course the public is going to want there to be action to defend their rights. It’s only natural.”

House of Lords report calls for digital super-regulator
The chair of the committee, Lord Gilbert of Panteg, called on the government to be less reactive in how it responds to digital risks: “The government should not just be responding to news headlines but looking ahead so that the services that constitute the digital world can be held accountable to an agreed set of principles,” he said.

“Self-regulation by online platforms is clearly failing and the current regulatory framework is out of date. The evidence we heard made a compelling and urgent case for a new approach to regulation. Without intervention, the largest tech companies are likely to gain ever more control of technologies which extract personal data and make decisions affecting people’s lives.”

You can always take matters into your own hands.

Goodbye Big Five
Reporter Kashmir Hill spent six weeks blocking Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple from getting my money, data, and attention, using a custom-built VPN. Here’s what happened.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well.

E-mail’s down, but that’s good, right?

Hot on the heels of Microsoft’s trouble with the law (courts) earlier this week, comes more bad news.

Office 365 down: Microsoft not working leaving people without email and other crucial internet services
The exact cause of the problem remains unclear, as Microsoft continues to seek a solution. The trouble has been particularly frustrating for businesses unable to carry out day-to-day communication, with issues emerging as many people started work this morning.

A coincidence that it comes within a day or two of this government speech calling for less e-mail?

Damian Hinds: School leaders should ditch email culture to cut workload
Teachers should not have to email outside of office hours and should instead embrace innovative technology such as AI to help to reduce their workload, the Education Secretary said in a speech today.

He makes it sound so easy.

Office moves?

How many of us spend all our working days with Microsoft Office products? It’s sobering to think that I’ve been staring at monitors full of Outlook e-mails, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets for more than 20 years now. Might that all be changing soon? We’ll see.

The new word processor wars: A fresh crop of productivity apps are trying to reinvent our workday
Nearly 30 years after Microsoft Office came on the scene, it’s in the DNA of just about every productivity app. Even if you use Google’s G Suite or Apple’s iWork, you’re still following the Microsoft model.

But that way of thinking about work has gotten a little dusty, and new apps offering a different approach to getting things done are popping up by the day. There’s a new war on over the way we work, and the old “office suite” is being reinvented around rapid-fire discussion threads, quick sharing and light, simple interfaces where all the work happens inside a single window.

The article lists the alternatives as Quip, Notejoy, Slite, Zenkit, Notion and Agenda for documents and Smartsheet, Airtable, Coda and Trello for spreadsheets.

Their informal, cartoony visuals and emphasis on chatty messaging collaboration makes everything feel a little juvenile and jokey.

office-moves-4

I wonder if my demographic is supposed to be represented on that Coda homepage by the grey-haired, casual-suit-no-tie coffee-drinker in the bottom right-hand corner. I’ve certainly never taken an ice-cream, a skateboard or a basketball to work, so I guess it must be, fist-bump-at-the-stacked-area-chart notwithstanding.

office-moves-2

Another day, another data protection issue

We’re generating data all the time, without realising, and without really knowing where it all goes.

Users told to ditch OneDrive and Office 365 to avoid ‘covert’ data harvesting
Microsoft Office and Windows 10 Enterprise uses a telemetry data collection mechanism that breaches the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), according to a 91-page report commissioned by the Dutch government, and conducted by firm Privacy Company.

It’s not just Microsoft in the firing line, of course.

With GDPR now several months into play, data watchdogs across Europe are beginning to take their first steps in the new regulatory landscape. Microsoft is the latest in a line of major companies accused of breaching GDPR, with Oracle and Equifax among seven firms reported for violations by a data rights group last week.

And that story about Google’s AI company having access to NHS data is still rumbling on.

Google: Our DeepMind health slurp is completely kosher
DeepMind told The Reg: “It is false to say that Google is “absorbing” data. This data is not DeepMind’s or Google’s – it belongs to our partners, whether the NHS or internationally. We process it according to their instructions.”

That claim, echoed by DeepMind Health chief Dominic King, brought a swift correction from legal experts. “It doesn’t belong to DeepMind’s partners, it belongs to the individuals,” Serena Tierney partner at lawyers VWV. “Those ‘partners’ may have limited rights, but it doesn’t belong to them.”

I wonder if we’ll be seeing more of these issues, what with one thing and another.

What the potentially useless draft Brexit agreement means for tech
One of the big questions for Brexit is data protection, and the agreement seeks to hold onto the status quo. Scroll through to Article 71 for the text, which says that EU data protection law will continue to cover the UK before and after the transition period, which runs until the end of 2020. That means personal data can continue to flow between the UK and the EU.

“This issue is critical to the tech sector and to every other industry in a modern digitising economy,” says Tech UK CEO Julian David in a blog post. Data’s the oil that greases tech, and all that.

That doesn’t mean that GDPR will continue to apply in the UK post Brexit. Christopher Knight, privacy lawyer at 11KBW, notes that the UK will become a “third state”. That means the UK won’t be required to apply GPDR and other data laws to “wholly internal situations of processing”.

Update: Well, here’s a thing. I’m still getting used to this new Android phone, with its Google news feed thing, and some time after first drafting this post I was browsing through it and came across the article below. How did it know to surface stories about DeepMind? I’m sure I hadn’t searched for it, but came across it in a newsletter. Is Google reading what I type into WordPress?

Inside DeepMind as the lines with Google blur
Last week, the line between the companies blurred significantly when DeepMind announced that it would transfer control of its health unit to a new Google Health division in California. […]

In March 2017, DeepMind also announced it would build a “data audit” system, as part of its public commitment to transparency. The technology would allow NHS partners to track its use of patient data in real time, with no possibility of falsification, DeepMind said. Google did not comment on whether it will finish the project.

Which app when?

Brad Grissom from REgarding 365 sets out to untangle the various workflow and collaboration apps available within Office 365.

Where work gets done
By adding a couple of layers to the inner/outer loop analogy, I think we get a fuller picture of all the interactions that an individual may have within and outside of an organization. This model doesn’t capture all the apps in the Office 365 toolkit, but it should provide a fair representation. It also doesn’t perfectly provide a clear-cut answer to the question of what to use when. That’s okay in my book (or blog, as the case may be).

which-app-when-2

Years ago and years away

I’m getting impatient for the future, it’s not coming quick enough.

Microsoft has been dreaming of a pocketable dual-screen Surface device for years
The Verge revealed last week that Microsoft wants to create a “new and disruptive” dual-screen device category to influence the overall Surface roadmap and blur the lines between what’s considered PC and mobile. Codenamed Andromeda, Microsoft’s project has been in development for at least two years and is designed to be a pocketable Surface device. Last week, Microsoft’s Surface chief, Panos Panay, appeared to tease just such a machine, built in collaboration with LG Display. We’re on the cusp of seeing the release of a folding, tablet-like device that Microsoft has actually been dreaming of for almost a decade.

That was earlier this month, but here’s something from 2015 — concepts from years ago and still years away.

Microsoft obsesses over giant displays and super thin tablets in future vision video
While everyone is busy flicking and swiping content from one device to another to get work done in the future, it’s nice to see there’s still a few keyboards laying around. Microsoft also shows off a concept tablet that’s shaped like a book, complete with a stylus. The tablet features a bendable display that folds out into a bigger device. If such a tablet will exist within the next 10 years then I want to pre-order one right now.

But consider this:

Imagining Windows 95 running on a smartphone
Microsoft released their Windows 95 operating system to the world in 1995. 4096 created an amusing video that imagines a mobile edition of Windows 95 running on a Microsoft-branded smartphone. Move over Cortana, Clippy is making a come back.

It’s all very amusing to think of such old technology in this new setting, but we’ll be laughing at how old-fashioned the iPhone X is soon enough, I’m sure.

Well I still like my Windows Phone. Mostly.

I’m fully aware that, by being a Windows Phone user, I’ve been backing the losing horse in what’s turned out to be a two—not three—horse race, but for the most part I still enjoy having it. Yes, the lack of key apps is a nuisance sometimes, and yes, it would be nice if the OS was a little more reliable, but there were many positives to the platform. Tom Warren from The Verge outlines a few of them, as well as some of the possible consequences of this reduction in mobile phone competition.

I miss Windows Phone
Windows Phone debuted in 2010 with Microsoft’s Metro design philosophy, and a focus on glancing at your phone for information instead of digging in and out of apps. Two obvious features I miss from Windows Phone’s Metro design are the dark mode and Live Tiles. … Live Tiles were one of Windows Phone’s most unique features. They enabled apps to show information on the home screen, similar to the widgets found on Android and iOS. You could almost pin anything useful to the home screen, and Live Tiles animated beautifully to flip over and provide tiny nuggets of information that made your phone feel far more personal and alive. I’m hopeful that Apple will eventually take the Live Tiles concept, or even one that was designed for iOS 8, and bring it to the iPhone. Widgets just aren’t enough. Rumors suggest Apple is planning to refresh the iOS home screen soon, so there’s hope that iOS might move away from its static and dull home screen.

Really New Windows Phone Ad

Microsoft’s next move

A fascinating glimpse from Ben Thompson into how a change in management at Microsoft led to a change in priorities, organisation and culture.

The end of Windows
That wasn’t the only news that week: Microsoft also renamed its cloud service from Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure. The name change was an obvious one — by then customers could already run a whole host of non-Windows related software, including Linux — but the symbolism tied in perfectly with the Office on iPad announcement: Windows wouldn’t be forced onto Microsoft’s future.

[…]

That summer Nadella undertook his first reorganization, separating the company into three divisions: Cloud and Enterprise, Applications and Services, and Windows and Devices. … I believe this reorganization was the turning point: not only were the two teams Nadella announced last week basically formed at this time, but more importantly, Windows was left to fend for itself.

Whilst it seems an obvious move — and the article notes the company’s rising stock price since the new CEO took over — it ends on a cautionary note.

This, then, is Nadella’s next challenge: to understand that Windows is not and will not drive future growth is one thing; identifying future drivers of said growth is another. Even in its division Windows remains the best thing Microsoft has going — it had such a powerful hold on Microsoft’s culture precisely because it was so successful.

Caught out by their own documents

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager currently tied up with the ongoing Russia investigation, must have skipped a few MS Office training seminars at work, as he seems to be unaware of Word’s Save As function.

How Manafort’s inability to convert a PDF file to Word helped prosecutors
“Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000,” the indictment claims. “Gates converted that .pdf into a Word document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered the Word document by adding more than $3.5 million in income.”

Then, according to the indictment, Manafort “sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the Word document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort.”

By sending these documents back and forth by email, Manafort and Gates made it easy for prosecutors to pinpoint exactly who changed the documents and when.

It reminded me of this story, linking corruption to a popular Microsoft font.

A Microsoft font may have exposed corruption in Pakistan
The Microsoft font Calibri is now a key piece of evidence in a corruption investigation surrounding Pakistan’s prime minister. Investigators noticed that documents handed over by the prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, were typed up in the font Calibri. But the documents were dated from 2006 — and Calibri wasn’t widely available at that point, making a good case that they were forged.

How Wikipedia found itself at the centre of a major corruption scandal in Pakistan
As I am part of Wikipedia’s counter-vandalism team, I have been engaged in the reverting of unverified information being added to the Calibri page by anonymous users. But as the edit war grew and the sensitivity of the issue became obvious, I had to ask an administrator to lock the page to restrict any further edits in order to avoid misleading information being spread outside of Wikipedia.

Not going Microsoft's way

Government plan to adopt ODF file format sparks standards debate
“The recommendation of HTML for browser-based editable text and PDF as the default for non-editable documents is uncontroversial, as they can both be read on most computer platforms. However, when it comes to exchanging drafts of documents between government departments, or between government and citizens or suppliers, the choice of an editable file format is proving more controversial.”

As always with these things, it’s best to see what The Register has to say, especially about Microsoft’s hissy fit in response.

Being shaped by our tools?

An article from the Observer ponders the impact of Microsoft Word on the way we write.

Has Microsoft Word affected the way we work?
But we were – and remain – remarkably incurious about how our beloved new tool would shape the way we write. Consider first the name that the computer industry assigned to it: word processor. The obvious analogy is with the food processor, a motorised culinary device that reduces everything to undifferentiated mush. That may indeed have been the impact of Word et al on business communications, which have increasingly become assemblies of boilerplate cliches. But that’s not been the main impact of word processing on creative writing, which seems to me to be just as vibrant as it was in the age of the typewriter or the fountain pen.

Writing as sculpture? Why not…

My hunch is that using a word processor makes writing more like sculpting in clay. Because it’s so easy to revise, one begins by hacking out a rough draft which is then iteratively reshaped – cutting bits out here, adding bits there, gradually licking the thing into some kind of shape.

MS training

  • Microsoft Office Specialist Certification
    “Turning Motivated Individuals into Office Superstars. Discover the only performance-based certification that validates the skills needed to get the most out of Microsoft Office. Whether you want to drive your career or increase your productivity on the job, earning the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification demonstrates the valuable expertise you need to succeed.”