Roundup Microsoft's future might be Chromium Edge, machine learning and Azure, but there was no escaping the Ghost of Windows Past this week.
Edge: Trackers begone!
The built-in ability to block trackers – those pesky bits of privacy-invading code aimed at "building a digital profile" to fling targeted ads at users (and worse) – was one of the standout features announced for the embryonic nu-Edge browser at Microsoft's developer shindig, Build.
The feature has now put in an appearance in versions 220.127.116.11 and higher, enabled via an experimental setting.
As promised (although the team warns this is preview and so subject to change), three levels are available: "Basic", which only blocks trackers Microsoft deems malicious (such as fingerprinting or crypto-mining), but allows through those to keep adverts creepily relevant. "Balanced" (the default), which blocks more but will result in "less relevant ads". Finally, there is "Strict", which blocks the majority of trackers but "might break... some sites".
While still very preview, we found the feature worked as advertised, with a satisfying number of trackers blocked. It is also possible to turn it off on a site-by-site basis if the system appears a little more paranoid than desired.
The company has no plans to add ad-blocking at this stage.
Naturally, competing browsers also enjoy similar functionality. Mozilla's Firefox has included Content Blocking, which is also aimed at stomping on potentially harmful scripts, from version 67 of the browser. As with Edge, the blocking can also result in things being a little snappier.
Dogfooding with style: Microsoft pulls the plug on its PBX
Today is a momentous day in Redmond. After almost 30 years, the company is turning off its legacy phone system off for good.
To be honest, most users are unlikely to notice – the company began shifting employees to Lync back in 2007 and these days pretty much all day-to-day communication happens on Teams. The system had been kept on to handle services like fire alarms and faxing, but now the time has come.
The vendor has spent $40m over the years, keeping the system running and expanding it as Microsoft grew, and it currently costs north of $1m per year to keep the lights on.
But now those lights will be going off for a final time. Microsoft, after all, has form in killing off phones.
There's no word if employees plan to hold a midnight vigil around a burning pile of phones. Teams would be just the ticket to organise such a thing.
Maybe not Slack, though – it fell over on Friday.
There is no escape from Windows Calculator
From the department of "Just because you can..." comes news that Microsoft's freshly open-sourced Windows Calculator has cropped up on iOS, Android and the web thanks to cross-platform boffinry at Uno.
The Uno platform is aimed at building native mobile, desktop and WebAssembly from a single codebase, with C# and XAML being your friends. The Uno gang, clearly with too much time on their hands, decided to have a crack at porting the jumped-up adding machine.
The challenge, of course, was that much of the elderly code was written in C++ while Uno prefers C#. Other bits relied on Win32 APIs. However, with a bit of effort and some regular expression magic to convert the majority of the C++ to something a little more C#-alike, Calculator went cross-platform.
Android and iOS users can get the app from their respective stores (iOS users will need TestFlight installed first) or you can savour the delight of Calculator by simply heading over to the web version.
Debugging deep learning with TensorWatch
As machine learning models become ever more complex, understanding why they do what they do during training is becoming ever more important. The problem is that unless one is prepared to wade through reams of logs, a bit of guesswork tends to be involved.
To that end, Microsoft has introduced TensorWatch and open-sourced the thing last week.
TensorWatch is a Python library which supports a vast array of visualisation types that can either be viewed via a live dashboard in Jupyter Lab or within the Jupyter Notebook UI.
The visualisations feed on streams from data or other objects, such as files, cloud storage and even other visualisations, giving engineers an insight into what the training is actually doing.
Lazy Logging Mode has also been added, which has TensorWatch observing the variables during training.
While handy for debugging during all phases of model training, there is always the danger that the "endless" possibilities afforded by TensorWatch could overwhelm scientists if not used with care, thus slightly defeating the point of the thing.
Azure loves storage
The Azure gang had a busy week on the storage front, first making the Premium Files option generally available for those needing high throughput and "single digit millisecond latency". Spinning rust is banished as data is stashed on local SSDs, but be warned: the pricey option is only locally redundant. No zone or geographical redundancy for speed demons.
The team also made storage auto-grow generally available for MySQL, MariaDB and PostgreSQL on Azure. If opted in, provisioned storage will automatically increase when needed without hitting the workload, removing the need for rightsizing when kicking things off or having a database suddenly go read-only (or choke altogether) when allocated storage runs out.
And now, live on stage... Windows XP! Oh, bother...
Finally, despite Microsoft's best efforts to kill off thing, Windows XP reared its head once more during this year's Glastonbury Festival.
Unfortunate songstress Neneh Cherry was warbling through her set when the veteran OS finally gave up the ghost. Alas, XP was dealing with the stage back projection, meaning that the audience lurched from being vaguely surprised to learn that Cherry was still around to the horrifying realisation that so was XP.
Twitter was its usual supportive self.
Neneh Cherry's visuals at Glastonbury crashed and rebooted revealing Windows XP and I can’t decide if that’s terrible or the most retro cool thing ever pic.twitter.com/oCKi2ZyC2i— Seb Lee-Delisle (@seb_ly) June 29, 2019
While Aunty Beeb has managed to excise the worst of the oopsie from its coverage, glimpses can still be caught on iPlayer. The American Megatrends International boot screen showing the presence of an Intel Pentium E5300 will send a shiver of nostalgic recognition down the spine, even if the chippery arrived some time after Cherry last troubled the hit parade.
Head to the 36:40 mark for some BIOS frolics. Cherry carried on, undaunted, as techies behind the scenes battled to prop up the tottering hardware.
"7 Seconds" – about the time it takes a non-air gapped Windows XP machine to get pwned these days? ®