Office 365 Gets a End of the Year Update

One of my favorite services and one that I use daily for both work & home is Microsoft’s Office 365. I have both a home account as well as a professional account. Both of these services have improved quite a bit over the past two years and are now my most important productivity solution for both home and work. As this year is winding down Microsoft pushed out a very nice update for Office 365.

If you are an Office 365 user or simply use Microsoft Office for personal use, there’s a good chance you have already heard about Office.com. It is the official website for Office which also lets you work on Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other Office suite apps online. Now, Microsoft has released the first major update for Office.com with an aim to improve the overall user experience and productivity.

As Office comprises of a number of apps with each of them meant for a specific purpose, it can be frustrating when you are looking for that particular app in the time of urgency and could not find it easily. To make it easier, Microsoft has now added a section which will show your most frequently used Office apps and services. As you will keep on using Office online, this section will get updated accordingly so that you don’t go through the whole list for a particular application.

But it’s not only about apps all the time as more often than not, you are looking for a particular document to get started with your work. And with so many apps and file formats along with files themselves, it can be a tiresome experience to find that particular file you need. To solve this issue, Microsoft has now introduced new filters under the ‘Recent documents’ section. You can now search documents on the basis of document type and even pin the ones you use or need quite frequently.

And apart from documents and files, the most important thing is to stay updated with meetings coming up as well as one’s to-do list to make sure that things happen on time. Now Office.com will show you all your upcoming meetings and tasks right in the front. It will show you all the relevant details including contact’s photo, time, date, and venue along with a shortcut to join a Skype meeting. As for tasks, you can easily look for yet to be finished tasks and check the ones completed. This list is synced with Outlook which means ones you manage your task on Office online, the changes are reflected on Outlook as well.

All these features have been made available to Office.com and you should see them the nex time you log in. If you are not a regular user of Office.com, you might have to use it for some time before you can start seeing features like Frequently used apps and services along with Recent documents.

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2016 Was Very Good For Microsoft

Our 2016 Technology Achievement winner goes to Microsoft. Microsoft, after stumbling for quite a few years has recently found its way and is now leading the technology sector in several very important arenas.

Lets take a look at Microsoft’s year.

Microsoft was in the news for all the right reasons throughout 2016. It beat expectations and made a ton of money in FY16, racked up more than 400 million Windows 10 installs by the end of September, launched a rival to Slack and even a program to create low-cost VR headsets.

Its achievements for the year don’t end there: Under the able leadership of CEO Satya Nadella the company has come to embrace the cloud, warm up to the open source community and create exceptional hardware and software products.

Windows 10

Let’s be real for a second: Microsoft did a poor job of onboarding people on to Windows 10, pushing the new OS to some machines that weren’t ready for it and forcing updates when they weren’t convenient for users.

Other than that, however, Windows 10 is pretty great. It’s quick, efficient and is a delight to use, especially as it had its teething troubles ironed out steadily after it first launched.

It also received a bunch of useful enhancements with the Anniversary Update, including Windows Ink to let touchscreen users scribble on sticky notes and screenshots, a more powerful Cortana that can be invoked even from the lock screen, the ability to view notifications from your phone on your desktop, deep-linking Live Tiles in the Start menu and improved battery life with Edge.

Microsoft has huge plans for its OS in 2017. The upcoming Creators Update, showcased at an event in October, will bring 3D content creation features to numerous Office apps, as well as an all-new Paint; gamers will be able to broadcast gameplay live from their desktop; MyPeople will let you view texts, Skype chats, and emails from your contacts all in one place.

It’s interesting to see Microsoft building out its desktop ecosystem steadily as a place for people to work, be creative and play – previous iterations of the OS only felt like a platform where you had to bring third-party applications to do whatever you needed to. Hopefully, the Creators Update is just the start of such features and functionality for Windows users.

Embracing Open Source

Microsoft has steadily taken to open sourcing several of its major projects in the recent past, and 2016 saw more of the same. At the start of the year, it open sourced its powerful Chakra JavaScript engine, as well as its Computational Networks Toolkit for building deep learning tools for things like speech recognition.

Later, it open sourced Xamarin – a tool for building cross-platform mobile apps -and PowerShell, its task-based command-line shell and scripting language for managing system tasks.

By September, the company had garnered more open source contributors on GitHub than Facebook, Docker, Google and Angular. That achievement may not be the strongest indicator of how actively open source the company is, but compare this to the scenario a decade ago, when Microsoft wouldn’t even have figured on that list at all.

And last month, Microsoft joined the Linux Foundation as a platinum member, which means that the company is committed to helping advance the development of numerous open source projects. That’s a far cry from when former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer labeled Linux “a cancer” 15 years ago.

Surface Studio

Microsoft blew people’s minds with its new and first-ever desktop computer, the Surface Studio. Packed to the gills with power and plenty of innovative features that truly are game changers for creators, it stands head and shoulders above anything else out there at the moment.

The all-in-in-on PC features a 28-inch 4500 x 3000 pixel touch-sensitive display that can rest at a 20-degree angle to allow you to work on it directly with your fingers, the intuitive Dial control or a Surface Pen.

At its premium price point (it starts at $3,000), it may not see a large audience, but Microsoft has set the standard for the next generation of computers at a time when it was expected that Apple would do so. It’s going much farther much faster with touchscreen tech than we’d have expected. The Surface Dial presents a clever new interaction method that we haven’t seen before too, and I expect that we’ll see more such controller interfaces in the future.

On its own, Microsoft isn’t yet a huge hardware rival to Apple; perhaps its biggest fight with the Cupertino brand is in the tablet space with the Surface Pro. But unlike Apple, it has tons of OEMs ready to follow its lead and push the boundaries of hardware on its platform, so the goal might only be to draw people to the capabilities and performance of Windows, for which the Surface Studio seems to be a fitting showcase.

Gaming

Microsoft made a few notable leaps forward in the gaming department as well. While its Xbox One console is still going strong, the company launched the upgraded version, the Xbox One S in June. It brings HDR support, 4K playback capability for streaming video, a 40 percent smaller chassis, an improved controller and now, Dolby Atmos sound.

Far more notable, however, was the company’s announcement of Project Scorpio, the next-gen console that’s slated to launch during next year’s holiday season. It promises true 4K output for games, thanks to eight CPU cores and 6 teraflops of graphics processing power. It’ll also support Xbox One titles and accessories.

Another achievement in this domain is the launch of Xbox Play Anywhere, which lets you buy select games on your desktop or Xbox One console and play them on either system, picking up right where you left off and without having to purchase a second copy.

Conquering Productivity Apps

Microsoft’s Office suite has long been one of its big earners, so it’s not surprising that the company doubled down on its productivity tools through the year.

For starters, it launched Teams, its rival to Slack’s messaging app for groups. Unlike its competition, it’s tightly integrated into Office 365, as well as Power BI and Skype with plenty of features for easy communication and collaboration in the workplace.

Microsoft also acquired LinkedIn for a whopping $26 billion. Following the deal in June, the social network for professionals has taken on a number of initiatives to improve its offering, including a redesign and overhaul of its messaging system, the launch of a placement service and a lite mobile site for users in India, and a tool to help you understand salary trends in your geographic area and domain.

Microsoft improved its Office and Office 365 apps a bunch by adding things like support for extensions in Office for Mac, enabling real-time collaboration in Office 365, and bundling Sunrise Calendar’s scheduling features into Outlook.

It also launched Flow, a rival to IFTTT with a focus on connecting productivity tools for automating tasks like sending out a customized email when a new SharePoint list item is added.

As you can see Microsoft was very busy and successful in 2016. I except more of the same from Microsoft in 2017.

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Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us here @ The West Chester Technology Blog. We look forward to covering all things tech in 2017!

 

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Super Mario Run on the iPhone!

Super Mario Run is exactly what you’d hope and expect it to be. Why anyone thought Nintendo wouldn’t be able to make the most iconic figure in video games work on mobile is a mystery – because this is a very fun – nostalgic app.

This doesn’t mean that Super Mario Run is the greatest entry in the franchise to date. Nor does it mean you should expect the level of sheen that a home console version would offer. To do so is approaching this in completely the wrong fashion, because ultimately this is a mobile app. It’s meant to be enjoyed that way, too.

At its most basic all you’re ever really going to be doing is tapping the screen to make Mario jump as he automatically runs through numerous worlds. You can tell from a mile away that it was developed by Nintendo. It has that recognisable aesthetic, and all the usual additions are here; it’s just that they’ve been stripped back to make it accessible for a more casual audience.

Instantly that will sound offensive to some – gaming’s poster boy being shilled out to the masses. That’s an argument you’re welcome to have, but it doesn’t stop Super Mario Run from being extremely fun. Although you’re only ever in control of jumping, the way the world around you reacts and evolves means it can be far more tricky than it sounds. Mario will hop over small objects, including enemies, automatically, but timing your leaps right is imperative to both do away with foes, fly over giant chasms and execute special moves, the latter of which gets you more coins.

This is of the utmost importance, because coins fuel everything you do in Super Mario Run. While they’ve always been a staple of the franchise, now they not only determine how well you performed, but also act as the reason to replay levels and try to nab every coin you see. This includes special red coins which are even more devilishly placed, and black coins (which unlock after you’ve grabbed all the red ones and are even harder to obtain).

The point is that that’s three reasons to play through each level, which in turn triples your playtime. You’ll want to do that, too, to get your money’s worth, as you’ll probably have the basics done in about an hour.

Super Mario Run is so addictive, however, there’s a good chance you’d have wanted to replay it anyway. It progressively gets harder as you go on, and learning how to time your jumps to get the most out of an attempt is a skill within itself. You could call this an endless runner, and many have, but it’s much more in the vein of a platformer when all is said and done. The precision and care often needed isn’t so far away from Mario games of old.

There’s more to sink your teeth into as well, should the foundations start to wear thin. While it still follows the same basic structure, Toad Rally adds a competitive spin to proceedings. Using ‘Rally Tickets’ you’ve earned in the main game, you’re pitted against an opponent of your choice (and you can do this with friends by adding them into the game). The aim? To outshine your rival as you both race through a level.

This is achieved by timing your jumps right, not getting thumped by goombas, and looking out for the fabled ‘Coin Rush’, a power-up that allows you to increase the rate at which you’re gaining coinage. With each successful step, more toads will cheer you on, and whoever has proved themselves the most worthy by the end wins. Everything you’ve earned then gets shifted over to the creation hub.

Seeming to mimic in-app purchases (without asking for any real money), the kingdom-building element of Super Mario Run literally exists so you can unlock more objects, houses, shops and other bits and pieces for a central play area using your toads and coins. This then lets you play special levels, decorate the world as you see fit, or opens up the option to use other characters such as Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad.

Rather than just a visual change, they alter the pace of the game as – like always – Luigi jumps higher than Mario, so you have to switch up your playing style. That straight away gives you another reason to go around again, and it’s clear Nintendo isn’t looking for this to be a throwaway experience.

Is Super Mario Run a Worthy 10 Dollar App?

The question, then, is if it’s worth $9.99 – which is no doubt a premium price for an iPhone title. The novelty of having Mario on Apple’s device is probably worth it alone, but it’s only fair to say you’re paying a little extra given whose name is attached to it. The mechanics aren’t too out of the realms of what we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Because it is. And having Mario in it just makes it better still.

It’s no surprise that Nintendo didn’t skimp on Super Mario Run. It’s a Nintendo product and therefore a certain amount of quality is expected. There’s a novelty here, sure, and this isn’t a game-changer like the franchise has produced so many times in the past. It’s good, though. And sometimes that’s enough.

Super Mario Run is a great iPhone game that sticks to the expected formula but makes that formula extremely fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Yahoo! Hacked… Again

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Yahoo has been hacked… again. News that the company was breached back in 2013, and the personal information of more than one billion of its users was stolen, should serve as a reminder that everyone’s email and personal information is vulnerable to hacking.

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Safeguards you can take include creating strong passwords and changing them regularly. If you do not manage your passwords properly, you could be putting your personal or financial information and our identity at risk.

Protecting Yourself with Strong Password Management

The more complicated and lengthy a password is, the harder it will be for hackers to guess.

Don’t include your kids’ names, birthdays or references to any other personal details. Hackers routinely troll Facebook and Twitter for clues to passwords like these. Obvious and default passwords such as “Password123” are also bad, as are words commonly found in dictionaries, as these are used in programs hackers have to automate guesses.

Long and random combinations of letters, numbers and other characters work best.

Your password reset questions should be as unique as possible too, and don’t be tempted to recycle those either. This was some of the information stolen in the Yahoo hack. And with the help of social media, it’s not hard for hackers to find those little personal tidbits like what your mother’s maiden name is, or the name of your hometown.

Reusing Old Passwords?

No. Avoid using the same password for multiple sites, so that a break of your school’s PTA site wouldn’t lead hackers to your online banking account.

You can make things easier on yourself by using a password-manager service such as LastPass. Password managers can remember complex passwords for you — but you have to trust them.

Changing Your Passwords

While some security experts argue that it’s more important to pick a complicated password than to change them frequently, if you haven’t changed your Yahoo password since 2013 do it now.

And even if you have changed your Yahoo password in the last three years, you might want to do it anyway. Breaches are often worse than they first appear. LinkedIn disclosed earlier this year that a 2012 breach affected 117 million accounts — not the 6.5 million previously thought.

Multi-Factor Identification

Multi-factor identification — which asks users to enter a second form of identification, such as a code texted to their phone — will provide additional protections. It’s now commonplace for many email and social media accounts.

Even if hackers manage to get your password they still need your phone with the texted code.

Closing Old Accounts

Delete or deactivate accounts you no longer use. Has your Yahoo email account been filled with spam since before the invention of smartphones? Maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

You can learn more about LastPass here.

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Facebook Goes to Battle Against Fake News

Fake news has become a very real problem. Facebook has been at the epicenter of the problem because this is the most popular place where people share stories. When presented with this problem originally Facebook suggested that there was “no problem”, however their response has officially changed. Thank goodness.

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Facebook yesterday announced a series of steps it’s taking to combat the spread of fake news stories. First up the company is making it easier to report fake news. Just click on the upper right hand corner of the post, and you’ll have an option to report a story as fake. You can also message the person who posted the story, or block them altogether if you’d rather have none of that.

However a more aggressive move by Facebook has the company now working with third-party fact-checking agencies operating under Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles. Facebook states that it is using community reports and “other signals” to send potentially fake articles to fact checking organizations. If designated fake, the post will be flagged as disputed, and may appear lower on your news feed.

In addition Facebook will provide a link to the correct information. That’s important, as even if a story is flagged as fake, there’s a chance someone might choose to ignore the flag or forget it over time. You’ll still be able to share potentially fake stories, but you will be warned of their falsehood.

Facebook has also noticed that fake articles are often shared significantly less than others once they are actually read (compared to sharing based off of the headline alone). The company will test using outliers that exhibit these share patterns as a sign of fake news, and automatically downranking such them.

Finally, Facebook states that it is working on reducing financial incentives for fake news sites. It says it’s eliminated the ability to spoof domains, and is looking to enforce its news policies with shadier publishers to reduce their ad revenue, although it’s not saying how.

Hopeful News

Fake news is a very real problem, not because readers are stupid but more likely people are busy and only read news that catches their attention and even more so, news that they agree with or gets them excited. The problem here is that people are often lured into believing something not because it is true – but because they want it to be true.  I truly hope that these steps Facebook is taking to combat fake news has a meaningful impact.

Finally I believe fake news is yet another result of the rapid extinction of legitimate news print. This is having a tragic impact on how many of see the world around us.

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iOS 10.2 Arrives Today

The long wait for iOS 10.2 is finally over. After weeks of beta testing, Apple made the big iOS 10.2 update available to the public this morning, adding a host of new features that make the iPhone and iPad better than ever. I can say I have been using the beta of iOS 10.2 for several weeks now and it it a nice upgrade, bringing a couple new features, new emojis and of course the usual bug fixes.

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 Included in the new goodies are a fresh batch of emoji, a new SOS feature, Apple’s new TV app and much more.
Downloading the Update

To download iOS 10.2, go to Settings >> General >> Software Update. The 1.82GB update can then be downloaded and installed over the air. You can also update your device via iTunes.

What’s New is iOS 10.2?

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus users get a couple of new wallpapers in the new update. There are also more than 100 new emoji, including new characters for shrug, avocado, gorilla, shark and bacon.

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New wallpaper arrives with iOS 10.2

OS 10.2’s biggest new feature is probably the new TV app. Apple is hoping to create a unified experience where users’ subscribed and purchased video content gets grouped together in one app. With the new TV app, you can watch a show on your Apple TV and then pick it up later on your iPhone or iPad.

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New Emojis!

iOS 10.2 also brings hundreds of new highly anticipated emojis to iPhone and iPad. More diverse characters, new professions, expressions like face palm, shrug and fingers crossed, and new emoji representing sports, food, animals and more, can be shared today right from within Messages, the most frequently used app in iOS.

Improved Security – Faster Backups and More

Today’s iOS update also improves security by making backups nearly 1,000 times safer. You’ll get new Message effects called “Celebrate” and “Send with love” as well.

A number of bug fixes and performance enhancements improve stock Apple apps like Mail, News, Music and Photos.

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Samsung to Send Death Beam to It’s Troubled Note 7

If you are still using Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 – listen up.

Here is some unprecedented news. Samsung is literately putting a dagger in it’s troubled Galaxy Note 7.

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Samsung reported that it is executing its final solution to bring the saga of the Galaxy Note 7 to an end. The plan is to kill all of the Galaxy Note 7 devices remaining in use on December 19th, and all that’s required to make that happen is a simple software update.

The Galaxy Note 7 was released on August 19. By September, Samsung had recalled the first batch of handsets after dozens overheated. The Galaxy Note 7 handsets that had been handed out as replacements to the first batch were then found to have the exact same problem. So Samsung recalled the Galaxy Note 7, and requested that owners return their handsets for a refund or a replacement.

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A burned & damaged Galaxy Note 7

The problem here is that not everyone has turned their devices in. According to Samsung, 93 percent of Galaxy Note 7 owners in the U.S. complied with the recall. However, while 93 percent is an impressive figure, it means there are still over 100,000 devices unaccounted for. And Samsung cannot simply sit back and wait for them to explode in people’s faces.

So, to bring this whole sorry saga to an end once and for all, Samsung is bricking the Galaxy Note 7 devices still in use in the United States. It will accomplish this by issuing a software update on December 19. This update will “prevent Galaxy Note 7 devices from charging and will eliminate their ability to work as mobile devices”. Death by software update.

Verizon is refusing to issue the update over the holidays. Therefore anyone still using a Verizon Galaxy Note 7 has at least secured a stay of execution until after the new year. Everyone else should prepare for the end.

So there you go. The Galaxy Note 7 will almost certainly win “worst tech of 2016” on most lists and Samsung needs to move on from this disaster.

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Microsoft Closes LinkedIn Deal

After stumbling in the early 2000’s with their response to mobility Microsoft has once again gained dominance in many parts of the technology sector. This is especially true when you consider their continued dominance in cloud computing (OneDrive & OneDrive for Business), productivity solutions (Microsoft Office) and operating systems (Windows 10).

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I believe that Microsoft’s move with acquiring the struggling LinkedIn business social network is another winning move.

Microsoft has recently completed its $26.2 billion purchase of LinkedIn, the company’s largest acquisition.

The deal gives Microsoft, whose Office and Windows software are default portals for information workers, the leading online resume repository and workplace relationship database for that same crowd.

My Opinion – Goodbye Yammer 

Microsoft does have existing social networking services such as Yammer which they have been trying to get businesses to adapt. This acquisition probably means the demise of that service as LinkedIn & Yammer will be merged using the best of both networks.

Microsoft has ambitions of using the professional social network to improve its software for salespeople, and coming up with new applications that combine LinkedIn’s data about relationships with Office’s information about organizations and how people spend their time at work.

Analysts who track Microsoft generally were supportive of the logic behind the acquisition, but cautious given Microsoft’s history of big deals that flopped (remember their 2014 purchase of Nokia that flopped).

The latest deal adds LinkedIn’s 10,000 employees to Microsoft’s 113,600.

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Beware Holiday Email Scams

It’s the holiday season, which means shopping is buzzing more than usual. Many of us are are using online storefronts to purchase our gifts. While this is quite convenient, it can also lead to some problems.

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We know that scam emails are nothing new, but recently a fake email claiming to come from Amazon has cycled around. The message reads as follows:

Hello,

There was a problem processing your order. You will not be able to access your account or place orders with us until we confirm your information.click here to confirm your account. We ask that you not open new accounts as any order you place may be delayed.

 

For more details, read our Amazon Prime Terms & Conditions.

Of course, this is garbage. Clicking on the link in this email leads you to a fake “Amazon” login page, where the scammers ask you to kindly enter your credit card information. Once you’ve done so, it redirects you to the real Amazon website, but the damage is already done.

It’s worth reiterating email safety tips so you don’t fall victim to traps like these. Never click through links in emails that ask for personal information. If you receive an email you aren’t sure about, go to amazon.com in your browser and sign into your account from there. Amazon and other reputable companies will never ask you for your password or other sensitive info via email.

Amazon also asks that if you receive a spoofed email like this, forward it to stop-spoofing@amazon.com so they can review it.

Of course, this is garbage. Clicking on the link in this email leads you to a fake “Amazon” login page, where the scammers ask you to kindly enter your credit card information. Once you’ve done so, it redirects you to the real Amazon website, but the damage is already done.

It’s worth reiterating email safety tips so you don’t fall victim to traps like these. Never click through links in emails that ask for personal information. If you receive an email you aren’t sure about, go to amazon.com in your browser and sign into your account from there. Amazon and other reputable companies will never ask you for your password or other sensitive info via email.

Amazon also asks that if you receive a spoofed email like this, forward it to stop-spoofing@amazon.com so they can review it.

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