Mesh, powered by Azure, is Microsoft’s latest in fourth wave mixed reality amalgamating both the physical and digital world into one multi-layered interactive, shared environment.
Mesh has the capacity, through the use of head mounted units (HMDs) or on-screen devices, to allow multiple individuals across different spatial-physical environments to conduct collaborative meetings, host virtual social events, and allow for group exploration of development ideas.
Individuals ‘log in’ to the shared holographic space as virtual avatars that, upon wearing the HoloLens headset, can interact with the digital project world in front of them, and their changes can be seen by other members of the Mesh meeting. The scope of Mesh’s application in the medical healthcare and engineering industries is phenomenal – especially in their retrospective education and learning sectors. Mesh allows for real-time capture of moving 3D images and utilises visual cartographies to map those images into a functional skeletal model with tracking for key points.
Microsoft CEO Natya Sadella explains that this new digital leap in mixed reality technology is in parallel to that of the “jump from single player to multiplayer gaming” for the world of business meetings. Mesh provides huge potential for cost saving and ease of access for content sharing as company developers can create apps within the software to tailor Mesh to suit their social or business requirements.
Mesh is protected by a comprehensive host of security features including privacy compliance, session management and secure sign-ins with a reliance on Microsoft Live ID for admittance. Additional Mesh security software will be released in conjunction with Mesh emerging from its preview phase in future updates.
Microsoft offers, in current preview form, two apps that are compatible: HoloLens 2 and AltSpaceVR which both act as support applications for the Mesh – providing graphical and administrative enhancements. There are further upcoming plans to integrate current Microsoft apps such as Teams and Dynamics 365 to include the Mesh experience.
Mesh is available in preview form, along with its supporting software apps at: Microsoft Mesh
Edge was originally released in 2015 as a direct replacement and refresh for Internet Explorer, which was rapidly losing market share among the world’s most popular web browsers. Edge Legacy, which used EdgeHTML, was a programming fork of Microsoft’s ‘Trident’ engine that had been used in Internet Explorer 11.
The new Edge, released in 2020 and based on the same Chromium ‘Blink’ browser engine as Google Chrome, has proved more popular – and as of January 2021 looks set to overtake Firefox as the world’s third biggest web browser.
Enterprise organisations still provisioning the legacy version as standard are advised to plan their deployment of the new Microsoft Edge with the following set of steps.
Lineal are Microsoft Gold Partner – for IT expertise and support, please contact us today.
SMS-based two-factor authentication, where the user typically receives a passcode text message to their smartphone that acts as a secondary confirmation of who they are, has been a staple of online banking and many other secure online services needing two-factor authentication (2FA) for over a decade.
However many now believes even SMS can be intercepted, and would rather sign users onto authenticator apps or issue secure keys with encoded passcode generation.
Official Microsoft statistics state that users who enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on their accounts to verify identity block 99.9% of all automated account breaches. Using SMS-based two-factor authentication should not ‘stop’ doing so (despite the flaws of SMS, any 2FA is better than none) but users should consider swapping to other methods.
However this modification to Microsoft’s advice will see more of a driving force behind MFA as specifically biometric, authenticator app or secure-key based, rather than relying on mobile networks for one-time passcodes.
For cybersecurity expertise and support, please contact out IT team today.
Microsoft have previewed the Windows 10 October 2020 update with a partial re-design aimed at making the display clearer and enhancing security options.
Windows 10 updates are free of charge and are now issued to over a billion devices on a twice yearly update cycle.
Among the changes recently revealed on the Windows Experience Blog were:
“A refreshing Start. The Start menu has a more streamlined design. A uniform, partially transparent background to the tiles creates a beautiful stage for the redesigned app icons like Calculator, Mail and Calendar. This refined Start design looks great in both dark and light themes, but if you’re looking for a splash of color, first make sure to turn on Windows dark theme and then toggle “Show accent color on the following surfaces” for “Start, taskbar, and action center” under Settings > Personalization > Color to elegantly apply your accent color to the Start frame and tiles.”
Ease of use has also driven other improvements, such as more natural support for Windows 10 on convertible devices:
“2 in 1 toast elimination. 2-in-1 devices now naturally switch by default to the new tablet experience without the notification toast asking you to switch into the tablet mode when you detach the keyboard, helping to keep you in your flow.”
“A Taskbar tuned to your liking. Getting a new Windows PC? You will enjoy a cleaner, more personalized, out-of-box experience featuring a taskbar specifically curated for you—less clutter and more content that you’ll love. (This experience is limited to new account creation or first logon scenarios.)”
In addition the new version includes security enhancements – including an updated version of Windows Hello3 single-sign-on & multi-factor authentication technology:
“Simpler device management. Mobile Device Management (MDM)1 now includes a Local Users and Groups policy that gives administrators the same options as on-premises Group Policy.”
“More secure biometric sign on. With enhanced sign-in security2, Windows Hello3 now offers added support for virtualization-based security for certain fingerprint and face sensors, which protects, isolates and secures a user’s biometric authentication data.”
“Stronger app protection. Windows Defender Application Guard (WDAG)4 now helps protect Microsoft 3655 as well as Microsoft Edge with a unique hardware isolation strategy. WDAG keeps enterprise data protected by opening sites and Office files from untrusted sources in a virtualized container.”
Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for IT support and solution expertise, please contact our team today.
Gamma Communications have officially launched Teams Direct Routing, allowing organisations which use Microsoft 365 to make Microsoft Teams your phone system.
Teams Direct Routing is a simple monthly bolt-on to Teams-enabled Microsoft 365 licenses, that allows the user to make or accept normal voice calls via the UK phone network.
But what about the actual… phone? Yes, end users can use either the Teams mobile app for their smartphone on iOS/Android, or their PC/Mac – however hardware manufacturers are surprisingly close behind: with Poly and others announcing hardware officially approved to operate a Microsoft Teams based phone system.
Poly CCX Series Teams Phone Handsets
This makes Microsoft Teams a compelling choice as a full-business phone system, with call-routing, voicemail and many the other features commonly associated with work phones – available ‘through’ Teams.
Each user’s overall license package comprises three parts: two Microsoft elements including the user’s Microsoft 365 license that includes Teams, the ‘Phone system’ (PBX) bolt-on, and one from Gamma – the Teams Direct Routing Bolt-on itself.
All this is backed by the remote-working flexibility of Microsoft 365’s cloud infrastructure and Trust Centre – better yet, the monthly cost of extending Teams in this way is a tiny fraction of the upfront cost of buying a traditional business phone system and unifies the user’s other key work communication tool (email) under a single account, calendar, and set of security permissions.
With a user-base of over 70 million daily active Teams users, Teams itself is a workplace juggernaut given extra momentum by the important need for home-working driven by Covid-19. Although Microsoft themselves also offer direct routing call plans that integrate with Microsoft Teams, these do not include the numerous extra functions extensively supported by telecommunications suppliers, such as flexible number porting, extra control over redundancy and business continuity plans, and other related considerations needed to better ‘manage’ an organisation’s communications.
Microsoft Teams will soon gain the ability to display video-call participants in a 3×3 (9-person) grid, among other new Teams features.
The new teams features improve on the current limit of a 2×2 (4-person) grid – one notable limitation when compared with popular rivals such as Zoom.
Other features being added include custom-backgrounds, a ‘raise-hand’ feature similar to that used in Citrix GoToMeeting webinars, audio-sharing and call recording for 1-1 direct calls. The iOS version on mobile/tablet will also gain Teams’ background blur feature used to obscure the caller’s surroundings.
Recognising perhaps that Teams is still new to many workplace settings there has been a revised focus on hardware for new teams features: ‘Teams Certified’ audio/conferencing devices are now available, and the new Teams push-to-talk ‘walkie-talkie’ mode designed for field workers is currently in preview.
Playing catchup with Teams’ dramatic surge in popularity – to over 44m daily users and 1000% more calls during lockdown across the globe – Microsoft are also overhauling the Teams Admin centre to give admin users more visibility and control over meetings, usage and group policies.
Lineal are a certified Microsoft Gold Partner. Learn more about Microsoft Teams, or contact us today.
This week Microsoft Teams gained 12 million daily users, bringing the total to 44 million globally. During the past few days, Microsoft have raised cloud computing capacity by 600% to support this surge in demand for remote-working tools.
If it’s all new to you, or you’re working from home for the first time – never fear!Lineal haveassembled some of the best online Microsoft Teams resources to help users of all levels.
We’ll update this ultimate guide to Microsoft Teams to include valuable new videos, examples and training materials as we discover them.
Now it’s 2020, and in a world dominated by Google Chrome and mobile web browsing, Microsoft is trying again. Edge was re-launched this month, having been completely re-structured on Google’s open-source Chromium source-code.
Possibly the most frustrating thing for Microsoft is that there’s actually little wrong with Edge – at least as far as most users will recognise. But, beyond the snazzy new logo, is 2020’s new Edge worth your attention?
Some of Edge feels painfully similar – upon downloading, you’ll be immediately (and repeatedly) prompted to import favourites from your other browser (just in case your current browser is an organised place you inexplicably wanted to move away from to win a bet/to fulfil an ancient prophecy/because you work for Microsoft.)
However, Microsoft has clearly learnt some lessons – the choice of layouts (‘Focused’, ‘Inspirational’ or ‘Informational’) are worth investigating to dodge the msn.com-style assault on the senses, and make Edge feel more like a clean, distraction-free tool for daily use. The toolbar design also feels much closer to rivals like Chrome and Firefox: simple and easy to use.
Edge is quick too – performing well in tests and supposedly ‘optimised for Windows 10.’ Although hard to verify in true laboratory conditions, it’s easy to picture Edge delivering Office 365, Outlook.com and other Microsoft web-based services in an efficient manner, and it feels smooth. More importantly, by adopting Chromium, Microsoft have banished one of 2015 Edge’s demons: the lack of available app extensions that eventually finished Windows phone.
‘Immersive Reader’ Mode (similar to that in Office 365) can now be activated from the address bar and strips out on-page distractions, adverts and on-screen formatting for enabled web-pages. This is a simply brilliant and calming addition for reading through articles, and is sure to win plaudits from those concerned about accessibility.
Microsoft also appear to have given a little extra attention to business users – perhaps aware that although Google Chrome dominates Android’s mobile world, workplace computing remains a key area where people still use conventional Windows 10 devices in overwhelming numbers. Sharing preferences between devices is a repeated boast by rival browsers like Safari and Firefox, but Edge can now do this too.
Edge uses Bing search by default, but once signed into your Microsoft account can do some clever extras, such as amend your search results to define acronyms according to your organisation or industry. ‘Inking’ abilities that exist in Office 365 (eg: for taking notes in OneNote) are also extended to Edge for overwriting PDFs in-browser – allowing some simple tasks like signing a contract or filling in a form in legible handwriting.
If your system admin tinkers with Group Policy, it’s possible to turn on an ‘Internet Explorer Mode’ that renders legacy web-pages more accurately, without the pesky security holes that plagued Internet Explorer installations years beyond their supported date.
Sharing a code-base with Chromium allows Edge to borrow some of Chrome’s best media features – including screen-casting to Chromecast devices on display screens and similar. Edge is also allegedly the only browser on Windows 10 to support 4k Netflix – the kind of popular feature it’s hard to imagine Internet Explorer’s developers ever even considering.
In market share terms, Edge languishes with Firefox around 10%, hugely outgunned by the behemoth of Google Chrome at around 70% of all internet usage globally. Will that change? The next few months may reveal whether Edge can establish itself as something with more appeal.
Microsoft Edge (2020) stable-version is now available for PC, macOS, Android and iOS online here.
For IT Support and technical expertise, please contact Lineal’s IT Support Team today.
Microsoft are offering an initial ten free Charity Microsoft 365 licenses for Nonprofit organisations.
Microsoft 365 allows users across an organisation to work more flexibly, collaborate on shared work and maintain an ‘always-up-to-date’ software base across a charitable organisation.
The flagship ‘Microsoft 365 Business’ cloud IT bundle, which normally retails at £15.10+VAT per user per month (Or £3.80+VAT per month for NonProfits) includes everyone’s favourite Microsoft Office 365 apps such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and more. 50GB of Exchange Online email hosting per user is also included as standard, with 1TB of cloud OneDrive storage, and Windows 10 Pro licensing for each user’s device, packaged with a host of organisational security features.
Lineal’s Head of Technical Services Matt Norris explained: “This is a super offer which we’re expecting to do some real good in the Charitable sector especially – and hopefully nonprofits will snap up their free Charity Microsoft 365 licensing while it’s available. Office 365 makes flexible working and collaborative projects much easier, advantages that we know are a key concern for many in the voluntary sector.”
Microsoft’s Windows Team have previewed a new optional Light Theme to be released in May 2019’s Windows 10 update.
The glossy, bright look is currently available to those on the Windows 10 Insider Preview Build (a kind of test program for volunteer guinea-pigs of future Windows versions – accessed through Windows Update.)
Both Apple and Microsoft have introduced ‘Dark Modes’ more eye-sensitive for night-time use in recent years, either in popular software such as Outlook, or as part of the main operating system itself, as in the case of Apple’s Mojave update.
Windows Light Theme introduces a brighter feel for Microsoft’s signature operating system, likely to prove a hit among companies with certain in-house ‘styles’ favouring brighter tones, or to provide more options to those with visual impairments.
As of March 2019, Windows 10 is now in use across more than 800 million devices worldwide, running on just a smidge under half of all PCs in existence (49.9%.)
May’s Windows update (build 18362.30) also features numerous minor fixes, including improvements to printing processes, splitting Cortana from Windows Search, and extending dark mode within OneDrive.
Light theme will be available within the ‘Personalisation’ settings available by right-clicking on the Windows desktop, once the new update lands in May.
For Microsoft expertise and support – contact our team today
Windows 7 uptake worldwide has finally been overtaken by Windows 10, with just one year until all consumer support for the popular operating system ends.
2009’s acclaimed Windows release will officially reach end of life from January 14th 2020, beyond which customers operating remaining Windows 7 PCs will receive no additional security updates or patches.
Much like Windows XP before it, Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates (ESU) will theoretically be available for additional years (specifically until 2023), but only to enterprise customers using Professional or Enterprise versions, billed on a ‘per-device basis’ and at increasingly steep annual costs.
Online web market share tracker NetMarketShare now records Windows 10 as a mere 2% ahead of Windows 7, approaching 40% of the overall desktop market – if still some distance behind Microsoft’s original Windows 10 roll-out targets.
Users looking to upgrade to Windows 10 may look to replace hardware, purchase a direct upgrade, or acquire the upgrade via a larger package such as Microsoft 365.
For Microsoft advice and support, contact Lineal today.
Early feedback from users was positive (despite recurring jokes that the Microsoft Office user-interface may also need a similar makeover from designers.)
That makeover has already begun with Office 365’s new fluent menus: specifically, streamlined menu bar options for both the web and desktop client versions of the major Office apps, which load faster during general use. The existing option-heavy menus will also remain optionally available, as might be expected for a product being used by more than a billion knowledge-workers worldwide.
Licensed Office 365 customers receive ongoing updates throughout the lifetime of their subscription, including security updates and all new visual improvements. However, revised icons for gradually retiring apps, such as Yammer and Skype for Business, might imply these products have greater independent lifespan than is actually expected by Microsoft support.
Microsoft have re-released October 2018’s Windows 10 update, after pausing the upgrade for technical fixes last month.
Some users complained of missing files and other update issues due to a bug with folder re-direction, with Microsoft eventually halting the availability of the download globally.
The move sees a more cautious Microsoft seek to evade criticism with a new ‘focus on quality’. The revised update has taken a month to re-issue and was released to ‘Windows Insiders’ (a kind of Beta-testing pool) several weeks ago for initial vetting, prior to re-release for the general public.
Since 2015, Windows 10 has been updated incrementally (much like rival Apple MacOS) with each iteration upgrading Windows 10 itself rather than seeking to replace the platform.
For businesses, updates may be managed centrally to avoid stumbling into first-day mishaps, such that home users were most likely to suffer from the results of October’s upgrade false-start. As always, Lineal’s advice is to delay major operating system upgrades for at least 24 hours, to ensure release-bugs have been identified.
In Microsoft’s defence, Windows 10 is now running on 700 million devices, and shows healthily declining customer incident rates – in addition to high public satisfaction, allegedly receiving the best Net Promoter Score (NPS) of any version of Windows to date.
The October Windows 10 update remains the only one of its kind to be pulled, and then re-released, and the pressure will be on Microsoft to ensure it remains unique.
For Windows expertise and support, please contact our team today.
Support and security updates for Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 operating systems will end in January 2020.
Customers operating Windows Server 2008 will then cease to receive security patches and other important system updates.
Around 70% of the world’s server operating systems are Windows based, with Server 2008 one of the most successful versions, still representing more than half of these installations as recently as 2016.
Users of Server 2008 and 2008 R2 have just over 6 months to decide whether to upgrade to a newer version of Windows Server (such as the long-awaited Server 2019, hardware permitting), replace servers with newer models, or migrate those server-based processes to a cloud-based platform, such as Microsoft Azure.
‘Mainstream’ Support for Server 2008 is unlikely to be extended – having already been granted temporary extensions, once from July 2013 to January 2015, and again to the final deadline next year.
As with previous operating systems, enterprise customers will have the option of purchasing ‘Premium Assurance’ support packages of different levels, to extend support as late as 2026 – but as with other legacy Windows products, for increasingly high associated costs.
Businesses will need to weigh up for how long they can afford to delay upgrading, or depending on the physical server hardware, whether it makes more sense to spurn the licensing costs of upgrading the Windows Server version and go directly to either the cloud, or a new server.
For IT infrastructure support and expertise, please contact our team today.
Microsoft has announced the release of a new Surface Go tablet, adding to it’s acclaimed Surface lineup.
The new addition to the touchscreen range is designed to be an entry-level offering, offering more basic specifications but far greater portability at just 1.15 lbs and 8.3mm thin.
At around $399, it’s difficult to say exactly what Microsoft is trying to achieve: the new model is less consistent with Surface’s more ‘premium’ brand, and doesn’t stack up particularly well on price against Apple’s entry-level iPad, or against cheaper Windows laptops on technical specification. Limited to Windows 10 S and an Intel Pentium Gold processor, the additional elements which makes the Surface range more interesting, like the keyboard and stylus controls for touchscreen artwork, are also optional extras.
Instead it’s widely believed the tech giant is attempting to win over customers in the education sector, where a budget offering from a reputable manufacturer is likely to appeal to departments looking to provision sets of devices.
As always, Microsoft may also be hoping that the Surface Go owners of today will be the Surface ‘Pro’ owners of tomorrow.
While a 9 hour maximum battery life and a 10-inch screen is likely to prove limiting for business use, Chief Product Officer Panos Panay noted it was the ‘perfect device’ for his youngest daughters – and the internet seems to agree, noting the release timing is suspiciously good for the new term.
Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – IT assistance and expertise, contact us today.
Microsoft have successfully submerged their first underwater datacentre, in a test expected to trial the viability of the technology.
The shipping-container sized server array was lowered to the sea bed near the Scottish Islands, as part of a flagship test for the concept of underwater IT infrastructure.
Project Natick, which is powered entirely by renewable energy via the European Marine Energy Centre’s wave and tidal power generators, will test whether largely autonomous data centres might be deployable in areas where sea-water cooling can be used to manage excess heat.
This kind of cutting edge research and development (described by one Microsoft Vice-President as ‘Crazy’) represents a significant engineering challenge: in addition to surviving water pressure, the datacentre’s server arrays must connect via undersea cable and function for five years without physical maintenance before the capsule is recovered.
Undersea communications cables have been in use since the 1850s, although maintaining complex fixed underwater infrastructure is a feat so far only managed by the oil & gas sector.
Microsoft also notes that almost half the world’s population lives near large bodies of water (a legacy of a previous millennium), and that in future the underwater datacentre may prove a solution to the issue of secure delivery of cloud services closer to point of use.
Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for expertise and support: contact us today.
Microsoft is seeking student UK technology developers to enter the 2018 Imagine Cup – with a chance to win $100,000.
The prestigious technology trophy, awarded every year to a team of three young people who develop a groundbreaking technology idea, are currently accepting entries for 2018’s Imagine Cup UK finals.
UK finalists are expected to be chosen in March (top prize $5000) with global finalists travelling to Redmond, Virginia (the home of Microsoft) for 2018’s worldwide finals, and a chance at a grand prize of $100,000.
The winning entry must be an original technology project, created from an initial idea to implementation and run from the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Entries can be on any theme, although recent competitions have been dominated by inventions designed to not only demonstrate innovation, but contribute to human well-being.
Entries from the UK will be judged by an expert panel, including Clare Barclay Chief Operating Office of Microsoft UK; Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research; Michael Wignall, National Technology Office at Microsoft UK; and Rob Fraser, Commercial Software Engineering Lead at Microsoft UK.
Microsoft’s insistence on the final solution operating via Microsoft Azure no doubt reflects their ‘cloud-first’ business approach, in addition to a recognition that the ‘global’ finalist’s winning idea should be a truly global possibility.
Winning Imagine Cup entries from previous years include a solution to help those with diabetes manage symptoms, a charity donation app that embeds into news articles, and the ‘Emma Watch’ – recently featured on the BBC for assisting those with Parkinson’s in reducing limb tremors.
Teams can learn more, and enter the competition, here.
Lineal are a certified Microsoft Gold Partner – learn more.
Microsoft Teams, a super-smooth instant messaging and group sharing app for business, will go head to head with rapidly expanding collaboration app rivals like Slack and Basecamp, but will incorporate the enterprise business telephony and conferencing abilities (including PSTN calling, video conferencing and group screen sharing) from the hugely popular Skype for Business.
On the Messaging side all new planned features (for example contact groups, chat between the two apps and Skype for Business contact import) will be available by the end of Q1 2018, although Meeting and Calling additions are more gradual.
Certain Meetings features, such as browser-based meetings via teams and audio conference calls will be available by Q4 of 2017, although power uses will need to wait until Q2 of 2018 for more advanced features such as recording, powerpoint share and PSTN fallback.
Call queues, out of office support and transfer to PSTN call tools will be running by next Summer, with call park and shared line appearance delayed until Q4 of 2018.
Users can already run both Skype for Business and Teams side by side, although Microsoft will increasingly push users in the direction of the latter. Extra help materials for organisations making the transition can be found here.
Both Teams and Skype for Business are already included at no extra charge to Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium customers, although many do not even realise the leading communication apps are available to use.
While the combined product is likely to be an extremely powerful and flexible business tool, Microsoft’s challenge for the Teams roadmap will be to make Microsoft Teams as much of a household name as the Skype brand.
Lineal are a Microsoft Gold partner – contact us today for Office 365 support.
Are Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business about to merge?
Teams and Skype for Business – Microsoft’s two key communication applications may be about to merge, following a series of leaked hints from the Office 365 message centre.
Microsoft Teams – Redmond’s answer to easy-use messaging and group sharing apps for business (think Slack, or Basecamp) that have seen massive growth in popularity, already looks visibly similar to the Skype for Business client on Mac, and it’s easy to imagine the two becoming a single, powerful unified communications product.
Quite whether Skype for Business or Teams would be cut is an interesting dilemma. Despite a slow start, Skype for Business has proved very successful in the telecoms world – expanding to cover video conferencing, Outlook calendar integration and other established business functions, whilst Teams is still in its early stages.
Microsoft Teams though is clearly closer in concept and execution to the ‘appy’, casual platforms that, quite frankly, Microsoft wishes it was as cool as. This is also where the unified communications industry is heading generally: mobile friendly, cross channel communication apps with unimaginable technical wizardry happening unseen in the cloud.
Believe it or not, Slack has been around since 2013. Basecamp even longer. ShoreTel recently announced the new ShoreTel app, replacing their old mobility client with a mobile friendly, cross-platform, cloud-based, messaging and VOIP collaboration platform. Microsoft (traditionally very slow to any new party) must surely arrive eventually.
This is in part because the generation that have grown up with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger simply don’t see messaging and audio as separate realms, and are noticeably more open to the idea of a business application with something of the ‘look and feel’ of social media.
Merging the two makes excellent commercial sense for the unstoppable business behemoth that is Microsoft, and would park the tanks on several lawns at once.
Contact the IT and communications specialists – speak to Lineal today: 01271 375999
Microsoft’s Azure Cloud platform has taken the business world by storm, adding a record 120 thousand customers every month last year, 6 million total users, and holding an estimated 1.4 million SQL databases.
If you’re not technical, you could be forgiven for being unsure of what it actually is or how it works. We can’t hope to cover the over six hundred potential applications, but here’s a crash course guide to understanding Azure.
What is it?
Microsoft Azure is a business ‘cloud computing’ service created by Microsoft for operating IT applications and services from the cloud.
Everything run, tested, built, shared, stored (and more) from Azure exists in one or more of a number of secure Microsoft data centres around the World (or via a local service if you prefer.)
OK, but what is it actually?
Think servers. Lots and lots of servers. Locked down, climate controlled warehouses full of servers humming away running every computing process imaginable from email to databases, virtual desktops to machine learning, file storage to phone apps.
Customers who purchase Microsoft Azure services get access, via the internet, to a tiny fraction of this worldwide supercomputing infrastructure, with the option to run a huge variety of potential services in the cloud.
Azure itself has no-upfront charges, and is instead billed by the minute based on usage and the computing demands of the service purchased.
Why is that good?
This is instant access computing. Need 50 extra virtual servers by this afternoon? Tap a few buttons and they’re available.
The staggering economies of scale means Microsoft always has practically unlimited scalable computing power available, on demand, at subscription pricing.
The ability to spin up temporary services (impossibly impractical if you tried to resort to urgently buying physical hardware) and remove them again, allows businesses to react instantly and cost-effectively to even the most wildly fluctuating IT demands.
Even more mundane computing processes – such as large numbers of hosted desktop sessions can be delivered from Azure, without being such a logistical challenge.
OK, but what if it goes wrong?
Azure is reliable. Crazily reliable. Microsoft’s uptime statistics are as dependable as you would expect from their leading enterprise cloud service – in 2015 achieving a remarkable 99.9936% of annual uptime.
Much as with other Microsoft Cloud services (like Office 365’s OneDrive) an array of backup procedures ensures copies of data stored are protected and duplicates available for recovery. Virtualisation, where everything runs in an isolated software environment kept independent of the physical hardware, means individual drives and servers are expendable – your IT lives on, supported by the rest of the hundreds of remaining server racks.
Microsoft are discrete about their security, but in a data centre empire where every email is tested through a minimum of 3 independent antivirus services, it’s safe to say both physical and digital security is extremely tight. Centralised infrastructure also gives Azure (and every Azure customer) the kind of specialist professional and cybersecurity defences unavailable to all but the very largest enterprise corporations.
Need access to the remaining 0.0064% of the year? Remember that for at least half of the World’s inhabitants, it’s likely these 29 minutes of annual downtime will fall whilst you’re asleep.
Do I need a computing PHD to use it?
Yes and no. Anyone can, in theory, get started with a free account (and $150 of free credits) today from Azure’s website, and test out the service.
The interface is relatively intuitive and, like all Microsoft’s cloud services, works consistently across tablet and mobile devices if you wish to play about with Microsoft’s cloud until your free credits have expired.
However, in reality what you demand of the infrastructure is likely to require a more complex setup. Unless you’re a true enthusiast with some special requirements, Azure’s cloud infrastructure is like a private helicopter: not really optimal for personal use (and there are far more sensible options available)
Cost by the minute also means that, when choosing from the bewildering array of virtual machine specs and other services available, it would be easy to overspend if you’re not careful. Indeed part of Azure’s business model is based on ambitious, technology-hungry companies biting off slightly more than they can chew.
To make sure your Azure deployment is both effective and proportional to your budget, call the experts.
Lineal are a Gold Microsoft Partner – contact us today: 01271 375999
Update 25.07.17 – Following public pressure, Microsoft have announced MS Paint will still remain available as an optional free download via the Windows Store.
Microsoft Paint may be about to be killed off by Microsoft, following an announcement of feature changes in Windows 10.
The Windows 10 Fall [Sic] Creators Update has been published with a list of existing Windows 10 features to become ‘deprecated’ (whereby Microsoft will not continue updates and development) or ‘removed’ (scrubbed from the updated operating system entirely.)
In addition to Paint, other casualties of this year’s biggest Windows 10 update include 3D Builder App and Windows Powershell 2.0 (both replaced), Outlook Express (now outdated), and Microsoft Reader App (no, we’ve no idea either) which will be incorporated into Microsoft’s Edge browser.
There’s a problem though – most of these are bland or outdated business IT tools with limited appeal, but Paint is an app we have an emotional connection with. For many people, Microsoft Paint was the very first Windows computer program they became familiar with as schoolchildren.
Paint is comedic shorthand for bad-image editing because it’s been around since 1985 and Windows 1.0. We’ve enjoyed 32 years of stick figures, badly coloured-in drawings of pets, a hilariously naff default pallet, dodgy re-sizing and eye-sight destroying colour fill tools that orangewash more of the canvass than we were expecting.
We can only hope that Microsoft’s new Paint 3D becomes the future of quick and easy image editing on the platform – providing the same initial enjoyment of computing to the generation that will grow up with tablets and 3d-printing.
Microsoft Forms has launched in initial preview to commercial customers – adding data gathering, surveys, opinion polls and quizzes to Office 365’s list of abilities.
Originally released to Microsoft Education customers for classroom use, the commercial release is likely to interest those gathering client or staff feedback, or doing market research.
The delay in launch has been worth it though: entirely cloud-based Microsoft Forms boasts some more advanced features than free alternatives, including branching surveys which alter question paths as the subject answers, and more extensive visual customisation – helping companies match each survey to their branding.
By swapping from the ‘Questions’ Tab to the ‘Reponses’ tab form-builders can view data collection in real-time and Forms integrates nicely with other popular business applications in Office 365, including Excel and even SharePoint. As with others, form-builders can also use a range of link-based permissions sharing to make surveys open to exact security groups.
It’s not yet been made clear which Office 365 packages will grow to include Forms as standard, although it looks intuitive, clear, responsive across a wide array of screen-sizes, and powerful enough to become a firm-favourite.
Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner and Authorised Education Gold Partner: for Office 365 support and advice – contact our team today.
Lower end models of the new fixed screen ‘Laptop’ version appear to be underpowered with only 4GB RAM, although higher-end models (which will set you back over £2,000) boast an impressive 16GB RAM and 512GB Solid State Drive.
It’s currently unclear whether Microsoft’s enticing North American trade-in scheme, whereby customers can effectively part-exchange qualifying devices (including Apple MacBooks or iPads) for significant discounts towards the cost of a new Surface device, will also be made available in other regions.
Users will be restricted to Windows 10 S as their operating system, which defaults to certain Microsoft products – such as apps downloaded from Windows Store, Edge browser and Bing search.
In addition, the flagship ‘Surface Studio’ and it’s futuristic accessories will also be coming to UK markets, and is likely to quickly become a crowd-pleaser amongst designers and others in the creative industries.
Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for IT support and Expertise: contact us today.
Skype is probably the only brand name in video calling successful enough to have become synonymous with its purpose (try offering ‘Citrix’ to somebody and you’ll get confused looks.) It’s perhaps unsurprising therefore that Microsoft have taken their former Lync communications platform, and given it both an upgrade, new features, and a name with a better pedigree.
Enter Skype for Business, Microsoft’s newest unified communications offering for Windows, Mac and Android – available as a downloadable client or via a web browser. On the face of it, the potential in Skype for Business is enormous: calls, group meetings, directory lookups and instant messages between Skype for Business users are free-of-charge, making it a perfect internal communications platform in the cloud.
Skype for Business is already available to those using Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium as a free download. Users can connect, make audio/video calls and collaborate from anywhere in the world. VOIP packages are also available to allow calling ‘out’ to conventional phone numbers, presenting an affordable alternative to your old phone system.
We’ve found the video and sound quality to be exceptional (even on some poorer broadband connections.) For those on the move, a designated app is also available for your smartphone and tablet which, operating over your Wi-Fi or 4G connection, also extends the platform into the wider world.
Most reassuringly, Skype for Business need not just be a ‘soft-phone’ on screen but can connected to a traditional, physical, AudioCodes or Polycom VOIP handset on your desk.
That’s not to say that there are no shortcomings. Calling outside Skype requires the additional PSTN licensing which is likely to confuse those unfamiliar with Microsoft licensing. Skype’s website is not particularly helpful in this respect, with it sometimes being unclear when links refer to Skype, or Skype for Business.
Certain features that Microsoft originally advertised (such as the ability to take polls in group meetings) are also still in testing on some platforms at the time of writing, although screen sharing and scheduled meetings already work smoothly and are very intuitive. Focusing on collaboration, these are sure to be fixed as Microsoft reviews Skype for Business.
The minimalist design is smarter and more formal than the original Skype and, whilst a little unfamiliar to begin with, the general ‘look’ of the platform is a noticeable improvement on both Lync and traditional Skype.
Skype for Business is not quite ready to take over the world just yet, but it’s certainly one to watch for 2017.
Microsoft have announced the release of the Microsoft Surface Studio, a premium 28-inch easel-style desktop PC which turns into a large tabletop tablet: aimed squarely at designers and the business market.
At only 12.5mm thin, Microsoft claims the impressive LCD touchscreen to be the thinnest ever built, with a visually stunning 13.5 million pixels even the most ardent iMac fan will grudgingly approve of.
True innovation comes in the form of the Surface Dial, a mystery metallic cylinder which can be placed on the screen to enable extra radial controls such as a designer’s colour wheel, arguably bridging the gap between the conventional mouse and greasy-fingered touchscreen controls.
Indeed the drawing and stylus controls position the Microsoft Surface Studio as a clear rival to both the iPad Pro and iMac range, and will include a variety of design, animation and 3D tools similar to those teased in the release of the new Microsoft Paint just last week.
At Lineal we’ve found both Apple devices, and their Surface equivalents, to be increasingly popular choices in sectors which need to demonstrate work visually to help win business – architects, photographers, designers and other creative professions in particular.
US prices are quoted as starting at $2,999, but with this specification only providing a very basic Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, most users will need to upgrade to either the mid or higher end models i7 models ($3,499 – $4,199 respectively) to get the most from such a large, graphically demanding screen.
In addition to the new flagship Surface Studio, Microsoft also released a revised i7 version of last year’s Surface Book which includes significantly better battery life – doubling down on their focus on premium business devices.
Microsoft’s Office 365 Team have announced the availability of multiple UK data centres for customer data.
The move follows increasingly strict rules on data compliance in the financial, security, health and public sectors – with more cloud IT users looking to ensure their data remains safely located in the UK.
Prospective customers considering the implications of Office 365 are able to view the locations of Microsoft’s uk data centres with this online ‘Where Is My Data?’ map, which now displays both the additional data centres and the Microsoft cloud services they support, in both London and Durham, with a third site anticipated for Cardiff.
Office365 and Azure Users will also have the ability to ‘re-locate’ their data from regional data centres (in most cases based within mainland Europe) to the new UK service.
In addition to the security and legal advantages for protecting sensitive data, cloud users of Office 365 are likely to benefit from lower costs, online backups and collaborative, remote access to files.
For now, the ability to re-locate Office365 or Azure data to the UK is likely to be restricted, with priority expected to be given to high-profile UK public sector customers including NHS Trusts and the Ministry of Defence – the latter mirroring many customers belated move to the cloud, upgrading legacy on-site systems in use since 2005.
The new infrastructure has been widely praised, with Microsoft clearly investing heavily in addressing the doubts many have about moving their IT to the cloud; reducing Office365 downtime to just 4 hours per year, and now re-locating data within country of origin for compliance with a high standard of data protection.
Contact Lineal for advice on moving to the cloud, or for a free trial of Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium, click here.
Lineal has been certified as a Gold Microsoft Partner with immediate effect, becoming the only such Gold Partner in the North of the region.
Our official Microsoft Partner status was upgraded from Silver to Gold after Lineal’s team qualified for Microsoft’s Gold Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions competency – the result of several month’s efforts by the team comprising training, outstanding performance in our deployments and a large number of highly satisfied customers.
Head of Technical Services, Matt Norris, praised the team on all their hard work: “Lineal’s Gold award shows our commitment to providing our customers with only the highest quality Microsoft Cloud Services and Support – and to the continued development of our team’s expertise. I cannot be more proud of our team and the dedication to excellence they have shown which has been recognised in this award.”
Microsoft certified partners must undergo a rigorous program of technical assessments and examinations via the Microsoft Partner University, as well as demonstrating real-world proficiency in undertaking complex Microsoft deployments for customers, in order to qualify for the prestigious ‘Gold’ status.
In addition, and pivotal to Lineal’s commitment to exceptional knowledge and expertise in the South West region, each Gold Partner must employ a number of Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) whose skills match the requirements of each award. MCP is the global standard for measuring expertise in Microsoft products and technologies with each of our team being required to hold multiple MCP Certifications which are regularly renewed. MCP examinations are widely recognised to be among the hardest professional qualifications to attain in the IT industry.
Lineal’s team are now working towards additional Microsoft Gold awards covering new Microsoft specialisms and products.
For expert Microsoft Services and Support, contact Lineal today by clicking here
If you haven’t already upgraded to Windows 10, Lineal highly recommend doing so before the free upgrade period ends on 29th July 2016. The free upgrade is available to PC users currently running a valid copy of Windows 7, 8 or 8.1.
Step 1 – Visit Microsoft’s Windows 10 Downloads page by clicking here, and select your current version of Windows from the dropdown menu, and click ‘Confirm’.
Step 2 – When prompted, select ‘Upgrade this PC now’.
Step 3 – Windows 10 will begin downloading, showing a progress report on screen. This can take 15 minutes to an hour, depending on your PC and internet connection speed.
Step 4 – When Windows 10 has downloaded, click to install Windows 10 and your PC will reboot – beginning the installation of the new operating system, and copying across all your existing files/settings.
Step 5 – When your PC has completed the installation and launched your desktop – enjoy Windows 10!
For extra help or advice in upgrading to Windows 10 for free, please contact Lineal’s IT support team today – 01271 375999
Edit – 14:15 25.05.16: Following customer feedback, Microsoft have now added an additional pop-up which confirms update scheduling time to give users an additional chance to opt-out of the update.
A Microsoft ‘trick’ which prompts an automatic upgrade to Windows 10 has been condemned as misleading by PC users.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 update prompt was recently changed so that the ‘X’ close button, instead of closing the prompt, schedules an automatic update. PC World declared the change a ‘trick’ and Windows users who preferred older operating systems took to social media to complain.
Instead, users must specify to cancel the scheduled upgrade by clicking a small link in the fourth line of text which reads “Click here to change upgrade schedule or cancel scheduled upgrade.”
Escalating measures to push users towards upgrading demonstrate Microsoft’s drive to reach its stated target of one billion users running Windows 10 by the start of its 2018 fiscal year (beginning around October 2017).
The controversy surrounding a automatic Windows 10 upgrade is likely to only draw more attention to Microsoft’s Windows 10 upcoming upgrade deadline – the free Windows 10 upgrade will cease to be available to PC users after the 29th of July.
New research by security company Duo has suggested that as many as 25% of Windows PC users are running out of date versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Among Windows XP legacy users the problem is particularly acute, with more than half still running Internet Explorer 7 or 8, rather than upgrading to version 11.
Duo suggest this is putting thousands of PC users at risk of exposure to over 700 security risks caused by known viruses, malware or other online threats via their now outdated and unsupported web browser. In particular, un-patched exploits via popular third-party plugins such as video player codecs pose a likely danger.
Microsoft are currently offering Internet Explorer’s latest replacement, the superior Microsoft Edge, free to every user with a Windows 7 license who chooses to upgrade to their PC to Windows 10 before the 30th of July deadline.
Alternatively, users should consider the pushier update-reminding Mozilla Firefox, or Google’s automatically updating Google Chrome offering, along side a tried and trusted security software (such as the excellent ESET NOD32 Antivirus,) to ensure that the technology they use for private data transfers such as email and online banking, remain private.
Contact Lineal today for IT advice and support: 01271 375999 or email [email protected]
Local IT company Lineal Software Solutions Ltd. has been awarded a Silver Microsoft Authorised Education Partner (AEP) award, demonstrating its ability to specialise in Microsoft services for customers in the education sector.
To earn a Microsoft AEP authorisation, local IT partners must undergo extensive testing to prove their level of expertise meeting the IT needs of, and support for, academic institutions.
Managing Director of Lineal Mike Matthews thanked Microsoft: “We’re delighted to be awarded this special accolade from Microsoft in recognition of our commitment to IT in the education sector.”
“By becoming AEPs, partners show themselves to be committed and trained in providing discounted Microsoft academic products to the education market,” said Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Education for Microsoft Corp.’s Worldwide Public Sector.
“This authorisation, along with our other education partner initiatives, gives our partners recognition of their areas of expertise and our academic customers the confidence that they are buying from academic IT specialists.”
The Barnstaple-based IT firm serves a large number of businesses, schools and other organisations across the wider North Devon area and beyond.
Learn more about Lineal IT Support for the education sector by clicking here, or call us on 01271 375999.
Lifecycle support for Microsoft’s Exchange Server 2007 email will end in April 2017, Microsoft has confirmed.
Existing email servers will continue to work past this date initially, but will receive no further patching without purchasing ‘custom support’ at an unknown extra cost. Each version of Exchange is predicted to last only around 10 years, with the 2016 edition lasting until 2025.
Exchange 2007 was included as part of Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 which went end of mainstream support last year. With the challenges of ensuring systems are secure, upgrading from SBS 2008 sooner rather than later will be the order of the day for many businesses.
Unfortunately, upgrading old copies of Exchange Server 2007 to Microsoft’s latest version of Exchange Server (2016) may be more challenging than many organisations will expect, as a direct migration is not available.
This forces users to stepping-stone via the 2010 or 2013 versions, a restriction that will be familiar to any business that has tried to upgrade a legacy Windows XP system to Windows 10, who must buy a redundant Windows 7 license just to make the transition.
Lineal can offer consultancy services for upgrade and migration planning in addition to being a certified Microsoft Partner. We specialise in Office 365 and hybrid deployments across the entire Microsoft product set.
Please get in touch to find out how easy and cost effective it can be to move your email to the cloud with Lineal.
Ever wish you could add handwritten notes to documents in Microsoft Office? Now you can – as Microsoft have unlocked the ‘Draw’ tab for Office 365.
The new tools come with a range of pen shapes and bright colours, and have been designed particularly with touchscreens and tablets in mind. Accessible across all Office 2016 documents, spreadsheets, presentations and notes, the ‘Draw’ tab follows the recent releases of Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro. Those with clumsy fingers may prefer to use a stylus.
It’s undoubtedly a pretty and relevant addition to Microsoft’s historically bland Microsoft Office – the simple colour wheel can be used for highlighting text or adding freeform annotations in various ‘ink’ colours.
Behind the new sketchpad fun is some intelligent software, which includes shape recognition that allows users to ‘rough’ draw polygons for conversion to regular shapes for use in diagrams or flowcharts .
With ‘Windows 10.1’ now barely a month old, and the Microsoft operating system already running on over 12 million business PCs, how fares Microsoft’s free updates strategy?
Windows 10.1 update was released with relatively little fanfare (be honest, you didn’t notice) adds features that, understandably with hindsight, might have been a distraction at the main Windows 10 release back in July.
Packaged within were mainly performance and security upgrades – Windows 10.1 will now boot almost 30% faster than an old Windows 7 system on the same device, the Cortana virtual assistant has some new handwriting recognition skills and there are new enterprise tools for mobile devices. Microsoft Edge runs smoother too, offering previews of tabs before viewing and syncing favourites across devices.
Most importantly, after recent corporate data breaches in the news, Microsoft have added a range of new security safeguards. These including ‘Windows Hello’, supporting enterprise grade biometrics including fingerprint and facial recognition – sadly currently only available for US users.
Aside from controversy surrounding user privacy then (if you didn’t notice your Windows 10.1 update, that’s maybe because Microsoft installed it automatically on your device without asking you) the first free update went ahead with relevant additions and limited fuss.
Starting free updates officially moves Microsoft into line with Apple’s OS X business model that has become the industry standard. Yet limited promotion of Windows 10’s ongoing development risks downplaying Microsoft’s progress.
Which would be unfair, because Microsoft is plainly taking extra care to develop the business security of their product range, including the excellent Office365, Microsoft Azure and now Windows 10.1. Microsoft is clearly listening to business’ fears, and businesses should welcome it.
Cyber crime is finally set to become the UK’s most common crime type, following inclusion in the latest crime figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This re-classification comes only days after news headlines emerged that an Eastern European crime group successfully used ‘Dridex’ malware to steal over £20m from UK bank accounts via thousands of infected PCs in the UK.
The 2015 National Strategic Assessment from the National Crime Agency estimates that losses due to cyber crime in the UK now amount to a staggering £16 billion annually. The NCA also asserted that the theft of large amounts of private companies’ data still faces ‘considerable under reporting.’
Nowhere is this more threatening than for those in the financial services industry, where both reputations for reliability and access to funds make IT security of paramount importance, requiring compliance with the strictest procedures for identity validation, network safety and fraud detection.
All businesses need to be prepared for the future, where cyber crime is likely to become more sophisticated and UK companies may be expected to demonstrate greater data protection measures. This week Microsoft promoted it’s Financial Services Compliance program in connection with Office 365 – making assurances (aimed squarely at businesses in the financial sector) of direct access to staff and resources to ensure that Microsoft Office cloud services comply with financial security regulations.
Greater awareness of cyber crime amongst Government figures, the media and the public can only be a good thing, but ultimately it still remains very much up to the individual to ensure their IT systems are secure – before the worst happens.
More than 70% of businesses fail after significant data loss. Lineal can install a range of security measures to safeguard your business IT systems and data – enquire today via: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/
Microsoft Office 2016 is here: the staple of word processing, spreadsheets and presentation work everywhere is now available for single purchase on Windows 10 and Mac OS X.
Office 2016’s apps will look very familiar to existing customers – but Office 2016 is undoubtedly ‘smarter’ than any previous version of Office, with its most impressive new features aimed at boosting productivity for both home and business customers.
Take Microsoft’s new ‘Smart Lookup’ function for example – click a single word in a document and Office will web search that term (via Bing) within the window, allowing instant research.
Cleverly, Office 2016 will even infer from the context of the surrounding paragraph the exact meaning of the word being searched for, preventing irrelevant homonyms clouding your search results. A neat trick certainly, but also an important one for certain sectors – for instance helping children do school work with protection against loading inappropriate search results based on words with double-meanings.
It is a similar case with 2016’s new ‘Tell me’ function. Gone are the clunky help menus or cartoon paperclips – ‘Tell’ Word for a tool like ‘mail merge’ or ‘footnotes’ and the Office 2016 apps will not load search results, but immediately take you to the exact menu and function needed.
The latest version allows for collaborative working (finally catching up with rival Google Drive) with multiple users able to edit documents in real time with a visible tracked changes function, from remote locations if needed. As an added bonus, Office is integrated with Skype, aimed at making the process of collaborative working more easily communicated.
Part of productivity is personal though, so Office 2016 also introduces ‘Office 365 Planner’, an app aimed at time and project management. Even Outlook will attempt to shave a few minutes off your day by linking attachments from cloud-based OneDrive and introducing ‘Clutter’, an automated email filtering service which avoids distractions by pushing less relevant emails into a separate folder, helping you to best utilise your time. Office 2016 knows that time is worth money, and for some may be a very smart investment indeed.
Need advice on software for your business, or help migrating to Microsoft Office 365 services? Lineal can help – contact us today: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/