The Future of Windows?

Microsoft have previewed a new ‘Windows App’, designed to be a centralised hub for hosted Windows desktops.

Currently in preview, the new Windows app is compatible with iOS, macOS, iPadOS, and web browsers, and offers the streaming of multiple Microsoft services via Windows 365, Azure Virtual Desktop, Microsoft Dev Box, and other Remote Desktop Services.

The app also facilitates multiple monitors, custom display resolutions and scaling, as well as device redirection for peripherals such as webcams, storage devices, and printers.

Hinting at a future where Microsoft seeks out new customers independent of their hardware, more like Google’s ChromeOS, the Windows App indicates a push by Microsoft to establish the operating system as a standalone cloud-based service in its own right.

The team responsible – a new ‘Windows and Web Experiences’ Team – have also been tasked with a number of related cloud-centric features, including dynamic search interface, a widgets system, and of course, Copilot AI integration.

For now however, the Windows app exclusively caters to Microsoft’s business accounts, omitting consumer accounts. Despite this there are indications that this may change soon: the app includes a sign-in prompt for personal Microsoft accounts, although this feature remains non-functional.


Windows Server 2012 reaches End of Life: What It Means for Businesses

Windows Server 2012 and R2, will officially reach its end of life on Tuesday 10th October 2023.

Scary. End of life (EOL) means that Microsoft will no longer provide updates, patches, or security fixes for Windows Server 2012 R2. This termination of support poses several challenges and risks to businesses that continue to use this platform past the EOL date.

We explore the ramifications of this for your business and examine how Lineal can play a role in shaping the future of your server infrastructure.

So, what are the issues now facing clients?

Security Risks: Without regular security updates, Windows Server 2012 becomes vulnerable to new and evolving cyber threats. Hackers often target systems running on unsupported software, as they are more likely to find unpatched vulnerabilities to grant unauthorised access to company data. Using server hardware outside of its product lifecycle hinders the ability to detect and respond to security incidents in real-time, increasing the window of vulnerability to cyber threats.

Compliance Issues: Many industries and regulatory bodies require businesses to maintain up-to-date and secure systems. Using an unsupported operating system like Windows Server 2012 can lead to compliance violations under Cyber Essentials and ISO Accreditations. 

How can Lineal resolve them?

  1. Upgrade to a Supported Server: The most straightforward option is to upgrade to a newer and supported Windows Server operating system. Windows Server 2019 or the latest version 2023 offers enhanced security, performance improvements all supported by our technical expert team.
  2. Migrate to the Cloud: Many of our clients are adopting cloud solutions like Microsoft Azure. These offers scalable, secure, and managed server solutions that eliminate the need for on-premises hardware alongside reducing the burden of server maintenance costs through pay-as-you-go and reservations payment models.
  3. Virtualisation: If a full server upgrade is not feasible immediately, consider virtualisation solutions like VMware. These allow you to run Windows Server 2012 in a controlled and isolated environment while planning your migration strategy meaning each virtual server can run its own operating systems independently.

The end of life of Windows Server 2012 signifies the importance of staying current with technology to ensure security, compliance, and compatibility. Our team is ready to assist your business in transitioning away to a more appropriate solution for securing your company’s data.


Copilot is Here

Microsoft Copilot will release to users worldwide from 26th September 2023.

The flagship natural language AI tool that previewed back in March of this year brings ChatGPT functions to a whole range of Microsoft productions including your favourite Microsoft 365 apps, Azure, Bing and into Windows itself.

At a colourful launch event in New York, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella debuted the official release of Copilot and demonstrated ways AI can revolutionise everyday tasks – whether that be writing emails, interpreting or generating images, transcribing handwriting into maths, or intelligently answering questions.

 

Copilot assistance aims to make Microsoft 365 apps including Teams, Word, Excel and more increasingly powerful – with users able to simply request complex data handling tasks rather than manipulating the data manually themselves. For more creative work, Copilot can also generate visual results within longstanding Microsoft apps like Paint.

This presents some fascinating opportunities for companies using the Microsoft 365 suite – common tasks such as ‘Re-write this email more professionally’, ‘Summarise this meeting’ and ‘Make me a set of PowerPoint slides based on this document’ would all be achievable within a few seconds.

Features from the Bing public preview have also made it into the release version – with users able to choose ‘More Creative’ ‘More Balanced’ and ‘More Precise’ language options to give the AI’s output a different tone, and draw on the wider web-based dataset that is previously unknown to the user.

For example, in another impressive example of Copilot using web and user data intelligently, an American user uploads a photo of a UK plug adaptor and asks ‘Will this work in London?’ Copilot is not only able to check based on an understanding of the image, but understands what the user means by ‘work’ and is able to confirm that the plug is the correct choice.

Some interesting guard rails have also been rolled in – Microsoft have previously stated that a firebreak exists between user data and the web dataset used to train the AI, but Copilot can use both to respond to prompts. Images created using the next version of DALL.E will also be crytographically signed as ‘Created by AI’, effectively signing the content as AI-generated.

 

Copilot will soon begin appearing to most users on the Windows toolbar – coinciding with the new upgrade of Windows 11 that is due on 26th September. Within Microsoft 365, Copilot Chat functions will begin appearing in app updates for Enterprise licence customers from 1st November 2023.

 

For Microsoft expertise and support, please contact our team today.


Farewell WordPad

Microsoft have announced the end of WordPad – declaring that the word-processing app will be removed from future versions of Windows.

The difficult middle-child of Microsoft’s three main word-processing apps was originally released for Windows 95, and always sat a little uncomfortably between Microsoft Word (which has remained a heavyweight of the word processing scene) and Notepad (a stripped back, plain-text editor.)

Able to edit rich text for free, but with many features missing, WordPad was beloved by students, techies and other irregular writers who either didn’t have, or couldn’t afford, a licence for Microsoft Word.

The app was offered for free with each new release of Windows as a kind of ‘teaser’ for Word itself – but didn’t support many important features such as footnotes, subscript, tables, numbered lists, indentation and other typesetting options needed for more formal work. For more than decade, it remained many people’s only way to open a Word document, and gave digital access on millions of lower-specification machines across the developing world.

But WordPad itself has not been updated since the ill-fated Windows 8, way back in 2012, and still looks somewhat reminiscent of Office 2007 a decade later. There are also more alternatives in 2023 – with Microsoft Word more affordable than ever as part of Microsoft 365 (both on the web and on the desktop), Google Docs chasing the education market, and free alternatives like Libre Office and Open Office winning over casual users.

Farewell WordPad!


End of an Era for Windows Server 2012

Windows Server 2012 and Server 2012 R2 will be declared end of life (EOL) as of 10th October 2023, after which the operating system will receive no new security updates.

This leaves organisations using Server 2012 with several options:

– Re-license and migrate to a newer operating system if hardware supports it.
– Migrate those server workloads into a cloud platform like Microsoft Azure.
– Replace those server workloads with web-based applications.
– Purchase new server hardware with a supported operating system.
– Purchase specialist Extended Security Updates (ESUs) until 2026.

Which option to choose depends on where a business is their replacement/hardware lifecycle, budgets and changing workplace requirements. For some, a move to a newer version of Windows Server (2016, 2019 or 2022) is still possible, but this isn’t the only option. Don’t forget to check out Lineal’s handy flow chart on what to do when faced with the choice of replacing a server.

How and when to replace servers is a complex question, and businesses increasingly have far more cloud-based and software-as-a-service (SaS) choices available than a decade ago. Bundled services like Microsoft 365 have increasingly replaced the on-premises Exchange server, the file server and more for many small organisations – making the heavy capital investment for a server impractical. In the face of increasing hardware and energy costs, running on onsite server also looks increasingly expensive.

In some ways the end of Server 2012 represents the end of an era – in 2012, server sales were just beginning to recover from the financial crash. A decade on, both PC and small volume server sales look bumpy, while the largest server manufacturers appear to be focusing ever more sales attention on the data centre market – where there is growing appetite for enterprise hardware driven partly by the hosting and increasing consumption of those same cloud services.

For many small businesses in particular, a Server 2012 box may have turned out to be the last on-premises server they would ever purchase.

 

For Technical support and expertise, please contact our team today.


New Microsoft Teams Launches

Microsoft has announced a new Teams experience for Windows, replacing the existing version with a faster, cleaner Teams app.

The new version seeks to dramatically improve user experience, introduces powerful-AI based tools to more users, and addresses performance issues that have crept into Teams since the platform’s astonishing success during the Covid-19 pandemic – which saw rapid adoption by organisations around the world and an explosion of new features.

Microsoft estimates the new communication and collaboration app is now twice as fast, but uses approximately 50% less system memory, completing initial loading in under 10 seconds compared to over 20 seconds in ‘Classic’ Teams in independent benchmarked testing.

Part of that extra speed – in loading, scrolling and searching – has been achieved by tidying many of the extra controls that have been added to teams, simplifying the design for a ‘cleaner’ viewing window. Users who need access to multiple accounts will also find it easier to switch between work environments.

Microsoft are also highlighting the extensive integration of ChatGPT AI tools in the form of Copilot – which debuted for Microsoft 365 a few weeks ago. Within Teams, AI assistance will be able to summarise meetings, write chat or documents on your behalf, and answering questions mid-discussion flow.

new microsoft teams for windows

While we’re not quite convinced about 3D avatars (!) the new Teams can highlight when individuals were speaking, automatically break long meetings into key ‘chapters’ for video review, redesigns Teams channels to feel more like the gathering point they’re intended to be, and use AI mid-chat in a way that has untold potential.

Overall the new design is more visually impressive, with customisation options that are available in public preview now, and available to Microsoft 365 users later in 2023.

 

For Microsoft 365 Expertise and support, please contact our team today.

 


Exchange Emails Face Blocking

Microsoft have announced plans to throttle, and eventually block, emails sent from on-premises and hybrid Microsoft Exchange Servers that remain unpatched.

“Persistently vulnerable” servers will receive incrementally stricter controls, beginning with throttling (delayed delivery) up to and including a complete block beyond 90-days, preventing onward delivery to other Microsoft-based email accounts such as those in Microsoft 365/Exchange Online and Outlook.com.

The dramatic move puts yet another large question mark over organisations relying on on-premises Exchange server hardware. While Exchange 2003, 2007, and 2010 are now rare, Exchange 2016 still remains in surprisingly widespread use, and many copies of Exchange 2019 are not regularly patched against known vulnerabilities.

Extra controls will apply to servers that run on outdated or unsupported software or haven’t been patched against known security bugs – to help Exchange admins identify unpatched or unsupported on-premises Exchange servers, and allowing them a chance to upgrade or patch before they become security risks.

Recent times have seen a string of major vulnerabilities against Exchange server – including by the Chinese hacking group Hafnium.

Even in 2023, A simple Shodan search still shows thousands of Internet-exposed Exchange servers, with many still waiting to be secured against attacks targeting them with ProxyLogon and ProxyShell exploits, two of the most exploited vulnerabilities from 2021.

 

For cyber security advice and expertise, please contact our team today.


Move Over Clippy: Microsoft Previews Copilot

Microsoft has announced a GPT-4 powered AI assistant for the Microsoft 365 Office apps named ‘Copilot’, in an impressive array of preview videos.

Copilot promises to bring OpenAI’s groundbreaking natural language assistant into Word, Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, Teams and more – helping users to write documents automatically with prompts, analyse spreadsheets and more.

Copilot can also use other Office documents as its source material, allowing powerful cross referencing commands such as ‘Make a Presentation based on my notes in Document.docx’, or copy styles based on examples of your other work.

The new tool, announced at Microsoft’s ‘Future of Work’ event in March, follows a string of recent Chat GPT related developments for the tech giant – which Microsoft promises to dramatically cut the time required to produce first-drafts, as well as rapidly cross-reference with data the user doesn’t have to hand.

Within Microsoft Teams, Copilot promises to summarise meetings based on text analysis of the transcript, or even recap for late attendees based on what they have missed.

Unlike the original ChatGPT version 3 preview, Copilot promises to implement some of the advances used in the trial version of Bing – with references and links embedded inside the AI’s responses demonstrating why it chose that answer.

Don’t expect to see Chat GPT 4 doing all your work for you quite yet though – Copilot remains in a trial phase with twenty select Microsoft customers, with the preview set to expand in coming months. (No Clippy, I wasn’t trying to write a letter – Copilot will do it for me.)

 

For Microsoft 365 expertise and support, please contact our team today.


Dangerous New Outlook Exploit Triggers Automatically

Microsoft have acknowledged a critical new zero-day vulnerability with Outlook, that does not require any user interaction with an email to be triggered.

Reported by the Ukrainian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) to Microsoft and graded 9.8/10 on the severity scale according the NIST, the exploit is believed to have already been used by a “Russia-based threat actor” in attacks against European targets across government, transport, energy and military sectors.

The exploit (CVE-2023-23397) abuses the way Microsoft Outlook attempts to follow links in emails to retrieve remote content, even before they’re opened or viewed in the preview pane – allowing a remote attacker’s server to request authentication via an old technology known as NTLM, and automatically receive poorly encrypted username and password details from Outlook. NTLM was officially retired by Microsoft after Exchange 2003, but the technology remains available in current versions.

This is dangerous because with a username, password and corresponding email address, hackers have effectively completed a credential theft without any interaction from the end user. Many users use their email account as a single-sign on for other applications, putting numerous other services at risk.

CVE-2023-23397 is not yet fully documented however Microsoft believe the vulnerability occurs “when an attacker sends a message with an extended MAPI property with a UNC path to an SMB (TCP 445) share on a threat-actor controlled server. No interaction is required.” Once a connection is made, the server sends the user a new technology LAN manager (NTLM) negotiation message which is relayed for authentication – none of which requires the user to even view the email itself.

The exploit affects only the Microsoft Windows version of the Outlook Desktop client. Outlook for Mac, the Outlook Web & Mobile Apps (as well as Outlook.com) are not affected – since these do not support NTLM authentication. Estimates vary but Outlook is said to be used by over 400 million users worldwide, in its various forms.

System administrators are advised to urgently patch with the latest Outlook updates from Microsoft within 24 hours.

Where this is not possible, system administrators are advised to add users to the Protected Users Security Group (blocking NTLM), or Block TCP 445/SMB outbound from network firewalls or via VPN settings, cutting off any NTLM authentication messages at the perimeter of your network. In both cases, Microsoft warn this may affect other services from working correctly.

 

For Cyber Security expertise and support, please contact Lineal’s Cyber Security Team today.


Farewell to Windows 7/8

Extended Support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 officially ends as of January 2023.

The older operating systems will no longer receive any security patches or technical updates from Microsoft, which poses a compliance risk to businesses and organisations.

Mainstream support for Windows 7 originally ended in early 2020, although some Enterprise users could choose to purchase an ‘Extended Security Update’ (ESU) program for an additional three years.

Ever since then, Microsoft has regularly urged users to upgrade to Windows 10, and later Windows 11 on PCs with TPM security built into their chipset.

Windows 7 was originally released in 2009 and became an overnight success, selling over 100 million copies within six months. As of September 2022, a staggering 11% of traditional PCs are somehow still estimated to be running Windows 7 globally.

Windows 8 suffered a more checkered history: originally developed with a touchscreen-friendly tile display designed to be similar across PCs, tablets and the ill-fated Windows Mobile – many users found the new user interface confusing, continuing the mysterious curse of alternate-versions of Windows being a flop.

Microsoft Edge 109 will also be the last version of the web browser that will be considered supported for Windows 7 and 8, with a similar change expected from Google within Google Chrome.

Now the World officially waves goodbye to Windows 7/8.1, and any users still stuck on the old versions are faced with the choice of either purchasing a licensing upgrade for their old PC if their hardware permits it, or replacing their device entirely with a newer Windows 10/11-based model.

 

For Operating System expertise and support, please contact our team today.


What’s New in Microsoft Teams?

As a New Year dawns, we check out some of the best new features that have been quietly added to recent Microsoft Teams updates ready for 2023.

 

Scheduled Send

One of the very best features of Microsoft Outlook now comes to Teams, with the addition of ‘Scheduled Send’ on messages – allowing a participant to drop a message into a chat or channel at a later time if they choose – perfect for coordinating across time zones or just getting ahead of the curve.

Teams also now supports quick-send video/audio note messaging much like many popular personal messaging apps, with audio note already available to send from the Teams mobile app.

teams schedule sending

 

Live Translation of Captions

This one has to be seen to be believed, but Microsoft Teams can now filter auto-generated captions through Azure Cognitive Services and translate these live on screen while the end user is speaking – a fantastic feature for organisations and businesses working internationally.

Real-time translation is currently available to trial across 40 spoken languages, although Microsoft have confirmed this will require Teams Premium licensing in the near future.

 

Instant Polls

Unlike most 3rd-party poll question apps, 1-click Instant polls can now be created and launched within a Teams meeting – allowing your attendees to respond to a simple binary choice easily.

The poll creator can also choose whether or not each vote is anonymous, and whether the results are shared with other attendees within the meeting.

teams instant poll

 

Video goes 7×7

Teams Meetings previously supported a maximum of 9 video displays (3×3) on one screen, with users forced to choose a ‘Large Gallery View’ to access more. Now that limit has been raised to 49 (!) videos (7×7), allowing for some truly massive meetings!

 

Search Conversation History

A particular favourite of ours: Teams Search now returns the user to part of an entire conversation, not just the searched-for message itself.

This helps you revisit old conversations much more easily, without endless scrolling or loading, and finally means Chats can be a valid replacement for mountains of internal email.

 

Popout Shared Content

With an additional button, shared content in meetings can now be moved to a satellite pop-out window (much like chats) that can be moved freely like another window.

This handy addition becomes especially useful where you have secondary or tertiary displays in a conference room, and need to place certain windows on specific screens.

 

Emoji’s Go Wild!

Reactions were always a useful way to acknowledge or respond to a message from a colleague, but the reaction function has been expanded beyond the Facebook-style menu of emotions to incorporate all available emojis. Users can now effectively save their favourites, for a handy go-to reaction that fits their personality.

emoji reactions teams

 

Suggested Replies

Microsoft Teams now also uses AI to take a stab at what your likely reply is going to be, and offers it up as a quick-response button.

Not entirely accurate but certainly interesting, this becomes more useful where simple responses like ‘Yes’ or ’No’ are needed from a mobile Teams user, for whom typing might be inconvenient.

 

@dditional People

Using the @function now adds people into Chat’s directly (with a prompt for sharing conversation history), saving the need to add people manually. Handy!

 

More to come….

Microsoft have also teased a refresh of Teams Channels, including a new ‘top-down’ format and increased branding, which brings them closer into line with both SharePoint Online and a number of popular social media apps such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Check it out below!

 

 

For Microsoft 365 expertise and support, please contact our team today.


Microsoft Places Debuted

Microsoft has announced a new app designed to make it easier to coordinate remote-working and in-office staff.

Dubbed Microsoft Places, the app includes a number of features such as hybrid scheduling, intelligent booking, hot-desk reservation and way finding designed to support companies working in a more flexible way, where staff might only attend the office in person a few days each week.

Hybrid scheduling makes it easy for employees to signal to each other when they plan to work from home or the office, and this allows Microsoft Places to make intelligent recommendations about the best times to speak with people in person. The aim here is to avoid what has been dubbed ‘commute regret’ – visiting the office only to discover the person you need to see is working from home.

With many companies using less office space and more hot-desking arrangements, hot-desk booking allows users to visually map themselves onto a floorpan, picking the best space for their work or coordinating time with colleagues.

Wayfinding has been designed to help colleagues who might attend offices infrequently – guiding them to meeting rooms from their mobile and generally making it easier for companies to adopt shared work spaces.

Alongside the monitoring tools already rolled out to Teams & Viva, Microsoft Places also adds an extra reporting layer that helps companies monitor home and remote working trends, and make recommendations based on those insights.

 

For Microsoft expertise and IT Support, please contact our team today.


Macro Misadventure Minimised

Microsoft have altered how macros activate in Microsoft Office files, in an effort to improve users’ cyber security.

Macros, which allow office files to run sequences of commands, can be used to automate simple tasks – but also maliciously by hackers as a mechanism of attack.

Macro-based hacks have been around since the late 1990s, but remain surprisingly effective. Users are commonly asked to open unexpected email attachment and authorise the macro to see its mystery contents, allowing the macro to introduce malware onto the system. In effect, users authorise the hack themselves.

Instead of the old yellow ‘Security Warning’ labelled with an instant ‘Enable Content’ button users previously saw when using Microsoft Office applications, files will now prompt with a red ‘Learn More’ button, and users will be forced to see guidance on using macros securely, before being able to enable the content.

 

macro warning


macro warning

 

This small move – which was originally rolled out, rolled back, and then rolled out again – has been part of a slow clampdown on macros that has lasted more than two decades. Over the years macro functionality has steadily had more restrictions applied – in 2003 IT admins could require macros to have a trusted certificate (more like software applications) and as of 2013, could block macros by default.

But Microsoft hopes this simple firebreak will nudge us to think twice, and stop (potentially millions) of people from endangering themselves and their technology with a click.

Human nature continues to catch out many users curious about mystery documents – particularly since only a small fraction of Microsoft Office users are even aware of Microsoft 365’s powerful automation features.

 

For IT support and expertise, please contact our team today.


Apple, Google and Microsoft Agree Passwordless Future

Three major tech providers have agreed to introduce support for passkey-based login, in line with recommendations of the FIDO Alliance.

Passkeys have been proposed as one of the possible futures for the death of passwords, and would be freshly generated with each biometric login to a registered device to help prevent password-theft.

In future Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Apple’s Safari will all facilitate passwordless login as an option – and major tech providers will offer passkey login for important online services including Active Directory and Azure.

Microsoft estimate that around 330,000 people have removed their password from their Microsoft Account in the last six months – with most using Microsoft Authenticator as a kind of passkey instead.

‘Hackers don’t break in, they log in’ is an often repeated mantra among cybersecurity professionals – reflecting the fact that most online accounts are breached via a normal login attempt, but with stolen credentials.

The FIDO alliance is the the online movement to replace password authentication entirely with single-use passkeys – although the organisation admits there are barriers to entry, including organisations’ cost to develop their own versions of the technology, an unfamiliar user experience, and the reluctance to ‘go first’.

It is hoped that with major tech providers building passkey support into their browsers, many more developers will be able to adopt the new standard to help keep users secure.

 

For Cybersecurity expertise and support, please contact our team today.


New Security Features in Windows 11

Microsoft have announced a raft of new security features for Windows 11 – aimed squarely at the new trend of hybrid working.

With millions of users working remotely post-Covid, the enhancements largely focus on hardware security and identity protection, as end-user devices access ever more cloud-resources from a broader range of working environments.

 

Microsoft Pluton

‘Microsoft Pluton’ is the name of a new security processor integrated into CPUs on devices shipping with the new operating system – an App Control feature designed to prevent untrusted apps from running, block the theft of user credentials, and counter dangers from outdated drivers.

As we’ve noted before, Pluton (like Windows 11 itself) also relies upon Trusted Platform Module (TPM) technology to fire up a PC securely – but some TPM chips remain vulnerable to encryption keys being intercepted between components. Pluton devices are expected to close off that weakness, preventing this kind of hardware attack.

 

Smart App Control

As many predicted, Application Management begins taking centre-stage in 2022, as bigger organisations seek to prevent users introducing rogue software into their IT infrastructure (or worse, introducing it back into the company network themselves.)

Smart App Control blocks unsigned or suspicious apps at the OS level, and will receive regular updates daily.

However – it’s worth noting this core feature only applies to newly shipped devices – so even those who adopted Windows 11 early would have to complete a full operating system reinstall to ensure Smart App is live.

 

Microsoft Defender SmartScreen

SmartScreen helps protect identity by alerting the user if they’ve begun interacting with a known malicious application, fake or hacked website – with the added advantage that the safeguard is pre-installed for all users.

Microsoft are keen to demonstrate SmartScreen’s record of success elsewhere – blocking nearly 26 billion brute force attacks on Microsoft Azure Active Directory, and nearly 36 billion phishing emails that were intercepted by Microsoft 365, last year alone.

 

Credential Guard

Another ‘by default’ upgrade – Credential Guard isolates really important system secrets in a way that is designed to stop ‘pass the hash’ style attacks where a hacker is able to use the encrypted version of a password to gain entry, and (Microsoft claim) can even prevent malicious applications that have somehow obtained Admin-user privileges on their device from accessing those secrets.

 

You can discover the full list of the security enhancements coming to Windows 11 here.


Microsoft calls time on Windows 7/8 OneDrive

Microsoft have announced that OneDrive Personal will cease to synchronise on Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 from 1st March 2022.

Beyond this date, data saved to the OneDrive desktop app will not be saved to the user’s online Microsoft 365 account. Instead the user must either upload files via their account on the web through their browser, or upgrade their hardware to Windows 10/11.

Business-licensed users will still be able to synchronise OneDrive files until Windows 7 extended support finally ends in January 2023, although time is clearly ticking for business users of the popular file storage app who remain on older operating systems.

The hugely successful Windows 7 reached ‘End of Life’ (the end of official support) as of January 2020, but remains in surprisingly widespread use. Despite the free release of Windows 10 and 11 over the past decade, Windows 7 alone still has millions of PC users remaining – approximately 14% of the global market.

Keen observers will note that with the business version still running (for now) there’s likely no overriding technical reason the Personal version must cease, but that OneDrive itself sits at the centre of Microsoft’s hugely popular suite of Office apps – and that announcements like this are one of the few remaining ways Microsoft can clearly signal the need to upgrade decade-old hardware that may have security vulnerabilities.

Lineal are a certified Microsoft Gold Partner. For IT support and expertise, please contact our team today.


How to prepare for Windows 11

Windows 11 is due to be released officially on 5th October 2021 – the first major version upgrade since Windows 10 was released in 2015.

As with Windows 10, PC users will be able to begin downloading the new version from this date, and new PCs will begin shipping with Windows 11 pre-installed.

If the thought of your PC changing fills you with dread – never fear! Here’s how you prepare:

 

See a preview

The first thing most users will notice is the visual improvement – Windows 11 features a ‘new design’ which forms the backbone of the update in an effort to make PC screens feel more user-friendly, calming and interact better with natural light.

 

Check Minimum Specifications

The following list summarises the published minimum specifications required to install and operate the new upcoming version:

Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
RAM: 4 gigabyte (GB)
Storage: 64 GB or larger storage device
System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
TPM: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0
Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
Display: High definition (720p) display that is greater than 9” diagonally, 8 bits per colour channel
Internet connection and Microsoft accounts: Windows 11 Home edition requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use.

Switching a device out of Windows 11 Home in S mode also requires internet connectivity. For all Windows 11 editions, internet access is required to perform updates and to download and take advantage of some features. A Microsoft account is required for some features.

Microsoft’s full specifications for Windows 11 can be found here.

 

Things to Expect

The following Windows 10 features are all due to disappear on the new version, in some cases being disabled, replaced by newer apps or available only via manual re-download from the Windows store on new installs:

– Internet Explorer
– Windows S Mode (Home Edition Only)
– Skype (Personal), 3D Viewer, Paint 3D and ‘OneNote for Windows 10’
– Start Menu Groups
– Taskbar Moving
– Tablet Mode
– Timeline

Cortana will also be relegated to the Start Menu – no longer used during setup and not automatically pinned to the taskbar.

 

Make a Backup / Create a Recovery Drive

Major (or even minor) Windows version upgrades are not without pitfalls as we’ve seen in recent years, so it’s worth checking that you have a full backup of your device prior to leaping into the unknown.

Synchronised copies of files in Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox are always a plus, although for rapid restoration it’s also helpful to make a manual, local backup to a portable hard-drive that will be more quickly restorable if your subsequent upgrade doesn’t go to plan.

For the extra precaution of a route ‘back’ to Windows 10 if you discover a major compatibility issue, it’s important to make a recovery drive using a USB device.

 

Test the Beta

For power users, a beta version (Preview Build 22000.160) is available to test for those who register with the Microsoft Insider program.

 

For IT Support & Technical Expertise, please contact our team today.


Lineal Takes On Capture the Flag SysAdmin Challenge

An intrepid group of Lineal IT engineers are each competing in a capture the flag (CTF) event designed to sharpen the skills of Systems Administrators.

Points are awarded by completing a number of investigative technical challenges across Hyper-V, Microsoft Azure and 365 – capturing a ‘flag’, or important string of text, which credits the player’s score.

Designed to test System Administration and IT engineering skills, one thousand contestants are taking part in the ongoing July event, organised by CyberDrain, and supported by judges from Managed IT Service Provider association CyberGeek.

There are forty flag-capture challenges being attempted by (overwhelmingly) IT engineers around the world – spanning server and client, Azure, Linux and Microsoft 365 management.

Challenges must be completed independently, and the scoreboard is updated as individuals compete for first place. Contestants are encouraged to tackle more difficult challenges to win prizes, and find creative alternative solutions to capturing flags – although hacking is strictly prohibited!

The capture the flag competition is sponsored by a number of leading IT, communications and cybersecurity providers, including Microsoft, Datto and Huntress.

Good luck to all those taking part!

 

For IT Support and technical expertise – please contact us today.


Windows 11: everything you need to know about Microsoft’s latest OS

Windows’ latest operating system offering was unveiled today at their virtual event, boasting the arrival of the “next generation of Windows”.

The announcement comes somewhat of a shock to the tech world who were told that Windows 10 would be the final version of the Windows OS with over 1.3 billion user devices.

However due to the rapidly changing, hybrid working environment emerging from the pandemic and the announcement that Windows 10 would no longer receive extended support past 2025, it appears that Microsoft are updating the OS platform to incorporate the working from home demands from its users.

Microsoft CEO Natya Sadella agreed saying “We need to be empowered to choose the applications we run, the content we consume, the people we connect to, and even how we allocate our own attention”. He further stated that “operating systems and devices should mould to our needs, not the other way around.”

New centralised task bar interface layout in night mode

These demands are being met with features such as tighter integration with Microsoft Teams directly into the centralised task bar (a significant shift away from the attachments to Skype) and the blending of the Xbox Series X’s Auto HDR graphical enhancements along with Xbox Games Pass; both come pre-installed.

The focus of Windows 11 revolves around the simplification of the standard Windows user interface whilst increasing performance and multitasking functionality. Microsoft executive, Panos Panay revealed that Windows 11 Updates are 40% smaller that its OS predecessors and gone are the days of work being interrupted by Windows Updates as they now are downloaded and installed without the need for system shutdown.

Snap Layouts for compartmentalisation of multiple screens

Additionally, the new ‘Snap Layouts’ promote easier movement of apps to defined compartments of the screen for easier multitasking and the OS will remember collections of apps open on external monitors when the PC/Laptop is unplugged thanks to ‘Snap Groups’ – mirroring certain characteristics of the cancelled, dual screen Windows 10X project.

A further major change comes as part of the Microsoft Store which, through Microsoft’s partnership with Intel and Amazon, now allows developers to distribute their apps through the Microsoft Store without sharing revenue and Windows systems will be able to support Android apps using the Amazon AppStore. Developers can even use their own payment systems within the Microsoft Store.

Before today’s virtual launch, a first build of the OS was leaked allowing for a quick glimpse of the evolved ‘Sun Valley’ interface – with a Start Menu in the centre of the main task bar with a return of Windows Widgets in the form of an AI-powered personalised feed. Widget types include a news feed, maps and weather. This evolution of Widgets signals the quiet removal of the controversial Live Tiles introduced with Windows 8.

Windows 11 will be available as a free update to existing Windows 10 users requiring 64 GBs of storage and 4GBs of RAM, but only for ‘eligible PCs’ – those with two or more cores and a clock speed of 1GHz or higher.

A preview early test version of the new system will be released for app developers as part of the Windows Insider beta testing programme in the beginning of July 2021. A public access version is expected to be made available in October 2021 without new hardware speculated to be released alongside.

 


The Virtual Mirage of Microsoft Mesh

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


Final Month for Edge Legacy Browser

Support for Microsoft Edge Legacy will officially end on 9th March 2021, and the web browser will not receive any further security updates, Microsoft have announced.

The next Windows 10 monthly update, due 13th April, will automatically include the new (Chromium-based) Microsoft Edge and replace the legacy version automatically.

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.


Microsoft cautions against SMS 2FA

Microsoft have announced they will direct users away from SMS 2FA (‘text-based’ two-factor authentication) for security reasons.

Instead, the company will promote multi-factor authentication methods they consider to be more secure – including biometrics and secure authentication apps such as Microsoft Authenticator – for logging into Microsoft services such as Microsoft 365 and Azure.

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.

We’ve talked before about the often-predicted ‘death of passwords’ – and possible scenarios for their phasing out, but in recent years a number of big tech firms, including Apple, Google and Microsoft have all suggested their long-term plans that seek to replace passwords with biometric or other forms of login.

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.


October 2020 Windows Update – What’s New?

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.


Make Microsoft Teams your Phone System

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.

teams phones

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.

teams phone system licensing

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.

Gamma, whose popular Horizon system operates nearly half a million UK business phone seats, are also giving every sign that Teams Direct Routing will also be the more cost-effective choice when compared to Microsoft’s own call plans.

Teams Direct Routing is likely to prove an extremely popular choice for companies seeking to modernise, and ‘get the most’ out of Teams. Take our advice: this one is going to be big.

 

For more information on Microsoft 365 and Teams, click here.

For more information on Microsoft 365 licensing, click here.

For more information on how Microsoft Teams can be deployed as a full phone system, please contact our team today.


Microsoft launching new Teams features

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.

teams dashboard 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.


The Ultimate Guide to Microsoft Teams

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 its all new to you, or you’re working from home for the first time – never fear! Lineal have assembled 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. 

 

The Basics 

teams quickstart

Intermediate 

teams training

Experienced 

 

Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for expertise and support, please contact our team today.


Review: Microsoft Edge 2020

‘It’s time to expect more’ declares Microsoft upon the release of Microsoft Edge – a double-edged tagline if there ever was one.

Pity poor Edge. Since Internet Explorer was re-branded in 2015, take-up has not been enthusiastic. Like Internet Explorer, Edge suffered from the image of being the beige option among more exciting browsers, and never regained the kind of 95% market domination IE enjoyed in the early 2000s, before Microsoft was required by US anti-trust law to offer Windows users their choice of default browser.

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?

 

edge on different devices

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.

edge immersive reader

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.

edge browser

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.


Free Charity Microsoft 365 for Nonprofits

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.”

Interested in this offer for your organisation? Please click here.

 

Lineal are a trusted Microsoft Gold Partner, click here to learn more about Microsoft Office 365 cloud working.


Microsoft Previews Light Theme for May 2019 Update

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 Nears Retirement

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.


Microsoft Previews New Office 365 Design

Microsoft have released previews of a new Office 365 design theme with updated visuals.

Debuted via a glossy reveal trailer, the new icon set for Word, Excel, Powerpoint and other Microsoft Office favourites have been revised with a lower-contrast ’stained glass’ style design.

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.

Free trials of Microsoft Office 365 (up to 25-users) are available for businesses and organisations via certified Gold partners, such as Lineal.


Microsoft Re-releases October Windows 10 Update

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.


Microsoft announce end of support for Windows Server 2008

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.


New Surface Go launched by Microsoft

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 Submerge Underwater Datacentre

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.

Conventional land-based datacentres (such as those used to deliver Microsoft’s Office 365 and Azure services) require high electricity usage and infrastructure to spin fans for air-cooling. Without efforts at carbon off-setting currently used by Microsoft, this would carry significant environmental cost – creating an incentive to ‘heat sink’ the technology underwater.

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.


$100,000 top prize pledged for 2018 Imagine Cup

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 Roadmap Released

Microsoft have announced their plans for combining Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams, setting out how the two communications platforms will merge in a new Microsoft Teams roadmap.

As Lineal predicted just a few weeks ago, Microsoft will indeed align the two apps under one heading, named Microsoft Teams, from Summer 2018.

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.

Consistent across Windows and Mac client versions, on mobile and in the cloud – the new teams roadmap details ‘Messaging’, ‘Meeting’ and ‘Calling’ changes to the app for Q4 2017 through to Q4 of 2018.

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?

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.

teams

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


What is Microsoft Azure? A Beginner’s Guide

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.)

azure datacentre map

 

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.

Users can check the live status of every process on 29 data centres globally via an online dashboard, which refreshes its table of successfully ‘available’ uptime ticks every minute.

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


Farewell Microsoft Paint. We’ll Miss You.

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.

Farewell Paint, we’ll miss you.

 

Lineal are Microsoft Gold Partners – for Windows help and support, please get in touch with our team.


Microsoft Forms Previews to Business Clients

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.


New Microsoft Surface range coming to UK

New Surface range devices, including Surface Laptop and Surface Studio, will be available to UK customers very soon according to a recent announcement from Microsoft.

The company’s pledge to make the premium devices available in 17 new countries comes with the announcement of the new Surface Laptop, completing the range of high-end touchscreen with both detachable and non-detachable options.

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.


Lineal reviews Skype for Business

reviews skype

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.

 

For unified communications support and expertise: contact our team today.


Microsoft Surface Studio might be the Coolest PC ever

Microsoft Surface Studio

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.

Surface, Microsoft’s enterprise range a tablet/laptop hybrids, have become one of their most successful brands with revenues rising 38% in the company’s recent earnings report. 

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.

Lineal are certified Microsoft Gold Partners: for advice, contact us today.


Microsoft opens new UK Data Centres

UK data centres –

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 achieves Gold Microsoft Partner Status

Microsoft Partner

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.”

The award is Lineal’s latest achievement following a string of Silver Microsoft awards, including Silver Authorised Education Partner (AEP), Silver Midmarket Solution provider, Silver Application Integration and Silver Hosting.

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

 


Get Windows 10: How to upgrade your PC

Get Windows 10

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.

Get Windows 10

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


Microsoft ‘trick’ schedules automatic Windows 10 upgrade

automatic windows 10 upgrade

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.”

This is likely to catch out many users who have ignored the ‘GWX app’ so far, who until recently would have used the close button as their only way to close the updater and avoiding an automatic Windows 10 upgrade. Once upgraded by mistake, PC users must use Microsoft’s rollback service to return to Windows 7 or 8.1.

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.

For Windows IT support and expertise, contact Lineal today.


One in four PCs running outdated versions of Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer

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]


Lineal becomes Microsoft Authorised Education Partner

Microsoft Authorised Education Partner

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.”

“Our experienced IT support team take their responsibilities towards schools and IT users in the classroom very seriously, delivering cost-effective, tailored IT services with great professionalism. We’ll also be working hard to make Lineal a Microsoft Gold Partner in the very near future!”

“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.


Exchange Server 2007 support to end in 2017

Exchange Server 2007

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.

The best alternative solution for many will be to abandon their on-site Exchange Server entirely and take the option with a much smoother transition: instruct a Microsoft partner to seamlessly migrate their email to Microsoft’s excellent Office 365 cloud offering.

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.

 


Touchpad draw ‘Ink’ added to Office 365

 

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 .

The possibilities for working collaboratively, marking homework, sketching designs, reviewing reports or simply saving paper are endless and enjoyable – and show just how practical Office 365 has already become.

 

Explore Office 365 with Lineal today: click here or call 01271 375999


The Windows 10 update you didn’t notice

 

Windows 10.1 updates security

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.

 

For help and support with Microsoft enterprise IT, contact Lineal today.


Cyber Crime hits the headlines

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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.

Cyber criminals are increasingly mounting more organised attacks on businesses, small and large – last year even U.S banking giant J.P Morgan suffered unfortunate press and a sudden plunge in its share price when digital thieves stole the personal information and contact details of more than 76 million customers.

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/

 

More from Lineal News

Flickr: GotCredit

Smarter working: why you need Office 2016

10.-Office-365-Planner-Charts-View

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/