The Haunting of ‘PrintNightmare’ – Windows patches released

Microsoft have delivered emergency out-of-band patches for the PrintNightmare zero day print spooler vulnerability with more on the horizon.

The bug, CVE-2021-34527, is existent in all versions of Windows and exploits a remote code execution vulnerability where the Windows Print Spooler service improperly performs privileged file operations.

This vulnerability means that a cyber attacker could run arbitrary code leading to instilling programs; view, change or delete data and even go so far as to create new accounts with full user system rights for exploitative purposes on the system.

A cautionary Microsoft statement released outlined the situation with “the security updates released on and after July 6, 2021 contain protections for CVE-2021-1675 and the additional remote code execution exploit in the Windows Print Spooler service known as ‘PrintNightmare’, documented in CVE-2021-34527.”

Patches released are available for Windows Server 2019, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2008, Windows 8.1, Windows RT 8.1, a variety of supported versions of Windows 10 and the no longer supported Windows 7.

However, Microsoft announced that security updates are not currently available for Windows 10 version 1607, Windows Server 2012 or 2016 and urges prompt installation of its patches to deter any attacks via the domain controller when made available in due course. Microsoft also offer workarounds to those unable to download the July patches including the shutting down of the Print Spooler Service and the disabling of inbound remote printing through group policy.

The proof of concept (PoC) was accidentally released by Chinese technology group Sangfor on GitHub, but was cloned and cached before the researchers realised their mistake and took down the PoC. The group were under the impression that the exploit had already been patched as part of Microsoft’s CVE-2021-1675 patch – a patch that Microsoft confirmed was distinct about a different attack vector and vulnerability issue associated with RpcAddPrinterEx.

The situation is continually updating and the latest news on Windows patch releases can be found here.


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.

 


Microsoft Teams now has over 145 million daily users

Microsoft, continuing the trend of growth in online communications during the COVID-19 pandemic, has informed on social media that their telecommunications app Microsoft Teams now has over 145 million daily users.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Microsoft Teams amassed an estimated 32 million daily active users – with an increase to 75 million users as the reliance on digital tools from the need to work at home dramatically amplified.

The figure is estimated to be about a 26% growth since October 2020 where there was an average of 115 million active users daily. This rapid growth in users has been paralleled with the expansion and inclusion of new features to the telecommunications app including the continual development of Teams Connect which allows the user to share channels with anyone internally or externally to their organisation, virtual meeting whiteboards and background effects for working at home environments; to name a few.

In relation to its competitors, Zoom revealed they had 300 million daily participants and Google Meet displayed 100 million daily participants. It must be noted that both these apps do not record daily users individually, but rather daily participants which implies that a single user could be logged several times if they attend multiple meetings during one given day. However, all these apps have undoubtedly experienced a rapid upsurge in user counts throughout 2020 and 2021 regardless of their user calculation systems.

CEO Natya Sadella states that the “digital adoption curves aren’t slowing down. They’re accelerating and it’s just the beginning”.

Future plans for feature incorporation into Teams include the interoperability with the new Microsoft Mesh, powered by Azure, which promises to be the office meeting’s digital leap into mixed reality technology combining both the physical and virtual world into one shared interactive environment.

For the Teams app itself, Microsoft has promised a host of new capabilities including end to end user encryption for one-on-one voice calls, ability to lock meetings to prevent unauthorised guests from attending and business branded lobbies where admins will be able to add custom logos to their Teams experience.


32,000 Microsoft Exchange servers still at risk from Hafnium cyber breaches

Microsoft has announced that up to 92% of all stand-alone Exchange servers have been patched, following a mass data breach by Chinese state-sponsored Hafnium cybercrime group.

A mass attack on zero-day Exchange servers through four security vulnerabilities was identified and exploited by Hafnium in early March. Those with at risk servers, according to Microsoft VP Tom Burt, are recognised as 400,000 on-premise Exchange servers belonging to multiple government and corporate data centres including defence contractors, schools and other entities globally.

Consequently, the ProxyLogon security fixes released on 2nd March have mitigated this number significantly with 92% of Exchange servers now protected under the new patches. Nevertheless, Microsoft states that around 32,000 servers remained unpatched and vulnerable to Hafnium cybercrime including theft of confidential sensitive data together with installation of ransomware and ‘corrupted web shells’, such as China Chopper, allowing unrestricted external access to the unpatched Exchange servers.

These security fixes are in conjunction with Microsoft’s Exchange on-premises mitigation tool (EOMT) which installs defender scripts and dependency downloads whilst automatically running the Safety Scanner; troubleshooting any identified problems on the Exchange servers.

However, the patches do not protect servers that have already been compromised from further exploitation, therefore Microsoft has advised that organisations administrators scan their stand-alone networks for potentially installed malicious software and scripts in addition to the scans of EOMT.

The attacks themselves have raised questions over the security maintenance of in-house email servers and adds weight to the growing adoption of cloud-based internet email.


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


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.


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


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.


Lineal Becomes a Triple Gold Microsoft Partner

Lineal Software Solutions have become a Triple Gold Microsoft Partner, after having been awarded a third Microsoft Gold competency.

Our IT team was formerly awarded Microsoft’s Gold ‘Windows and Devices’ certification by Microsoft’s Partner Centre earlier this week.

“We were thrilled to qualify as one of the South West’s few Microsoft Gold Partners back in 2016” explained Head of Technical Services Matt Norris, “but for our team to show sufficient expertise and skill to obtain three Gold competencies is a truly groundbreaking achievement.”

The additional gold certification is added to Lineal’s existing double-status, ‘Gold Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions’ and ‘Gold Hosting’, in addition to ‘Silver Application Integration.’

To achieve the additional gold certification, several members of Lineal’s team were required to pass a series of challenging exams demonstrating a high level of knowledge in larger scale Windows device roll-outs, and ongoing device management best practice.

“Lineal greatly value staff training and development, for the invaluable extra skills Triple Gold Microsoft Partner know-how delivers to our IT support helpdesk. Our clients can be confident that a Lineal engineer will have excellent Microsoft system knowledge when resolving technical queries and assisting with longer-term IT strategy..

“Well done to our IT support team for all their hard work.”

Triple Gold Microsoft Partner

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


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


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 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


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/

 


Windows 10 – Surviving your first two weeks

windows10desktop

 

Microsoft’s Windows 10 has been available to home PC users for more than two weeks now – but as more users get chance to test its features, how has the new operating system fared against the initial scrutiny of the news cycle?

With more than 67m devices now running Windows 10, some horror stories have already graced the internet post-migration. Not everyone has had an easy upgrade, with some users reporting touchpad or connectivity problems. Windows 10’s propensity to slideshow images, pulled from users’ ‘My Pictures’ Folder into the start menu, has caused the obvious hilarity. Some unfortunate early adopters found their PC displaying adult content from deep in their personal files played in an embarrassing slideshow.

The most widespread complaint though has been Microsoft’s new ‘Wi-Fi Sense’ feature. WiFi Sense by default allows your contacts and Skype friends shared access to your Wi-Fi network credentials without handing over a password. This has prompted serious security and privacy concerns.

The fuss here is not entirely without basis, with the tech community correctly noticing that even if Wi-Fi Sense doesn’t share access from your immediate friend on to a third party, in reality your immediate friend may share access to your network to a third party via their own Wi-Fi Sense if your friend has obtained the password first hand – either from you or via a written source.

Users merely need to turn off Wi-Fi Sense, but it’s important that those making the upgrade are aware of the need to make a decision over protecting their own network security.

Overall though, these problems are a shadow of the grief that Windows 8 gave Microsoft, and here at Lineal we’ve generally been impressed by the transition – the majority of our customers who have wanted to upgrade to the new operating system have done so without incident. The removal of Windows 8 style full-page apps, the introduction of the new Edge browser and the welcome return of the Start Menu have all been greeted warmly by a worldwide user base that has clearly felt listened too.

Most importantly, because some internet stories have reported lost files after upgrade, the golden rule still stands – if you have important data, always make sure this is backed up elsewhere, just in case.

If you’d like advice and support upgrading your systems – why not click here to see what Lineal could offer your business: http://www.lineal.co.uk/systems/