US recommends Windows users patch against worm vulnerability

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Microsoft Windows users who haven’t patched their OS (or are using an unsupported version) are at risk of attackers exploiting a vulnerability known as BlueKeep. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Homeland Security’s lead cybersecurity agency, said it successfully tested a working exploit for the BlueKeep vulnerability. Specifically, the agency was able to remotely run code on a Windows 2000 computer using BlueKeep, it stated in an advisory. The bug effects computers that are running Windows 7 or earlier (as well as Windows Server 2003 and 2008), and gives potential attackers access through Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services.

The BlueKeep vulnerability is “wormable”, meaning an attacker only has to gain access to one computer in order to gain control of all the other devices on its network. Microsoft already issued patches for the bug last month, but private security firm Errata estimated that millions of devices still remain vulnerable. While an attacker has yet to take advantage of the bug, doing so could easily lead to a repeat of 2017’s WannaCry malware outbreak that impacted systems worldwide, including Britain’s NHS, Honda and FedEx.

CISA is asking users of older Microsoft systems to install the available security updates. Microsoft has even released patches for operating systems that are no longer officially supported, including Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003. If you’re a regular end-user running Windows 7 or older, you’re likely better off upgrading to a newer version of Microsoft for added security.

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Xbox Game Pass players on PC won't need Xbox Live Gold for online games

Image: ESPAT Media / Contributor / getty images

Five words a reporter never wants to hear during an interview: “That’s a really good question.”

It’s something I was told multiple times during a chat at E3 2019 with Liz Hamren, Corporate Vice President of Gaming Experiences and Platforms at Microsoft; and Jason Beaumont, program manager for Xbox Game Pass. I always appreciate the ego boost, but “That’s a really good question” is often code for “I need a minute to properly frame the non-answer I’m about to offer you.” Either that, or “Let’s move on.”

In this case, the question related to Xbox Game Pass. Specifically, how Xbox Live Gold subscriptions can continue to exist in their present form alongside Xbox Game Pass and its new PC-friendly counterpart.

Let’s unpack this real quick: Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service that gives you free, downloadable access to a growing library of more than 100 games for $10/month. A new, PC-only version of the service launched at E3 ($5/month while it’s in beta) alongside something called the “Game Pass Ultimate” subscription, which gives you both versions of Game Pass plus Xbox Live Gold for $14.99.

Xbox Live Gold is the subscription program that’s been in place since the Xbox 360 launched. Subscribers enjoy discounts in the Xbox Games Store and a monthly lineup of free game downloads, but — more importantly — they also get access to online gaming and various social features. So signing up for Ultimate means you get all these games and you can play them online.

With the PC version of Game Pass moving the free-to-download library into a new Xbox app for Windows, I asked if PC players will be expected to sign up for Gold to play those games online. That’s never been the case before with Xbox games on PC, and Microsoft can confirm it won’t be the case now.

“We are going to listen to customers, and hear what they want and what they care about.”

“No, absolutely not,” Beaumont said. “You can also buy standalone PC Game Pass which gives you the content of 100-plus games on PC. If they have multiplayer, they have multiplayer; we’re not asking for you to have Gold as well. In fact, the social features like having all of my Xbox Live friends, that’s built in whether or not you have Gold.”

It’s encouraging news for PC players to be sure, but there’s some dissonance here. What about the console players? They’re still paying for features that PC gamers take for granted. It’s been that way ever since Gold launched as a product, of course, but with new subscription services bringing more attention to the PC side of Xbox gaming, it’s an increasingly tough pill to swallow.

I asked about this. Cue the “good question” talk.

Hamren reminded me of what a great deal Game Pass Ultimate is at $14.99 monthly, since it ropes together two Game Pass subscriptions plus Gold. Beaumonth continued, reminding me that Gold comes with other benefits — discounts and free games, as I mentioned already.

They also quickly echoed one another as they told me what a great question that was. Nevermind the fact that none of what they said in response actually answers the question. So I pressed. I understand what makes a standalone Gold subscription appealing, and I appreciate the value of a package like Ultimate. But with the ever-blurrier line of distinction between Xbox and PC gaming, what is a console user to think when they have to pay for significant features that their PC gamer friends don’t?

“It’s a great question,” Beaumont replied, chuckling but adding only that Microsoft isn’t “talking about anything more” on that front at E3 2019. Which we knew! I wasn’t expecting either of them to confirm product changes in an E3 interview after Microsoft’s news-packed press conference. But this is still something the Xbox team will have to grapple with sooner or later.

Hamren followed up with a fuller response, cutting past the specific issue to talk more generally about Microsoft’s strategy for receiving and disseminating user feedback.

“What I will say is that we are listening to [customers], and we will continue to hear what customers want. That was the driving force for what we did around Game Pass, it’s the driving force for what we did around [the quick-access PC interface] Game Bar,” she said, launching into a fuller explanation of how feedback shaped specific pieces of the latter.

“It’s not going to be a super-satisfying answer,” she later admitted. “But what I will say is that we are going to listen to customers, and hear what they want and what they care about. And then go do right by them.”

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Microsoft brings its To-Do app to Mac

Microsft in 2017 said it would shut eventually down Wunderlist, a company it acquired, in order to forge ahead with its own “to do” app. It has since launched To-Do, as the app is called, on Windows, iOS, Android and the web and expanded its feature set. Today, it’s bringing the app to the Mac, as well.

The company announced this morning its To-Do app is live on the Mac App Store, where it will support most of the core features right away, including the ability to create and manage tasks, works offline, share lists, utilize tags, and more. It will also integrate with Microsoft Outlook to pull in your “Flagged” email list and will support integration with Planner soon, allowing you to see any items assigned to you.

The Mac version also takes advantage of its new platform to offer a handful of keyboard shortcuts, like 2 to minimize the app so it only displays the list view, and ⌘1 to return to viewing all your lists. You can click on a task’s text to edit it directly from the list view, as well. 

It’s worth noting that Microsoft built this native Mac app using 100 percent AppKit, it says.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference this month, the company announced a new set of tools — called Project Catalyst — that allow developers to bring their iPad apps to the Mac by leveraging their existing codebase. This is expected to bring more Mac apps to Apple’s Mac App Store over time, as it simplifies the process of maintaining multiple apps for various platforms. Twitter, for example, said on Friday that it would leverage Project Catalyst to bring its app back to the Mac.

Microsoft, however, went a different route.

A big question now is what today’s news will mean for Wunderlist — an app that has a near-perfect 4.9 out of 5 stars rating on the Mac App Store and the No. 21 most popular free app in the store’s Productivity category.

As of today’s launch, Microsoft To-Do has seen a surge of downloads and jumped ahead of its predecessor. It now claims the No. 11 spot in the same category (as of the time of writing).

Microsoft had earlier promised that it wouldn’t close down Wunderlist until it was confident that it has “incorporated the best of Wunderlist into To-Do.” Some of the company’s initial concerns were adding support for list sharing in To-Do and rolling out support for all platforms — which Microsoft has now done with this Mac app launch.

We’ve asked Microsoft if it will comment on its updated plans for Wunderlist and will update if the company has a response.

In the meantime, the new Mac version of To-Do is a free download from the Mac App Store here.

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The Microsoft Surface Laptop is down to under £500 on Amazon

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Get your work done on the go.
Get your work done on the go.
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TL;DR: The portable Microsoft Surface Laptop is down to under £500 on Amazon, saving you £299.01 on list price.

Laptops are great for surfing the web, watching your favourite shows, and a bunch of other fun activities. Unfortunately, what we generally use our laptops for more than anything else is work. It’s a sad fact of life, but an important one to remember when it comes to purchasing a new device.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop is a great option for anyone that needs to get work done on the go. For a start, it’s massively portable, weighing just 1.25 kilograms. So it’s not going to weigh you down when you’re trying to navigate your way through the crowds. It also has an impressive 11-hour battery life, meaning you can hunker down for a marathon study session whenever you need to.

There’s plenty of room to save everything on the 128GB SSD, and the Intel Core M processor with 4GB of RAM keeps the laptop ticking along nicely. The Full HD+ touchscreen is another nice touch, also helping with productivity.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop is now down to just £499.99 on Amazon. This device is usually listed at £799, meaning you save £299.01 on list price. That’s a big saving on a popular device, and one that we don’t see very often.

Get the portable and stylish Microsoft Surface Laptop for under £500 from Amazon.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop is down to under £500 on Amazon

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The final dispatch from E3 2019

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Another E3 is over. The show gave us new consoles — some powerful, others retro-inspiredcustomizable controllers and many, many video games. Final Fantasy VII Remake? Yep. The upcoming Avengers game? Of course. A sequel to the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Oh yeah, that happened too. Did we mention there were loads of celebrity appearances, too, including Keanu Reeves, Jon Bernthal and Rob McElhenney? It was pretty wild. If, somehow, you missed all of the announcements and trailer-packed press conferences, fear not — we’ve got a super-quick recap video to bring you up to speed. If, however, you prefer words to moving pictures, head here for all of our coverage from the show. We’ll see you next year!

Catch up on all the latest news from E3 2019 here!

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