Microsoft revived and killed Clippy in a single day


STAN HONDA via Getty Images

The dream of the ’90s was alive in Microsoft Teams this week when Microsoft’s old office assistant, Clippy, showed up. If you used Microsoft Office between 1997 and 2001, you likely remember Clippy as the animated paperclip that popped up and offered tips for using the software. Microsoft did away with Clippy in 2001, so people were surprised to see Clippy stickers appear in Microsoft Teams this week. And they were even more surprised when, just a day later, Microsoft offed the little guy again.

As The Verge reports, on Tuesday, Clippy appeared as an animated pack of stickers for Microsoft Teams. The stickers were released on the Office Developer GitHub page, but by the next day, they had vanished. Clippy was around just long enough to rally old fans, and there’s now a user petition to bring Clippy back.

The stickers seemed harmless enough, like a fun little inside joke for those who remember Clippy. But it looks like the broader (and probably more corporate) branding side of the company was not pleased. In 2001, Microsoft called Clippy “the little paperclip with the soulful eyes and the Groucho eyebrows.” The company described the paperclip as an “electronic ham” who “politely” offered hints for using Microsoft Office. Like any popup that offers unsolicited content, though, Clippy could also be a nuisance. It looks like Microsoft wanted to squash any memories of its misguided office assistant, but it might be too late for that.

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Microsoft device stores digital info as DNA


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Microsoft is on its way to replacing data centers with DNA. The company and researchers from the University of Washington have successfully automated the process to translate digital information into DNA and back to bits. They now have the first, full end-to-end automated DNA storage device. And while there’s room for improvement, Microsoft hopes this proof-of-concept will advance DNA storage technology.

In its first run, the $10,000 prototype converted “HELLO” into DNA. The device first encoded the bits (1’s and 0’s) into DNA sequences (A’s, C’s, T’s, G’s). It then synthesized the DNA and stored it as a liquid. Next, the stored DNA was read by a DNA sequencer. Finally, the decoding software translated the sequences back into bits. The 5-byte message took 21 hours to convert back and forth, but the researchers have already identified a way to reduce the time required by 10 to 12 hours. They’ve also suggested ways to reduce the cost by several thousand dollars.

In nucleotide form HELLO (01001000 01000101 01001100 01001100 01001111 in bits) yielded approximately 1 mg of DNA, and just 4 micrograms were retained for sequencing. As Technology Review notes, at that rate, all of the information stored in a warehouse-sized data center could fit into a few standard-size dice. Once the technique is perfected, it could store data much longer than we’re currently able to. As Microsoft points out, some DNA has held up for tens of thousands of years in mammoth tusks and the bones of early humans. That’s why Microsoft and other tech companies are eying DNA as a way to solve looming data storage problems. As previously reported, Microsoft’s formal goal is to have an operational DNA-based storage system working inside a data center by the end of this decade.

DNA storage isn’t entirely new, but the novelty here is that this system is fully automated. Before it can succeed commercially, though, the cost to synthesize DNA and extract the information is stores needs to come down. In other words, we need a way to synthesize DNA cost-efficiently. While it may sound a bit sci-fi, we could all be storing data as DNA before we know it.

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The rumored disc-less Xbox One S could be out by May 7

Imagine an Xbox One S that looks like this, except without the drive opening.
Imagine an Xbox One S that looks like this, except without the drive opening.
Image: Adam Gasson/Future/REX/Shutterstock

Get your salt shakers out: It’s time for something that might not be true!

Microsoft’s rumored disc-less Xbox One S — or the Xbox One S All-Digital, as it will apparently be called — could be coming on May 7. That’s what Windows Central claims, citing product photos and supporting documents it received from an unnamed source.

The site’s coverage uses Photoshop mockups of the product photos in order to protect the source, so you’ll have to take their word for it. The digitally recreated console looks like you’d expect it to: an Xbox One S without the opening where a disc would go.

The disc-less Xbox One S would also reportedly pack in a bundle of download codes for three games — Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 3, and Minecraft — as well as a 1TB hard drive. 

Microsoft is reportedly planning an April reveal, ahead of the global launch on May 7. There’s no word on price, but previous reporting (as well as common sense) suggests that the disc-less Xbox is meant to be a cheaper option in the Xbox lineup.

The current Xbox One S sells on Microsoft’s website for $300 with a bundled game, though a quick look at Amazon shows older bundles selling at closer to $250 (and in some cases lower than that). A disc-less S would have to sell for no more than $200, though an even lower price isn’t out of the question.

That’s because Microsoft’s big bet these days is on Xbox Game Pass. The subscription service gives all users access to a large library of on-demand games — more than 170, as of March 2019 — that they can download whenever they wish.

The Game Pass library includes a number of major games released by publishers other than Microsoft, but perhaps the biggest draw is access to new releases. All subscribers are able to play Xbox One console exclusives the day they come out, from small-studio indies like Below to the future next chapters in the Halo and Gears of War series.

A disc-less Xbox One S would obviously have no problem connecting users with Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft probably wants to make it feel like subscribing to the $9.99/month service is a no-brainer — which, really, it is for any newcomers to the Xbox ecosystem.

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Microsoft Defender is jumping from Windows to Mac


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Just days after launching Windows Defender extensions for Chrome and Firefox, Microsoft is bringing its antivirus software to more platforms, starting with the Mac. Of course, it no longer makes sense to call it Windows Defender, so now it’s Microsoft Defender.

Businesses can access an early preview of the Defender ATP for Mac starting today on devices running macOS Mojave, macOS High Sierra, or macOS Sierra. It packs the same preventative protection, post-breach detection and automated investigation and response tools as its Windows counterpart. And like Office for Mac, Defender will tap into Microsoft’s AutoUpdate software to ensure it gets the latest features and fixes on time.

With a rise in malware incidents in recent years, macOS is starting to look decidedly less immune to attacks than it once did. With that in mind, it seems Microsoft may be on to something with its Defender cross-platform expansion. It should also, theoretically, make life easier for IT admins that handle both Windows and Mac systems. Alas, there’s no word on whether general users will get a consumer version in the future.

In addition, the launch brings with it a new Threat and Vulnerability Management (TVM) feature in preview mode. TVM is designed to alert admins to systems vulnerabilities using a mixture of real-time insights, added context during incident investigations and a built-in remediation process.

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Microsoft Defender comes to the Mac

Microsoft today announced that it is bringing its Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) to the Mac. Previously, this was a Windows solution for protecting the machines of Microsoft 365 subscribers and assets the IT admins that try to keep them safe. It was also previously called Windows Defender ATP, but given that it is now on the Mac, too, Microsoft decided to drop the ‘Windows Defender’ moniker in favor or ‘Microsoft Defender.’

“For us, it’s all about experiences that follow the person and help the individual be more productive,” Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Office and Windows, told me. “Just like we did with Office back in the day — that was a big move for us to move it off of Windows-only — but it was absolutely the right thing. So that’s where we’re headed.”

He stressed that this means that Microsoft is moving off its “Windows-centric approach to life.” He likened it to bringing the Office apps to the iPad and Android. “We’re just headed in that same direction of saying that it’s our intent that we can secure every endpoint so that this Microsoft 365 experience is not just Windows-centric,” Spataro said. Indeed, he argued that the news here isn’t even so much the launch of this service for the Mac but that Microsoft is reorienting the way it thinks about how it can deliver value for Microsoft 365 clients.

Given that Microsoft Defender is part of the Microsoft 365 package, you may wonder why those users would even care about the Mac, but there are plenty of enterprises that use a mix of Windows machines and Mac, and which provide all of their employees with Office already. Having a security solution that spans both systems can greatly reduce complexity for IT departments — and keeping up with security vulnerabilities on one system is hard enough to begin with.

In addition to the launch of the Mac version of Microsoft Defender ATP, the company also today announced the launch of new threat and vulnerability management capabilities for the service. Over the last few months, Microsoft had already launched a number of new features that help businesses proactively monitor and identify security threats.

“What we’re hearing from customers now, is that the landscape is getting increasingly sophisticated, the volume of alerts that we’re starting to get is pretty overwhelming,” Spataro said. “We really don’t have the budget to hire the thousands of people required to sort through all this and figure out what to do.”

So with this new tool, Microsoft uses its machine learning smarts to prioritize threads and present them to its customers for remediation.

To Spataro, these announcements come down to the fact that Microsoft is slowly morphing into more of a security company than ever before. “I think we’ve made a lot more progress than people realize,” he said. “And it’s been driven by the market.” He noted that its customers have long asked Microsoft to help them protect their endpoints. Now, he argues, customers have realized that Microsoft is now moving to this person-centric approach (instead of a Windows-centric one) and that the company may now be able to help them protect large parts of their systems. At the same time, Microsoft realized that it could use all of the billions of signals it gets from its users to better help its customers proactively.

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