Microsoft Staff Demand End of Border Patrol Contract

Microsoft Staff Demand Firm Ends Border Patrol Contract
The BBC News website are reporting that An open letter signed by more than 100 Microsoft employees has called on the tech giant to stop its work with US Border Patrol.

The call comes as the Trump administration faces intense criticism over the separation of children from their families at the Mexican border. The letter, posted on an internal message board and published by the New York Times, said the employees “refuse to be complicit”.

Microsoft has said its technology was not being used for “projects related to separating children from their families at the border”.

In a statement published before the employee letter surfaced, the company said: “Microsoft is dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border. Family unification has been a fundamental tenet of American policy and law since the end of World War II.”

However, the firm does have a $19.4m (£14.7m) contract with the US Immigration, Customs and Enforcement agency, known as ICE. In January, it posted information about how its cloud computing platform, Azure, was being used to facilitate data “security and compliance”.

The post read: “We’re proud to support this work with our mission-critical cloud.”


Microsoft Cuts Another 2,100 Jobs as it Nears 18,000 Target

Microsoft Cuts Another 2,100 Jobs as it Nears 18,000 Target
Microsoft has confirmed another 2,100 redundancies as part of a plan to cut 18,000 jobs, some 14% of its workforce. The software giant said 747 jobs will go in the Seattle area, with the rest spread across its global operations.

Microsoft had already cut 13,000 jobs, with the bulk at the Nokia phone division bought by the US company.

In July, chief executive Satya Nadella announced radical plans to move Microsoft away from software to online services, apps and devices.

Microsoft, which has about 127,000 people on its payroll, will take a charge of between $1.1bn (£672m) and $1.6bn for costs related to the cuts. Microsoft said in a statement that the latest cuts “are spread across many different business units, and many different countries”.

In an email to staff in July, Mr Nadella said that the “difficult but necessary” cuts are part of a plan to bring a new direction to the technology company. “The first step to building the right organisation for our ambitions is to realign our workforce,” he said.

Microsoft completed its takeover of Nokia’s phone division in April in a move that strengthened its position in mobile devices. The cost was around $7.5bn.

Microsoft Looks Set to Buy Minecraft

Microsoft Looks Set to Buy Minecraft
The video games studio behind Minecraft is in talks to be taken over by Microsoft, according to reports. It has been suggested that Mojang might sell for more than $2bn (£1.2bn).

In June, the Swedish studio said it had sold about 54 million copies of its hit world-building game. Since then it has also been released for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, further boosting sales.

Mojang’s founder, Markus “Notch” Persson has previously publicly criticised Microsoft.

Ahead of the release of the Windows 8 operating system, he had claimed that the company was “trying to ruin the PC as an open platform” because it had wanted to certify third-party titles before their release. He had also been a vocal supporter of independent studios, saying in 2012 that: “The more studios that can remove themselves from the publisher system, the more games that will be made out of love rather than for profit.”

But, according to Bloomberg news agency, it was Mr Persson who “reached out” to Microsoft a few months ago. It said that a source suggested that if the deal went through, Mr Persson would help with the transition, but was unlikely to stay on afterwards.

The New York Times also reported that a person briefed on the talks had said that Mr Persson was expected to leave within six months, but added that Mojang was keen to hold on to its younger developers.

A spokesman for Microsoft said: “We don’t comment on rumour and speculation.”

Mojang also declined to comment. Mr Persson did not respond to the BBC’s questions.

Minecraft was first released in 2011, and has since become the third bestselling game of all time and something of a cultural phenomenon.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has hosted an evening that explored its design culture, Lego has made spin-off toys, Ordnance Survey has created a version of mainland Great Britain within the game, and Denmark’s government has also built a scale model of its country.

The title is set in a virtual world made of cubes of different materials, including dirt, rock and lava. Most of these can be used as building blocks and/or refined into usable raw materials. Player use the blocks to build a shelter and to create weapons to defend their character against the game’s zombies and other monsters. They can also engage in huge construction projects to flex their creative skills.

One extreme recent example involved the creation of a working virtual hard drive.

Mojang has worked on other titles, but they have either fallen short of Minecraft’s success – such as the role-playing game (RPG) Scrolls – or been shelved before completion – such as 0x10c, a space-themed game that Mr Persson had been working on until last year.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report negotiations between Mojang and Microsoft, saying that the deal could be finalised this week. It noted that this would be the first multibillion acquisition by Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, since he took charge of the company.

Harry Bradshaw, who has interviewed Mr Persson on the Twitch video site, said that many gamers would be concerned by the news. “There have been cases in the past of big corporations taking someone else’s game and turning it into a huge money-flip, just to see what they can make out of it,” he said. “Gamers will naturally be worried about this. “And it does confuse me why Mojang would sell up, bearing in mind it is the bestselling PC game of all time and still sells thousands of copies a day.”

One market watcher said that it was unlikely that Microsoft would pull existing Minecraft games from sale for the PlayStation, Mac, Android, Linux and other rival platforms. However, he added that Microsoft’s various systems might be given preference when it came to future products. “Minecraft is one the leading IPs [intellectual properties] within the games space that is potentially acquirable,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, lead games analyst at the consultancy IHS. “The brand has the potential to continue for the next 10 years. So, as an investment – even one at a very high price – it still represents something of value to larger companies that are looking to acquire exclusivity around a highly-engaged franchise.”

Microsoft Profit Falls 7% on Nokia Loss

Microsoft Profit Falls 7% on Nokia Loss
Technology giant Microsoft reported a 7% fall in profit during the second quarter. The company said profit during the March to June period was $4.6bn (£2.7bn), compared with $4.97bn during the same period last year.

Microsoft said its Nokia division, which it acquired in April, lost $692m.

Last week, Microsoft announced it would cut 18,000 jobs – the biggest round of job cuts in the company’s 39-year history. Around 12,500 of those positions will be eliminated in the Nokia phone business.

“We are driving growth with disciplined decisions, bold innovation, and focused execution,” said chief executive Satya Nadella in a statement, choosing to focus on revenues from Microsoft’s cloud division, which he said were set to double to $4.4bn this year.

Shares in Microsoft were mostly flat in trading after stock market hours, although they are up more than 20% for the year as investors hope Mr Nadella’s vision for change will lead to a boost in the bottom line.

Last week, Mr Nadella said that he was cutting positions partly as a result of incorporating Nokia’s thousands of workers into Microsoft but also in an effort to move the company away from its core software operations towards its cloud computing business.

Cloud computing allows companies to rent computer services including software and storage, in flexible bundles, rather than investing in expensive equipment themselves.

Microsoft’s job cuts total more than 14% of the firm’s 127,000 workforce – which is nearly 50% bigger than that of rival Apple.

Microsoft Calls end to Android Nokia X Smart Phones

Microsoft Calls end to Android Nokia X Smart Phones
Microsoft is to stop developing Android-powered smartphones beyond those already available, the BBC is reporting.

Nokia X models will now become part of the Lumia range and run the Windows Phone operating system, although existing Android handsets will continue to be supported.

The move comes as Microsoft announced 18,000 job cuts across its workforce. The tech firm acquired Nokia’s handset division earlier this year. Nokia unveiled its first family of Android phones at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona in February.

The release of the smartphones, which were priced at the lower end of the market, was described as a “perplexing strategic move” at the time, given that Microsoft had its own mobile operating system, Windows Phone.

In an email to employees on Thursday, Stephen Elop, Microsoft’s executive in charge of mobile devices, announced that Android handsets were being phased out. “In the near term, we plan to drive Windows Phone volume by targeting the more affordable smartphone segments, which are the fastest-growing segments of the market, with Lumia. “In addition to the portfolio already planned, we plan to deliver additional lower-cost Lumia devices by shifting select future Nokia X designs and products to Windows Phone devices. “We expect to make this shift immediately while continuing to sell and support existing Nokia X products.”

Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight, told the BBC the move was designed to drive sales of Microsoft’s Lumia range, which has lagged behind handsets from competitors such as Apple and Samsung.

“Everybody was scratching their heads when the Android phones were unveiled in February,” he said, adding that the decision had been made before Microsoft’s takeover of Nokia.

However, Mr Wood said, phasing out the Android devices was a strategic decision, designed to “take the work Microsoft have done on the hardware [of Nokia X models] and drive the Lumia price points to much lower levels”.

Microsoft to Let Non US Users Store Data Overseas

Microsoft to Let Non US Users Store Data Overseas
Microsoft is to let its customers outside the United States choose where their data is stored.

The software giant’s move comes in response to ongoing revelations about the extent of surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Moving data away from North America should ensure it is harder for spy agencies to scrutinise it.

European governments have voiced fears about NSA surveillance and have led calls to overhaul privacy laws.

Details about Microsoft’s policy change came to light in a Financial Times interview with Brad Smith, its general counsel.

Customers should know which country’s laws applied to examination of their data, Mr Smith was quoted as saying, and should be able to pick where that data was stored.

In addition, he said, customers could choose exactly which European data centre they would like to hold their data.

The relocation system will only be available to business and government customers.

Leaks about the NSA’s surveillance systems had undermined trust in many US tech firms, Mr Smith added.

The decision by Microsoft could put it at odds with technology partners who have previously criticised calls to store data on customers in the countries where they trade or live.

Tech firms have said that requiring them to put data centres in every nation would be prohibitively expensive.

Information about the scope of NSA surveillance, which emerged in papers released by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, led Brazil to call for data to stay in-country, to limit the opportunities the NSA had to examine it.

Microsoft Warns of Hacker Attacks

Microsoft Warns of Hacker Attacks
Microsoft has warned that hackers could exploit a “vulnerability” in its operating system to gain user rights to the affected computers. It said attackers could exploit this by requesting users to preview or open a specially crafted email or web content.

Microsoft said it was “aware of targeted attacks” and was investigating.

The issue affects Microsoft Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Microsoft Office 2003 – 2010, and Microsoft Lync.

Recent versions of Microsoft Windows and Office are not affected by the issue – which centres on a graphics component. Microsoft said it would take appropriate action to address the issue, which “may include providing a security update through our monthly release process or providing an out-of-cycle security update, depending on customer needs”.

In the meantime, it has advised customers to apply workarounds – a setting or configuration change that “does not correct the underlying issue but would help block known attack vectors before a security update is available”.

According to Microsoft, the flaw lies in the handling of the Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) image files by a graphics processing component in the affected software versions.

In a blog post on the Microsoft Security Response Centre, Dustin Childs a communications manager, said any move by hackers “requires user interaction”. He said that the attacks are disguised as an email requesting potential targets to open a specially crafted Word attachment.  If the attachment is opened or previewed, it attempts to exploit the issue using a malformed graphics image embedded in the document.

“An attacker who successfully exploited the vulnerability could gain the same user rights as the logged on user,” Mr Childs said.

Microsoft added that hackers could also exploit the issue via a web-based attack.  “An attacker could host a specially crafted website that is designed to exploit this vulnerability and then convince a user to view the website,” it said. However, it added that an attacker would have “no way to force users to view the attacker-controlled content”.

“Instead, an attacker would have to convince users to take action, typically by getting them to click a link in an email message or in an Instant Messenger message that takes users to the attacker’s website.”

Microsoft and Blackberry Cut Prices

Microsoft and Blackberry have both cut prices on their flagship products in a bid to boost sales. Microsoft dropped the price of the 32GB Surface RT to £279 from £400 in the UK, with the 64GB model’s price down by the same amount to £359. Both have done so to try and compete with Apple, Google and Samsung on smartphones and tablets – with limited success.

“It’s a big deal for both companies,” Tony Cripps, a telecoms analyst at Ovum, told the BBC.  “Competing with the Apples and Samsung’s of this world is tough, and it’s a difficult climate to put out high-end products when the market is so dominated by a couple of players.”

In the US, the cheapest Surface tablet went down to $349 (£230) from $499.

Blackberry in particular is battling to revive its share of the smartphone market with the touchscreen-only Z10, which shows off its new BB10 operating system.  Users can get the Z10 through US carriers AT&T and Verizon Wireless, for $99 with a two-year contract, but the phone costs $49 with a contract at retailers Amazon and Best Buy.

It is not clear whether the price cut has been implemented to people looking to get the phone on contract in the UK. The company reported an $84m loss for its last quarter and refused to say how many devices running BB10 it sold – but it sold fewer phones in those three months than in the same period the year before.

Blackberry has said it shipped one million Z10s in the first three months of 2013. “For Blackberry, it really bet the farm on its new BB10 operating system and it needs to regain market share in smartphones,” Mr Cripps said. “In that sense, the Surface’s success is perhaps not quite as important for Microsoft but if they want Windows 8 to be a key driver for the future, they need to get it into the hands of as many people as possible.”

Microsoft’s Surface tablet is intended to challenge the iPad and Android-based tablets and runs Windows RT, a slimmed-down version of its latest Windows 8 operating system.

Recent figures from analysts IDC show that 49.2 million tablets shipped in January, February and March – and about 900,000 of those were Surfaces.

Other Windows-powered tablets totalled 1.8 million units sold across all vendors. Apple’s iPad and iPad Mini accounted for 19.5 million of tablets sold.  “We’ve been seeing great success with pricing and cover promotions over the past several months on Surface RT in the US and other markets,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said. “People who buy Surface love Surface, and we’re excited about all those additional people out sharing their excitement for Surface with other people.”

Microsoft also offers the Surface Pro, which runs the full version of Windows 8 and starts at $899 for the 64GB model. It has not had its price cut.