Category: Current and Future Trends

A Sharp Alexa-enabled microwave could be about task-driven cooking

Article

Sharp Smart Countertop Microwave Oven press picture courtesy of Sharp USA

Sharp’s first smart countertop microwave oven features Wi-Fi connectivity and certified Works with Alexa compatibility for hands-free operation using voice commands.

Sharp’s New Alexa-Powered Microwave Is Even More Confusing Than Amazon’s | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Sharp USA

Sharp Launches its First Smart Countertop Microwave Ovens (Press Release)

My Comments

Most of us who use a microwave oven tend to specify cooking times and power intensities for each cooking job. This is even though most of today’s microwave ovens use job-specific cooking functions that are available to us. But some of us may decide to use a “popcorn” cooking function to cook most microwave popcorn.

These functions can confuse most of us due to different approaches to invoking them that exist between different makes and models of microwave oven.  As well, other differences that will crop up include how long these tasks are expected to take. It is also analagous to working from any recipes that are part of your microwave oven’s documentation, because these may not work out correctly if you end up using a different appliance.

Here, this issue will be considered important as more of us place value on the microwave as a cooking option for something like, perhaps, those green vegetables. It can also bamboozle anyone who uses traditional cooking techniques like the conventional oven but finds themselves in a situation where they have to primarily rely on the microwave oven for cooking needs like when they stay in a serviced apartment or AirBnB.

Amazon had released to the US market the AmazonBasics microwave that works with their Alexa voice-assistant ecosystem. But this is seen as an elementary appliance, answering most common cooking tasks. Sharp has now come to the fore with two of their microwaves that are released to the US market.

Here, the difference is to use Alexa as a gateway to the advanced cooking tasks that these microwaves offer. The press release talked of us saying to an Amazon Echo device “Alexa, defrost 2 pounds of meat” and the microwave will be set up to thaw out two pounds of frozen meat. The larger model of the two will have the ability for you to ask Alexa to set the microwave up for something like cooking broccoli or other veggies.

I see this as being about using voice assistant platforms to open up a common user interface for the advanced microwave-cooking tasks that your microwave would offer. But for this to work effectively, the user needs to know what the expected cooking time would be for the task and when they need to intervene during the cooking cycle.

As well, more of the voice assistant platforms need to come on board for this approach to advanced microwave cookery. Let’s not forget that the display-based voice assistants can even come in to their own in this use case such as to list ingredients and preparation steps for what you intend to cook.

Here, the voice assistants will become a way to lead users to use the microwave beyond reheating food, melting butter and chocolate or cooking microwave popcorn/

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Is fixed-line broadband still relevant in the era of 5G wireless?

Articles

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

A fixed-line connection like this Gigaclear fibre-to-the-premises setup ….

Will 5G kill off home broadband as we know it? | TechRadar

5G vs Fiber: Will 5G make fiber obsolete? | NetMotion Software

My Comments

This year will see a question about whether Gigabit or faster fixed-line broadband Internet services will be relevant in the face of 5G cellular wireless broadband services.

5G wireless broadband will have a theoretical maximum bandwidth of 10-50Gbps and an average bandwidth of between 100Mbps to 200Mbps. This average speed will start to increase as it becomes less dependent on 4G wireless broadband technology. But these figures are affected by the kind of reception your 5G endpoint device is getting from the service.

Cellular antenna in street

… or 5G wireless cellular broadband (whether fixed-wireless or mobile broadband) – what is relevant?

This typically is delivered in the form of mobile broadband services that are used with smartphones, tablets and other portable devices. But it is also being delivered as a “fixed-wireless” broadband service where the customer connects a more-powerful 5G modem to their home network. Optus is providing this kind of service offering to declare independence from Australia’s NBN service but it is offered in areas where it isn’t technically feasible or too costly to deploy fixed broadband service.

Current-generation fixed-line broadband services are capable of at least 1Gbps upload/download n the case of fibre-to-the-premises services. The ideal setup or “gold standard” for this kind of service is fibre-to-the-premises but various fibre-copper setups are being used that can deliver close to this speed. These are based on DOCSIS 3.x cable-modem technology, RJ45 Ethernet cable technology or G.Fast DSL-based telephone-cable technology with the copper run covering a small neighbourhood or a multi-tenant development.

The 5G technology would be cheap to establish but costly to maintain and upgrade. This is compared to fixed-line broadband technology that would be expensive to establish but cheap to maintain and upgrade. In most cases, an upgrade would be about new equipment in the racks at the headends at least. Or a fibre-copper service may be upgraded through a change of topology towards a full-fibre (fibre-to-the-premises) setup.

Typically, fixed-line broadband would be the preferred solution for those of us living in larger built-up communities. It is although there are efforts like B4RN who are pushing fibre-to-the-premises fixed-line broadband in to rural areas within the UK. Sparser areas may prefer to implement 5G wireless-broadband technology with a few large low-frequency 5G cells covering those areas.

Both technologies can complement and serve each other in various ways.

Since 5G technology is based on a cellular-wireless approach, each base station needs to link to a backhaul to pass the data to each other and to other communications devices connected to wired infrastructure around the world. As well, the 5G wireless technology operates at radio frequencies up to 6GHz thus requiring many smaller “cells” (base stations for a cellular-wireless network) to cover a populous area. Even the use of many of the very small cells like picocells or femtocells to cover buildings or shopping strips would require the use of a backhaul.

In this case, fixed-line broadband networks especially fibre-optic networks can be used to provide this backhaul.

Increasingly, Wi-Fi network segments connected to fixed-line broadband setups are being considered as a complementary wireless-network solution. This may be about providing load-balancing for the 5G-based cellular service, even as a failover mechanism should the user not experience ideal reception conditions or the network underperforms. The classic example here would be indoor settings where building materials and the like obstruct 5G cellular coverage using the typical smartphone’s own antenna.

On the other hand, the 5G technology will maintain its keep for mobile / portable use cases while fixed-line broadband networks will serve in-building network use cases. 5G will also satisfy those use cases where it is technically unfeasible or cost-prohibitive to deploy a fixed-line broadband network.

For that matter, the mobile / portable use cases are what the technologists are banking on for 5G wireless-network technology. Here, they are envisaging the likes of self-driving vehicles, drones and the like depending on this technology for communication with each other. This is along with it being as a data backbone for the “smart city” that is driven by the “Internet of Everything”, facilitating improvements for things like service delivery, public safety / security, transport, energy efficiency and the like.

But 5G and fixed-line broadband, especially fibre-to-the-premises broadband, will exist on a “horses for courses” approach. Here, one technology may be about data reliability and infrastructure upgradeability or the other may be about mobile / portable or transient use.

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The traditional landline telephone is still trying to be relevant

Article

Using the common household phone

It will be hard for the traditional voice telephone service to die out due to it evolving

Market Snapshot: Voice as a Lifeline and the Transformation of Home Telephony | Parks Associates (name and address required to download)

My Comments

It will be hard for the traditional landline telephone service to disappear from our lives altogether. This is even though an increasing number of households are using mobile phones for their voice communications. The Parks Associates report was written with the past year in mind thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague having most of us around the world housebound.

At the moment, most telcos and ISPs are offering the traditional landline telephone service as part of one or more multiple-play telecommunications packages. These packages encompass a combination of services including:

  • landline telephone service,
  • fixed broadband Internet,
  • multichannel pay TV,
  • mobile telephone service
  • mobile broadband Internet

Often the landline telephony service is anchored to a “cheap-to-call-the-nation” tariff plan where you can make many calls and talk for a long time on these calls per month to home and business telephone numbers within your country. A lot of these plans even offer unlimited phone calls to regular home and business numbers at least for the cost of the subscription fee.

There are also some of these plans offering the ability to call mobile phones based within your country for dirt cheap prices or as unlimited-calling destinations. The plans will even have international calling packages that make it cheap to call the world, especially landlines and, perhaps, mobile numbers in the popular countries, from your landline service.

How is the landline telephone service now delivered?

Increasingly such services are being delivered as a hybrid VoIP service rather than the traditional circuit-switched voice telephony service associated with the Plain Old Telephone Service.

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

An increasing number of routers offered by telcos and ISPs support Fixed Line IP out of the box, serving as a VoIP DECT base station and / or VoIP analogue-telephone adaptor

The first method, typically used with packet-only network transports like DOCSIS-based cable modems, fibre-to-the-premises fibre optic, fibre-to-the-building fibre-optic with Ethernet cabling to the premises, fixed-wireless or even naked/dry-loop DSL is known as Fixed Line IP. Here you have a traditional telephone connected to an analogue-telephony-adaptor, a DECT-based cordless telephone using an IP-driven DECT base station or a dedicated VoIP telephone connected to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. The analogue-telephony adaptor and/or IP-based DECT base station will be likely to be integrated in your home network router especially if it comes from your telco or ISP.

This setup may also include the use of a “softphone” app that runs on your regular computer or smartphone. Here, this software emulates an IP-based fixed-line telephone on one of these computing devices so you can take calls from your fixed-line service with your smartphone, tablet or laptop computer. Such apps are used with business telephony setups but are being considered of value for small-business and residential telephony services provided using Fixed Line IP.

Infact the Fixed Line IP service is now considered the way to deliver traditional voice telephony due to it being media-agnostic. As well, it plays in to telecommunications platforms where infrastructure and service are provided by different entities like what we are seeing with the UK’s Openreach, Australia’s NBN and New Zealand’s Chorus; along with the rise of independent infrastructure providers providing competitive wholesale telecommunications service.

 

Android main interactive lock screen

Newer smartphones are offering Wi-Fi calling, delivering cellular mobile telephony via any Wi-Fi network you are connected to with them

The other method is to use Wi-Fi Calling where a cellular telephony service is provided by Wi-Fi through your home or other network. This is equivalent to a traditional cellular telephony service with your mobile number ringing on your Wi-Fi-Calling enabled smartphone no matter whether it is connected via Wi-Fi or the mobile network. Recent iterations of iOS and Android provide native support for Wi-Fi calling.

Use cases

The landline telephone service and voice telephony in general is being used as a way to keep in touch with family and friends and to avoid social isolation. This especially appeals to communities whose constituents haven’t adapted to mobile telephone or online services, something that is typical of some religious communities and schools.

Working or running a business from home can also appeal to some users as a reason to maintain a traditional fixed telephony service. This may be in conjunction to maintaining a mobile telephony service that is kept for calling while away from home. As well, most tax codes will accept the establishment and maintenance of telecommunications services associated with working or running a business as legitimately-deductable business expenses.

Voice telephony is being seen as a key modality for providing any sort of telehealth services. This reduces frustration associated with establishing and running a videocall. It is also more familiar for people who need medical help.

Older people are the key user groups who value the traditional fixed telephone, Here, it is a very familiar service for them as these services became ubiquitous in everyone’s homes since the end of World War II. As well, the landline telephone service is considered by the national emergency numbers like 911 in the USA, 999 in the UK or 000 in Australia as a sure-fire link to emergency help through these numbers. This is typically due to setups like mapping landline numbers that call emergency numbers to physical addresses.

Increasingly the concept of unified communication services is being exposed to small business and home users with all the features associated with big-business telephony. This has been a trend with the history of telecommunications evolved from business use to home use as associated products and services became cheaper to buy and operate. The provision of unified communication services to this user class is being maintained as part of differentiating residential and small-business telecommunications packages in a highly competitive market.

As well, the traditional landline service is still seen as a lifeline. This is more so with elderly people, rural residents and low-income households due to it being part of the universal telephone service.

Why is the landline still relevant?

The landline telephone service is still seen as relevant due to a significant installed user base. As I have said before this is facilitated with service upgrades that are part of multi-play service packages.

There is a familiarity associated with using a landline telephone service especially for people who have grown up with this kind of telephone service. Here, it underscores a simple user experience whether making or taking phone calls.

The landline telephone service is still affordable to use which appeals to low-income communities. This is due to it being part of the standard definition of a universal telephone service and the fact that it is also offered as a very cheap service as part of the multiple-play service packages.

Where a traditional wired telephone is used as part of this service, a landline telephone service’s quality-of-service is independent of your building’s structure. Here, you are not finding that double-brick, sandstone or cinder block walls are interfering with your phone service’s reception. It also yields consistent voice quality which isn’t dependent on wireless signals.

The landline phone service can effectively serve in a load-balancing capacity for voice traffic where it is used alongside mobile telephony services. Typically this would be achieved by a person ringing someone’s landline phone number when their attempt to ring someone’s mobile number fails to an “out-of-range” or “busy” condition. This may he due to situations like a dead battery in the user’s mobile phone.

It is still preferred to deliver life-critical communications services through the landline telephone service due to it being related to physical addresses. Fixed-line IP services and cordless telephones will face trouble with devices that are dependent on continual power supply available at the customer’s premises.

The future of the traditional landline telephone service

A direction that will come about for the traditional landline phone service is to move towards device-agnostic phone services and the popularisation of big-business-style telephony services in the home and small business. What I mean is that it doesn’t matter whether the endpoint device for these services is a phone associated with a fixed-line telephony service or a mobile phone associated with a cellular telephony service. This will be due to varying factors like people working or running businesses and organisations from home; independently-managed phone services, and the like.

It will also include the ability for a user to maintain different telephone numbers for different purposes with each number ringing on whatever devices the user chooses to have them ring on with a distinct ringtone or ring cadence and in a chosen order. It is rather than having a phone number for a class of phone service ringing on a particular endpoint device. The classic setup example would be to keep a public-facing “business” phone number and a separate “personal” number given out only to family and friends.

The setups could allow a number to simultaneously ring on selected devices like a cordless phone and a mobile phone, or have a number ring on one device first for a certain amount of time then another device until the call is picked up. Other business features that will appear include the ability to move a call between devices whether they be fixed-line or mobile or answer a ringing phone using another device.

There will even be enhanced call filtering features to deal with robocalls, telephone sales calls and the like. This may include abilities to shoehorn the filtering process to suit a particular user’s needs.

But the future for voice telephony would be about having multiple phone services delivered via a single physical link with the feasibility to have multiple calls taking place over the same link.

As well, the increased bandwidth will allow for voice quality to be as good as AM radio, if not as good as FM radio or better. This will be a feature that benefits people who have, for example, difficult-to-understand accents.

Let’s not forget that for residential and small-business users voice telephony, whether on a fixed device or a mobile device, will be part of a personalised unified or converged telecommunications service that also encompasses text-based chat, video telephony, user presence notification and similar features.

What needs to happen further for “fixed-line IP” services offered by ISPs is to support the ability for residential and small business customers to set up and configure their own VoIP telecommunications equipment with these services. This can be facilitated through simplified equipment-configuration protocols for these services.

There also has to be a simple yet secure configuration approach for these phone services so that users can set them up to suit their needs exactly and be sure the setup is kept secure.

But at least the traditional landline telephone service is still maintaining some relevance in this day and age. This is even though it is packaged in a new way such as with a multiple-play broadband package or as an IP-based pre-packaged voice-telephony service. As well, these voice-telephony services will be delivered in a manner that is independent of whether the endpoint device is installed at your premises or something you take around town.

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Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms




Apple Amazon Google (coming soon)
Set-top device Apple TV (tvOS 11 or newer) Fire TV Stick
Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation or newer)
Chromecast with Google TV
Audio Devices HomePod or
AirPlay-compliant audio devices
Echo (2nd Generation), Echo Dot (3rd Generation) or newer Echo smart speaker devices Nest Audio smart speakers
Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content

Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.

The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform

It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.

The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.

These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.

For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.

Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least

As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.

It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.

There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.

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Microsoft to support Android on Windows further

Articles

Computer - smartphone interlink concept

Android and Windows are getting closer with Microsoft working on having Android apps run on Windows 10 in a virtual machine

Microsoft’s ‘Project Latte’ aims to bring Android apps to Windows 10 | Windows Central

Microsoft is working on an Android subsystem for Windows 10 | Bleeping Computer

My Comments

Microsoft is intending to have Windows able to run software written for the Android mobile operating system.

There was a previous attempt in the form of Project Astoria to simplify the process of porting Android apps to Windows 10. But recently the “Your Phone” subsystem offered to people who use certain Android phones the ability to run their apps in Windows. This worked around having Windows 10 working as a graphical terminal for your Android phone in order to run the Android software.

But Microsoft is using Windows Subsystem for Linux, currently used to run text-based UNIX/Linux environments on Windows,  as a basis to run Android software on your Windows computer. Firstly, Android is a Google-based fork of Linux intended for mobile-platform devices and this may make Microsoft’s job more easier.

Here the Android app will be run within an Android virtual machine on your Windows computer. This is in conjunction with WSL gaining support for X11 (X Window) and Wayland GUI subsystems for UNIX/Linux computing so that graphically-rich software for those platforms, including shells like GNOME can run on Windows 10.

There will be a requirement to make the Android app independent of Google Play Services because Google won’t release this functionality to devices other than native Android or ChromeOS devices. But this could be part of repackaging the software for the Windows platform.

This kind of compatibility will encourage Android software developers to write software that takes advantage of devices with large display surfaces like tablets and Chromebooks as well as smartphones. It will also make this software relevant to people who use Windows-based 2-in-1s like the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 or the Lenovo Yoga range.

There will be some app classes that will benefit from being made available through the Microsoft Store to run on Windows computers. Some apps like native clients for video-on-demand services will be about being able to enjoy these online video services on your laptop. The same holds true for sports scoreboard apps and mobile-platform “guilty-pleasure” games. Also there will be the idea of having Instagram, Snapchat and co running on your regular computer which will be valued by those of us who see a social media presence of importance for ourselves or our business efforts. Let’s not forget taxi and rideshare booking apps where there is the desire to use them from a regular computer perhaps to book rides for others.

Another use case is software written to make your Android phone a control surface for the smart home. It is primarily exhibited through “app-cessory” software that is written to convert your smartphone in to a control surface for various devices with the link facilitated using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But it can be software written to manage a smart-home platform like Amazon Alexa or Google Home and there may be the desire to have this run on a regular Windows computer.

Microsoft will need to have extra people to vet software that comes in to the Windows Store in order to keep malware out. This is because Google was overwhelmed with Android-based malware creeping in to their Play app store and they had to increase the number of people taking control over what ended up there. This danger will increase especially if it is feasible to “write once run anywhere” for both Windows and Android.

It is part of having Microsoft Windows 10 as the most flexible open-frame desktop operating system thanks to it supporting a wide range of software types: Progressive Web Apps, Win32 native Windows apps, Universal Windows Platform apps, UNIX/Linux software via Windows Subsystem for Linux and, to come, Android through Project Latte.

Having Windows, desktop Linux or ChromeOS on the desktop and Android on the mobile devices could be about building out a computing ecosystem that is totally about flexible open-frame computing.

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Zoom even makes it easier to deal with Zoombombing incidents

Article

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom to give more control to meeting hosts

How to stop a Zoombombing | Lifehacker

From the horse’s mouth

Zoom

3 New Ways We’re Combatting Meeting Disruptions (Blog Post)

My Comments

During the COVID-19 pandemic causing us to work or study from home, we have been seeing increased use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom.

It has led to the convergence of business and personal use of popular multiparty videoconferencing platforms; be it business platforms of the Zoom and Microsoft Teams ilk serving personal, social and community needs; or personal platforms like Skype and WhatsApp being used for business use. This is more so with small businesses, community organisations and the like who don’t have their own IT team to manage this software. The software developers even support this convergence through adding “personal and social” features to business users that also gain free social-user tiers or adding business features to personal platforms.

But this has brought along its fair share of miscreants. A key example of this is “Zoombombing” where these miscreants join a Zoom meeting in order to disrupt it. This manifests in disruptive comments being put in to the meeting or at worst all sorts of filth unfit for the office or family home appearing on our screens. Infact there have been a significant number of high-profile Zoom virtual events disrupted that way and a significant number of governments have encompassed this phenomenon as part of raising questions about videoconferencing platform security.

This has been facilitated by Zoom and similar business videoconferencing platforms allowing people to join a videoconference by clicking on a meeting-specific URL This is compared to Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and similar personal videoconferencing platforms operating on an in-platform invitation protocol when joining these meetings.

But these Weblinks bave been posted on the Social Web for every man and his dog to see. There have been some online forums that have been hurriedly set up for people to solicit others to disrupt online meetings.

Zoom recently took action by requiring the use of meeting passwords and waiting-room setups and operating with that by default. As well meeting hosts and participants have been encourage not to place meeting URLs and passwords on any part of the Web open to the public. Rather they are to send the link via email or instant messaging. As well, they are encouraged to send the password under separate cover.

They also have the ability to lock the meeting so no further attendees can come in, which is good if the meeting is based around known attendees. There is also the ability for the host to control resource-sharing and remote-control functionality that Zoom offers. Let’s not forget that they also added meeting-wide end-to-end encryption for increasingly-secure meetings.

But Zoom has taken further action by offering meeting hosts more tools to control their meeting, a feature available to all client software and to all user classes whether free or paid.

There is the ability for the Zoom meeting host to pause the meeting. Once this is invoked, no activity can take place during the meeting including in any breakout rooms that the meeting has spawned. They also have the ability to report the meeting to Zoom’s platform=wide security team and to selectively enable each meeting feature. They can also report users to Zoom’s platform security team, which allows them to file the report and give the disruptive user the royal order of the boot from that meeting.

Another feature that has been introduced thanks to the “join by URL” method that Zoom supports is for meeting hosts to be alerted if their meeting is at risk of disruption. Zoom facilitates this using a Webcrawler that hunts for meeting URLs on the public Web and alerts the meeting host if their meeting’s URL is posted there such as being on the Social Web. Here, they are given the opportunity to change the URL to deflect any potential Zoombomb attempts.

But this year has become a key year as far as multiparty videoconferencing is concerned due to our reliance on it. Here, it may be about seeing less differentiation between business-use and personal-use platforms or the definition of a basic feature set that these videoconferencing platforms are meant to have with secure private operation being part of that definition.

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Intel to launch a white-label Tiger Lake based laptop design

Articles

Intel NUC M15 Tiger Lake white-label laptop design press image courtesy of Intel

Intel NUC M15 Tiger-Lake-based white-label laptop design for small-time manufacturers to work from

Intel Shows Off New NUC M15 Whitebook Laptop | Tom’s Hardware

Intel’s NUC M15 laptop to launch in 2021 | TechRadar

My Comments

Intel has just premiered a design for a white-label laptop that implements their Tiger Lake silicon.

This computer, which is a mainstream productivity laptop and known as the NUC M15, is intended to be offered by small-time manufacturers and retailer or distributor private labels. Intel previously offered a white-label laptop design in the form of the XPG Xenix 15 gaming laptop.

This will use what is expected of a Tiger Lake laptop and will be used as a machine for smaller operators to have Intel Evo-certified products in their lineup. This means it will come with 11th Generation Core i5 or i7 CPUs, Xe integrated graphics, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 and Thunderbolt 4 as part of the feature set.

The small-time manufacturer or retail / distributor private label can be in a position to compete with larger manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Microsoft. But there should be the ability to vary the design to suit particular needs. It is also seen as a way for these kind of manufacturers to have Intel Evo-certified laptop products in their lineups.

A question that can come about is whether this is seen as a fertile ground for a small-time partner manufacturer or private label to use this as the basis for a bespoke design. It is especially where there are small-time manufacturers who focus on equipment for specialist use cases. An example of this could be a manufacturer whose niche is a highly-ruggedised computer setup.

But could these systems also be about “working out” a Tiger-Lake-based reference design for a mass-market laptop product. The machines that I am thinking of are similar to HP Pavilion or Dell Inspiron product ranges for ordinary households, HP Probook or Dell Vostro product ranges for small-business consumers, or HP Elitebooks, Acer Travelmates and Dell Latitudes for enterprise users. These are usually with 15” screens, have average graphics expectations and aren’t necessarily thin and light.

It may be a step to see decent performance and battery life available for laptop users no matter the class of portable computer they are working with, thanks to Intel’s latest iteration in its persistent innovation for this type of computer device.

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Microsoft integrates the Trusted Platform Module in to computer CPUs

Articles

Microsoft brings Trusted Platform Module functionality directly to CPUs under securo-silicon architecture Pluton | The Register

Microsoft reveals Pluton, a custom security chip built into Intel, AMD and Qualcomm processors | TechCrunch

Microsoft Pluton is a new processor with Xbox-like security for Windows PCs | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Meet the Microsoft Pluton processor – The security chip designed for the future of Windows PCs (Blog Post)

My Comments

Most recently-built desktop and laptop regular computers that run Windows, especially business-focused machines offered by big brands, implement a secure element known as the Trusted Platform Module. This is where encryption keys for functions like BitLocker, Windows Hello or Windows-based password vaults are kept. But this is kept as a separate chip on the computer’s motherboard in most cases.

But Microsoft are taking a different approach to providing a secure element on their Windows-based regular-computer platform. Here, this is in the form of keeping the Trusted Platform Module on the same piece of silicon as the computer’s main CPU “brain”.

Microsoft initially implemented a security-chip-within-CPU approach with their XBox platform as a digital-rights-management approach. Other manufacturers have implemented this approach in some form or another for their computing devices such as Samsung implementing in the latest Galaxy S smartphones or Apple implementing it as the T2 security chip within newer Macintosh regular computers. There is even an Internet-of-Things platform known as the Azure Sphere which implements the “security-chip-within-CPU” approach.

This approach works around the security risk of a person gaining physical access to a computer to exfiltrate encryption keys and sensitive data held within the Trusted Platform Module due to it being a separate chip from the main CPU. As well, before Microsoft announced the Pluton design, they subjected it to many security tests including stress-tests so that it doesn’t haunt them with the same kind of weaknesses that affect the Apple T2 security chip which was launched in 2017.

Intel, AMD and Qualcomm who design and make CPUs for Windows-based regular computers have worked with Microsoft to finalise this “security-chip-within-CPU” design. Here, they will offer it in subsequent x86-based and ARM-based CPU designs.

The TPM application-programming-interface “hooks” will stay the same as far as Windows and application-software development is concerned. This means that there is no need to rewrite Windows or any security software to take advantage of this chipset design. The Microsoft Pluton approach will benefit from “over-the-air” software updates which, for Windows users, will come as part of the “Patch Tuesday” update cycle.

More users will stand to benefit from “secure-element” computing including those who custom-build their computer systems or buy “white-label” desktop computer systems from independent computer stores.

As well, Linux users will stand to benefit due to efforts to make this open-source and available to that operating-system platform. In the same context, it could allow increasingly-secure computing to be part of the operating system and could open up standard secure computing approaches for Linux-derived “open-frame” computer platforms like Google’s ChromeOS or Android.

Here, the idea of a secure element integrated within a CPU chip die isn’t just for digital-rights-management anymore. It answers the common business and consumer need for stronger data security, user privacy, business confidentiality and operational robustness. There is also the goal of achieving secure computing from the local processing silicon to the cloud for online computing needs.

Microsoft hasn’t opened up regarding whether the Pluton trusted-computing design will be available to all silicon vendors or whether there are plans to open-source the design. But this could lead to an increasingly-robust secure-element approach for Windows and other computing platforms.

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Alternative “free-speech”social networks are coming to the fore

Article Parler login page screenshot

‘Free speech’ social networks claim post-election surge | Engadget

My Comments

A new breed of social networks are becoming popular with user groups who see Facehook, Twitter, YouTube and co as being equivalent to mainstream media, especially the popular TV channels.

These networks are based in North America, yet outside Silicon Valley. This means that they don’t subscribe to the perceived groupthink associated with Silicon Valley / Northern Californian culture.

As well, they came to the fore in response to Facebook, Twitter and Google responding to the issues of fake news and disinformation with these online companies implementing fact-checking mechanisms and flagging questionable material. Let’s not forget that there is social and business pressure on the established social media companies to clamp down on racial and similar hatred. That meant they had to implement robust user and content management policies to manage what appeared on these sites which is something that can be very difficult with large networks.

Previously the only way to offer content that isn’t controlled by the social media establishment was to set up and run a blog or forum. This required a fair bit of technical knowhow and you had to also have a domain name and a business relationship with a Web hosting service. Then you would have to run something like WordPress, phpBB or vBulletin so you can concentrate on running the blog or forum.

It also included exposing your content amongst your desired audience which may require you to use established social networks but use codified dog-whistle language in your posts. As well, you would have to make sure that your presence on the established social networks exists simply to draw traffic to your site. To “make it pay”, you would have to set up a shopfront on the Website to sell merchandise, offer advertising space typically to small businesses, or even run the site on a freemium model with a subscription-driven membership system.

The networks are Parler and MeWe which also have iOS and Android native clients available through Apple’s and Google’s mobile app stores. Gab also exists but Apple and Google won’t admit native clients for this service to their app stores. Rumble offers a video-focused service that works similarly to YouTube, with this service being cross-promoted on Parler, MeWe and Gab.

These alternative social networks implement business models that are less dependent on advertising like subscription-driven “freemium” setups. Along with that, the networks adopt “light-touch” policies regarding the management of users and the content they share, with them billing themselves as “free-speech” alternatives.

There has been strong interest in these networks over the past year which has been highlighted in the number of accounts created and the number of native mobile clients downloaded from the mobile-platform app stores. This is due to the USA’s knife-edge Presidential election and the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and there are some people wanting to seek out information that isn’t “fit for television” i.e. accepted by traditional media and the main Silicon Valley social networks.

Unlike previous alternative-media setups like community broadcasting, small-scale newspapers, computer bulletin boards and the early days of the Internet, these networks are gaining a strong following amongst the hard right including conspiracy theorists and Trump loyalists. There is even interest amongst the USA’s Republican Party to shift towards these services as a way to move from what they see as the “left-leaning media establishment”, something that is symptomatic of how hyper-partisan the US has become.

A question that will be raised is how large these networks’ user bases will be in a few years’ time after the dust settles on Donald Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic. But I see them and newer alternative social networks maintaining their position especially for those who relate with others that have opinions or follow topics that are “against the grain”.

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ARM to introduce new performance chip design for laptops

Article

Lenovo Yoga 5G convertible notebook press image courtesy of Lenovo

More powerful CPU designs await ARM-based computers like the Lenovo Flex 5G / Yoga 5G Always Connected PC convertible notebook which runs Windows on ARM

Here’s how Arm’s latest CPU targets laptop and handheld console performance | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

ARM Holdings

Arm Cortex-A78C CPU: Secure and scalable performance for next-generation on-the-go devices (Blog Post)

My Comments

With some computer manufacturers offering regular computers that use ARM microarchitecture, there had to be a time for ARM Holdings to introduce a performance variety of their RISC-based computer chipset design.

This is in the form of the Cortex A78C CPU design number which is increased performance over current ARM-based CPU designs used in some Chromebooks or the Always Connected PC that runs Windows 10. It is being seen as an upgrade path for use cases with these systems where increased performance is being desired like games or multimedia.

Snapdragon smartphone electronics in 2-in-1 laptop press picture courtesy of Qualcomn

This will give Always Connected PCs that run Windows on ARM silicon more credibility

This is not really about clawing back the position that RISC-based microarchitecture held during the late 80s and early 90s as having increased multimedia prowess, even though this was facilitated with Motorola silicon. Rather this chip design is about blending performance and power efficiency making it appeal to a performance class of highly-portable computing device. Think of devices like the Always Connected PC notebook or Chromebook computer, a mobile-platform tablet with gaming or advanced multimedia prowess or a handheld gaming console.

Here the idea may be to keep the same battery type and thermal design for the device in question but allow more performance out of that device. This will be very similar what happened with portable audio equipment through the 1970s where manufacturers improved on the device’s design while keeping the power-supply requirement the same across the years for the device class. This led to amplifier and speaker designs that could allow for increased sound quality that led to increased product differentiation and improvement.

But where do I see this taking place for something like an Always Connected PC laptop that runs Windows 10 on ARM, or an ARM-based Chromebook or even a mobile-platform tablet? I would see this come about in the form of product differentiation in the context of CPU-level performance where manufacturers can offer device models that factor in performance. This avoids computers in the Always Connected PC or Chromebook class being relegated to “baseline duty machines” and allow them to be on a par with traditional Windows 64-bit x86-based computers when it comes to gaming or multimedia.

The same also holds true for mobile-platform tablets of the same ilk as the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab S. Here, it could be feasible for manufacturers to open up interest in gaming or multimedia-focused Android tablets that are about performance. That is especially where a tablet’s larger display surface can make it appeal as a gaming companion device to a smartphone.

Let’s not forget companies like Nintendo who have a strong legacy with the handheld games consoles from its Game & Watch devices of the early 80s through the Game Boy devices of the 1990s to the current Nintendo Switch. Here, they could work towards more powerful iterations of their current platforms, whether you consider them as a “timewaster” or a “guilty pleasure”. These platforms could even show some more highly-capable games as well while even using higher-resolution displays.

What will need to happen is for the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung to build this design into the actual CPU processors in order to have it appear in newer computer devices. As well, Microsoft would have to encourage the creation of games and similar software for ARM-based Windows setups especially those that use more powerful silicon.

This could then place ARM-based and x86-based mobile computing on a par with each other when it comes to performance but allow ARM to gain the edge in power efficiency for portable use cases.

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