Windows 7 End of Support and Office 365 ProPlus

Extending our recent notice to customers, we are sharing with our wider audiences, Microsoft’s flag that Windows 7 will be out of support after January 14, 2020.

Because Office 365 is governed by the Modern Lifecycle Policy, customers are required to stay current as per the servicing and system requirements for the product or service.    This includes using Office 365 ProPlus on a Windows operating system that is currently in support.

Using Office 365 ProPlus on older, unsupported operating systems may cause performance and reliability issues over time.

Recommended Action

If your organisation is using Office 365 ProPlus on devices running Windows 7, Microsoft strongly recommend your organisation move those devices to Windows 10.

What is the impact?

Even though Windows 7 will no longer be supported after January 2020, Microsoft understand Office 365 customers may need more time in their migration to a supported operating system. Through January 2023, Microsoft will provide security updates for Office 365 ProPlus on Windows 7. But, importantly, during that time, as long as the device is still running Windows 7, Office 365 ProPlus won’t receive any new feature updates.

How can I prepare?

We recommend that organisations migrate to Windows 10 or a supported operating system before the end of support date on January 14, 2020 in order to continue receiving new feature updates to Office 365 ProPlus.

Note:

This information also applies to Office 365 Business which is included in business plans such as M365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium, and to desktop versions of Project and Visio.

For free and confidential initial advice on dealing with this please speak to one of our Sales team on Tel: 02380 429429 to start this conversation.

 

 

Keynote takeaways – Microsoft Future Decoded 2019


Reflecting on the output from Microsoft Future Decoded 2019 in London on 1st October has taken some time, as the talks were truly inspiring and thought provoking, on the future direction of technology and the societal impact that this will cause.   With much talk about the meaningful aggregation and dissemination of data using Azure Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, the message focused on the need to put people at the heart of the change process for AI.

Cindy Rose, CEO Microsoft

CEO of Microsoft, Sataya Nadella’s views were shared by Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK’s CEO, talking about the need for global tech providers to handle users’ data more responsibly to maintain trust going forwards.  In Rose’s speech she reflected on the need for the giants to agree a’ global ethical and empathetic framework and principles around AI design’ following the ‘Techlash’ debacle of 2018 (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google etc.).

Abhjit Akerkar, Head of AI Business Integration

In a later panel session, Abhjit Akerkar (Head of AI Business Integration) emphasised the importance of being hot on business trust and data privacy.  Knowing which stakeholders were accountable would mollify users and reassure regulators that (business) models were compliant.  Akekar also added his voice to the need to get employees involved and onboard with AI.  He said helping the workforce understand the possibilities and opportunities around AI and chatbots was key, as was aligning company culture, structure and ways of working to drive successful adoption of AI (and inform decision makers better about why algorithms made the decisions they did).

Microsoft shared some statistics from an AI study of 1,000 organisation leaders and 4,000 employees.  Companies were seen to be going from experimentation with AI (48%) to exploiting AI to solve big business challenges and create some vital commercial changes that would distinguish them resolutely from those who failed to adopt AI as part of their business model.  It was the 8% who were scaling successfully who were seeing the biggest impact change).  The UK survey, “Accelerating Competitive Advantage with AI” found that 56% of UK companies were using AI today and 11.5% of them would outperform their competitors because of this.  This was being achieved through better data science and insights, speed of platform, efficiency outputs, time savings and creating a richer customer experience.

 Darren Atkins, CTO, NHS East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust

An example quoted was NHS East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) who put nursing staff at the centre of an Azure AI development project with software developer Thoughtonomy, to create a robotic process automation workflow.   This proved hugely successful a) because the nurses were central to the process from the start so were culturally onboard through collaboration and keen adopters to use the automation workflows and b) the hospital saved 4,500 hours in admin tasks in 12 months that enabled nurses to be re-directed to patient care.

A PwC repot estimates that AI will contribute up to $15 trillion dollars to the global economy by 2030.  For the UK things look promising:

• 36% UK business leaders believe that AI is a skill that will help secure the future of the UK.
• The UK is in the top three countries worldwide for developing AI technology.
• The UK is also in third position for raising AI investment, and second for the number of AI companies based in the UK.

This creates a strong picture of optimism for business and the tech industry as whole.  However, the journey to AI remains challenging.  Only 26% of businesses surveyed said they were ready for transformation.  So many organisations are clearly still struggling to get to full cloud enablement before being in a position to accelerate their desired tech strategy on innovation and true transformation of business opportunities and competitive advantage. Interestingly, there seems to be a huge communication void around this technology between Board and workforce.  In those organisations surveyed who were intending to adopt AI, 96% of their employees had not had any discussion with their bosses about the introduction of AI, and conversely 83% of bosses had not been asked by their employees about introducing AI.  So clearly company vision is not being shared to enable a meaningful conversation to begin.

The power of communication in developing AI

Microsoft emphasised a gear shift in business development execution, asking for leaders to discuss AI more widely and ensure that AI plans were accessible to all, so that AI was democratised and offered inclusivity, as the best outcomes came from ethical integration.

Kate Rosenshine (Head of Azure Solutions Architecture)

Microsoft’s Kate Rosenshine (Head of Azure Solutions Architecture) talked of the need to foster true co-creation involving many voices, not just the technical, but those with social and business skills to create the business outcome and ‘common language’ required to enable the scaling out of AI.  AI, Rosenshine said required “the application of business, psychology and technology through a diverse set of skills and mindsets”.   Given the way most organisations function in their traditional management style, sharing such a project plan methodology would likely be a considerable challenge, but then the rewards would be greatest, and re-invent that business for the twenty-first century.

NHS East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust’s CTO, Darren Atkins in the keynote panel discussion, noted that there appears to be a common fear around the introduction of AI technology.  His recommendation for other organisations looking at transformation projects was succinct:  firstly understand what you want to do with technology, then create a roadmap for the next 12-18 months, then before investing in a solution, ensure you are working with a partner who can support your strategy.

For many organisations, technology solutions often form complex journeys of several parts, involving multiple players.  But trust, openness and inclusivity, in parallel with a strong security and compliance ethic, will offer the best language for good AI design and adoption.  So find your right partner to walk alongside your organisation and take you into this new world offered by AI.

Amicus ITS as a trusted IT Managed Service Provider welcomes all discussions on technology topics.  Call our Sales team today on 02380 429429 for a confidential chat.

 

Microsoft rapid response to Windows patching after security scare


Users and organisations using out of support Windows Operating systems Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows Server 2003, Windows 2008 R2, Windows 2008 are being urged by Microsoft to undertake urgent patching measures, following Microsoft’s discovery of a critical remote code execution vulnerability.

The severity of its potential impact worldwide has prompted Microsoft to step in to release patches for the out of support Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.  Windows XP users will need to download the patch (Remote Code Execution CVE-2019-0708) from the Microsoft Update Catalogue.

Microsoft spokesman and Director of Incident Response, Simon Pope, speaking from their Security Response Centre advised that this exploit vulnerability was ‘wormable’.  This means that the user doesn’t have to ‘do’ anything themselves to cause the damage.  Any malware created by hackers in response to this vulnerability that links to this Microsoft code, would cause a ripple effect by cross-infecting computers through Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). RDP would facilitate the hacker’s ability to send requests enabling arbitrary code to be run, to view, change or delete data, or create new accounts with full user rights. This was the experience in 2017 when the Wannacry attack went global.

With millions of users still using Windows 7 machines, Microsoft are not taking any chances and are taking the same holistic steps as in 2017 to seek to protect users whether using supported or unsupported systems.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a killswitch for someone to discover in this vulnerability unlike with Wannacry, but prudent and expeditious action taken promptly by organisations and their inhouse IT teams, (or through the direct intervention of IT MSPs like Amicus ITS), can take the mitigation steps to limit impact.  Amicus ITS have already taken immediate steps to instigate the patching for all our customers. In addition, the RDP vulnerability can be mitigated by good access control and firewall management our Network Team are undertaking.

I would advise vulnerable organisations to update to the latest operating system (currently Windows 10), but check the following paths as part of risk mitigation consideration:

1. Upgrade to the latest or near latest operating systems – full mitigation
2. Consider migrating to the 365 / Azure platforms – server mitigation
3. Take up an advanced patching service via Amicus ITS – server and device patch assurance

Any organisations seeking advice or support can contact our Sales team in the first instance by calling +44 (0)2380 429429 or by emailing enquiries@amicusits.co.uk quoting ‘Microsoft Code Exploit 2019’

JP Norman is the Director of Technology, Security and Governance at Amicus ITS

Building the blocks around the smartest cryptocurrency on the market



We’re talking Blockchain – but it began with Bitcoin.

So what is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and a digital payment system.  Invented by an unknown programmer (or a group of programmers), it was released as open-source software in 2009. There is a market cap with Bitcoin.  The value of an individual Bitcoin has increased substantially during this time, every year more and more merchants and vendors accept bitcoin as payments for goods and services, and millions more unique users are using a cryptocurrency (digital) wallet.

Why is there a worry about Bitcoin?
There are many concerns related to Bitcoin, price volatility, doubts around legal status, tax and (lack of any) regulation, Bitcoin has been notorious in criminal activity, and is well renowned for the role it has in cyber-attacks like Ransomware.  But for believers, Bitcoin has huge upsides, de-centralised thus outside the control of a central authority, privacy, deflationary, low cost to transfer funds across borders, but most it is an attractive “store of value”.

Why is Bitcoin important?
Bitcoin is important because it requires a blockchain.  A blockchain is an undeniably ingenious invention, but since Bitcoin, blockchain has evolved into something greater.  And the main question every person is asking is – what is a blockchain?

So what is a blockchain?
The simplest explanation “Blockchain is to Bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one.”  Sally Davies, FT Technology Reporter.

How does blockchain work?
A blockchain is a distributed database that is used to maintain a continuously growing list of records, called ‘blocks’.   Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retrospectively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and a collusion of the network majority.   Functionally, a Blockchain can serve as “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.” Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016).

Blockchains are secure by design and are an example of a distributed computing system with high Byzantine fault tolerance.  Decentralised consensus has therefore been achieved with a Blockchain.  This makes Blockchains potentially suitable for the recording of events, medical records and other records management activities, such as Identity Management, transaction processing and documenting provenance.

The entire financial, legal, and record-keeping industries are being disrupted using this decentralised, secure, and inexpensive method. It has therefore caught the eye of the Bank of England plus other large organisations including Microsoft, IBM and Cisco have consequently started to take note of it.

In summary the opportunities are infinite.

People need to understand that “blockchain” is NOT the same thing as “Bitcoin”.

Bitcoin was the first blockchain system designed, but there have been a number of others since then which are very different, designed by different people, often for different purposes. These people are in the business of designing things for use by corporations to operate their businesses to drive a competitive edge. This is no different to what Amicus ITS has been doing for 30 years, problem solving and designing solutions that deliver business value as we look constantly to the horizon at future technologies.

Click here to read our White Paper

What does the future of Windows Mobile look like?

Lumia 950 XL
Microsoft who originally launched their first smartphones back in 2002, compared to both Apple and Google (launching in 2007 and 2008 respectively) have been in the smartphone game a lot longer than their main competitors, but looking at their current marketshare they look more like the underdog.

By 2007, Microsoft’s smartphone platform was the most popular in the US, but this quickly faded after Apple and Google entered the market.  Today, these numbers are at an all-time low with US marketshare of Windows Mobile (and Windows Phone) down from 4.8% in early 2015 to just 1.6% at the end of December 2015. In the UK, Microsoft is in a much healthier position of 9.2% with iOS at 38.6% and Android taking the lions share with 51.9%.

With Microsoft continuing to struggle in its home turf and its marketshare slipping away in spite of the launch of its new Windows Mobile 10 platform and phones late last year, the question again arises – what does the future of Windows Mobile look like to Microsoft?

Despite both the loss in marketshare and revenue from Windows Mobile, taking a look at Microsoft’s more recent tablet-laptop hybrid Surface Pro may provide some answers.

In their recently announced quarterly fiscal results they revealed an impressive $1.35 billion in revenue generated by their Surface line, up from $1.1 billion the same time last year.  The now very successful Surface line is headed by Panos Panay who also recently took the lead on their Windows Mobile division. The most recent Microsoft flagship phones the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL launched under his leadership, however they would have been designed and developed before this time. On its announcement, the new feature which had the most time under the spotlight was Continiuum, which lets you plug up the phone to a monitor, keyboard and mouse and use it like a PC. The apps you have access to in this mode are the same as those available when using a phone and these will scale as needed to the screen plugged in.

Looking ahead to where the future of Windows Mobile lies, there have been rumours for some time of Microsoft working with Intel to get Windows Mobile working on x86 processors (the same ones that power their laptops and PCs) and even more recently x86 support was listed on their manufactures design guideline specification for Windows Mobile, although this information has since been pulled from their site.

With Panos Panay currently developing future Windows Mobile devices, alongside the next Surface models, we may see the next Windows Mobile flagship branded with the Surface stamp, reserving the Lumia name for both low and mid-range devices in the future.

A Surface flagship phone could see a Surface-like premium metal build and include an x86 processor, meaning when in Continuum mode, it can also run full PC applications in addition to scaling mobile apps.  As well as using full PC apps on your phone, a more unified brand could make Microsoft flagship phones easier to market and sell to consumers with the simpler name ‘Surface Phone’ compared to the current ‘Lumia 950’.

The future of Windows Mobile may look bleak now, especially in the US, but with such a heritage with smart devices and the very successful launch of Windows 10 on PCs they can’t be dismissed.

Empowering the Office with Apps

microsoft-powerapps

The novelty of mobile apps has long since faded but their usefulness and functionality is ever increasing with more advance and creative apps being developed every day. Creative apps are not just limited to the big app stores but can also come directly from developers to businesses bypassing the app stores all together.

These apps can streamline processes and naturally enable mobility within an organisation. Some business apps have broader appeal for example providing mobile versions of larger desktop applications other apps have a much more niche appeal and will need to be custom built for its use.

Microsoft has announced a new tool called PowerApps for creating apps, not aimed at developers but anyone familiar with their hugely popular office suite.

The apps created will run on all mobile platforms including Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone.

The tool aimed at businesses, using an office-like interface including the ribbon to create apps to make office life easier. These can be published from the application and then access via an intranet link on other employee’s smartphones, tablets of PCs.

PowerApps has now launched on the Windows Store as a free download and requires a Office 365 account to login. Click here to download.

Microsoft moved to build new EU datacentres

In response to the collapse of the Safe Harbour Agreement of 2000 on 6th October 2015, and following meetings and conversations between EU and US regulators, Microsoft has announced it will invest $2 billion in infrastructure development across Europe. This is addition to confirming the completion of the latest phase of improvements to its existing data centres in Dublin and the Netherlands.

This new investment will enable Microsoft to provide secure commercial cloud services for its customers and address the sovereign issues of data transfer and compliance that the lapse of legal reference created by the scrapping of Safe Harbour created on 21st October 2015.

Once the new datacentres are up and running (planned to open late 2016), Microsoft will be able to replicate data within the UK for backup and recovery (vs the current failover of data going to the US from Europe).  General Manager of Microsoft UK, Michael Van der Bel said, “This will help meet demand from those who want their could systems based in the UK and now they can meet the strict regulations of the banking, financial services and public sectors”.

It is good news for compliance within Europe, but the EU and US still need to work assiduously to thrash out a legal plan before the end of January 2016 when fines will kick in for non-compliance, to ensure that transatlantic business data can still traverse fluidly and securely across the Pond, avoiding nation fragmentation and an MSP administrative mess.
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