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Powermat to upgrade to 15W wireless charging, support Apple's new iPhones

Powermat plans to release an a new wireless charging product in January that will be capable of 15-watt power transfers through a 1.5-in. thick solid surface and provide support for new Apple iPhones and other Qi-enabled devices.

Charging Spot 4.0 is a new charging hardware product that requires no drilling and that can be installed under a table surface. Powermat's new SmartInductive technology, which includes firmware, integrated circuits and charging coils, will allow the new Charging Spot to offer higher power transfers over longer distances than previously availble.

The new charger will allow users to simply place enabled mobile devices atop a desk, for example, to begin receiving power.

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Mingis on Tech: The building blocks of ... blockchain
One of the biggest topics in IT right now involves blockchain, the distributed ledger tech that underpins Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Here's a look at what it is, what it does, and how companies are already using it.
What's in the latest Chrome update?

Google this week issued Chrome 63 for Windows, macOS and Linux, adding important security enhancements for enterprises to stress the importance the company now puts on the commercial market.

"Starting with [this] release, Site Isolation is now available ... [which] renders content for each open website in a separate process, isolated from other websites. This can mean even stronger security boundaries between websites than Chrome's existing sandboxing technology," wrote Matt Blumberg, product manager for Chrome, in a post to a company blog.

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Microsoft Whiteboard adds ‘digital canvas’ collaboration to Windows 10

Microsoft is bringing its Whiteboard ‘digital canvas’ app to Windows 10 users, providing a new way for employees to collaborate on creative work and share ideas.

Whiteboard, aimed at Surface owners, makes use of the device’s stylus and touch inputs to share drawings. Users can jot down notes, make precise illustrations or search for images on the web from the app. It can also create tables, diagrams and flowcharts, which are updated in real time and automatically saved to the cloud.

“It’s designed for teams that need to ideate, iterate, and work together both in person and remotely, and across multiple devices,” the Microsoft Whiteboard team wrote in a blog post.

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Apple apologizes, issues Mac login security patch

With great apology, Apple has rushed to respond to the appalling macOS High Sierra security flaw, issuing a software update that has been made immediately available for download and will be automatically installed in existing Macs.

‘We greatly regret’

Apple has shared the following statement:

"Security is a top priority for every Apple product, and regrettably we stumbled with this release of macOS.

“When our security engineers became aware of the issue Tuesday afternoon, we immediately began working on an update that closes the security hole. This morning, as of 8:00 a.m., the update is available for download, and starting later today it will be automatically installed on all systems running the latest version (10.13.1) of macOS High Sierra. 

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Microsoft sets a cutoff date for free Office app viewers

Microsoft is warning customers that it will retire several Office application viewers in little more than four months, shutting off the spigot to the free document readers used by those without the productivity suite.

"The Excel Viewer, PowerPoint Viewer, PowerPoint 2007 Viewer and the Office Compatibility Pack, will be retired in April 2018," said a post to a company blog. "At that time, they will no longer be available for download and will no longer receive security updates."

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iOS 11.2 to unleash ‘fast’ wireless charging for the iPhone 8, iPhone X

Apple is preparing to release iOS 11.2, an update that will enable 7.5W "fast charging" for the new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.

Currently, iOS v11.1.1 supports only 5W wireless charging; iOS 11.2 is now in beta and expected to ship over the next month or so.

While all three of the new iPhones are capable of taking a charge of up to 15 watts via the Qi v1.2 specification, the iOS platform doesn't support that raten of power transfer. In fact, it only supported 5W charging when originally launched in September.

Additionally, only some wireless chargers support 7.5W wireless charging. Here's a list of Computerworld's top 10 wireless chargers, most of which support the "fast charging" capability.

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RStudio cloud service in the works?

An interesting result popped up when I searched for RStudio cloud this morning: RStudio.cloud from RStudio itself.

"Kick the tires to your hearts delight - but don't plan on taking a cross-country trip just yet," the service warns on its home page.

I logged in using my existing shinyapps.io account, which the home page advises to do. If  you don't use shinyapps.io, you can set up a new account there, or use Google or GitHub credentials. 

The opening screen lets you create a project:

RStudio.coud Screenshot at RStudio.cloud

Page to create a project at RStudio.cloud.

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With Spark Assistant, Cisco adds voice-activated A.I. to videoconferencing

Virtual assistants are gaining popularity as Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant get better at quickly retrieving information and helping to organize things. Joining them in the office are smart assistant chatbots, which are being integrated into a variety of enterprise applications.

Now, Cisco wants to bring the power of voice-activated A.I. smarts to conference rooms with its Spark Assistant.   

The idea is for Spark Assistant to take some of the pain out of setting up meetings by allowing voice commands to be used to call colleagues or start, join and leave meetings without interacting with physical devices. The A.I. assistant is activated with a simple, “Hey, Spark.”

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Apple putties Krack in macOS, iOS

Apple on Tuesday patched both macOS and iOS against serious vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) protocol used to secure wireless networks.

Information about the flaws, dubbed "Krack" by their Belgian discoverer, made news earlier in the month when security researcher Mathy Vanhoef announced weaknesses in WPA2 that could allow criminals to read information transmitted over a Wi-Fi network thought to be encrypted.

Krack, said Vanhoef, stood for "Key Reinstallation Attacks."

The macOS 10.13.1 and iOS 11.1 updates addressed the Krack vulnerabilities, as well as a slew of others. The Mac update fixed a whopping 148 flaws, while the iPhone and iPad update quashed 20 bugs. The bulk of the macOS patches - 90 of the total - plugged holes in "tcpdump," an open-source network packet analyzer that's baked into the operating system.

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Apple just bought its own wireless charging company. Here's why.

Apple has purchased a New Zealand-based wireless charging company whose technology can send power to multiple devices, from headphones to remote controls, at the same time.

As appealing as that may sound for mobile devices, Apple likely hopes to use the technology for a vast array of electronics such as the Apple TV remote control or its own computer mouse – and perhaps even for industrial applications.

PowerByProxi wireless charging IDG/Lucas Mearian

A prototype of PowerByProxi's wireless charging box, which can charge multiple devices at the same time. Inside the box is a remote-controlled car, a Wii controller and a TV remote control, all using wirelessly chargeable AA batteries. 

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Mastercard launches its own blockchain payments network

Mastercard is launching its own blockchain network to enable partner banks and merchants to make cross-border payments faster and more securely.

The Mastercard blockchain service can be used to clear credit card transactions, eliminate administration tasks using smart contract rules and thus, speed transaction settlement.

"By combining Mastercard blockchain technology with our settlement network and associated network rules, we have created a solution that is safe, secure, auditable and easy to scale," Ken Moore, executive vice president for Mastercard Labs said in a statement.

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Blockchain gains traction in FinTech as payment networks emerge

J.P. Morgan has created what is arguably one of the largest blockchain payments networks to date.

The financial services company announced that the Royal Bank of Canada and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. are the first two banks to join the blockchain network, "representing significant cross-border payment volumes."

J.P. Morgan created the Interbank Information Network (IIN), which it said will significantly reduce the number of participants needed to respond to compliance and other data-related inquiries that delay payments.

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Dropbox targets freelance pros with Showcase portfolios and Professional pricing tier

Dropbox has launched a new portfolio feature, Showcase, designed to help independent workers and small teams of professionals display and share documents more easily.

The idea is that freelance workers such as architects and designers can store content in Showcase before sharing information with clients. Documents are arranged in a branded portfolio in a “secure and polished way,” with customizable layouts, said Dropbox director of product, Vishal Kapoor. It is also possible to add text captions to files to introduce content topics to help create a narrative around what’s being shared.

Dropbox, which recently rebranded to appeal to “creatives,” has identified a large target audience: it is estimated that 35% of the U.S. workforce is now freelance, a group that as of 2016 totaled to 55 million people.

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Microsoft shuts down Krack with sneaky Windows update

Microsoft today revealed that it quietly patched Windows last week against vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) protocol used to secure wireless networks.

Details of the security update were only published Monday to Microsoft's Security Update Guide, the catalog-like portal that earlier this year replaced the decades-old practice of delivering explanatory bulletins.

All supported versions of Windows received the update, according to the catalog listing, including Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2016.

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FinTech builds on blockchain for international mobile payments

IBM has partnered with a Polynesian payments system provider and an open-source FinTech payment network to implement a new international exchange based on a blockchain electronic ledger.

The new payment network uses IBM's Blockchain Platform, a cloud service, to enable the electronic exchange of 12 different currencies across Pacific Islands as well as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

KlickEx Group, a United Nations-funded, Pacific-region financial services company, and Stellar.org, a nonprofit organization that supports an open-source blockchain network for financial services, are backing the new cross-border payments service.

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Microsoft's anti-malware sniffing service powers Edge to top spot in browser blocking tests

Microsoft's Edge browser, the default in Windows 10, blocked a higher percentage of phishing and socially-engineered malware (SEM) attacks than Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox, a Texas security testing firm said Friday.

According to NSS Labs of Austin, Tex., Edge automatically blocked 92% of all in-browser credential phishing attempts and stymied 100% of all SEM attacks. The latter encompassed a wide range of attacks, but their common characteristic was that they tried to trick users into downloading malicious code. The tactics that SEM attackers deploy include links from social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and bogus in-browser notifications of computer infections or other problems.

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Microsoft sunsets Windows 10's first feature upgrade

Microsoft today will deliver the final security update for Windows 10's first feature upgrade, the version released in November 2015.

Windows 10 1511 -- Microsoft labels its feature upgrades in a yymm format -- will receive its last security patches, then fall off Microsoft's support list. The company had announced 1511's retirement several times in the past, notably in a support lifecycle fact sheet on Microsoft's website.

Today is also October's "Patch Tuesday," the month's release of security updates for Microsoft's products. The company has tied the end of support for Windows 10's feature upgrades to Patch Tuesdays. The next in line after 1511, last year's 1607 -- aka "Anniversary Update" -- has been tentatively scheduled to drop out of support in March 2018. If true, Microsoft will undoubtedly call it quits on March 13, 2018, another Patch Tuesday.

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Nvidia wants enterprises to join it in Holodeck VR environment

Nvidia is inviting 3D designers aboard its Holodeck, a high-resolution collaborative environment that businesses can use to design, develop and demonstrate their products in virtual reality.

But while Nvidia's move shows its commitment to helping creators of photorealistic VR environments, Nokia is pulling out of a related business, the development of a 360-degree camera that captured immersive video for use in VR.

Nvidia's Holodeck is somewhere between a conferencing suite and a 3D design tool. The company is pushing it as a something enterprises can use to visualize anything from engineering prototypes to finished products or buildings, allowing staff to collaborate remotely in a shared environment.

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Facebook's Workplace takes aim at enterprise users with desktop chat app

Facebook has rolled out Windows and Mac desktop apps for its Workspace enterprise chat tool.

Workplace Chat is the business equivalent of the company’s popular consumer Messenger app, which has 1.2 billion monthly active users. The chat platform is available as part of the Workplace enterprise social network, which is now used by more than 14,000 organizations; Wal-mart most recently became a customer.

Until now, Workplace Chat was only accessible via mobile app or through a web browser; Facebook launched its enterprise collaboration platform in October 2016, offering features such as voice and video calling.

The beta launch of the desktop client, which TechCrunch reported last week, will make it easier for employees who tend have many browser tabs open at once to view notifications. It is reportedly one of the most requested features from customers, and will be tested with beta users ahead of a wider roll out. 

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Mozilla to stop all support for Firefox on Windows XP and Vista

Mozilla plans to halt all Firefox security updates next year to personal computers powered by either Windows XP or Windows Vista, closing that chapter of its browser's history.

"Today we are announcing June 2018 as the final end-of-life date for Firefox support on Windows XP and Vista," Mozilla said in an unsigned post to a company blog.

Windows XP and Vista have both been retired by Microsoft, XP in April 2014 and Vista in April 2017. Once dropped from support, an operating system stops receiving security updates from Microsoft. Third-party application developers, however, may continue to support their products on retired versions of Windows.

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Apple, Microsoft patch iOS 11 email flaw

A flaw in iOS 11 that left some users of Microsoft email unable to send messages has been fixed, the companies said.

Email accounts hosted by Microsoft on Outlook.com, Office 365, or an Exchange Server 2016 running on Windows Server 2016 were affected by the software glitch.

Some users of mobile devices running iOS 11 have been receiving error messages that read: "Cannot Send Mail. The message was rejected by the server."

The problem was noted by Apple iOS 11 users in a post on Reddit.com.

On Sept. 19, Apple published a support document stating it was working with Microsoft to fix the issue, which was described as iOS 11 not being able to successfully create an HTTP/2 Transport Layer Security connection; that kept it from connecting to email clients and prohibited outgoing email from being delivered.

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Zoho Cliq is the latest group chat tool to rival Slack and Microsoft Teams

Zoho has unveiled the latest challenger to Slack and Microsoft Teams with the launch of Cliq — a team messaging tool that integrates into its range of business apps.

The core features found in Cliq will, for the most part, be familiar to users of established workplace collaboration tools, with group chat, file-sharing, video and voice call functionality. Separate channels can be set up for discussions with individual teams or around specific projects.

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Mozilla previews its faster 'Firefox Quantum' browser

Mozilla this week unveiled a preview of a redesigned, re-engineered Firefox, dubbed "Quantum," making good on its commitment to rejuvenate the browser.

"We're releasing the Beta of a whole new Firefox, one that's powered by a completely reinvented, modernized engine," Nick Nguyen, who leads product development on the browser, said in a Tuesday post to a company blog. Officially designated version 57, the release has also been given the Quantum name, said Nguyen, to "convey the magnitude of the changes" in the browser.

Mozilla has numbered, but never named, its Firefox releases.

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Google tightens grip on Android hardware with HTC deal

Google is buying its way back into the smartphone business, almost four years after selling its stake in Motorola Mobility to Lenovo.

It's a sign that Google is committed to tighter integration between the Android operating system and specialized smartphone hardware. That could be good news for app developers and Android phone buyers alike: As Apple has shown with the video processing and artificial intelligence features of its iPhone X, there is much to be gained by tightly coupling software and hardware.

Google never entirely quit the hardware business. Since selling Moto, it has continued to release smartphones and tablets under its own brand, but these were designed and manufactured by other companies, including LG and HTC.

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Apple upgrades Safari for older versions of macOS

Apple upgraded the macOS Safari browser to version 11 this week, adding a feature that has drawn the ire of the online advertising industry.

Safari 11 can be downloaded to Macs running 2016's Sierra or 2015's El Capitan from the Mac App Store. Users can access that e-mart by clicking on the Apple menu at the top left of the screen, then choosing "App Store..." The browser upgrade should appear under the "Updates Available" section.

The browser will also be bundled with macOS 10.13, aka High Sierra, set to release Monday, Sept. 25. This week's upgrade targeted users who will, whether permanently or temporarily, stick with the older Sierra or El Capitan.

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Sounds of Silence: What's coming to Google Chrome in 2018

Google will strangle most auto-playing audio in early 2018 when it issues Chrome 64, the upgrade expected to ship Jan. 21-27, the search giant promised last week.

"Chrome will be making auto-play more consistent with user expectations and will give users more control over audio," wrote Mounir Lamouri, a Chrome software engineer, in a post to a company blog.

With Chrome 64, auto-play contents - often, but not always, advertisements - will not be allowed to run automatically unless it mutes the audio. There will be some exceptions, including a very large one: If the user has clicked or tapped (desktop Chrome or mobile Chrome, respectively), "somewhere on the site during the browsing session," the audio may play.

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Trello adds desktop apps for Windows and Mac users

Trello users can now access the project management tool directly from their desktop after the launch of native Windows and Mac apps.

The software had previously been browser-based only, meaning that Trello boards could easily get lost amid a multitude of browser tabs.  The company said in a blog post that the desktop app should make the software simpler to use, since Trello has added a navigation sidebar to help keep track of boards in a similar fashion to channels on collaboration tools such as Slack. 

Other features include “more granular” keyboard shortcuts and desktop notifications. Those using the latest Mac Book Pro laptops will also be able to open boards and create new cards from the Mac’s Touch Bar.

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What’s coming next for Slack? Plenty

SAN FRANCISCO – At Frontiers, the Slack users conference held here this week, company officials shared a roadmap of new features, including many designed specifically for enterprise customers, that the company plans to release during the next 12 months.

Several additions are in the works for Enterprise Grid, the enterprise version of Slack released in January. Enterprise Grid includes advanced security controls and  user and administrative functions for an unlimited number of workspaces. It also includes an e-discovery API that lets companies capture content.

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Slack launches shared channels to connect teams across companies

Slack is introducing shared channels to make it easier for employees at separate companies to collaborate using its messaging software.

The service, announced at the Slack Frontiers event that kicked off in San Francisco on Tuesday, is available as an open beta release to Slack Standard and Plus subscribers.

“About two-thirds of existing customers use guest accounts in some capacity to work with individuals or other teams,” said Slack product manager Sean Rose. “Shared channels make that process much smoother and much closer to how you work with your own company, using channels in your own organization.”

Slack has supported guest accounts since 2014 – a feature Microsoft added to its competing Teams software just this week.  But while it had been possible for separate organizations to communicate via Slack, workarounds were often required, Rose said, such as using a mix of guest accounts and email

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Here's the Apple macOS High Sierra release date

Apple on Tuesday quietly announced it will release High Sierra, this year's upgrade of the Mac's operating system software, on Monday, Sept. 25.

As has been Apple's habit for several years, the date was posted on the company's website. The news did not rate a mention during the lengthy introductions of the year's new iPhones, the 8 and 8 Plus and the $999 iPhone X.

High Sierra will be the second under the "macOS" brand introduced in 2016, when Apple dropped the older "OS X" and formatted the Mac operating system label to match others in its stable, including iOS and tvOS. High Sierra is also known as macOS 10.13 using the Cupertino, Calif. company's numerical labeling.

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