Blair Hanley Frank

About the Author Blair Hanley Frank


Here’s how Google is preparing Android for the AI-laden future

The future of Android will be a lot smarter, thanks to new programming tools that Google unveiled on Wednesday. The company announced TensorFlow Lite, a version of its machine learning framework that’s designed to run on smartphones and other mobile devices, during the keynote address at its Google I/O developer conference.

“TensorFlow Lite will leverage a new neural network API to tap into silicon-specific accelerators, and over time we expect to see [digital signal processing chips] specifically designed for neural network inference and training,” said Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of engineering for Android. “We think these new capabilities will help power a next generation of on-device speech processing, visual search, augmented reality, and more.”

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Google preps Android for an A.I.-laden future

The future of Android will be a lot smarter, thanks to new programming tools that Google unveiled on Wednesday. The company announced TensorFlow Lite, a version of its machine learning framework that’s designed to run on smartphones and other mobile devices, during the keynote address at its Google I/O developer conference.

“TensorFlow Lite will leverage a new neural network API to tap into silicon-specific accelerators, and over time we expect to see [digital signal processing chips] specifically designed for neural network inference and training,” said Dave Burke, Google’s vice president of engineering for Android. “We think these new capabilities will help power a next generation of on-device speech processing, visual search, augmented reality, and more.”

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Microsoft’s new mobile app enables Windows developers to test on iOS

Mobile developers building apps for iOS and Android have some new tools from Microsoft designed to make their lives easier. On Thursday, the company unveiled a series of apps and services, including one that’s designed to let Windows-based developers test iOS apps from their PCs.

Called Xamarin Live Player, the app allows developers to link their iOS or Android phones with Visual Studio on Windows or Mac and then test the .Net mobile applications they’re building in a matter of seconds.

It’s designed to solve two key problems: developers needing to burn time setting up their development environments, and the time that it takes to compile applications, according to Microsoft Corporate Vice President Nat Friedman.

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Microsoft’s new tools help devs manage cloud deployments on the go

Microsoft is making it easier for developers to manage their cloud deployments on the go, using a new mobile app and browser-based command line.

On Wednesday, the company unveiled Azure Cloud Shell, which lets developers spin up a full-fledged terminal environment inside Microsoft’s cloud and comes with a set of preconfigured tools for managing deployments. Each user will have persistent file storage in their Cloud Shell, hosted in Microsoft Azure.

Cloud Shells are accessible through the Microsoft Azure web portal, as well as the Azure mobile app for iOS and Android, which was just released Wednesday. That app also provides users with the ability to monitor the workloads they have running in Microsoft’s public cloud and perform basic management like stopping and restarting virtual machines.

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Oracle’s next big business is selling your info

There’s a decent chance you’re part of Oracle’s next big business. Not selling products to you, but selling you as a product. That’s the idea behind the Oracle Data Cloud, a massive pool of information about consumers and companies.

The tech titan has put it together by tracking people across the web and buying data from a variety of sources. People who have their data included may not even know that they’ve opted in for that data collection.

There’s no big red button that someone has to click in order to be a part of the company’s data collection machine. Instead, its base of user data is fed by a network of third parties. The Data Cloud is primarily fed by three types of sources: publishers, like Forbes and Edmunds, retail loyalty programs, and traditional data brokers like Experian and IHS.

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Google Cloud growth is outpacing the company’s ad business

Google is still an advertising company, but the tech titan’s cloud business is growing faster than its advertising revenue. That’s one of the key take-aways from the company’s first quarter earnings report released Thursday.

Google Cloud Platform is one of the fastest-growing lines of revenue across Alphabet, the parent company that includes Google and other businesses like self-driving car maker Waymo, company CFO Ruth Porat said on a conference call with analysts. That growth is driven in part by a change in the way companies are working with Google Cloud.

“Over the last several months, we have noticed a change in the types of conversations that Diane [Greene] and her team are having with customers,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said. “Increasingly, we are being asked to partner for mission-critical projects and full migrations, moving data from on-prem data centers to the cloud. We are seeing a meaningful shift, and this momentum is resulting in a fast-growing business.”

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Google Cloud growth is outpacing the company’s ad business

Google is still an advertising company, but the tech titan’s cloud business is growing faster than its advertising revenue. That’s one of the key take-aways from the company’s first quarter earnings report released Thursday.

Google Cloud Platform is one of the fastest-growing lines of revenue across Alphabet, the parent company that includes Google and other businesses like self-driving car maker Waymo, company CFO Ruth Porat said on a conference call with analysts. That growth is driven in part by a change in the way companies are working with Google Cloud.

“Over the last several months, we have noticed a change in the types of conversations that Diane [Greene] and her team are having with customers,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said. “Increasingly, we are being asked to partner for mission-critical projects and full migrations, moving data from on-prem data centers to the cloud. We are seeing a meaningful shift, and this momentum is resulting in a fast-growing business.”

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Box revises platform pricing to ease developer adoption

Box is trying to give developers who want to use its platform more pricing consistency with a new  announced Tuesday.

Customers will now pay on the basis of how much active use they’re getting out of the Box Platform, which offers cloud storage and content management capabilities for third-party applications. Companies can purchase packages from Box that include a set number of active users, API calls, bandwidth, and storage use.

The first package costs $500 per month and includes 100 monthly active users, 175,000 Box API calls, 125GB of bandwidth, and 125GB of storage in Box’s cloud. The more packages companies purchase, the less they have to pay per package. For developers just getting started with the platform, there’s a free tier that allows 10 monthly active users, 15,000 API calls, 10GB of bandwidth, and 10GB of storage.

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Tableau switches to subscription pricing for its BI products

Tableau is making a big change in the way it sells its business intelligence products. The company announced Thursday that all of its software will be available as a subscription, rather than a single license plus a service fee.

Businesses will need to pay $70 per user per month for a license of Tableau Desktop Professional, and $35 per user per month for Tableau Server. That compares to the company’s boxed software prices of $2000 for Desktop, plus a $400 annual renewal fee for software updates, and $800 for Server, plus a $200 annual fee.

It’s a move that will provide additional flexibility, scalability and risk mitigation for Tableau customers, according to Francois Ajenstat, the company’s chief product officer.

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Google’s new cloud service eases data preparation for machine learning

One of the challenges that data scientists face when running machine learning workloads is processing information before it’s ready for use. Google unveiled a new cloud service Thursday aimed at easing that pain.

Google Cloud Dataprep will automatically detect data schemas, joins, and anomalies such as missing or duplicate values, without requiring coding. After that, it will help users build a set of rules for processing the information. Those rules are then built in Apache Streams format and can be imported into products like Google’s Cloud Dataflow for processing information as it’s imported into services like the BigQuery data warehouse service.

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Cloud growth boosts Microsoft’s financials

Microsoft’s focus on the cloud continues to pay off. The tech titan showed growth across all its cloud-based businesses during the last quarter ended Dec. 31, including Office, Dynamics and Azure.

Reporting financial results for its fiscal second quarter on Thursday, the company said its Commercial Cloud business is pulling in revenue at the rate of $14 billion per year. During the previous quarter, that rate was $13 billion.

Azure growth was especially strong. Azure compute usage more than from a year earlier, and revenue from the business grew by 93 percent.

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Cisco snatches AppDynamics from IPO market for $3.7B

Cisco has agreed to acquire AppDynamics for $3.7 billion in cash and assumed equity awards, scooping up the application performance management company just days before its expected initial public offering. The deal, which Cisco announced late Tuesday, is expected to close by the end of April.

AppDynamics was going to be the first tech company to go public in 2017, with its initial offering set for Thursday, January 26. Tech industry insiders and investors were watching AppDynamics’s IPO closely, because Wall Street investors’ treatment of its business could signal how other companies would fare later in 2017.

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Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business gets Mac client, shared folder sync

Microsoft gave users and administrators of OneDrive for Business some new features on Tuesday that they’ve requested for a while.

The company also launched a new Mac client for its business-focused cloud storage service that can be deployed outside the confines of the Mac App Store. Users will also be able to sync files from SharePoint sites and OneDrive for Business shared folders to their desktops, like they have been able to for files that they own.

IDC Research Manager Chandana Gopal said in an interview that she saw the new features are Microsoft’s attempt to play catch up with other players in the enterprise cloud storage market like Box and Dropbox, which already offer Mac clients and broad syncing of all the files stored in their services. What’s more, Box and Dropbox are working on making it possible for people to stream files from the cloud to the desktop when they need them.

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Cisco snatches AppDynamics from IPO market for $3.7B

Cisco has agreed to acquire AppDynamics for $3.7 billion in cash and assumed equity awards, scooping up the application performance management company just days before its expected initial public offering. The deal, which Cisco announced late Tuesday, is expected to close by the end of April.

AppDynamics was going to be the first tech company to go public in 2017, with its initial offering set for Thursday, January 26. Tech industry insiders and investors were watching AppDynamics’s IPO closely, because Wall Street investors’ treatment of its business could signal how other companies would fare later in 2017.

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Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business gets Mac client, shared folder sync

Microsoft gave users and administrators of OneDrive for Business some new features on Tuesday that they’ve requested for a while.

The company also launched a new Mac client for its business-focused cloud storage service that can be deployed outside the confines of the Mac App Store. Users will also be able to sync files from SharePoint sites and OneDrive for Business shared folders to their desktops, like they have been able to for files that they own.

IDC Research Manager Chandana Gopal said in an interview that she saw the new features are Microsoft’s attempt to play catch up with other players in the enterprise cloud storage market like Box and Dropbox, which already offer Mac clients and broad syncing of all the files stored in their services. What’s more, Box and Dropbox are working on making it possible for people to stream files from the cloud to the desktop when they need them.

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Box launches standalone Notes app to help teams collaborate

Box Notes is getting its own standalone web app and a new desktop app for Windows and Mac. It’s a new turn for the product, which allows users to collaboratively edit documents in real time.

Notes gives users a workspace for jotting down ideas and sharing them with others. Those notes can include rich text elements like embedded images, tasks and tables, in addition to plain text.

The service is designed to give users a shared workspace in the cloud for discussing ideas and working on them with other people. Making Notes a standalone app could help it appeal to a broader audience and increase its usage. 

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Box launches standalone Notes app to help teams collaborate

Box Notes is getting its own standalone web app and a new desktop app for Windows and Mac. It’s a new turn for the product, which allows users to collaboratively edit documents in real time.

Notes gives users a workspace for jotting down ideas and sharing them with others. Those notes can include rich text elements like embedded images, tasks and tables, in addition to plain text.

The service is designed to give users a shared workspace in the cloud for discussing ideas and working on them with other users. Making Notes a standalone app could help it appeal to a broader audience and increase its usage. 

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Microsoft will soon end Office 2013 distribution through Office 365

Get ready, Office 365 administrators: Microsoft is ending support for the Office 2013 client apps that it previously distributed through its cloud-based productivity service. Instead, administrators and users will be pushed to use Office 2016, the latest version of the productivity suite that includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Starting on Feb. 28, users won’t be able to download the Office 2013 apps from the Office 365 self-service portal, and they won’t be downloadable through the Office 365 Admin Center. Microsoft also won’t release feature updates for those products, and won’t provide support through Customer Service Support or Premier Support.

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LinkedIn overhauls its desktop website

LinkedIn’s desktop interface is getting a fresh coat of paint. The professional social network unveiled Thursday the largest overhaul to the desktop version of its website since the service launched.

The redesign is all about bringing changes from the company’s mobile app to its desktop experience, according to Chris Pruitt, LinkedIn’s director of engineering. Users will see a redesigned feed, tweaked profiles, new messaging capabilities and a revamped search box.

The company wants to unify the experience of using its desktop and mobile products, something that Pruett said LinkedIn’s most engaged users have been clamoring for. What’s more, the changes should make the product more useful and less cluttered.

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Slack finally launches threaded replies

Slack, the popular work chat app, has launched one of the features that users have been clamoring for over its entire lifetime: threaded messages.

On Wednesday, the company began the process of rolling out the update to all of its users, which will allow them to keep conversations about a particular topic corralled into a single thread. The feature is designed to keep conversations on a particular topic out of the main flow of a chat channel, the company said in a blog post.

Starting a thread just requires users to hover over a message, click the “Start a Thread” button, and type their response. Replies will be grouped into a sidebar thread, and a small link will appear below the original message showing who has replied to a thread and how many replies it has garnered.

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Slack finally launches threaded replies

Slack, the popular work chat app, has launched one of the features that users have been clamoring for over its entire lifetime: Threaded messages.

On Wednesday, the company began the process of rolling out the update to all of its users, which will allow them to keep conversations about a particular topic corralled into a single thread. The feature is designed to keep conversations on a particular topic out of the main flow of a chat channel, the company said in a blog post.

Starting a thread just requires users to hover over a message, click the “Start a Thread” button, and type their response. Replies will be grouped into a sidebar thread, and a small link will appear below the original message showing who has replied to a thread and how many replies it has garnered.

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Facebook really, really wants to work with journalists

In recent months, Facebook has been criticized for its role in the dissemination of news, especially related to the U.S. presidential election. On Wednesday, the company announced a new suite of initiatives aimed at improving its collaboration with journalists and media companies.

The Facebook Journalism Project is based on three core initiatives. First, the company is developing new features to help publishers better use its platform for publishing and promoting their stories and businesses. 

Second, Facebook is working on new tools to help journalists use the social network for their reporting along with training to help them better use Facebook. Third, the company is working to curb the spread of fake information and better educate its users about what stories they can trust.

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Microsoft is retiring the Blue Screen of Death for some users

Windows 10 beta testers who are used to the warm, familiar glow of Microsoft’s Blue Screen of Death will start learning it’s not easy being green.

Microsoft is tweaking its venerable error message that lets people know that something went wrong, and their computers need to be restarted. While everyday consumers will still see the same old BSOD that we love to hate, people who are using beta builds released as part of the Windows 10 Insider Program will now see a Green Screen of Death.

The change is designed to help distinguish between crashes in the generally available branch of Windows 10 and the beta branch. Microsoft lets people know that they use Insider builds at their own risk, and the betas can contain bugs that crash programs or entire devices.

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Hands-on with Intel’s Project Alloy untethered VR headset

Intel offered me a chance to try out its new Project Alloy mixed-reality headset prototype on Thursday. For about five minutes, I tried shooting some digital flying robots from the comfort of a replica living room inside the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Project Alloy, first announced at Intel’s developer conference last year, is an untethered headset that blends virtual-reality content with information about the physical world around its wearer. It’s designed to give people more freedom of movement when playing games, and also save people from having to buy an expensive gaming rig to play VR games.

Based on my brief experience playing the same game that Intel showed on stage Wednesday, the prototype shows a lot of potential. However, it’s hard to know exactly how that will translate into what consumers will get later this year. Intel revealed Wednesday that it’s working with selected manufacturing partners to make Project Alloy devices available in the fourth quarter of 2017.

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Microsoft is bundling cloud services to make cars smarter

CES has turned into the first car show of the year, with major automakers choosing to show off upcoming features in Las Vegas. Microsoft wants to help make cars more intelligent, and it unveiled a new suite of services Thursday to do so.

The Connected Vehicle Platform brings together a smorgasbord of services from Microsoft, including Azure IoT Hub, Cortana Intelligence Suite, Microsoft Dynamics and many others. In addition, Office 365, Skype for Business and Cortana can be integrated with the platform.

It’s not a surprising move. Microsoft frequently packages cloud services as suites, then markets them for kick-starting particular applications. Furthermore, the company has been saying for some time that its goal in car tech is to support carmakers rather than build its own connected cars.

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Intel says standalone VR is coming by the end of this year

Intel is serious about bringing its Project Alloy untethered VR headset to the masses. On Wednesday, company CEO Brian Krzanich said at the company’s CES press conference that it will be available in the fourth quarter of 2017. That will be roughly a year and a half after the company announced it at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

It’s still unknown how much a Project Alloy headset will cost, or even which company will make it. Krzanich said the headsets will be made available through Intel’s hardware partners, but didn’t provide details beyond that.

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LG unveils smart home robots, Wi-Fi appliances and ultra-thin TVs

LG kicked off the second press day of the CES trade show on Wednesday with a 45-minute keynote featuring robots, consumer appliances and more products. Here are the biggest announcements that the company made:

A.I. comes to the home

One of the first announcements LG made was that all of its appliances going forward will be Wi-Fi enabled. The aim is to connect them to the company’s DeepThinq artificial intelligence features.

The connection means that the appliances will be able to improve their performance for individual users over time based on the data gathered through their use.

For example, the company’s robotic vacuum cleaner will learn what obstacles look like and how to avoid them, and its washing machines will automatically adjust their wash cycles to match water conditions.

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The top 5 Microsoft announcements you likely missed this year

This was a big year for Microsoft. The HoloLens began shipping to developers, Windows 10 made it through its first year intact (though not without controversy), and the company got into the desktop computer market with a stunning mega-touchscreen.

But there were a few key announcements that flew under the radar this year. While they may not have the splash factor of a Surface Studio or HoloLens, these developments have the potential to alter Microsoft and the world for years to come.

Here’s the rundown on what you probably missed.

Microsoft’s new bot tools help build conversation partners

At its Build developer conference, Microsoft outlined a vision for a conversational computing platform. The idea is pretty simple: Traditional user interfaces are hard to understand right off the bat, so we should let people just talk with computers.

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