SoftBank, Foxconn to Deepen Ties With Joint Venture

Japan’s SoftBank Group and Taiwan’s Foxconn will soon begin operating a joint venture that deepens ties between two of Asia’s biggest technology companies, they said on Friday.

The move will give Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, a 54.5 percent stake in one of SoftBank’s existing subsidiaries for $600 million (roughly Rs. 3,998 crores) and comes as both groups step up investments in the technology sector and consider expansion in the United States.

SoftBank, Foxconn to Deepen Ties With Joint Venture

Under the arrangement, a subsidiary of Foxconn will buy new shares in SoftBank Group Capital Apac Pte Ltd for a controlling stake, transforming what had been a wholly-owned SoftBank unit into a joint venture, the companies said.

The deal is expected to take effect on March 1, reducing SoftBank’s holding to 45.5 percent.

The joint venture will invest in initiatives that will integrate SoftBank’s investment expertise and Foxconn’s advanced manufacturing and technology services, Foxconn said, adding that it will manage the operation.

The Taiwanese company is a a major supplier for Apple and is parent to Sharp, the Japanese manufacturer of liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, in which it bought a two-thirds stake last year.

 SoftBank owns stakes in many companies, including US telecoms carrier Sprint Corp and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Foxconn founder Terry Gou and SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son, both among Asia’s richest men, have done business together for years.

In December plans from the two companies on the possible expansion of investment in the United States were revealed after a meeting between Son and Donald Trump shortly after Trump was elected as US president.

Gou later said the outlines of the investment presented to Trump were from a telephone call he and Son shared before the meeting.

H1B Visa Changes: India Lobbies Trump Administration to Avert Threat

India has stepped up its lobbying effort against moves in the US Congress to impose curbs on visas for skilled workers that threaten the South Asian nation’s tech sector, which employs more than 3.5 million people.

H1B Visa Changes: India Lobbies Trump Administration to Avert Threat

Speaking to Reuters, Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said New Delhi had reached out to the administration of President Donald Trump to stress the importance of India’s $150-billion IT services industry to US citizens.

“India’s investments in the United States have provided jobs to US citizens,” she said in an interview. “That has to be brought to the notice of the US administration.”

The comments come days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Washington to keep an open mind on admitting skilled Indian workers.

Indian software companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro shot to prominence in the 1990s by helping Western firms stamp out the “Y2K” bug.

Trump’s “America First” rhetoric on jobs, however, has put their biggest market under threat.

A bill was introduced in the US Congress last month to more than double the minimum salary of H-1B visa holders, which could significantly boost costs for IT companies, whose margins are already being squeezed.

New Delhi has backed a move by Nasscom, India’s high-tech industry association, to lobby US lawmakers and companies to urge the administration not to crack down on allowing its skilled workers into the United States.

 “We will have to engage with the new administration,” Sitharaman said. “Our engagement at every level is intact and continuing.”

The United States is India’s biggest trading partner, but trade in goods between the two countries has been stagnant, at around $67 billion (roughly Rs. 446,454 crores), for the last three years. Indian software exports to the US rose more than 10 percent, to $37 billion, in the last fiscal year from a year earlier.

Indian nationals are by far the largest group of recipients of the 65,000 H-1B visas issued annually to new applicants under a cap mandated by Congress. More than 60 percent of the US employees of Infosys hold H-1B visas.

A global pact on services trade would go a long way towards settling disputes over professional visas, Sitharaman said.

“If only there is a framework…you will know how movement can happen and how certain restrictions can or cannot come,” she said. “It’s time for countries to sit together and look at it.”

Panasonic’s Firefox OS is dead, long live Firefox OS

Perhaps the biggest trend with Panasonic’s lineup of TVs this year (aside from the company’s full-on embrace of OLED technology ) has been the loss of Firefox OS.

Its demise began back in December 2015 when its developer Mozilla announced that it would no longer be developing the smart phone version of the operating system, but the final nail in the coffin came in September last year when the company ceased all development entirely .

Its demise is unfortunate. In our guide to the best smart TV platforms we called it “the best-looking and most easily customisable smart TV platform around,” and so its loss really is a shame.

Gone, but not forgotten

The end of Firefox OS could have proven awkward for Panasonic, but from what we’ve seen of the 2017 lineup the company has successfully rolled with this particular punch, and has now fully taken over development duties itself.

The result is the loss of Firefox TV branding entirely in favor of Panasonic’s own ‘My Home Screen 2.0’, which was previously co-developed with Mozilla.

The OS features in the company’s mid to high-end ranges this year. Lower-end ranges feature the first version of My Home Screen.

The company was able to achieve this transition thanks to Firefox OS being open-source, meaning its code was freely available to edit by anyone.

My Home Screen 2.0 is essentially a ‘fork’ of the old OS, which is a term used in the open-source community when a new developer comes in and makes their own version of an existing project.

Better than ever

As well as a change in name the operating system has also seen a few improvements made.

New this year is the ability to organize apps into folders. If you’re the only user of the TV you might group film streaming apps or television streaming apps together, or if it’s used by a family you might group apps based on who in the household uses them.

Photo and video organisation has also been improved.

The bottom line is this. Although Firefox OS is dead, Panasonic so far has been more than capable of continuing its excellent legacy. Apps are still being added with new functionality (such as the YouTube app which will shortly be 4K/HDR compatible), and Panasonic is continuing to develop the operating system.

The biggest loss as far as we’re concerned is that if Panasonic is handling development in-house, then this removes the possibility of this excellent operating system coming to other manufacturer’s televisions.

  • Panasonic’s new flagship is running My Home Screen 2.0, check out our hands on review of the Panasonic EZ1002 .

Forget fake news – Facebook wants to use AI to tackle terrorism

Facebook”s Mark Zuckerberg has posted 5,500 word missive on the social network, in which he discusses many topics – including how the company aims to tackle the promotion of terrorist activities and so-called “fake news” using AI and algorithms.

The size of the global Facebook community, with more than a billion people posting several billion messages and posts each day, has made it impossible for individuals to effectively police the network in its entirety.

“The complexity of the issues we’ve seen has outstripped our existing processes for governing the community,” said Zuckerberg.

“We are researching systems that can read text and look at photos and videos to understand if anything dangerous may be happening.”

Long term plans

However, Zuckerberg admits that these systems will take time to perfect.

“This is still very early in development, but we have started to have it look at some content, and it already generates about one third of all reports to the team that reviews content,” he continued.

“Right now, we’re starting to explore ways to use AI to tell the difference between news stories about terrorism and actual terrorist propaganda.”

It’s an approach that could help turn the tide against unreliable, “fake” news sources too, though Zuckerberg also notes that the nuances a human can discern between tasteful and trustworthy and distasteful and untrustworthy content will initially be difficult for an AI to comprehend.

“It’s worth noting that major advances in AI are required to understand text, photos and videos to judge whether they contain hate speech, graphic violence, sexually explicit content, and more,” he said.

“At our current pace of research, we hope to begin handling some of these cases in 2017, but others will not be possible for many years.”

So, despite the long term goal, the crux of Facebook’s defences will remain, for the time being at least, within community moderation.

“Where is your line on nudity? On violence? On graphic content? On profanity? What you decide will be your personal settings,” Zuckerberg said.

“For those who don’t make a decision, the default will be whatever the majority of people in your region selected, like a referendum.”

Microsoft buys Simplygon to simplify rendering VR and AR models

Microsoft is betting that less is more in 3D design, with the acquisition of the Swedish developer of a 3D data optimization system, Simplygon.Windows 10 VR

Simplygon takes 3D models in a number of formats, and reduces the volume of data used to describe them by taking out some of the detail — somewhat like reducing the size of a JPEG image file by increasing the level of compression while leaving the resolution unchanged.

That means the models can be rendered more rapidly or using less powerful hardware, something that will help Microsoft with the “3D for everyone” vision it outlined last October at the launch of Windows 10 Creators Update.

The company is pushing hard into the markets for virtual reality, with a US$300 consumer VR headset for PCs due out as early as March, and augmented reality, where it is seeking to build an ecosystem around Hololens, its enterprise-oriented stand-alone AR headset.

3D models, whether for video games, architectural rendering, or viewing in augmented or virtual reality, are typically composed of many adjoining flat surfaces, or polygons. The more polygons that are used, the better the model is able to represent complex curved surfaces — but the more memory and processing power it takes to render, or draw on the screen.

Simplygon works best with rendering engines that use a similar density of polygons throughout, simplifying the model to describe flatter parts with fewer polygons, while retaining more polygons in more complex areas, so that they don’t look blocky.

Using this technique, it says it can reduce the number of polygons used in a model by up to 90 percent, while still retaining the essential details and shape.

For Kudo Tsunoda, corporate vice president for next-gen experiences in Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group, the acquisition will make it easier for Windows users to capture, create and share 3D models.

“It builds on and extends our aspirations to empower a new wave of creativity with the Windows 10 Creators Update, Paint 3D and our online creator community at Remix3D.com,” he said in a post on Microsoft’s blog announcing the deal.

Simplygon was developed by 10-year-old Donya Labs, based in Linköping, Sweden. CEO Matt Connors, founder and CTO Ulrik Lindahl and co-founder Koshi Hamedi will join Microsoft following the acquisition, according to the companies’ websites. They did not provide information about the terms of the deal.

The biggest market for Simplygon is in 3D game design, where it was used by the developer of the game Submerge to reduce the size of models designed for PCs and consoles when the game was ported to iOS.

Over the last year, though, the company has begun highlighting its use in applications such as augmented reality (for recreation of historic scenes) and virtual reality. It worked with a team of archeologists to optimize a 3D model so that visitors to a site could view a virtual reconstruction of a 1,400-year-old village, rendered in real time on their phones or tablets.

Microsoft’s Cortana is headed to the Android lock screen

Cortana for Android and iOS is looking better than ever after a facelift in December. Now with the overhaul finished, Microsoft has another plan for the Android edition of Cortana.cortana android quick actions

MSPowerUser recently spotted the ability to add Cortana to an Android phone’s lock screen in the testing version of Cortana (beta) on Android—that’s right, there’s a beta for the beta.

cortanaandroid
Cortana for Android.

Users in the testing program are seeing a pop-up window inside the Cortana app that asks them if they want to enable Cortana on the lock screen.

Once approved, users see a Cortana icon on the lock screen and are able to swipe it to get access to Microsoft’s voice assistant without unlocking the phone. It’s not clear if Cortana replaces the Google Now microphone in the lower left corner of the lock screen or adds another icon to it.

MSPowerUser says Cortana’s lock screen setting is a complementary feature that will not turn off or try to replace your current lock screen set-up. For most users that won’t really matter, but for anyone who uses a custom lock screen app this will be an important part of the new feature.

It’s also worth noting that Cortana on the lock screen doesn’t ask for your PIN before opening up, according to MSPowerUser. That means anyone with physcial access to your device will be able to access Cortana, which could be a problem if your calendar is connected to the digital assistant.

Why this matters: Personal digital assistants work best when they’re accessible from anywhere. That’s why Microsoft put a lock screen option for Cortana in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, and why Google Now offers voice activation from the lock screen on modern Android phones. Making Cortana on Android more functional also plays into Microsoft’s wider goal of keeping users in the company’s ecosystem even when they’re not using a Windows-powered device.

Google’s low-cost Android One program may expand to the U.S.

When Google launched its Android One program in 2014 it was designed for one main reason: to create a system of standards for phones in developing countries. Targeting emerging markets in Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, and others, the program dictated minimum hardware standards and limited software tweaks to insure people everywhere had access to low-cost phones that still provided regular security updates and the latest Android features.google io sundar pinchai android one

Now it looks like the program is on its way to the U.S.

According to a report in The Information, Google is looking to launch its first Android One phone in the States “before the middle of the year,” and is eyeing LG as a potential manufacturer. Yesterday, VentureBeat divulged that Google would be partnering with LG on the release of its first Android Wear watch, but The Information’s report doesn’t say whether the two companies would be collaborating on the development of the Android One handset.

As Amir Efrati explains, the U.S. launch of Android One is backed by “major new promotional dollars” for phone makers that play by Google’s rules. The first handset is expected to be priced between $200 and $300, and all subsequent models will need to adhere to Google’s strict guidelines “to ensure that they’re fast and responsive—and that they stay that way over time.”

android one lava pixel v1

The Lava Pixel V1 phone is part of the Android One program.

While Google hasn’t divulged the terms of its specifications, the phones highlighted on Google’s Android One site all feature a minimum of a Cortex A7 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, and a 1,700 mAh battery. It’s unclear whether the requirements of the U.S. phones would need to adhere to different standards than those made for overseas markets.

One of the biggest problems facing low-cost Android phones in the U.S. is that they are often bogged down by carrier and manufacturer bloatware, as well as a lack of timely security and OS updates. A push by Google into the U.S. with Android One would be an interesting move, especially if it’s backed by a strong advertising campaign.

With the Pixel, Google introduced a mainstream phone that enjoys timely updates. Bringing that kind of attention to budget phones in the U.S. could begin to shake up the low-end of the market. The truth is, many people don’t know that they won’t be getting the latest version of Android after they purchase their phone, so anything Google can do to stress the importance of regular updates will be an important step.

This story, “Google’s low-cost Android One program may expand to the U.S.” was originally published by Greenbot.

Oracle patches raft of vulnerabilities in business applications

Oracle released its first batch of security patches this year, fixing 270 vulnerabilities, mostly in business-critical applications. Many of the flaws can be exploited remotely without authentication.20151027 oracle cloud on building 100625234 orig

The majority of the fixes are for flaws in business products such as Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle Fusion Middleware, Oracle PeopleSoft, Oracle Retail Applications, Oracle JD Edwards, Oracle Supply Chain Products and Oracle Database Server.

E-Business Suite, which is used by companies to store key data and manage a wide range of business processes, accounts for more than 40 percent of the patched vulnerabilities — 121. Out of these, 118 are remotely exploitable and the highest rated one has a score of 9.2 (critical) in the Common Vulnerability Scoring System.

Another 37 vulnerabilities were patched in Oracle Financial Services, 18 in Oracle Fusion Middleware, eight in Oracle Retail Applications, eight in Oracle PeopleSoft and 4 in the Oracle Primavera Products Suite. These products are used across a variety of industries.

The most critical vulnerability, with a CVSS score of 10, was patched in Primavera P6 Enterprise Project Portfolio Management. The vulnerability can be exploited over HTTP and can result in unauthorized creation, deletion or modification of critical data.

Vulnerabilities with a CVSS score of 9.8 were fixed in Oracle WebLogic Server, PeopleSoft Enterprise PeopleTools, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Tools and Enterprise Manager Base Platform. If left unpatched, these can lead to a complete compromise of the affected systems.

On the database side, 27 vulnerabilities were patched in the widely used MySQL database server and five in the Oracle Database Server and related components. Seventeen vulnerabilities have been fixed in Java.

This is not Oracle’s largest Critical Patch Update (CPU) to date, but comes close to it — the record was 276 fixes in the July 2016 CPU.

Analysts from cybersecurity firm ERPScan point out that Oracle CPUs that exceed 200 patches have become the norm. The average number of fixes per Oracle CPU in 2015 was 153, but in 2016 is was 227, they said in an analysis.

“Oracle updates are huge and touch a wide range of products,” said Amol Sarwate, director of vulnerability labs at Qualys, in a blog post. “As compared to older CPUs this was a regular-sized update but is bound to keep administrators busy due to the sheer number of vulnerabilities and products it touches.”

Oracle releases CPUs on a quarterly basis, the next one being scheduled for April 18th.

Snowden’s stay in Russia has been extended by the Russian government

U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden will be allowed to stay in Russia for “another couple of years,” according to a spokeswoman for the government there.Edward Snowden

The Russian government has extended the residence permit for Snowden, the former NSA contractor charged with espionage for leaking details of U.S. surveillance operations, said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Zakharova announced the extension on her Facebook page late Tuesday.

Zakharova’s post came in response to a column by Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the U.S. CIA, who said Russia can return Snowden to the U.S. as a “perfect inauguration gift” to President-elect Donald Trump.

Snowden “stole and made available to the public more classified information than anyone in the history of our republic,” Morell wrote. “The totality of the disclosures by Snowden caused substantial damage to the overall national security of the United States.”

But Morell “does not know” that Russia has extended Snowden’s residence permit, Zakharova wrote. Snowden was stranded in Russia after fleeing the U.S. when news organizations began publishing information from his leaks.

It is clear that it is normal at the CIA to “present gifts in the form of people and take those seeking protection,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

The announcement of Snowden’s extended permit came just hours after President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, another famous government leaker. Obama reduced Manning’s prison sentence from 35 to seven years.

More than 167,000 people signed a 2013 White House petition calling on Obama to pardon Snowden. Obama declined. A campaign for a Snowden pardon is still active.

Microsoft teases Windows 10’s sleek new look for the future

Microsoft’s planning a sleek visual refresh for Windows 10, and the company quietly teased its first official glimpse of what’s coming in the future during the Windows Developer Day keynote on Wednesday.windows 10

There aren’t many details being shared about “Project Neon” right now—as the refresh was called in earlier leaks—but the new visual look will focus on animations and transitions. The basic concept is “to add fluidity, animation, and blur to apps and the operating system,” as first reported by Windows Central. The new design language also hopes to make it easier for developers to create attractive apps.

The design refresh should extend to all Windows 10 devices including PCs and tablets, HoloLens, Xbox, and the few surviving Windows Phones, according to Windows Central.

windows10projectneon

Microsoft’s first official look at Project Neon. Click to enlarge it.

Twitter user Tom Hounsell shared a clean version of Microsoft’s first look at Windows 10’s forthcoming design tweaks. The image shown on the livestream had large text overlaid on top of the screenshot.

As you can see, this isn’t a huge change, but the visual refresh gives Windows 10 a sleeker, more modern feel. The taskbar icons look a little more dynamic and bolder. Cortana is using the icon instead of the search box, though it’s not clear if this will be the default look. The clock on the taskbar is also bolder, and the usual notification area icons including the Action Center are notably absent. The open Groove Music window itself looks more polished and Aero-esque as well, with no title bar to be seen—just unobtrusive options in the app’s upper-right corner.

The impact on you at home: Windows Central says that some of the code for Project Neon is already available in recent Insider Preview builds of Windows 10; however, it’s unlikely the visual refresh will be ready in time for the massive Creators Update this spring. Microsoft is expected to share more information about Neon during the Build conference in May. The Creators Update is expected to roll out in late March or early April, followed by a second major update later in 2017.