Microsoft hangs up on phone business

The software giant throws in the towel on smartphone hardware, nuclear weapons systems get an upgrade — from the 1970s — and robotic security guards patrol malls. This was one of technology’s weirder weeks. Read all about it in our tech roundup.

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Microsoft was in the news this week for two things, neither of them good. First, it cut 1,850 jobs in its smartphone business that effectively kills off its smartphone programme. The Microsoft-built Windows phone, which garnered less than one per cent share of the phone market, is now dead, according to union representatives in Finland.

It marks the end of a two-year, US$8 billion experiment that started when the firm bought Nokia. Microsoft was using the Nokia brand for feature phones (meaning dumbphones with only basic functions), but will now sell that business to FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Foxconn, for $350,000. The Nokia brand will be licensed to a new firm that will make Android devices.

But it really, really wants you to install Windows 10

Redmond also tried to pull a fast one on Windows users and then backed down. The firm was accused of ‘nasty tricks’ when it updated the pop-up dialogue box encouraging users to upgrade to Windows 10.

Previously, clicking the big red ‘X’ at the top right of the box would simply close it. The firm rewrote the code so that clicking on it would schedule an update to Windows 10 instead. Shortly afterwards, the company did a U-turn, offering another notification box to cancel the scheduled update. Sheepish looks all round at Redmond.

Sword of Damocles running on obsolete hardware

Microsoft isn’t the only large organization jonesing for an upgrade. The U.S. nuclear weapons messaging system still runs on IBM computers from the 1970s and eight-inch floppy disks, it was revealed this week. The messaging system is used to send emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces, which is a little chilling given the instructions they might contain. If you’re feeling out of date because you’re still running Windows 7, this might give you a little perspective.

The Pentagon is upgrading the system, and the floppies — which were usurped by 5 ¼-inch disks in 1976 — should be gone by the end of 2017. So if the end of the world does arrive, at least it’ll be delivered via some shiny new hardware.

Robocop patrols Californian streets

From the very old to the very new: Don’t get on the wrong side of this street-stalking robot. In Palo Alto, Calif., an egg-shaped robot is patrolling the Stanford shopping centre. It’s effectively a robotic private security guard that clients can rent for $7 per hour, which looks and listens for signs of disturbance in the surrounding area.

It can scan 300 license plates per minute, said its creator, and it can match them against a blacklist, raising an alarm if it spots one it doesn’t like, such as a car driven by a disgruntled employee, for example. Fortunately for such ex-employees, it does not yet shoot lasers or growl in a deep, rumbling voice: “You’ve been terminated.” It doesn’t chase thieves yet, either. Which is just as well, because it can’t climb stairs.

Best of expertIP

Cryptographic ransomware is growing up. The malicious software, which has historically targeted individual computers, is now making its way into the enterprise, according to expertIP blogger Jared Lindzon. Citing experts in the cybersecurity community, he said that while ransomware used to focus on encrypting files on single computers, some of it is also now infecting entire networks, making them particularly dangerous to corporate victims.

Ransomware is also becoming far more sophisticated. Most strains of it encrypt files but leave computers operational. Newer software is leaving entire machines unusable and displaying ransom notes at startup before the computer even loads the operating system.

And ransomware is on the rise. Data from FireEye Dynamic Threat Intelligence found that activity from this category of malware spiked 60 per cent from February to March this year. It’s hitting everything from hospitals to utility firms. Forewarned is forearmed.

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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