Businesses

Jeff Bezos Reveals That Amazon Has Over 100 Million Prime Subscribers (theverge.com) 111

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed today that the company has over 100 million Prime members, "marking the first time in the 13-year history of Amazon offering its Prime membership that the company has ever revealed its number of subscribers," reports The Verge. From the report: According to Bezos, Amazon Prime also saw its best year ever in 2017, with the company shipping over five billion products with Prime and signing up more new members than in any previous year. Also revealed today, Whole Foods Market will discontinue its rewards program on May 2 and fold it into Amazon Prime. "Stay tuned for additional announcements for Amazon Prime members," reads the Whole Foods FAQ page focused on digital coupons, rewards and online accounts. "Any account benefits, including membership and/or unused rewards, will not roll into any future programs."
Businesses

Cybersecurity Tech Accord: More Than 30 Tech Firms Pledge Not to Assist Governments in Cyberattacks (cybertechaccord.org) 67

Over 30 major technology companies, led by Microsoft and Facebook, on Tuesday announced what they are calling the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a set of principles that include a declaration that they will not help any government -- including that of the United States -- mount cyberattacks against "innocent civilians and enterprises from anywhere."

The companies that are participating in the initiative are: ABB, Arm, Avast, Bitdefender, BT, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cloudflare, DataStax, Dell, DocuSign, Facebook, Fastly, FireEye, F-Secure, GitHub, Guardtime, HP Inc., HPE, Intuit, Juniper Networks, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Nielsen, Nokia, Oracle, RSA, SAP, Stripe, Symantec, Telefonica, Tenable, Trend Micro, and VMware.

The announcement comes at the backdrop of a growing momentum in political and industry circles to create a sort of Digital Geneva Convention that commits the entire tech industry and governments to supporting a free and secure internet. The effort comes after attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya hobbled businesses around the world last year, and just a day after the U.S. and U.K. issued an unprecedented joint alert citing the threat of cyberattacks from Russian state-sponsored actors. The Pentagon has said Russian "trolling" activity increased 2,000 percent after missile strikes in Syria.

Interestingly, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter are not participating in the program, though the Tech Accord says it "remains open to consideration of new private sector signatories, large or small and regardless of sector."
Cloud

Microsoft Built Its Own Custom Linux Kernel For Its New IoT Service (techcrunch.com) 198

At a small press event in San Francisco, Microsoft today announced the launch of a secure end-to-end IoT product that focuses on microcontroller-based devices -- the kind of devices that use tiny and relatively low-powered microcontrollers (MCUs) for basic control or connectivity features. TechCrunch reports: At the core of Azure Sphere is a new class of certified MCUs. As Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith stressed in today's announcement, Microsoft will license these new Azure Sphere chips for free, in hopes to jump-start the Azure Sphere ecosystem. Because it's hard to secure a device you can't update or get telemetry from, it's no surprise that these devices will feature built-in connectivity. And with that connectivity, these devices can also connect to the Azure Sphere Security Service in the cloud. For the first time ever, Microsoft is launching a custom Linux kernel and distribution: the Azure Sphere OS. It's an update to the kind of real-time operating systems that today's MCUs often use.

Why use Linux? "With Azure Sphere, Microsoft is addressing an entirely new class of IoT devices, the MCU," Rob Lefferts, Microsoft's partner director for Windows enterprise and security told me at the event. "Windows IoT runs on microprocessor units (MPUs) which have at least 100x the power of the MCU. The Microsoft-secured Linux kernel used in the Azure Sphere IoT OS is shared under an OSS license so that silicon partners can rapidly enable new silicon innovations." And those partners are also very comfortable with taking an open-source release and integrating that with their products. To get the process started, MediaTek is producing the first set of these new MCUs. These are low-powered, single-core ARM-A7 systems that run at 500MHz and include WiFi connectivity as well as a number of other I/O options.

Operating Systems

ReactOS 0.4.8 Released (osnews.com) 60

jeditobe shares a report from OSNews: With software specifically leaving NT5 behind, ReactOS is expanding its target to support NT6+ (Vista, Windows 8, Windows 10) software. Colin, Giannis and Mark are creating the needed logic in NTDLL and LDR for this purpose. Giannis has finished the side-by-side support and the implicit activation context, Colin has changed Kernel32 to accept software made for NT6+, and Mark keeps working on the shim compatibility layer. Although in a really greenish and experimental state, the new additions in 0.4.8 should start helping several software pieces created for Vista and upwards to start working in ReactOS. Microsoft coined the term backwards compatibility, ReactOS the forward compatibility one. Slashdot reader jeditobe adds: "A new tool similar to DrWatson32 has been created by Mark and added to 0.4.8, so now any application crashing will create a log file on the desktop. This crash dump details the list of modules and threads loaded, stack traces, hexdumps, and register state."

The announcement, general notes, tests, and changelog for the release can be found at their respective links. A less technical community changelog for ReactOS 0.4.8 is also available.
Operating Systems

Linus Torvalds Says Linux Kernel v5.0 'Should Be Meaningless' (betanews.com) 162

An anonymous reader shares a report: Following the release of Linux kernel 4.16, Linus Torvalds has said that the next kernel will be version 5.0. Or maybe it won't, because version numbers are meaningless. The announcement -- of sorts -- came in Torvalds' message over the weekend about the first release candidate for version 4.17. He warns that it is not "shaping up to be a particularly big release" and questions whether it even matters what version number is slapped on the final release. He says that "v5.0 will happen some day. And it should be meaningless. You have been warned." That's not to say that Linux kernel v5.0 -- or whatever it ends up being called -- will not be significant. With the removal of old architecture and other bits of tidying up, with v4.17 RC1 there were more lines of code removed than added: something described as "probably a first. Ever. In the history of the universe. Or at least kernel releases."
Businesses

Netflix Pulls Out of Cannes Following Rule Change (variety.com) 183

Netflix and Cannes are breaking up, at least for now. On Wednesday, Netflix chief Ted Sarandos said that the streaming platform won't be sending any films to the prestigious French festival, formally severing the strained relationship between the two power players. The decision was a long time coming, after Cannes established a rule that forbade films without a theatrical distribution plan from its competition. From, a report: In an exclusive interview with Variety, Netflix's chief content officer says that the festival sent a clear message with a new rule that bans any films without theatrical distribution in France from playing in competition. Netflix could screen some of its upcoming movies out of competition, but Sarandos says that doesn't make sense for the streaming service. "We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker," Sarandos says. "There's a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival. They've set the tone. I don't think it would be good for us to be there."

Netflix made a big splash at the prestigious film festival last year with two movies that showed in competition: Bong Joon-ho's "Okja" and Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories." But after the 2017 announcement, French theaters owners and unions protested the inclusion of these films to Thierry Fremaux, the artistic director of Cannes. Netflix was amenable to having their movies play on big screens in France, but a law in the country requires movies to not appear in home platforms for 36 months after their theatrical release.

Operating Systems

'Fuchsia Is Not Linux': Google Publishes Documentation Explaining Their New OS (xda-developers.com) 244

An anonymous reader quotes a report from XDA Developers: You've probably seen mentions of the Fuchsia operating system here and there since it has been in development for almost 2 years. It's Google's not-so-secretive operating system which many speculate will eventually replace Android. We've seen it grow from a barely functional mock-up UI in an app form to a version that actually boots on existing hardware. We've seen how much importance Google places on the project as veteran Android project managers are starting to work on it. But after all of this time, we've never once had either an official announcement from Google about the project or any documentation about it -- all of the information thus far has come as a result of people digging into the source code.

Now, that appears to be changing as Google has published a documentation page called "The Book." The page aims to explain what Fuchsia, the "modular, capability-based operating system" is and is not. The most prominent text on that page is a large section explaining that Fuchsia is NOT Linux, in case that wasn't clear already. Above that are several readme pages explaining Fuchsia's file systems, boot sequence, core libraries, sandboxing, and more. The rest of the page has sections explaining what the Zircon micro-kernel is and how the framework, storage, networking, graphics, media, user interface, and more are implemented.

AMD

AMD Releases Spectre v2 Microcode Updates for CPUs Going Back To 2011 (bleepingcomputer.com) 54

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: AMD has released CPU microcode updates for processors affected by the Spectre variant 2 (CVE-2017-5715) vulnerability. The company has forwarded these microcode updates to PC and motherboard makers to include them in BIOS updates. Updates are available for products released as far as 2011, for the first processors of the Bulldozer line. Microsoft has released KB4093112, an update that also includes special OS-level patches for AMD users in regards to the Spectre v2 vulnerability. Similar OS-level updates have been released for Linux users earlier this year. Yesterday's microcode patches announcement is AMD keeping a promise it made to users in January, after the discovery of the Meltdown and Spectre (v1 and v2) vulnerabilities.
Businesses

Spotify Is Planning a New Version of Its Free Music Service (bloomberg.com) 64

An anonymous reader shares a report: Spotify Technology is developing a new version of its free music service, the first big product change since the streaming company went public last week, according to people familiar with the matter. The company is tweaking the free service to make it easier to use, especially for customers on mobile phones, said the people. An announcement is expected within a couple weeks. Spotify needs to attract large numbers of new listeners to satisfy investors who value the newly public company based on user growth. The free service generates customers that the company can steer into its paid offerings. The paid version accounts for less than half of Spotify's customer base, but generated about 90 percent of its 4.09 billion euros in 2017 revenue. [...] With the updated service, free mobile listeners will be able to access playlists more quickly and have more control over what songs they hear on top playlists, mimicking Spotify's ad-free subscription product. The basic package is $9.99 a month.
Facebook

Steve Wozniak Drops Facebook: 'The Profits Are All Based On the User's Info' (arstechnica.com) 246

Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak has formally deactivated his Facebook account. In an email interview with USA Today, Wozniak wrote that he was no longer satisfied with Facebook, knowing that it makes money off of user data. "The profits are all based on the user's info, but the users get none of the profits back," he wrote. "Apple makes its money off of good products, not off of you. As they say, with Facebook, you are the product." Ars Technica reports: His Sunday announcement to his Facebook followers came just ahead of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's scheduled testimony before Congress on Tuesday. The CEO is also reportedly set to meet with members of Congress privately on Monday. Wozniak wrote that Facebook had "brought me more negatives than positives." Still, when Wozniak tried to change some of his privacy settings in the aftermath of Cambridge Analytica, he said he was "surprised" to find out how many categories for ads he had to remove. "I did not feel that this is what people want done to them," added Wozniak. "Ads and spam are bad things these days and there are no controls over them. Or transparency."
Operating Systems

OpenBSD 6.3 Released (marc.info) 77

OpenBSD announced on Monday that v6.3 update, which was slated to be released on April 15, is ready for download. From the announcement post: This is our 44th release. We remain proud of OpenBSD's record of more than twenty years with only two remote holes in the default install. As in our previous releases, 6.3 provides significant improvements, including new features, in nearly all areas of the system. You can read about the changes and improvements here.
GNU is Not Unix

The Prestigious Free Software Award Goes to Karen Sandler (sfconservancy.org) 60

Each year the Free Software award goes to someone making "a great contribution to the progress and development of free software, through activities that accord with the spirit of free software." This year's winner is a former executive of the GNOME Foundation, Karen Sandler. Jeremy Allison - Sam, Slashdot reader #8,157, brought this announcement. Richard Stallman, President of the FSF, presented Sandler with the award during a ceremony. Stallman highlighted Sandler's dedication to software freedom. Stallman told the crowd that Sandler's "vivid warning about backdoored nonfree software in implanted medical devices has brought the issue home to people who never wrote a line of code. Her efforts, usually not in the public eye, to provide pro bono legal advice to free software organizations and [with Software Freedom Conservancy] to organize infrastructure for free software projects and copyleft defense, have been equally helpful."

In her acceptance speech, Sandler spoke about her dedication to free software as a patient, advocate and professional. "Coming to terms with a dangerous heart condition should never have cost me fundamental control over the technology that my life relies on", said Sandler... "This issue is personal not just for me but for anyone who relies on software, and today that means every single person."

Privacy

Adobe Is Helping Some 60 Companies Track People Across Devices (neowin.net) 66

Neowin reports of Adobe's recent announcement of its new Marketing Cloud Device Co-op initiative: The announcement of the new solution for tracking customers across devices was made at the Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas to a digital marketing conference. According to an Adobe blog post released earlier this month citing Forrester, consumers are increasingly accessing multiple devices before making a purchase decision -- an average of 5.5 connected devices per person. This behavior creates a challenge for retailers, who cannot easily target people in their marketing campaigns, ultimately depending on Facebook or Google to track people instead of devices. Both Facebook and Google are able to do this job because of the massive amount of users logged into their ecosystems regularly, so most retailers have been opting to use those platforms as a way to reach potential customers. But Adobe's approach is to provide a platform agnostic solution acting as a glue between the world's biggest brands' own data management platforms.

In order for Device Co-op to work, each company that has joined the initiative will provide Adobe with "cryptographically hashed login IDs" and HTTP header data, which Adobe claims will completely hide the customer's identity. This data will be used to create groups of devices used by the same person or household, which will then be made available to all the members of the initiative so they can target people on different devices, instead of creating one customer profile per device, as can be seen from the example given in the image above. Until now, some 60 companies have joined the Adobe initiative, including brands such as Subway, Sprint, NFL, Lenovo, Intel, Barnes & Noble, and Subaru. Also, preliminary measurements made by Adobe indicate that Device Co-op could link up to 1.2 billion devices worldwide, based on the amount of accesses seen by current members. But it is important to note that the initiative is currently collecting data of U.S. and Canada users only.
Adobe is claiming the initiative will not disclose a user's identity to its members, including any personal data, but, given the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, many will be skeptical of those claims. Thankfully, Adobe is allowing users to completely opt out all of their devices from the services via this website.
Music

Google Home Can Now Control Your Bluetooth Speakers (theverge.com) 33

Google Home speakers can now play music and other audio on the Bluetooth speakers you might have around the house. "We brought this feature to life after hearing how much you wanted to amp up the sound with your Google Home Mini," the company said in a blog announcement. "Now any of your Google Home devices can connect to other Bluetooth speakers so you can control your entertainment experience simply using the sound of your voice." The Verge reports: You can also add your existing Bluetooth speakers to Google Home groups for multi-room audio, which is where this might prove handy for Home Max users. You can pair a Bluetooth speaker with Google Home in the device settings section of the Home app. Just set it as your default speaker. Your Home device will still listen for your commands, but will route all audio through the connected Bluetooth speaker. This doesn't magically give those paired speakers Google Assistant's smarts, though. "You'll still need to talk to your Google Home device -- not the connected Bluetooth speakers -- for queries like asking questions, getting weather updates, and using smart home commands."
Graphics

Ask Slashdot: How Did Real-Time Ray Tracing Become Possible With Today's Technology? 145

dryriver writes: There are occasions where multiple big tech manufacturers all announce the exact same innovation at the same time -- e.g. 4K UHD TVs. Everybody in broadcasting and audiovisual content creation knew that 4K/8K UHD and high dynamic range (HDR) were coming years in advance, and that all the big TV and screen manufacturers were preparing 4K UHD HDR product lines because FHD was beginning to bore consumers. It came as no surprise when everybody had a 4K UHD product announcement and demo ready at the same time. Something very unusual happened this year at GDC 2018 however. Multiple graphics and GPU companies, like Microsoft, Nvidia, and AMD, as well as other game developers and game engine makers, all announced that real-time ray tracing is coming to their mass-market products, and by extension, to computer games, VR content and other realtime 3D applications.

Why is this odd? Because for many years any mention of 30+ FPS real-time ray tracing was thought to be utterly impossible with today's hardware technology. It was deemed far too computationally intensive for today's GPU technology and far too expensive for anything mass market. Gamers weren't screaming for the technology. Technologists didn't think it was doable at this point in time. Raster 3D graphics -- what we have in DirectX, OpenGL and game consoles today -- was very, very profitable and could easily have evolved further the way it has for another 7 to 8 years. And suddenly there it was: everybody announced at the same time that real-time ray tracing is not only technically possible, but also coming to your home gaming PC much sooner than anybody thought. Working tech demos were shown. What happened? How did real-time ray tracing, which only a few 3D graphics nerds and researchers in the field talked about until recently, suddenly become so technically possible, economically feasible, and so guaranteed-to-be-profitable that everybody announced this year that they are doing it?
Facebook

William Shatner Criticizes Facebook Hoax Ad Announcing His Death (people.com) 76

"William Shatner is alive and well -- in fact, he turned 87 on Thursday, so the actor was not pleased when he saw an ad on Facebook sharing a story about his alleged death," writes the Hollywood Reporter. An anonymous reader quotes People: "@WilliamShatner I thought you might want to know you're dead," a Twitter user wrote, along with a screenshot of the ad. Less than a half hour later, Shatner posted his own message calling out the social media company for spreading the phony news... "Thought you were doing something about this?" he wrote. Several hours after Shatner's tweet, Facebook's director of product management Rob Leathern messaged the actor to let him know that the ad had been removed. "Thank you," Shatner replied. "I'm not planning on dying so please continue to block those kinds of ads..." Fortunately, Shatner's in good company when it comes to celebrity death hoaxes... News of Sylvester Stallone's fake death originally began circulating on Facebook in 2016.
In late 2016 Mark Zuckerberg posted that "We take misinformation seriously..." while adding that "we know people want accurate information. We've been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously." Ironically, that announcement appeared next to a similar fake ad announcing that Hugh Hefner was dead, though at the time Hefner was very much alive.

"We've made significant progress," Zuckerberg's post continued, "but there is more work to be done."
Social Networks

Reddit Bans Subreddits Related To Selling Guns, Drugs, Sex, and More (bloomberg.com) 277

New submitter cornholed writes: Yesterday, Reddit updated their Content Policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. From the formal announcement on Reddit: "As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services, including: firearms, ammunition, or explosives; drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, or any controlled substances (except advertisements placed in accordance with our advertising policy); paid services involving physical sexual contact; stolen goods; personal information; falsified official documents or currency." Bloomberg has an interesting write-up on how Reddit is wading into the gun control debate. See this post on Reddit for a full-list of all subreddits banned. "Reddit has been something of a Wild West for users building communities by curating and commenting on content in subreddits," reports Bloomberg. "Sometimes, as in the case with gun sales, marketplaces emerge in the course of conversations within specific communities. With Reddit's increased popularity -- the site is the sixth-most-visited in the world -- has come introspection and stricter content guidelines. The company recognizes its responsibility for having provided a platform for hate groups to flourish and, more recently, the possibility that Russian propaganda on the site may have played a role in influencing the 2016 presidential election."
Youtube

YouTube To Follow Amazon By Screening Its Movies Inside Theaters (engadget.com) 36

An anonymous reader shares a report: Following YouTube's announcement last month that it intends to spend "hundreds of millions" on original content for Red, it's just unveiled plans for a YouTube-made movie that'll also be released in theaters. And unlike its previous effort, 2016's widely-regarded flop Lazer Team, this project has a serious name attached to it: Susan Sarandon. The film, Vulture Club, is already in post-production. It stars Oscar-winning Susan Sarandon as an emergency room nurse whose son has been kidnapped by terrorists, and after being abandoned by the government, finds help in the unlikeliest of places. The thriller also stars Edie Falco of The Sopranos and Matt Bomer of Magic Mike, and is directed by Iranian-American Maryam Keshavarz, of Circumstance fame. Despite being slated for theatrical release, details on YouTube's plans to actually get the movie into theaters are scarce.
Education

Chinese Companies Are Buying Up Cash-Strapped US Colleges (bloomberg.com) 206

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Chinese companies are taking advantage of America's financially strapped higher-education system to buy schools, and the latest deal for a classical music conservatory in Princeton, New Jersey, is striking chords of dissonance on campus. Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co. agreed in February to pay $40 million for Westminster Choir College, an affiliate of Rider University that trains students for careers as singers, conductors and music teachers. The announcement came just weeks after the government-controlled Chinese company changed its name from Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co. The pending purchase rankles some Westminster faculty and alumni, who question what a longtime maker of steel spans knows about running an elite school whose choirs sang with maestros Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini and Seiji Ozawa. Alumni are among those suing in New York federal court to block the sale, saying it violates Westminster's 1991 merger agreement with Rider and will trigger the choir college's demise.
Android

Android Wear Needs More Than a New Name To Fight Apple Watch (cnet.com) 90

Less than two months before Google I/O, Google has rebranded its Android Wear watch platform to "Wear OS." The recent name change is part of a move to have its watches stand apart from Android, but it could also indicate that Google's smartwatch strategy is about to shift. Google may release a completely new Wear OS focused on the Google Assistant or a Google-branded smartwatch. Scott Stein writes via CNET that Android Wear needs more than a new name to fight the Apple Watch: The Apple Watch took over the top spot in global wearable sales recently, according to IDC, despite the fact that it's only compatible with iPhones. Fitbit just announced the Versa, a promising casual smartwatch that will interface with any iPhone or Android and starts at just $200. The wearable market is growing. But where is Google in that picture? The Fossil Group, maker of many of the Android Wear watch products last year, reported some promising numbers: "In 2017, Fossil Group nearly doubled its wearables business to more than $300 million, including 20 percent of watch sales in Q4," said Greg McKelvey, Fossil's chief strategy and digital officer, as part of Google's Wear OS announcement. So it sounds like Android Wear -- sorry, Wear OS -- is still in the game. But the problem, for me, is that I've never found Android Wear watches to be particularly great. Google relaunched Android Wear over a year ago with new software and added fitness smarts, plus standalone phone functions. But Apple's watch strategy has advanced faster, with better hardware. The Apple Watch S3 can be a phone, now. So can Samsung's Gear S3, which runs on Tizen. Google, meanwhile, stopped adding cellular functions to watches after the lackluster LG Watch Sport last year.

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