The Truth: Ugly Surface Earbuds, Windows 7 Forever, Google Maps Not-So-Incognito-Mode

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Good evening! You might be wondering why I sound a bit grumpy writing today’s newsletter. I’m not, really. It’s all the dumb shit that gets reported that’s the problem: Windows 7 extended support, Microsoft’s ugly earbuds, Google Maps incognity mode, it just goes on and on with the nonsense. But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourselves.

Yesterday we learned that PDF encryption is busted (again). As if that wasn’t worse enough, there’s a bunch of remote code execution vulnerabilities in the PDF reader Foxit – if you Usit, Patchit.

“The new Surface Earbuds are Microsoft’s first truly wireless earbuds” – sometimes, I hate this job. I mean, seriously? That’s the level of technology reporting these days? “Microsoft is introducing a new pair of wireless earbuds to join the company’s noise-canceling headphones. The Surface Earbuds are tuned for both music and voice performance – Microsoft is pitching them as a must-have Office accessory with dictation and excellent call quality. Each earbud has two microphones built in, which aid in noise reduction when you’re speaking into them.” Typical The Verge spin on the fact that Mictosoft – after Google, Apple and Amazon – is now also moving into the we-spy-on-you-oh-look-a-shiny-feature market. The things make you look like an idiot. It’s hard to believe, but I think they look even worse than Apple’s oh-I-forgot-my-toothbrush-head-in-my-ear-this-morning design. And won’t be more usable than any old in-ear headphones on a cable. Which are cheaper. And won’t spy on you. What’s wrong with these people?

There are still consumers, and businesses, who insist on running Windows 7. I will never understand why. Even with all the privacy nightmares in Windows 10, it’s still miles ahead of its predecessor – I mean, it’s not really worth mentioning Windows 8, is it? Anyway, if you’re one of these people and if you are indeed part of a business, you will be able to run that ugly piece of crap for three more years after support ends early next year. For a hefty price. Microsoft only tells you how high a price if you explicitly ask for it, which makes it clear that it’s expensive indeed. Furthermore: “The cost will increase per year, because Microsoft really wants those users to make the move.” Consumers will have to switch come 14 January 2020, or face getting owned, in the absence of security updates, as soon as the first big new vulnerability rolls around.

Google is rolling out “incognito mode” for Google Maps. The idea is that it won’t store your data in your Google account. This is mostly bullshit though, as location data on its own is in many cases enough to identify a person. Google doesn’t have to connect it to your Google account to know who you are. They just need to store the location data. Even unconnected from personally identifiable information, they still can, in many cases, figure out who the person moving along the map is. They know where you live and where you work. Where you go to the gym, where you go shopping and where you meet your friends. And they know when you do these things normally. So in many cases they just need to compare a GPS track to data like this and they can figure out to a very high degree of likelihood whose data it is – even after the fact, from “anonymised” records. This is why, to spooks, metadata is worth almost as much as actual data. We know this, especially since Snowden.

The Windows Insider programme is now five years old. This marks the moment Microsoft finally woke up to a practice open source projects had been using for decades: Let willing early adopters test your broken software for free before you launch it properly. Microsoft has been using this technique to great success ever since. The Register has a handy Top 5 recap of the programme’s greatest innovations. My favourite highlight only gets a side mention: When they replaced tell-it-as-it-is nerd Gabe Aul with influencer fashion icon Dona Sarkar.

After 14 years of giving up on proper flight simulations, Microsoft wants to release Flight Simulator 2020 next year. To play it, you have to have an always on internet connection. Because they’re streaming in the landscapes from the cloud – 20,000 Blu-ray discs worth of data. It certainly looks very pretty. I believe that it flies better than X-Plane when I’ve tried it myself.

What else is Microsoft spending their time and money on? A bot powered by machine learning that generates fake comments on news articles. I shit you not. That’s what Microsoft is apparently focusing on these days. Because that’s exactly what we all need. Luckily, I have no comment function on my blog. And don’t you go answering this email, alright? Just joking, I’m always happy for feedback on my work.

This is an archived issue of my daily newsletter FOXTROT/ALFA. You can find more information about it, including how to subscribe via email, on this page.