Category Archives: Electronics

Firefox Quantum is here, and it wants to win you back

Mozilla has released Firefox Quantum – the biggest update the browser has received since its first release in 2004 – and if you’ve strayed away to Edge or Chrome, the non-profit is hoping to win you back.

We caught up with Mark Mayo, senior vice president of Firefox, to find out more. “[Quantum] is twice as fast as Firefox 52,” he told us. “We’re at a point where we’re as fast as, or faster than Chrome. Compared to a year ago, it’s a huge leap in performance.”

That isn’t just on high-end PCs with buckets of RAM, either. Mozilla uses a US$300 Acer laptop as reference hardware, having established that it’s the most common hardware for its user base.

“We focused on making sure it stayed fast on ordinary PCs, and not at the cost of eating up lots of memory,” said Mayo.

The first thing you’ll notice about Quantum is its redesigned interface. “Just winning in benchmarks isn’t very useful,” Mayo explained. “A browser has to feel fast and smooth. It isn’t just about making a new UI – it’s about how people perceive performance. The designers had a great time putting in things they’d wanted for decades.”

Security and extensions

One of those new features is Screenshots, which Mozilla trialled in its Test Pilot program last year under the name Page Shot. Unlike tapping the Print Screen key on a PC or tapping Command+Shift+3 on a Mac, Firefox Screenshots lets you capture a whole web page – including parts that aren’t currently on the screen.

“I have a hack where I screenshot a bunch of pages I want to read and then open them on the plane,” said Mayo. “Offline reading accomplished by a scrolling screenshot.”

Quantum also has new security features under the hood, including improved sandboxing, and the user interface has been simplified so all the security information appears in one place. “Firefox was kind of inconsistent,” Mayo explained, “so we’ve done a lot of work to make [the security options] more connected so you have confidence that the site is safe.”

One of Firefox’s most impressive features has always been its huge array of extensions, and these have had a major overhaul for Quantum. Rather than having free rein to do whatever they like, authors now have a more tightly controlled set of knobs to turn via the newly implemented WebExtensions API.

This means all legacy extensions will stop working with Quantum, but developer APIs have been available for most of 2017, giving them plenty of time to make the switch.

“By and large, the transition to WebExtensions is done,” said Mayo. “There were some big-ticket ones we were waiting for, but those are done now.”

Coming out swinging

With Quantum, Mozilla is targeting both new users, and those who used to use Firefox but have switched to Edge or Chrome.

“We want people to make the choice to use us,” said Mayo. “Many people don’t know we’re a non-profit – not just a giant business that’s made a browser to push its main business. We fell behind for five years, so it feels good to come out swinging. We’re just going to go straight at them!”

Firefox Quantum is available now for Windows, Mac and Linux. New versions version of Firefox Focus – Mozilla’s privacy-focused browser that clears your browsing history at the end of every session – and the Firefox mobile apps are also on the way.

Download Firefox Quantum


Huddle’s in a muddle as service is hit by truly frightening security bug

Do you use Huddle? The well-known collaboration and project management software suffered from an extremely worrying security hole, according to the BBC – although the issue has now been fixed, you’ll doubtless be pleased to hear.

As the Beeb reports, one of its journalists was using the software and found themselves signed in to a KPMG account, with access to sensitive documents pertaining to the financial heavyweight’s operations.

It doesn’t come more worrying than sensitive financial data being exposed in such a manner, apparently due to a bug in Huddle’s systems. That same flaw also allowed an unnamed third-party to access the BBC’s account.

Huddle told the BBC that this particular bug had affected six user sessions since March of this year. The company noted: “With 4.96 million log-ins to Huddle occurring over the same time period [March to November], the instances of this bug occurring were extremely rare.”

Error code

The actual flaw involved a bug with authorization codes: if two people logged on using the same login server within 20 milliseconds of each other, they were simultaneously issued the same authorization code, and that could lead to a situation where one user was logged onto the other’s account (if they were quicker to request a security token in the next login step).

As mentioned, Huddle has now fixed this problem, ensuring that a fresh code is always generated for every user logging in.

Obviously enough, though, it’s a major concern that such a critical issue was festering in the system for quite some time.


Microsoft admits there are problems with the Surface – but big fixes are on the way

There have been some reports of issues dogging Microsoft’s range of Surface products, from the Surface Pro‘s issues with entering the “Sleep” state, short battery life, and the Surface Pen stylus playing up, and it now looks like Microsoft is taking these problems seriously and working on solutions.

This commitment to fixing the issues comes from a number of posts on the Microsoft Answers forum, where users can ask the community, which includes Microsoft representatives, for help with any issues they have.

Various Surface issues have been raised in the forums, and replies by Microsoft representatives give hope that Microsoft is actively working on addressing these problems.

Problem solvers

Computerworld has listed a number of issues posted in the forums and Microsoft’s replies to them. For example, in a thread about battery issues, a Microsoft representative stated that “We are aware of some members having the same battery issue with their Surface”, and that Microsoft was attempting to replicate the issue in the lab, indicating that it is looking for a solution.

In another thread about issues with the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover, a Microsoft representative says that “There will be an incoming update for Windows that can resolve your concern with your keyboard.”

Microsoft is pushing its Surface lineup of devices as premium showcases for Windows and its other services, and these high-profile problems won’t help, so it’s good to see that it appears to be listening to its customers and working to address any problems.

It also shows that if you are having an issue with your Surface device – or any Microsoft product – highlighting it on the Answers forum is a good way of getting an official Microsoft response.


You could soon learn the limits of your NBN connection

Despite all the drama surrounding the NBN, attempts are being made to improve customer satisfaction.

NBN Co boss Bill Morrow has revealed that the company behind the rollout of the National Broadband Network is “considering” revealing to the public the maximum download speeds that homes and offices are realistically capable of expecting.

This information – available to telcos and determined when a property is being hooked up to the NBN – has traditionally been withheld from the public, giving retailers room to make false promises and, in turn, increasing customer frustration and complaints.

Last week Telstra announced it would compensate customers for breaking NBN speed promises. If this plan gets implemented, it could stop ISPs from making promises they can’t keep and help Australians make informed decisions when it comes to choosing an NBN broadband plan.

Mr Morrow said that revealing maximum internet speeds at premises is “something we have been considering discussing with the government” if the “service providers don’t volunteer to do this.”

Knock, knock. Anyone home?

Until now, customers were only able to reach out to the ISPs during an NBN installation, creating communication bottlenecks and increasing the number of “missed appointments”.

To alleviate that, Bill Morrow also revealed that NBN Co would allow customers to directly contact NBN contractors to make appointments and get information on realistic timelines regarding their NBN installation.

“There’s too many people involved and too many systems involved. So we’re completely revamping that to where we want the technician in the field, the third party contractor, to have direct contact with that end user,” Mr Morrow said.

“We’re also making sure we have more availability, better training in the field, and we’re able to predict more about the actual length of the job may take so we can do our workforce management better.”

With over 6 million premises “ready to connect” to the NBN as of the end of September, and the number growing each week, it does look like NBN Co is making an effort to do right by the end user.


This vulnerability could make your antivirus useless

Antivirus software is, naturally enough, designed to defend your PC from malicious attacks, but it seems that some of these security apps are suffering from a worrying vulnerability which has been dubbed AVGater.

The flaw in question was discovered by security researcher Florian Bogner, and here’s what it does on a basic level: the antivirus software quarantines a malicious file as it appears on the user’s PC, but the exploit allows an attacker to manipulate the restore process from quarantine, effectively letting the malware back onto the system. Where it can subsequently wreak its own particular brand of havoc.

However, before you start to fret too much, the good news is that this can’t be executed online; rather the attacker must be physically present at the victim PC.

So obviously, for the home user this isn’t going to be much of a threat – unless you’re in the habit of letting strangers into your house to use the PC for a quick bit of net surfing.

But in a business environment, with plentiful PCs, visitors to the office milling about and so forth, there could certainly be some risk.

Patched pronto

Not every antivirus product is affected by any means, and Bogner has listed a number of affected parties who have already released a fix for their AV software: Emsisoft, Ikarus, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, Trend Micro, and ZoneAlarm.

A few more software makers have still to patch their applications, but the researcher doesn’t name any names, for obvious reasons.

On an overall level for all PC users, this is just another reminder that antivirus apps can suffer from vulnerabilities, just as with any piece of software. Indeed, last year, Tavis Ormandy – who is part of Google’s Project Zero team – found multiple flaws in major antivirus products.

As ever, always ensure your antivirus software is kept up-to-date to the latest version, and you may even want to consider running some kind of multi-layered security on your PC beyond just one antivirus app.

Via: Digital Trends


Chromebooks are soon to get a major boost in multitasking flexibility

Touchscreen Chromebooks are about to get a good deal more flexible when it comes to multitasking with apps in tablet mode, thanks to the introduction of a split-screen view that will allow users to snap two apps side-by-side.

Note that this feature hasn’t been officially announced yet, but it has been talked about previously, and it has now been spotted in Chrome OS dev channel version 64 by tipster Francois Beaufort.

This major boon for touchscreen Chromebooks goes under the name of ‘Split View in Tablet Mode’ and once you activate it, the feature shows all of your active windows, and you can snap whichever apps you wish into highlighted areas to view them side-by-side.

Image credit: Francois Beaufort

Android aggro

The caveat here is that if you’re using Android apps on your Chromebook, some of these don’t support ‘snapping’, and therefore won’t function with the split view mode – with Android games being particularly problematic, it seems. Although some games don’t lend themselves very well to multitasking anyway…

Nonetheless, this is clearly a very useful extra ability which is inbound for Chrome OS, so fingers crossed its transition from testing is a smooth one. As Digital Trends observes, the feature is likely to go live in Chromebooks early next year.

Another notable recent development in the world of Chrome OS-powered laptops is the news that you could soon be sending texts from your Chromebook – another string to the flexibility bow.


How Sodexo’s digital strategy kept their users immune to demonetization

A year ago, India went into the shock of the decade as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetization of 500 and 1000 rupees notes. The event marked the nation’s swift entry into the digital economy. Indians started to adopt tools such as digital wallets to apps in a very short frame of time.

However, when every major aspect of the life was hindered and affected by the demonetization, one company that offered relief to its users and clients was Sodexo with its digital solutions. In fact, Sodexo, a renowned employee benefits service, began their digital journey few years before the demonetization, enabling them to be in a perfect position to serve their user base during the crisis of demonetization.

“With technology and digital adoption, we have two objectives. At one level we want to help the HR teams improve the quality of lives of their employees. Second, we want to simplify their lives, make it as simple as possible,” said Suvodeep Das, lead Marketing, Product development, at Sodexo India.

It wasn’t all easy for Sodexo, known for its iconic paper voucher, to make this digital leap, as they faced numerous large and small challenges.

“When Sodexo decided to go digital, we needed to establish digital acceptance in every outlet the vouchers were accepted. It took a lot of time, effort and money- infrastructure development, but Sodexo wanted to do it right, by building our own proprietary network, and now our network is the biggest in the country in terms of reach in tier 3 and 4 towns, ” Suvodeep Das explained.

“The biggest challenge was two years back when Sodexo began setting up our network. This is a year before demonetization. Almost 5000 outlets had never seen anything digital. Sodexo had to educate them- what is a card machine? What is an EDC terminal? How do you swipe? How do you take a print out? How do you do a transaction? How do you do a batch settlement? It was a huge challenge,” added Das.

As of today, the company has 40,000 plus points of acceptance across 1,500 cities in India and also a mobile app that can be used for transactions. Sodexo currently has three million daily users with a significant portion of them resorting to their digital tools such as the mobile app linked to both the meal pass cards.

However, Sodexo is in a process of constant innovation of its digital solutions. One of the digital solutions Sodexo has developed recently is “Tap & Pay.” Instead of the normal paper vouchers and RF-ID cards, Sodexo is trying out NFC- enabled cards.

Presently, Sodexo is incorporating this NFC based technology into the existing cafeteria pass they offer. At various cafeterias across IT Parks, they are replacing chip-based cards with NFC cards.

On the other hand, Sodexo is already working towards eliminating paper voucher, cafeteria cards and meal passes by integrating the employee benefits into their existing company ID cards for employees. According to Das, “many companies have the ID cards that they use for punching in, checking out etc. and the card can be used as their cafeteria pass as well. Thus the employee will not have to carry two cards.” Sodexo is currently running a Company ID-Based Solution as a pilot program with a client based in Bangalore.

According to Sodexo, the ultimate goal of simplifying the process of an employee accessing their benefit is about saving time and fostering productivity. And that is exactly where Sodexo’s food order app comes into play.

“You have the menu on the app, you order through the app and pay through the Sodexo Meal or Cafeteria Card. The order goes to the merchant, and once the order is ready, the merchant presses a button giving you a notification that your order is ready, Suvodeep Das explained it’s working. As a result, hundreds of working hours can be saved in a firm which is now wasted standing in a cafeteria queue.

According to Das, Sodexo is going to play a bigger role in the future of Digital India, as more and more tools are being developed globally. And it is a just a matter of times they bring the right ones to Indian users.


Vodafone aims to compete with BT’s Openreach with massive 1Gbps broadband investment

Vodafone and CityFibre have announced a partnership which will bring FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) to approaching five million homes and businesses across the UK.

In other words, this will be Gigabit-capable fibre (1000Mbps) which runs directly into the home or office in question (as opposed to fibre-to-the-cabinet, which still uses the phone line for the last leg of the connection from the cabinet).

The fibre rollout will begin in the first half of next year with a million premises expected to be hooked up by 2021, and a further four million homes and business premises expected to be connected by 2025.

Openreach has previously said that it’s aiming for two million full fibre connections by 2020.

Post-construction, Vodafone will initially have exclusive rights to sell the fibre connections to punters, although this will only be for a certain period of time (which wasn’t specified by the companies).

Full fibre diet

As CityFibre notes, the government has a target of connecting 10 million premises to full fibre by 2022, and this will go some way towards the end – in fact, it will achieve half that target number ultimately (although not by 2022, but rather 2025).

Rob Hilborn, Head of Strategy at Broadband Genie, commented: “Full fibre broadband needs to be the focus for us going forward. Openreach has been working on a rollout of technology which is a cost effective upgrade on existing broadband infrastructure, but it still feels like a stop-gap measure.

“Deploying FTTP around the UK won’t be cheap, but it’s a long term investment that will provide us with future-proof connections. However, while the focus for this investment is likely to be on cities, in the long term we will need a plan for the rest of the country as to not leave them behind and risk widening the digital divide further.”


Gemalto launches multi-connectivity module

Gemalto has launched an integrated IoT module that offers a variety of connectivity options for manufacturers and integrators.

One of the areas that has been hampering the rollout of IoT has been standardized connectivity: the existence of a variety of 12 LTE bands (as well as different forms of cellular coverage) has meant various logistical problems.

The Gemalto Cinterion PLS62-W IoT Module delivers LTE Cat1 connectivity on all 12 LTE bands as well as offering fallback to multi band 3G and 2G networks. This means that integrators are able to develop a single application that can connect anywhere in the world, regardless of the cellular network standards in the region.

Embedded Java

In addition to this, Gemalto has also included a Java embedded system in the module that has been designed to make it easier to build applications. It does this by sharing memory, a large library of existing open source code and recognized software building blocks. The module also contains a power management system and optimized sleep mode to preserve power, an essential element for industrial usage.

Andreas Haegele, senior vice president IoT products at Gemalto, said the product offered great flexibility. “The Cinterion multi band LTE Cat1 module is ideal for worldwide tracking and tracing, telematics and fleet management solutions, offering a one stop shop for cellular IoT connectivity, no matter where your IoT solutions are deployed or where they move. It is perfectly suited for applications that need to operate across many different wireless network environments for many years. “


Delayed repairs to your broadband? You’ll now get automatic compensation

Ofcom has announced a new scheme whereby landline and broadband customers in the UK will receive automatic compensation from their ISP in the event of delayed repairs or missed appointments.

Following a consultation on the matter, the watchdog has announced that BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen Internet have agreed to pay their users compensation in the event of delays.

So here’s how it will work. If a phone or broadband connection goes down, and isn’t ‘fully’ fixed within two working days, for each subsequent day that the connection isn’t functional, the customer will get £8.

If the service provider’s engineer fails to turn up for an appointment – or cancels with less than 24 hours’ notice – the customer gets £25 compensation.

And compensation will also be provided for delays when setting up a new phone or broadband connection. If the ISP misses your allotted start date, for every day that you’re delayed, you will receive £5 compensation.

This is clearly good news for consumers, who will no longer have to battle to get compensation in the case of such delays, with money being credited to their account automatically instead.

Putting things in place

Although Ofcom notes that implementing this automatic process is a fair undertaking for service providers, and therefore there will be a period of 15 months to allow everything to be put into place.

The ISPs currently subscribed to the automatic compensation scheme represent around 90% of landline and broadband users in the UK, according to Ofcom. And more providers are expected to sign up further down the line.

Lindsey Fussell, Consumer Group Director at Ofcom, commented: “Waiting too long for your landline or broadband to be fixed is frustrating enough, without having to fight for compensation.

“So providers will have to pay money back automatically, whenever repairs or installations don’t happen on time, or an engineer doesn’t turn up. People will get the money they deserve, while providers will want to work harder to improve their service.”

Ofcom further noted that the scheme will benefit small businesses, too, as around a third of SMBs in the UK use residential landline and broadband services (as opposed to a dedicated business plan).