Windows 11 update has system-wide live captions to help boost its accessibility aims

Despite Windows 11 being sequestered behind hardware requirements such as TPM, Microsoft is doing its best to make its latest OS as accessible as possible for the deaf and hard of hearing communities, with all new system-wide live captions. 

Available today (April 5) after Microsoft's event, the brand new live captions feature allows users who may be deaf, hard of hearing or those who just like subtitles to easily access captions across all audio experiences and apps across Windows. 

Live Captions will also work on web-based audio, allowing users to view auto-generated captions on websites and streaming services that might not otherwise support or have the best captions. 

Unfortunately, it is currently unclear if Microsoft will be bringing the live captions feature to Windows 10, in order to let as many users as possible utilize this useful accessibility feature. 


Analysis: an accessibility win that is not accessible for everyone

There is no denying that more accessibility options are a good thing regardless of where you use them yourself or not, however, Microsoft deserves as much criticism as praise for this new feature as, for now, they’re keeping it exclusive to Windows 11. 

With Windows 11’s growth recently being shown to have dramatically stalled in March, it makes sense that Microsoft’s latest OS may need some more killer features to tempt users into upgrading from Windows 10, however holding accessibility features random certainly is not the way to do it. 

While holding this feature to ransom would be bad enough if upgrading was a simple one-click process, Windows 11 does not make things that easy as it infamously requires TPM 2.0, a feature that many computers, manufactured before 2017, do not have.

Mercifully, captioning services are becoming more and more common across web pages and streaming services, you can even listen to all of our articles, for instance, however, these services all have their potential problems and require individual set up, so it's far from a perfect solution. 

With Microsoft having only just announced this new feature for Windows 11 during their hybrid work event, we can only hope that it is not too long before the tech giant sees sense and brings this feature to older versions of Windows to benefit all users, rather than just those on Windows 11.

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Windows 11 update has system-wide live captions to help boost its accessibility aims

Despite Windows 11 being sequestered behind hardware requirements such as TPM, Microsoft is doing its best to make its latest OS as accessible as possible for the deaf and hard of hearing communities, with all new system-wide live captions. 

Available today (April 5) after Microsoft's event, the brand new live captions feature allows users who may be deaf, hard of hearing or those who just like subtitles to easily access captions across all audio experiences and apps across Windows. 

Live Captions will also work on web-based audio, allowing users to view auto-generated captions on websites and streaming services that might not otherwise support or have the best captions. 

Unfortunately, it is currently unclear if Microsoft will be bringing the live captions feature to Windows 10, in order to let as many users as possible utilize this useful accessibility feature. 


Analysis: an accessibility win that is not accessible for everyone

There is no denying that more accessibility options are a good thing regardless of where you use them yourself or not, however, Microsoft deserves as much criticism as praise for this new feature as, for now, they’re keeping it exclusive to Windows 11. 

With Windows 11’s growth recently being shown to have dramatically stalled in March, it makes sense that Microsoft’s latest OS may need some more killer features to tempt users into upgrading from Windows 10, however holding accessibility features random certainly is not the way to do it. 

While holding this feature to ransom would be bad enough if upgrading was a simple one-click process, Windows 11 does not make things that easy as it infamously requires TPM 2.0, a feature that many computers, manufactured before 2017, do not have.

Mercifully, captioning services are becoming more and more common across web pages and streaming services, you can even listen to all of our articles, for instance, however, these services all have their potential problems and require individual set up, so it's far from a perfect solution. 

With Microsoft having only just announced this new feature for Windows 11 during their hybrid work event, we can only hope that it is not too long before the tech giant sees sense and brings this feature to older versions of Windows to benefit all users, rather than just those on Windows 11.

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Windows 11 is getting new Focus tools to boost productivity

Focus Assist has been a tentpole feature in Windows 11, and thanks to a new update, they're improving it further from today (April 5), after Microsoft announcing it at its event, thanks to the introduction of an integrated focus timer.

First introduced in Windows 10, Microsoft’s Focus Assist tools have been a useful ally in the war against notification vying to steal your attention away from work, games, and media.

Working similarly to your phone's alert slider and settings, Focus Assist allows you to filter out some or all of the notifications and alerts that could pop up and steal your attention away from whatever you are meant to be doing, so long as you remember to turn it on in the first place.

Increasing your Focus further

Thankfully that should not be as much of a problem anymore, as Windows 11 will soon be getting an integrated focus timer that is able to schedule dedicated blocks of ‘focus time’ into your schedule based on your calendar and working habits for the week.

Previously this useful Focus tool has only been available to customers of Microsoft’s paid Viva Insights program, which helps users build better working habits, so it is great to see the feature roll out to all users across Windows 11 who want to be more productive.

Currently, users looking to maximize their productivity and get the most out of Focus Assist have had to rely on setting up automatic timers or conditions upon which Focus Assist would activate, such as when a second monitor is connected or when you are playing a game.

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Google unveils another step in its much-needed privacy boost

Google has announced that its Privacy Sandbox proposal is one step closer to becoming reality as the company is preparing its next stage of trials which will focus on ads relevance and measurement.

For those unfamiliar, the search giant first unveiled its Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) plan to replace third-party browser cookies before announcing Google Topics as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative as a replacement following backlash on the move. 

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As the name suggests, Google Topics splits the web into different topics and divides users into groupings depending on their interests. Meanwhile, FLEDGE is dedicated to facilitating remarketing or showing ads on websites based on a user’s previous browsing history.

Now though, Google is moving ahead with testing its Privacy Sandbox and developers will be able to begin testing the Topics, FLEDGE and Attribution Reporting APIs in Chrome Canary.

Privacy Sandbox testing

Google plans to begin testing Topics and Fledge with a limited number of Chrome Beta users before making API testing available in the stable version of Chrome once things are working smoothly in Beta according to a new blog post.

The company also plans to begin testing its updated Privacy Sandbox settings and controls that will allow users to see and manage the interests associated with them or turn off the trials altogether.

Product director for Privacy Sandbox, Vinay Goel also provided some sample images of the settings the search giant plans to test in his blog post. In the Privacy Sandbox Beta menu, users will be able to toggle the trials on or off as well as customize their choices for Browser-based ad personalization, Ad measurement and Spam & fraud reduction. Here they’ll be able to remove interests from Topics and edit the list of sites that Privacy Sandbox users to infer their interests.

While Chrome users in the US will be opted in to the latest Privacy Sandbox trials, those in the EU will have to opt in by changing the position of the toggle in settings. This is due to GDPR and other data protection laws that apply to Europeans.

We’ll likely hear more from Google once its initial trials are complete and the company expands them to the stable version of Chrome.

Via TechCrunch

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Microsoft Edge could be the secret weapon to boost your PC performance

Boosting your PC performance could get a welcome hand from Microsoft Edge, which is getting a new tool to help spot issues that could slow down your machine.

The new Performance Detector feature will help browser users debug performance issues caused by common problems such as running multiple windows or tabs.

These activities can lead to your device running slower, affecting battery life and user experience, but Microsoft says its new tool could spell an end to such worries.

Microsoft Edge Performance Detector

Performance Detector will be able to see any issues caused by unnecessary tabs or the use of extensions that may be hogging bandwidth.

When switched on, the tool will be able to monitor how Edge is running, and if it detects  any issues, can recommend actions or fixes. This will most likely be through pop-up alerts or notifications, but Microsoft has yet to confirm the exact details.

The feature is currently available to testers in the Microsoft Edge Canary scheme, meaning it should receive a wider public launch soon – although there's no concrete information on this just yet.

The tool will run alongside the existing Microsoft Edge efficiency mode, which looks to help users extend their battery life by minimizing how much power and system resources the browser uses.

This is done through a number of features, including setting background tabs into sleep mode after five minutes of inactivity, and also fade sleeping tabs in order to save memory and CPU usage.

Microsoft says that engaging efficiency mode will help not only improve battery life on your device, but also allow whatever version of Windows you may be using to perform more effectively – although this will depend on exactly what device you are using.

Efficiency mode has also emerged in Windows Task Manager, where users can employ it to push the application in question down the priority list when it comes to system resource allocation, helping boost performance and battery life.

Via Windows Latest

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Office 365 unveils major email security boost

Microsoft has added a new security layer to its Office 365 email service as it looks to improve the integrity of the messages going in and out. 

The company says its new protection, SMTP MTA Strict Transport Security (MTA-STS), a feature it first announced in H2 2020, will solve problems such as expired TLS certificates, problems with third-party certificates, or unsupported secure protocols.

“We have been validating our implementation and are now pleased to announce support for MTA-STS for all outgoing messages from Exchange Online,” Microsoft said in an announcement. 

Extra protection

In practice, the new security layer means all emails that are sent through Exchange Online will only be delivered through connections that have both authentication and encryption. 

That should render downgrade, and man-in-the-middle attacks impossible, or at least – a lot harder to pull off.

“Downgrade attacks are possible where the STARTTLS response can be deleted, thus rendering the message in cleartext. Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks are also possible, whereby the message can be rerouted to an attacker's server,” the announcement added.

“MTA-STS (RFC8461) helps thwart such attacks by providing a mechanism for setting domain policies that specify whether the receiving domain supports TLS and what to do when TLS can't be negotiated, for example stop the transmission.”

Those interested in adopting MTA-STS should refer to this link, where Microsoft explains the process in detail.

The company is already working on further strengthening the security of Office 365 email. DANE for SMTP (DNS-based Authentication of Named Entities), which is said to provide even better protection than MTA-STS, will be rolled out in the coming months. 

“We will deploy support for DANE for SMTP and DNSSEC in two phases. The first phase, DANE and DNSSEC for outbound email (from Exchange Online to external destinations), is slowly being deployed between now and March 2022. We expect the second phase, support for inbound email, to start by the end of 2022,” BleepingComputer cited the Exchange team.

“We've been working on support for both MTA-STS and DANE for SMTP. At the very least, we encourage customers to secure their domains with MTA-STS,” Microsoft added.

“You can use both standards on the same domain at the same time, so customers are free to use both when Exchange Online offers inbound protection using DANE for SMTP by the end of 2022. By supporting both standards, you can account for senders who may support only one method.”

Via: BleepingComputer 

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Windows 11 gets free speed boost with latest update

Windows 11 has finally cured all of the serious problems with drive slowdown that have been plaguing some users for a good while now, according to a new report.

While these issues were supposedly fixed with the December cumulative update for Windows 11, as we reported at the time, even after that patch went out, some folks were still complaining about drive sluggishness.

However, Windows Latest reports that with the latest preview patch for Windows 11 – namely KB5008353 – the full fix is delivered, and all users should be happy, according to its own testing and other anecdotal evidence online. In the update notes, Microsoft states that it: “Addresses a performance regression issue that occurs when you enable the update sequence number (USN) journal.”

The USN journal is a log of changes to files on your drive, and so it could be tied into any remaining performance issues. A Reddit user speculates that this particular tweak is the key point, and observes: “I installed KB5008353 and my OS drive NVME random write speeds are almost 3.5x faster.”

Another user on Microsoft’s Feedback Hub stated: “Not only on NVME, even my SATA SSD is faster now. Earlier Windows 11 used to boot up slower than Windows 10.”

A further major issue whereby the colors on some HDR monitors were getting messed up has also been fixed with this patch.

Microsoft says the update addresses a “known issue that might prevent some image editing programs from rendering colors correctly on certain high dynamic range (HDR) displays.”

So, no more white looking like it’s yellow, or other visual glitches which could be seriously annoying in image editing apps.

KB5008353 is in testing right now, as a preview update, but will get its full release as the cumulative update for February (next week, in fact).


Analysis: A ‘drastic’ uplift in system performance all round

Obviously it’s a relief to see the drive speed bug finally addressed for good – we hope, anyway – because this can cut performance in half and has been a serious problem for some users. The cure for misbehaving colors on HDR monitors is also very welcome, of course, and that fix has come pretty quickly.

On the other hand, the wait for the drive performance issue to be remedied has been way too long, and it’s disappointing that the apparent cure from December 2021 seemingly didn’t work fully.

There are a bunch of important fixes in this preview update, in fact, and as well as those two major ones, there are solutions for some problems with File Explorer, including a fix for “some issues that affect File Explorer’s performance when you browse for files and select files,” and a “reliability issue that causes File Explorer and desktop context menus to stop working.”

A Reddit user in the above mentioned thread clarifies: “No more slight delays in opening context menus! Basically no more delays in anything. Even the start menu opens up instantly. This was one minor thing annoying me about W11, but now I think I’m finally content with 11.”

Another Redditor agrees: “There are multiple reports from Insiders that this update is a drastic increase in system responsiveness, I just installed it, can confirm that too.”

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Microsoft Edge is getting a major security boost straight out of Minority Report

Microsoft is looking to give its web browser a significant security upgrade with the release of a new build featuring some useful protection updates.

The company has revealed that Microsoft Edge v.98 will offer a boosted browsing experience that puts safety and security at the forefront, as well as “giving you an extra layer of protection when browsing the web.”

This will allow users to “enhance your security on the web”, the official entry in the Microsoft 365 roadmap says.

Step forward

There's not a lot of detail about what the “new browsing experience” in Microsoft Edge v.98 will entail just yet, but the company says it will be “a step forward”.

It will allow administrators to apply group policies to end-user desktops across not just Windows devices, but also those running macOS and Linux. 

These should help protect against so-called zero-day threats, which are brand-new malware threats that typically look to take advantage of recently-discovered security flaws, and are often extremely dangerous due to a lack of reference points.

Microsoft Edge v.98 will allow users to “mitigate unforeseen active zero days”, the company says, offering an extra layer of protection to keep them safe online.

It's not clear if the new security protections form part of the long-awaited “super duper secure mode” for Microsoft Edge, which launched back in November 2021 as the company looked to boost security for the browser.

Available for Edge v.96 and upwards, the new platform offers two separate configurations – Balanced and Strict – which determine the level of additional protection the user receives. 

Balanced mode learns which sites the user frequents and loosens restrictions on these domains, whereas Strict mode applies restrictions across all websites, which may mean some elements no longer work as intended. Users can also create exceptions manually for websites they would like to be exempt from the extra security measures.

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Firefox 96 is a boost for anyone doing video calling

Mozilla has released Firefox 96, an update to one of the most popular web browsers out there.

According to Mozilla's desktop release notes, Firefox 96 is a big win for anyone who uses the browser to make video calls, with improved noise-suppression and auto-gain-control, plus echo-cancellation, to make sure you sound as crisp and clear as possible. 

By building the video improvements right into the browser, Firefox users without the best webcams or best USB microphones should see automatic improvements as we move into year three of working from home.

Firefox for Android boost

Elsewhere, there are a bunch of technical changes, including reducing the main-thread load, which should make Firefox run that much smoother on most machines. Also includes are the usual bug fixes, such as changing how macOS users can command-click on Gmail links. 

But it isn't just desktop that gets some Mozilla love, as the Android version of Firefox 96 is set to get some cool improvements, too. As Mozilla says in the Android release notes, users can now see highlights of recently-visited websites and bookmark images have been improved. There are also the usual range of bug fixes. 

While these are fairly small changes, they make a Firefox for Android that much better and help it compete with Chrome, Brave, Opera, and other Android browser alternatives. 

The news comes shortly after Mozilla was involved in a controversy over accepting crypto donations. The company was forced to step back from its position on accepting donations via cryptocurrency following a massive backlash which included Mozilla co-founder Jamie Zawinski slamming the company.

In response, Mozilla promised it will “take action”, particularly concerning its climate goals.

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Microsoft Outlook update wants to boost the hybrid working spirit

Keeping track of your team in this new hybrid working age should soon be more straightforward thanks to a new update to Microsoft Outlook.

The email service is working on a new feature that it says will allow workers more flexibility and efficiency when working away from the office.

According to an entry in the Microsoft 365 roadmap, the update, simply entitled “working hours and location” will allow users to set a notice showing where they are working, whether that be at home, in the office, or anywhere else in particular.

Flexible working

“New working hours and location options in Outlook lets people set more flexible working hours each day and specify the location from where they plan to work,” the roadmap entry adds.

The update is scheduled for general availability for all Web Outlook users across the globe, with a targeted release date of June 2022.

The news does mean that Outlook is finally catching up to some of its rivals when it comes to having flexible working-linked tools enabled.

Google Calendar launched a similar feature in August 2021, allowing users to highlight exactly where they would be working, with the options of home, office, or a specific other location.

Users can also create a weekly working location routine if they plan on going into the office on certain days and working remotely on others, which can be updated at any time if plans change. There was no information as to whether Microsoft's Outlook update will do the same, but we're hopeful it will.

In July, Google Calendar also added an option that allows users to specify whether they would be attending a meeting in-person or virtually using video conferencing software.

Outlook has released a number of updates recently as it looks to maintain its place as a leading email service for users across the world. Most intriguingly, the company says it is working on a tool that will help users eliminate mistakes from their messages with the launch of spelling and grammar checks for its Outlook on mobile platform.

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