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From Teams to Pluton security chip: here’s what happened at Microsoft in 2020


Here are the top developments at Microsoft in 2020.

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2020 marked the software giant’s Windows operating system’s 35th anniversary. It is also the year Microsoft’s iconic “Start” button turned 25. Here are the top developments at the tech giant in 2020.

Chromium-based Edge

The software company launched its new Edge browser based on Chromium for Windows, as well as macOS users in mid-January. The browser was initially available through direct download, however, in June the company began rolling it out through Windows update, and replaced the built-in browser. Microsoft also expanded Edge’s availability to other operating systems such as Android, iOS, and Linux.

The Chromium-based Edge browser offered improved compatibility with the web, different operating systems, and devices, over the earlier version of the browser that was based on the company’s in-house technology. The browser’s features list has grown since its launch with a focus on bringing privacy and convenience enhancements for the users. Now, it includes features like Collections, vertical tabs, smart copy, tracking prevention, Password Monitor, Immersive Reader, InPrivate mode, in addition to other productivity and shopping features.

Teams enhancements

Microsoft’s video-conferencing and collaboration tool, Teams, received numerous features throughout the year to facilitate working from home. In March, the company revealed that Teams’ daily active users (DAU) count has gone up substantially, and the number continued to grow as the year progressed. It introduced artificial intelligence (AI)-powered features like Together Mode, and noise suppression to enhance the virtual meetings.

Teams was also made available for personal use with features that allowed users to add personal accounts on the platform to easily stay on top of work, as well as personal conversations through a single interface.

In addition, it announced communication tools to reach a larger audience, live captions and spotlight features, dedicated Teams hardware like Teams displays and phones, third-party apps on Teams app store, and new calling features.

Productivity Score tool criticism

Microsoft’s productivity score tool, that it says is designed to “help organisations measure and manage the adoption of Microsoft 365,” was criticised by experts, as it allowed managers to track the activity of individual employees. It gave access to insights across five categories: content collaboration, meetings, communication, teamwork, and mobility. The tool provided a score based on the percentage of people who engage in teamwork within shared workspaces like SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams.

After receiving the criticism, the tech giant said it will make changes to the productivity score tool, and addressed the workplace surveillance concerns raised by people. They tweaked the tool so it will only aggregate data at the organisation level, and no one in the organisation will be able to access data on individuals. “Productivity Score is a measure of organizational adoption of technology, and not individual user behaviour,” the company said.

Hit by cyberattack

Recently, Microsoft said it had detected malicious software in its systems linked to the hacking attack on the U.S. government agencies and other companies that used SolarWinds’ network management software – Orion. The company confirmed that it has isolated and removed the malicious components.

Microsoft’s President, Brad Smith said, the company has identified and has been working to notify more than 40 customers that the attackers targeted more precisely and compromised through additional and sophisticated measures.

“We need a more effective national and global strategy to protect against cyberattacks.” It will need multiple parts, but perhaps most important, it must start with the recognition that governments and the tech sector will need to act together, he added.

Surface Duo launch

Microsoft launched its dual-screen Android phone in September after almost six years of development. When unfolded, the phone features an 8.1-inch OLED display that splits into two 5.6-inch screens in folded position. The device is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, and available in two storage options: 128 GB or 256 GB with 6 GB RAM.

The unique 360° hinge on the dual-screen phone enables, viewing two apps side-by-side, pairing and launching two apps simultaneously, full screen keyboard experience on one screen while viewing a draft on the other, and drag and drop across screens. The device is designed to offer “the best of Microsoft 365, together with Android apps,” and supports Surface pens.

GPT-3 exclusive license

In September, Microsoft received an exclusive license to use OpenAI’s GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) language model in its own products and services. The model uses deep learning method to create human-like text in real-time.

GPT-3 has 175 billion machine learning parameters, over 100 times more than its predecessor, and is trained on Microsoft cloud’s AI supercomputer with various datasets.

The latest generation has been designed to understand inputs in English and to generate output with minimal interactions or adjustments from a user. It can write (including long-form generative text), translate, comprehend text, answer closed book questions, reason common tasks, and code.

Pluton security chip

In November, Microsoft announced its Pluton chip, designed to improve security in future Windows-based computers by plugging some of the critical security issues that make the systems vulnerable to attacks.

The software giant said Pluton security processor will be built directly into the CPUs, and so it will protect user credentials, identities, encryption keys, and personal data, even if an attacker is in physical possession of the PC. It will offer the security by storing sensitive data like encryption keys securely within the Pluton processor, which is isolated from the rest of the system.

The security processor will also address a major issue of keeping the system firmware up to date through a updates platform for running firmware.

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