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Microsoft Office 2016 Review

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Fire up the new 2016 versions of Microsoft’s Office programs, and things don’t look that different. There’s no new navigation interface to deal with, no surprise menus, and basically no big changes that will disrupt a traditional Office user’s workflow. Dig past the first impressions, however, and you’ll find that Microsoft has devoted a lot of time to rethinking the way it makes Office, and has laid the groundwork for more flexible, responsive and modern programs down the line.

Collaboration is the key theme to Office’s new applications. After watching consumers turn to competitors for cheap and easy collaboration tools, Microsoft started to develop some of those features for the Web versions of its programs. With Office 2016, they hit the PC and expand meaningfully from what we saw in Office 2013. To get a taste of Office 2016, Microsoft loaned The Post a Surface tablet pre-loaded with the latest programs.

Perhaps the biggest everyday user perk is real-time collaboration in Word, giving users the ability to share documents and see what others are typing as they type it. This is something, of course, that we’ve already seen done in Google Docs. The main difference in Office is that, even though multiple users can change a document simultaneously, they cannot edit the same line, defusing some of the possibility for tension — and pranking — over a single sentence.

Fast collaboration can still mean lots of potential for mistakes, however. Mercifully, it’s very easy to access the version history in the new Word as well, allowing you to see who changed what.

The focus on collaboration fits right into the messaging we’re seeing from Microsoft’s projects such as Sway, the free online layout and presentation collaboration tool the company released early last month. The program, which gives you good-looking, no-brainer templates for Web sites and presentations, is now also part of the Office suite.

Other upgrades are also welcome, if not earth-shattering. Excel’s main upgrade is that now includes six new chart types, which give you a few more options for visualizing certain data sets. Outlook, meanwhile, offers you the option to attach a file by putting a link from Microsoft’s OneNote service rather than actually attaching the file, matching Google’s Drive. It also introduces a “Clutter” filter designed to help you weed out all those newsletters that you want but don’t necessarily read all the time — it’s a feature that requires some training to be fully useful, but a nice option. PowerPoint remains mostly the same; it could have benefited from the collaboration features we’ve seen in Word — something Microsoft promises is on the way.

The real changes here are undoubtedly all about access. Crucially, Office 2016 lets you get to your documents from anywhere and on any device, whether that’s a Mac, PC, tablet or phone. Chief executive Satya Nadella has repeatedly said he wants Microsoft to be a nimble “mobile-first, cloud-first” company, and Office is a clear articulation of that. It’s been designed to fully run as a service; developers will be releasing monthly updates to fix bugs and add features. That gives them several bites at the apple to improve the software as they go, rather than stockpiling features for a major release. When it comes to Office, we may never see a major release again; that’s a story we’ve already heard when looking at the launch of Windows 10.

Constant updates are a perk, and a welcome one in a technology landscape where new features quickly become must-haves. It’s nice not to have to wait three years or so for new features. But this design change comes with another big change: pricing. Customers may be used to plonking down $150 or so to buy Office upfront. You can still do that, by the way, though you won’t get regular upgrades from the company.

If you want the updates, however, Microsoft is again asking consumers to subscribe to programs, which gives you access to the suite on your desktop and mobile devices. It’s $70 per year for the “personal” option, which limits you to one user and three devices, to $100 for a subscription that supports five users who can each put the program on a desktop, tablet and phone.

Malware Which Infected Apple’s App Store Was Same Kind CIA Had Developed

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Last week, Chinese app developers disclosed that an Apple programming tool had been hijacked to trick developers into embedding malicious software into apps for Apple devices.

The malware, called XcodeGhost, works by corrupting Apple’s Xcode software, which runs on Mac computers and compiles source code into apps that can run on iPhones, iPads, and other devices, before submitting them to the App Store. If a developer has XcodeGhost installed on their computer, apps that they compile include malware without the developer realizing it.

Although XcodeGhost is the first malware to spread this way in the wild, the techniques it uses were previously developed and demonstrated by Central Intelligence Agency researchers at the CIA’s annual top-secret Jamboree conference in 2012. Using documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, The Intercept‘s Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley described the CIA’s Xcode project in a story published in March.

Security firm Palo Alto Networks has published detailed technical analyses of the malware. At least 50 apps have made it into the App Store with this malware, including WeChat, one of the world’s most popular messaging apps, with hundreds of millions of users, primarily in Asia. Apps infected with XcodeGhost malware are capable of popping up fake alerts asking for credentials, such as the user’s iCloud password; reading what has been copied to the clipboard, such as passwords from password manager apps; and exploiting other parts of iOS. It’s not clear who is behind the malware or if they are based in China.

The CIA’s campaign to attack the security of Apple devices included creating a malicious version of Xcode to sneak malware into apps, without the developer realizing.

The researchers boasted that they had discovered a way to manipulate Xcode so that it could serve as a conduit for infecting and extracting private data from devices on which users had installed apps that were built with the poisoned Xcode. In other words, by manipulating Xcode, the spies could compromise the devices and private data of anyone with apps made by a poisoned developer — potentially millions of people.

Today, Apple has published instructions for developers to verify that the version of Xcode they have installed is the official one.

Hackers Are Peeking at Online Poker Hands

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We all know what to do when you catch someone peeping at your poker hand: flip the table, yell “cheat,“ and then everyone draws their six-shooter. But what if the poker table is virtual and the cheater is a piece of malware? The Register reports malware called Odlanor has infected hundreds of players on the online poker sites Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars since it was first discovered in March. If Odlanor notices you are playing on either of those sites, it takes a screenshot of your virtual hand and your player ID and sends it to a hacker, who then joins your game with an unfair advantage without you being any the wiser. New versions of Odlanor will also steal passwords from your browser while they’re at it.

A representative from PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker tells Poker News the sites have found “no evidence” that any players infected with Odlanor—most of whom are in Russia and Ukraine—have actually lost money because of the malware. The Register reports Odlanor can infect your computer from “trojanized” poker-related programs or disguised as an installer for general-purpose programs. Examples include Daemon Tools, uTorrent, Tournament Shark, and Poker Calculator Pro. “In line with our constant goal for utmost security, we recommend that players protect themselves against this sort of attack by practicing good computer security,“ the representative for the two sites tells Poker News. “Players should keep their operating system updated, use reliable anti-virus software, and only install software from reputable sources.”

Airport Control Towers with No Humans Inside

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Passengers landing at remote Ornskoldsvik Airport in northern Sweden might catch a glimpse of the control tower — likely unaware there is nobody inside.

The dozen commercial planes landing there each day are instead watched by cameras, guided in by controllers viewing the video at another airport 90 miles away.

Ornskoldsvik is the first airport in the world to use such technology. Others in Europe are testing the idea, as is one airport in the United States. While the majority of the world’s airports will, for some time, still have controllers on site, experts say unmanned towers are coming. They’ll likely first go into use at small and medium airports, but eventually even the world’s largest airports could see an array of cameras mounted on a pole replacing their concrete control towers.

The companies building these remote systems say their technology is cheaper and better than traditional towers.

“There is a lot of good camera technology that can do things that the human eye can’t,“ says Pat Urbanek, of Searidge Technologies, “We understand that video is not real life, out the window. It’s a different way of surveying.“

Cameras spread out around an airport eliminate blind spots and give controllers more-detailed views. Infrared can supplement images in rain, fog or snow and other cameras can include thermal sensors to see if animals stray onto the runway at the last second.

None of those features are — yet — in the Swedish airport because of regulatory hurdles.

Ornskoldsvik Airport is a vital lifeline for residents who want to get to Stockholm and the rest of the world. But with just 80,000 annual passengers, it can’t justify the cost of a full-time control staff — about $175,000 a year in salary, benefits and taxes for each of six controllers.

In April, after a year and a half of testing a system designed by Saab, all the controllers left Ornskoldsvik. Now, an 80-foot tall mast housing 14 high-definition cameras sends the signal back to the controllers, stationed at Sunvsal Airport. No jobs have been eliminated but ultimately such systems will allow tiny airports to pool controllers.

Old habits are hard to break. Despite the ability to zoom in, controllers instinctively grab their binoculars to get a closer look at images on the 55-inch TV screens. And two microphones were added to the airfield at Ornskoldsvik to pipe in the sounds of planes.

“Without the sound, the air traffic controllers felt very lost,“ says Anders Carp, head of traffic management for Saab.

The cameras are housed in a glass bubble. High pressure air flows over the windows, keeping them clear of insects, rain and snow. The system has been tested for severe temperatures: 22 degrees below zero and, at the other extreme, a sizzling 122 degrees.

Niclas Gustavsson, head of commercial development for LFV Group, the air navigation operator at 26 Swedish airports, says digital cameras offer numerous possibilities for improving safety.

Computers can compare every picture to the one a second before. If something changes — such as birds or deer crossing the runway — alerts are issued.

“Maybe, eventually there will be no towers built at all,“ says Gustavsson.

Saab is currently testing — and seeking regulatory approval — for remote systems in Norway and Australia and has contracts to develop the technology for another Swedish airport and two in Ireland.

Competitor Searidge is working on a remote tower for the main airport in Budapest, Hungary. That airport serves 8.5 million passengers annually and, within two years, controllers could be stationed a few miles from the airport.

Now, Saab is bringing some aspects of this technology to the United States.

Leesburg Executive Airport in Virginia is a relatively busy airport with 300 daily takeoffs and landings. Just a few miles from Dulles International Airport, Leesburg does not have its own control tower. A regional air traffic control center clears private jets into the airspace and then pilots use an established radio frequency to negotiate the landing and takeoff order. That often leads to delays.

Saab has built a system for Leesburg and on Aug. 3 started a three-month test with the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA controllers will, at first, familiarize themselves with the technology and just observe the planes operating as they already do today. If the FAA approves, the next phase would be to start clearing planes onto taxiways and to take off and land.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says it is participating in the testing.

Towers for large commercial airports are expensive. They need elevators, air conditioning and heating, fire suppression systems plus room for all the controllers. A new tower in Oakland, California that opened in 2013 cost $51 million. Towers at smaller airports are cheaper. Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport opened a new one in February at a cost of $15.4 million. Saab won’t detail the cost of its system except to say it is “significantly less.“ There is no need for a tower and elevator.

The companies see a giant market: The vast majority of U.S. commercial airports — 315 of 506 — have control towers. However, only 198 of the 2,825 general aviation airports have manned towers.

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