Amazon offers software development kit to expand Dash button replenishment program to more screens.

Amazon offers software development kit to expand Dash button replenishment program to more screens.

Amazon is expanding its Amazon Dash Services with Virtual Dash Button Service, an SDK that will allow developers to will add one-click reordering from multiple connected devices.

The Dash program initially featured a physical button that would trigger reorders of supplies. By adding the Virtual Dash Button Services, Amazon can expand its supplies replenishment sales.

Amazon isn’t going to abandon the physical Dash button play. After all, Amazon said it has added HP, Kenmore, 3M Filtrete, Epson and Blustream to the Dash program. Dash can connect to connected devices via sensors and automatically reorder supplies.

The virtual version of Dash will be offered through the Virtual Dash Button Service, an SDK that allows third parties to add software-based reordering to screened devices. These shortcuts will allow Amazon Prime members to reorder products.

While HP’s printers that will automatically reorder ink are interesting, Amazon’s Virtual Dash Button Service may have a bigger impact. The technical details of the service (VDBS) work like this:

VDBS exposes a JavaScript SDK through an Amazon-hosted endpoint to third-party webrendering engines. This JS SDK is used for customizing and obtaining Dash Button UI components (e.g., HTML, CSS), performing Dash Button-related data operations and leveraging core Dash Button UX business logic (e.g., JavaScript events).While some use cases may require using VDBS REST APIs directly, it is recommended you take advantage of the JS SDK. Additionally, secure access tokens obtained through Amazon’s separate LWA (Login with Amazon) service are required for any data related operations through VDBS.
For now, enterprises need to email Amazon to get started with VDBS, but the program will be open to the public in the months to come.

LG, Samsung and Whirlpool are early users of VDBS.

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5 Things to Consider When You’re Hiring A Software Outsourcing Partner

5 Things to Consider When You’re Hiring A Software Outsourcing Partner

Need a software developer? It’s easy to outsource them globally, but finding the right outsourcing partner isn’t nearly as simple — though there are some strategies out there that will make your task a little bit easier.

Say, for example, that you want to outsource your software development. Maybe you’re convinced by success stories like that of Skype, which built its beta version with the help of three Estonian developers. Or a story like that of Slack, which originally outsourced the development of its app, website and even logo. Or maybe you just don’t have the cash — or the need or the time — to hire an in-house development team.

Whatever your need, to be successful at your next outsourcing endeavor, here are the top five things to consider before hiring a software outsourcing partner:

1. First, consider geography.
Before starting to look for an outsourcing partner, make it easy on yourself by carefully defining the geography in which you would like to search. Today there are tens of thousands of software outsourcing partners available across the world; Latin America, Ukraine, India, and China are just a few areas full of vendors that are ripe for the taking.

Because communication is key for successful outsourcing relationships, regions with similar time zones are often a good starting point; however, other factors such as nearshore versus offshore, cultural compatibility, political stability, low inflation rates and geographical proximity, are also critical.

Even software-outsourcing firms themselves have begun to take note of these elements,” Ludovic Gaudé, CEO of intive, told me in an interview.

Referencing his company’s recent acquisition of a Latin American software development firm, Gaudé highlighted the importance of geography. “Apart from a talented pool of engineers, a business culture similar to the U.S. and Europe, and being in a similar time zone to our clients, the [acquisition] also means that our U.S. customers benefit from bilingual developers,” he said.

2. Next, decide on price or quality.
As the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. The same goes for software development,even more so when you are outsourcing it. Although price and quality always have a spectrum, potential software-outsourcing partners generally fall within one of two categories: price-first vendors or quality-first vendors. So, you must choose which you prefer.

Price-first vendors will often provide a fixed-bid quote for your project, and tend to be more transactionally focused than focused on a long-term relationship. Their expertise lies in finding resources and quickly deploying them for clients with little supervision.

According to a Medium post by Mike Svystun, VP of business development at Vertalab, a price-first strategy “could work well for developing minimum viable products or isolated products limited in scope.” That said, Svystun added, “We think it’s rarely a good choice for well-established startups.”

Quality-first vendors, on the other hand, are more expensive — as well as significantly more selective about the types of projects they take. Still, they’re a better choice for all complex or mission-critical projects. That’s because they will most often work under a time-and-materials model, look for a longer term relationship and reject fixed-price bids, on principle.

Similarly, quality-first vendors will spend significant effort and resources training their teams, and often work with the partner’s senior personnel to ensure proper delivery and execution.

3. Put your candidates to the test.
Software-outsourcing vendors will each have their unique strengths and quirks. Nevertheless, there are certain core questions you can ask during an initial phone conversation to make sure a potential partner is a good cultural, philosophical and methodological fit for your company and project. Those questions:

1. “What is your approach to software development?” Listen for words like: agile, SCRUM, MVP, short sprints, quick iteration, constant communication and any others you find most important.

2. “Tell me about your previous experience with software outsourcing projects with other U.S./foreign clients similar to us.” Try to understand the type of clients the vendor has worked with in the past and how his/her services were valuable and effective. Request at least two or three references, and never risk being the vendor’s first foreign client.

3.” What are the most critical risks to a software-outsourcing relationship, and how do you manage/mitigate them?” Get an idea of the outsourcing vendor’s real experience, as well as what he or she cares most about in a project.

4. What are your strengths as a company versus those of your other competitors? Gauge what your software-outsourcing vendor most underscores in his/her own organization, in addition to any particular strategies and strengths the company is investing in.

If possible, ask a business development representative to be present for the call to help walk you through the high-level perspective of a relationship. Don’t get too technical until you delve into details that check for a potential partner’s overall fit, as well as cultural and methodological compatibilities, which are paramount.

4. Visit the partner in person, if possible.
Depending on the location you select for your search, visiting may or may not be possible. However, if it is, a personal visit can be a great way to see behind the veil and accurately determine your prospective partner’s true features.

Business development routines are well orchestrated within any professional services organization, so during a remote exploratory process, you will likely see exactly what the prospective partner wants you to see. An in-person visit, however, is much more difficult to stage, and will communicate the real state of your prospective outsourcing vendor, as Mark Kobayashi-Hillary explained in a post for Computer Weekly.

“If you have already received a dozen requests for information from your potential suppliers, each one summarising how they can meet your requirements, along with a visit from each sales team — all with a similar pitch — the site visit can highlight a supplier’s real strengths and weaknesses,” Kobayashi-Hillary wrote.

In addition, if you make the trek to visit a potential partner, keep in mind that the trip need not be too long; a day or two will give you a good sense of the location, the overall motivation level of the team, the commitment of the leadership team, the state of the physical infrastructure and the overall professionalism that the location reflects.

5. Make a decision and then communicate.
Just because the MSA and SOWs are signed and you are ready to get started with your chosen software outsourcing partner, doesn’t mean your job is over. Your vendor-partner faces the same pressures remotely that you face locally: Good talent is hard to find and hire. Understand that it could take some time for your partner to put together a team.

Once the team is finally set up, you can expect about two additional months of ramp-up, accompanied by supplementary investment for the new team to learn the ropes and adequately understand your business. Short sprints can help accelerate that training and give you a better idea of what it takes to put code into production. As the team is learning, take the time to iron out the best communication structures and mechanisms to raise red flags with your partner.

Communication can be difficult when you’re working with remote teams, but Mike Galarza, CEO of the cloud-banking and finance platform Entryless, suggested to me — during an interview we had — using tools like Asana, Skype and Github to facilitate communication for software outsourcing projects. “It is crucial to be super-proactive on the communication side, since we are far away and not physically present,” Galarza said.

Shamim Mohammad, CIO at used car retailer CarMax, pointed out an additional detail to consider. “When managing deadlines and projects,” he wrote in CIO.com, consider potential resource and technology challenges that might emerge.”

He continued, “Make sure there is time allocated for undiscovered work, and develop a contingency plan for it. Lots of projects assume a happy path, but do not plan for unanticipated and undiscovered work, which will inevitably happen.”

With the wide availability of software developers across the world, it’s easy to be overly eager in rushing to choose a partner for your project. However, the decision process must be carefully executed in order to find best fit for the task at hand. With the right decision and a little bit of luck, you too can be on your way to building the next software unicorn with the help of the right offshore IT partner.

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Developers share updates on new master-planned community in Cleveland

Developers share updates on new master-planned community in Cleveland

The ground has been cleared and construction of the golf course is underway at Grand Oaks Reserve in Cleveland. The master-planned, 600-acre community – located at the east end of the SH 105 bypass by Cleveland Middle School – will have model homes under construction by late spring or early summer, according to Amanda De Rosario, vice president of McKinley Development Group, a Willis-based company backed by China-based Yihai Group.

De Rosario shared updates on the project at a meet-and-greet with city leaders on Jan. 3 at Cleveland City Hall.

“We are very proud to be part of Cleveland’s growth. We are looking forward to this year,” she said.

In addition to 1,000 brick homes, some lining a 39-acre man-made lake, Grand Oaks Reserve will also have an apartment complex with 416 units and a condominium complex for 256 homes, ranging from 1 to 3 bedrooms. Other acreage near the entrance has been set aside for commercial development, and De Rosario says there is already a lot of interest in home and commercial sites.

“We have seen Sugarland grow up and Pearland, and now there is Cleveland. Cleveland will be there. It will be an exceptional place for people to come and build their homes,” she said. “We already have a waiting list, believe it or not, of people interested in buying homes. We are really excited about that.”

On the commercial side, the development company already has contracts for a convenience store located near the entrance and a restaurant.

David Nemeth, president of McKinley Development, told city leaders that construction of the golf course began two months ago and is on schedule.

The golf course will feature a nine-hole course and a clubhouse that can accommodate weddings, receptions and meetings.

City leaders then watched a 20-minute video presentation of how the development will look once completed and built out. Afterward, Cleveland City Manager Kelly McDonald shared her appreciation that Cleveland was selected for the project.

“This is going to be phenomenal for Cleveland. It gives me goosebumps. We have heard many things through the years that growth is coming, but I believe this is the first time since I have lived in Cleveland that this is actually going to happen,” she said. “Now let’s get it built. Let’s get it here. These are exciting times. I can’t say that enough.”

While the focus of the Jan. 3 gathering was the residential development, McKinley Development Group also is constructing a 122-acre industrial park on the west side of Cleveland on SH 105. The company has already invested $10 million between the two projects and is plans to spend $100 million more before the developments are complete.

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Game developer uses Crypt of the NecroDancer for proposal

Game developer uses Crypt of the NecroDancer for proposal

Independent game developer Lislore Goedhard proposed to Ted Martens using a custom build of Crypt of the NecroDancer with the help of designer Ryan Clark and composer Danny Baranowsky.

Martens is a pixel artist and animator on Crypt of the NecroDancer, and Goedhard enlisted his fellow NecroDancer colleagues Clark and Baranowsky to aide in her proposal.

Announced on Twitter, Goedhart explained how the collaboration came to be, thanking Clark for assistance in designing the build and Baranowsky for composing a remix wedding song from zone one level one of the game.

This isn’t the first time developers have used games to propose to their loved ones, but this gesture went the extra mile through its inclusion of custom made assets.

Screenshots provide a look at the content created for the proposal, including a pixilated ring used to pop the question.

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The future of software development in 2018

The future of software development in 2018

Software development went through leaps and bounds this year with new advancements and innovations in artificial intelligence, containers, security, applications and more. With 2017 coming to a close, we asked software development luminaries and thought leaders to forecast what is next for this space in 2018.

Aruna Ravichandran, VP of DevOps product and solutions marketing at CA technologies:
We will continue to see end-users make a tighter connection between a company’s brand and the quality of its code, based on their experiences across a company’s applications.  As a result, more organizations will look to integrate security into development and intensify their automated continuous testing efforts/shift testing left to earlier in the SDLC as they work to release higher quality code, faster. Additionally, businesses will look to increase their adoption of digital experience monitoring and analytics solutions to help them understand how users are using applications and apply enhancements that optimize experiences

Jeff Williams, CTO and founder of Contract Security: 
Attacks after a vulnerability disclosure will happen faster than ever. While attacks once took weeks or months to emerge after a vulnerability disclosure, today it’s been reduced to about a day. That “safe window” will get even smaller, giving organizations only a few hours to respond.

Security budgets will increase focus on application security. Major breaches like Equifax and Uber have shone a light on organizations that are not doing nearly enough to secure their software supply chain. Today, every organization has an Equifax problem and it has created room for even more budget towards improving all aspects of application security.

Kostas Tzoumas, co-founder and CEO of Data Artisans
Enterprises will invest in new products and tools to productionize and institutionalize data stream processing. As companies are moving real-time data processing to large scale both in terms of data processed and number of applications, they will need seek out new tools that make it easy to run streaming applications production and reduce the manpower, cost and effort required.

Patrick McFadin, vice president of developer relations at DataStax:
“Data Autonomy” – fear of the big cloud players will become the main driver for large digital transformation projects. More and more brands will want data autonomy in a multi-cloud world in order to compete and stay ahead. The need and urgency to meet the big cloud players head on with data driven applications will intensify.

Kelly Stirman, VP of strategy for Dremio:
Technology vendors will focus on a new problem: data consumer productivity.

For most of the past decade, key areas of technology have focused on improving developer productivity. This includes cloud vendors like AWS, data management vendors like Hadoop, NoSQL, and Splunk, and infrastructure like Docker, Mulesoft, Mesosphere, and Kubernetes. Why? Developers have been the craftspeople responsible for digitizing key areas of society by recasting them as software. Now vendors will start to focus on a new group of users: data consumers. For every developer there are 10 data analysts, data scientists, and data engineers, totaling over 200M today and growing rapidly. Everyone likes to say “data is the new oil”, and while products like Tableau have catered to the visualization of data, but there are many steps in the “data refinery pipeline” that are still IT-focused and 1,000,000 miles from the self-service that developers enjoy today with their tools. Vendors will start to close the gap, and focus on dramatically improving the productivity of this critical market.

Mark Pundsack, head of product at the open-source platform, GitLab:
By 2018, there will be a backlash against the DevOps tool chain. Developers will begin to demand a more integrated approach to the development process. In 2017, developers voiced frustrations around using multiple tools to complete an entire development life cycle. This frustration will turn to action in 2018 and both developers and enterprises will request an approach that is seamless and effective. As a result, vendors will begin offering integrated toolsets to help developers and enterprises move faster from idea to production.

Jason Warner, SVP of technology at GitHub
Open source will keep climbing the stack. A decade ago, Linux was a big deal. Now it’s standard. Back in the day, companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft were forced to build their own, proprietary tools because no other software existed to meet their needs. Many of these frameworks have since been open sourced—and other open source technologies, like Kubernetes, are becoming integral to developers’ workflows. This shift is changing what companies are investing in, making open source software traditional software’s biggest competitor.

Florian Leibert, CEO, Mesosphere:
The autonomous car market will become more real (and more competitive): All signs point to Apple or Google formally launching an autonomous car program to compete with the traditional car companies and Uber in the next year. With a major tech player throwing their hat in the ring, we’ll start to see major innovation that advances autonomous cars as a reality.

Toufic Boubez, VP of engineering for Splunk
The buzz stops here. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are often misunderstood and misused terms. Many startups and larger technology companies attempt to boost their appeal by forcing an association with these phrases. Well, the buzz will have to stop in 2018. This will be the year we begin to demand substance to justify claims of anything that’s capable of using data to predict any outcome of any relevance for business, IT or security. While 2018 will not be the year when AI capabilities mature to match human skills and capacity, AI using machine learning will increasingly help organizations make decisions on massive amounts of data that otherwise would be difficult for us to make sense of.

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Looking Forward to Java in 2018

Looking Forward to Java in 2018

As 2017 draws to a close, let’s look at the future of the Java platform in 2018.

We enter 2018 after a year that has brought more change to the Java world than is usual. In part this is due to the arrival of Java 9, albeit almost a year late.

However, over time, this release may come to be seen as less significant than the changes to the release cycle that accompanied the new version. This change to the release process means that there will be not one, but two, new releases of Java in 2018.

The first will be known as Java 10 with the second release being Java 11. Although this naming scheme may seem like the existing status quo, it was only achieved after a significant public debate and an eventual consensus being reached.

As a result of this switch to a strict time-based cadence, the content of each Java feature release is expected to become smaller in scope than has historically been seen until now. For Java 10 in particular, this means that the number of features is fairly small.

InfoQ previously covered the major items and since then only minor (Additional Unicode Extensions), tidy-up (removal of the native header generation tool and provide default root CA certificates), experimental (Graal – a Java-based JIT compiler) or currently-niche features (support for heterogeneous memory architectures) have been added to the release.

For Java 11, the set of features being considered for the release is even more nebulous, with only these few features currently in scope:

Epsilon (a reference implementation of a null GC algorithm)
Dynamic Class File Constants (a platform feature, primarily of interest to library writers and invokedynamic hackers)
Runtime tracing of JIT compilation events
This list will surely fill out as the release date approaches, but one feature that is noticeable by its absence is Java value types. This is perhaps unsurprising, as value types are a major change to the Java language and runtime and offer a complete re-imagining of aspects of the Java type system, including generic types.

The current prototype, while working, is still a very long way from being delivered, and in its current state is suitable only for low-level platform hackers and those comfortable hacking with reflective or MethodHandle-based tools. It seems quite inconceivable that, given the current state that value types will ship as part of Java 11, although Oracle has not made any public comments about when they expect value types to arrive.

However, if value types are not delivered as part of Java 11 then this would have the knock-on effect that the first long-term support release to include value types would not then appear until at least September 2021.

At time of writing it is also unclear as to whether the proposed data classes feature will appear in Java 11 either. As described by Brian Goetz, the Java language architect:

Data classes are about disavowing complex, indirect relationships between a classes representation and its API contract; by doing so, the compiler can fill in common class members.

There is some similarity between the proposal and Scala’s case classes, but Goetz makes it clear that the design space being addressed by data classes covers a range of possibilities and the overall semantic meaning of the data classes feature is deeper than it might appear. The current conception of data classes makes them deeply connected to the pattern matching feature also in development but they could potentially be delivered in separate releases.

Related to both features is the possibility of an enhanced form of switch – allowing the construct to be used as an expression as well as a statement.
This feature is relatively small and looks as though it could plausibly be delivered in Java 11, even without data classes or pattern matching but at present it is still only a draft JEP.

The feature-complete date for the eventual September release is in June 2018, so we will have to wait and see for a few more months before the overall shape of Java 11 becomes clear.

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To Build Software that is Easy to Use, Engage the Right Partners

To Build Software that is Easy to Use, Engage the Right Partners

Developing software that is intuitive and meets user needs calls for a close partnership between a vendor and a couple of key customers.

 You don’t have to look far to find software that is difficult to use, especially in healthcare; electronic health records (EHR) systems are the bane of many physicians’ existence. Mobile computing and app stores have shown us a different way. When we download the Uber application, for example, Uber doesn’t send a driver to teach us how to use the app. It is intuitive – no instruction required.

Of course, enterprise software is more complex than hailing a ride and healthcare has some of the most complex workflows of any industry. But should that condemn us to applications that are challenging to use and require tremendous amounts of training? I think not.

Like most developers, I strive to make the applications my company builds as intuitive as possible. We have had our share of successes, but on occasion, we also have designed software that falls short of the mark.

Why is it so hard to build software that is easy to use?

One of the biggest challenges is that software must be intuitive to someone who hasn’t yet seen it. This immediately disqualifies everyone who works for your company. Even worse, it disqualifies your user community, especially your most vocal power users. They tend to push you to build software that is complex.

One of the best examples of this is the old Sabre system from American Airlines. Its user interface consisted of a prompt and a blinking cursor. A skilled travel agent could type a string of characters and quickly book a flight. This was super powerful, but it took years to master.

Of course, today we know there is a better way. We can search and book flights on our smartphones without any training, and certainly without a travel agent. This didn’t come quickly or easily, however.

How do you overcome the inherent forces that push you to make complex software?

I discovered an approach to developing intuitive software years ago, by accident. In the mid-1990s, I joined a small public company called HPR as head of new product development. I was tasked with building a next generation Case and Disease Management platform for payers. There was only one problem: I had no idea what case and disease management was, and nobody in my company did, either. It turns out that this was a blessing, although I can assure you it did not feel like one at the time.

I had to find someone who knew something about case and disease management. The only people I could find were payers – Tufts and Healthsource, an innovative health plan in New Hampshire. We worked closely with them to design, build, and deploy what became known as CareEnhance Clinical Management Software (CCMS), a revolutionary approach to payer-based case and disease management.

I had stumbled my way into a process for building intuitive workflow software, which I now refer to as “co-development”. It begins by selling a concept to two customers. In return for discounts, free services, and sometimes royalties, our co-development partners make their end user community available to us throughout the entire development process. They review initial mock ups and prototypes all the way through alpha and beta processes. Importantly, they also agree to be our first production sites. That way you have great reference sites from day one.

Selecting two partners is critical. When you only work with one, it is hard to tell what workflows and processes are “unique,” and which are common. With two, it is unlikely that both will have the same unique processes.

I was recently reminded how important it is to adhere to this “co-development” process. We had what seemed like the software equivalent of a tap-in putt. We wanted to add tools to our software that would make managing custom components easier and less prone to error during upgrades. This was also a tool for our company to use to manage our own software; we were both the developer and the end user. How easy would this be?

We stepped away from our co-development process and simply asked some of our team members what they needed. Then, we added what our engineers thought users might need and built it. It probably isn’t surprising that we missed the mark, and now we are in the process of building version 2, and doing it the right way.

So if you are considering employing this co-development process for your next software development project, here are seven tips to keep in mind:

  1. Users must be fully invested in it. Half-hearted participation won’t cut it.
  2. Users must use the software in as close to a real-world way as possible, as soon as possible. That is the only way to know if developers have hit the mark.
  3. Be agile. Effective collaboration among core development team members is just as important as with co-development partners.
  4. Do not get wedded to an idea or approach. Adhering to preconceived notions can undermine any software development project.
  5. Two co-development sites are much – I repeat, much – better than one.
  6. Listen. Your co-development partners are providing critical perspective and feedback, even if it is not necessarily what you may want to hear at any given point in the project.
  7. Be prescriptive. Your co-development partners know what users want to accomplish, but your team has the software development expertise.

If you are thinking that the last two items on the list are contradictory, you are right… and wrong. This is where the art comes in. Most users don’t know how to design software (and those that do, you don’t want as part of this process). Co-development doesn’t mean someone hands you a spec. Rather, it means you put yourself in position to build great software the first time, which is what every vendor should aspire to.

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Microsoft in 2017: The biggest hardware and software milestones

Microsoft in 2017: The biggest hardware and software milestones

During the course of the 2017 calendar year, Microsoft introduced an updated line of products—both hardware and software—to augment its lineup of products, while continuing to provide exciting new features.

It updated its existing lineup of Surface products by introducing the new Surface Pro and Surface Book 2. Both hardware follow-ups brought with them upgrades to further enhance the technology found in these highly mobile devices, along with other bells and whistles.

On the software front, Microsoft updated the highly popular Windows 10 operating system. In addition, Windows Server 2016 received a semi-annual update—a first—in the form of build 1709.

SEE: Securing Windows policy (Tech Pro Research)
New Surface Pro
All new Surface Pro models feature the seventh generation Intel Core processors based on the Kaby Lake lineup for m3, i5, and i7 CPUs. The upgraded CPUs feature higher clock speeds than previous Surface Pro models, and for the first time ever, models with the Core m3 and i5 will use passive, or fanless, cooling.

Another striking feature found on the new Surface Pro is the enhanced kickstand that can open to a full 165 degrees, providing a much flatter posture for the device, perfect for writing or drawing on the tablet itself. Microsoft calls this Studio Mode, as it’s aimed squarely at creatives and content producers.

While there are few updates to the new Surface Pro, users can continue to count on the quality they’ve come to expect from this stellar, business-oriented device, including mainstays such as a full-size USB 3.0 port, Bluetooth, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and of course, the slim Type Cover and extremely useful Surface Pen.

Surface Book 2
Much like its Pro cousin, the Surface Book 2 continues on from last year’s model with some minor hardware spec bumps in the form of Intel’s eighth generation processors, though based on its Kaby Lake Refresh lineup of Core i5 and i7 CPUs.

While the differences between the Surface Book and the Surface Book 2 are nominal, the line retains such standout features as PixelSense, which produces a great deal of screen real-estate with its generous 3000 x 2000 resolution on the default 13.5? screen. New in this year’s model is a second 15? screen sporting a resolution of 3240 x 2160. External connectivity has been upgraded as well, to 2 x full-size USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports and 1 x USB-C port.

The GPU has seen a significant boost, too, with an optional discrete GPU powered by NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1050 and 1060—with 2GB GDDR5 and 6GB GDDR5 graphics memory, respectively—for the 13.5? and 15? models, providing increased graphical power that can tackle anything from design to video processing to modern gaming, all while on the go and in the sleek, lightweight design that users have raved about since the Surface tablet’s inception.

SEE: 12 tips to get more out of Windows 10 (free TechRepublic PDF)
Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
Windows 10, the client-based operating system released in mid-2015, has been consistently receiving feature-packed updates—and 2017 was no different, seeing the release of the Fall Creators Update with several new features available for consumers and businesses alike.

One of the more security-focused additions was Windows Defender Exploit Guard, which uses behavior analysis to protect data from unauthorized changes brought upon by ransomware infections and other unknown exploits.

Microsoft’s Continue On PC allows for websites and searches that are being performed on a mobile device to be handed off to a computer to continue working without skipping a beat.

Another feature comes by way of OneDrive’s new Files On-Demand feature, which lets users access files over a network connection without having the data physically stored on the local device and eating up storage space. These online-only files are stored in the cloud unless users want to download the files by double-clicking them.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free TechRepublic PDF)
Windows Server, Build 1709
Like its client-focused sibling discussed above, Windows Server 2016 received an update (of sorts) in its first semi-annual release channel. Dubbed build, or version, 1709, this release of Windows Server is actually not an update per se but a full release that offers a strict focus on Windows Server Core and virtualization and containerization of hosted instances and applications.

Although 1709 is not an upgrade to Windows Server 2016, its foundation is very much based on that operating system. 1709 requires a full or clean installation of the OS and provides only the Server Core environment for installation—this means no Desktop Experience option, no GUI. Furthermore, only Standard and Datacenter editions are supported.

Among the shining points of this release, Nano Server is now deprecated in lieu of running Nano Server from within a container image, thus shrinking its footprint—approximately 70% smaller than previous iterations, according to Microsoft. There is added support for Linux-based containers, allowing them to run side by side with Windows containers or with Hyper-V isolation, as well as native support for Linux management tools via the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

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Microsoft Release Public Preview of IoT Software-as-a-Service Offering

Microsoft Release Public Preview of IoT Software-as-a-Service Offering

Microsoft recently announced a public preview of IoT Central, its software-as-a-service solution for the Internet of Things. IoT Central had been in limited preview for a few months with chosen customers who have been trialling the solution and providing feedback.
IoT Central is the result of the acquisition of the Italian company Solair, which Microsoft acquired in 2016. The Solair solution has been integrated with parts of the Azure IoT platform services to create a software-as-a-service solution that Microsoft claims is the first truly scalable SaaS solution for IoT.
Since IoT Central is built on the same infrastructure as the IoT platform services, it has support for the standard Azure IoT device SDKS in Node.js, C, C# and Java, and supports the same transport protocols, MQTT, HTTP and AMQP.
As a SaaS solution, IoT Central is designed to favor configuration over construction and provides an Application Manager to help organize your solutions. When logged in, you can create a blank application or start from two sample applications.

Once created, the application can be built using:
Device Template – describes a “class” of device including:
Measurements such as temperature, units and minimum/maximum values
Settings to configure devices
Properties that contain device metadata
Rules that allow alerts to be sent when thresholds are breached, currently only simple alerts such as greater than a value
Configurable dashboard showing information about the device, or telemetry over time
Device Set – defines a group of devices where telemetry and information can be viewed in one place
Analytics are available throughout the application and leverage Azure Time Series Insights to help visualize information such as trends and anomalies.

IoT Central has been built to integrate with Office 365 and Dynamics 365, but Microsoft has indicated that it will support integration with third-party providers such as SAP and Salesforce in future.
During a limited private preview, a few clients have been trying the service. Nate Hill, Principal Architect at Patterson Dental said of the service

Microsoft IoT Central joins IoT Suite, a pre-configured set of solutions aimed at making it easier to create and manage IoT solution. IoT Suite contains solutions for remote monitoring, connected factory, and predictive maintenance as a means to bootstrap IoT platforms but still require large amounts of configuration and customization for production use. With IoT Central, Microsoft’s Sam George, Director of Azure IoT, claims that the time to deliver IoT solutions can be reduced to a matter of minutes, allowing customers to concentrate on delivering early value from their efforts.
From release, Microsoft has offered 2 tiers for pricing for IoT Central. Users can provision a 30-day free trial that supports up to 10 devices and 100MB of data traffic, or choose a paid option which has a $500 fee per month with a limit of 100 devices and 1000MB of data traffic. Additional devices and data traffic overage are charged separately, $0.50 per additional device and $30 per additional GB of data.

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Java: The go-to programming language for IoT applications

Java: The go-to programming language for IoT applications

One of the biggest perks of the Java language is the robustness of its app code. While C uses explicit pointers for referencing memory, all Java object references are implicit pointers that could not be manipulated by app code. This automatically rules out possible issues, like memory access violations, that inevitably could cause an app to stop suddenly. Although migrating apps written in C to a new platform could be time-consuming and expensive, as well as error-prone, another benefit of Java is that it runs anywhere after it’s written. If the APIs used by the app stay unchanged, it’s only a matter of redeploying the existing JAR files class. A simple recompile is enough to move to a newer Java version.

Top reasons why Java will remain in IoT
IoT apps made with Java are very important and will continue to be in the long run. The following are reasons why Java would stay relevant in the future:

It’s mature and continues to evolve. Java is currently one of the most stable and mature programming languages around. Every new version comes with various new features and improved performance. For instance, some well-known Java applications support functional and concurrent programming.
It has robust security features. The security features of Java make it easier for programmers to develop big and enterprise apps. The Java virtual machine (JVM) evaluates intermediate bytecode to prevent the app from doing unsafe operations. Developers can use its advanced security management features to prevent untrusted bytecode from accessing certain APIs and features by running them in a sandboxed scenario. At the same time, developers could also benefit from the robust security APIs provided by the platform, which together with user authentication and secure communication protocols can help developers trust Java more than other languages.
It supports IoT. Currently, Java is one of the programming languages that support IoT. Project Jigsaw aims to make Java run on a bigger variety of portable and small devices. Nevertheless, the project still aims to maintain the scalability of Java, as well as networking, security, performance and other features, while making it run on these newer and smaller devices.
It is platform independent. Programmers today have to write apps by targeting a lot of devices and platforms. Thus, they seek a programming language that lets them write the app code once and deploys it across several platforms with no need to put in extra effort. Programmers could simply compile Java code into bytecode and deploy the bytecode across a lot of platforms without having to compile code again.
Java benefits the internet of things
The advantages of Java are well-known. Developers can build and debug code on their desktop and move it to any chip using a JVM. This means that the code can not only run in places where JVMs are common, such as on smartphones and servers, but also on the smallest machines as well. Java Micro Edition (ME) has been available on small phones as well as other embedded devices since the specification was approved in 2000. It saved space with a limited collection of class libraries, as well as other tools. Nowadays, most of the focus is on Java SE Embedded, which is much closer in capacity to the Standard Edition. Developers could use the current features of Java 8 and move their code to a smaller, embedded device. Most of the computing resource savings with Java comes from stripping out the classes required for displaying information when machines could be configured to run headless without a keyboard or monitor. All communication goes via the network.

Why Java is required for IoT
Java provides network portability. It’s also easy for developers to learn. These two aspects come together to make Java the perfect program to help devices connect with one another. Almost all devices, from personal computers to mobile phones, use Java. It is also an integral part of the internet world, making it a great choice for IoT. Java provides every device the best functionality level, high security levels and a good amount of scalability in the industry. Moreover, the fact that Java has a big ecosystem makes it much more suitable for the internet of everything. Senior Java developers can create innovative apps to help achieve the goal of a connected world.

When people consider writing an embedded app, there are many factors that should be taken into account, such as which real-time operating system and protocols to use. When Java ME is used, it will abstract all the factors, making it easier to write apps that run on different devices without any call for change anywhere.

As a platform, Java is a great starting point for the internet of things when it comes to ubiquity as well as built-in security and encryption technology.

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