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Sea of Thieves Season One is now live, delivering a battle pass, new voyage and more
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
The first major Sea of Thieves update of 2021 has landed, bringing the promised battle pass progression system, a brand new Merchant Alliance voyage, fresh events, a performance mode for Xbox Series X, and much more to the pirate adventure game.
Full details on the free and paid tracks of the Season One battle pass can be found here. Essentially, there are 100 cosmetic items to unlock for free by simply playing the game, while paying $10 will get pirates 11 premium items as part of the Plunder Pass.
The latest piece of new content arriving with the new season - which will last for three months - is the Lost Shipments voyage. This is a brand new addition to the Merchant Alliance group that players above rank 25 can accept. The voyage has players tracking down missing shipments, where they are given the original route of the lost ship, which they must follow and gather clues until a wreck is discovered. Players can also plunder the captain's cabin of the ship during the voyage if they happen to locate the key for additional rewards.
Rare has a number of game events planned to kick off during the season as well, with the Champion of Souls being available now, which puts pirates up against skeletons and ghost ships for earning soul fragments. Check the Event Hub on the game's website or the in-game one to find out what's happening when.
Moreover, Xbox Series X players will also now find a new performance mode available that lets them enjoy Sea of Thieves at even higher frame rates. Playing at 120Hz at 1080p is an option now, though keep in mind the display needs to support this frame rate, and the studio said HDR may need to be disabled as well. The full patch notes for this update can be seen here.
Sea of Thieves owners and Xbox Game Pass subscribers can now jump back into the newly restarted servers after updating to Season One. Xbox Series X, Xbox One X, and Microsoft Store PC players will find the update weighs around 9GB, while Xbox Series S, Xbox One, and Steam players will only have a 6GB update waiting for them.
AdDuplex: Windows 10 version 20H2 slows down, still in third place
by João Carrasqueira
AdDuplex is kicking off its monthly reports on the usage of different versions of Windows 10 with data for January. As usual, this data is collected from about 5,000 apps in the Microsoft Store, which are using the AdDuplex SDK v2 or higher, and the data refers to January 27, with nearly 80,000 PCs being surveyed.
As you'd probably expect, this month continues to see the growth of Windows 10 version 20H2, released this past October, though the growth rate has slowed down. The latest feature update now sits at 16.8%, up from 13.6% in December. While growth slowed down compared to the past couple of months, adoption of Windows 10 version 20H2 is outpacing version 1909, which sat at 15.2% by this time last year.
In exchange for its growth, most older versions have dropped. The May 2020 Update, or version 2004, lost a few decimal points, falling to 39.8% usage share from 40.4% last month, and the November 2019 Update, or version 1909, dropped the most - from 33.2% to 31.2%. The slowly-dying version 1903, is now at 6.6% usage share, down from 7.1%, and older versions haven't changed much.
Version 1809 stayed put at 1.5%, while 1803 actually gained one decimal point and sits at 1.8%, and older versions also remained the same at 2.2%. The number of Windows Insiders accounts for just 0.2% of users this month, down from 0.3%.
As we can see in the trends chart, version 20H2 seems to line up with the past few updates in terms of adoption rate over time. Updates aren't immediately forced on users when they're released anymore, so it takes a bit longer for new updates to grow than it did with earlier releases of Windows 10.
By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft shares stats about its security business
by Usama Jawad
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently announced the company's earnings for the second quarter of its 2021 fiscal year, driven by Office, gaming, and the cloud. Another sector that reported major growth throughout the 2020 calendar year is its security business, which exceeded $10 billion in revenue, a 40% year-over-year (YoY) increase. Now, Microsoft has shared further statistics on this particular topic.
Microsoft CVP of Security, Compliance and Identity Vasu Jakkal emphasized that the revenue increase is due to the company's "Zero trust mindset", which it believes to be the future of cybersecurity. Jakkal claimed that what set Microsoft apart from other competitors is its approach of using AI and automation in an integrated manner. The executive stated that this was possible due to the large number of customers using Microsoft security mechanisms who share their security signals with the company every daya. Some statistics that she shared are:
400,000 customers across 120 countries use Microsoft security solutions 90 of the Fortune 100 use four or more security, compliance, identity, and management solutions offered by Microsoft 8 trillion security signals absorbed by Microsoft solutions and security mechanisms 24 hours 2.5 billion daily cloud-based detections blocked almost 6 billion threats on endpoints in 2020 More than 30 billion authentications are processed across Azure AD's 425 million users daily More than 30 billion email threats were blocked by Defender for Office 365 in 2020 Compliance solutions process more than 5 billion document classifications each month Azure Sentinel analyzes over 4 petabytes of data each month from Azure, AWS, on-prem, and more Jakkal went on to say that the security Microsoft offers to customers is possible because it invests in managing seamless solutions across all major cloud and on-prem platforms. Furthermore, it offers customers secure solutions that are easy-to-use but handle complex attack vectors. Lastly, the company has a rich ecosystem which includes partnerships with various security organizations and researchers.
Moving forward, Microsoft aims to develop its security ecosystem further, and share knowledge that will enable everyone to bolster their security defenses against potential threats that may arise in the future.
By Ather Fawaz
Gooseberry: A dive into Microsoft's new quantum control chip to handle thousands of qubits
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Microsoft Research Quantum computers provide a promising new model of computation that enables exponential speedups over certain classical algorithms. But their Achilles' heel is a qubit's penchant for decoherence. That is, contemporary qubits are sensitive to changes in their environment and tend to lose their superposition because of it. Quantum superposition, as it turns out, is the central tenet of quantum computation and is vital for achieving the said exponential speedups.
Researchers have been working towards making these qubits more robust to changes in the environment without losing their controllability. A common solution is keeping these qubits in cryogenic environments where temperatures are tantalizingly close to absolute zero (0K), but this mechanical setup becomes a significant limitation in scaling up quantum computers for commercial use-cases. As a result, this remains an open research problem.
To this end, Microsoft in collaboration with a team from the University of Sydney has developed a cryogenic quantum control platform that uses specialized CMOS circuits to address the problem of qubit control and decoherence. In the paper "A Cryogenic Interface for Controlling Many Qubits", the researchers present Gooseberry, a CMOS chip that takes digital inputs and generates many parallel qubit control signals thereby allowing scaled-up support for thousands of qubits—a feat Microsoft deems a "leap ahead from previous technology".
Gooseberry enables this by operating at 100mK while dissipating sufficiently low power so that it does not heat up the qubits themselves. This means that the entire setup does not exceed the cooling capacity of commercially available quantum computing refrigerators. The team also used Gooseberry to create what it is calling the novel general-purpose cryo-compute core.
The proposed setup (shown above) uses a special breed of qubits called Topological Qubits. These qubits are more resilient to decoherence and have hardware-level error protection baked into them, reducing the overhead needed for software-level error correction and enabling meaningful computations to be done with fewer physical qubits. Taking a deeper look into the setup above, the Quantum-Classical interface layers are where the meat of the communication happens. Gooseberry sits abreast with the qubits in the lower stage due to its cryogenic requirements. It is thermally isolated from the qubits and its dissipated heat is drawn into a mixing chamber. Once ensconced near the qubits, Gooseberry converts classical instructions from the cryo-compute core into voltage signals which are then sent to the qubits.
(Left) A simplified version of the thermal conductance model of the Gooseberry chip. (Right) Gooseberry chip (red) sits close to the qubit test chip (blue) and resonator chip (purple). Together the chips manage communication between various parts of a quantum computer. Essentially, they are used to send and receive information to and from every qubit, but in a way that maintains a stable cold environment, which is a significant challenge for a large-scale commercial system with tens of thousands of qubits or more. The stack itself operates at 2K, a temperature that is 20 times warmer than the temperature at which Gooseberry operates. This frees 400 times as much cooling power, allowing the stack itself to dissipate 400 times as much heat. Due to this, Microsoft believes that the stack is capable of general-purpose computing.
Putting Gooseberry to the test, the researchers connected with it a GaAs-based quantum dot (QD) device. Temperature of the components of the chip were measured as the control chip was powered up. As expected, the temperatures remained below 100mK, within the necessary range of frequencies and clock speeds. These results were extrapolated, showing the total system power needed for Gooseberry as a function of frequency and the number of output gates.
Though at present the proposed core can only handle some data and triggering manipulation, temperature freedom opens vital room for more technologies and ideas to work with.
The team at Microsoft and the researchers from the University of Sydney believe that Gooseberry and the bundled cryo-compute core are big steps forward in quantum computing. The cryo-compute core, acting as an interface between source code written by developers, Gooseberry, and qubits, shows that it’s possible to compile and run multiple types of code in a cryogenic environment, allowing for software-configurable communication between qubits and the outside world.
By Jay Bonggolto
Microsoft announces general availability of Application Guard for Office
by Jay Bonggolto
Microsoft unveiled a couple of security features for Microsoft 365 early in 2020, which included Application Guard. Today, the company announced that Application Guard for Office has hit general availability.
The feature basically puts documents from untrusted sources in a container before opening them in order to ward off malicious threats. Microsoft also noted that it analyzes every malicious attack contained by Application Guard to bolster its threat intelligence. Your files are also protected from kernel-based attacks since it uses Hyper-V-based containers.
Unlike Protected View which opens documents in read-only mode, Application Guard opens files in a virtualized sandbox where you can still edit and print documents in a limited capacity without leaving the container. These files include those coming from untrusted sites, files stored in potentially unsafe folders or network, and documents blocked by File Block.
That said, you can still choose to disable protection for a specific file if necessary, provided you're confident that it's safe. Prior to opening that file, it will be scanned with the Safe Documents feature if it's enabled. In addition to documents, emails are protected as well with combined security from Application Guard and Microsoft Defender for Office 365.
The new feature is turned off by default and administrators will need to set the right policy for each user in an organization. It's available to customers on Current Channel and Monthly Enterprise Channel while a rollout in Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel is scheduled later this year.