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7 efficiency-enhancing Android apps | Computerworld


Your phone is essentially your personal assistant — and like any aide, it needs the right set of tools to do its job effectively.

The good news? As an enlightened Android phone owner, you’ve got no shortage of efficiency-enhancing options. Unlike (ahem) certain other mobile platforms, Android grants you the opportunity to customize and control the core user interface so it’s perfectly tailored to your needs and the way you like to get things done. And while the more advanced UI-adjusting tools tend to be targeted at the power-user crowd, you don’t have to be a card-carrying geek to take advantage of what they offer.

Behold: seven advanced apps that’ll empower your favorite high-tech helper and allow it to reach its full productivity potential.

All of the apps listed here have sensible and responsible privacy policies, as provided by their developers. They don’t require any permissions beyond what’s appropriate for their purposes or engage in any manner of eyebrow-raising data practices.

1. Niagara Launcher

One of Android’s most effective efficiency advantages is the flexibility it gives you with your phone’s home screen setup. Plain and simple, you don’t have to stick with a static grid of bland icons for every app imaginable.

Instead, you can find a custom Android launcher that’s perfectly suited to your style and optimized for the way you work.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

Microsoft launches Apple community for IT admins


Apple founder Steve Jobs loved Bob Dylan, who sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Microsoft seems to have listened to Dylan’s advice and has launched an Apple tech community for IT professionals.

Welcome to Microsoft Mac Admins

The move reflects the steady growth of Macs across the enterprise, particularly in the US. Apple has done what everyone once saw as impossible, and its platforms now account for as much as 40% of enterprise PC deployments.

At the same time, Microsoft has been working hard to ensure that its solutions remain relevant across every platform, moving very much toward today’s environment of heterogenous computing under CEO Satya Nadella.

In a sense, Microsoft’s new Mac community reflects these winds of change.

Microsoft on Mac in the enterprise

Microsoft Intune Senior Product Manager Arnab Biswas announced the new Mac forum in a blog post.

“We were inspired to create this community based on feedback from many organizations who have adopted Microsoft 365 products, including Microsoft Intune, to manage Macs in the enterprise,” he wrote.

While the company stresses its community is not intended to replace official product support, Microsoft described its function as being a space for IT professionals “passionate and knowledgeable about using Microsoft products on Apple Mac devices in the enterprise.”

The move reflects that IT is making use of Microsoft Intune, Exchange, and other products from the company as part of its Apple management stack. The best third-party MDM providers, such as Jamf, already integrate Microsoft’s solutions in their offerings.

Seeing phenomenal growth in macOS management

The prevailing reality is that as Apple’s enterprise presence continues to grow, demand for use of Microsoft’s management solutions, such as Intune, on that platform is also increasing. That’s good for all parties, particularly in mixed computing and legacy environments.

“Mac management has been a focus for Microsoft 365 that is demonstrated in the macOS capabilities offered and we continue to see phenomenal growth and customer-interest in macOS management. So, we wanted to provide a platform where organizations, and specifically the IT community, can showcase their achievements, exchange tips and tricks, and collaborate with other Microsoft 365 or Intune administrators around the world,” wrote Biswas.

Who can join? What do you get?

The community is available to anyone with a Microsoft 365 account. Like the powerful Mac Admins community on Slack, you can ask questions, answer them, provide feedback, and take part in discussions that related to Microsoft 365 on Mac.

The community will also offer an archive of previous posts, comments, and advice. Microsoft staff moderate the forum.

To join the community, simply email MacAdmins@microsoft.com and provide a Microsoft 365 email address. Once signed up, tech pros can explore the pages here.

In the background

Employee choice is a growing force in technology deployment. Some of the world’s leading companies now understand that as work has become increasingly reliant on tech, the technology chosen has become the employee experience.

Workers do not want to live like the Jetsons at home and the Flintstones at work. They want to use the best available technologies to get work done — and employers want to keep them.

Given a choice, employees overwhelmingly prefer the Mac. Cisco earlier this year confirmed that two thirds of employees would use a Mac at work if given the choice. At the beginning of 2023, around 56,000 Macs were used at Cisco, along with 68,000 Windows PCs.

There’s little doubt that Mac use at the company will continue to grow as tech upgrades take place. When given the chance to make a choice, 24% of existing employees using Windows would switch to Mac, Cisco said. This is not the only major enterprise client to be making a rapid transition to the Mac.

Microsoft clearly understands this, and while its consumer PC business remains important to the company, its main growth driver today is in services and infrastructure.

The new Microsoft community for Mac admins is ample demonstration of that.

Please follow me on Mastodon, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2023 Softwaretoolapps, Inc.

WWDC: Apple gets back to the Mac in PC sales attack


What do you need to go with a new cutting-edge mixed reality product? Computers to create virtual worlds on. That seems to be what Apple plans to introduce at WWDC next week.

Is Apple about to turn AR hype into happening?

All eyes are on Apple in the prelude to the company’s big developer jamboree beginning June 5. AR and VR industry leaders are hoping hard that the company’s announcements will be wind beneath the wings of a business opportunity that hasn’t really manifested itself beyond the hype.

Competitors, including Meta, probably expect to poke around at whatever Apple has to share so they can steal better ideas than they seem to have had so far. Developers will be hoping for new tools with which to build AR, VR, and mixed reality experiences. (It looks like they won’t be disappointed).

The rest of us? We’re just hoping to be blown away by Apple’s next big idea and the astonishing 4K per eye Micro OLED lenses its goggles are expected to bring. The tech will form a blank canvas for innovation and ideas.

Machines to code new worlds

But what else do you give to developers you’re asking to create all-new realities and “code new worlds”? At time of writing, it appears Apple thinks developers are going to need new Macs.

The company is now expected to introduce “several new Macs” at the show. These may include a much speculated upon 15-inch MacBook Air, a Mac Pro, a Mac Studio, and potentially an M3 MacBook Pro (which is less likely).

That speculation is supported as Apple quietly announced that it will begin accepting the Mac Studio as a trade-in for new Macs starting from June 5. The Macs, which may also include a souped-up M2 Pro Mac mini, are expected to use M2-variant processors, as the M3 chip may not launch until later this year.

But it’s not just a virtual problem

Of course, beyond the need to empower developers with tools to build AR, Apple has another problem it wants to solve: it needs to boost Mac sales. Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri shared that Mac revenue fell 31% Y-o-Y in the last quarter.

While not quite as extreme a fall as IDC had earlier predicted, the company will very much want to turn that ship around, and what better way to do so than to introduce new models at a time when they can bask in the reflected glory of its new AR headsets? The world will know about these things, just as it will be primed for new operating systems come fall.

Zoom out, and Apple likely sees a bigger picture.

While the entire PC industry has shared pain in recent months, Apple has fared better than rivals and has actually grown market share. At the same time it claimed a larger chunk of the overall market, it has also been able to maintain 96% customer satisfaction levels, Maestri said.

In other words, Apple’s fundamental direction seems solid as analysts predict a PC industry turnaround across the rest of 2023.

Building business in a mixed-up reality

Canalys predicts US PC shipments will see a year-on-year growth of 6% by the end of the year. The analysts also predict full-year shipments in 2024 to be 13% higher than they will be in 2023. To me, this implies that as PC sales recover across the coming year, Apple’s new WWDC Macs (and that reflected glory I spoke about) will be ready to build share on the back of that growth.

The best way I know to get a swift sense of that ongoing story will be to continue to check the direction of travel on StatCounter. Already in the US, Windows is down to 53.43%, while Apple now accounts for 31.34% share, and this pattern of growth has been sustained for years.

What may give Apple cause for added optimism is that Microsoft will shutter Windows 10 for good in 2024. In theory, this means PC users will drift to Windows 11, but for many, Apple has emerged as a perfectly viable choice. That’s particularly true in the enterprise. You can even run Windows 11 on a Mac — but these days that’s no longer a business necessity for most.

Summing up

While the big news will be around Apple’s new mixed reality product, the background story will be how the company seeks to cast its Apple Silicon-powered Macs as the perfect advanced complement to the world’s most sophisticated AR tech.

With that in mind, don’t be too surprised if Apple’s processor evolution road map turns out to be slightly swifter than originally thought. Subject to availability, of course.

Please follow me on Mastodon, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2023 Softwaretoolapps, Inc.

20 seconds to smarter Chromebook multitasking


If you love finding hidden software treasures as much as I do, Google’s ChromeOS operating system is a productivity playground like no other.

ChromeOS is in a constant state of evolution, y’see, with new releases landing every four weeks and fresh ‘n’ fancy features more or less always under development and begging to be discovered. The best part of that setup is that unlike most other platforms — including even Android — Google’s latest and greatest ChromeOS features are typically tucked away behind a special switch and available on any Chromebook long before they’re launched to the masses.

That means in a mere matter of seconds, you can unearth and activate some seriously shape-shifting stuff weeks or even months before anyone else gets a whiff of it.

That’s very much the case with a new ChromeOS multitasking improvement El Googensplat’s had simmering on the virtual stove for a while now. It’s not the kind of feature that’s likely to attract endless attention even when it does officially launch, but it might just be one of the most useful enhancements you encounter for your Chromebook all year.

Let me show you what it’s all about.

[Get fresh Googley tips in your inbox every Friday with my Android Intelligence newsletter. Three things to try every Friday!]

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

Does business need a giant Apple iPhone?


When is an iPhone not an iPhone? When it’s almost as big as an iPad mini. Is a 7-inch iPhone Ultra really on the Apple road map, and is this the gadget mobile professionals need?

A computer, a tablet, a smartphone

The story so far is that Apple may not ship an improved iPhone SE until next year. Also next year, reputable speculation mongers claim, the company intends to launch a larger model iPhone, the 6.9-inch iPhone 16 Ultra. They also say the company will increase the size of the basic iPhone 16 Pro from 6.1 inches to 6.3 inches.

That’s just a few fractions of an inch smaller than the 7.9-inch display size of the first five generations of the iPad mini, which became a popular tablet for everyday use. The resolution, of course, is higher, making for more actual viewing space.

Size isn’t everything, of course, but the company must surely have plans to ensure these larger iPhones are actually useful. This suggests that Apple may trim even more from the iPhone bezel to help make use of the space, so the devices may not seem that much larger than the current models, despite the additional display size. But we don’t know that.

What we think we do know is that the phones will be larger and probably heavier than the current top-of-the-range models. That also suggests larger batteries, which promises longer battery life when combined with the 3nm Apple Silicon chips the company is expected to pop inside these phones.

What will it do for you?

What will this vast increase in display space mean to users?

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

Microsoft Edge is getting a bit pushy


Edge, sit down. We need to talk. (You too, Bing.)

Lately you’ve gone from a browser that was ignored by many but had the potential to be a very well-behaved and secure browser to one that is being, well, a bit pushy. And Bing has been taking a page from your playbook and gotten a little pushy as well.

Let’s take a recent change with Edge that is now exposed with controls. Included in Edge build 113 or later, you can now control the campaigns that will attempt to change a user’s default browser. If you disable this policy, users will not be prompted to set Microsoft Edge as the default browser, or to set Microsoft Bing as the default search engine.

To set the setting, you can use a group policy or registry key to control the offering.

Group Policy (ADMX) info:

  • GP unique name: DefaultBrowserSettingsCampaignEnabled
  • GP name: Enables default browser settings campaigns
  • GP path (Mandatory): Administrative Templates/Microsoft Edge/
  • GP path (Recommended): N/A
  • GP ADMX file name: MSEdge.admx

Windows Registry settings:

  • Path (Mandatory): SOFTWAREPoliciesMicrosoftEdge
  • Path (Recommended): N/A
  • Value Name: DefaultBrowserSettingsCampaignEnabled
  • Value Type: REG_DWORD
  • Value: 0x00000001

This new capability is a plus for administrators. But think about this for a moment. Should any operating system include a campaign to reset a browser in the first place? Shouldn’t the OS respect that a person has specifically chosen another browser and not try to change it back, or even offer the change in the first place?

Even when you launch a new install of Edge, you need to ensure that you pay special attention to the settings. Do you want to have search options tracked so that Microsoft can offer you more on what you just searched for?

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

5 smart Chrome browser alternatives for Android


Google Chrome is the default browser on Android phones. But maybe you want to use another browser because you prefer to avoid Google apps, you’re looking for stronger privacy safeguards, or other reasons. Or maybe you simply want to keep a secondary browser on your phone to serve as a backup or for specific tasks.

There are a lot of alternative browsers that you can download from Google Play, but when using a browser for business, it’s best to stick with the most trusted, well-known brands: DuckDuckGo, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, and Opera. This guide highlights the main features that set five business-friendly alternative browsers apart from Chrome, along with a few tips for getting the most out of each one. Unless otherwise noted, these browsers are free.

DuckDuckGo Private Browser

The DuckDuckGo search engine lets you search the internet anonymously without being tracked. The company behind it extends this user privacy philosophy to its Android browser.

The DuckDuckGo browser sports a clean look; new tabs aren’t cluttered with recommended websites or news. You access the DuckDuckGo search engine by typing your search words inside the browser’s address bar.

The browser blocks websites that you visit from tracking you. Since trackers and most ads embedded in web pages aren’t loaded into the browser, your browsing experience may be noticeably faster. And DuckDuckGo claims its browser prevents websites from creating a unique profile on you based on your browsing activity and your phone’s settings.

alt android browsers duckduckgoHoward Wen / IDG

The DuckDuckGo browser’s Fire button instantly erases cookies and browsing history, but you can “fireproof” sites you trust to stay signed in.

Use the Fire button for quick purges

To immediately close all open tabs and wipe all browsing activity and information, tap the fire icon to the right of the address bar. On the panel that opens, tap Clear All Tabs and Data.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT app for iPad, iPhone hits 500K downloads


OpenAI shipped its ChatGPT app for iPads and iPhones just a week ago, but it has already become one of the most popular applications in the last two years, with over half a million downloads in the first six days. That’s a real achievement, but also a challenge — that’s half a million potential data vulnerabilities.

Not to rest on its laurels, this year’s favorite smart assistant (so far) is now also available in 41 additional nations. There’s little doubt that this has been one of the most successful software/service introductions of all time, but that doesn’t change the inherent risk of these technologies.

Keep the red flag flying

The popularity of the app should wave a red flag for IT leaders, who must redouble efforts to warn staff not to input valuable personal or corporate data into the service. The danger in doing so is that data gathered by OpenAI has already been attacked once, and it’s only a matter of time until someone gets at that information.

After all, digital security today isn’t about if an incident happens, but when.

To coin a phrase from Apple’s playbook, the best way to protect data online is not to put the information there in the first place. That’s why iPhones and other products from Cupertino (via China, India, and Vietnam) work on the principle of data minimization, reducing the quantity of information collected and taking pains to reduce the need to send it to servers for processing.

That’s a great approach, not just because it reduces the quantity of information that can slip out but because it also reduces the opportunity for humans to make mistakes in the first place.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

The shadow IT fight — 2023 style


The heart of making strategic IT decisions relies on what is supposed to be an accurate and complete global data map, along with a similarly correct and comprehensive asset map. Sadly, no enterprise has that today and, to be candid, probably never did.

There are always problems gaining full visibility today into anything IT-related, but as the enterprise environment has changed in recent years, the age-old IT nemesis, shadow IT, is still a major factor. 

This problem has gotten a lot worse during the last few years because of several issues. Beyond the growth of IoT and OT devices, and partners and customers gaining network privileges, the biggest change is the avalanche of home offices and the lack of consistency or standards across those remote sites. Routers can be from any vendor and associated with any carrier. Hardware firewalls may or may not exist — and may or not ever get patched if they do exist. Most LANs are wild west, with access granted to anyone (like, perhaps, the boyfriend of the employee’s teen-age daughter). 

Beyond the hardware, software, and device issues, the idea of shadow IT itself no longer means what it did a decade ago. The original definition meant an employee or contractor who did an end run around IT by purchasing technology elsewhere, such as buying a router from Target or getting cloud space from Amazon, Microsoft, or Google. The typical reason was usually a lack of patience for IT to get around to responding to and fulfilling a request. It’s easier for an employee/contractor to just pull out a Visa card and get what they need in a few minutes. 

What should it be called when a supplier adds something into a system and fails to mention it? That happened to a large manufacturer when a very large and expensive piece of assembly line equipment — something that the enterprise had been consistently purchasing from the same vendor for many decades — started to malfunction. While waiting for the vendor’s repair people, workers removed a panel and discovered microphones with tiny antennas attached. It turns out the vendor had added in IoT devices with the last upgrade, and failed to mention the change to any customers. 

That meant there was IoT hardware on the factory floor that corporate IT knew nothing about. Is that shadow IT? What about when the facilities maintenance people start buying IoT lightbulbs or doorlocks without permission from IT or the security folks? 

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to enable Google’s clever new Chrome Reading Mode right now


Look, this is slightly awkward, but I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: Reading stuff on the web these days can be a pretty painful experience.

You know what I’m talkin’ about, right? (Insert awkward pause here.) On most modern websites, you’re bombarded with an army of over-the-top pop-ups, promos, and other assorted ads every time you try to open up an enticing article. (Insert awkward eye-darting here.) Media is a business, of course, but still: As a mere mammal trying to ingest interesting info, it can sometimes get to be a bit much. (Insert forced awkward smile here.)

The business part is what makes the whole thing especially tricky — ’cause for better or for worse, online publications and the lowly internet scribes who power ’em rely on revenue from all that advertising in order to exist. That means if you use some sort of aggressive ad-blocker, you’re hurting that company’s odds of survival and potentially also jeopardizing the content creators’ ability to earn a paycheck.

But fret not, my friend, for Google’s got an awesome new answer for us. It’s a smart system that empowers you to view a sane, sensible, and dare I say even enjoyable version of any web page you’re viewing. It’ll be free from ads and other distractions and optimized for easy reading. It’ll even be customizable, if you’re feelin’ fancy and want to take control of exactly which fonts, colors, and spacing settings are present. And despite all of that, it’ll still technically allow ads to be shown and the page’s full original form to load at the same time, whether or not you actively view it.

Best of all? It’s available on any computer running Chrome this second — if you know where to look.

[Get fresh Googley goodies in your inbox every Friday with my Android Intelligence newsletter. Three new things to try every Friday!]

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

Addigy promises a fix for Apple devices stuck on OSUpdateScan


Enterprise admins handling fleets of Macs take note: there’s a new security management tool from Apple device management firm Addigy.

The MDM Watchdog Utility monitors the MDM framework on devices and automatically forces software patches to be installed if they’re not already in place. This is designed to help solve a specific problem in which some (not all) managed Macs do not properly install Apple’s Rapid Security Response updates.

When security isn’t

In today’s fast-moving threat environment, Apple has introduced Rapid Security Response (RSR) as a key front line against new threats. The defense is intended to be distributed and installed across Apple’s platforms as swiftly as possible once new threats are identified. The idea is that by expediting distribution and making installation a quicker process, it will be easier to maintain security across Mac fleets. That’s important as the scale of Apple deployments grows and enterprises move to support employee choice.

But that defense is obviously less useful when managed Macs fail to properly install them.

Citing its own research, Addigy claims as many as 25% of macOS devices in managed environments could be affected by the issue. Rather than upgrading their defenses, they remain in a “stuck state” after an update is pushed, and the update is never implemented.

Time makes fools of us all

To make matters worse, the company claims, there is no way for IT departments to know which machines are not implementing RSR updates without manually inspecting them. And, of course, it suggests other MDM functions will also be stalled. That’s not good.

“MDM Watchdog monitors the MDM framework on devices and automatically remediates those in which the condition was found,” Addigy said.

To achieve this, the tool automatically monitors devices to ensure they are in a healthy state and communicating properly so they act on instructions sent by IT admins (such as when applying an emergency security patch like the RSR update).

What’s the underlying problem?

Providing a little more insight into the nature of the flaw, Addigy claims the updates aren’t being implemented because in some cases the MDM client binary “gets stuck after executing the OSUpdateScan command” and stops communicating with the Apple MDM Framework. When that happens, later MDM actions may not be acted on or may be delayed.

“The stuck state condition we discovered within our customers’ environments affects one out of every four devices, so the impact to macOS environments in any enterprise is likely the same,” Addigy CEO Jason Dettbarn said in a statement. “We are committed to keeping our customers’ macOS devices secure. The MDM Watchdog utility is a critical tool to ensure all of our customers’ devices are automatically updated with the latest RSR and every future update.”

The tool is available now to Addigy clients and will be released as a utility for Macs using other MDM services in future, the company said. Meanwhile, Addigy recommends IT staffers verify that Macs in their fleet have installed the update.

Optimistically, it seems likely that Apple itself will find a platform-based solution to this problem, probably involving tweaks to the OSUpdateScan APIs it provides to device management vendors in order to improve process reliability.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and secur groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2023 Softwaretoolapps, Inc.

Adobe brings Generative AI to Photoshop


Adobe has thrown a grenade at the heart of the creative industries with the introduction of generative AI-driven features in the latest beta of its classic creative application, Photoshop.

What is Generative Fill AI in Photoshop?

Generative Fill lets users make major edits to images using text-based queries. Basically, you can tell Photoshop what you want, grabbing items from an image and placing them in AI-created environments such as alleys, caves, or under the Northern Lights.

Generative Fill can add, extend, or remove content from images non-destructively in seconds using text prompts. It is smart enough to automatically match perspective, lighting, and style of images so it can provide good results.

Adobe Generative Fill Adobe

Adobe Generative Fill can add, extend, or remove content from images non-destructively in seconds using text prompts.

The tool uses Firefly, Adobe’s generative AI technology being deployed across the veteran developer’s industry standard fleet of creative apps. These technologies will be put in place across its entire Creative Cloud workflow, the company said.

The beta release of Photoshop is Adobe’s first Creative Cloud application to integrate Firefly, though it’s worth pointing out the company has been integrating AI in its products ever since it introduced Adobe Sensei. Generative Fill is also available as a new module in the Firefly beta for users interested in testing the new capabilities on the web — and seems likely to work even faster on Apple Silicon than on other platforms.

Copyright wars may intensify

In a sense, the rollout was inevitable. Adobe has been working on Firefly for some time and introduced its initial deployments across its products earlier this year. The company says these AI-augmented creative application betas have turned out to be some of the most successful beta launches in company history.

It does look like Adobe has attempted to stay ahead of some of the complaints being raised against other generative AI models by ensuring the assets used to train FireFly are within its own copyright control, which means it used Adobe Stock images, openly licensed, and public domain content to do so.

All the same time, creatives are very likely to feel threatened by these tools, the power and effect of which must be seen in action to be believed. That makes it probable that while Adobe has worked to ensure content created does not infringe copyright, there will be challenges.

The company is trying to pre-empt any such complaints. Generative Fill supports Content Credentials, which it calls “nutrition labels” for digital content. These remain connected to the content and let people know the origin (AI, human, otherwise) of that media. The idea is that the system should help creatives maintain control.

Marketing materials are a text instruction away

Enterprise users will want to consider another aspect to the launch. Adobe says enterprises will be able to extend Firefly with their own creative collateral in order to generate content that includes a company’s images, vectors, and brand language.

This essentially suggests that creating new brand marketing materials will be a few text-based instructions away to any Creative Cloud user, though as usual, when everyone is creating such assets victory will go to those with the best human soft skill of good taste.

What Adobe says

“By integrating Firefly directly into workflows as a creative co-pilot, Adobe is accelerating ideation, exploration and production for all of our customers,” said Ashley Still, senior vice president, Digital Media at Adobe.

Given the current focus on Generative AI there is little doubt that the addition of Generative editing tools in Photoshop will dominate reporting of this important release, but additional improvements available in the current beta include new Adjustment Presets, Contextual Task Bar, Remove Tool, and Enhanced Gradients.

Photoshop’s Generative Fill feature is available in the desktop beta app today and will be generally available in the second half of 2023. Generative Fill is also available today as a module within the Firefly beta.

Please follow me on Mastodon, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2023 Softwaretoolapps, Inc.

Why Apple’s iOS 16.6 upgrade will be talk of the town


Apple’s big developer event is approaching, and it looks as if the company will press home its message on privacy as it begins to seed support for the AR operating systems it’s now expected to announce there.

Apple wants to get you updating

As of now, the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) starting June 5 seems set to see Apple introduce its first mixed reality glasses, likely called RealityPro. These will be accompanied by an operating system that recent patent filings suggest will be called xrOS or xrProOS. The event will also see Apple introduce new iterations of its other operating systems, which developers will be able to work with soon after the show.

The way Apple’s platforms work is that each one integrates to some extent with the other. That’s why whenever a new iteration of an existing product ships, Apple customarily publishes new software for use across all its products. That software usually includes the code you need to use that new device along with existing devices.

I think this will be the same approach Apple relies on when it introduces both its new AR devices and its operating systems. While much of what the Apple reality machines can do will be supported by the new versions of operating systems introduced at the show, there will be a need for some backward compatibility, even if only for early implementations of the new developer environment for these devices.

iMessage Contact Key Verification is coming

To push people to upgrade existing devices, Apple usually likes to spice things up with a couple of interesting or consumer-friendly features. That’s why it may be significant that Apple is currently beta-testing iOS 16.6, which MacRumors claims includes a privacy feature called iMessage Contact Key Verification, announced last December.

This powerful tool is designed to help protect high-profile targets such as activists, journalists, and government employees from being surveilled by state-sponsored spooks. It does so by alerting users within iMessage conversations if Apple’s systems identify an “exceptionally advanced adversary, such as a state-sponsored attacker” managing to eavesdrop on an encrypted conversation.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

Apple bans employees from using ChatGPT. Should you?


Reflecting warnings given earlier, Apple is now among the growing number of businesses banning employees from using OpenAI’s ChatGPT and other similar cloud-based generative AI services in a bid to protect data confidentiality. The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has also barred staff from using GitHub’s Copilot tool, which some developers use to help write software.

A recent survey found that 39% of Mac developers are using the tech.

Why a blanket ban makes sense

While a ban may seem extreme, it shows the company is paying attention to the flood of warnings emanating from security professionals regarding the use of these services. The concern is that their use could lead to the disclosure of sensitive or confidential data. Samsung banned the tools earlier this year when it discovered that staff had uploaded confidential source code to ChatGPT.

Security professionals are very aware of the problem. Wicus Ross, senior security researcher at Orange Cyberdefense warns:

“While AI-powered chatbots are trained and further refined by their developers, it isn’t out of the question for staff to access the data that’s being inputted into them. And, considering that humans are often the weakest element of a business’ security posture, this opens the information to a range of threats, even if the risk is accidental.”

While OpenAI does sell a more confidential (and expensive to run) self-hosted version of the service to enterprise clients, the risk is that under the public use agreement, there is very little to respect data confidentiality.

That’s bad in terms of confidential code and internal documentation, but deeply dangerous when handling information from heavily regulated industries, banking, health and elsewhere. We have already seen at least one incident in which ChatGPT queries were exposed to unrelated users.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

Safari alternatives: 12 smart iOS browser options


Chances are your corporate IT policy dictates which browser you use on your laptop or desktop. On your iPhone, though, you may be free to choose a more exotic browser. We’ve rounded up a dozen Safari alternatives for iOS that may suit you better.

Ever since the release of iOS 14 in 2020, Apple has allowed users to select a default browser (the one that opens when you tap on a link in an email or an app) other than Safari. Many alternate browsers will even ask if you want to set them as your default the first time you launch them, though you might want to test drive them for a bit before committing to one.

It’s worth noting, however, that Apple requires developers to use the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari to display web pages on screen, so iOS web browsers are really all just WebKit in a different wrapper. That said, some alternative browsers offer quite different interfaces and/or more expansive feature sets. For instance, some entrants on this list include a VPN that can be used to secure connections and port your requests through a different location or country.

Check out these options to see if one or more might have a place in your business browsing. Unless otherwise noted, these browsers are free.

Aloha Browser

Aloha is a feature-laden mobile browser that packs a whole lot of Polynesian personality. Beyond the Hawaiian-themed start screen, Aloha offers privacy features including ad blocking; private tabs; a crypto wallet; an internal file manager for downloads, media, and documents; syncing across devices; and a VPN. A premium subscription ($6 per month or $50 per year) enables advanced VPN capabilities like automatic startup/reconnect and encrypting all traffic from your iPhone, instead of just the Aloha browser itself.

alt ios browsers 01 alohaIDG

The Aloha browser pairs a laid-back Hawaiian look with serious privacy controls.


Google Chrome might be the most popular mobile browser overall, but that’s mostly due to Android’s dominance in the global smartphone market. On iPhones, it comes in as a distant second to Apple’s own Safari.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

Do business Macs still need to run Windows?


In January 2006, Apple took an important step toward success in the business world — it began to transition the Mac onto Intel processors. In so doing, the company paved the way for Macs to natively run Windows and Windows applications. Initially this capability came via Apple’s dual-boot system, called Boot Camp, followed by Parallels Desktop, software that ran Windows in a virtual environment. Either way, it eliminated an obstacle — the need to run applications not built for the Mac’s operating system — that had kept the Mac out of most workplaces.

Alongside support for other business standards in terms of networking and communication tools, this opened the door for the eventual acceptance of Apple in the enterprise. Granted, the iPhone’s later success helped, but the ability to run Windows was the golden ticket for the Mac in the workplace.

A decade and a half later, Apple upended that strategy by moving to its own ARM-based chips. Boot Camp isn’t available in Apple silicon-based Macs, but the ability to run Windows on the Mac still exists, thanks to virtualization. Microsoft even recommends Parallels as an official solution, alongside its own Cloud PC technology, for organizations that still need to run the Windows OS or Windows apps on a Mac. The question, however, is this: do Macs in business even need this ability any longer?

That question may sound surprising or even shocking — typing it even felt a bit heretical — but in a “mobile first, cloud first” world (to borrow Microsoft’s onetime tagline), one in which businesses and IT departments are trying to adapt to post-Covid realities and where most IT budgets are being stretched, it’s a question that should be asked.

The answer, for most, is no. For a great many companies, we’re in a world where Windows is optional — and sometimes the other options are better.

How’d we get here?

In looking at this question, it’s important to have a sense of perspective. We’re talking about a 15-year gap between Windows being the center of the business universe and Windows being just another option. A lot happened during those years, and getting to this point involved a number of critical processes.

For the most part, it was a different Apple product that changed the rules. A year after Apple moved the Mac to Intel, it unveiled the iPhone, and a year after that, it unveiled the App Store. Two years later, while most of the world was wondering what impact the iPad was going to have, Apple debuted its MDM platform. The introduction of Apple MDM was more significant than most of the IT world recognized at the time, and we’ll get that in a bit. Let’s look at what happened in the non-technical aspects of the workplace after 2007 first.

The iPhone really got its legs in 2008 with things like 3G, multiple carriers around the world, and the App Store, and it was truly revolutionary in the work world. This was the first time that employees across virtually every field had the ability to pick a piece of technology to use at work. For almost any task, there’s an app for that. Can’t use the corporate network? Use your mobile carrier. Need to transfer work documents from the PC on your desk to the phone in your pocket? Use a cloud provider or good old-fashioned email.

The iPhone, with Android on its heels, forced its way into the workplace whether IT departments wanted to support it or not. It was the catalyst for that “mobile first” world and the consumerization of IT — or, as we call it today, digital transformation.

While the iPhone was shifting the world in one way, cloud computing was shifting it in another. The advent and broad adoption of SaaS applications and the “as a service” mindset was breaking down the Windows desktop and application world, and both tech giants and new players were capitalizing on that change. Google, Dropbox, Slack, and even Microsoft itself showed us that business computing could be incredibly flexible, and the vast majority of it could be done in a browser.

A browser might not always be ideal, but it replaced Windows as the line in the sand for what was absolutely required to conduct business.

Alongside the browser was the App Store, which could deliver much better interfaces than a browser to those cloud services. The rise of browser-based computing, the mobile revolution, and the fact that macOS and iOS are two sides of the Apple coin all contributed to a perfect storm for developers and users to build a new business ecosystem.

iPhone manageability opens the door

Then there was Apple MDM. Introduced in 2010, the iOS device management framework gave IT a way to manage iPhones (and eventually other Apple devices) in the workplace. When we talk about MDM, we’re usually talking about mobile devices (MDM does stand for mobile device management), but nowadays the same MDM protocols that manage iPhones and iPads also manage Macs (and Apple TVs).

MDM wasn’t the first time that Apple decided to play alongside PCs in IT’s technical sandbox — the company had offered support for Windows file and network sharing, Active Directory authentication, and Exchange years before it transitioned to Intel processors. But MDM was a key factor in Apple as a whole gaining traction in business.

With smartphones taking the world by storm, it was inevitable that people would bring in their own devices. Apple had seen that and gotten out in front with a framework to secure, manage, and support those devices. With the same framework covering both macOS and iOS, the company managed to slip Mac support and acceptance in alongside the iPhone.

As a side note, Apple also (indirectly) ushered in enterprise support for Android devices and even Chromebooks. By providing its MDM framework for third-party vendors to use in their own mobile management services, the company opened the door for unified endpoint management (UEM) platforms that can typically manage devices running Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, iPadOS, ChromeOS, Linux, and more.

Employee choice, Covid, and maintenance costs bolster Mac acceptance

All of this change led companies to support the Mac and helped launch the employee choice movement, in which workers and managers can select the computing device that they feel the most comfortable and productive using. At first the companies joining this trend were outliers, but as large corporations like IBM began instituting employee choice, the idea began to gain real traction, become a selling point for potential new hires. Today, employee choice programs are mainstream and expected. Not offering computing options has become a hindrance to companies seeking talent.

Covid and the shift to remote work have also had an impact, both by encouraging workers to use whatever they needed to get the job done during extended lockdown periods and by empowering them to choose how they wanted to work — home office, preferred apps, personal smartphone, and Mac or PC.

Then there’s the issue of cost. Mac advocates have long made the case that Macs save money in the long run despite their higher up-front cost. Data from IBM and from Forrester demonstrates and quantifies the fact that Macs do save money — sometimes significant amounts of money — in support costs.

Is Windows necessary? Not so much

All of this bolsters the case for having Macs in business, but that case doesn’t need to be argued much today — the verdict has been in for while. Does that really mean businesses don’t need Windows?

Painting with a broad brush, no. There are always going to be exceptions — and sometimes they’re are big ones — but the vast majority of business tasks no longer require any particular platform. Any computing device on the market will do the trick. Whether it’s Office documents, collaboration apps, virtual meetings, or other business software, each vendor has not just one solution but several.

Microsoft’s drive into services and fluid computing models, where information spans apps, locations, formats, and devices, points to the fact that even the company that makes Windows knows it’s far from the only game in town, that the paradigm has shifted and isn’t changing back. To maintain relevance — to say nothing about maintaining dominance — Microsoft has play on every front. And what’s true for Microsoft is true for all software vendors.

Nor is Microsoft even the default choice for business software and collaboration today. For every key business technology it offers, there are competing options that work just as well or better. For Microsoft 365, there’s Google Workspace; for Teams, there’s Slack and Zoom; for Active Directory, there’s Okta; for Intune, take your pick of UEM vendors. Everyone on the field knows that one of the most important rules of the game is to support business users on any device they choose.

This isn’t to say that there is no need for Windows or that there will never be a situation where a Mac user will need to run a Windows app. Many organizations still have ongoing digital transformation programs, and not all legacy apps (particularly in-house customer apps), workflows, or business practices have migrated away from Windows. But if they haven’t already, then they likely will in the future. Even the most archaic apps need to be able to run on recent PCs, and there’s always a tipping point where starting from scratch using modern tools begins to outweigh patching and supporting older technologies.

So back to the question: do Macs need to be able to run Windows in order to be true business machines? With few caveats, the answer is no — and as for those outlying instances where the answer is still yes, we’ll have to check back in a year or two or five to see if the need is still there.

Copyright © 2023 Softwaretoolapps, Inc.

YouTuber Explains How Elon Musk & Tesla Will Disrupt 10 Industries

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