Users of Microsoft’s Azure system lost database records as part of a mass outage on Tuesday. A combination of DNS problems and automated scripts were to blame, said reports.
Microsoft deleted several Transparent Data Encryption (TDE) databases in Azure, holding live customer information. TDE databases dynamically encrypt the information they store, decrypting it when customers access it. Keeping the data encrypted at rest stops an intruder with access to the database from reading the information.
While there are different approaches to encrypting these tables, many Azure users store their own encryption keys in Microsoft’s Key Vault encryption key management system, in a process called Bring Your Own Key (BYOK).
The deletions were automated, triggered by a script that drops TDE database tables when their corresponding keys can no longer be accessed in the Key Vault, explained Microsoft in a letter reportedly sent to customers.
The company quickly restored the tables from a five-minute snapshot backup, but that meant any transactions that customers had processed within five minutes of the table drop would have to be dealt with manually. In this case, customers would have to raise a support ticket and ask for the database copy to be renamed to the original.
Why were the systems accessing the TDE tables unable to access the Key Vault? The answer stems from a far bigger issue for Microsoft and its Azure customers this week. An outage struck the cloud service worldwide on Tuesday, causing a range of problems. These included intermittent access to Office 365 in which users had only half a chance of logging on. Broader Azure cloud resources were also down.
This problem was, in turn, down to a DNS outage, according to Microsoft’s Azure status page:
Preliminary root cause: Engineers identified a DNS issue with an external DNS provider.
Mitigation: DNS services were failed over to an alternative DNS provider which mitigated the issue.
Reports suggested that this DNS outage came from CenturyLink, which provides DNS services to Microsoft. The company had suffered a software defect, it had said in a statement.
This shows what can go wrong when cloud-based systems are interconnected and automated enough to allow cascading failures. A software defect at a DNS provider indirectly led to the deletion of live customer information thanks to a lack of human intervention.
Left to Right: Sudhakar Sannakkayala, General Manager Open Source Relational Databases, Microsoft, Ozgun Erdogan, CTO and Co-Founder, Citus Data, Umur Cubukcu, CEO and Co-Founder, Citus Data, Sumedh Pathak, VP of Engineering and Co-Founder, Citus Data, Rohan Kumar, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Azure Data
Data and analytics are increasingly at the center of digital transformation, with the most leading-edge enterprises leveraging data to drive customer acquisition and satisfaction, long-term strategic planning, and expansion into net new markets. This digital revolution is placing an incredible demand on technology solutions to be more open, flexible, and scalable to meet the demands of large data volumes, sub-second response times, and analytics driven business insights.
Microsoft is committed to building an open platform that is flexible and provides customers with technology choice to suit their unique needs. Microsoft Azure Data Services are a great example of a place where we have continuously invested in offering choice and flexibility with our fully managed community based open source relational database services, spanning MySQL, PostgreSQL and MariaDB. This builds on our other open source investments in SQL Server on Linux, a multi-model NoSQL database with Azure Cosmos DB, and support for open source analytics with the Spark and Hadoop ecosystems. With our acquisition of GitHub, we continue to expand on our commitment to empower developers to achieve more at every stage of the development lifecycle.
Building on these investments, I am thrilled to announce that we have acquired Citus Data, a leader in the PostgreSQL community. Citus is an innovative open source extension to PostgreSQL that transforms PostgreSQL into a distributed database, dramatically increasing performance and scale for application developers. Because Citus is an extension to open source PostgreSQL, it gives enterprises the performance advantages of a horizontally scalable database while staying current with all the latest innovations in PostgreSQL. Citus is available as a fully-managed database as a service, as enterprise software, and as a free open source download.
Since the launch of Microsoft’s fully managed community-based database service for PostgreSQL in March 2018, its adoption has surged. Earlier this month, PostgreSQL was named DBMS of the Year by DB-Engines, for the second year in a row. The acquisition of Citus Data builds on Azure’s open source commitment and enables us to provide the massive scalability and performance our customers demand as their workloads grow.
Together, Microsoft and Citus Data will further unlock the power of data, enabling customers to scale complex multi-tenant SaaS applications and accelerate the time to insight with real-time analytics over billions of rows, all with the familiar PostgreSQL tools developers know and love.
I am incredibly excited to welcome the high-caliber Citus Data team to Microsoft! Working together, we will accelerate the delivery of key, enterprise-ready features from Azure to PostgreSQL and enable critical PostgreSQL workloads to run on Azure with confidence. We continue to be energized by building on our promise around Azure as the most comprehensive cloud to run open source and proprietary workloads at any scale and look forward to working with the PostgreSQL community to accelerate innovation to customers.
For more information on Citus Data, you can read the blog post from Umur Cubukcu, CEO and co-founder, here.
Tech giants are battling to position their smart speakers as the center of the digital home. But Microsoft, which lost the mobile wars to Apple and Google, is trying to ensure that it will have a place, no matter who wins.
Microsoft has its own voice-based digital assistant, Cortana, that could theoretically power a challenger to the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod for countertop space. Indeed, Cortana is already core to a smart speaker from Harman Kardon. But CEO Satya Nadella is also thinking about how Cortana can live in harmony with other digital assistants.
“Would it be better off, for example, to make Cortana a valuable skill that someone who is using Alexa can call? Or should we try to compete with Alexa?” Nadella said earlier this week, referring to Amazon’s digital assistant. The CEO made the remarks at a media event, according to Business Insider. “We, quite frankly, decided that we would do the former. Because Cortana needs to be that skill for anyone who is a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber.”
Alexa users have been able to summon Cortana through Alexa, and vice versa, since last year. Nadella said he also wants to bring Cortana to Google Assistant. Microsoft declined to comment about whether it will stay out of the smart speaker business.
So what could Cortana bring to your Amazon Echo or Google Home that Alexa and Assistant don’t already provide? Your Outlook email and calendar, for starters. As we explained when the Cortana/Alexa integration was first announced in 2017, Microsoft doesn’t have much of a retail presence, and Amazon’s workplace productivity game is weak. Together, Cortana and Alexa can make up for the gaps in their parent companies’ offerings and could help both fend off competition from Google.
It’s less clear how Google, whose Google Suite office-productivity package competes with Office 365, would benefit from working with Microsoft on a similar integration between Cortana and Google Assistant.
Even if Microsoft still has smart-speaker ambitions of its own, bringing Cortana to other platforms fits with Microsoft’s strategy in recent years of making its products available on as many platforms as possible, as opposed to just Windows.
The biggest example of the trend was Microsoft’s decision to bring Office to Android and iOS, a move that was announced the month after Nadella assumed the role of CEO in 2014. Since then, Microsoft has offered Skype support for Alexa, made many of its programming tools available for Mac and Linux, and launched versions of its SQL Server software for Linux, and its Microsoft Bot Framework for building chatbots for platforms like Slack and Facebook Messenger.
The strategy is straightforward. If Microsoft can’t own the platform, it still wants a presence. But that’s not to say that Microsoft is giving up on platforms. Windows isn’t going anywhere, and neither is its cloud computing service Azure. Much of the company’s cross-platform development efforts center around trying to attract more developers to Azure. Even before Nadella’s tenure as CEO, the company helped port popular open source tools like Git, Node, and Hadoop to Windows, and made Linux available on Azure. More recently it released the Windows Subsystem for Linux, which enables users to install Linux apps on Windows. Microsoft wants to be everywhere, but it’s still very much interested in being the platform for everything.
In 2015, Microsoft introduced Edge, a homegrown browser it pitched as a modernized successor to Internet Explorer, and capable competitor to Google Chrome. Just three years later, Microsoft has raised a white flag, opting to rebuild Edge on Chromium, the same open-source rendering engine used by Chrome. As for Internet Explorer? Two years after its stopped getting feature updates, it’s still more popular than Edge ever was.
Plenty has been written about why Edge is making the jump, including by Microsoft Windows lead Joe Belfiore. “Ultimately, we want to make the web experience better for many different audiences,” Belfiore wrote in a blog post announcing the change, arguing that users, web developers, and corporate IT departments will all benefit from coalescing around Chromium. The shorter version may simply be that even three years in, even being bundled with Windows 10, precious few people were using Edge. Especially compared to Internet Explorer.
The enduring popularity of Internet Explorer has long been a handy punchline.
Chrome dominates the desktop browser space, notching over 60 percent market share over the last year or more. But in November of this year—as in, about a week ago—second place went to Internet Explorer, at a hair over 11 percent. But that’s just desktop, you say. Fair enough! But even when you combine mobile, tablet, and desktop traffic, at least one metric slots IE in third place, accounting for about 10 percent of users. Edge? It’s at 4.5 percent on a good day. You’ve already done the math, but just to stress the point: That’s less than half the market share of a browser that’s been frozen in time since Castle was canceled.
The enduring popularity of Internet Explorer has long been a handy punchline. But it can also tell you a lot about why Edge failed to take off, and Microsoft’s latest moves might finally convince people to leave their zombie browser for dead.
One of Us
The first thing to know about Internet Explorer diehards: They’re maybe not who you expect. Yes, they include the technophobes who haven’t installed an update since Windows XP. (No judgment here, just anxiety over how much malware lurks inside those Dell Inspirons by now.) But they also include a surprising number of corporate IT departments, who either lack the option or the inclination to move on.
“Historically, because of legacy applications or even third-party applications, including some of Microsoft’s own applications, they only really work well with Internet Explorer, they don’t necessarily work with Firefox or Chrome very well,” says Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst with Spiceworks, a network for IT professionals. “There were some reports of Edge in its early days not working well with services, especially Office 365, which you would think they would have tested extensively.” Edge in the early days struggled with critical Microsoft programs like Intune, as well, making enterprise IT departments anxious about embracing it.
But even if Edge had worked seamlessly with those applications, it’s only been available on Windows 10. More than 700 million devices run Microsoft’s most recent operating system version, but that’s still only good for less than half of Windows PCs. In fact, some market share trackers still put Windows 7 ahead of Windows 10, representing hundreds of millions of machines that couldn’t get Edge even if they wanted it.
Which makes one aspect of Microsoft’s announcement Thursday particularly underrated. The shift to Chromium will enable it to bring Edge not just to macOS, but also to Windows 7 and Windows 8. Those stuck on Internet Explorer by virtue of being stuck on Windows 7—which, again, isn’t always obstinance; lots of companies run on software that’s only compatible with older operating systems—will finally have the option to switch over to Edge.
And if they do, they should find a much-improved experience after the transition takes place. Web developers largely build pages for Chrome these days, and don’t pay much mind to the quirks and needs of the fifth-biggest browser. But the Chromium switch means Edge can hitch its wagon to Chrome’s star. “People using Microsoft Edge (and potentially other browsers) will experience improved compatibility with all web sites, while getting the best-possible battery life and hardware integration on all kinds of Windows devices,” Belfiore wrote.
All of which should help put a dent in IE’s continued dominance. But even then, maybe not a huge one. Those same users, after all, could already have made the jump to Firefox or Chrome, but have chosen not to. It turns out inertia’s more powerful a draw than even the handiest browser extensions.
“In many cases, because Internet Explorer was the default, it was the path of least resistance. A lot of people are just accustomed to using IE. There were some major interface changes in Edge that might have made it unattractive to some users,” says Tsai. “IT departments don’t want to have to retrain users. They don’t want to have a flood of help desk tickets asking them how to do common stuff that they used to know how to do.”
That means IE might be with us for as long as it’s an option—which might be a while. Microsoft stopped offering improvements in 2016, but true obsolescence will only come when it cuts off the security updates and technical support. Microsoft has promised to prop up IE throughout the lifecycle of Windows 10—which means IE could be with us, browsing the web with undead aplomb, for as long as seven more years, until October 2025.
Yes, the fate of Microsoft Edge matters. It’s fascinating for a host of business and technical reasons. But remember, too, that it’s not even Microsoft’s most important browser. And it likely won’t be for years.
After a hellish year of tech scandals, even government-averse executives have started professing their openness to legislation. But Microsoft president Brad Smith took it one step further on Thursday, asking governments to regulate the use of facial-recognition technology to ensure it does not invade personal privacy or become a tool for discrimination or surveillance.
Tech companies are often forced to choose between social responsibility and profits, but the consequences of facial recognition are too dire for business as usual, Smith said. “We believe that the only way to protect against this race to the bottom is to build a floor of responsibility that supports healthy market competition,” he said in a speech at the Brookings Institution. “We must ensure that the year 2024 doesn’t look like a page from the novel 1984.”
To address bias, Smith said legislation should require companies to provide documentation about what their technology can and can’t do in terms customers and consumers can understand. He also said laws should require “meaningful human review of facial recognition results prior to making final decisions” for “consequential” uses, such as decisions that could cause bodily or emotional harm or impinge on privacy or fundamental rights. As another measure to protect privacy, Smith said that if facial recognition is used to identify consumers, the law should mandate “conspicuous notice that clearly conveys that these services are being used.”
Smith also said lawmakers should extend requirements for search warrants to the use of facial-recognition technology. He noted a June decision by the US Supreme Court requiring authorities to obtain a search warrant to get cellphone records showing a user’s location. “Do our faces deserve the same protection as our phones?” he asked. “From our perspective, the answer is a resounding yes.”
“The only way to protect against this race to the bottom is to build a floor of responsibility that supports healthy market competition.”
Microsoft President Brad Smith
Smith said companies and governments using facial recognition should be transparent about their technology, including subjecting it to review by outsiders. “As a society, we need legislation that will put impartial testing groups like Consumer Reports and their counterparts in a position where they can test facial recognition services for accuracy and unfair bias in an accurate and even-handed manner,” Smith said.
Smith’s speech Thursday echoed a call for regulation facial-recognition technology that he first made in July, but offered new specifics. He listed six principles that he said should guide use and regulation of facial recognition: fairness, transparency, accountability, non-discrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance. He said Microsoft next week would publish a document with suggestions on implementing these principles.
As governments and companies increasingly deploy facial recognition technology in areas like criminal justice or banking, both critics and tech workers have raised concerns. Amazon Rekognition, the company’s facial recognition technology, is used by police in Orlando, Florida. The ACLU tested Amazon’s tool and found out that it falsely identified members of Congress.
Also Thursday, the research institute AI Now issued a new report stressing the urgency for companies to open their algorithms to auditing. “AI companies should waive trade secrecy and other legal claims that would prevent algorithmic accountability in the public sector,” the report says. “Governments and public institutions must be able to understand and explain how and why decisions are made, particularly when people’s access to healthcare, housing, welfare, and employment is on the line.”
AI Now cofounders Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker said that their focus on trade secrecy emerged from a symposium held earlier this year with leading legal experts, “who are currently suing algorithms, if you will,” said Crawford. “It was extraordinary to hear dozens of lawyers sharing stories about how hard it is to find basic information.”
Their report also discussed the use of affect analysis, where facial recognition technology can be used to detect emotion. The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota is already using a system based on Microsoft’s tools to observe students in the classroom using a webcam. The system predicts emotions and sends a report to the teacher. AI Now says this raises questions around technology’s ability to grasp complex emotional states, a student’s ability to contest the findings, and the way it could impact what is taught in the classroom. Then there’s the privacy concerns, particularly given that “no decision has been made to inform the students that the system is being used on them.”
Microsoft did not immediately respond to request for comment about the university’s system.
New York University business school professor Michael Posner, director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at the School, who is familiar with Microsoft’s proposed framework, has been working with tech companies around fake news and Russian interference. In his experience, companies have been reluctant to engage with both governments and consumers.
“They don’t like government involvement, in any sense, regulating what they do. They have not been as forthcoming with disclosures, and too reticent to give people a heads up on what’s transpiring. They’ve also been very reluctant to work with one another,” Posner says.
Still, he’s hopeful that leadership from a “more mature” company like Microsoft could encourage a more open approach. Amazon did not respond to questions about its guidelines for facial recognition.
I always feel a bond with people who tell me they owned a Zune back in the day. Microsoft’s also-ran MP3 player never became a hit, but it was a fabulous little music machine and its influence can still be felt in the company’s hardware and software a decade later. Its Surface devices have put a focus on high-quality design since they debuted in 2012, and now Microsoft is using the brand to re-enter the audio market with the Surface Headphones.
The Surface Headphones look and feel nothing like a Zune, but Microsoft’s attention to detail is still intact. The company didn’t just plop out a set of headphones for a quick buck; it spent several years meticulously designing them. Juha Kuosmanen, Microsoft’s senior director of Experiences & Devices Program Management, says the company’s initial goal was to make a good pair of headphones for Skype. It broadened its horizon during development and now thinks its cans are at least comparable to some of the best wireless headphones you can buy, complete with a voice assistant (Microsoft’s Cortana, of course) and active noise cancellation.
After spending about a week with them, I’d say he’s right. I still recommend picking up a pair of Bose QC35 II or Sony WH1000XM3s if you’re spending $350—but these are pretty competitive, and that’s impressive for Microsoft’s first major stab at premium audio. Many of you will also forget the number-laden techie names of those first two sets. “Surface Headphones” sounds a little more conversational.
On the Surface
From headband to cushion, these are undeniably Surface hardware. They share the same gray color scheme as the Surface Book, Surface Laptop, and Surface Studio. The band and cups are are covered in a premium soft-touch plastic. Plastic usually indicates a step backward in durability and build quality, but they still feel sturdy and should be able to handle a few drops. There’s also metal where it’s needed. The twistable hangars connecting the cups to the band are aluminum, and there’s also metal inside the headband.
No two craniums are alike, so it’s nice that the 3.5-inch earcups have some range to them, and a firm grip. The memory foam padding has enough cushion for glasses and it’s leather-like material has some traction to it. So, they’re comfortable enough to wear at your desk.
The Surface Headphones struggle a bit more when you’re out and about. They’ll stay on your head for a walk outside or a light workout, but like most over-ears they will get hot. If you want to lay them around your neck, the hangars do twist flat, but the cushions awkwardly aim upward and don’t entirely release their gentle chokehold on your neck. They’ll also auto pause if you take them off, though sometimes this feature doesn’t seem to respond.
Bose and Sony have these same issues with travel fit. My favorite pair of on-the-go headphones remain the BackBeat Pro 2. They twist to rest easy on the shoulders, and auto pause if you lift even a single earcup. Sadly, their noise cancellation is no match for these—we’ll get to that soon.
If you’re buying for travel, you should also know that though the hangars let the cups twist flat, you cannot completely fold up the Surface Headphones into a ball like most competitors. This wasn’t a huge deal for me, but it could be a dealbreaker depending how you store them.
All ‘Bout Them Dials
If I could give Microsoft one title, it might be the “master of dials.” The Surface Dial was fun to twist around, and on the Surface Headphones Microsoft has upped the ante. Both earcups include a dial on their outer edge that’s pleasant and intuitive to turn. The right dial controls volume and the left adjusts the level of active noise cancellation. Most headphones have a button or clicker to turn noise cancelling on or off. Microsoft lets you subtly adjust between 13 different levels, ranging from a Bose-like max to a level so low it actually boosts ambient sound enough to hear someone talking to you. I wish more headphones had dials. They’re quite intuitive.
Microsoft’s noise cancelling tech succeeds at silencing most of the chit-chat and table banging you might hear in an office or café, and it can drown out street noise pretty well. At max, it’s not quite as quiet as Bose or Sony, depending on the circumstance, but the difference is negligible in places like a coffee shop. I mostly kept noise cancellation maxed out, occasionally dialing it back to its ambient boost to hear something.
The ambient sound boost serves its purpose, but could be a bit more powerful. Even with it turned on, it was difficult to converse unless I took off at least one earcup. Oddly, I liked it so much, I tried using ambient boost on a walk home and found that it continually seemed to turn itself off slowly every few seconds, then back on. I expect this is one of a few bugs Microsoft will try to iron out in the future. Luckily, the Surface Headphones are able to download firmware updates to these directly from the Cortana app.
Installing Cortana on your phone is also necessary to talk directly to a voice assistant. You can say “Hey Cortana” at any time to learn the weather, get updates on your schedule, or call/text someone. It does a lot of the same tasks as Alexa and Google Assistant—they’re just far more popular, though Cortana comes baked into every Windows 10 PC. If you forego the Cortana app and have a relatively new Android phone, you can long press the touch button on the side of either earcup and use it with another assistant. Just know that only Cortana works hands-free. Responses from any assistant are often cut off at the beginning, but are legible and work well enough.
Perhaps I’ve buried the lede here. The Surface Headphones do sound fantastic with noise cancellation on or off, and that’s an impressive accomplishment. The 40mm drivers in each earcup pump out balanced sound with enough bass to get you dancing when the right track hits. I had a particularly fun time listening to the heavy beats and 80s vibe of Muse’s latest album, Simulation Theory, but they’ve been able to handle every genre of music I’ve thrown at ‘em.
Their sound is competitive, too. Bose has a flatter, crisper sound in its QC35 II and Sony’s WH1000XM3 sound more alive and engrossing, but the Surface Headphones are more than sufficient at producing clear, engaging audio with some thump to it.
Phone calls are serviceable, though for a headset conceived around Skyping and calling, I hoped for more. It put many competing headphones to shame thanks to an array of eight microphones designed to help pick up and isolate your voice, but everyone I spoke with still complained that I sounded like I was “on speaker,” which was disappointing.
Finally, there’s battery life. It’s about 15 hours (50 hours if you use the included 3.5mm cord), which is lower than many top wireless headphones—though most of them don’t have always-available assistants ready to answer at any time. Most of them also don’t tell you precisely how many hours you have left before scrambling to a power outlet. These do. Every time you put them on, a Cortana-like voice tells you precisely how long you’ve got, which helped me at least feel adequately warned when they eventually died. Charging was also fast thanks to USB-C.
Good All Around
Microsoft is asking top-dollar for its first pair of Surface Headphones. There are a lot of excellent headphones for that price (or less), but they blend into the competition more than they stand out. They are consistently “pretty good” at a lot of things. Thanks to the volume and noise cancellation dials, they’re also more pleasant to control than many headphones. But are they Bose killers? Not really.
If you’re looking to go wireless, live in the US or UK, and like what Microsoft is doing with its Surface computers, you may be exactly the kind of person who could make the most of the Surface Headphones. Everyone else, keep an eye on these. They may not be your top choice right now, but they’re definitely a good one.
DURHAM, N.C., Oct. 10, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Open Invention Network (OIN) announced today that Microsoft has become a member of the OIN community. By joining OIN, Microsoft is demonstrating its commitment to open source software (OSS) and innovation through collaborative development. With more than 2,650 members, including numerous Fortune 500 enterprises, OIN is the largest patent non-aggression community in history and represents a core set of community values related to open source licensing, which has become the norm.
“Open source development continues to expand into new products and markets to create unrivaled levels of innovation. Through its participation in OIN, Microsoft is explicitly acknowledging the importance of open source software to its future growth,” said Keith Bergelt, CEO of Open Invention Network. “Microsoft’s participation in OIN adds to our strong community, which through its breadth and depth has reduced patent risk in core technologies, and unequivocally signals for all companies who are using OSS but have yet to join OIN that the litmus test for authentic behavior in the OSS community includes OIN participation.”
“Microsoft sees open source as a key innovation engine, and for the past several years we have increased our involvement in, and contributions to, the open source community,” said Erich Andersen, Corporate Vice President and Chief IP Counsel, Microsoft. “We believe the protection OIN offers the open source community helps increase global contributions to and adoption of open source technologies. We are honored to stand with OIN as an active participant in its program to protect against patent aggression in core Linux and other important OSS technologies.”
OIN’s community practices patent non-aggression in core open source technologies by cross-licensing Linux System patents to one another on a royalty-free basis. Patents owned by Open Invention Network are similarly licensed royalty-free to any organization that agrees not to assert its patents against the Linux System. The OIN license can be signed online at http://www.j-oin.net/.
About Open Invention Network
Open Invention Network (OIN) is the largest patent non-aggression community in history and supports freedom of action in Linux as a key element of open source software. Funded by Google, IBM, NEC, Philips, Red Hat, Sony, SUSE, and Toyota, OIN has more than 2,650 community members and owns more than 1,300 global patents and applications. The OIN patent license and member cross-licenses are available royalty-free to any party that joins the OIN community.
Managing large application state easily and with high performance is one of the hardest problems
in the cloud today. We present FASTER, a new concurrent key-value store designed for point lookups
and heavy updates. FASTER supports data larger than memory, by leveraging fast external storage.
What differentiates FASTER are its cache-optimized index that achieves very high performance — up
to 160 million operations per second when data fits in memory; its unique “hybrid record log” design
that combines a traditional persistent log with in-place updates, to shape the memory working set
and retain performance; and its architecture as an component that can be embedded in cloud apps. FASTER
achieves higher throughput than current systems, by more than two orders of magnitude, and scales better
than current pure in-memory data structures, for in-memory working sets. FASTER also offers a new consistent
recovery scheme that achieves better performance at the expense of slightly higher commit latency.
This project welcomes contributions and suggestions. Most contributions require you to agree to a
Contributor License Agreement (CLA) declaring that you have the right to, and actually do, grant us
the rights to use your contribution. For details, visit https://cla.microsoft.com.
When you submit a pull request, a CLA-bot will automatically determine whether you need to provide
a CLA and decorate the PR appropriately (e.g., label, comment). Simply follow the instructions
provided by the bot. You will only need to do this once across all repos using our CLA.
Over the past year, Silicon Valley has been grappling with the way it handles our data, our elections, and our speech. Now it’s got a new concern: our faces. In just the past few weeks, critics assailed Amazon for selling facial recognition technology to local police departments, and Facebook for how it gained consent from Europeans to identify people in their photos.
Microsoft has endured its own share of criticism lately around the ethical uses of its technology, as employees protested a contract under which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses Microsoft’s cloud-computing service. Microsoft says that contract did not involve facial recognition. When it comes to facial analysis, a Microsoft service used by other companies has been shown to be far more accurate for white men than for women or people of color.
Panos Panay is the betting type. You can see the evidence in Microsoft’s Building 37, where two $1 bills stick out from beneath a Surface tablet sitting on a shelf.
When I ask Panay about the dollars during a recent visit to Microsoft, he says it was a wager he made a few years back on a specific product. I ask if it was a bet on Surface RT, the very first Surface product Microsoft made, and he seems genuinely surprised. “I would have lost that bet, and I’m going to win this one,” he says. “It’s about a product that’s in market right now.” And that’s all he’ll volunteer.
Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer, isn’t there to talk about the ghosts of Surface’s past, or even the present. Panay wants to talk about his next big bet in the Surface product lineup: the brand-new Surface Go. But to call it “big” would be a misnomer, because the Surface Go was designed to disappear.
If you’ve followed the trajectory of the Surface product line, you might say that the Surface Go previously existed in some form, if not as a prototype then in sketches and leaks and rumors and in our own imaginations. But Panay insists that this new 2-in-1 device is not the offspring of anything else—not the Surface RT, not the Surface 3, and not the Surface Mini (which served as a kind of fever-dream notepad for Panay, but never shipped).
Instead, the new Surface Go is an attempt to bring most of the premium features of a $1,000 Surface Pro to something that’s both ultra-portable and more affordable.
Like a Surface Pro, the Go is a “detachable”—a tablet that attaches to Microsoft’s alcantara Type Cover keyboard. It has the same magnesium enclosure; a bright, high-res touchscreen display that has a 3:2 aspect ratio and is bonded with Gorilla Glass; a kickstand in the back that extends to 165 degrees; support for Microsoft’s stylus pen, which attaches magnetically to the tablet; a Windows Hello face recognition camera, for bio-authentication; two front-facing speakers, an 8-megapixel rear camera; and on and on. It’s a veritable checklist of Surface Go’s external features.
But the Surface Go is tiny. It measures just 9.6 by 6.9 by .33 inches, with a 10-inch diagonal display. It also weighs 1.15 pounds. The first time I saw the Go, Natalia Urbanowicz, a product marketing manager at Microsoft, pulled the thing out of a 10-inch, leather, cross-body Knomo bag to show just how easily it can be tucked away. It’s light enough to mistake for a notebook; the last time I felt that way about a computer was when Lenovo released the YogaBook back in 2016.
The Go also happens to be the least expensive Surface ever. When it ships in early August, it will have a base price of $399. That’s for a configuration that includes 64 gigabytes of internal storage and 4 gigabytes of RAM, and ships with Windows 10 Home in S Mode (the S stands for “streamlined,” which means you can only download apps from the Windows Store). You’ll also have to shell out extra for a Type Cover keyboard and stylus pen.
From there, specs and prices creep up: A Surface Go with 256 gigabytes of storage, 8 gigabytes of RAM, and LTE will cost you more, though Microsoft hasn’t shared how much yet. All configurations have a microSD slot for additional storage too.
The Surface Go is not the first 10-inch Surface that Panay and his team have shipped. The original Surface had a 10.6-inch display. And in 2015, Microsoft released the 10.8-inch Surface 3. It started at $499, and ran a “real” version of Windows, not Windows RT. But it was also underpowered; and, Panay admits now, it had an inelegant charging mechanism.
“To this day I regret the charging port on Surface 3,” Panay says. “I’d convinced myself that this ubiquitous USB 2.0 connector was going to solve the thing people asked me for: Can I just charge it with the charger I already have? And what I learned is that people want a charger with the device, they want a very seamless charging experience…I know that seems small, but I don’t think I can overstate that every single little detail can be a major difference maker.”
Panay says there’s been clear demand for a successor to the Surface 3, which would, by definition, have been the Surface 4. But “that evolution wasn’t right,” he says. “That would be too close to the original Surface Pro, and that’s not what this product should be at all.” Instead, he’s been noodling something like the Surface Go—codenamed “Libra”—for the past three years.
The new Surface Go benefits from all those learnings. It has the same Surface Connect port as the Pro lineup, along with a USB-C 3.1 port for data transfers and backup charging. It’s supposed to get around nine hours of battery life. It also runs on an Intel Pentium Gold processor. This is not one of Intel’s top-of-the-line Core processors, but it’s still a significant jump up from the Cherry Trail Atom processor in the Surface 3.
Pete Kyriacou, general manager of program management for Surface, says Microsoft has worked closely with Intel to tune the processor for this particular form factor. “If you compare the graphics here to the Surface Pro 3 running on an i5 [chip], it’s 33 percent better; and if you compare it to the i7, it’s 20 percent better,” Kyriacou says. “So we’re talking about Pentium processing, but, it’s better from a graphics perspective than a Core processor was just three years ago.”
A lot about the new Surface has been “tuned”—not just the guts of the Go, but its software, too. “We tuned Office, we then tuned the Intel part, we tuned Windows, we made sure that, in portrait, it came to life,” Panay says. “We brought the Cortana [team] in to better design the Cortana box—we went after the details on what we think our customers need at 10 inches.”
There’s usually a tradeoff when you’re buying a computer this small. You get portability at the expense of space for apps and browser windows. The Surface Go has a built-in scaler that optimizes apps for a 10-inch screen, and Microsoft says that it’s working with third-parties to make sure certain apps run great. There’s only so much control, though, you have over software that’s not your own. I was reminded of this when I had a few minutes to use the Surface Go, went to download the Amazon Kindle app in the Windows Store, and couldn’t find it there.
Making the Surface smaller was no small feat, according to Ralf Groene, Microsoft’s longtime head of design. Groene walks me through part of Building 87 on Microsoft’s campus, where the design studio is housed and where Groene’s team of 60 are tasked with coming up with a steady stream of ideas for potential products.
Behind a door that says “Absolutely No Tailgating”—a warning against letting someone in behind you, not a ban on barbecues and cornhole—a small multimedia team makes concept videos. “Before products get made, we have a vision, we have an idea, and we express it in a video,” Groene tells me. If the video is received well by top executives, they know they have a winner. “Since there’s usually a timeline on how long processors are good for, we try to build as many iterations as possible of a product within that timeline.”
Once the Surface Go got the go ahead, Groene’s job became that of a geometrist: How do you fit all this stuff into a 9.6-inch enclosure? Going with magnesium again was an easy choice; it’s up to 36 percent lighter than aluminum, Groene says, and Microsoft has already invested in the machinery needed to work with magnesium. Some of the angles of the Go’s body are softer—Groene calls these “curvatures and radii”—making it more comfortable to hold close for extended time periods, like if you’re reading or drawing.
By far the biggest challenge was the Go’s Type Cover keyboard. The factor that always stays the same is the human, Groene says, and that includes fingers. Shrink a keyboard too much in your quest to make a laptop thin and light, and you’ll inevitably get complaints from people that their fingers are cramped, or that they land on each key with an unsatisfying thud. (Or worse, that the keyboard is essentially broken.)
The Go’s keyboard is undoubtedly smaller than the one that attaches to the Surface Pro. But it still has a precision glass trackpad, and a key travel that Groene says is fractionally less than the key travel on the Pro.
Most notably, the Go’s keyboard uses a scissor-switch mechanism that was designed to give, as Groene describes it, the right “force to fire.” Each key is also slightly dished, a decision that Microsoft made after watching hours of footage of people typing, captured with a high-speed camera. The keys are supposed to feel plush and good under your fingers and not at all like a tiny accessory keyboard. (I only used the keyboard on the Go for a brief period of time, so I can’t really say what it would be like to use the keyboard to, say, type of a story of this length.)
I mention to Groene that Apple has long held the stance that touchscreens aren’t right for PC’s, something that Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi underscored in a recent WIRED interview when he said that they’re “fatiguing.” And yet, Microsoft is pretty committed to touchscreen PCs. What does Microsoft’s research show about how people use touchscreen PCs?
Groene first points out that the Surface laptop is the only one in Microsoft’s product line that has a classic laptop form factor and a touchscreen; the others are detachables, or, there’s the giant Surface Studio PC. But, more to the point, he says, “By offering multiple ways to get things done doesn’t mean that we add things. It’s not like the Swiss army knife, where every tool you put in makes it bigger.”
Sure, if you sit there for eight hours holding your arm up, it will get tired, Groene acknowledges. But that’s not the way people are supposed to use these things. “It’s the same thing with the pen. ‘We don’t need the pen because we are born with ten styluses,’” Groene says, wiggling his fingers, making an oblique reference to a well-known Steve Jobs quote about styluses. “However, having the tool of a pen is awesome when you want to go sketch something.”
“We are trying to design products for people,” he says, “and we don’t try to dictate how people use our devices.”
So who is this tiny Surface Go actually made for? It depends on who you ask at Microsoft, but the short answer seems to be: anybody and everybody.
Urbanowicz, the product marketing manager, says Go is about “reaching more audiences, and embracing the word ‘and’: I can be a mother, and an entrepreneurial badass; I can be a student, and a social justice warrior.” Kyriacou, when describing the Go’s cameras, says to “think about the front line worker in the field—a construction worker, architect, they can capture what they need to or even scan a document.” You can also dock the Go, Kyriacou points out, using the Surface Connect port, which makes it ideal for business travelers. Groene talks about reading, about drawing, about running software applications like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Almost everyone talks about watching Hulu and Netflix on it.
Panos Panay initially has a philosophical answer to this. It’s his “dream,” he says, to just get Surface products to more people. “I mean, that’s not my ultimate dream. But there are these blurred lines of life and work that are happening, and if you collect all that, Go was an obvious step for us.”
The evening before Panay and I chatted, he went to the Bellevue Square shopping center with his son, and at one point, had to pull out his LTE-equipped Surface Go to address what he said was an urgent work issue. His son asked if it was a new product, and Panay, realizing the blunder of having the thing out in public, tucked the Go in his jacket. To him, that’s the perfect anecdote: The lines between work and family time were blurred, he had to do something quickly, and when he was done, he could make his computer disappear.
Panay’s team also has a lot more insight into how people are using Surface products than it did eight years ago, he says, when Surface was still just a concept being developed in a dark lab. To be sure, Microsoft has been making hardware for decades—keyboards, mice, web cameras, Xbox consoles. But when Microsoft made the decision to start making its own PCs (and ultimately, take more control over how its software ran on laptops), it was a new hardware category for the company. It was a chance to get consumers excited about Microsoft again, not just enterprise customers.
The first few years of Surface were rocky. The first one, known as Surface RT, seems to be something that Microsoft executives would rather forget about; I don’t see it anywhere in the product lineups that Microsoft’s PR team has laid out ahead of my visit. Its 2012 launch coincided with the rollout of Windows 8, which had an entirely new UI from the previous version of Windows. It ran on a 32-bit ARM architecture, which meant it ran a version of the operating system called Windows RT. Depending on who you ask, the Surface RT was either a terrible idea or ahead of its time. (Panay says it was visionary.) Microsoft ending up taking a massive write-down on it the following year.
Since then, Microsoft has rolled out a series of Surface products that, due to the company’s design ethos, a newer operating system, and plain old Moore’s Law, have only gotten better. In 2013 it introduced the Surface Pro line, which are still detachables, but are built to perform like a premium laptop and can cost anywhere from $799 to $2,600. There’s the Surface Book line; the Surface Book 2 starts at $1,199 and clocks in around 3.5 pounds, making it a serious commitment of a laptop. The Surface Studio is a gorgeous, $2,999, all-in-one desktop PC, aimed at creative types. The Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s MacBook Air. It starts at $799, and got largely positive reviews when it launched last year.
Even still, Microsoft’s Surface line has struggled to make a significant dent in the market for personal computing. HP and Lenovo dominate the broader PC market, while Apple leads in the tablet category (including both detachables and slate tablets).“From a shipment perspective, the entire Surface portfolio has been fairly soft,” says Linn Huang, an IDC research director who tracks devices and displays. “It was growing tremendously, and then the iPad Pro launched and Surface shipments have either been negative, year-over-year, for the past several quarters, or flat.”
Microsoft has new competition to worry about, too: Google’s inexpensive Chromebooks, which in a short amount of time have taken over a large share of the education market.
“Do I think about Chromebooks? Absolutely,” Panay says, when I ask him about them. “Do I think about iPads? Absolutely. I use multiple devices. It’s exhausting. But this product is meant to bring you a full app suite.” Panay is highlighting one of the drawbacks of lightweight Chromebooks: Their lack of local storage. Meanwhile, he says, Surfaces are designed to let people be productive both locally on the device, and in the cloud when they need to work in the cloud.
And, while Panay says he’s keeping an eye on Chromebooks, he insists that Microsoft didn’t build Go to compete with Chromebooks. That said, Surface Go will have a school-specific software option: IT administrators for schools can choose whether they want a batch of Go’s imaged with Windows 10 Pro Education, or Windows 10 S mode-enabled.
Panay wouldn’t comment on Microsoft’s plans for the future beyond Surface Go, although there have long been rumors of a possible Microsoft handheld device, codenamed Andromeda. If the Surface Go is something of a return to a smaller, 10-inch detachable, then a pocketable device that folds in half, one that could potentially run on an ARM processor, would be something of a return to mobile for Microsoft. Qualcomm has also been making mobile chips that are designed to compete directly with Intel’s Core processors for PCs.
For now, though, Panay is throwing all his chips behind the Surface Go, and making a big bet that this little device is the one that will make the masses fall in love with Surface. He tends to chalk up past Surface products, even the ones that didn’t do well, as simply before their time. Now, with the Go, he says, “it’s time.”