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Google Chrome Update Release Cycle to Be Sped Up to Four Weeks

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By ANI | Updated: 6 March 2021

Google is working on speeding up the release cycle of Chrome updates to four weeks from the current six-week period in order to improve the security, speed, and stability of the browser application.

As per the post on Google’s Chromium Blog, starting with Chrome 94 in Q3, 2021, Google will release milestones of its browser every four weeks, instead of every six weeks. This is the first time Google has sped up its Chrome release schedule for more than a decade.

“As we have improved our testing and release processes for Chrome, and deployed bi-weekly security updates to improve our patch gap, it became clear that we could shorten our release cycle and deliver new features more quickly,” explained Alex Mineer, a technical program manager at Chrome.

Additionally, Google will add a new ”Extended Stable” option, with milestone updates every eight weeks. The new option will be available to enterprise administrators and Chromium embedders who need additional time to manage updates.

Important security updates will still arrive every two weeks in this version, but Extended Stable should hopefully avoid the situation where silent Chrome experiments end up angering IT admins.

For users on Chrome OS, the company is also planning to support multiple stable release options.

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Apple Criticised by US Senators for Refusing to Testify on Antitrust Concerns

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 April 2021

Apple is refusing to testify at an upcoming US Senate subcommittee hearing on competition issues related to mobile app stores, the bipartisan leaders of the panel said on Friday.

App makers long have accused Apple’s App Store for iPhones and iPads, along with Google’s Play store for Android devices, of engaging in anticompetitive behaviour by requiring certain revenue sharing payments and setting strict inclusion rules. A subcommittee hearing was being planned for late April but no date has been set yet.

Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Mike Lee, a Republican, said they wrote to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook on Friday urging the company to reconsider.

“A little more than two weeks before the planned hearing, Apple abruptly declared that it would not provide any witness,” the letter said. “Apple’s sudden change in course to refuse to provide a witness to testify… is unacceptable.”

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Apple and game maker Epic Games are scheduled to square off on those issues in a federal trial beginning May 3 in California.

Google has agreed to testify at the subcommittee hearing, a spokeswoman for Klobuchar said. The company did not have immediate comment.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Hotline Being Tested as Live Audio Chat Rival to Clubhouse

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 8 April 2021

Facebook on Wednesday launched an experimental online forum called Hotline, an attempt by the social media giant to keep up with the live audio trend made popular by the likes of Clubhouse.

Social media stalwarts are scrambling to prevent users from being lured away by audio-only online rivals.

The Facebook application is essentially a spin on Reddit’s Ask Me Anything sessions and Clubhouse, the audio-only social media sensation launched a year ago which has boomed during the pandemic.

Hotline provides users with a blend of voice, text and video options for participating in online discussions with hosts.

Users can ask questions in writing, which is not possible on Clubhouse. Speakers, meanwhile, can choose who to invite “on stage” to speak.

“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokeswoman told AFP.

Session headliners will have the option of turning on their Web cameras to be seen, and can also remove abusive comments from text chats, Facebook said, confirming an earlier report on the website TechCrunch.

Facebook workers will moderate Hotline events and evict anyone who violates rules they have set for what is acceptable, according to the TechCrunch report.

The spokeswoman said Facebook has been testing several other platforms.

These include a question-and-answer product called Venue and collaborative music apps called Collab and BARS which are more akin to TikTok. However testing on an audio calling app called CatchUp ended last year.

Facebook has increased its live video and audio abilities on both its main site and its sister site Instagram following the success of the Zoom videoconferencing service and Clubhouse.

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Microsoft 365 Services Outage Has Been Mitigated, Company Says

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By Reuters | Updated: 2 April 2021

Microsoft said on Thursday it has resolved an issue with its Microsoft 365 services and features, including workplace messaging app Teams and Azure, after many users were unable to access them.

Microsoft said in its status page that the Domain Name System (DNS) issue was resolved and that all Microsoft 365 services had returned to a healthy state.

DNS is effectively an address book of the internet which enables computers to match website addresses with the correct server.

Earlier, outage tracking website Downdetector showed over 8,000 incidents of people reporting issues with its widely-used Teams workplace messaging app.

Downdetector only tracks outages by collating status reports from a series of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

In other Microsoft-related news, the company announced that it won a Pentagon contract for augmented reality headgear for soldiers worth $21.88 billion (Rs. 1,60,290 crores) over the next decade, the company and the US military announced Wednesday.

The headsets, based on commercially available HoloLens, will make soldiers safer and more effective, according to Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman.

The Department of Defense (DoD) said the production agreement is for five years with a renewal option – that could make the contract worth “in excess of $21.88 billion (Rs. 1,60,290 crores)” over 10 years, a Pentagon official said in a statement.

Microsoft will rapidly start producing the so-called Integrated Augmentation System under the contract.

The award aims “to deliver next-generation night vision and situational awareness capabilities to the Close Combat Force at the speed of relevance,” the Pentagon said.

A head-mounted display used by soldiers for battle and training employs sensors for night and thermal vision in addition to providing data for help in engaging targets and making tactical decisions, officials said.

“The programme delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios,” Kipman said in a blog post.

The contract shows that Microsoft can make money from its augmented reality offerings with the military and likely heralds expanded uses by private businesses as well as consumers, according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.

“The second and potentially most important point is this deal just further drills in the narrative that Microsoft is tightening its grip on deals within the DoD and Pentagon,” Ives said in a note to investors.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook-Owned WhatsApp Gets Delayed Nod for Payments in Brazil

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By Reuters | Updated: 31 March 2021

Brazil’s central bank on Tuesday cleared the way for Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service to let its users send each other funds using the Visa Inc and Mastercard card networks, months after vetoing WhatsApp’s initial attempt.

When WhatsApp tried to launch the transfer service last June, the central bank said it could damage Brazil’s existing payments system in terms of competition, efficiency and data privacy, adding that the service had failed to obtain the needed licenses.

The regulatory friction was the latest setback for Facebook’s effort to use its social media platforms to compete with banks and fintechs in allowing fast electronic funds transfers.

The regulatory approval comes months after the central bank launched its own instant payments system in November, called Pix, which has since been widely adopted.

After initially trying to avoid becoming a financial services company in Brazil and seeking to piggyback on Visa and Mastercard’s existing central bank licenses, WhatsApp surrendered to regulatory pressure, obtaining formal approval as a payments initiator using Visa and Mastercard as processors.

Both card networks also had to obtain new permits to operate with Facebook’s messaging app, which itself will be regulated by the central bank.

Still, WhatsApp is only allowed to do peer-to-peer payments, not involving merchants, unlike the free Pix service, which can be used to pay businesses and individuals. Facebook is still seeking approval to operate with merchants.

“(We) are making the final preparations to have payments on WhatsApp available in Brazil as soon as possible,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement. The messaging platform, which has over 120 million users in Brazil, did not say when it will start offering the service.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Spotify Buys Locker Room App-Maker Betty Labs in Live Audio Push

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By Reuters | Updated: 31 March 2021

Spotify said on Tuesday it has purchased Betty Labs, the company behind sports-focused social audio app Locker Room, to accelerate its move into live audio.

New voice-based platforms, including invite-only social app Clubhouse, have seen rapid growth in recent months during the COVID-19 pandemic. Locker Room, launched in October 2020, became a popular spot for sports fans to chat and hold watch parties.

The music-streaming service said in the coming months it would “evolve and expand” Locker Room to offer sports, music, and cultural programming as well as live discussions with professional athletes, musicians and other personalities.

“Creators and fans have been asking for live formats on Spotify, and we’re excited that soon, we’ll make them available to hundreds of millions of listeners and millions of creators on our platform,” said Gustav Söderström, Chief Research & Development Officer at Spotify.

Spotify did not disclose the cost of the acquisition. Betty Labs was initially backed by Lightspeed Venture Partners and later by GV, Alphabets venture capital arm, and Precursor Ventures. Last October, Betty Labs raised $9.3 million (roughly Rs. 68 crore) in seed funding led by GV.

“We are excited to join forces with Spotify and continue building the future of audio – we’ll invest more in our product, open the experience to Spotify’s audience, diversify our content offerings, and continue expanding the community we’ve built,” said Betty Labs founder and CEO Howard Akumiah.

Spotify has also been making a push into podcasting, and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to boost its podcast range and debuted a podcast advertising marketplace.

Screenshots shared by a Twitter user last week showed Spotify was surveying some users about how often they used Clubhouse. Twitter is also testing a live audio app Spaces, which it plans to publicly launch by April, and Facebook is reportedly dabbling with its own live audio offering.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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WWDC 2021: Apple to Host Annual Developers Conference in Online-Only Format Again as COVID-19 Cases Surge

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By Reuters | Updated: 31 March 2021

Apple said on Tuesday it would host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in an online-only format for the second year in a row. The event will take place from June 7 to June 11, as COVID-19 cases rise in the United States. WWDC21 is expected to offer insight into the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

The iPhone maker’s WWDC event, usually held in San Jose, California, US with more than 5,000 people attending, was moved completely online for the first time in June last year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Apple said the event will be streamed for free again on its developer app or website. “We are working to make WWDC21 our biggest and best yet, and are excited to offer Apple developers new tools to support them as they create apps that change the way we live, work, and play,” Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations and Enterprise and Education Marketing Susan Prescott said.

The Cupertino company also announced that it is currently accepting submissions for this year’s Swift Student Challenge, where young developers are given an opportunity to showcase their coding skills on Swift programming language by creating an interactive scene in a Swift playground “that can be experienced within three minutes.”

Apple hopes that “WWDC21 will provide Apple’s worldwide community of more than 28 million developers, as well as the next generation of app developers, with the information and tools needed to turn their ideas into reality.”

The United States surpassed 30 million total cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, and the seven-day average of new cases was slightly less than 60,000 per day, according to officials of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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