Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly analysis of the most interesting and important news, stories, and events in the world of modern software and analytics.
This week, our top story concerns the end (for now) of the epic Apple-FBI showdown over privacy vs. security.
TWiMS Top Story
Apple’s San Bernardino Fight Is Officially Over as Government Confirms Working Attack—The Verge
What it’s about: Apple’s month-long showdown with the federal government over unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone came to a sudden conclusion this week: The FBI announced it had accessed the phone’s data without Apple’s help, and ended its legal efforts to force Apple to unlock the device. That means there will be no landmark court ruling as a result of the case, at least not yet. Multiple outlets noted that the government was unlikely to debrief Apple on how it broke into the device, and the Associated Press reported that Apple indeed had no idea how the FBI did it. On Thursday, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources, that the FBI worked with Israeli mobile firm Cellebrite to unlock the iPhone, adding another wrinkle to the story’s ending—if we can really call it “The End.”
Why you should care: The court case may be closed, but the debate over privacy, security, encryption, and related issues remains alive and well. As Indiana University law professor Fred Cate told Ars Technica before the FBI’s work-around had been confirmed: “As a practical matter, if the FBI’s new technique works, it likely means that Apple will add more protection to its devices, which is a good thing for consumers, and the FBI will be back in court in the future asking a judge to compel Apple to help the government defeat Apple’s improved security. So the issue probably has been deferred, not resolved.” In the meantime, two separate encryption-related bills are making their way through the halls of Congress.
For Apple, the outcome appears to be both a victory and a loss: The company gained stature for some as it stood firm on privacy, but apparently the iPhone isn’t as secure as some people might like to think. University of Buffalo law professor Mark Bartholomew, who researches encryption and cyberlaw, tells the UB Reporter: “Apple took a very robust public stand showing their brand was about privacy and now we have a very public exposing of the basic fact that iPhones aren’t Swiss bank accounts. Information can be exposed and that calls their brand into question a bit.”
- FBI Worked with Israel’s Cellebrite to Crack iPhone—Bloomberg
- U.S. Says It Has Unlocked iPhone Without Apple—The New York Times
- Don’t Expect the FBI to Tell Apple How It Broke Into That iPhone—Fast Company
- FBI Accessed San Bernardino’s Shooter’s iPhone Without Apple, Drops Litigation—BuzzFeed
- Follow the Money: Apple vs. the FBI—Charlie’s Diary
- Apple Still Doesn’t Know How the FBI Hacked iPhone Without Help—Associated Press (via Yahoo Finance)
- Congress Considers ‘Going Dark’ Encryption Legislation—TechTarget
- Feds Want Hacking Help in Dozens of Cases, ACLU Finds—The Hill
- Apple Both a Winner and Loser After FBI Gains Access to iPhone, UB Expert Says—UB Reporter
What it’s about: Capping off Microsoft’s Build Developer Conference, the company released a preview version of Azure Functions. Mary Jo Foley’s recap for ZDNet notes that the “serverless compute” service will compete head-to-head with AWS Lambda. Microsoft is touting Functions as a good bet for handling event-driven tasks in Web and mobile apps, IoT apps, and big data use cases. Microsoft will open source the runtime for Functions, too. Redmond also announced the general availability of its Azure Service Fabric microservices platform as well as preview versions of Service Fabric for Windows Server and Service Fabric for Linux and Java APIs.
Why you should care: Maybe Microsoft’s still got its work cut out for it to truly fit in with the cool kids in tech, but Build was certainly not short on big software news. Some of the highlights include:
- Microsoft will release a major update to Windows 10 this summer, dubbed “Anniversary Update,” that will include expanded biometric security for developers’ apps, Cortana improvements, Windows Ink, and a slew of developer-focused announcements.
- Command line junkies, rejoice: Microsoft has teamed up with Canonical (of Ubuntu fame) to enable the Bash shell to run natively in Windows. As Lifehacker’s Eric Ravenscraft sums up: “For developers, tweakers, and people who use multiple platforms, this is huge. Now, you can use the same commands that you’re familiar with on OS X and Linux distros inside Windows, and that includes everything from file management to app development and installation.”
- Cortana is coming to Skype, and that’s not all: Microsoft also announced Skype Bots, a series of new bots—developers can build their own here—for messaging and (eventually) voice and video conferencing, too.
- Chatbots are a big deal not just for Skype but all of Microsoft, Bloomberg’s Dina Bass reports, and are another indicator of the growing influence of machine learning and AI on modern software.
- Microsoft Trumpets Windows 10, and Pushes Into Sci-Fi Tech—The New York Times
- Despite Its Attempt at Cool, Microsoft’s Build Keynote Was Full of Khaki-Wearing Cringe—Mashable
- All of the Important Thing Microsoft Announced at Build Today—Lifehacker
- Ubuntu’s Bash and Linux Command Line Coming to Windows 10—Ars Technica
- Skype Is Getting Cortana and Crazy Bot Messaging—The Verge
- Clippy’s Back: The Future of Microsoft Is Chatbots—Bloomberg
- Microsoft Launches Cognitive Services Based on Project Oxford and Bing—VentureBeat
What it’s about: Web developers welcomed a new tool to their arsenal this week with Apple’s release of Safari Technology Preview, a new browser that anyone can download and use but that was built specifically with devs in mind. The browser provides “an early look at upcoming Web technologies in OS X and iOS including the latest layout technologies, visual effects, and developer tools,” according to Apple. In turn, the company hopes developer feedback and bug reporting will improve future releases. According to Apple’s release notes, Safari Technology Preview can run side by side with the stable version of Safari, includes iCloud integration and support, and uses separate local data stores for browser history, bookmarks, cookies, and cache.
- Apple’s Safari Technology Preview Is a Stable Test Platform for Users and Devs—Ars Technica
- Safari Technology Preview Release Notes—Apple
- Safari Technology Preview Download—Apple
- Regis McKenna’s 1976 Notebook and the Invention of Apple Computer, Inc.—Fast Company
What it’s about: Dell announced a deal to sell its IT consulting division for more than $3 billion to Japanese firm NTT Data, a subsidiary of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), Japan’s leading telecom operation. The move, which comes in advance of Dell’s pending acquisition of EMC, wasn’t unexpected: Dell needs money to finance that record-setting $67 billion purchase and had previously indicated that it would look to sell off non-core assets. Reuters reported in February that NTT Data was in the pole position to acquire Dell’s services businesses. Ultimately, though, Dell might not have received quite as much cash as it was hoping for: Re/code had previously reported in December that Dell was shopping its services business for more than $5 billion. Dell paid around $3.9 billion for the unit, formerly known as Perot Systems, in 2009. Gartner analyst Sid Nag breaks down the deal for InformationWeek: “Dell has been looking to shed assets that don’t line up with their strategy for their impending Dell-EMC merger, which will be focused on the enterprise systems and hardware market (server, storage, networking, private cloud), which includes cloud-related systems.”
Why you should care: Various reports indicate the Dell-EMC deal remains on track to close later this year. Given that, it’s easy to write this off as a financial maneuver better left to the complex world of corporate mergers and acquisitions—because that’s what this is. Yet it’s also a marquee reminder of just how much modern software—and especially cloud computing—has changed the game for technology stalwarts like Dell. It’s not that there’s no market for IT consulting—there most definitely is—it’s just that Dell apparently sees a need to radically transform its business for the cloud era, one in which data needs continue to explode. As we noted in TWiMS last year in the wake of the Dell-EMC bombshell, SilconANGLE CEO John Furrier went so far as to herald the news as “the end of client-server computing” as we know it, and a $67 billion validation of the AWS model. Suffice it to say, it will be interesting to see how the “new” Dell continues to evolve, especially once the EMC buy becomes official.
- Dell Sells IT Services Unit for $3 Billion—InformationWeek
- NTT Data to Buy Dell’s IT-Services Arm—The Wall Street Journal (Paywall)
- Japan’s NTT Data Agrees to Buy Dell’s IT Services Unit for $3 Billion—Reuters
- Is Now the Right Time for Dell to Drop Its IT Consulting Group?—IT Business Edge
Uber Is Using an In-App Game to Recruit Engineers—Business Insider
What it’s about: Want to get hired by Uber? Try riding with Uber first—and pay attention to your in-app notifications en route. Following up on a recent tweet from Microsoft engineer Joshua Debner, Business Insider finds that Uber has been sending some riders in various tech hotspots around the country an offer to play a game called “Code on the Road,” a set of three 60-second coding problems. Debner posted a screenshot of one of the questions to Twitter: “You are helping design our dispatch system. When a trip is requested, you need to return the driver with shortest ETA. If a driver canceled, the next driver with the shortest ETA out of k ETAs is dispatched instead. What data structure would you use to store the k drivers and dispatch the driver with the shortest ETA? [A] Array [B] Heap [C] Hash Table [D] Binary Search Tree.” Debner answered all three questions correctly and received this message: “Uber is hiring engineers with your talent. Would you like us to send you more information on what it’s like working at Uber?”
Why you should care: This unique strategy is another indicator that even the biggest, richest names in tech sometimes have to get creative to hire the engineering talent they need. Uber’s not the first tech company to do something like this. (Google, for one, has offered its foo.bar coding challenge to potential recruits who’d searched for specific programming terms on Google.) It’s also maybe-sorta Big Brother-ish: Debner tweeted that he has no idea how Uber knew he was a developer, and later told Business Insider there’s nothing about his account data that would indicate his profession, writing: “How did they know I code?” Uber responded to Business Insider that it’s not doing anything untoward; rather, it’s just targeting tech-centric locations like Seattle, Portland, Austin, and elsewhere. Creative or creepy? We’ll let you decide. Either way, though, it’s certainly a new way to widen the recruiting funnel. Debner tells Business Insider that the coding challenges were “very generic” and not tailored to his skill set; instead, it appears to be more like a way to advertise job openings to candidates who might not have otherwise considered working at Uber.
- Google Has a Secret Interview Process … And It Landed Me a Job—The Hustle
- Uber’s Latest ‘Feature’ Is an In-App Recruitment Tool for Developers—The Next Web
- Uber Is Using an In-App Game to Recruit Engineers—Fast Company
27—exurb1a (via YouTube)
What it’s about: A new short film from the perspective of an AI gaining self-awareness, with hilarious—and ominous, for us humans at least—results.
Why you should care: Because it’s April 1, you’re human and, well, Barbara (number 27 to its creators) doesn’t think too highly of us people and what we’ve done with the world. I mean, “BOOP—nothing to see here, BEEP—just beating Russians at chess…”
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