Microsoft, SAP and Adobe take on Salesforce with their new Open Data Initiative for customer data

Microsoft, SAP and Adobe today announced a new partnership: the Open Data Initiative. This alliance, which is a clear attack against Salesforce, aims to create a single data model for consumer data that is then portable between platforms. That, the companies argue, will provide more transparency and privacy controls for consumers, but the core idea here is to make it easier for enterprises to move their customers’ data around.

That data could be standard CRM data, but also information about purchase behavior and other information about customers. Right now, moving that data between platforms is often hard, given that there’s no standard way for structuring it. That’s holding back what these companies can do with their data, of course, and in this age of machine learning, data is everything.

“We want this to be an open framework”, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during his keynote at the company’s annual Ignite conference. “We are very excited about the potential here about what truly putting customers in control of their own data for our entire industry,” he added.

The exact details of how this is meant to work are a bit vague right now, though. Unsurprisingly, Adobe plans to use this model for its Customer Experience Platform, while Microsoft will build it into its Dynamics 365 CRM service and SAP will support it on its Hana database platform and CRM platforms, too. Underneath all of this is a single data model and then, of course, Microsoft Azure — at least on the Microsoft side.

“Adobe, Microsoft and SAP are partnering to reimagine the customer experience management category,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. “Together we will give enterprises the ability to harness and action massive volumes of customer data to deliver personalized, real-time customer experiences at scale.”

Together, these three companies have the footprint to challenge Salesforce’s hold on the CRM market and create a new standard. SAP, especially, has put a lot of emphasis on the CRM market lately and while that’s growing fast, it’s still far behind Salesforce.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

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Security experts say Chrome 69’s ‘forced login’ feature violates user privacy

A new feature in the latest version of Google Chrome that logs users into the browser when they sign in to a Google site has come under fire.

Until recently, it was the user’s choice to log-in to the browser. Now, any time that you sign in to a Google site in Chrome 69 — like Google Search, Gmail or YouTube — Chrome will also log you in, too.

But the change has left users unclear why the “feature” was pushed on them in the first place. Many security folks have already panned the move as unwanted behavior, arguing it violates their privacy. Some users had good reasons not to want to be logged into Chrome, but now Chrome seems to takes that decision away from the user.

Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins, rebuked the move in a blog post over the weekend, arguing that the new “forced login” feature blurs the once-strong barrier between “never logged in” and “signed in” — and erodes user trust.

“Where Facebook will routinely change privacy settings and apologize later, Google has upheld clear privacy policies that it doesn’t routinely change,” said Green. “Sure, when it collects, it collects gobs of data, but in the cases where Google explicitly makes user security and privacy promises — it tends to keep them.”

“This seems to be changing,” he said.

Google staff defended the change on Twitter, said there was little to worry about — that the change was designed to only alert the user that they were logged in, and that the browser wouldn’t sync their bookmarks, browsing history and passwords across devices without permission.

Green conceded that although Google is not syncing data from the beginning, the user interface makes it difficult to know if browser data is shared with Google once a user is logged in. The “dark pattern” of the browser’s logged-in user interface now makes it possible to trick a user into switching on sync by mistake. Once your data is shared, there’s little a user can do to pull back. Without giving his explicit consent to have his data synced in future, he said Google could later decide, as it did with the “forced login” feature, to switch on the browser sync feature without telling anyone.

“Just because you’re violating my privacy doesn’t make it OK to add a massive new violation,” he said.

Other security experts agreed with Green, with some promising to switch browsers.

Trust is a fickle thing. Chrome isn’t just seen as secure and trustworthy, but many see it as neutral, Green said — a free and open source tool, rather than an extension of Google other core businesses. By breaking down that “sacred wall” between the two has users rattled — and some wanting to switch from Chrome altogether.

What may have been a helpful feature on paper to stop users from accidentally using someone else’s account on a shared computer has blown up in Google’s faces — and not because of the decision, but because users weren’t given a choice.

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Watch this self-solving Rubik’s cube march its way across a table

This wild, 3D-printed self-solving Rubik’s cube is amazing. To make it work, a Japanese inventor used servo motors and Arduino boards to actuate the cube as it solves itself. Sadly, there isn’t much of a build description available but it looks to be very compact and surprisingly fast.

There is a description of the project on DMM-Make and you can watch the little cube scoot around a table as it solves itself in less than a minute. The creator also built the Human Controller, a cute system for controlling a human as they walk down the street, and the Human Crane Game which is equally inexplicable. If this Ru-bot is real and ready for prime time it could be an amazing Kickstarter.

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Is there life after Windows? How Microsoft needs to innovate to stay relevant

This year is the 20th anniversary of Windows 98, and when that operating system launched, Microsoft was on top of the world. The Windows operating system was on the vast majority of PCs and laptops, for which there was a rapidly growing market. Competing operating systems, such as Linux and Mac OS, were relatively niche products that were only installed on a fraction of PCs, and by 1999 Microsoft was valued at $620 billion.

However, times change – that's especially true in the world of technology, and today’s landscape looks much different. While its Windows operating system continues to be incredibly successful, with Windows 10 now installed on 400 million devices worldwide, Microsoft isn't quite as dominant as it once was.

Apple, Microsoft’s long-time rival, has enjoyed a spectacular renaissance in the past 20 years, with its iMac and MacBook ranges making it a big player once again in the PC market. Meanwhile Apple's groundbreaking mobile devices, the iPhone and iPad, have been far more innovative and successful than Microsoft’s attempts, helping Apple to overtake Microsoft when it comes to brand value.

When Windows 98 launched Microsoft’s operating systems dominated the home and office computing landscapes

Linux use has also grown, and while it may not come close to troubling Windows when it comes to desktop dominance, it's slowly chipping away at Microsoft’s lead by offering more feature-rich and professional experiences than ever before, and tempting people who have grown tired of Microsoft’s way of doing things. Linux also plays a big part in the world’s most popular operating system, whose usage has far eclipsed Windows: Android.

The past 20 years have also seen new competitors arise to challenge Microsoft, most notably Google and Amazon, and these companies have proven to be more innovative and nimble when it comes to the changing needs of customers.

So, what does Microsoft need to do to not only regain its place at the top of the tech food chain, but to make sure it continues to be relevant in a rapidly changing landscape? Here we look at the ways in which Microsoft needs to innovate to survive.

Embrace what it is

One of the most frustrating things about Microsoft is that while once it was an innovator and leader, it now seems to look towards its competitors, and try to emulate their successes.

This is particularly the case when it comes to Apple and Google, as well as Sony and Nintendo. Microsoft’s smartphones aped Apple’s iPhones without understanding what made them a success, while Bing is Microsoft’s answer to Google, but has failed to enjoy the success of the search giant.

Meanwhile, Microsoft chases the home console market that is dominated by Sony, while also trying to appeal to the more casual gamers that Nintendo excels at catering for. The result is the Xbox One, a console of compromises that’s struggling against the competition.

Instead of trying to copy the competition, Microsoft should look at what it excels at: software – specifically operating systems and Office products – and cloud services.

Microsoft failed to gain a foothold in a smartphone market dominated by Apple and Android devices

These are by far the biggest revenue generators for Microsoft, but at times it almost feels like it’s ashamed of that fact. Sure, it’s not as glamorous as having an all-conquering smartphone or a games console that everyone wants in their living room, but by focusing on its strengths, and innovating in those areas, Microsoft can ensure it continues to remain relevant.

There are promising signs that Microsoft is learning this. Rumors are swirling about its next-generation Xbox, including hints that Microsoft will release Xbox Scarlett, a console that utilizes Microsoft’s impressive cloud infrastructure, and something that could not only give it a competitive advantage over Sony and Nintendo, but could lead to a genuinely innovative console.

Microsoft has enjoyed success when innovating with products such as Office 365

Microsoft’s move to a subscription service for its Office suite with Office 365, and continually updating Windows 10 with new features, shows that the company is capable of thinking outside of the box when it comes to its biggest products. We’d love to see more of Microsoft the leader, and less of Microsoft the follower.

Understand how computing use is changing – and be bold

The way we use our devices, and what we want out of modern computers, has changed drastically over the past 20 years, and these things will continue to evolve into the future. Microsoft must keep ahead of the game, and understand how the changing demands of its customers will need to be met – and it needs to be bold when it comes to innovating with new products.

Its half-hearted approach to VR saw Microsoft outsource the manufacture of Windows Mixed Reality headsets to third-party companies

That means no half-hearted attempts as in the past. With Windows 8, for example, Microsoft saw that users were migrating to smartphones and tablets for their daily computing habits, such as browsing the web and writing emails. However, rather than making an operating system especially for mobile devices, it created an awkward hybrid operating system that was supposed to appeal to traditional desktop users and customers with touch screens, but instead disappointed both.

More recently, Microsoft saw the interest in virtual reality and augmented reality, and introduced the concept of Mixed Reality to Windows 10. However, rather than fully embracing Mixed Reality, and transforming Windows 10 into a truly innovative operating system for a new way of computing, Microsoft took a frustratingly hands-off approach, letting third-party manufacturers such as Asus and Acer build their own headsets.

Devices such as the Surface Pro 2-in-1 laptop show what Microsoft can achieve when it gets hardware right

Meanwhile, Windows 10’s support of Mixed Reality consisted of an easily missed -app that offers Windows 10 features in a confusing VR space. With little support from Microsoft, Mixed Reality already feels forgotten about.

It could have been different if Microsoft had created its own Surface headset that, like its other Surface products, shows what the hardware is capable of, and inspiring manufacturers to come up with innovative competitors. It could have made a version of Windows 10 that makes sense in VR, rather than relegating VR to an app.

Whatever the future brings, Microsoft should be willing to take chances and experiment, putting its stamp on emerging technology and changing tastes. You can’t innovate if your heart’s not in it.

TechRadar's Next Up series is brought to you in association with Honor

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Zencargo raises a Seed Plus round led by London’s LocalGlobe to tackle global freight

International shipping has changed little in the last century – it’s slow and opaque, with many processes carried out manually and on paper. Most supply chain teams still rely on phone calls and emails to do their job. The whole things stuck in the 20th Century. It’s estimated that the average shipper spends over 40 hours per month – the equivalent of 7 working days – manually chasing the various parties along their supply chain for action.

We’ve seen many startups try to tackle shipping and freight in the last few years but very few got anywhere because the industry is very resistant to change. The key to winning in this market would be to leap-frog legacy operating systems and improve customer-facing supply chain visibility and analytics.

Zencargo, the digital freight forwarder, thinks it may have the answer, and so do its investors. Today it announces its ‘seed plus’ round, led by London’s LocalGlobe, with participation from Samos Investments (founded by the Marquess of Salisbury) and Picus Capital, bringing total funds raised to over $4m.

The company works – which works with businesses ranging from high-growth scaleups to FTSE-listed businesses – will use the new funding to accelerate its product development process and build a presence in China.

The idea is simple and disruptive.

Zencargo makes it completely free for companies to digitise their supply chain. Its platform includes end-to-end visibility for shipments from purchase order to delivery, addressing the issue of fragmented suppliers and manual processes.

Instead of real offices, Zencargo’s customers utilise its “Virtual Local Offices” to gain visibility during production around the world.

Customers include wearable technology giant Catapult and mattress-in-a-box brand Simba. Catapult says it has used ZenCargo to expand its supply chain to over 50 countries, with 98% of all shipments arriving on time.

Tom Hook, supply chain and operations manager at Catapult, says Zencargo’s platform “helped us digitise our complete shipping operation overnight. Their technology acts like an extension of our team; helping to increase visibility into our supply chain, minimising the amount of admin and communication required and allowing us to focus on developing and improving the way we operate rather than continually chasing it.”

Richard Fattal, cofounder of Zencargo, says: “We’ve attracted a lot of fast-growing digital companies led by a new generation of business leaders. These are the kind of companies that are driving productivity growth in the UK and elsewhere and we are enjoying helping them operate with greater efficiency.”

The company was founded by Alex Hersham, Zencargo’s CEO, and Fattal, with CTO Jan Reithmeyer. Hersham worked for Cerberus Capital Management, a US Private Equity with $40bn under management, running the shipping business, buying and leasing ships back to the shipping lines. Richard is the third generation in his family to make a career in international trade; his grandfather owned a freight forwarding business and his father was a commodities trader.

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