Protecting student privacy

July 4th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Waldo Kuipers at Microsoft blogs on the issue of protecting student privacy.

New Zealand’s schools work hard to earn the trust of their communities. As part of the important work they do, schools need to collect and hold a large body of confidential and private information about children and their families.

The 2020 Communications Trust ICT in Schools survey suggests that if digital records and email are not already used extensively in every New Zealand school, they soon will be.

In recent years some schools have taken a step further, and are starting to send information to computing services outside the school grounds for storage and processing.

In the hands of teachers who have been supported with skills development and the freedom to innovate, new devices and cloud services present wonderful opportunities to prepare students for the future.

Microsoft had Curia do a survey of parents on their expectations. The results were:

  • 95% want schools to require providers of computing and Internet services to commit by contract that they’ll only use student data to deliver services to schools, not for the companies’ own purposes.
  • 97% of parents want schools to ensure student data is used only for education, and not for commercial exploitation.
  • 99% of parents indicated their belief that schools’ duty of care should apply to the computer and Internet environment they provide for student learning.

Windows in te reo Māori

June 28th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Waldo Kuipers at Microsoft blogs:

In preparation for Māori Language Week 2013, Microsoft has announced today that the choice to use te reo Māori in Windows 8, Office 2013,, and Internet Explorer 10 is available now. …

“We are thrilled to continue our support for te reo Māori,” says Paul Muckleston, Managing Director of Microsoft New Zealand Limited. “We are grateful for the hard work that so many people have done to make it possible to weave this taonga into the very latest of tablet, smartphone, PC, and cloud technologies.”

“We are also announcing our support for a new initiative that can bring free te reo Māori translations to the Internet with the Microsoft Translator Hub in the future,” says Muckleston.

That would be very useful. Online translation tools, while imperfect, have made a huge difference hen dealing with documents in different languages.

All of these te reo Māori options are available today at no extra cost, through a simple change in the Language Settings (Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10,, and Windows Phone 8), or with a free download (Office 2013 from You can see screenshots of how it looks once the language packs are installed here:

More choice and flexibility is good.

Windows 8

June 4th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

As I blogged a few weeks ago, I ended up getting another Sony Vaio instead of a Mac. All good. I’ve been using Windows laptops since around 1996.

It came with Windows 8. I figured it would be a bit different to Windows 7, just as Windows 7 was a bit different to Windows Vista and XP.

I turned it on, and I had no idea what to do. Everything I was used to had gone. No start menu. No x boxes to close many windows.

If Microsoft put together a focus group to deliberately design an operating system that would confuse all its current customers, they could not have done better than Windows 8.

The idea behind it is that it would operate like a tablet operating system. And it does. Which is good if you are on a tablet. Not so good, if you are on a laptop or PC!

So I cursed Microsoft loudly, just as I had cursed Apple the previous day for having such crap stores.

But all was not lost. There were a few sites which had good hints about how to set things up so you could avoid the tablet like startup screen, unless you wanted it. And after a while the ability to group apps together so easily became actually quite good. I hate to say it, but after a week or two Windows 8 started to grow on me.

I’d never recommend it for users like my parents. Users who can’t handle fairly radical change will no cope well.

But I have grown to like how it works. It is super fast. The Sky Drive works well. The save and share options are good. Once you get past the totally different look and feel, it is not bad.

I note the Herald reports:

Microsoft is trying to fix what it got wrong with its radical makeover of Windows. It’s making the operating system easier to navigate and enabling users to set up the software so it starts in a more familiar format designed for personal computers.

The revisions to Windows 8 will be released this year. The free update, called Windows 8.1, represents Microsoft’s concessions to long-time customers taken aback by the dramatic changes to an operating system that had become a staple in households and offices around the world during the past 20 years.

Research group IDC has blamed Windows 8 for accelerating a decline in PC sales.

With the release of Windows 8 seven months ago, Microsoft introduced a startup screen displaying applications in a mosaic of interactive tiles instead of static icons. The shift agitated many users who wanted the option to launch the operating system in a mode that resembled the old setup. That choice will be provided in Windows 8.1.

 That is sensible. Such a radical change was a very bad commercial decision. Users such as myself cope fine after a while, but it would be so offputting for many. I can only assume Microsoft didn’t do any user acceptability testing with regular users before deciding to do what they did.

I’ve also gone from Microsoft Office 2007 to Microsoft Office 365, and I have to say I really like the business model here. rather than buy software and have to purchase new software every so often, this is a licence version You pay around $100 a year for Office 365 or $200 a year per user for business versions. Not only does that seem to be cheaper than purchasing, it means you always have the latest software.

What is really good for me as a small business owner, is no more compatibility issues between different PCs. I can licence my home and work PCs so we all are on Office 365, and have a shared Sky Drive for our many huge files.

How have others found Windows 8 and Office 365?

I want one

June 19th, 2012 at 12:15 pm by David Farrar

This looks very very nice. The magnetic clip on keyboard means it is a tablet and a laptop. I definitely want to try one.

Chrome takes the lead

March 23rd, 2012 at 9:26 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Google’s Chrome web browser overtook Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) to become market leader globally for the first time last Sunday, web analytics firm StatCounter said on Wednesday.

“While it is only one day, this is a milestone,” said Aodhan Cullen, StatCounter’s chief executive.

“At weekends, when people are free to choose what browser to use, many of them are selecting Chrome in preference to IE.”

On March 18, Chrome was used for 32.7 per cent of all browsing, while Explorer had 32.5 per cent share. When people returned to their offices on Monday, the IE share rose to 35 per cent and Chrome’s share slipped to 30 per cent.

“Whether Chrome can take the lead in the browser wars in the long term remains to be seen, however the trend towards Chrome usage at weekends is undeniable,” Cullen said.

On a monthly basis, Chrome’s market share has surged to 31 per cent so far in March from 17 per cent a year ago, while Explorer has slipped to 35 per cent from 45 per cent a year earlier.

Heh I remember when Netscape Navigator was the market leader. But IE soon overtook it after being launched (mainly because new Windows PCs would come with it already on) and not even Firefox even overtook it.

I migrated a few months ago from Firefox to Chrome, and am loving it. Didn’t think I would like having the browser bar also being the search engine, but you know it works great. Features such as pre-load results make quite a speed difference also.

Photo DNA

March 22nd, 2012 at 11:56 am by David Farrar

Fairfax reports:

Internal Affairs has teamed up with Microsoft to develop software to detect child sex abuse images.

The PhotoDNA software will be used during the forensic analysis of a seized computer, to identify known abuse images.

Internal Affairs minister Amy Adams said it was common for the ministry’s censorship compliance unit to review more than 100,000 images files on seized computers.

“This technology will make the process much faster. It will also allow a greater level of information sharing with our international partners as more systems come online that use this technology.

“New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to have access to this technology, which gives investigators another valuable tool to help us in the fight against this problem.”

Generally I’m skeptical of technological “solutions” to child abuse images due to the problem with false positives. Filtering software for example sometimes block legitimate sites.

But this initiative is not like this. How PhotoDNA works is it uses a “fingerprint” of the images, which means only known objectionable images are flagged by automated PhotoDNA scans. More precisely, the basis for PhotoDNA is a technology called “robust hashing,” which calculates the particular characteristics of a given digital image — its digital fingerprint or “hash value” — to match it to other copies (and variations) of that same image.

So basically a human views the image once, and classifies it as a child abuse image, and then creates a hash value of it, so it can be easily detected in future. As I understand it, DIA will not use in its filtering but for when the seize a computer under warrant.

If the computer has 100,000 images on it, they will no longer has to review each one. They can run this software on it, and if it says it find 5,000 matches, then they’ll review those 5,000 only. It is possible there will be some other objectionable images in the other 95,000 – but for prosecution purposes they don’t need an exact count.

Some general info on PhotoDNA is here. As I said, while I am usually skeptical, a technological solution which doesn’t create false positives is a very good tool to be using.

Discussion on Future:Digital

October 26th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

InternetNZ released earlier this month a discussion document called Future:Digital, talking about possible priorities for a future Government. It’s only nine pages so an easy read. There are five themes:

  1. The Internet drives economic growth
  2. A digitally inclusive society
  3. A vibrant, multi-cultural identity
  4. Protecting the environment for future generations
  5. A Government that “gets” the Internet

Waldo Kuipers from Microsoft talks about some of these themes in a blog post. He makes an interesting point:

In a paper looking back on 125 years of refrigeration (PDF), Dr Andrew Cleland explains, “In 1882 the first refrigerated meat left New Zealand for London, the pioneering use of a technology that was to transform the New Zealand economy. Animals were no longer grown for wool only, and the wealth of the nation developed rapidly. From 1882 until as recently as the early 1990s refrigerated food has returned at least 30% of New Zealand’s export income. Whilst much of the equipment has been imported, expertise in the application of refrigeration was developed in New Zealand.”

For New Zealand, the internet could be the best thing since refrigeration.

Reps from five of our political parties also debated Internet issues last week. If you missed it, you can view or listen to it at this page.

Orion and Microsoft

October 18th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Owen Hembry at NZ Herald reports:

New Zealand software company Orion Health has struck a deal with Microsoft enabling it to offer a complete applications package to hospitals.

Auckland-based Orion has bought Microsoft’s Hospital Information System software assets, including radiology information system and picture archiving assets. …

“Normally North American companies buy New Zealand companies and New Zealand software assets,” he said. “We’re doing the opposite.”

And this is why those who rail against free trade and foreign investment are wrong. If they get their way in a world with greater barriers, then deals like this wouldn’t happen. We can’t say that US companies should be banned from buying assets in NZ, unless we want companies like Orion banned from buying assets from Microsoft.

Orion’s business is 90 per cent overseas and turnover in the current financial year would be more than $100 million, McCrae said.

A nice little export earner. They also employ 500 people, and grew 40% last year taking on 100 more positions. Their aim is to grow by 200 more next year. Well done to Orion and Microsoft for what looks to be a win-win deal.

Advice for account holders re copyright law

September 23rd, 2011 at 9:03 am by David Farrar

Waldo Kuipers from Microsoft NZ blogs some advice on how account holders can avoid being stung under the new copyright law.  Well worth a read if you are an account holder and more than just yourself use the account. His main points are:

  1. Set clear expectations about internet use
  2. Cover the Internet security basics
  3. Remove unwanted peer to peer file sharing software
  4. Consider monitoring on restricting Internet use

Well done Microsoft

September 14th, 2010 at 9:57 am by David Farrar

AFP reports:

US software giant Microsoft has expressed concern over a report that anti-software piracy laws were being used to stifle dissent in Russia and announced steps to try to halt the practice.

The Microsoft statement followed a report in The New York Times that the Russian authorities had used piracy charges concerning Microsoft software to confiscate computers and harass non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“As general counsel for Microsoft, it was not the type of story that felt good to read,” Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post.

“Whatever the circumstances of the particular cases the New York Times described, we want to be clear that we unequivocally abhor any attempt to leverage intellectual property rights to stifle political advocacy or pursue improper personal gain,” Smith said.

“We are moving swiftly to seek to remove any incentive or ability to engage in such behaviour,” he said.

I’m pleased to see Microsoft take a strong stand on this issue. I spoke to a Microsoft regional conference in Singapore earlier this year, and one of my criticisms/suggestions was that they don’t seem to show much interest in issues around the Internet, in contrast to Google.

Smith said Microsoft had internal teams around the world looking at the issues and was seeking advice from human rights advocates.

Microsoft also plans to retain an international law firm not involved in anti-piracy work to conduct an independent investigation and provide advice on new measures the Redmond, Washington-based company should take, he said.

In the meantime, “to prevent non-government organisations from falling victim to nefarious actions taken in the guise of anti-piracy enforcement, Microsoft will create a new unilateral software license for NGOs that will ensure they have free, legal copies of our products,” Smith said.

“We’re creating in Russia a new NGO Legal Assistance Program focused specifically on helping NGOs document to the authorities that this new software license proves that they have legal software,” he said.

Great. That’s a superb response.

Smith said Microsoft seeks to “reduce the piracy and counterfeiting of software” but wants to “do this in a manner that respects fundamental human rights.”

“Piracy is a very real problem,” he said. “But none of this should create a pretext for the inappropriate pursuit of NGOs, newspapers, or other participants in civil society.”

Again, really pleased to see Microsoft take an appropriately balanced view.

Office 2010

April 21st, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

My laptop is six months past the three year anniversary, which is when I normally get a new one.

I was waiting for Windows 7 to come out, so I could avoid Vista. From all accounts Windows 7 is a big step up from Vista, and considerably faster.

So now the decision is whether to wait for Office 2010, or not. I’m using Office 2003.

The Waikato Times has a report on Office 2010

But I’m keen to hear from anyone who has used their beta versions. Is it worth waiting until June or July for?

Microsoft eyeing up Facebook?

May 8th, 2008 at 10:32 am by David Farrar

No, no don’t let it happen. Microsoft is hinting it may wish to buy Facebook, after their bid for Yahoo failed.

I do not want to have to have a MSN Passport to use Facebook!