Blockchain used to power Brooklyn microgrid for solar energy re-sale

Residents of the Park Slope area of Brooklyn are now able to sell power generated from rooftop solar panels via a microgrid enabled by a blockchain ledger that records every transaction made with a local utility.

The physical microgrid, set up by Siemens Digital Grid Division, includes network control systems, converters, lithium-ion battery storage and smart electric meters. In  case of another hurricane like Sandy in 2012, residents on the microgrid would continue to have power for a time even during a blackout as they could switch over to battery reserves.

A microgrid is a form of distributed energy generation that can function independently from the traditional, centralized regional power grid; it can enable towns, small cities or corporations to develop their own energy sources and power storage systems (via lithium-ion or flow batteries), distribute that energy and even sell excess power back to local utilities.

The Brooklyn Microgrid blockchain database is a web-based bookkeeping system that uses cryptographic technology to save energy data in a way that is both inexpensive and forgery-proof, the companies said.

The Brooklyn Microgrid enables residents to sell energy back to the local utility — a process known as “net metering” — and it allows those without solar panels to purchase green power credits from their neighbors. The blockchain platform for the microgrid is enabled by Brooklyn-based energy startup LO3 Energy.

Blockchain is a decentralized electronic, encrypted ledger or database platform — in other words, a way to immutably store digital data so that it can be securely shared across networks and users.

microgrid LO3/Siemens

A technician installs a smart meter.

The basis for cryptocurrency Bitcoin, blockchain allows a group of users to transact without an intermediary, like a bank or utility.

“Intermediaries are centralized, which makes them vulnerable. They are costly. They slow things down. They capture data about parties in the transaction, which could undermine their privacy,” Alex Tapscott, the CEO and founder of blockchain investor Northwest Passage Ventures, said in an interview.

Blockchain technology will enable what Tapscott calls the “second generation” of the internet, where not just emails, documents and Websites are shared, but literally anything of value can be shared between disparate users because it’s more secure and there’s no single point of failure.

“Money, financial assets, titles and deeds, intellectual property can be moved, stored and managed securely and privately, and where trust isn’t established by an intermediary but rather through mass collaboration, cryptography and clever code,” Tapscott said. “And as a result, this new platform’s going to have a tremendous impact on basically every industry, business and institution in the economy and in society.”

LO3 Energy’s “TransActive Grid,” which is the blockchain platform set up for the microgrid, timestamps each transaction as a chain of secure blocks, which means every energy transaction is documented.

Using the blockchain-enabled microgrid, the 50 or so homeowners, which include brownstones, apartment houses, schools, a gas station, a fire station and factory buildings, can now trade very small amounts of green electricity without any intermediaries, LO3 Energy said in a statement.

Prices can be determined by automatic auctions oriented toward the top price per kilowatt-hour that an energy consumer is willing to pay.

microgrid master from schneider Duke Energy/Schneider Electric

A rendition displaying what a microgrid would contain.

The Brooklyn Microgrid not only receives energy from rooftop solar, but also from the nearest conventional power plant. So homeowners without solar panels can get credit for “green” energy from their neighbors’ PV panels, which is what consumers have historically been buying when they choose energy generated from renewable sources.

The Brooklyn Microgrid’s goal is to have 1,000 participants by 2018. It also plans to install more battery storage units and even more extensive solar panel systems.

“All of this will be supported by the Siemens Digital Grid Division’s Microgrid Management System, which will make it possible to establish a self-sufficient power supply for the microgrid in the event of a city-wide blackout,” LO3 Energy said.

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Facebook Updates Instant Games, Gameroom At F8

Facebook revealed plans at its F8 developer conference to improve how games are presented, discovered, and played on its social networks.

The plans center around two platforms introduced in November 2016: Instant Games and Gameroom. The former allows Facebook users to play games right from the News Feed or Messenger service regardless of what platform they use; the latter is a semi-independent platform that essentially serves as a pseudo-Steam for more casual gamers.

Facebook said in a blog post that more than 1.5 billion games have been played via Instant Games over the last 90 days. That can most likely be attributed to the HTML5 platform’s ubiquity. Unlike more established gaming services, like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, Instant Games doesn’t care what hardware you use–nor does it require a monthly fee, which has become more common over the last couple of years.

It’s clear that Instant Games is a large market. Now game devs will be able to take better advantage of that potential audience. Facebook said:

At F8, we introduced rich gameplay features to give developers more control of the gaming experiences they create. Developers can customize their own start and end screens and integrate new APIs that can help drive share & connected gameplay. Rich gameplay features are laying the groundwork to support a wider variety of games that extend beyond the light-weight, score-based games currently offered on the platform.

The company said Instant Games devs will also be able to use game bots to “create engaging ways for players to connect to their games through actions they take directly within a Messenger chat — even when they are not playing!” (And here we thought game makers disapproved of bots.) Messenger will also be updated with a dedicated “games” tab, which should make it easier for you to find games on the communications platform.

Gameroom will see a similar update with Games Feed, a “continuously updating list of stories that are [100%] focused on games-related content,” which sounds like the news streams already present in Steam. Facebook said it will also become even easier to bring games to the platform:

To allow more developers the opportunity to bring their games onto this emerging PC-gaming platform, we’re rolling out a closed-beta of the new Gameroom platform SDK that will offer developers the flexibility to port games that are built in a variety of engines, including Unreal Engine, cocos2d and more.

The company also expanded on the announcement that you can live-stream from your PC. “Our goal is to enable gamers and streamers to connect with each other and the games they love in more meaningful ways,” Facebook said. It plans to make good on that promise with the help of XSplit, an app from SplitmediaLabs that will let “platform partners” stream directly to specific Groups. That could prove useful for esports and Let’s Plays.

If you’re a game developer, you can apply to enter the closed betas of the Instant Games platform and Gameroom platform SDK on Facebook’s website. And if you aren’t, you might want to check out other news from F8, such as Facebook’s pushes into social VR and mobile AR.

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Microsoft Surface Studio

 Since Microsoft got into the hardware world in earnest, every Surface device has been about breaking molds. Surface has made a name for itself as a tablet that can truly replace your laptop and the ultimate laptop, each taking a unique flip on the 2-in-1 format. Now, Microsoft has set its sights on revolutionizing the desktop space with the Surface Studio, a 28-inch all-in-one designed to be the ultimate creative workstation.

On one hand, it one ups the long-established iMac with an even sleeker design by moving the computing parts from behind the screen to the base. On the other, putting digital pen to screen has never felt more natural, thanks to the massive, 28-inch touchscreen that effortlessly folds down into a virtual drafting table orientation.

Although it doesn’t feature the latest Intel Core i7 processor and packs last year’s Nvidia GTX 980M graphics, it’s more capable than any current iMac and puts many other all-in-one PCs in their place. The only thing that gives us pause with this most impressive desktop is the stratospheric price you’ll pay to own it – its value 100% dependent upon how you use it.

Spec Sheet

Here is the Microsoft Surface Studio configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ (quad-core, 8MB cache, up to 3.6GHz)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5 VRAM)
RAM: 32GB DDR4
Screen: 28.125-inch, (4,500 x 3,000) PixelSense Display
Storage: 2TB, 5,400 rpm Rapid Hybrid Drive Storage (128GB SSD)
Ports: 4 x USB 3.0, SD card reader, mini DisplayPort, headset jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system: Windows 10 64-bit
Camera: 5MP Windows Hello camera
Weight: 21.07 pounds (9.56kg)
Size (display): 25.09x 17.27 x 0.44 inches (63.7 x 43.9 x 1.14cm W x D x H)
Size (base): 9.84 x 8.66 x 1.26 inches (25 x 22 x 3.22cm W x D x H)

Pricing and availability

Microsoft’s Surface devices are usually aimed to be premium, but the Surface Studio is on another level with a starting price of $2,999 or AU$4,699 (about £2,390). Every version of this AIO comes with a 28-inch (4,500 x 3,000) display. But, at this level, you’ll be getting an Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive (with an integrated 64GB SSD) and an Nvidia GTX 965 (2GB GDDR5 VRAM) graphics.

Ratcheting up to $3,499 or AU$5,499 (about £2,790) takes you to the next SKU, doubling the memory and upgrading it to the same Intel Core i7 CPU as our review configuration.

Finally, our own review configuration costs an astronomical $4,199 or AU$6,599 (about £3,350) for another two times increase in RAM and a much larger 2TB HDD (with an integrated 128GB SSD). Graphics also gets a significant upgrade with the Nvidia GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5 VRAM).

To say the least, this is a very pricy desktop indeed. Even if you were to max out the configuration of a Dell XPS 27 AIO, it wouldn’t even come close at $3,299 or £2,999 (about AU$4,320). However, a top of the line iMac with 5K Retina Display priced at $3,999 (£3,779, AU$6,319) doesn’t seem like much of a bargain considering the stronger specs on Microsoft’s desktop offering. 

Latest news

Now available for pre-order to our Australian readers, the Surface Studio will ship down under beginning April 27. On that day, you’ll be able to choose from three different variants of Microsoft’s 27-inch all-in-one PC: one with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 2GB Nvidia GPU and two others featuring Core i7 CPUs, 16GB or 32GB of RAM and a 4GB GPU.

Next up, on May 2, Microsoft is holding a “#MicrosoftEDU” event where a lightweight Windows 10 Cloud is expected to be revealed. This version of Windows 10 will purportedly follow in the footsteps of Windows RT before it, allowing individuals to use only apps acquired from the Windows Store.

Design

From the moment we pulled the Surface Studio out of its box, we knew we were in love.

There isn’t any shortage of impressive desktops what with Apple’s ever-thinning iMacs to the six-speaker sound on Dell’s XPS 27 AIO. However, nothing beats the simplicity and elegance of the Surface Studio.

By moving all the components to the basement, so to speak, the display is just a touchscreen with remarkably thin bezels. Without that rear bump, the profile of the screen is a mere 12.5mm, making it slimmer than virtually any dedicated monitor.

There’s also no fat chin underneath the screen to flaunt a Windows logo – actually, it’s refreshing to see no branding anywhere except for a mirrored logo on the back.

The Surface Studio is a modern and minimalistic desktop designed with straight edges and a simple gray on chrome aesthetic. The base of the desktop takes this one step farther by simply being a nearly featureless, ashen box. The noticeable element is a subtle line that wraps around the perimeter of the Studio’s foundation to provide cooling for the mobile computing parts contained within.

Microsoft arguably takes this clean aesthetic a bit too far, as all the USB 3.0 ports as well as the memory card reader are located on the rear. The lack of USB-C and ThunderBolt also means you won’t be able to take advantage of the fastest external drives.

Although we’ve already said our piece on the Surface Keyboard and Surface Mouse separately, we absolutely adored the completely wireless and clutter free setup when paired with the Surface Studio. The two come included along with a Surface Pen in the box.

Back to the digital drawing board

We’ve seen some truly impressive displays, such as the 5K iMac and Dell’s ridiculous 8K monitor, but the Surface Studio takes the cake. 

Although 4,500 x 3,000 pixels isn’t the sharpest resolution in the world, it is sharper than a 4K display without being overzealous. This combination of screen resolution and size with the Studio’s 3:2 aspect also means you can snap four separate programs to each corner and still have a legible view of each app. Frankly, the size and resolution feel just right.

Microsoft’s nearly perfect sense of color gamut and contrast carries over to its latest PixelSense display. Additionally, there are more color profiles to choose from, including sRGB, Vivid, and DCI-P3 to make it a truly production-grade display.

Holding up this glorious display is the Surface Studio’s other winning feature, the Zero Gravity Hinge. This catchy-named mechanism absorbs all the torque required to move the 13-pound display, making it easy to switch from a standard all-in-one PC to a digital drawing surface.

When lowered, the Studio’s touchscreen display holds itself at the same angle of pitch as a standard drafting table. Of course, you can also adjust the display at different levels of tilt and without worrying about it moving under the weight of your hands as you work.

As with the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, drawing and writing on the Studio feel like it’s almost too good to be true. Surface Pen strokes translate perfectly into lines of digital ink. Unlike other styluses that feel like they’re gliding on glass or cutting themselves into the touchscreen, Microsoft has refined its hardware so that it offers just the right amount of resistance.

Dialing it in

Aside from the Surface Pen experience we’ve all come to know and love, the introduction of this desktop also came with a new Surface Dial. This curious, mini-puck-shaped accessory is actually a Bluetooth-connected module you can use to change settings on the Studio and in specific Windows apps.

It’s intuitive and, within minutes of picking it up, you’ll realize it both spins and acts as a physical button. Pushing in the dial brings up a radial menu of options like volume and screen brightness controls as well as zooming and scrolling. Hit it again and you can get to tweaking whichever option you’ve selected.

But that’s just the surface (sorry) of what this dial can do. In most apps, you can use the dial as a zoom slider, but for drawing and painting apps, you can more easily switch between tools, change brush sizes and undo your last stroke with a simple twist.

It might sound functionally simple, but having that quick access to physical controls without having to stop drawing is huge if you want to stay absorbed in your process. Of course, this also means only digital artists and other creative professionals are going to get the most out of this accessory.

One other small gripe we have with the Surface Dial is it doesn’t stay in place when you have it on the Studio’s screen. Instead, it slowly slides down the touchscreen – even if it’s lowered all the way.

Unfortunately, that’s really the extent of everything the dial does for now. Both FreshPaint and PaintSketch can’t switch between colors with the Surface Dial, and they’re the poster children for Microsoft’s digital art programs. There’s also virtually no integration with Adobe’s suite for media production apps, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom and Premiere. 

Microsoft has told us support is coming soon and it is working hard with Adobe to make things happen just as their partnership led to Photoshop getting a touch-based interface.

After installing the Creators Update preview (officially available starting April 5th), we were able to squeeze a bit more functionality out of the Surface Dial. The latest version of Windows 10 adds customizable Dial controls and Paint3D as another app for the artistically adept.

Beyond that, though, we have yet to discover more uses for the Surface Dial. For now, we’d say there’s a lot of potential for the Surface Dial, but you would be better off saving your $99 (£149, AU$149) than buying this extra peripheral.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Microsoft Surface Studio performed in our suite of benchmark tests

3DMark: Sky Diver: 21,345; Fire Strike: 8,103; Time Spy: 2,986
Cinebench CPU: 604 points; Graphics: 104 fps
GeekBench: 3,443 (single-core); 13,308 (multi-core)
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,234 points
The Division: (1080p, Ultra): 56 fps; (1080p, Low): 106 fps
GTA V: (1080p, Ultra): 32 fps; (1080p, Low): 162 fps

Performance

You might balk at the graphics chip from last year and the less-than-current Skylake processor on its spec sheet, but the Surface Studio keeps up with other all-in-one machines.

Thanks to its high-end GPU, this desktop pulls well ahead of the XPS 27 AIO and iMac with 5K Retina screen with a Fire Strike score that’s nearly four times higher. Unfortunately, the Studio’s processing power doesn’t prove to be impressive, and its more CPU-intensive benchmark scores lag behind.

Benchmarks aside, this desktop knows how to put in work. Microsoft’s AIO never buckled, even as we loaded up dozens of tabs on two web browsers, a separate Google Music streaming app, Slack, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator all at the same time. Even Lightroom, which usually grinds gaming laptops to a halt, ran smoothly on the Studio as we processed images for this review.

We also played a fair number of Overwatch matches at the Surface Studio’s full-screen resolution with Ultra settings without issue. During our entire time with the device, we didn’t encounter any graphical performance issues that would have required the latest Nvidia graphics.

The most impressive thing about the Surface Studio’s performance is how quickly everything loaded on it. Rather than being equipped with a traditional SSD or hard drive, Microsoft used Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology to intrinsically tie a 2TB spinning drive to 128GB of flash memory.

In this setup, the hard drive does all the heavy lifting of storing all your files, meanwhile, a smaller segment of your data is compartmentalized onto the SSD if it has been associated with a commonly used program or service. Although this system doesn’t allow you to directly access the faster storage solution, we never felt like we had too as files loaded seamlessly and quickly the whole time.

Final verdict

There’s no doubt the Surface Studio is impressive or that you’ll probably love it at first sight as well. However, that eye-watering price is something to be heavily considered before you make the dive.

If you’re just looking for an all-in-one PC for your everyday computing or office work, you’ll be much better served by an iMac, Dell XPS 17 AIO or HP Envy 27 AIO. Videographers and photographers would arguably be better served by a similar system with higher-end specs, a dedicated desktop or building their own PC (or two) for the price of a standard Surface Studio.

However, for artists and especially illustrators the Surface Studio introduces a new wrinkle into a world primarily dominated by Wacom tablets. Not only does the Surface Studio allow you to sketch and inspect your picture with one device, the visual quality of the PixelSense display is far greater than that of Wacom’s Cintiq display or Dell’s new 27-inch Canvas.

For those reasons, we’ll reiterate that the Surface Studio would best serve artists and illustrators. It’s without a doubt one of the finest premium computing devices ever produced, but there’s no reason regular users should purchase this unless they’re in the market for the highest-end iMac and want more options…or bragging rights.

First reviewed April 2017

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this review

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Inno3D Launches New GTX 1080 And GTX 1060 GPUs With Faster Memory

Inno3D announced three new GeForce 10-series graphics cards, with each sporting increased memory speeds. Meet the Inno3D GeForce GTX 1080 11Gbps iChill X3 and X4, and their speedy little brother, the GTX 1060 9Gbps iChill X3.

Two 1080s

The company offers two versions of the speedier GTX 1080, the Inno3D GeForce GTX 1080 11Gbps iChill X3 and X4. The only discernible difference between the two is a variation of the cooler. The X3 model sports three Scythe blade fans, whereas the X4 features three 92mm Turbine fans with a fourth 50mm fan on top. Both cards sport the same base and boost clock rates (1,759MHz and 1,898MHz, respectively) with 2,560 CUDA cores and 8GB of GDDR5X memory clocked at 11.4Gbps on a 256-bit bus. The company says a 550W PSU will keep these beastly GPUs powered.

Although some vendors are rolling out BIOS updates to enable 11Gbps memory speeds for GTX 1080 graphics cards, Inno3D appears to be producing new GPUs instead of modifying an existing product (although these two new cards appear to be carbon copies of the previous GTX 1080 iChill X3 and X4). It may be possible to flash the BIOS on older cards, but without official support, we wouldn’t recommend it.

Upgraded GTX 1060, Too

Inno3D also released a new GeForce GTX 1060 9Gbps iChill X3 graphics card, which bumps the GTX 1060’s memory clock from 8Gbps to (you guessed it) 9Gbps. It sports the same three Scythe fans as its bigger brother, with 1,280 CUDA cores clocked at 1,556MHz and 1,771MHz (base and boost, respectively). The 6GB of 9Gbps memory runs on a 192-bit bus, and Inno3D recommends a 400W PSU to run this card.

Pricing and availability for the new Inno3D GTX 1080 11Gbps iChill X3, X4, and GTX 1060 9Gbps iChill X3 is currently unknown.

Inno3D Product

GeForce GTX 1080 11Gbps iChill X3

GeForce GTX 1080 11Gbps iChill X4

GeForce GTX 1060 11Gbps iChill X3

CUDA Cores

2,560

2,560

1,280

Memory

8GB GDDR5X (256-Bit)

8GB GDDR5X (256-Bit)

6GB GDDR5 (192-Bit)

Memory Bandwidth

11.4Gbps

11.4Gbps

9Gbps

Output

3 x DisplayPort

1 x HDMI

1 x DVI

3 x DisplayPort

1 x HDMI

1 x DVI

3 x DisplayPort

1 x HDMI

1 x DVI

Recommended PSU

550W

550W

400W

Power Connector

6+8-pin

6+8-pin

8-pin

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MSI's GAMING X+ Series Brings Faster Memory To Its GTX 1080 Cards

Hot on the heels of its Gaming And Armor Series RX 5xx series launch, MSI announced the addition of its new GAMING X+ series. The four new Pascal- based GPUs are all GTX 1080s. These new additions to the company’s ever growing line of graphics cards are built on a completely new custom PCB design using Military Class 4 components.

The MSI GeForce GTX 1080 GAMING X+ 8G and the GTX 1080 GAMING+ 8G are armed with 8GB 11Gb/s GDDR5X memory, and the GTX 1080 GAMING X+ 6G and GTX 1080 GAMING+ 6G come equipped with 6GB 9Gb/s GDDR5.

MSI has also updated its Twin Frozr VI custom cooling solution with the new Torx Fan 2.0, which the company said generates 22% more air pressure than the previous Torx Fan technology. Also included is a solid metal backplate that adds structural strength and enhances the cosmetic appearance of the GAMING X+ line. The heatsink boasts a solid nickel-plated copper baseplate and 8mm copper heat pipes for optimal heat transfer.

The company went on to say that the TWIN FROZR VI cooler allows for higher core and memory clock speeds. That, combined with the faster graphics memory, provides an overall boost to graphics performance that should translate into increased performance in games.

In addition to the upgrades on the hardware side of things, MSI has also updated its Gaming App. The latest version of the MSI Gaming App allows gamers to quickly switch between OC, Gaming, and Silent performance modes as well as a unique “One-click to VR” function that’s designed to optimize your PC instantly for virtual reality gaming. The LED control tab gives gamers the option to choose one of five lighting modes with a single click of the mouse.

We have reached out to MSI for pricing and availability.


GTX 1080 GAMING X+ 8G GTX 1080 GAMING+ 8G GTX 1080 GAMING X+ 6G GTX 1080 GAMING+ 6G
Core Clock (OC Mode) 1911 / 1771 MHz 1771 / 1632 MHz 1809 / 1594 MHz 1746 / 1531 MHz
Memory Clock 11Gbps 11Gbps 9Gbps 9Gbps
Memory Bus 8GB GDDR5X 8GB GDDR5X 6GB GDDR5 6GB GDDR5
Memory Type GDDR5X GDDR5X GDDR5 GDDR5
Dimensions 279 x 140 x 42 mm 279 x 140 x 42 mm 277 x 140 x 39 mm 277 x 140 x 39 mm
Thermal Design TwinFrozr VI TwinFrozr VI TwinFrozr VI TwinFrozr VI
ZERO FROZR Yes Yes Yes Yes

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Microsoft Confirms Six-Month Windows 10 Update Schedule

Microsoft said that Windows 10 will now be on a six-month upgrade cycle like the one used for Office 365 ProPlus. The move is supposed to make it easier for the company’s business customers to know when updates will be released and for how long each version of Windows 10 will be supported.

This update schedule doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Microsoft released the Windows 10 Anniversary Update in August 2016, and the Creators Update made its public debut on April 11, leaving a seven-month gap between the flagship upgrades. Now the company has confirmed that it plans to release two updates per year–one in September and one in March–and said the Creators Update’s antecedent should arrive in September 2017.

Microsoft also said that each version of Windows 10 will be “serviced and supported” for 18 months (like they are now) to add “further clarity and predictability to organizations by aligning with Office 365 ProPlus.” The company’s System Center Configuration Manager, which allows businesses to manage all their systems from one central platform, will also become part of the further entrenched twice-per-year upgrade schedule.

Microsoft explained the reasoning behind these decisions in its blog post:

These changes reflect our commitment to help make it easier to deploy and service Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus. The Windows, Office and E+MS teams will continue to seek more ways to make deployment easier, and we look forward to your continued feedback to help us with that process.

A predictable release schedule and relatively short windows of support could encourage more businesses to stay up to date with new versions of Windows 10. Many businesses currently use old and potentially unsupported versions of Windows. This decision often allows them to save money, continue using software created specifically for those versions of Windows, and avoid teaching employees the changes in Windows 10.

Yet relying on those outdated platforms also makes businesses vulnerable to attack. Microsoft patches security flaws, like the ones revealed by The Shadow Brokers earlier this month, in updates to current versions of Windows. Using their un-patched predecessors means devices can still be compromised. Pushing other companies to use the latest Windows 10 updates could make us (and the companies themselves) a little bit safer.

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