Recently, a list of apps that Microsoft prohibits for internal employee use leaked, including Slack, Grammarly, and others. It’s tempting to think these are the actions of a company hating competition, but the truth is more complicated.

Over the weekend news starting trickling out across the web. Microsoft has a list of apps and programs that it either bans or discourages its employees from using on the job. The list of prohibited apps includes consumer versions of Slack and Grammarly while the discouraging list includes Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Docs, the cloud version of Github, and the enterprise version of Slack.

In place of Slack, Microsoft wants its employees to use Teams (which is developed by the company), instead of AWS or Google Docs, employees are pointed towards Azure and Office 365, again products offered by Microsoft.

At first blush, it’s easy to think this is a choice to push employees onto company products as a way to drive business uptake. One might even accuse of the company of doing this solely because its own offerings aren’t comparable to competitor products and employees wouldn’t use Teams and Office 365 otherwise.

But that’s not the case. Prohibiting and discouraging specific tools is standard practice at nearly every large company. And it’s a protective measure that prevents Intellectual Property (IP) from accidentally leaking out.

As spelled out by the leaked list, the Free, Standard, and Plus versions of Slack aren’t secure and can’t promise to protect IP. The last thing a company wants is to find out source code was compromised after an employee posted some of it on a chat app for help.

And that’s precisely the reason Microsoft didn’t block Slack Enterprise. It does have the necessary tools and protect IP. Instead, it’s discouraged in favor of Teams. And that’s a simple business decision. Slack Enterprise comes with a cost per user, one the company doesn’t quote on its website. Teams, on the other hand, doesn’t cost Microsoft anything to use, because the company owns it. It’s only natural the company prefers the cheaper option. If another company developed Teams and it cost more than Slack, then Microsoft would prefer Slack Enterprise and discourage Teams.

Grammarly has similar issues. Grammarly checks for errors by sending your text to its cloud servers. If an employee pasted source code into an email, they may accidentally hand that code to Grammarly. Obviously, that risk would be unacceptable to any company concerned with IP and source code.

The fact that Github Cloud is on the list spells very clearly that this list isn’t about banning competitor products. Github is Microsoft owned, after all. Github Cloud isn’t as secure as the on-premises version of Github is. And that’s why the latter isn’t banned or discouraged.

Anyone who has worked for other large corporations (or even mid-sized corporations) probably has similar tales of programs and apps that were banned or discouraged in the workplace. It’s not an unusual practice at all, and while it may be frustrating for those employees, curating tools protects the company from significant issues, and that’s the final deciding factor on “best tool for the job.” [Geekwire]

In Other News:

  • Raspberry Pi 4 is now out: The latest Raspberry Pi is out, and it’s the tiny little powerhouse that could. Changes include two micro HDMI ports, USB-C for power, an upgraded processor that brings the small PC to spitting distance of desktop power, and RAM configuration options. You can choose 1GB, 2GBs, or 4GBs of RAM ($35, $45, or $55 respectively). Sweet! [ReviewGeek]
  • NASA hacked thanks to a Raspberry PI: Speaking of Rasberry Pi, NASA revealed that hackers breached the agency’s network and stole around 500 MB of Mars mission data. How did the hackers get in? By compromising an unauthorized Raspberry Pi attached to an IT network at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Net Admins everywhere are posting a Picard Facepalm meme to their friends. [ZDNet]
  • Amazon wants to put Ring in the sky: Amazon is exploring using drones for security purposes. Proposed uses include ordering drones to hover over your home and watch the garage door or front door for intruders. We remember reading a dystopian book about this product. [NPR]
  • Steam drops Ubuntu Support: Starting With Ubuntu 19.10, Steam is stopping all support for the Linux OS. The company decided to take this course because Ubuntu is phasing out 32-bit packages and libraries. Steam says it will search for the best distro alternative to support instead. [How-To Geek]
  • Best Buy expands its Certified Apple repair program: Best Buy just expanded its certified Apple Repair program to around a thousand stores. That means for simple repair jobs (like a screen replacement); you can bring your iPhone in and have it repaired on site. But according to ZDNet, anything complicated, or anything MacBook related, will be sent out to a service repair center in Kentucky. You might still be better off going to an Apple Store if you have one nearby. [TechCrunch]
  • Microsoft’s new Terminal Program is out now: Microsoft just released (in beta form) a new Terminal Program that looks amazing. Which is an odd thing to say about a Terminal Program, but look at this video. The app even includes tabs that let you combine traditional Command Prompt, Linux Bash instances, and Powershell in one window. You’ll need the May 2019 Update to use it. [How-To Geek]
  • Samsungs’s latest SmartThings devices don’t need a hub: Traditionally Samsung SmartThings devices required a SmartThings hub to work. But the company’s latest camera and smart plug don’t need a hub; they use Wi-Fi instead. We’ve said for a while that Amazon and Google are killing the hub, here’s another nail in that coffin. The company’s new bulb does require a hub (it’s ZigBee), but at $10 it’s competitively priced. [Engadget]
  • Samsung stops quarterly updates for Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge:  Android isn’t the best option if you want consistent security updates. Samsung has been doing better and support devices longer, but the S7 and S7 edge are getting long in the tooth. As such, the company is dropping the two models from quarterly security updates. The phones will receive “regular security updates” instead, which is to say, far few updates. It might be time to upgrade.  [9to5Google]

The life of a Mars Rover is lonely and long, sometimes far outpacing its original mission. But the little rovers that could reveal new information about Mars on a fairly regular basis, and the latest discovery is incredibly fascinating.

The Curiosity Rover found Methane.

OK, that doesn’t sound interesting at first, but methane is a gas that points to possible signs of life. After all, microorganisms on Earth create methane in large quantities (and yes, cows too). And methane breaks down quickly, so any methane found near the surface is relatively new (within a couple of centuries or so).

While it’s not the first time that a Rover found methane on Mars, it is the most methane found yet (three times the previous record). That fact is so significant, NASA changed the plans they had for Curiosity and directed it to inspect the area more.

We’ll be watching out for more information today; if a lifeform did produce the methane, it would most likely be in the form of microbes just underneath the surface. []

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Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code.
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