Building the blocks around the smartest cryptocurrency on the market



We’re talking Blockchain – but it began with Bitcoin.

So what is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and a digital payment system.  Invented by an unknown programmer (or a group of programmers), it was released as open-source software in 2009. There is a market cap with Bitcoin.  The value of an individual Bitcoin has increased substantially during this time, every year more and more merchants and vendors accept bitcoin as payments for goods and services, and millions more unique users are using a cryptocurrency (digital) wallet.

Why is there a worry about Bitcoin?
There are many concerns related to Bitcoin, price volatility, doubts around legal status, tax and (lack of any) regulation, Bitcoin has been notorious in criminal activity, and is well renowned for the role it has in cyber-attacks like Ransomware.  But for believers, Bitcoin has huge upsides, de-centralised thus outside the control of a central authority, privacy, deflationary, low cost to transfer funds across borders, but most it is an attractive “store of value”.

Why is Bitcoin important?
Bitcoin is important because it requires a blockchain.  A blockchain is an undeniably ingenious invention, but since Bitcoin, blockchain has evolved into something greater.  And the main question every person is asking is – what is a blockchain?

So what is a blockchain?
The simplest explanation “Blockchain is to Bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one.”  Sally Davies, FT Technology Reporter.

How does blockchain work?
A blockchain is a distributed database that is used to maintain a continuously growing list of records, called ‘blocks’.   Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retrospectively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and a collusion of the network majority.   Functionally, a Blockchain can serve as “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.” Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016).

Blockchains are secure by design and are an example of a distributed computing system with high Byzantine fault tolerance.  Decentralised consensus has therefore been achieved with a Blockchain.  This makes Blockchains potentially suitable for the recording of events, medical records and other records management activities, such as Identity Management, transaction processing and documenting provenance.

The entire financial, legal, and record-keeping industries are being disrupted using this decentralised, secure, and inexpensive method. It has therefore caught the eye of the Bank of England plus other large organisations including Microsoft, IBM and Cisco have consequently started to take note of it.

In summary the opportunities are infinite.

People need to understand that “blockchain” is NOT the same thing as “Bitcoin”.

Bitcoin was the first blockchain system designed, but there have been a number of others since then which are very different, designed by different people, often for different purposes. These people are in the business of designing things for use by corporations to operate their businesses to drive a competitive edge. This is no different to what Amicus ITS has been doing for 30 years, problem solving and designing solutions that deliver business value as we look constantly to the horizon at future technologies.

Click here to read our White Paper

What does the future of Windows Mobile look like?

Lumia 950 XL
Microsoft who originally launched their first smartphones back in 2002, compared to both Apple and Google (launching in 2007 and 2008 respectively) have been in the smartphone game a lot longer than their main competitors, but looking at their current marketshare they look more like the underdog.

By 2007, Microsoft’s smartphone platform was the most popular in the US, but this quickly faded after Apple and Google entered the market.  Today, these numbers are at an all-time low with US marketshare of Windows Mobile (and Windows Phone) down from 4.8% in early 2015 to just 1.6% at the end of December 2015. In the UK, Microsoft is in a much healthier position of 9.2% with iOS at 38.6% and Android taking the lions share with 51.9%.

With Microsoft continuing to struggle in its home turf and its marketshare slipping away in spite of the launch of its new Windows Mobile 10 platform and phones late last year, the question again arises – what does the future of Windows Mobile look like to Microsoft?

Despite both the loss in marketshare and revenue from Windows Mobile, taking a look at Microsoft’s more recent tablet-laptop hybrid Surface Pro may provide some answers.

In their recently announced quarterly fiscal results they revealed an impressive $1.35 billion in revenue generated by their Surface line, up from $1.1 billion the same time last year.  The now very successful Surface line is headed by Panos Panay who also recently took the lead on their Windows Mobile division. The most recent Microsoft flagship phones the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL launched under his leadership, however they would have been designed and developed before this time. On its announcement, the new feature which had the most time under the spotlight was Continiuum, which lets you plug up the phone to a monitor, keyboard and mouse and use it like a PC. The apps you have access to in this mode are the same as those available when using a phone and these will scale as needed to the screen plugged in.

Looking ahead to where the future of Windows Mobile lies, there have been rumours for some time of Microsoft working with Intel to get Windows Mobile working on x86 processors (the same ones that power their laptops and PCs) and even more recently x86 support was listed on their manufactures design guideline specification for Windows Mobile, although this information has since been pulled from their site.

With Panos Panay currently developing future Windows Mobile devices, alongside the next Surface models, we may see the next Windows Mobile flagship branded with the Surface stamp, reserving the Lumia name for both low and mid-range devices in the future.

A Surface flagship phone could see a Surface-like premium metal build and include an x86 processor, meaning when in Continuum mode, it can also run full PC applications in addition to scaling mobile apps.  As well as using full PC apps on your phone, a more unified brand could make Microsoft flagship phones easier to market and sell to consumers with the simpler name ‘Surface Phone’ compared to the current ‘Lumia 950’.

The future of Windows Mobile may look bleak now, especially in the US, but with such a heritage with smart devices and the very successful launch of Windows 10 on PCs they can’t be dismissed.

Empowering the Office with Apps

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The novelty of mobile apps has long since faded but their usefulness and functionality is ever increasing with more advance and creative apps being developed every day. Creative apps are not just limited to the big app stores but can also come directly from developers to businesses bypassing the app stores all together.

These apps can streamline processes and naturally enable mobility within an organisation. Some business apps have broader appeal for example providing mobile versions of larger desktop applications other apps have a much more niche appeal and will need to be custom built for its use.

Microsoft has announced a new tool called PowerApps for creating apps, not aimed at developers but anyone familiar with their hugely popular office suite.

The apps created will run on all mobile platforms including Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone.

The tool aimed at businesses, using an office-like interface including the ribbon to create apps to make office life easier. These can be published from the application and then access via an intranet link on other employee’s smartphones, tablets of PCs.

PowerApps has now launched on the Windows Store as a free download and requires a Office 365 account to login. Click here to download.

Microsoft moved to build new EU datacentres

In response to the collapse of the Safe Harbour Agreement of 2000 on 6th October 2015, and following meetings and conversations between EU and US regulators, Microsoft has announced it will invest $2 billion in infrastructure development across Europe. This is addition to confirming the completion of the latest phase of improvements to its existing data centres in Dublin and the Netherlands.

This new investment will enable Microsoft to provide secure commercial cloud services for its customers and address the sovereign issues of data transfer and compliance that the lapse of legal reference created by the scrapping of Safe Harbour created on 21st October 2015.

Once the new datacentres are up and running (planned to open late 2016), Microsoft will be able to replicate data within the UK for backup and recovery (vs the current failover of data going to the US from Europe).  General Manager of Microsoft UK, Michael Van der Bel said, “This will help meet demand from those who want their could systems based in the UK and now they can meet the strict regulations of the banking, financial services and public sectors”.

It is good news for compliance within Europe, but the EU and US still need to work assiduously to thrash out a legal plan before the end of January 2016 when fines will kick in for non-compliance, to ensure that transatlantic business data can still traverse fluidly and securely across the Pond, avoiding nation fragmentation and an MSP administrative mess.
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Red October For EU After Safe Harbour Decision Collapses Pan Atlantic Agreement

Updating our blog of 9th October, the end of January 2016 will mark the date point where EU data protection regulators could start prosecutions for any erroneous transfer of EU individuals’ personal data from Europe to the US – unless a replacement to the Safe Harbour Agreement is rapidly agreed.

The heat is firmly on in Brussels now to find a workable solution and fast, as the ramifications facing up to 4,500 US companies (not just tech firms) in transferring data across the Atlantic to Europe now means organisations could face 20 or more different sets of national data-privacy regulations to replace the Safe Harbour Agreement which had been in place for 15 years.

The NSA’s mass data collection originally highlighted by the Edward Snowden leaks in a case brought by law student Max Schrems against Facebook, prompted the European Court of Justice (CJEU) court ruling on 6th October 2015.  This now looks set to massively disrupt the international eco system for data transfer, legal adherence and sovereign user assurances.  The regulators emphasised that the question of mass and indiscriminate surveillance was central to the CJEU’s decision and a replacement data transfer agreement would have to provide “stronger guarantees to EU data subjects” accompanied by “clear and binding mechanisms” and “oversight of access by public authorities“.

The main points
•   Individual European countries can now set their own regulation for US companies’ handling of citizens’ data, vastly complicating the regulatory environment in Europe (Russia recently introduced a new data law demanding data on Russian citizens was stored within Russia).

•   Countries can choose to suspend the transfer of data to the US — forcing companies to host user data exclusively within the country.

•   The Irish data regulator (host nation for Facebook and Microsoft’s European data centres), has now agreed they will examine whether Facebook offered European users adequate data protections – and it may order the suspension of Facebook’s transfer of data from Europe to the US if so.

Privacy lawyer Dr Susan Foster of Mintz Levin commented:  “Consent has to be explicit and freely given” — which causes a headache for another key use of Safe Harbour, the transfer of employee data. “In many countries in Europe you can’t rely on consent from employees, because employees are understood not to have free choice.” An employee may feel pressured into consenting, so such a consent would not be a valid basis for the transfer. “A lot of multinational companies with employees in Europe rely on Safe Harbour because they don’t feel they can rely on consent, quite rightly.”

A new dawn awaits data controllers across Europe.  The upshot is likely to be one filled with more model contract clauses and a greater emphasis on risk based analysis surrounding data transfer.  But whatever the outcome, from 1st February 2015, ‘ignorantia juris non excusat’ – roughly translated: ‘ignorance of the law is no defence ‘.  Businesses beware!

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Lots to shout about at Microsoft’s Autumn NY Windows 10 event

microsoft_surface_book

This week Microsoft held its Windows 10 device event showcasing their latest and greatest for both consumers and enterprise.

• The event kick started with their entertainment platform Xbox, with Windows 10 coming to Xbox One later this year. It brings improved user experience, performance and the ability to run their previous generation of software which has been their most requested feature since launch.

• Next was a new HoloLens demo: the presenter used a new hand held controller whilst wearing the device and battled augmented reality robots live on stage. Visually this was very impressive for an untethered device (ie. Not connected to a PC).  After this the development kit was announced for Q1 2016 with a price tag of $3000.

• The focus then was on fitness with the unveiling of Microsoft Band 2. The new band features a sleeker design with curved screen and new Barometer which measures elevation for more accurate “caloric burn” readings.

• Multiple Microsoft phone announcements followed with the Lumia 550, 950 and 950XL. The two 950’s were the real attention grabbers and feature high performance with liquid cooling and twin antenna for greater connectivity.  Continuum (connecting Windows 10 phone to keyboard and screen through a dock + mouse to use as a PC.  USB memory sticks and hard drives can also be used and in this mode the interface looks and feels like any other PC, at the same time the phone can still be used as a phone.

• From phones to tablets, Surface was next. The Surface Pro 4 us announced with a larger screen, without increasing the size of the device, thanks to smaller bezels. The new Surface is also thinner, more powerful and with better battery life.  Also included is a more advanced stylus with 1-year battery and a new improved, but still optional keyboard with bigger trackpad, separated keys and a fingerprint scanner. These new accessories can also be used with last year’s Surface Pro 3.

• Next Microsoft borrowed the Apple “one more thing..” to announced a new product entirely called the Surface Book. This device is a premium laptop, which you can also rip the screen off to use as a tablet. The base also contains additional computing and graphic processing adding up to 2x the performance of a Mac Book Pro.

All in all, Microsoft announced a lot this week in New York and won the attention and rare applause of their sceptical industry audience . Microsoft is now selling a very compelling ecosystem of not just software and services but also hardware tailored to both. It has a tremendous battle ahead with its rivals, but they have certainly put their best foot forwards to bring genuine intrigue and excitement which was arguably lacking from many recent tech events by Microsoft, Google and Apple.

Microsoft gives founder of Acompli the reigns to Outlook

microsoft_acompli

In December 2014 Microsoft acquired mobile software developer Acompli for $200 million who had developed very popular and critically acclaimed email clients for iOS and Android. Shortly after the purchase Microsoft rebranded these to “Outlook” keeping the functionality and compatibility to other mail providers that critics originally praised.

The rebranded Outlook app has also seen critical success under Microsoft and Microsoft own Windows 10 mobile app currently in development shows signs of its inspiration.

Microsoft announced this week that Javier Soltero the founder of Acompli has been officially but in charge of Outlook on all platforms, including the web, smart phone, tablets and most importantly PCs.

Before Microsoft purchase Acompli Javier was used to a team of less than 75 so being put in charge of one of Microsoft most used applications must be a daunting task.

With the great critical praise and innovative design shown thus far, Javier lead versions of Outlook in the future is definitely one to watch. We are likely to see mobile only features such as the focused inbox make the jump to desktops and we are likely to see new innovations that only make sense with the larger screen real estate on the PC.

As interesting as this is for the future of Outlook, it is as interesting for Microsoft itself, Microsoft is showing they recognise great, unique talent, even if from outside the company until recently and letting them lead large and established products that may otherwise face complacency. Of course with any leadership shift this does introduce new risks but taking the opportunity to crucial to grow in a hugely competitive field.