CORTANA NOW UNDERSTANDS YOUR INDIAN ENGLISH ACCENT!

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Microsoft’s personal digital assistant Cortana for PCs and mobile devices finally arrived in India, in a better way. The software giant has rolled out Cortana as part of first major update to its Windows 10 operating system. Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google Now, which respond to voice commands on mobile devices. Cortana is now customized to reflect the local accent, idioms and speech patterns of India. However, Cortana for Windows 10 will be available only in English in the country.

Microsoft recently rolled out an updated version of Cortana later this summer as part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. India was among the select group of 13 nations to get the update. Apart from India, the other countries where the Windows 10 Anniversary Update would be available includes USA, UK, China, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Mexico and Brazil.

Earlier in September last year, Microsoft had announced that it would be bringing Cortana to India. During that time, the company had made Cortana available for Windows 10 Insider Preview users. Cortana for PC originally had limited availability, including USA, when Windows 10 came out. The company wanted to adjust it for each location.

Widely considered the best feature of Windows 10, Cortana is a personal assistant that responds to voice commands. In my Windows 10 review, I found it to be pretty accurate in terms of recognizing our voice and offering answers to our questions. It also displays cards for weather and trending news stories when you click on the Search Box. Windows 10’s first major update is all about Cortana reaching the Indian audience and adapting to Indian accent.

Microsoft says it is also bringing performance improvements to Mail, Calendar, Groove Music, Xbox Store and other Microsoft apps. It also announced that its intelligent personal assistant Cortana will work only with its own Edge browser and Bing on Windows 10. In a blog post, Ryan Gavin, the general manager of Search and Cortana, wrote, “Starting today, to ensure we can deliver the integrated search experience designed for Windows 10, Microsoft Edge will be the only browser that will launch when you search from the Cortana Box.” This means all other search providers like Google, Opera, Yahoo that compete with Microsoft’s Edge or Bing search engines will not work within the Cortana digital assistant in Windows 10.

“Our promise to you is that Windows 10 will provide you with great search results and a personalized, reliable search experience through Cortana and Microsoft Edge. We will continue to work hard to provide you with the amazing experience you expect from Windows, while keeping you in control and helping you do great things,” Gavin said in the blog post.

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CONNECTING EVERYONE IN RURAL INDIA

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India will soon launch a Rs. 1800 crore Digital Literacy Mission for over 60 million people in rural areas, as an another initiative to bridge the gulf between those who have access to and can use computers and the Internet and those who do not have. A key component of the Digital India initiative, common services centres are access points for the delivery of various electronic services to villages, thereby contributing to a digitally and financially inclusive society.

“The government will spend Rs. 300 each on training 60 million people, which would total around Rs 1,800 crore,” said Dinesh Kumar Tyagi, the chief executive officer, of CSC e-Governance Service India, a holding company to fund and monitor India’s common services centres scheme. CSC e-Governance Service India has been promoted by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology to also implement the National Digital Literacy Mission, that is tasked with IT training for 52.5 million people, or one person in every family.

“These 60 million people form almost 40% of our rural population. The government’s target is to make each of these 60 million rural people digitally literate in three years. An approval from the cabinet is expected by end-July,” Tyagi commented. “We need to derive greater benefit from our demographic advantage. We need to spread digital literacy in rural India. Out of 168 million rural households, as many as 120 million households do not have computers and are unlikely to have digitally literate persons,” finance minister Arun Jaitley had said.

The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) found in 2014 that 94% of the people in rural India do not own a computer. Accordingly, Jaitley had proposed steps to address the issue once again during his budget speech in February this year. Tyagi said that the new scheme will be separate from the National Digital Literacy Mission, towards which the CSC e-Governance Service India has already trained three million people across the country till date.

“This year, with the help of village level entrepreneurs, another 2.25 million people will get training. These common services centres are delivering government-to-citizen and business-to-citizen services to the semi-urban and rural people,” he said. “The objective of these centres is to provide non-discriminatory access to e-services for rural citizens, utilising the backend infrastructure already created in terms of other mission mode projects,” Tyagi further said.

“Till June, we have already set up 170,000 centres across the country. The target is to reach out to 250,000 gram panchayats by the end of this year,” Tyagi added. “Every gram panchayat gets one centre.” Explaining some other projects, Tyagi said some centres are already providing tele-medicines. “In about a month’s time, we are thinking of digital ayurvedic and homeopathic treatments wherever there is demand. It is better than going to quacks.”

He said the reach of the Digital India mission has seen 30,000 banking correspondents working under the business-to-citizens initiative, going a long way in facilitating financial inclusion. “In fact, they have also collected Rs. 200 crore worth of insurance premia so far.” This apart, these centres generated over a tenth of the one billion Aadhaar enrollments.

MICROSOFT SEALS THE LINKEDIN DEAL

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Microsoft has announced recently that they have purchased the enterprise social network LinkedIn in a deal valued at $26.2 billion. The tech giant’s biggest purchase comes under Chief Executive Satya Nadella, who is reshaping Microsoft since taking over in 2014, to appeal more to business customers with cloud-based services and productivity tools. Microsoft will now pay $196 per share in an all-cash deal, including LinkedIn’s net cash. This is a 49.5% premium to the social network’s closing price on Friday.

LinkedIn will retain its brand, culture and independence and Jeff Weiner will remain the chief executive officer, Microsoft said in a statement. The offer values LinkedIn about 91 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In a memo to the Microsoft staff, Nadella described the deal as the ‘key to our bold ambition to reinvent productivity and business processes’.

LinkedIn is not an obvious fit in the ongoing restructuring, but gives Microsoft the biggest global social network for professionals that is used by job seekers, recruiters and human resources team. “Just as we have changed the way the world connects to opportunity, this relationship with Microsoft, and the combination of their cloud and LinkedIn’s network, now gives us a chance to also change the way the world works,” Weiner said in the statement.

In India, the acquisition is likely to put the spotlight on the professional network’s operations here, where it launched a tech centre in India in June. LinkedIn currently has over 650 employees in India and a user base of over 35 million. Microsoft has offices at nine locations across India. Its main campus in Hyderabad houses research and development, IT, and global services. The sales and marketing unit is headquartered in Gurgaon, while research and technical support centres are based in Bangalore and employs about 6000 persons.

“The deal continues the soft revolution that Satya Nadella has been driving since he took over as the CEO. He has been pivoting on cloud, internet services and making Microsoft into a 21st century business and what better community than LinkedIn to take it forward. My belief is that the acquisition is not just about a social networking play and has a much wider fit into the enterprise piece,” said Jaideep Mehta, the Managing Director, IDC India and South Asia. Microsoft plans to speed-up monetisation of LinkedIn by growing individual and organisation subscriptions as well as targeted advertising.

Microsoft agrees to buy LinkedIn for $26.2 billion

In his memo, Nadella described the deal as the ‘next step forward’ for Microsoft Office. “Over the past decade, we have moved Office to a set of productivity tools to a cloud service across any platform and device. This deal is the next step forward for Office 365 and Dynamics as they connect to the world’s largest and most valuable professional network,” wrote Nadella. “In essence, we can reinvent ways to make professionals more productive while at the same time reinventing selling, marketing and talent management business processes.”

LinkedIn made a spectacular entry in May 2011, the biggest since Google went public in 2004. The company’s shares peaked in February 2016, but have since then lost almost half their value after a tepid 2016 forecast. “I think, first of all, (LinkedIn) is a great business, even though the company stubbed their toe back in February,” said Ivan Feinseth, analyst at Tigress Financial Partners. “It is a premium company and it deserves a premium valuation.”

The deal, which won the unanimous support of both boards, is expected to close this year, the companies said. Microsoft said it would issue new debt to fund its acquisition. After the deal, which will require approval from regulators in the US, the EU, Canada and Brazil, LinkedIn will become part of Microsoft’s productivity and business processes unit, the companies said.

The country is the second biggest base for the professional biggest base for the professional networking site, with 35 million registered members. That is up 10 times from 3.4 million in 2009, the year it opened its office in India. That equates to a compounded annual growth rate of 40% in these seven years. Earlier this month, it opened a bigger R&D and engineering facility in Bangalore, its biggest in Asia, with plans to have more localized content and develop technology to make it easier to access LinkedIn on 2G connections.

In India, it has invested in three data centres, and Microsoft India chairman Bhaskar Pramanik said that India is one of the first countries outside the US where the company has made such big investments in data centres. “It will be one of the largest footprints in terms of data centre capacity in India. In terms of scale, scope and capability, we are going to change the way computing will happen here,” he had said Cloud usage in India is growing dramatically, as evident in the establishment of big data centres not only by Microsoft , but also by the likes of Amazon and IBM.

Public cloud data centres are emerging as enterprises move their workloads to the cloud, rather than keep them on internal servers, which is both capital intensive (requires real estate and purchase of expensive hardware and software) and operationally expensive (because of the need to hire an army of IT staff to maintain the systems and pay for expensive power and air-conditioning to cool the systems).
Connecting LinkedIn to Microsoft Office 365 can help the attendees of meetings learn more about one another directly from invitations in their calendars. Sales representatives using Office can pick up useful tits and bits of background on potential customers from LinkedIn data. These elements of cloud also make it very attractive for small enterprises. For banks and government, data centres in India are essential because of regulations that prohibit the movement of many kinds of data that they deal with beyond the geographic boundaries of the country.

E-VISAS TO BE EXTENDED TO CHINESE NATIONALS SOON

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The Union Government recently has finalised arrangements to extend and implement the e-Tourist Visa facility to the passport holders of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong Administrative Region and Macau Special Administrative Region with effect from the June 30, 2016, as announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The total number of countries and territories covered under the e-Tourist Visa scheme will go up from 157 to 160, with the inclusion of these countries and territories.

The e-Tourist Visa scheme launched by the Government of India on the November 27, 2014, has been extended to 160 countries and territories so far. The scheme will be extended to more countries or territories in a phased manner. Under this scheme, tourists with e-Tourist Visas can arrive at nine designated airports (Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, New Delhi, Goa, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram). Since the launch of the scheme, about 2,00,000 e-tourist visas have been issued to nationals of different countries.

During the last three years, a total of 1,79,873 e-tourist visas have been issued to the nationals of Republic of China, Hong Kong SAR and Macau SAR. It is expected that extending the e-Tourist Visa facility to the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong SAR and Macau SAR will boost the tourist arrival from these regions and strengthen bilateral ties among the people of these territories.

Also, in this scheme, the pre-authorization of visa – i.e. electronic travel authorisation is given to foreigners prior to travel. Here, an applicant receives an email authorising him or her to travel to India after it is approved. On arrival, the visitor has to present the authorisation to the immigration authorities, who will in turn allow them to enter into the country.

DU’S DDU COLLEGE TO SHIFT IN DWARKA BY JUNE

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Twenty-five years after Delhi University’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay (DDU) College started from a school building, it is finally moving to a new multi-storeyed campus in Dwarka in South-West Delhi, before the new academic session starts in July. The college, which has been running from a school building in Karampura in West Delhi, since 1989, has about 2,500 students enrolled with it in various courses. DDU College is a prestigious and the most sought university for many undergraduate students.

“By mid-June, we will move to the new building in Dwarka Sector 3. For 25 long years, the college had been running from the school building. When the college was started in 1989, there was no immediate infrastructure available and it had to start from school building,” said S.K Garg, the principal of the college. The new campus will have facilities for sports, including indoor squash, archery range, gymnasium and indoor table tennis.

Separate areas for outdoor and indoor games would be earmarked clearly. The college was scheduled to move to the new campus last year. But at that time, the construction of the new campus was not done, as finishing touches were being given. The old building will be now given to the Ambedkar University, an another prominent state-run university in Delhi.

Garg said the new college campus has five times the space than the present location. “The new campus has a multi-storey building with 26 lecture rooms and 12 lecture theatres. We have an auditorium with a seating capacity of 400 and two seminar rooms with seating capacity of over 100 each,” he said.

Garg said the new campus will be eco-friendly and has a rainwater harvesting system. “We are working on a solar power generation system to produce power for college use. A waste treatment plan is in the pipeline. Overall, the entire new campus is spacious and eco-friendly,” he further added.

INDIA TO START PRODUCING SUPERCOMPUTERS FROM 2017

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India will get an indigenously built supercomputer next year as part of the government’s Rs. 4,500 crore programme aimed at taking India into an elite league of nations who have made advancements in the field. The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing that built India’s first supercomputer, PARAM, is handling the project, said Ashutosh Sharma, the Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology .

The government had in March last year approved the plan of the National Supercomputing Mission, under which 80 supercomputers will be built in the next seven years. “Some of them will be imported and the rest will be built indigenously. The first one will come up by August 2017 and we are working on how to control heat. The cost of power to run these supercomputers alone will be around Rs. 1,000 crore,” Sharma said.

 The new supercomputers will be kept in different institutes across the country. “A supercomputer can be used for various purposes like climate modelling, weather forecast and discoveries of drugs among others,” Sharma said. Currently, countries like the USA, Japan, China and the European Union account for a major share of the top supercomputing machines in the world.
After being denied by the American company, Cray supercomputers to build a supercomputer for India, as a result of a technology embargo, India started a program to develop indigenous supercomputers and supercomputing technologies. Supercomputers were considered a double edged weapon, capable of assisting in the development of nuclear weapons. For the purpose of achieving self-sufficiency in the field, the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) was set up in 1988 by the then Department of Electronics with Dr. Vijay Bhatkar as its Director.
The project was given an initial run of 3 years and an initial funding of Rs. 3 crores, the same amount of money and time that was usually expended to purchase a supercomputer from the USA. In 1990, a prototype was produced and was benchmarked at the 1990 Zurich Supercomputering Show. It surpassed most other systems, placing India second after USA. The final result of the effort was the PARAM 8000, which was installed in 1991. It is considered India’s first supercomputer.

Also, India is developing a supercomputer to predict the monsoon with greater accuracy, and it hopes to have it up and running by next year. The meteorology office is spending $60 million to build the new supercomputer, which will use 3D modeling to predict how the seasonal rains will develop. M Rajeevan, India’s earth science secretary, did not say which companies will manufacture the computer, though he says that it will be 10 times faster than the current system, which was developed by IBM.

India’s farming sector is heavily reliant on the monsoon season, which runs from June to September. The monsoon accounts for more than two-thirds of the country’s annual rainfall, and accurate predictions could help farmers identify the best time to sow their crops. More accurate monsoon forecasts could boost farm production by up to 15 percent. In 2015, agriculture accounted for about 18 percent of India’s GDP, according to the World Bank.

India’s current forecasting system, first introduced during British colonial rule, is based on a statistical model that combines historical patterns with data collected from satellites, radar, and observatories. The country’s meteorology office has struggled to deliver accurate forecasts in recent years, most notably when it failed to predict a major drought in 2009.

India has also seen two consecutive years of drought, though the meteorology office has predicted that this year’s rains will not affect farm output. “In the last one decade, we have gained a greater degree of precision in forecasting rains,” Rajeevan commented. “But monsoon still remains a very complex weather system, which only God has the ability to understand fully.”