Sudden Windows 10 licence downgrades to forced Xcode upgrades: The week at Microsoft

Plus: Warehouse security, Alexa for all, and more

Roundup Aside from the hoo-ha around Windows 10 licences suddenly being downgraded amid an Insider build update, last week brought Row-Level Security to Azure warehouses, Alexa's tanks rolled onto Cortana's lawn and Microsoft prepared to drop support for old versions of Xcode.

Row-Level Security in Azure SQL Data Warehouse

DBAs might have been forgiven for thinking this was already a thing. After all, SQL Server 2016 had already introduced Row-Level Security (RLS) to govern which users have access to which data without the client application being any the wiser. Azure's own Azure SQL Database had also gained the feature in 2015.

Worry no more, warehouse fans, RLS is now generally available for Azure SQL Data Warehouse, meaning that it is now no longer necessary to manually filter out rows via views or, worse, rules in the application logic. Assuming you've got your SQL or Azure Active Directory roles set up in a logical fashion and not just stuffed every user into an admin group to deal with a mystery rights bug.

Microsoft reckons the functionality will be useful in scenarios such as a healthcare provider allowing nurses to only see the records of their patients, or a multi-tenant application enforcing logical separation of data.

Alas, only filter predicates are supported – so the functionality will only filter SELECT, UPDATE and DELETE operations to exclude rows that do not satisfy the predicate. Block predicates "will be released soon", according to Microsoft, limiting the utility of the functionality somewhat.

Alexa creeps into the Windows 10 store

Already on some PCs from Lenovo, Amazon's vaguely sinister personal assistant became available to all Windows 10 users this week, further ramping up the pressure on Microsoft's homegrown helper, Cortana.

Cortana was already reeling a little from the loss of the VP responsible for the unloved technology and now faces competition from a standalone Alexa app.

Admittedly, the level of Windows 10 integration is far deeper for Cortana. However, for PCs with "compatible hands-free" access, Alexa can be woken with a keyword and will then behave just as if your PC had turned into, er, an Echo.

For users not lucky enough to have compatible hardware, a click of a button in the Alexa app is sufficient to start the Amazon assistant listening.

The majority of Alexa's skills and features are supported, giving access to smart home devices as well as the shopping list that the retailer would dearly love you to use. PC-specific functions are, alas, not supported, nor are video, communications or Spotify. Amazon does, however, say that functions aimed at PC users will added in 2019.

The long-awaited integration between Cortana and Alexa finally became available in August. That will become less relevant as Amazon extends its tentacles further into the Windows world. At least as far as UK, US and German users are concerned.

Crazy about Kaizala

Almost lost in the ongoing furore around Microsoft's Skype messaging platform, the software giant's WhatsApp-alike Kaizala quietly announced it was getting ready to go global.

The app allows users to sign in with just a phone number (sound familiar?) and can scale to groups of up to one million users. With Office 365, users can set up surveys, polls and workflows and assess the results with the likes of Power BI.

The platform was kicked off back in 2016 as a garage project before hitting preview in 2017's Future Decoded event in India. It's now available in 28 markets as part of Office 365 or standalone (or via the Google and Apple app stores) but you'll need the Pro version to do anything useful such as creating public groups.

The Pro version is due to start being rolled out worldwide "over time", giving Microsoft users yet another communications platform to add to the likes of Skype and Teams.

Elderly Xcode banished from Visual Studio App Center

Microsoft is yanking support for older flavours of Xcode 8 from its continuous integration framework, Visual Studio App Center. Xcode 8 first made an appearance back in 2016 and Microsoft is allowing version 8.3.3 to linger past the announced 28 November cut-off date.

Since the platform supports Xcode 10 (and Microsoft made quite the fuss about launch-day support for iOS 12) Redmond reckons it is time for the less-than-1-per-cent of the users of its pipeline still clinging to the old days to make the move.

And if programmers don't take the hint, kind old Microsoft will automatically bump the version to 8.3.3 for them. ®

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