Don’t Trust Your Money to an Online Bank That Isn’t FDIC Insured

Robinhood, a popular investing app, just announced a checking account with 3% interest, and it’s already in hot water. Robinhood is just the latest app to want your paycheck and all your cash without providing insurance if the company fails.

FDIC insurance is pretty simple. Bank balances up to $250,000 are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which is backstopped by the US government. The FDIC was created in 1933 during the Great Depression to restore Americans’ faith in the banking system that had just failed. Since then, it has never failed to pay up. Whenever an FDIC-insured bank goes out of business, the FDIC steps in and makes sure you get every last cent of your money. No one has lost a penny of an FDIC insured bank account in 85 years.

But now some technology startups think they don’t need FDIC insurance on their banking products. After all, what are the odds a startup will go out of business?

Companies don’t normally fall flat on their face like Robinhood does. Robinhood announced that its new checking and savings product would be insured by the SIPC. That’s the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, a private organization that insures investments. The very next day, the head of the SIPC said he had serious concerns and didn’t think the money is protected by the SIPC. Robinhood would not comment publicly on his comments.

In other words, if Robinhood goes out of business, you could lose all the money in your Robinhood “bank account.” Do you really want to depend on a startup not going out of business?

Robinhood is just the latest example, but there are others. Square Cash wants you to deposit your paycheck into its app. But Square Cash doesn’t provide FDIC insurance for all the money you store there, as Walt Mossberg pointed out on Twitter. Until Square Cash gets that FDIC insurance it’s pursuing, you should avoid using it as a bank account. It’s a great app for sending money to people, but don’t keep all your money in it.

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Why Doesn’t Microsoft Just Give Up on Cortana?

Cortana may soon recognize different voices, a feature Alexa and Google Assistant have had since 2017. Microsoft isn’t quite giving up on Cortana, but it’s slowly transforming Cortana into something other than a general-purpose digital assistant.

Who Even Uses Cortana?

Amazon has the Echo, Google has the Google Home, and Apple has the HomePod. But did you know that Microsoft has its own Cortana speaker? The Harman Kardon Invoke features Cortana. It hasn’t caught on. In fact, it’s so unpopular that it doesn’t even rank in market share analysis of smart speakers. In the fourth quarter of 2017, Harman Kardon sold 30,000 Invokes and Amazon sold 9.7 million Echo devices. Yikes.

So who uses Cortana? Every Windows 10 PC ships with a big Cortana box next to its Start button. Microsoft has said over 150 million people use Cortana, but it’s unclear whether those people are actually using Cortana as a voice assistant or just using the Cortana box to type searches on Windows 10.

Really—in a world full of open plan offices where people have keyboards, how many people are going to talk to their PCs, even if Cortana works well? A voice assistant is much less useful on a Windows PC than it is on a smart speaker or smartphone.

Microsoft hasn’t seemed serious about pushing Cortana in recent years, either. Cortana is still only available in 13 countries, while Amazon says Alexa is supported in many, many more countries. At the end of 2017, there were only 230 Cortana skills compared to 25,000 Alexa skills. Alexa now has over 50,000 skills, leaving Cortana in the dust.

Alexa Even Runs on Windows 10

Amazon’s Alexa is even beating Cortana on Windows. Many PC manufacturers have excitedly announced Alexa integration on their new PCs, and now there’s an official Alexa app any Windows 10 user can install to use Amazon’s voice assistant instead of Microsoft’s.

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Now Windows 10 Has C, B, and D Updates. What is Microsoft Smoking?

According to Microsoft, Windows 10 has “B,” “C,” and “D” updates—but never “A” updates! These updates are released at different times, contain different things, and are offered to different people. Let’s break all this down.

What Is a Cumulative Quality Update?

Microsoft calls these “quality updates,” and each is released once per month. This distinguishes them from the big “feature updates” like the October 2018 Update and 19H1 that are released once every six months, usually in the Spring and Fall.

Quality updates are cumulative, which means they contain all the fixes from previous updates. So, when you install the December cumulative update, you get the new security fixes from December as well as everything that was in the November and October updates, even if you haven’t installed those previous updates.

And, if you’re updating a new PC, you only have one big cumulative update package to install. You don’t have to install updates one by one and reboot in between each.

That’s all great, but the way Microsoft handles C and D updates is just bizarre. Microsoft tricks people it calls “seekers” into installing updates before they’re fully tested. But almost none of these people even realize they’re signing up to be “seekers.”

“B” Updates: Patch Tuesday

The big updates most people are familiar with come out on “Patch Tuesday,” the second Tuesday of the month. These are called “B” updates because they’re released in the second week of the month. That explains why there are no “A” updates, as Microsoft doesn’t generally release updates in the first week of the month.

B updates are the most important updates, featuring new security fixes. They also contain previously released security fixes from prior B updates and previously released bug fixes from prior C and D updates.

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Watch Out: Clicking “Check for Updates” Still Installs Unstable Updates on Windows 10

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Microsoft hasn’t learned its lesson. If you click the “Check for Updates” button in the Settings app, Microsoft still considers you a “seeker” and will give you “preview” updates that haven’t gone through the normal testing process.

This problem came to everyone’s attention with the release of the October 2018 Update. It was pulled for deleting people’s files, but anyone who clicked “Check for Updates” in the first few days effectively signed up as a tester and got the buggy update. The “Check for Updates” button apparently means “Please install potentially updates that haven’t gone through a normal testing process.”

MIchael Fortin, corporate vice president for Windows at Microsoft, explained that this is still going on in a blog post about Windows 10’s monthly update process on December 10, 2018:

We also release optional updates in the third and fourth weeks of the month, respectively known as “C” and “D” releases. These are preview releases, primarily for commercial customers and advanced users “seeking” updates.  These updates have only non-security fixes. The intent of these releases is to provide visibility into, and enable testing of, the non-security fixes that will be included in the next Update Tuesday release. Advanced users can access the “C” and “D” releases by navigating to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and clicking the “Check for updates” box. The “D” release has proven popular for those “seeking” to validate the non-security content of the next “B” release.

There it is in Microsoft’s own words. Fortin says “advanced users” can get the preview releases by clicking “Check for updates.” These updates would normally not be automatically installed until they’ve been tested. But, after you click the button, you’ve become a “seeker” and not a normal Windows 10 user.

Once again, Microsoft is using everyone who clicks “Check for Updates” as a beta tester. Don’t click this button unless you want unstable updates. Your Windows 10 PC will automatically install updates as soon as they’re stable.

At the very least, Microsoft needs to provide a warning before Windows 10 users click the “Check for updates” button. Don’t warn people in blog posts that only advanced users will read.

As Woody Leonhard points out over at Computerworld, these extra monthly cumulative updates aren’t tested through the normal Windows Insider process. They’re just tested on your PC after you click the update. And Surface Book 2 owners have seen blue screen errors after installing these “optional” cumulative updates recently, so the stability of these updates is in real question.

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How Microsoft Is About to Make Google Chrome Even Better

You’ve probably heard Microsoft will base its Edge browser on Chromium, the open-source project that forms the basis for Google Chrome. That won’t just make Edge better—Microsoft contributing to Chromium means Microsoft’s efforts will make Chrome better, too.

All Browser Engines Are Now Open Source

Many people are wringing their hands about Microsoft partnering with Google to gain control over the Internet. But Microsoft abandoning the EdgeHTML browser engine is awesome news. Microsoft’s EdgeHTML was the last closed-source browser engine. Now, all the browser engines will be open-source.

This means work on Edge will improve Chrome, and work on Chrome will improve Edge. Other browsers based on Chromium, like Opera, will also reap the rewards. If you’re a Chrome user, Microsoft is about to make your browser even better. We’re a long way from the days of “Scroogled” here.

Better Touch Support

Edge may have its problems, but it’s always had a pretty great touch interface. Scrolling performance on a modern laptop with a Precision Touchpad is also excellent and smooth. That makes sense, as Microsoft is trying to push touch-based PCs with Windows 10.

Microsoft’s open source intent document clarifies that this is one of its “initial areas of focus.” Specifically, Microsoft says it “can help improve desktop touch, gesture recognition, and scroll/panning smoothness, particularly on newer, more modern Windows devices.”

A cynic would read this line and think “Oh sure, Microsoft has to do a bunch of work to bring Chromium up to par with Edge’s current touch support.” But all that work won’t just help Edge—it will be part of Chromium, and all Microsoft’s future work to improve touch responsiveness will make Chrome even better on touch PCs.

Longer Battery Life

Microsoft doesn’t mention battery life much in its intent document, but we expect Microsoft will help Chrome use even less power, lengthening battery life for all those Windows users running Chrome.

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