Tag Archives: Cortana

PTJ 189 News: Eyes on the Prize

The race is on between Sony and Samsung to patent smart contact lenses that function as cameras floating atop your eyeballs. Yes, eyeball cameras.  Sony’s design even makes it hard to tell someone is even wearing an eyeball camera. But let’s not forget Google, which received a patent for a solar-powered contact lens last year and recently just got a patent for what’s described as an intra-ocular device; it sounds sort of like a bionic eye that could perhaps be used to help with degenerative vision diseases.

riftSpeaking of eyeballs, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is headed to 48 Best Buy stores on May 7th, and will be included as part of a special in-store promotional kiosk called The Intel Experience. A small number of units available for sale at those particular Best Buy outlets, too. You can look up the stores involved on Best Buy’s site. Amazon and Microsoft plan to start taking Oculus Rift orders at 9 a.m. Pacific time on May 6th.

Microsoft has decided that its Cortana virtual assistant for Windows 10 is not going to be allowed to play with other company’s web browsers and search engines. No Cortana for you, Google Chrome.

Yahoo hasn’t found anybody to pick up its pieces yet, but it has cut its list of potential dance partners down to 10 companies. Whatever happens, though, Yahoo CEO (and micromanager of bad logos) Marissa Mayer will make out all right. A  Securities and Exchange Commission filing revealed she’ll get a severance package worth about 55 million bucks if she’s booted within a year of any sale. No ramen noodles and Tang dinners for you, Marissa Mayer. (Unless you want them, that is.)

bitcoinArguments about the true identity of Bitcoin’s anonymous founder have bubbled up this week. Australian businessman Craig Wright has claimed he is the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, elusive founder of Bitcoin, but the Motherboard blog over at Vice isn’t buying it.

From the ever-expanding Department of Mergers & Acquisitions News, Comcast/NBC Universal made a deal to buy the DreamWorks animation studio for $3.8 billion. Also, the online video-sharing site Vimeo has acquired VHX. And there are even more video-streaming services than ever now, as Hulu is said to be preparing its own service to bundle streams of broadcast and cable channels to paid subscribers. This would move Hulu away from being primarily a streaming TV rerun site with a few original shows to an enticing option for cord-cutters.

robotsecurityGoogle has changed the name of its own monthly Nexus Security Bulletins patch collection to the more inclusive Android Security Bulletin, and this week’s May is intended to fix about 40 vulnerabilities in the mobile operating system. Many of the holes in the Mediaserver software for Android are on the fix list here. And make sure when you do update apps on your Android device, get them from the Google Play store itself and not from a website disguising itself as an Android update site. This is because there’s a new little piece of malware on the loose that claims to be an update for Android’s Chrome browser, but it’s really an infostealer app.

Google may have found a hardware partner for its self-driving cars. Bloomberg News is reporting Fiat Chrysler plans to team up with the Big G on prototypes based on the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

Some exciting typing news: The popular Google Keyboard app just got a big update this week.  Also in keyboard developments, the Giphy Keys app for iOS arrived this week, making it easier than ever to add just the right animated loop to your messages. No boring messages for you, Giphy Keys user.

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Consumer Encryption and Government Security concerns continue to clash. This week, it’s Brazil throwing a 72-hour block on the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messenger service after Facebook refused to hand over information requested for a criminal investigation. Another judge in Brazil soon overturned the order.

includeSeveral women working in the tech industry have come together to form a new nonprofit venture called Project Include that hopes to help the aforementioned tech industry work on its diversity issues. Let’s check back this time next year to see if anything has changed.

And finally,  Ad-Block Plus, the popular ad-blocking extension, and Flattr, a micropayment service that lets its users donate money have teamed up a new service called Flattr Plus that lets you set a content budget and then send money to the sites you actually spent time reading. No money for you, clickbait sites.

PTJ 175 News: In the Air

Several Twitter peeps have flown the coop recently, as the company attempts  to jump-start its growth by making the service easier to use and more appealing to Everyday People. Jack Dorsey, the company chief, did a few layoffs when he took the top spot last fall, but the revolving door continues to spin into the new year. (The bird-themed microblogging service has also gotten dinged inside and out for its lack of diversity and has been trying to improve things, although it got mixed reactions for hiring a white dude as its VP of diversity and inclusion — albeit one that was a founding member of a global LGBT leadership organization.) Twitter also busted a move this week and hired former American Express exec Leslie Berland as its chief marketing officer. Old School, meet New Media.

The Re/Code site is among those reporting that Twitter seems to be trying to keep its big famous users happy by majorly reducing the amount of ads those celebrities and notable figures see in their feeds. One site that seems to be showing more ads than before is Instagram. Facebook’s photo service did announce last year on its blog that it would be stepping up the ad game, and advertising statistics show the company has boosted ad impressions quite a bit the last five months of 2015.

vrSony and Samsung are doing a little corporate remodeling of their own. Sony announced it’ll be merging the hardware and software parts PlayStation game console business into one big company called Sony Interactive Entertainment. Out at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Samsung executives said the company has plans to open a production studio here in New York to create virtual reality films. Samsung, as you know, makes the Gear VR headset for those emerging immersive experiences.

Spotify launched a video channel this week in its Android and iOS apps. The video channel features clips from the BBC, VICE news, ESPN, Comedy Central and others, if you’re tired of merely listening to Spotify.

Security blogger Brian Krebs recently explained how his PayPal account was hacked with the help of PayPal itself — and now Australian developer Eric Springer has a frighteningly similar story on the Medium and Ars Technica sites. This time, though, it’s Amazon’s customer service department inadvertently cooperating with an imposter and compromising account security.

fireAlso in Amazon Land, the übermega everything store apparently hasn’t given up on its mobile dreams, even though its own Fire Phone was a gargantuan FAIL. As a site called The Information reports, Amazon has been talking to Android handset hardware manufacturers about weaving Amazon apps and surfaces deep into the phone system. However, it may want to be careful, as Google has bounced Amazon products out of the Google Play store before when it felt Amazon was getting too pushy.

Google has had some less-than-saintly moments itself, but the company is donating millions of dollars to help refugees from the conflict-torn Middle East. Google’s philanthropic division is partnering with a non-profit group called NetHope on Project Reconnect, an initiative to provide 25,000 Chromebooks loaded with educational and language-learning software, which will then be distributed to groups working with refugees who made it to Germany.

Microsoft’s Cortana would also like to help you out, but it does involve getting into more of your data. In a blog post earlier this week, Microsoft announced that an upcoming update to Cortana will allow the virtual assistant to root around in your email to help you keep your promises. You WILL KEEP THEM, says Cortana.

Apple has some recent software updates of its own: The company’s tvOS 9.1.1 update for the fourth-generation Apple TV box adds the Podcasts app  to the home Screen. While Apple released a version of the Remote app that works with the 4th gen box last month, the upcoming 9.2 update for tvOS is expected to restore Bluetooth keyboard support to the latest model and add new features like app folders .

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Even though iPhone sales have dipped, rumors about a new model coming soon are floating in the breeze. The 9 to 5 Mac site reports that Apple is readying a model called the iPhone 5se that basically takes the old iPhone 5s form factor with the 4-inch screen and adds in the faster A9 and M9 processors. (It may possibly be revealed the week of March 14th, when several Mac blogs also seem to think an updated version of the Apple Watch may also arrive.) And beware the prank link going around that exploits a known text message bug that when opened in Apple’s Safari browser, crashes the iPhone or Mac and forces a reboot.

Periscope announced this week that it can take feeds from a GoPro Hero 4 action camera and stream it over Wi-Fi to the Periscope app on the iPhone. Get ready for some wacky ski and snowboarding live channels to hit the Web soon…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and conventions are popping up all over. In addition to the Creation company’s official and (officially massive) fan events around the country, ReedPop, the organizer behind New York Comic Con, is celebrating the show too — and right in New York City, the home of the first-ever full-on Star Trek convention back in 1972. ReedPop’s 2016 convention, called Star Trek: Mission New York, will be held September 2-4 at the Javits Center in Manhattan; more information and ticket sales dates will be announced soon. (Yes, that is Labor Day weekend and will compete with the Dragon Con science fiction and fantasy expo down in Atlanta the same weekend. Tough choices here, geeks.)

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And finally, two passings of note this week. Marvin Minsky, a founding member of the MIT Media Lab and a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, died in Boston on January 24th. And actor Abe Vigoda, whose incorrectly reported death by People magazine in 1982, actually passed away January 26th at the age of 94. Mr. Vigoda, a celebrated actor, became an Internet meme later thanks to the confusion over his status; updates to the sites abevigoda.com and isabevigodadead.com have been sadly updated.
Rest in peace, gentlemen.

PTJ 172 News: Wake-Up Call

Talk about your Rey of light! The seventh installment of the Star Wars franchise opened last Thursday night and went on to make $247.9 million dollars in its first weekend and broke several other records along the way, Many people stayed off the Internet and social media to avoid spoilers until they saw the film, and Google Trends set up a whole page of Star Wars: The Force Awakens-related lists based on the terms people were using in Google Search. The countdown for Rogue One (December 16th, 2016) and Episode VIII (May 26th, 2017) has begun!

Meanwhile, in a galaxy much closer to home, the folks at SpaceX must be breathing a sign of relief after the company was able to launch — and land — a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week. The rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, delivered 11 low-earth satellites into orbit for the ORBCOMM company and then returned safely and in one piece about 10 minutes later. After previous mishaps and an explosion earlier this year, SpaceX redesigned the Falcon 9 rocket and the company plans to reuse the booster for another mission. (Let’s hope they clean the crew cabin between flights, unlike some domestic airlines around here.)

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Like tarting up images and then sharing them online? Adobe, maker of Photoshop, has a new free iOS app called Adobe Post. It’s described in detail on an Adobe blog, and yes, the company says an Android version is in the works. As Macworld points out, though, you have to share the app with a friend to get rid of an watermark Post puts on your pictures. Also in picture news, Facebook is adding support for the Live Photos created by Apple’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models. While the new feature is slowly rolling out, only users with the iOS version of Facebook’s app will be able to see the mini moving pictures. Oh, well.

It sounds like Microsoft and Google are talking over each other, at least when it comes to the Cortana assistant app on Android devices. In a recent update to the app for the American version, Microsoft has disabled the voice-activated “Hey Cortana” feature apparently due to microphone conflicts with the “OK, Google” voice command. Microsoft also announced this week it was going to crack down on aggressive adware that makes PC users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. As of March 31st next year, Microsoft plans to yank or block adware that defies its policies.

The Nielsen folks have released their list of the top apps of 2015 as measured by the number of users.  Odds are, you’re probably using one or two of the winning apps.

visitorJuniper Networks, which makes firewall for business enterprise customers, had to issue the advisory last week that so company remotely related to online protection wants to release: the Security Bulletin outlining multiple issues with one of its products.  A short FAQ on the incident. patches and workarounds were also posted. Wired reports that researchers now think the National Security Agency was at least partially responsible, and cryptography expert Matthew Green even has a blog post describing how hackers used an existing back door to make one of their own. Also in government snooping news, Apple is pushing back at a bill in the United Kingdom that seeks to expand Parliament’s investigatory powers and could give the government the power to make Apple decrypt its iMessage service.

The Federal Trade Commission has chased down the Oracle Corporation and charged that the company bamboozled customers about the safety of security updates to its Java software.  Thanks to a legal order, Oracle must provide an uninstall tool so users can pry the old Java crapware off their systems and make sure future updates actually provide the promised security.

hellkittyAnother week, another database leak. And another one that involves information about kids — Hello Kitty, of all things. Several sites have reported on the incident, but the one called The Office of Inadequate Security over at www.databreaches.net and the Salted Hash site lay it down: “Database Leak Exposes the 3.3 Million Hello Kitty Fans.”  The issue was discovered by security researcher Chris Vickery, who has been having a banner year of fail-hunting, and appears to be more of a server misconfiguration thing rather than hacker tracks. Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, posted a statement on its site saying credit-card info was not at risk and yes, they fixed the problem.

While passwords can be a pain, especially when they’re hacked, Google is experimenting with a new way of logging in via smartphone notification. Yahoo, which has had its own security problems, updated its Yahoo Mail mobile app last fall that also did away with passwords in favor of a push notification to a mobile device. Just don’t lose your phone.

Layoffs are a fact of life in the tech industry and Toshiba is taking a hit now. The company, which claims to have released the world’s first mass-market laptop back in 1985 and affordable models in the 1990s, has been steadily losing ground to rival companies in Asia. The company, which also had a major accounting scandal this summer, said Monday it plans to cut about five percent of its workforce .

rosieThe Consumer Electronics Show is still about three weeks away, but the advance press releases are already starting to trickle out. Cleaning fans take note, LG plans to reveal what it calls “the world’s first augmented reality vacuum cleaner” at CES next month. The company’s HOM-BOT Turbo+ uses three camera sensors to record its surroundings to keep track of where it has already cleaned — and  to transmit a real-time feed to its owner’s smartphone. The human just needs to tap an area of the room displayed on the screen to have the HOM-BOT go over there and clean it. Because the vacuum has motion sensors along with its cameras, it can also be used to keep an eye on the place, but the HOM-BOT doesn’t quite sound like its up to a Terminator level of protection . . . yet.

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(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Ask Me (Almost) Anything

Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana are the Charlie’s Angels of personal virtual assistants, each with their own strengths and weaknesses in the battle to do good. As assistants go, none of them are very old: Siri first arrived in iOS 5 in 2011, Google Now debuted in 2012 and Microsoft’s Cortana stopped being a Halo entity and rolled out to Windows Phones in 2014; she landed on Windows 10 this summer.

In less than five years, though, assistant software has gone from fielding basic questions (“What’s the weather today?”) and handling a good-natured HAL 9000 joke now and then to opening apps, doing currency conversions, identifying songs, finding pictures from specific events and more. No pushing buttons here: Thanks to the voice commands “Hey, Siri,” “Okay Google” and “Hey Cortana,” you don’t even have to lift a finger to get results.

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So, what commands can you use these days for Siri, Google Now or Cortana? These sorts of lists just keep growing and growing:

And, in a pinch, you might be able to just ask your assistant:

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(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Lock It Down

Operating systems and websites have gotten increasingly nosy cover the past few years — dipping into your contacts, peeking at your email, tracking your location and that sort of thing. While the increased personalization can be helpful for virtual assistant software, some people just don’t want their address books rifled through, or targeted local ads following them around the Web. If you side with the latter, it’s time to dive into your privacy settings and tighten things up.

Microsoft has been taking a lot of heat over privacy concerns in its Windows 10 system the past few months, and the company even made a statement on its blog recently. Microsoft, however,  is far from the only one diving into your data, though: Google, Apple and Facebook have all had their own privacy flaps over the years.

By default, the Windows 10 system settings are all up in your business — especially if you used the Express option during setup — but you can go back in later and  change your settings. Keep in mind, icing your info may hinder Cortana or your Bing results, but it’s your decision. Like most major companies, Microsoft has its privacy policy posted on its site, along with a privacy FAQ page and details about privacy within certain functions of Windows 10, like text input or using Cortana.

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Google has several services you may already use, like Gmail and YouTube, so check out the Big G’s privacy policy, your Google account settings and the site’s security tools.

As for Apple, check out the company’s privacy policy and fine-tune your settings in OS X and iOS as you see fit.

macpriv

And Facebook, perhaps the King of User Privacy Freakouts, has its own Data Policy posted online. The site also has a Privacy Basics guide to make sure you can control what you share with other people, if not Facebook itself.

Oh, and Happy National Cyber Security Awareness Month!

Android 6.0 vs. iOS 9

AndroidMarshSo what’s the difference between Android and iOS anymore? While the two systems used to be more divergent, but the feature gap is closing  fast, especially with this fall’s arrival of Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) and iOS 9.

For example, both systems are upping the ante for their personal assistant software, trying ios9to get ahead of Microsoft’s Cortana. As shown below, Google Now is getting tweaked, partly to provide more location-relevant suggestions and information and make it more helpful-but-creepy than ever. (“Hey what are you doing? Google Now is here for you, NOW!”) Apple’s faithful  Siri assistant is getting some location-and contextual improvements to make her more useful as well. She’ll be able to remind you to do things in certain places, find photos from specific events and look up answers in more places online.

GoogleMNow

Google and Apple continue to “borrow” features from each other. Like iOS,  Android Marshmallow  will support a standard fingerprint ID — something Apple’s devices  had for a few years in the form of Touch ID — but a feature that was a little more random across all the various Android handsets out there from different manufacturers. Of course, having a fingerprint scanner makes it easier for users to work mobile payment systems into their lives, and now Android Pay is here as the green-bot alternative to Apple Pay. Also like iOS, Android 6.0 will offer tighter control over app permissions.

Android Lollipop already has a Battery Saver mode, and  Marshmallow is adding the Doze feature to slow down battery burn even more. Finally, iOS 9 is adding a low-power mode so iPhone users can more easily put the brakes on battery drain without having to go in and start turning off functions one by one to conserve juice.

Google Maps (also available as a third-party app on iOS) has long owned the mobile mapping space, but iOS 9 will try to gain some ground with the new version of Apple Maps (shown here) that comes with better mass-transit information. However, people who do not live in urban areas and do not need mass-transit schedules — or those who drive everywhere anyway — may not care so much.

ios9maps

The improved Notes app and the new News app give iOS 9 users some new software to explore. The new version of Android will offer USB-C support, the same all-in-one port Apple touted for its MacBook laptops earlier this year.

But it just may be iPad users may get the most out of iOS 9. For the larger devices. Apple is adding a better keyboard for the bigger screen, split-screen multitasking with apps (shown below)  and a picture-in-picture window so you can FaceTime while also looking at apps. People rocking Android Marshmallow tablets can look forward to the multi-window mode and the spilt-keyboard function that’s been in iOS the past few versions.

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With all this feature parity, it won’t be long at all until both systems feel almost the same. With that, it all comes down to the two other factors that drive our mobile choices: hardware and ecosystem, which means you just need to pick how many megapixels you want in your phone’s camera  and where you want to download your missed episodes of Minority Report — in case, of course, you forgot to have Google Now or Siri remind you to watch in the first place.

PTJ 156 News: Insecurity Checkpoint

Well, that Ashley Madison thing sure blew up last week, didn’t it? At last count, there are five lawsuits seeking more than a half-billion dollars filed against the site and its parent company. In further fallout, a $500,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the hackers. But in an ironic twist noted by security blogger Brian Krebs, other files posted in the data dump indicate that top dogs from Avid Life Media itself may have hacked a competing website themselves to hijack customer information. Oh, and the Columbia Journalism Review has some thoughts on the journalistic ethics of the whole sordid mess.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to sue companies that fail to enforce data security policies and lose personal customer data to hackers. The ruling stems from the original case filed by the FTC back in 2012 against hotel conglomerate Wyndham Worldwide Corporation for three data breaches in two years and $10 million dollars in fraudulent charges, all due to epic security failures.

Microsoft may not be dominating smartphone sales, but the company is finding new uses for the devices. A Microsoft Research Project called MobileFusion lets people use their phones to scan objects and create high-quality 3D images that can be later used for things like augmented reality video games or 3-D printing. The research team on the project will formally present MobileFusion in early October at the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality but you can check out the demo video now:

Microsoft also just  released a public beta of its Cortana assistant for Android for anyone interested enough to jump in. And in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Windows 95 this past Monday, the company gave away free downloads of the classic Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” in the Windows Store for anyone who was paying attention or feeling nostalgic about old advertising campaigns.

Comcast has big plans for the next couple of years. The company told the Fierce Cable site that it plans to upgrade its entire cable network with DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which can support maximum data speeds of 10 gigabits per second. No word on pricing for the home crowd yet

In the Department of Just Not Having It, Mozilla  CEO Chris Beard has threatened to fire — if the person was found to be a Mozilla employee — an anonymous Reddit user posting remarks about feminists and “social justice warriors.”   In other company news, Mozilla announced a shift for the Firefox browser last week and has plans to move away from the add-in software created by third-party developers to the more secure extensions model used by Google Chrome.

Twitter has informed Open State Foundation, the Netherlands-based political watchdog group, that it was suspending access to the company’s API for both the Diplotwoops and Politwoops apps. The apps displayed deleted tweets of lawmakers and diplomats for journalists and other to see. While the US version of Polititwoops got the kibosh on May, other companies had been able to use it.

Mapmaker

Google has re-opened its community-editing Map Maker tool to 45 more countries after shutting down the utility in May after a bout of user-generated vandalism was uncovered. Two weeks ago, Map Maker, reappeared for six countries. Google has changed the way Map Maker works, and now includes Regional Leads, or people who will moderate edits to maps in their area. Polygon editing is no longer available and Google warns that is you mess around and violate Map Maker’s terms of use, you will not be able to use the software anymore. The Android Police and other sites are reporting that Google is experimenting with adding food photography  to its maps for people browsing restaurant possibilities.

In drone news, Sony is working with the Japanese robotics company ZMP and experimenting with an unmanned aerial vehicle that look like tiny airplane, but that can take off and land vertically. The two companies have formed a new company called Aerosense for  commercial drone adventures, and have another model that looks more like the traditional buckshot-magnet quadcopter.

MMAnd finally, the International Space Station just received a cargo module from Japan with 4.5 tons of supplies — and a batch of Suntory Whiskey products. Now, before you have visions of the astronauts playing quarters in zero gravity or taking some really loopy spacewalks, the booze is there for scientific reasons. The  whiskey samples will be studied to see if aging in microgravity has any effect on the mellowing of the liquor’s flavor.  All in the name of science, folks.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Start Me Up, 2015 Edition

The return of the Start menu was one of the things that made many a Windows 8 Haters stop griping about Microsoft and take a look at Windows 10. Yes, a variation of that handy little button is back, baby, hanging out in the lower-left corner of the screen.  But if you’re used to the text-based list of items like in Windows 7, Vista and XP, this new-fangled Windows 10 Start menu looks and acts a little bit different.

How different? For one thing, it takes up more space when you pop it open, because Microsoft has shrunk down the old Windows 8 Start screen (the one with the little colored self-updating live tiles) and stuffed it into the Start menu. You can tap or click a tile to open its app, like Weather, Photos or Mail. You can ditch or resize the tiles within the Start menu as you see fit. So that’s nice.

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For a lot of people, the Start menu was where you went every day to, well,  get started — by opening your programs. The Windows 10 Start menu has a variation of the old All Programs menu found in previous editions, except now it’s a vertical list of little app tiles. Links to the File Explorer, system Settings and logout/shutdown button are all here in the new Start menu, too. And as with previous versions of Windows, you can pin your favorite and most-used items to the Start menu so they are always nearby. You can even combine pinned apps into a group.

Windows 10 brings along some new things as well. For one, Cortana is hanging out down there at the bottom of the screen, waiting for you to ask her stuff. Think the Windows 10 Start menu is too small and you miss the expansive Start screen of Windows 8? You can go back to the Windows 8 days when Start takes up the whole screen by changing your settings. You have options.

No matter if you’re coming from Windows 8 or an earlier version of Windows, elements of the Start menu will look vaguely familiar. For those who avoided Windows 8 and clung to XP or Windows 7, popping open the Start menu in Windows 10 can feel  just like coming home again — albeit to a slightly bigger, colorful redecorated house that talks back to you.