Microsoft’s Xbox and Surface hardware may be getting easier to repair, according to a press release from shareholder advocacy nonprofit As You Sow. According to the announcement, Microsoft has agreed to evaluate and expand the repair options for its products “by the end of 2022.” The promises are a bit vague for now, but hopefully this will have a real-world impact.
In the 1980s, Radio Shack parent Tandy Corp. released a graphical user interface called DeskMate that shipped with its TRS-80 and Tandy personal computers. It made its PCs easier to use and competed with Windows. Let’s take a look back. I’ve never used DeskMate – or Tandy computers in general – but there was a whole (cottage) industry of DOS graphical user interfaces and alternative Windows shells during the 3.x days, most notably Norton Desktop. If you ever have an empty weekend you want to fill up- fire up a DOS or windows 3.x virtual machine, and go to town. You can easily lose days researching this particular technological dead end.
An old post from 2014. From 1986 to 1989, I worked in the Xenix group at Microsoft. It was my first job out of school, and I was the most junior person on the team. I was hopelessly naive, inexperienced, generally clueless, and borderline incompetent, but my coworkers were kind, supportive and enormously forgiving – just a lovely bunch of folks. Microsoft decided to exit the Xenix business in 1989, but before the group was dispersed to the winds, we held a wake. Many of the old hands at MS had worked on Xenix at some point, so the party was filled with much of the senior development staff from across the company. There was cake, beer, and nostalgia; stories were told, most of which I can’t repeat. Some of the longer-serving folks dug through their files to find particularly amusing Xenix-related documents, and they were copied and distributed to the attendees. These are kinds of stories that need to be written down for posterity, of we risk losing a lot of valuable information and backstories to some of the less successful technology products of our time.
It was weird to own a Zune in 2005. It is even weirder to own a Zune in 2021 — let alone 16 of them. And yet, 27-year-old Conner Woods proudly shows off his lineup on a kitchen table. They come in all different colors, shapes, and sizes, and each can be identified by that telltale black plastic D-pad just below the screen. He owns the entire scope of the brief Zune lineup — from the svelte Zune 4 to the chunky Zune HD — and among the microscopic community of people who still adore Microsoft’s much-derided MP3 player, no collection of dead tech could possibly be more enviable. But today, almost a decade after Microsoft terminated the brand, there is a small bastion of diehards who are still loving and listening to their Zunes. If you talk to them, they’ll tell you that these MP3 players are the best pieces of hardware to ever run a Windows operating system. Preserving the Zune legacy has just become another part of the hobby. I’ve never once seen a Zune in real life.
Microsoft Corp. is working on in-house processor designs for use in server computers that run the company’s cloud services, adding to an industrywide effort to reduce reliance on Intel Corp.’s chip technology. The world’s largest software maker is using Arm Ltd. designs to produce a processor that will be used in its data centers, according to people familiar with the plans. It’s also exploring using another chip that would power some of its Surface line of personal computers. Of course they are. At this point, any major consumer platform company not working on their own ARM chips is being irresponsible.
Today, Microsoft alongside our biggest silicon partners are announcing a new vision for Windows security to help ensure our customers are protected today and in the future. In collaboration with leading silicon partners AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., we are announcing the Microsoft Pluton security processor. This chip-to-cloud security technology, pioneered in Xbox and Azure Sphere, will bring even more security advancements to future Windows PCs and signals the beginning of a journey with ecosystem and OEM partners. Pluton immediately rings a ton of alarm bells, since initiatives like this tend to not be a good thing for alternative platforms. There’s good news, though, too – Pluton will take care of firmware updates for your motherboard, which I welcome with open arms, since the current state of firmware updates where you have to use garbage OEM applications is dreadful.
Microsoft has put the Surface Duo up for preorder. While Microsoft had revealed the design of the Surface Duo back in October, the company has kept the specs relatively secret. The device includes two separate 5.6-inch OLED displays (1800 x 1350) with a 4:3 aspect ratio that connect together to form a 8.1-inch overall workspace (2700 x 1800) with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Unlike foldables like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the Surface Duo is using real Gorilla Glass, and the displays are designed to work in a similar way to multiple monitors on a Windows PC. One big question over the Surface Duo has been the camera. Microsoft is using an 11-megapixel f/2.0 camera, which will include auto modes for low light, HDR multi-frame captures, and a “super zoom” up to 7x. Both 4K and 1080p video recording will be supported at 30fps and 60fps, with electronic image stabilization. There’s only a single camera on the Surface Duo, which can be used both for video calls and as a main camera. The basic Surface Duo hardware also consists of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, 6GB of RAM, and up to 256GB of storage. LTE is available on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon, but there’s no 5G support at all. Microsoft is also shipping a bumper cover in the box, designed to protect the Duo. That’s a lot of money for what are last year’s specifications, especially regarding the camera and SoC. Sure, this is a new kind of device category, but I have a hard time seeing any mass-market appeal in a device like this matched with such a high price.
Amid reports that President Donald Trump plans to order TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to sell the social-media app’s US operations, Microsoft has emerged as a potential buyer. I would think there are a lot bigger fish to fry when it comes to Chinese interests controlling western corporations, such as Apple, which is all but a Chinese company at this point, or the influence of Tencent, which has stakes in countless western companies.
Microsoft is creating a new kind of Office document. Instead of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, the company has created Lego blocks of Office content that live on the web. The tables, graphs, and lists that you typically find in Office documents are transforming into living, collaborative modules that exist outside of traditional documents. Microsoft calls its Lego blocks Fluid components, and they can be edited in real time by anyone in any app. The idea is that you could create things like a table without having to switch to multiple apps to get it done, and the table will persist on the web like a Lego block, free for anyone to use and edit. This is quite awesome, but I hope Microsoft won’t be tying functionality like this to its Chromium-based browsers, leaving others in the dust.
Microsoft has settled the great space debate, and sided with everyone who believes one space after a period is correct, not two. The software giant has started to update Microsoft Word to highlight two spaces after a period (a full stop for you Brits) as an error, and to offer a correction to one space. Microsoft recently started testing this change with the desktop version of Word, offering suggestions through the Editor capabilities of the app. There’s normal spacing, and everything else. I’m glad Microsoft is normal.
In February, KrebsOnSecurity told the story of a private citizen auctioning off the dangerous domain corp.com for the starting price of $1.7 million. Domain experts called corp.com dangerous because years of testing showed whoever wields it would have access to an unending stream of passwords, email and other sensitive data from hundreds of thousands of Microsoft Windows PCs at major companies around the globe. This week, Microsoft Corp. agreed to buy the domain in a bid to keep it out of the hands of those who might abuse its awesome power. I had no idea that a seemingly innocuous default chosen decades ago had this much of an impact.
Microsoft today announced that Co-Founder and Technology Advisor Bill Gates stepped down from the company’s Board of Directors to dedicate more time to his philanthropic priorities including global health, development, education, and his increasing engagement in tackling climate change. He will continue to serve as Technology Advisor to CEO Satya Nadella and other leaders in the company. Microsoft is in a pretty good spot, so Gates’ company seems to be in good hands.
For those unfamiliar, PowerShell 7 is the latest major update to PowerShell, a cross-platform (Windows, Linux, and macOS) automation tool and configuration framework optimized for dealing with structured data (e.g. JSON, CSV, XML, etc.), REST APIs, and object models. PowerShell includes a command-line shell, object-oriented scripting language, and a set of tools for executing scripts/cmdlets and managing modules. Do we have any PowerShell users on OSNews? If so, why are you using it, and what for?
The biggest and boldest move in the Feb. 5 reorg being announced internally today involves the Windows Experience (client) and the hardware teams. Microsoft is going to roll up these two businesses into a single team, known as Windows and Devices — reporting to Chief Product Officer Panos Panay, I’ve confirmed with a person familiar with the changes who asked not to be named. The move takes effect on Feb. 25. This means even tighter integration between the people designing and building Surface devices and the people developing Windows. Panay is the driving force behind the Surface products, and those have been doing relatively well, so it makes sense to allow him to take a stab at the future of Windows.
Starting today, Microsoft Teams is available for Linux users in public preview, enabling high quality collaboration experiences for the open source community at work and in educational institutions. Users can download the native Linux packages in .deb and .rpm formats here. We are constantly improving based on community feedback, so please download and submit feedback based on your experience. The Microsoft Teams client is the first Microsoft 365 app that is coming to Linux desktops, and will support all of Teams’ core capabilities. Teams is the hub for teamwork that brings together chat, video meetings, calling, and collaboration on Office 365 documents and business processes within a single, integrated experience. I genuinely hope this is the harbinger of the rest of Microsoft Office also finding its way to Linux natively. LibreOffice is workable in a pinch, but for proper compatibility nothing beats the real Office (sadly). I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft has long had Linux versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so on, much like how Mac OS X has been running on Intel all along before Apple made the switch.
One of my friends is into retrocomputing, and he wondered what happened on MS-DOS if you asked it to access a file on a network share that was bigger than what FAT16 could express. My friend was under the mistaken impression that when MS-DOS accessed a network resource, it was the sector access that was remoted. Under this model, MS-DOS would still open the boot sector, look for the FAT, parse it, then calculate where the directories were, read them directly from the network hard drive, and write raw data directly to the network hard drive. This is not how it works. Raymond Chen is an international treasure.
Many status-quo interfaces for tablets with pen + touch input capabilities force users to reach for device-centric UI widgets at fixed locations, rather than sensing and adapting to the user-centric posture. To address this problem, we propose sensing techniques that transition between various nuances of mobile and stationary use via postural awareness. These postural nuances include shifting hand grips, varying screen angle and orientation, planting the palm while writing or sketching, and detecting what direction the hands approach from. The video demonstrates some incredibly useful techniques, but as always, the devil is not just in the details, but also in implementation. Nothing shown in the video seems particularly complicated to implement using current technology, but UI elements that move around based on how you are holding or interacting with the device can be either incredibly intuitive – or downright infuriating.
Microsoft held its Surface hardware event today, and there’s quite a few surprising things they announced. Let’s start with the least interesting, which are updates all across its Surface Pro and Surface Laptop lines. You know, newer processors, design changes, that sort of stuff. Most interesting is probably that the new 15″ Surface Laptop model comes not with an Intel processor, but an AMD Ryzen chip AMD and Microsoft worked on together. But the real new thing with the Laptop 3 is the 15-inch model. Not only is it larger — it has a 15-inch screen and weighs 3.4 pounds — but it also has a brand-new processor for Microsoft’s Surface computers. The new chip is an AMD-based Surface Edition of the Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7, with an extra core on the graphics processor over the standard Ryzen chips. It can be paired with up to 32GB of RAM, which is 16 more than the maximum you can get in the 13-inch model. Oddly, the storage options top out at 512GB. (The 13-inch model can be equipped with up to 1TB of storage.) Microsoft opted for AMD’s Ryzen processors because the company rightfully assumed that on 15″ laptops, people are more likely to do graphics-intensive work than on a smaller 13″ display. It’s also, of course, a huge boost for AMD, and a deserved one for all the amazing progress the company has achieved these past few years. As a very important and interesting sidenote – Microsoft highlighted the serviceability of its new Surface Laptops, but showing on-stage how by removing four screws, you can remove the entire top cover (where the keyboard rests) to access every internal component of the laptop. This is normal for larger, bulkier, and thicker laptops, but it’s quite rare to see it touted as a selling point for such a thin and light laptop. The processor inside the 15″ Surface Laptop is not the only processor Microsoft co-engineered with a partner. Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro X, an ARM-based Surface Pro that runs on a processor Microsoft worked on together with Qualcomm. The new SQ1 processor is a custom Qualcomm processor that runs at 7W to offer great performance. The new Microsoft SQ1 processor pushes 2 teraflops of graphics processing power, and is the fastest Qualcomm processor ever created for a PC. There is also a new AI engine that can enable new class of Windows applications on the new Surface Pro X. On the connectivity front, you have got two USB-C ports and Surface Connect port. Microsoft also mentioned that the new Surface X has removable hard drive. Moving on, we get to the two most interesting announcements. Before we get into these, I want to stress that these two devices won’t ship until the 2020 holiday season, so we’re talking about early announcements here. The reason for these early announcements will become clear – these are devices that would greatly benefit from 3rd party developer support. First, the Surface Neo is a dual-screen device that looks very similar to Microsoft’s older Courier concept. It has two 9″ screen connected by a hinge, and it’s running on an as-of-yet unreleased Intel processor. Like most Surface devices, there’s an intricate hinge that allows the Surface Neo to switch into a variety of modes and the typical high build quality you’d expect from Microsoft’s hardware. There’s also a clever Bluetooth keyboard that flips, slides, and locks into place with magnets, which can be stowed and secured to the rear of the device. There’s even a new Surface Slim Pen that attaches magnetically, and it’s the same stylus Microsoft is using on the new Surface Pro X. To make the magic between two displays work, the Neo runs on Windows 10X, which is the same as any other Windows 10 version except for the shell – desktop environment, if you will, in Windows parlance – which is designed specifically for dual-screen use. The UI automatically morphs and adapts to various ways of using and holding the device, including showing a trackpad above of beloew the Bluetooth hardware keyboard when it’s magnetically attached on top of the ‘bottom’ display when in laptop mode. Windows 10X allows you to run classic Win32 applications, but they will be run inside containers, and the operating system will update seamlessly in the background. It seems like Windows 10X might be the containerise-Win32-version of Windows we’ve been talking about for more than a decade now. Developers who want to make more optimal use of the dual-screen configuration will need to developer specifically for the form factor, which explains why they’re announcing it and Windows 10X ahead of time. As my girlfriend and I were watching the Surface event, I walked into my office, opened a drawer, and took out my pristine day-one purchase Surface RT, in its original box and wrapping, and showed it to her, just to illustrate that any time Microsoft makes hardware with versions of Windows that aren’t real Windows, I get a little apprehensive. Second, there’s the long-awaited Surface phone, which you’re not supposed to call a phone. It’s the Surface Duo, and at first glance, it looks exactly like a smaller version of the Surface Neo. However, upon closer inspection of the software, you quickly realise the Duo isn’t running Windows – it’s running Android. Yes, Microsoft worked together with Google to develop a unique Android phone, complete with Google Play Services and everything else you come to expect from an Android phone, albeit with the software is heavily skinned to look like Windows 10X. This means that a year from now, Microsoft will be selling a device running Google Android, powered by a Linux kernel – a consumer hardware device from Microsoft based on Linux. I know the world has changed, but this realisation still blew my mind. These are some solid device announcements from Microsoft, and throughout the event, the sense of confidence from the presenters was palpable. There was subtle jab after jab
Most folks at Microsoft don’t realize that Encarta exists and is used TODAY all over the developing world on disconnected or occasionally connected computers. (Perhaps Microsoft could make the final version of Encarta available for a free final download so that we might avoid downloading illegal or malware infested versions?) What are your fond memories of Encarta? If you’re not of the Encarta generation, what’s your impression of it? Had you heard or thought of it? I have vague memories of using Encarta back in the early ’90s, but I was much more interested in technology and games as a young kid. These days I tend to read a lot of Wikipedia pages every day, so had I been my current age 25 years ago, I can definitely see myself using Encarta a lot. In any event, definitely neat that the final version of Encarta – from 2009 – runs just fine on Windows 10.
Microsoft has done a lot on Android in recent years, and last week many were excited when the company launched its Your Phone Companion app for mirroring notifications on a Windows 10 PC. However, that’s had an unfortunate side effect that sees Microsoft inserting ads in Android’s share menus for its various other apps. They’re placing ads in the share and open with menus in Android if you install a Microsoft Android application. This is just terrible, scummy, and tasteless on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.