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.
Microsoft is considering adding a dedicated Office key to keyboards. The new key would provide additional keyboard shortcuts for Office apps, including the ability to quickly share documents and files. Microsoft has been conducting a survey with testers of the Office key, spotted by WalkingCat, and is getting feedback on how the dedicated key operates. Microsoft appears to suggest the key will replace the secondary Windows key on the right-hand side of a keyboard, or the dedicated menu key. Microsoft’s survey, which requires a work or school Microsoft account to access, includes questions around Office key shortcuts, and asks whether testers would like to see this dedicated key on laptops. Microsoft appears to be testing the concept with its latest Windows 10 May 2019 Update. How about we all collectively decide not to do this? The Windows key is an affront enough as it is, and I really don’t want OEMs to be strong-armed into adding another annoying, useless, user-hostile key that accidentally takes you out of games and other fullscreen applications and that is entirely useless on non-Windows operating systems. Just, no.
The tech industry is feeling the pain of an unprecedented backlash over its business practices and broad impact on society, but original tech giant Microsoft has managed to stay mostly above the fray. It’s remarkably puzzling how nobody is really talking about Microsoft. The company is one of the largest companies in the world, incredibly powerful, and still has its tentacles all over the industry, and thus, all over society. They are just as (potentially) dangerous as any of the others.
During a virtual launch event today, Microsoft announced that Visual Studio 2019 is now generally available. The new IDE contains a number of new features, such as making it easier to clone a Git repo, and there are improvements for template selection. There’s also a new feature called Live Share. Live Share lets you collaborate with other developers in real time. Announced at Build 2018 last year, it’s been in preview ever since. Since then, Microsoft has added support for languages like C++ and Python, and it’s started allowing guests to start debugging sessions. Live Share works with both Visual Studio 2019 and Visual Studio Code. This release includes Visual Studio for the Mac.
Last week, Microsoft made a major update to the Web version of its Skype client, bringing HD video calling, call recording, and other features already found on the other clients. And as if to prove a point, the update works only in Edge and Chrome. Firefox, Safari, and even Opera are locked out. In the past, the Skype team has pointed to codec issues as the reason for inconsistent browser support. But that shouldn’t be a concern these days, as both the H.264 and VP8 video codecs are supported in Edge, Chrome, and Firefox. Google Hangouts and Google Meet support plugin-free video calling in Firefox, for example, as have other online services. For a long time, Apple refused to support WebRTC—the underlying browser technology used for real-time voice and video chatting—in Safari. But even that feature gap doesn’t exist any more, and Safari should now support everything required. The trend is clear: Chrome is becoming the new Internet Explorer 6.
As expected, Microsoft today launched HoloLens 2, the company’s second-generation augmented reality (AR) headset. The new hardware addresses what were probably the two biggest issues with the first-generation device: the narrow field of view, and the comfort when wearing the device. I’d love to experience AR and VR devices like these, but for now, I just can’t justify the investment. The killer app for home use seems to not have been invented yet, and I’d just end up with a fun gimmick that serves to entertain the odd guest a few times a year. I understand my own personal enjoyment is not exactly high on the list for the makes of these devices – they’re obviously more interested in professional use – but in order to build a sutainable, long-term business around AR and VR, they really ought to start thinking about reasons for ordinary consumers to start buying these.
When Microsoft revealed that it was finally putting its long-running, if disregarded, Windows Phone line out to pasture, it was less roar, more whimper. It was a valiant effort that introduced some original thinking to the smartphone space, but it ultimately was a noble failure. But it got me thinking about a platform with Microsoft’s fingerprints on it, that was a noble and influential attempt at producing a standard, but ultimately fell into obscurity, with the industry choosing a different path. Today’s Tedium is about the Windows Phone of the ’80s, MSX. The MSX was one of the first computers I used, since a friend of mine had one. I can’t remember what, exactly, we did with it, but I’m pretty sure it was games. The MSX was weirdly popular in The Netherlands, and they’re still relatively easy to come by here.
Microsoft’s Bing search engine has been blocked in China, rendering yet another Western internet service inaccessible to the world’s largest online population. The search engine, allowed to operate in China because it censors results, became inaccessible to many users Wednesday. The U.S. software giant confirmed Bing could no longer be accessed in China and that it was “engaged to determine next steps.” Any service or company still operational and accessible in China is compromised.
Microsoft first unveiled its Microsoft 365 bundle of Windows 10 and Office for businesses and schools back in 2017. While a bundle of buying Office and Windows licenses makes sense for commercial customers, Microsoft is also looking to launch a similar bundle for consumers. Speaking to journalists at a media event earlier this week, attended by The Verge, CEO Satya Nadella gave some hints that Microsoft 365 will appear for consumers. I already have an Office 365 subscription, and the idea of adding Windows to that certainly seems appealing to me. It’s easy, straightforward, and doesn’t require any periodic large purchases either.