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Posts tagged ‘Microsoft’


Microsoft hopes your Windows PC can replace an Amazon Echo

If rumors are true, Microsoft may be one of the few major consumer tech giants that doesn’t have a smart, voice-guided speaker in the works… but that doesn’t mean it’s sitting on its thumbs. In an expansion of recent code discoveries, Windows Central sources claim that Windows 10 is getting a Home Hub feature that will turn supporting PCs into rivals for the Amazon Echo and Google Home. You’d have a shared, login-free desktop that shares family resources like calendars and shopping lists, and a smart home app that would make it easy to control all your connected devices. And as you might surmise, the Cortana voice assistant would play a much, much more important role.

Under Home Hub, Cortana would have access to both shared content as well as that of individual users who are signed in. That would tackle one of the biggest issues with devices like Google Home — that they’re frequently limited to supporting a single user’s account. Supporting PCs would also be much more Cortana-friendly. You could use voice commands from a greater distance, and wake up the PC with voice alone. Home Hub-ready systems could even tout light and motion sensors to wake up whenever someone enters the room.

Provided the leak is accurate, it could be a while before you see every element of Home Hub. It’s reportedly scheduled to arrive through three significant Windows 10 updates (nicknamed Redstone 2, 3 and 4) that would start arriving in 2017. And if you want a PC designed for the feature from the ground up, you may have to wait until the very end of the year. Microsoft is said to be asking vendors (including HP and Lenovo) to step up with Home Hub-optimized all-in-one PCs in late 2017.

There’s no certainty that everything will pan out as planned. WC is quick to warn that delays and cancellations could change features and timelines, assuming Home Hub ships at all. However, it’s easy to see the incentive for Microsoft to make this a reality. In some ways, Echo-like speakers reduce the need for a family computer — you can’t do your homework through a speaker, but you can accomplish tasks that would normally require breaking out your phone or sitting at a desk. Home Hub would keep the PC relevant for homes where a shared machine makes sense, and might even provide an edge over smart speakers by offering the visual, multi-user info that you don’t get right now.

Source: Windows Central


Pros and cons: Our verdict on the new Surface Book

The 2016 Surface Book is a lot like last year’s Surface Book, which we already really liked. So we recommend this one too, though the few flaws we noted last time remain as well. As ever, it’s a well-built piece of kit, with a bright detachable screen whose 3:2 aspect ratio makes it comfortable to hold in tablet mode. The keyboard and trackpad are both still comfortable to use, and more than ever (ahem, Apple), we appreciate the port selection, which includes some full-sized USB ports and an SD card reader.

Unfortunately, this year’s configurations are even heavier, at 3.68 pounds, but the extra heft at least comes with longer battery life: 16 hours of video playback in laptop mode, and around four hours in tablet mode. (That last figure still ain’t great, but it is nonetheless an improvement.) The screen also still wobbles in its hinge when you tap the touchscreen, and the whole thing is a little top heavy when you rest it in your lap.

Oh, and it’s expensive: The newest models start at $2,399. For that money, you’ll get great performance and mostly good ergonomics — in other words, one of the best laptops on the market. Still, those insistent on a thinner, lighter design should either look elsewhere, or hold out till next year and see if Microsoft delivers something more portable.


Microsoft expands its accessibility efforts on Windows 10

Microsoft is keen on making sure people with disabilities can use their products, and next year it’s only going to expand upon that directive. It starts with some big additions to Windows 10 and Narrator for the Creators Update like support for braille, some 10 news voices for text to speech and volume ducking when Narrator chimes in while you’re listening to Spotify or another music program.

Narrator will also dovetail better with the Edge browser too, making it easier to fill out forms and navigation via heading levels. On Xbox One (that’s a Windows device too, remember?) you’ll be able to tweak how fast Narrator speaks and the pitch of its voice.

If you were worried that Office 365 would be left out, those fears were unfounded. Next year, the productivity suite will make it easier to create stuff that’s accessible by people with disabilities. That includes an AI boost from its Computer Vision Cognitive Service that makes it ” easy to insert alternative text descriptions for images and meaningful display names for hyperlinks, as well as making the accessibility checker available in more Office applications”. There are a few other bits and bobs like a read-aloud while simultaneously highlighting text option and a tool that breaks words into syllables for easier reading.

Those last bits are already rolling out to Office Insiders and people in the First Release programs. Everyone else is just going to have to be patient until next spring, it sounds like.

Source: Microsoft


Everything you missed from ‘The Game Awards’

Each year that Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards distances itself from its SpikeTV past, it gets subsequently less embarrassing to watch. And without a doubt, The Game Awards 2016 was the best show yet. Couldn’t watch the stream? Well, that’s too bad, but we’ve got you covered. Below you’ll find a list of the night’s big winners in addition to all the trailers that made their world premieres onstage at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. There were a few emotional moments onstage as well, including Ryan Green accepting the Games for Impact award for That Dragon, Cancer; Keighley presenting his friend Hideo Kojima with a statue for Industry Icon and Nolan North throwing striking voice actors under the bus during his acceptance speech for best performance.

Oh, and consider this an official plea for composer Mick Gordon to take the award-winning Doom soundtrack on tour. Seriously, just watch the performance embedded below and try saying that it wouldn’t translate to a huge stage production ridiculously well. I mean, if Dethklok can do it…

  • Best eSports Game: Overwatch
  • Best eSports Team: Cloud 9
  • Best eSports Player: Coldzera – Marcelo David
  • Trending Gamer: Boogie2988
  • Most Anticipated Game: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Best Multiplayer: Overwatch
  • Best Sports/Racing Game: Forza Horizon 3
  • Best Family Game: Pokemon Go
  • Best Strategy Game: Civilization 6
  • Best Fighting Game: Street Fighter V
  • Best RPG: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt — Blood and Wine
  • Best Action/Adventure: Dishonored 2
  • Best Action Game: Doom
  • Best VR Game: Rez Infinite
  • Best Mobile/Handheld Game: Pokemon Go
  • Best Independent Game: Inside
  • Games for Impact: That Dragon, Cancer
  • Best Performance: Nolan North as Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4
  • Best Music/Sound design: Doom
  • Best Art Direction: Inside
  • Best Narrative: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
  • Best Game Direction: Blizzard/Overwatch
  • Game of the Year: Overwatch

Source: The Game Awards (YouTube)


‘Gears of War 4’ gets cross-platform multiplayer this weekend

Since the dawn of time, comment sections have had vicious debates on which gamers own the superior platform. This weekend, Microsoft are giving them the opportunity to put their K/D where their mouths are. Between December 2nd and December 5th, Microsoft will be trialing cross-platform competitive play on Gears of War 4 allowing PC and Xbox One players to duke it out.

Cross-play was a key focus of Xbox’s E3 presentation this year, but until now the two platforms have only been able to interact in cooperative modes. While Gears of War 4 has long supported inter-platform play on its co-op missions and Horde mode, developer The Coalition says this limited trial could pave the way for permanent competitive cross-platform support.

Where games like Microsoft’s Shadow Run have attempted this in the past, the difference in input methods have meant that players on either platform could be put at a disadvantage. With many PC players preferring the more accurate mouse and keyboard setup, and console gamers requiring generous aim assist, the results of this trial will be interesting to say the least.

Thankfully, this daunting battleground will be isolated to a ‘crossplay’ multiplayer playlist, meaning that participating in the player war isn’t mandatory. If you’re feeling brave enough though, this is one fight you can proudly tell your bemused grandkids about in years to come.

Source: Gears Of War Forum


Pros and cons: Our quick verdict on the Surface Studio

Arguably the most interesting computer released this year wasn’t an ultra-thin laptop or even a tablet hybrid — it was a desktop computer. The Surface Studio is hardly the first all-in-one desktop, but it’s the first from Microsoft, and the company even managed to make this classic form factor feel fresh. In particular, we’re fans of the optional “Surface Dial” accessory, which gives users an additional way to get around menus and control on-screen objects. (The included pen works well too.) This is also just a very well-crafted product, with a sturdy build and an articulating screen that comes in handy for creative work.

The main problem is the price. Well, and the specs you get for the money. Though the Studio is powerful, it’s limited by the fact that it runs mobile, not desktop, processors. Also, though there are configurations beyond the $3,000 base model, the machine itself isn’t user-upgradeable. And that could be a problem for the sort of niche the Studio is aimed at.


US lead on AI will shrink without more funding and education

Over a month ago, the White House released a report exploring AI’s promises and challenges. Today, climate change denier and Senator Ted Cruz, head of the Senate’s Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee, held a public hearing to follow up on the subject. He and members of the Senate’s greater Commerce, Science and Transportation committee petitioned four prominent experts in the field to give a status update on artificial intelligence. Their message was clear: AI has a lot of potential to boost American production, but unless we educate far more experts, US research will be overtaken by China, India and other nations that are increasingly investing in the field.

The hearing’s only pleasant surprise was its bipartisan support. Senators from both sides of the aisle, along with Cruz, all took the expert panel’s testimony seriously. Granted, AI still has the the new-car smell of a nascent field with great potential, which could boost US labor productivity by 40%, Cruz said in his introductory remarks. Golden bullet it might seem, but even the current experiments using AI to assist or solely could take a chunk out of the 35,000 annual vehicular deaths, 94% of which are caused by human error, committee member Senator Gary Peters noted.

Artificial intelligence could save even more lives, said the hearing’s first witness, Microsoft Research Lab’s managing director Eric Horvitz. AI could sift through vast quantities of medical data and catch things human doctors miss, as IBM’s Watson did back in August when it identified a rare form of leukemia and saved a patient’s life.

When people think of the cost benefits of AI, they think of automation. But reducing death and debilitating injury affects the overall economy, too: AI-assisted driving could also cut down on the 300,000 incapacitating vehicular injuries every year, which means more people remaining in the workforce and less time and money spent finding and training temporary or permanent replacements.

The looming fear over the hearing was China and India’s ever-greater competition in AI R&D. Logically, America’s lead on China and India could shrink simply due to how many more computer scientists they can train per their colossal populations. But letting US artificial intelligence slide could also be dangerous to national security. Back in August, the Defense Department suggested “immediate action” should be taken to boost development of AI war technology.

We can retain our lead to keep pioneering artificial intelligence by training America’s youth in AI programming as early as middle school, recommended the hearing’s second witness, Dean of the school of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University Andrew Moore. In his opinion, there’s a staggering amount of work and not enough trained computer scientists to perform it. Train a million middle school kids in AI, perhaps 1% stick with it, and even if you ended up with 400 experts at the level of Moore and his fellows at the hearing, there would still be too much work to do, Moore said. Pumping out more AI professionals won’t just be a smart move to fill a wanting workforce: for every programmer trained in artificial intelligence a tech company hires, Moore estimates, they earn $5 to $10 million more.

Collaboration could also help the US keep its lead, said the third witness, cofounder of the nonprofit OpenAI Greg Brockman. Making more AI systems open source drives innovation, Brockman said, along with unlocking datasets for anyone to use. But it’s not just amateurs and corporations working together: The tech industry, the government and academia should coordinate to establish standards of safety, security and ethics.

The last witness, senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Steve Chien, noted that the space agency put an AI-controlled spacecraft in orbit to track earthbound phenomena — which has been continuously snapping photos from the high atmosphere for a dozen years. Many of NASA’s vehicles, including its Mars rovers, rely on AI to navigate and triage environmental conditions.

With technological possibilities come dangers, and AI is no exception. Cruz’s limp Skynet joke aside, the pressing concern with creating more complex and prevalent artificial intelligence is the subsequent increase in cyber vulnerabilities. We don’t have to look farther than the last year to see government and political agencies hacked by foreign independent and state agents.

But even things as mundane as liability could get in the way of AI application progress here in the US. The prospect of AI-controlled cars getting into collisions could lead to a legal impasse between carmakers, insurance companies and citizens as fault becomes uncertain. Public uncertainty or displeasure could derail AI implementation in those applications, too.

To avoid the US slipping out of first place in the AI race, the panel of witnesses ultimately recommended more investment and collaboration. That means far more emphasis on AI programming earlier in education, as Moore points out, but also simply more money injected into research: Government investment in AI over the past year was $1 billion, while the tech industry spent $8 billion, Brockman pointed out. That funding will likely help us make the roads safer and people healthier, but as Chien stated, it will also help us discover the deep space answers to a few questions that have bothered mankind for eons — namely, how did life form along with the universe around it?

Source: US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation


‘Halo 5’ is getting an eSports reality TV show

Microsoft really wants to make a big deal out of competitive Halo 5 gaming, and it’s taking an unusual route to get there. The company’s 343 Industries and Electronic Sports League have reached a deal with Pilgrim Media Group to create an eSports-focused reality TV series. Details of what it involves are scarce, but it will bring the “intensity and extreme competition” of Halo 5 to the TV, whatever that might mean. There’s no mention of a planned air date or even distributors, so it’s unclear when you’ll have a chance to watch. It’s safe to say that Microsoft will find some way to make the series available to Xbox One owners, though.

The show isn’t coming completely out of the blue. ESL, Pilgrim and Lionsgate announced cooperation on eSports programming back in May, and the Halo show is the first project to emerge from the team-up. It’s definitely a gamble, though. While the eSports field is growing rapidly and has had its share of TV coverage, it’s hard to say how well conventional TV viewers will respond to a serialized show about competitive video gaming… especially for a title that’s a year old before production even starts. With that said, the fictional Halo web series Forward Unto Dawn got an Emmy nomination. At this point, we wouldn’t rule out another success.

Via: Variety

Source: Pilgrim Media Group


PowerPoint brings real-time collaboration to your slides

It’s not much fun to plug away at a presentation, but Microsoft might have found a way to make the experience more bearable for Office 365 subscribers. It’s updating the Windows version of PowerPoint with real-time collaboration that helps you share the workload. You can see who’s editing specific slides, and see typing as it happens. You’ll need to be part of the Office Insider program to use this right away, but don’t be surprised if it’s available more broadly in the near future.

Microsoft’s updates will also let you know what’s going on when you’re away from your desk. Both Android and iOS users are getting notifications that let you know when someone is offering or working on a shared Excel, PowerPoint or Word file. Ideally, you won’t be caught off-guard when a coworker starts editing a team report. You’ll have to be patient if you think these would be useful, however. You need to be an Office Insider to get these notifications on Android at the moment, and you’ll have to wait for the December updates before they show up on iOS.

Source: Office Blogs


SwiftKey for Android’s clipboard is a godsend for lazy typers

So, you don’t like typing out your address or any other information you usually send other people again and again — SwiftKey gets it. In fact, its latest update for Android devices adds a couple of new features you’ll enjoy. First is the keyboard’s brand new Clipboard, which you can use to save phrases you often use and anything else you want. You can simply copy and paste items you saved onto a messaging or email app whenever you need to.

In case it’s an address or any other pertinent info you’d like to keep in your Clipboard indefinitely, you can take advantage of another new feature: Shortcuts. You can assign a shortcut to any info you clip and type it in lieu of that information when texting or emailing someone. For instance, if you mark your address as “home” or “office,” you only need to type either shortcut to bring up the complete address on the prediction bar, which you can then insert into whatever you’re composing.

Besides these two related features, the updated SwiftKey for Android also comes with Incognito mode. It keeps the app from learning words and phrases you don’t want anyone else to know you’ve been typing on your phone — you only need to swipe right on the hamburger menu and enable it through the SwiftKey Hub. Since the keyboard is now powered by a neural network and serves better predictions that before, incognito sounds like a great addition to keep its vocabulary safe for work and kids.

Source: SwiftKey

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