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Subject: General Tech
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Intro and Xbox One

Introduction to Remote Streaming

The ability to play console games on the PC is certainly nothing new. A wide range of emulators have long offered PC owners access to thousands of classic games. But the recent advent of personal game streaming gives users the ability to legally enjoy current generation console games on their PCs.

Both Microsoft and Sony now offer streaming from their respective current generation consoles to the PC, but via quite different approaches. For PC owners contemplating console streaming, we set out to discover how each platform works and compares, what level of quality discerning PC gamers can expect, and what limitations and caveats console streaming brings. Read on for our comparison of Xbox One Streaming in Windows 10 and PS4 Remote Play for the PC and Mac.

Xbox One Streaming in Windows 10

Xbox One Streaming was introduced alongside the launch of Windows 10 last summer, and the feature is limited to Microsoft's latest (and last?) operating system via its built-in Xbox app. To get started, you first need to enable the Game Streaming option in your Xbox One console's settings (Settings > Preferences > Game DVR & Streaming > Allow Game Streaming to Other Devices).

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Once that's done, head to your Windows 10 PC, launch the Xbox app, and sign in with the same Microsoft account you use on your Xbox One. By default, the app will offer to sign you in with the same Microsoft account you're currently using for Windows 10. If your Xbox gamertag profile is associated with a different Microsoft account, just click Microsoft account instead of your current Windows 10 account name to sign in with the correct credentials.

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Note, however, that as part of Microsoft's relentless efforts to get everyone in the Virgo Supercluster to join the online Microsoft family, the Xbox app will ask those using a local Windows 10 account if they want to "sign in to this device" using the account associated with their Xbox gamertag, thereby creating a new "online" account on your Windows 10 PC tied to your Xbox account.

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If that's what you want, just type your current local account's password and click Next. If, like most users, you intentionally created your local Windows 10 account and have no plans to change it, click "Sign in to just this app instead," which will allow you to continue using your local account while still having access to the Xbox app via your gamertag-associated online Microsoft account.

Once you're logged in to the Xbox app, find and click on the "Connect" button in the sidebar on the left side of the window, which will let you add your Xbox One console as a device in your Windows 10 Xbox app.

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Continue reading our comparison of Xbox One Streaming and PlayStation 4 Remote Play!!

DigitalFoundry Dissects Quantum Break (and I rant)

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 14, 2016 - 06:17 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, uwp, DirectX 12, dx12

At the PC Gaming Conference from last year's E3 Expo, Microsoft announced that they were looking to bring more first-party titles to Windows. They used to be one of the better PC gaming publishers, back in the Mechwarrior 4 and earlier Flight Simulator days, but they got distracted as Xbox 360 rose and Windows Vista fell.

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Again, part of that is because they attempted to push users to Windows Vista and Games for Windows Live, holding back troubled titles like Halo 2: Vista and technologies like DirectX 10 from Windows XP, which drove users to Valve's then-small Steam platform. Epic Games was also a canary in the coalmine at that time, warning users that Microsoft was considering certification for Games for Windows Live, which threatened mod support “because Microsoft's afraid of what you might put into it”.

It's sometimes easy to conform history to fit a specific viewpoint, but it does sound... familiar.

Anyway, we're glad that Microsoft is bringing first-party content to the PC, and they are perfectly within their rights to structure it however they please. We are also within our rights to point out its flaws and ask for them to be corrected. Turns out that Quantum Break, like Gears of War before it, has some severe performance issues. Let's be clear, these will likely be fixed, and I'm glad that Microsoft didn't artificially delay the PC version to give the console an exclusive window. Also, had they delayed the PC version until it was fixed, we wouldn't have known whether it needed the time.

Still, the game apparently has issues with a 50 FPS top-end cap, on top of pacing-based stutters. One concern that I have is, because DigitalFoundry is a European publication, perhaps the 50Hz issue might be caused by their port being based on a PAL version of the game??? Despite suggesting it, I would be shocked if that were the case, but I'm just trying to figure out why anyone would create a ceiling at that specific interval. They are also seeing NVIDIA's graphics drivers frequently crash, which probably means that some areas of their DirectX 12 support are not quite what the game expects. Again, that is solvable by drivers.

It's been a shaky start for both DirectX 12 and the Windows 10 UWP platform. We'll need to keep waiting and see what happens going forward. I hope this doesn't discourage Microsoft too much, but also that they robustly fix the problems we're discussing.

Oh, we like this; Edge will now pause some Flash content

Subject: General Tech | April 8, 2016 - 01:21 PM |
Tagged: flash, microsoft, edge, windows 10

The new insider build of Windows 10 includes a new feature on Edge, similar to the one already found on Chrome, it will pause Flash assets on webpages which are not the main content.  This should mean far less annoying advertisements blaring from your speakers if you happen to visit an uncouth website which features that type of advertisement.  It is also a step in the right direction for security, considering Adobe has posted yet another critical update for a gaping security hole in Flash.  You can follow the links from Slashdot to grab the update if you wish, or delve into the morass of comments about this update.

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"Microsoft Edge will "intelligently auto-pause" Flash content that is "not central to the webpage." If you want to try this out now, you can take the feature for a spin with Windows 10 build 14316, which was recently made available to Windows Insiders"

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Source: Slashdot

Regular Surface, Large Surface are in stock, soon you will be able to order a Small from Microsoft

Subject: General Tech | April 6, 2016 - 12:16 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, surface phone

For those masochists who like to run Windows phones there is good news on the horizon, three Surface phones are due to arrive some time in 2017.  The market segmentation is different from the competition, instead of offering curved screens or a different size they will sell consumer, business and enthusiast models.  That is an interesting way to separate your products and with the amount that usual phone usage has changed an Enthusiast model actually makes sense for those who spend more time gaming and watching HD content on their phones than on their laptops.

The Inquirer has heard rumours that the phones will have a 5.5" QHD AMOLED screen, an Intel Atom CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of local storage, though one hopes the enthusiast model gets a little boost in specs.

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"MICROSOFT'S RUMOURED Surface Phone reportedly won't see the light of day until next year, but will arrive in three versions when it does."

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Source: The Inquirer

Windows 10 Will Finally Get a Dark Theme in Redstone 1

Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2016 - 02:33 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft

Microsoft has been slowly shifting Windows and the rest of their software toward a dark theme over the last couple of years. This is the case on Visual Studio, Edge, and... some of the operating system's user interface. You can see it in the taskbar, in a few context menus on the desktop, and so forth. If you then open the system settings, you are greeted with light grey and white.

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According to Brad Sams at Thurrott.com, Windows 10 will receive an actual dark theme option in the upcoming Anniversary Update. It could have been unlocked in the registry since before Windows 10 initially launched last year, but it was very incomplete. I also don't exactly like enabling experimental things in the registry, because you never know if Microsoft will test all possible combinations of work-in-progress flags when said feature actually goes public.

Speaking of which, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update is expected at some point in July. You know, the one-year anniversary of Windows 10 reaching RTM totally not RTM, because Windows 10 doesn't go RTM.

Source: Thurrott.com

The Status of Windows Phone

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 31, 2016 - 01:52 PM |
Tagged: BUILD, build 2016, microsoft, windows 10, windows phone

If you watched the opening keynote of Microsoft's Build conference, then you probably didn't see much Windows Phone (unless you were looking at your own). The Verge talked to Terry Myerson about this, and Microsoft confirmed that they are leading with non-Windows, 4-inch devices, and they want to “generate developer interest” on those platforms for this year.

PC World interpreted this conversation to say that Windows Phone is put on hold.

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That might be a little hasty, though. Microsoft is still building Windows 10 for Mobile. In fact, since Microsoft updated “Windows OneCore” and jumped build to 14xxx-level build numbers with Windows 10 build 14251, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 PC are kept in lockstep. As far as I know, that is still the plan, and Windows Insiders should continue to receive these on compatible devices.

That said, Microsoft has basically admitted that Windows Phone would just be a distraction for developers this year. At the very least, they don't believe that the platform will be ready for them until next year's Build conference, which means that consumers will probably be even further down than that because there would be no applications for them. Yes, Windows Phone could be slowly shimmying out of the spotlight, but it could also be delayed until they make a good impression, and have the PC, Xbox, Hololens, and other ecosystems secure to lift it up.

Source: The Verge

Microsoft's Phil Spencer Discusses UWP Concerns at Build

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 30, 2016 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, uwp, microsoft, build 2016, BUILD

When a platform vendor puts up restrictions, it can be scary, and with good cause. Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is the successor of WinRT, which, in the Windows 8 era, forced web browsers to be reskins of Internet Explorer, forced developers to get both their software and themselves certified before publishing, and so forth. They still allowed the traditional, more open, Win32 API, but locked them into “the Desktop App”.

Naturally, UWP carries similar concerns, which some developers (like Tim Sweeney of Epic Games) voiced publicly. It's more permissive, but in a brittle way. We don't want Microsoft, or someone like a government who has authority over them, to flip a switch and prevent individuals from developing software, ban content that some stakeholder finds offensive (like art with LGBT characters in Russia, the Middle East, or even North America), or ban entire categories of software like encryption suites or third-party web browsers.

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This is where we get to today's announcement.

Microsoft's Phil Spencer, essentially responding to Tim Sweeney's concerns, and the PC gaming community at large, announced changes to UWP to make it more open. I haven't had too much time to think about it, and some necessary details don't translate well to a keynote segment, but we'll relay what we know. First, they plan to open up VSync off, FreeSync, and G-Sync in May. I find this kind-of odd, since Windows 10 will not receive its significant update (“Anniversary Update”) until July, I'm not sure how they would deliver this. It seems a little big for a simple Windows Update patch. I mean, they have yet to even push new versions of their Edge web browser outside of Windows 10 builds.

The second change is more interesting. Microsoft announced, albeit without dedicating a solid release date or window, to allow modding and overlays in UWP applications. This means that software will be able to, somehow, enter into UWP's process, and users will be encouraged to, somehow, access the file system of UWP applications. Currently, you need to jump through severe hoops to access the contents of Windows Store applications.

They still did not address the issue of side-loading and developing software without a certificate. Granted, you can do both of those things in Windows 10, but in a way that seems like it could be easily removed in a future build, if UWP has enough momentum and whoever runs Microsoft at the time decides to. Remember, this would not be an insidious choice by malicious people. UWP is alluring to Microsoft because it could change the “Windows gets viruses” stigma that is associated with PCs. The problem is that it can be abused, or even unintentionally harm creators and potential users.

On the other hand, they are correcting some major issues. I'm just voicing concerns.

Source: Microsoft

Win 7 Pro is not Enterprise, which you should have probably known already

Subject: General Tech | March 29, 2016 - 01:57 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

As far as Updategate issues go, this one seems less a Microsoft problem and more of a consumer problem; however it does remain a serious problem.  For a while now Microsoft have stated that Enterprise Editions of Windows 7 will not be upgraded to Windows 10, nor should they see the nag screens we have all grown to know and despise.   The problem is that not every company uses Microsoft's Volume Licensing which is the only way to get the Enterprise Edition and even if they do they often customize the installation which can remove the Enterprise flag which prevents the upgrade prompts from appearing.

In practice what that means is businesses are now starting to see the upgrade nag screens, from doctors offices to roofing companies to large businesses which are not part of the volume licensing.  As The Inquirer spotted in one comment, this can be a huge problem as a bronchoscopy cart in a hospital which was needed immediately couldn't be used until Windows Update was finished with it.  It has also negatively effected Bootcamp setups or required a system password which no one had used for years.  Here we thought U2 giving away music for free was bad; expect to become as bored of this topic as you are of the nag screens over the coming months.

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"Qualified computers and devices that are deployed in your organization and that are running Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8.1 Pro are eligible for the free Windows 10 upgrade offer and will be able to upgrade through Windows Update."

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Source: The Inquirer

Tim Sweeney (Epic Games) Is Concerned About Openness

Subject: Editorial | March 28, 2016 - 08:44 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, Oculus, microsoft

... and so am I.

When you develop software, you will always be reliant upon platforms. You use their interfaces to make your hardware do stuff. People who maintain these will almost always do so with certain conditions. In iOS's case, you must have all of your content certified by Apple before it can be installed. In Linux's case, if you make any changes to the platform and distribute them, you need to also release what those changes are.

Sometimes, they are enforced with copyright law. Recently, some platform vendors use chains of trust with strong, mathematical keys. This means that, unless Apple, Microsoft, Oculus, or whoever else made a mistake, members of society can be entirely locked out of creating and installing content.

This has pros and cons.

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On the one hand, it can be used to revoke malware authors, scammers, and so forth. These platforms, being more compact, are usually easier to develop for, and might even be portable across deeper platforms, like x86 or ARM.

On the other hand, it can be used to revoke anything else. Imagine that you live in a jurisdiction where the government wants to ban encryption software. Imagine you live in a jurisdiction where the government wants to ban art featuring characters who are LGBT. Imagine you just want to use your hardware in a way that the vendor does not support, such as our attempts to measure UWP application performance.

We need to be extra careful when dealing with good intentions. These are the situations where people will ignore potential abuses because they are blinded by their justifications. This should not be taken lightly, because when you build something, you build it for everyone to use and abuse, intentionally, or even blinded by their own justifications, which often oppose yours.

For art and continued usability, Microsoft, Oculus, and everyone else needs to ensure that their platforms cannot be abused. They are not a government, and they have no legal requirement to grant users free expression, but these choices can have genuine harm. As owners of platforms, you should respect the power that your platform enables society to wield, and implement safeguards so that you can continue to provide it going forward.

Microsoft Surface Book, taking the prize for most expensive laptop and running with it

Subject: Mobile | March 23, 2016 - 12:32 PM |
Tagged: surface, surface book, tablet, Skylake, notebook, microsoft, Intel

The Register is not exaggerating in the quote below, the new Microsoft Surface Book ranges from $1500-$3200 depending on the model you chose, passing even the overpriced Chromebook Pixel by quite a sum of money.  For that price you get a 3200x2000 (267ppi) 13.5" display on a tablet which weighs 3.34lbs (1.5kg), the detachable keyboard with an optional Nvidia GPU and an extra battery as well as a Surface pen.  If you want the dock which adds more connectivity options, well that is another $200 and seeing as how there is only two USB3.0 ports, a single MiniDP and an SD card reader on the keyboard you are likely to want it. 

Certainly The Register liked the looks, design and power of this ultrabook but with the competition, up to and including Apple, offering similar products at half the price it is a hard sell in the end.  Ryan expressed a similar opinion when he reveiwed the Surface Book.

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"Sumptuous and slightly absurd, Microsoft's Surface Book is the most expensive laptop you can get, short of ordering a 24-carat custom gold plated jobbie."

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Source: The Register