Skip Ahead? Skip Way Ahead. Windows 10 20H1 Test Build

Subject: General Tech | February 14, 2019 - 03:23 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10

Microsoft has pushed a test build for Windows 10 20H1, which is scheduled to be publicly released around April 2020. For context, we are currently on Windows 10 18H2 and Windows 10 19H1 is expected to ship in a couple of months (~April 2019).

Microsoft still plans on shipping Windows 10 19H2 around October 2019.

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This decision was met with snark from some of the more prominent reporters on Microsoft and Windows. One issue that was raised is how the rings will be handled going forward. Currently, there does not exist a branch that contains 19H2. It seems likely that “Skip Ahead” will never drop back to 19H2, especially since rolling back from a preview build is generally unsupported. Will Microsoft continue to have “Skip Ahead” be two builds out, “Fast” be one build out, “Slow” be at most one build out, and “Release Preview” be incremental on the current build? Or will “Skip Ahead” kind-of roll back to “Fast” once the latter catches up and they no longer need to have a feature that requires an abnormally long testing branch?

As for the changes? Not a whole lot. One that stands out is a seemingly innocuous “updating the name of the Windows Light them to be Windows (light)”. This sort-of suggests themes that will not be Windows. I could see some sort of interface or theming update taking an abnormally long time… although I somewhat doubt that is the mystery big feature.

On the other hand, it must be something that Microsoft wants actively tested. Whether that’s automated (via telemetry on a wide array of computers) or through direct feedback from their users will need to be seen.

Source: Microsoft

Unreal Engine 4.22 Preview 1 Published: Initial DXR Support

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 12, 2019 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, ue4, epic games, dxr, DirectX 12, microsoft

The upcoming version of Unreal Engine, 4.22, will include several new features.

The most interesting addition for our audience is probably “Early Access” support for DirectX 12 Raytracing (DXR) on DirectX 12. This includes the low-level framework to cast and evaluate rays in shaders (although they don’t clarify whether that means written shaders, nodes for graph-based shaders, or both) as well as higher-level features that use DXR, such as area lights, soft shadows, and reflections. They have also added a denoiser for shadows, reflections, and ambient occlusion, which will improve image quality with lower sample counts.

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If you remember NVIDIA’s RTX announcement, many of their first-party demos were built using Unreal Engine 4. This includes the Star Wars demo with the two Stormtroopers putting their feet in their mouths on an elevator with their boss. It makes sense that Epic would be relatively far along in RTX support, especially just before GDC.

A few other additions include Visual Studio 2019 support (although Visual Studio 2017 is still the default). The new Unreal Audio Engine is now enabled by default for new projects, which was a complete re-write of the original system that started a few years ago. The old audio system was a bit of a mess, and, worse, varied from platform to platform.

Unreal Engine 4.22 also (experimentally) opts-in to the much longer file and paths names that were introduced with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. The previous limit was 260 characters for a full path, which was defined as MAX_PATH in Win32. I’m not sure what the new limit is, but I think it’s 32,767 characters after expansion. I could be wrong, though.

If you have the Epic Launcher installed, whether it’s for Unreal Engine, Fortnite, something from the Epic Store, Unreal Tournament 4, or whatever, then you can check out Unreal Engine 4.22 for free. (Royalties apply under certain circumstances… but, at that point, you are making money off of it.)

Source: Epic Games

Dey turk er jurbs! Microsoft is now mocking itself?

Subject: General Tech | February 8, 2019 - 01:11 PM |
Tagged: Internet Explorer 11, office 2019, office 359, office 365, microsoft

Microsoft recently release Office 2019, along with a series of videos about why you shouldn't buy it, one of which you can see at Ars Technica if you don't want to watch them all.  It does make sense financially as you will pay for Office 359 forever, while Office 2019 is a one time purchase, but mocking your own product is a bold move.

That is not the only self inflicted mockery coming from Redmond today, as they now refer to IE 11 as "a compatibility solution" and not a web browser.  As their other browser, the one you use to install Chrome, will soon be Chromium based which the competition seems to approve of.  

Considering how hard Microsoft fought to ensure IE remained an integral part of Windows, this seems a major sea change for the company.

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"In an unusual turn of events, Microsoft this week warned Windows users off from using its Internet Explorer and dissed its new Office 2019 suite in a series of videos that show it to be worse than the competition."

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Source: Ars Technica

Skype adds an AI powered f stop-ish feature

Subject: General Tech | February 7, 2019 - 01:54 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, skype, Skype 8

If you liked the look of Sebastian's video on the Podcast, but lack the funds to order the camera he was using that let him adjust the aperture for that effect then Microsoft has good news for you.  They are bringing the AI powered background blurring effect they rolled out in Teams to Skype 8, which will be arriving the same time as the desktop version we are used to kicks the bucket.  While the move to UWP has not been well received by many, perhaps this indicates Microsoft will be focusing on improving the single remaining version of Skype.

The Inquirer reminds you why blurring your background can be a good idea, if you had forgotten about this video.

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"Said release is Skype version 8, the first to exclusively use the Universal Windows (tiled) standard at the expense of the more feature-rich desktop version, though Microsoft has confirmed that it will be adding more familiar features to the new edition."

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Source: The Inquirer

Like using Skype? Microsoft is going to fix that for you

Subject: General Tech | February 1, 2019 - 04:14 PM |
Tagged: skype, microsoft, uwp

Once again Microsoft is planning to forcibly move you to the new Skype without giving you an option other than going to the competition.  For those on Windows 10, this will mean the UWP version which is pretty much incapable of calling anything other than other Windows 10 machines, and not well even then.  For those with business machines that block the Microsoft store and who haven't downgraded to Skype For Business, this means you had better start shopping around for other solutions. 

As The Inquirer has seen themselves, if you are using Skype Classic you will now be offered the choice to either upgrade or exit the application.

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"Users have been railing against the move since it was first announced, as Skype 8 has been beset by problems, many linked to the fact that it will see Windows 10 users forced to use a UWP (Microsoft Store) version of the app, which has historically not worked very well - a point we've made many times."

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Source: The Inquirer

Satya Nadella spotted heading into the woods with a shovel and dufflebag

Subject: General Tech | January 18, 2019 - 01:12 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows phone, ios, Android, cortana, Alexa

It has been an interesting week to be Microsoft, as they have had to suggest to their user base that they might be better off moving to a competitor's product.  Sebastian has already informed you about the fact that Cortana and Windows Search are going through a somewhat amicable divorce, but today we find Satya Nadella suggesting that Cortana will become an optional skill which you can choose for Alexa or Google Assistant; if you don't see any better perks for that level.  Apparently they will also "be again completely consumer businesses" by offering consumers the same licensing scheme as they forced upon enterprise businesses, of which many have expressed strong feelings about since it was introduced.

What must really burn is their admit that Windows 10 Mobile is indeed as dead as the proverbial parrot, which has forced them to suggest that current users move to a different device as Microsoft will no longer even offer token support for that OS after the end of the year.  People paying attention to this may remember that the last major update to the OS was pushed in 2017.

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"Microsoft's guidance for customers is to "move to a supported Android or iOS device" and use the range of Microsoft applications on one of those platforms instead."

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Source: Ars Technica

Microsoft Separates Cortana and Search in Latest Insider Build

Subject: General Tech | January 16, 2019 - 06:08 PM |
Tagged: windows insider, windows 10, search, microsoft, cortana, build 18317

In their announcement of the latest Windows 10 insider preview build (18317) Microsoft has revealed their separation of Cortana from Search. The news was posted on the Windows Blogs site this morning:

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Yes, this is Microsoft's official graphic from the announcement

"Going forward, we’ll be decoupling Search and Cortana in the taskbar. This will enable each experience to innovate independently to best serve their target audiences and use cases. Some Insiders have had this update for a few weeks now, and we appreciate all the feedback we’ve received about it so far! For those new to this update, when it rolls out to you, you’ll find clicking the search box in the taskbar now launches our experience focused on giving you the best in house search experience and clicking the Cortana icon will launch you straight into our voice-first digital assistant experience.

Other available Search and Cortana settings have also now been split between the two, along with the familiar group policies."

Whether or not this change means that Cortana can be removed entirely without removing Search remains to be seen, though the known processes for completely disabling/removing Cortana are currently more involved than just unchecking a box in settings, to say the least.

Source: Microsoft

Windows Sandbox Virtual Environment Coming to Windows 10 in 2019

Subject: General Tech | December 19, 2018 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: windows insider, Windows 10 Pro, Windows 10 Enterprise, windows 10, windows, VM, virtual machine, microsoft, build 18305

Windows Sandbox is a new virtual machine environment coming to Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise versions in 2019, which will be available as an optional component within Windows. Microsoft details the upcoming feature in a blog post published yesterday, describing it as "a new lightweight desktop environment tailored for safely running applications in isolation".

Windows Sandbox Screenshot.jpg

"How many times have you downloaded an executable file, but were afraid to run it? Have you ever been in a situation which required a clean installation of Windows, but didn’t want to set up a virtual machine?

At Microsoft we regularly encounter these situations, so we developed Windows Sandbox: an isolated, temporary, desktop environment where you can run untrusted software without the fear of lasting impact to your PC. Any software installed in Windows Sandbox stays only in the sandbox and cannot affect your host. Once Windows Sandbox is closed, all the software with all its files and state are permanently deleted."

Microsoft lists these features for Windows Sandbox, outlining the secure and non-persistent "disposable" nature of the environment:

  • Part of Windows – everything required for this feature ships with Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise. No need to download a VHD!
  • Pristine – every time Windows Sandbox runs, it’s as clean as a brand-new installation of Windows
  • Disposable – nothing persists on the device; everything is discarded after you close the application
  • Secure – uses hardware-based virtualization for kernel isolation, which relies on the Microsoft’s hypervisor to run a separate kernel which isolates Windows Sandbox from the host
  • Efficient – uses integrated kernel scheduler, smart memory management, and virtual GPU

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The environment requires a sytem with an AMD64 architecture running Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise build 18305 or later, with the rather slim minimum requirements of just 4GB of memory, 2 CPU cores, and 1 GB of free space (with 8GB RAM, 4 cores, and SSD storage recommended). 

The full blog post goes into further detail with a full "under the hood" look at Windows Sandbox, which among other things offers graphics hardware acceleration "with Windows dynamically allocating graphics resources where they are needed across the host and guest".

As to availability, ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley had reported that while the feature was originally "expected to come to Windows 10 19H1 early next year" it could be available to Insider tester as early as this week with Build 18301 of Windows 10 - but this 18301 and earlier 18292 build referenced in Foley's post have apparently been removed from the Microsoft blog post, which now exclusively lists Build 18305.

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft's honour Surfaces after months of simply flickering

Subject: General Tech | December 17, 2018 - 01:45 PM |
Tagged: Warranty, surface pro 4, microsoft, flickering

If you, or someone you know, has had their Surface Pro 4 suffer premature death or performance issues since the firmware update Microsoft provided back in July then The Inquirer has some great news.  The issue might appear as an embedded controller or UEFI storage manager Error 10, screen flickering or even just a general degradation in performance; the symptoms seem to vary from system to system.  Regardless, Microsoft is finally making good on their promise to replace the defective Surface Pro 4 with one that works with the new firmware. 

If you have yet to make a warranty claim, or have had one which was not honoured you should follow up.

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"After weeks of mixed messages, with some users given a warranty replacement straight away while others have had to argue and fight for it, Microsoft has confirmed that there is an issue and that it will honour warranties."

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Source: The Inquirer

Microsft heals some wounds as it moves to Open Source

Subject: General Tech | December 7, 2018 - 01:57 PM |
Tagged: windows, open source, microsoft, edge, chromium, browser, Opera, firefox

One of the big stories this week has been the rumour and confirmation of Microsoft's move to Chromium.  What we hadn't seen until this morning was what the competition thought about it, which we now know thanks to a link from Slashdot.   You will be shocked to learn that Firefox sees this as solid proof you should have been using Firefox all along, or should switch immediately.

Opera and Google both applaud the move; Opera pointing out that they did something very similar about 6 years ago while Google welcomes Microsoft to the open source community it once spurned.  Take a peek at the rest here.

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"Google largely sees Microsoft's decision as a good thing, which is not exactly a surprise given that the company created the Chromium open source project. "Chrome has been a champion of the open web since inception and we welcome Microsoft to the community of Chromium contributors. We look forward to working with Microsoft and the web standards community to advance the open web, support user choice, and deliver great browsing experiences."

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Source: Slashdot