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NBA 2K21, Star Wars: Squadrons, and more are coming to Xbox Game Pass this month
by João Carrasqueira
As we start a new month, it's time for a new wave of games to make their way to Xbox Game Pass, and Microsoft has announced a handful of them. Most of the lineup announced today is focused on sports titles, and a good part of those comes from Electronic Arts through the EA Play service, which has been included with Xbox Game Pass for console since last year.
The lineup of EA Play titles for March was announced last week, and those are the titles being added to Game Pass as a result. These include Star Wars: Squadrons and Madden NFL 21. Here's the full list of Xbox Game Pass games being added:
Madden NFL 21 (Console, EA Play) - Available now Football Manager 2021 (PC) - March 4 Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition (Console and PC) - March 4 NBA 2K21 (Cloud and console) - March 4 Star Wars: Squadrons (Console, EA Play) - March NHL 21 (Console, EA Play) - April In addition to these new games, Microsoft also mentioned that Cricket 19 is now available on Game Pass for PC and Elite Dangerous is now available on the cloud, after being added to the console variant of Game Pass last month.
Microsoft has also highlighted a few titles that are leaving the service this month, which you may want to check out while you can. Here's the full list:
Alvastia Chronicles (Console and PC) Astrologaster (PC) Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Console and PC) Kona (Console) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Console) All of these games are leaving Game Pass on March 15, so you only have a few more days to try them out. As a reminder, a few games that were added a couple of weeks ago are still available to play at no additional cost. We should see another wave of games announced in the middle of the month, as per Microsoft's tradition.
Amazon releases an Alexa app for Xbox, but you still need an Alexa device
by João Carrasqueira
The Xbox One has supported Alexa voice commands for over two years, but until now, it was available as an Alexa skill. That means that, while you can use an Alexa-enabled device like an Echo speaker to control an Xbox console, there were some limits to what you could do with it. Most of the features were related to Xbox-specific things, like launching games or turning on the console.
That's changing, though, as Twitter user WalkingCat has spotted a new Alexa app for Xbox on the Microsoft Store (via MSPoweruser). According to the listing, the app supports both the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. The app brings Alexa features directly to the console, but as noted in the app's description, you'll still need an Alexa-enabled device to use it.
As for what you can do with it, it should include all the same features as the Alexa skill for Xbox, like launching a game, playing music, and so on. You can also do non-Xbox related things, though, like ask the digital assistant to see a shopping list on the TV or see a security camera feed there.
As Microsoft has moved away from Cortana as a consumer-facing feature, third-party assistants have started expanding their presence on Windows-based platforms. In addition to Xbox integration, there's also an app for Windows 10 PCs - which uses a different Microsoft Store listing - that's bundled with PCs from select OEMs.
By Asher Madan
Xbox Deals with Gold feature Assassin's Creed, Tom Clancy's, and more
by Asher Madan
Every week, Microsoft and select publishers discount a number of titles for a weekly Deals with Gold sale. This week, games like X, X, and more are available for substantially less. Below, you'll find the Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Xbox 360 games with their respective discounts. The games marked with an asterisk are only valid for Xbox Live Gold members.
Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One
If you're still using an Xbox 360, there's a lot going on this week. Almost all the games are backward compatible so you can play them on your Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One.
Which titles are you interested in? Did you pick any up? Let us know in the comments below.
Microsoft Weekly: No more 3D Objects folder, mailbox throttling, and Halo insider flights
by Florin Bodnarescu
The week that’s just about to end has brought with it news about one of Windows 10’s special folders, details about productivity solutions Microsoft is planning on implementing, and even some gaming news. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of February 21 –27.
No more 3D Objects folder
Let us begin our trek up the hillock of news that surfaced this week by talking about one of the default folders in Windows 10, the 3D Objects folder.
Cast your mind back to 2016 when Windows 10 was a year old, and Microsoft was keen to introduce folks to all the great things that could be done via the fancy new Paint 3D – as an extension to its HoloLens / Windows Holographic unveil. As such, the company also introduced the 3D Objects special folder in File Explorer.
Much to the chagrin of the three people who actually use the folder, it will soon no longer be shown inside File Explorer. Microsoft has begun de-emphasizing it via its latest Dev channel build, 21322, but says that it should still be accessible in the user folder – by typing %userprofile% in File Explorer – or via the Navigation Pane > Show all folders option in the ribbon’s View tab. Whether this change will be implemented soon or “Microsoft soon™” is still unclear.
In Beta channel news, the company also pushed out the Windows Feature Experience Pack version 120.2212.3030.0. Available to all insiders in this channel, it improves the reliability of the handwriting input panel, and should come through Windows Update.
You can catch our discussion about the various Insider and preview builds released this week in the latest episode of the Neowin Podcast.
As far as the non-insider part of OS servicing is concerned, the Redmond firm also pushed out an optional cumulative update for those running 2004 (May 2020 Update) or 20H2 (October 2020 Update), the two latest versions of the OS.
Detailed under KB4601382, the update will bring folks running 2004 to build 19041.844, and those on 20H2 to build 19042.844. As usual, the major build number differs, but the revision number is identical.
The cumulative update, although optional, includes a rather impressive array of fixes, covering the OOBE (Out of Box Experience), HDR display functionality, IMEs, language and locale issues, printers, and more.
There are two known issues to keep in mind, one being the loss of system and user certificates after updating, and the other being the input of incorrect Furigana characters in the Japanese IME. The former has been an issue for a while and impacts a certain subset of upgrade types, specifically relating to cumulative update integration when upgrading via install media or different install source.
With 21H1 on the horizon, and the update set to be an enablement package like 20H2 before it, the updates received by the most recent supported Windows 10 variants should be identical. That’s pretty convenient, since as per AdDuplex, Windows 10 20H2 has climbed to 20% market share, though version 2004 (May 2020 Update) is still the most used at 41.8%.
And speaking of release, the Windows 10 Team 2020 Update made its way to Surface Hub 2S users last week in Germany and The Netherlands, with global availability being switched on earlier this week. This same week also saw the release of this update to the original Surface Hub, either for the 55 or 84-inch model – so long as full telemetry was enabled.
Moving on to more productivity-focused news, Microsoft has stated that as of April 2021, it will begin enforcing an upper limit for received emails to avoid any service disruptions.
Now this isn’t some sort of ploy to prevent you from getting your much sought-after newsletters and other important communication, but rather an attempt to lessen the service impact from so-called “hot recipients”. This is a term used for folks who receive in excess of 3,600 messages per hour. Although this has been a bit of a soft limit previously, it will start to be enforced come April this year.
The change will be incremental, in order to allow admins to better adapt to the change, and is being enforced due to the fact that the aforementioned “hot recipients” were and are causing the service to be disrupted for regular customers. The sheer volume of emails causes delays everywhere else in the system due to network resources being diverted to operate those very high-volume inboxes.
As we’re on the subject of limits, the number of languages supported by Microsoft Translator has gone up by nine: Albanian, Amharic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Khmer, Lao, Myanmar, Nepali, and Tigrinya.
Another limit-related bit of news concerns Microsoft To Do, which now lets you share lists between your personal and work accounts. Keep in mind this does not go both ways, so work lists won’t be shareable to personal accounts.
In a bid to increase productivity, Microsoft has also added the ability for Word on the web to generate PowerPoint presentations from text files, made PowerPoint’s Presenter Coach available for Mac Office Insiders, and revealed plans to roll out support for text predictions in Word starting next month.
Also worth noting is the fact that Pinterest content can now be embedded in both OneNote and Word on the web, and that the company’s chat-based workspace solution, Teams, is set to soon use AI to suggest polls to users based on a meeting’s purpose.
Halo insider flights
As per 343’s promise, the first Halo: MCC Insider flight of 2021 is now live, under session version 1.2159.0.0. It’s available across console and PC (both Steam and the Microsoft Store) and brings two new maps to Halo 3 (Waterfall and Edge), added from the now defunct Halo Online initiative.
Cosmetic content for Season 6 and community-requested features (like FOV sliders for consoles) are also being tested in this build, with the custom server browser scheduled for a later update.
If that’s not quite your thing, there are always Deals with Gold to peruse, covering the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Apex Legends, Dishonored 1 and 2, Kerbal Space Program, and more.
And if not even those are to your liking, you can nab Metal Slug 3 and Warface: Breakout (part of the Games with Gold March wave, with Port Royale 3 and Vicious Attack Llama Apocalypse available later), as well as some of the February titles like Gears 5, Resident Evil, Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition, and Lost Planet 2.
Microsoft and MSCI have joined forces to deliver Investment Solutions as a Service. No, really. Intel, the BBC, and Microsoft have formed a coalition to combat misinformation. Microsoft has begun selling removable SSDs for Surface Pro 7+ only, and only for commercial customers. Edge Dev 90.0.803.0 is now out, featuring minor improvements. LinkedIn experienced an outage earlier this week, affecting service access via both mobile and desktop. It has since been resolved. Logging off
We wrap things up with some IT pro and dev-relevant news.
For one, the Remote Desktop app on iOS has received some connection bar updates, including the ability to hide it, dock it to the left or right edge of the screen on larger-screen devices, a new zoom slider, and more. There’s also a couple of name-related bugs that have been resolved in this update, which bumps the app version to 10.2.4.
Speaking of updates, the February update for Power BI On-premises data gateway is now live, bringing a name change to the DocumentDB connector – now Azure Cosmos DB -, the immediate discontinuation of gx64krb5 support for Kerberos SSO when creating SAP BW data sources, and more.
In the aftermath of the Solorigate cyber attack, Microsoft, VMware, and other affected vendors began investigating the attack, with the Redmond giant now concluding its investigation. Microsoft stated that no customer data was compromised, but that a subset of Azure, Intune, and Exchange code files were accessed. To further help out with the ongoing investigations, the company has open-sourced its CodeQL queries, which it used for system-wide querying during the investigation.
We end with Ignite, which is just around the corner (starting March 2). Thanks to the company’s approach centered on holding only digital events until July 2021, Ignite was split in two, and this is its second part. The session catalog is now live, containing the usual Nadella keynote on the first day, as well as in excess of 340 sessions covering Windows, Edge, AI, and more.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
The console wars grand finale: Xbox 360 versus Xbox One versus Nintendo 3DS
by João Carrasqueira
Welcome to the final round of the console wars. For the past month, we've asked you to choose your favorite consoles in a series of polls, and your votes have brought us to the grand finale. Of course, that means it's up to you again to choose the true winner.
First, let's recap what happened in round two. The first matchup saw the Xbox 360 pulling an undisputed victory with nearly 50% of the votes. In second place, the PlayStation 2 won over just 24% of the voters, giving the Xbox 360 a crushing win. An interesting result, to be sure, considering the PlayStation 2 is the best-selling console of all time.
The second match pitted the original PlayStation, the Nintendo 64, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch against each other, and once again, Microsoft pulled a convincing. The battle was a bit more balanced here, but the Xbox One still got over 34% of the votes, with the Nintendo Switch slightly edging out the PlayStation for second place with roughly 27% of you choosing it.
Finally, the third match was focused on handhelds, and all of them were made by Nintendo, so there was only one possible winner. More specifically, victory went to the Nintendo 3DS, with roughly 34% of our readers voting for it. In second place, the Game Boy Advance had about 26% of the votes, and it's certainly interesting that sales numbers don't correlate to the poll winners at all in any of these matchups.
With that being said, we now have the three finalists - the Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Nintendo 3DS. You can vote for them right now, but since we're down to the final three, we'll also introduce you to each of the contestants below the poll.
What is the best console of all time?
Xbox 360 45.3% Xbox One 28.4% Nintendo 3DS 26.4% Results (201 Votes) Meet the contestants
The Xbox 360 was Microsoft's second foray into the world of game consoles, following a relatively lukewarm reception to the original Xbox. Microsoft kickstarted the seventh-generation of consoles, having announced the Xbox 360 in May of 2005, and releasing it in North America, Europe, and Japan later that year. As such, it was the first console to feature HD graphics and it also ushered in the era of online gaming with Xbox Live, though the service was already available to some extent on the original Xbox.
Original Xbox 360 "Premium", Xbox 360 S, and Xbox 360 E The Xbox 360 also introduced a new controller that worked wirelessly and had a significantly improved design that not only negated the criticism towards the original, but actually became one of the most praised controllers for its comfort. The console itself got redesigned a number of times throughout its life, adding more storage, connectivity options, and addressing some reliability issues like the infamous "Red Ring of Death". The most recognizable revision was the Xbox 360 S, launched in 2010, but it also got redesigned to look more like the Xbox One with the Xbox 360 E model in 2012.
By this point, Microsoft had started to gain recognition for its online service, and it had a hugely popular franchise in the form of Halo, with other franchises like Forza Motorsport and Fable having also started to grow. Between that and other well-known exclusive games like Gears of War, the Xbox 360 had a strong library early on. Combine that with stronger third-party support, an earlier launch than the competition, and a more attractive price than the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 led in terms of sales for a long time, barring the casual-focused Wii.
Kinect for Xbox 360 However, towards the end of the Xbox 360's life, the company shifted its focus towards the Kinect - a motion-sensing camera - trying to lure the casual audience away from Nintendo. Meanwhile, Sony had introduced cheaper versions of the PlayStation 3 and kept investing in games like The Last of Us and the Uncharted series later on. As such, the Xbox 360 ended in third place in its generation, having sold over 84 million units. Still, it's Microsoft's best-selling console officially.
The Xbox One was first revealed in May of 2013, and its initial reception was completely opposite from the Xbox 360's early days. Microsoft initially wanted to require a constant internet connection, make reselling games impossible, require the use of Kinect, and the first presentation of the console focused much more on media and television than gaming. Microsoft did try to focus more on games at E3, but then it had to contend with Sony. The PlayStation 4 was revealed to be cheaper than the Xbox One, confirmed support for used games, and focused even more on the gaming crowd, which meant Microsoft was off to a very slow start. The first model of the Xbox One was also mocked for being bulky and looking somewhat bland.
But Microsoft put a ton of effort into turning things around as the generation went on. The Kinect was eventually removed from the Xbox One package (and ended up being killed off entirely for gaming purposes), and Microsoft introduced two redesigns that made the Xbox One much more appealing. The Xbox One S, announced in 2016, made the console much smaller and gave it an all-new visual identity, along with adding support for HDR and 4K. This also brought an improved Xbox Wireless Controller, now with Bluetooth support, which allowed it to work on PCs and mobile devices easily. Then, in 2017, Xbox One X became the world's most powerful console, with support for native 4K rendering, all while being even smaller than the One S.
Microsoft also started focusing on games again, and capitalized on its incredibly popular Halo franchise by releasing The Master Chief Collection in 2014, containing almost every game in the series' history so far, with the first two being remade to look the part on Xbox One. Microsoft also finally put its acquisition of Rare to good use with the release of Rare Replay, a collection of almost every Rare-developed game from the 30 years prior, including cult classics like Conker's Bad Fur Day and Banjo-Kazooie. And of course, that's to say nothing of big new games that came out in the next few years from series like Halo, Gears of War, Forza (including the open-world Forza Horizon sub-series), and new franchises entirely like Sea of Thieves and Ori. On top of that, backward compatibility, which was initially missing, would be added later on for both Xbox 360 and some original Xbox games.
Microsoft stopped reporting sales of its Xbox consoles in October 2015, but estimates point to it having sold 51 million units as of the end of the second quarter of 2020. Far from a failure, the Xbox One ended up in a distant second place from the PlayStation 4, and has also been surpassed by the Nintendo Switch, but it stands as a testament to the mistakes Microsoft made and the lessons it learned in this era.
We already talked about the entire history of the Nintendo 3DS just a few months ago, in honor of the console being discontinued in 2020. You can always read more there, but here's a quick summary. The Nintendo 3DS was first announced via a simple press release in March 2010 and then shown off at E3 that year, but it wouldn't release until March 2011.
Its headlining feature was support for glasses-free 3D, which required the user to look at the screen from a very specific angle and distance. It also featured higher-resolution displays, better graphics, and new control methods like a Circle Pad and motion sensors, compared to its predecessor. However, the console initially failed to gain traction thanks to its high price point and lack of blockbuster titles in the first few months.
Nintendo was determined to turn things around, though, and reduced the price from $250 to $170 just a few months later, and with big original games like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 releasing that holiday season, the 3DS began to exhibit a decent amount of success. It eventually got original games from series like The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon, revived franchises like Luigi's Mansion and Kid Icarus, and expanded the popularity of Animal Crossing, which no doubt contributed to the worldwide phenomenon that was Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch many years later. Even some third-party exclusives, like the Monster Hunter series and Resident Evil: Revelations (which was only exclusive for about a year), were released for the system.
The Nintendo 3DS received a handful of revisions, including the 3DS XL with bigger screens, and the 2DS, which removed 3D functionality and was more affordable. All models got revised with the "New" branding later on (2015 for the New 3DS and New 3DS XL; 2017 for the New 2DS XL), bringing even more control options, improved processing power, and better 3D support in the 3D-enabled models.
With 75.94 million units sold, it was far from Nintendo's biggest success in the handheld market, but it was far ahead of its competitor - the PlayStation Vita.
And those are the finalists this time around. Who will come out on top in the grand finale of the console wars? It's up to you. Cast your votes and we'll reveal the grand winner in a few weeks.