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By Rich Woods
Windows 10 turns five years old today: Mobile edition
by Rich Woods
Today, Windows 10 turns five years old, and while I wrote a whole article about how it's evolved over those years, there's an entire part of the story that's missing: Windows 10 Mobile. The phone side of Windows 10 failed rather quickly, and it's almost a joke to bring it up these days, but it's still a part of Windows 10's history.
In fact, one could say that Windows Phone and later Windows 10 Mobile failed because Microsoft never gave it priority. The firm always put the desktop first in a world where Apple and Google were willing to put mobile first. This is evident for Windows 10.
Windows 10 was first announced on September 30, 2014 with the first Technical Preview arriving the next day. We were told that something would arrive for phones sooner or later. The company announced Windows 10 Mobile on January 21, 2015, promising that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade for anyone running Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone 8.1.
Fast forward to July 29, 2015 when Windows 10 launched. Windows 10 Mobile didn't launch at that time though, and that was fine. We all knew that the fall update was the real Windows 10 rollout. That was when phones would get it, along with Xbox One consoles and more. Build 10240 came and went for Windows phones on the Windows Insider Program, and the RTM build for version 1511 was build 10586.
That's when things got a little bit wonky. On October 6, 2015, Microsoft held a 'big bang' product release, with all of its Windows 10 hero devices. Those included the Surface Pro 4, the original Surface Book, the Microsoft Lumia 950, 950 XL, and the low-end Lumia 550 (the Band 2 was also included, albeit not running Windows 10).
Those three Windows phones shipped with Windows 10 Mobile build 10586.0, but that was still widely considered to be a beta OS, despite running on shipping hardware. It wasn't until March 17, 2016 that existing Windows Phone 8.1 devices got the update.
Gallery: Windows 10 Mobile version 1511
To make matters worse, Microsoft didn't come through on its promise to offer the upgrade to all Windows Phone 8.1 devices. In fact, the majority of devices that were eligible during testing were left ineligible at the time of release.
Moreover, Microsoft didn't do anything to inform users that they could upgrade their phones, even if they were lucky enough to have an eligible device. If you had one, you had to download the Upgrade Advisor app, use that app to see if your phone is eligible, opt into the upgrade, and then install it. No one was ever automatically upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile.
While enthusiasts (including myself) continued to make excuses for Microsoft, assuming that this was all a part of some grand plan to refresh the Windows phone device landscape, this wasn't the case. In hindsight, it's clear that Windows 10 Mobile was dead before it even arrived.
There were a ton of new features in Windows 10 Mobile, such as Continuum, which allowed you to use your phone as a desktop PC. And of course, it includes the Universal Windows Platform, a visual overhaul, and more.
The screenshots that you see above were taken on an LG Lancet, which is my only device that's running version 1511. This was one of the phones that was eligible for testing but not eligible for the actual upgrade. Every device that actually got the upgrade also got the Windows 10 Mobile Anniversary Update, or version 1607.
Gallery: Windows 10 Mobile version 1607
Windows 10 Mobile version 1607 added a few key improvements, such as the new Skype Preview UWP app that also arrived in the PC version of the OS. Unfortunately, most of this stuff can't be demonstrated. The OS tries to pull these apps down from the Store, and some of them are completely up to date, while others don't work anymore. Skype is one of those that don't work anymore, as the UWP app is discontinued. It also added icons to the Settings menu, making it a bit more visually pleasing.
You'll notice in the 1511 screenshots that many apps don't work at all. I couldn't even launch Weather. That's because a lot of the apps in the Store have build 14393 (version 1607) set as the minimum version of Windows, so I'd get these apps that say I have to update it to use it, and then there's no update available.
At this point, there were new flagship Windows 10 Mobile devices, the Alcatel IDOL 4S and the HP Elite x3. They were the last flagships, and the only ones to ship with a Snapdragon 820 chipset. The IDOL 4S actually came with a VR headset with an array of VR games and apps that you could use.
HP's Elite x3 was billed as a 3-in-1 PC, making use of Microsoft's Continuum feature that let you plug the device into a monitor and use it as a desktop. A number of phones supported this, but HP had an ecosystem of accessories like the Desk Dock and the Lap Dock, for using the phone as a desktop or a laptop, respectively.
Version 1607 was the last update for every device that was upgraded from Windows Phone 8.1 except for the Microsoft Lumia 640 and 640 XL. Those devices got version 1703, and that was their last update.
And then came the Windows 10 Mobile Insider Previews for version 1709. It was clear that phones were no longer on the Redstone development branch, and they had moved to something called 'feature2'. Some speculated that Microsoft was just temporarily pulling phones from the Redstone branch to add it back later, or that phones were getting a different update because with the following update, they'd get the new responsive CSHELL.
Gallery: Windows 10 Mobile version 1709
But no; right up until the end, we were making excuses. Windows 10 Mobile was dead, and version 1709 reached the end of support on January 14, 2020.
During that time between the fall of 2017 and the winter of 2019, rumors still floated around about some kind of revival. This is when people started using the term "mobile PC" to describe Windows phones, saying that Microsoft could make something that fits in your pocket and make phone calls, but it's not a phone. Yes, it was ridiculous.
Microsoft was planning a dual-screen Windows 10 PC that was codenamed Andromeda, but that was eventually shelved. In fact, it became the Surface Duo, and instead of running Windows 10, it runs Android. Indeed, it seems that soon, you'll be able to get the Surface phone that we've always wanted, just not with the OS we've always wanted.
By Rich Woods
Microsoft is killing off music, smart home, and third-party skills in Cortana
by Rich Woods
It's been a while since there has been any good news around Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant, and in typical Friday fashion, today is no different. Microsoft announced some significant changes coming to Cortana, and for fans of the product, the changes are not good.
For one thing, Cortana is going to have the ability to do much less. It's losing music, smart home, and third-party skills. This is particularly a big deal if you make use of the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker, and we've reached out to Microsoft regarding future functionality of the device.
The firm said that it's removing Cortana functionality from the Microsoft Lauuncher app on Android. While it previously announced this, it's now providing a timeframe, so the feature will be gone by the end of April. And in case you forgot, the iOS and Android Cortana apps have already been killed off.
Finally, Microsoft is killing off Cortana in versions of Windows 10 that have reached their end of support. Yes, that also means Windows 10 Mobile, along with several Windows 10 for PC versions.
The writing has been on the wall for Cortana for some time, and while it's not going away completely, it's not going to resemble a consumer product in any way. If you rely on it, you may want to think about moving somewhere else.
By Rich Woods
Windows 10 Mobile is dead ... again
by Rich Woods
Microsoft is pretty diligent about posting end-of-life dates for its products, making it clear how long they will be supported until they aren't anymore. For Windows 10 Mobile version 1709, the final version of the OS, that date was December 10, 2019. On that day, Windows 10 Mobile was finally dead.
Until it was revived. A few short days later, Microsoft updated a support document to say that Windows 10 Mobile will actually no longer be supported after January 14, 2020. There was no explanation posted, and we even reached out to the Redmond firm and couldn't get a proper answer.
At the time and to this day, extending support for the OS seems like a very unlikely thing to do. Very few people are still using it. Even the die-hards hanging onto their Lumia 930 units couldn't get anything beyond Windows 10 Mobile version 1607. Version 1709 was exclusive to phones that actually shipped with Windows 10 Mobile.
But as of today, the failed OS is finally dead. Well, it should be dead. After what happened last month, frankly anything is possible.
Microsoft Weekly: Extensions for Edge, Windows 10 vNext, and just Xbox
by Florin Bodnarescu
As folks wind down for the end of the year, so does activity around Microsoft’s campus. With that said, we still got to see the first build from what would’ve been 20H2, the arrival of Edge on ARM, and some clarification around the naming of the next Xbox. You can find that – as well as the usual little bit extra – below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of December 14 – 20.
Extensions for Edge
Microsoft’s forthcoming Chromium-based Edge – which for lack of a better term we’ve referred to as Edgium, or even Chredge -, is rapidly approaching its general availability date of January 15, 2020. With that said, the browser isn’t quite feature complete, in the sense that there are a few missing features that are slowly making their way through testing channels.
First and foremost there’s ARM support, which was initially added in the Canary channel a few weeks ago, and has now made its way to the Dev channel. This is a big deal because emulated x86 apps on ARM do experience quite the slowdown in terms of performance when compared to their native counterparts. Legacy Edge and Firefox are currently the only ones to support ARM natively, with this feature unfortunately not making it into Chromium Edge in time for GA.
Smaller in terms of impact but nonetheless welcome are the addition of support for high contrast themes in the browser – for Canary and Dev -, as well as the extension to 22 background colour choices for the Immersive Reader. All this, along with Dolby Vision and 360-degree video support, can be found in build 80.0.361.5 in the Dev channel.
It’s worth mentioning extensions, as Microsoft is now accepting submissions for them. Developers who have created Legacy Edge extensions will need to submit Chromium Edge extensions as soon as possible. In case there is no such extension available, the old ones won’t be migrated when folks get upgraded to the latest version of Edge. This can be slightly troublesome as the new Edge doesn’t currently have extension syncing.
On the off chance that you do want to keep running Legacy Edge even after the new one is available, you’re in luck. Once January 15 rolls around, Legacy Edge will simply be hidden, though still accessible if you go through the Group Policy Editor. If you enable “Allow Microsoft Edge Side by Side browser experience” under Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Microsoft Edge Update > Applications, you’ll be able to run both variants at the same time.
Windows 10 vNext
If you’ve followed the Insider Program for a reasonable amount of time, you’ll know that Microsoft has had different codenames for upcoming releases, from the Redstone family of releases to more recently semester-based codenames (19H1, 19H2, and 20H1). Now, all of that is out the window.
While previous Insider builds were tied to a specific release, future ones are not, hence the deprecation of Insider-facing semester denominations, and the use of the generic vNext moniker. This is also underlined by the changes being made to the Insider Program itself, which our own Rich Woods has detailed here. In short, the Fast ring will perpetually receive builds with features from the rs_prerelease branch, features which may or may not make it into the next update, or the one after that. The Slow and Release Preview rings are only going to receive builds once Microsoft gets close to nailing down the feature set of the spring or fall updates of Windows 10.
Since that’s out of the way, build 19536 was released earlier this week featuring improvements to Optional Features – such as drivers -, a re-release of the updated Korean IME, and a new family group setup setting which covers activity across a slew of devices and services. In terms of what has been addressed, File Explorer search issues have been fixed, as has the bug relating to Bluetooth battery level, as well as the one which caused the previous build number to show up under Update History, even after you had rolled back.
For devs following along, build 19041 of the SDK has also been pushed out, though it contains no notable changes. It’s part of the upcoming 20H1 or version 2004 feature update that should land sometime in the spring of 2020 – most likely April or May.
A little over a week ago, Microsoft surprised pretty much everyone by unveiling not only the look of its next-gen console – or rather the highest-end model of what are rumored to be multiple consoles at different price points -, but also the name: Xbox Series X. Design aside, a few people were not exactly enamored with the name the company chose, and now, there’s been some clarification in regards to that.
In a statement to Business Insider, a Microsoft representative stated that “the name we’re carrying forward for the next generation is simply Xbox, and at The Game Awards you saw that name come to life through the Xbox Series X”. So in keeping with its not quite predictable naming scheme, Microsoft went from the Xbox to the Xbox 360, to the Xbox One, and now back to Xbox, with Series X being the model denomination. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to compare this to game reboots that have identical names to their original counterparts.
That’s all well and good, but until the next-gen Xbox rolls around, there’s still plenty to do this gen. For one, Untitled Goose Game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Pillars of Eternity and Life is Strange 2 Ep. 5 are now all available via Game Pass on console. Unfortunately, Tecmo Bowl Throwback and Headlander are set to leave the subscription soon, though no date has been announced.
In somewhat related news, the Games with Gold for January of 2020 have been announced. They include Styx: Shards of Darkness (Xbox One, January 1 - 31), Batman: The Telltale Series (Xbox One, January 16 - February 15), Tekken 6 (Xbox 360, Xbox One, January 1 – 15), and LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (Xbox 360, Xbox One, January 16 – 31). Keep in mind that if you’re on the Xbox One, you can still claim Insane Robots and Jurassic World Evolution, and if you’re on the 360, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD can still be yours for free until December 31.
We end this section with a bit of a rapid fire round of gaming-related news, including the arrival of the Flight Simulator SDK preview which has been pushed back to mid-January, and the fact that Mixer, along with other platforms, has started to steal some of the market share from Twitch and YouTube. Furthermore, you can now link your Reddit account to Xbox Live, and unfortunately, there will not be an Xbox Year in Review this year.
The Fast ring
Skype v8.55 is now available, adding a Meet Now feature for calling non-Skype users.
Microsoft unveiled the Dynamics 365 and Power Platform 2020 release wave 1 timeline.
The Redmond giant shared more details about Azure Disks’ new bursting capability.
Power BI Mobile’s new look is now generally available, bringing with it a new activity feed.
Microsoft has gone into more detail regarding SQL Server 2019’s machine learning capabilities.
If you’re in the market for a Surface Book 2, its various models have received some pretty good discounts in the U.S. and UK.
Hot corner is a section of The Fast ring dedicated to highlighting five Microsoft-related stories that haven’t been covered over here, but might be of interest.
Azure AD authentication in Azure Database for PostgreSQL is now available in public preview.
MSIX Core version 184.108.40.206 is now available to download.
Azure AD B2C now supports both signing up for apps using B2C custom policy, as well as phone-based sign-in.
Office 365 Video users in most regions can now migrate their video content to Microsoft Stream via a migration tool.
Process Monitor v3.53 and Process Explorer v16.31 are now available to download.
We end the last Microsoft Weekly column of the year, and indeed of the decade – more details on that in a bit – with the end of the line for Microsoft’s mobile efforts.
First up is Windows Phone 8.1, the store for which has now been shut down. Support for the OS ended more than a year and half ago, but until earlier this week you were still able to access the store to download apps. Going forward, you’re stuck with the apps you already have downloaded, and in the very rare case that the store does load, you’ll most likely get an error about it not being accessible for the moment. In some cases, it might even present you with error 805a01f4, which usually indicates an issue with payment.
Moving on to the more recent incarnation of Microsoft’s phone operating system efforts, Windows 10 Mobile was scheduled to hit end of support on December 10. However, the company seems to have bizarrely extended the deadline to January 14, 2020 – the same day Windows 7 support ends. If this was either a typo or a last-minute extension is unclear, though you shouldn’t get your hopes up in regards to the operating system. At this point it’s best you move on to either iOS or Android.
As alluded to in the opening bit of this section, there won’t be a Microsoft Weekly column next week, with it making a return in 2020. Rest assured, something else will take its place to cap off the year (and decade), so stay tuned.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
By Rich Woods
The Windows Phone Store shuts down today
by Rich Woods
It's been nearly a year and a half since support ended for Windows Phone 8.1, not that it had even received an update for a couple of years before that. Of course, when support ends, the device still works, although services begin to get shut down. One of those services is the Windows Store. As Microsoft announced in October, the Store for Windows Phone 8.1 is shutting down today, and you can no longer download apps.
The apps you have will continue to work, but if you do a factory reset on your phone, you won't be able to get them back. The only way to continue getting apps on your phone is to upgrade it to Windows 10 Mobile.
That's another issue though, because you actually need an app to get the update, at least the over-the-air update. When Microsoft launched Windows 10 Mobile, it did it for a small subset of devices, mainly those that launched with Windows Phone 8.1 rather than those that upgraded from Windows Phone 8. And it never notified users that there was an upgrade available. You had to know about it, and seek it out yourself by downloading the Upgrade Advisor app.
Luckily, there's a way to still get Windows 10 Mobile, assuming that your phone is supported for the upgrade. You can use the Over-the-Cable Updater tool that Microsoft provides.
Windows 10 Mobile, of course, isn't supported either, but at least you'll have more working services. Most phones that are upgradeable will be able to get up to the Windows 10 Mobile Anniversary Update (version 1607), with the exception of the Microsoft Lumia 640 and 640 XL, which will land on the Windows 10 Mobile Creators Update (version 1703).
Microsoft was supposed to end support for all versions of the OS this month, but it inexplicably extended support for a month at the last minute. This doesn't apply to devices that shipped with Windows Phone 8.1 though, as none of them were eligible for Windows 10 Mobile version 1709.