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By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft confirms it has halted PAC donations
by Usama Jawad
A Political Action Committee (PAC) is a private body that funds political campaigns via donations. Under U.S. laws, a PAC cannot give more than $5,000 to a candidate committee per election, and the amount is funded purely based on voluntary donations. Most Fortune 500 companies have a PAC which typically donates money to campaigns which support their interests.
One such company is Microsoft, whose PAC came under the magnifying glass following the attack on the Capitol earlier this month. As a result, the firm has now publicly confirmed that it has suspended PAC donations until it completes its assessment of the situation. The matter was first internally discussed a few weeks ago, but has now been made public.
In an employee meeting on January 21, Microsoft president Brad Smith highlighted that although 80% of the donations had gone to members of Congress who voted to uphold the Electoral College, 20% of its PAC donations in the last four years went to Congress members who voted against the certification of Electoral College votes.
Consequently, there have been some internal discussions at Microsoft as to whether it should pause PAC donations to these Congress members and take stricter action against "members who led that effort or who fed disinformation, in our view, to the American public". Now, the firm has confirmed that it is suspending PAC donations until at least February 15, saying that:
It remains to be seen what "consequences" Microsoft has in mind for Congress members who voted against the Electoral College, but we'll learn more in a few weeks. It is also important to note that other big tech organizations such as Google and Facebook have also paused PAC donations for now in light of the Capitol siege.
Yellow Messenger integrates Microsoft Azure cognitive services on its platform
by Sylvester Addo
India based conversational AI startup, Yellow Messenger, announced a partnership with Microsoft to build a human-like voice automation platform that can understand and respond based on sentiment, dialect, and workflow.
This will see Yellow Messenger using Microsoft’s Azure cognitive services; Azure AI Speech Services and Natural Language processing tools to increase the accuracy of its voice bot solutions. Making organizations that use the voice automation platform better understand the intents of their users.
Azure Cognitive Services is a family of artificial intelligent services that allow systems to see, hear, speak, understand, and interpret human needs using natural methods of communication.
These cognitive services leveraged in the voice bot solution will make engaging with automated services such as support, sales and commerce feel like a human to human interaction. Instead of an automated to human interaction.
Commenting on the collaboration Raghu Ravinutala, CEO and Cofounder, Yellow Messenger said:
Microsoft will team up with Yellow Messenger’s R&D teams to create solutions that help enterprises in various sectors enhance consumer experience automation.
By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft backpedals on Xbox Live Gold pricing, free-to-play games won't require subscription
by Usama Jawad
A few hours ago, Microsoft received massive backlash for increasing the price of its Xbox Live Gold program for new customers. It announced that the price of a one-month subscription is increasing by $1 to $10.99, and price of a three-month membership is increasing by $5 to $29.99, and a six-month membership is now $59.99 - which was previously the cost of its annual membership.
Following feedback from users of the service, Microsoft has now backpedaled on the decision.
In a statement on the original blog post, the firm has announced that it will not be implementing the new price model, and that the price of Xbox Live Gold membership will remain the same. It stated that:
A notable change coming to the program is that you will not require a subscription to play free-to-play games like Fortnite or Call of Duty: Warzone. This will make the service more in line with Sony's competing PlayStation Plus program. However, this modification to the program is not immediately available and Microsoft will be working to deliver it "in the coming months".
When Microsoft announced the new pricing model a few hours ago, many believed that it was designed to push gamers to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which is arguably a better value proposition, but at $14.99/month. However, the price hike was considered to be in bad optics considering that the company is not adding any new features to the service, and free-to-play games still require a premium membership unlike Sony's PlayStation Plus. With the subscription model now reverted to the original and now packing a major improvement, it remains to be seen how the firm will entice users to join the Game Pass Ultimate program.
Microsoft Teams to be integrated into SAP solutions
by Paul Hill
Microsoft has announced that its collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams, will be integrated into SAP’s suite of solutions. Complementing this move, Microsoft and SAP have agreed to accelerate the adoption of SAP S/4HANA on Microsoft Azure.
With the coronavirus pandemic forcing places of work to close, more people have been forced to work from home. By integrating Microsoft Teams with products like SAP S/4HANA, SAP SuccessFactors, and SAP Customer Experience, the two firms hope that they can boost user productivity and engagement which could help support growth in economies after being hit hard by the virus.
Commenting on the agreement, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said:
SAP customers using any of the aforementioned solutions should be able to use the Microsoft Teams integration sometime in the middle of the year, according to Microsoft. With regards to the two companies’ plan to accelerate the integration of SAP S/4HANA on Azure, a SAP document says that customers broadly favour Azure as their choice to move on-premise SAP S/4HANA to the cloud.
The YouTube app for Xbox now supports HDR videos
by João Carrasqueira
In the summer of 2016, Microsoft introduced the Xbox One S, bringing support for HDR to the Xbox family for the first time. Now, after four and a half years, Google has implemented HDR video support into the YouTube app on Xbox consoles, as reported by FlatpanelsHD (via Windows Central).
HDR has become a fairly standard feature in modern TVs and every iteration of the Xbox since 2016 has supported it. YouTube itself also added support for HDR videos later that year, so it's certainly interesting that it took this long for those two things to come together.
It's not completely clear when the capability was added to the YouTube app, but FlatpanelsHD points out that it wasn't available on the Xbox Series X back in December. The report confirms HDR is working on both the Series X and the One S, and there's no reason why it wouldn't also work with the One X and Series S.
You'll need to make sure you have the latest version of the app for HDR to work, or you can download the app from here if you haven't yet. While HDR support in the YouTube app is good news, it doesn't look like it's working as well as some might hope just yet. The app only supports HDR in videos using Google's VP9, instead of adopting the more modern AV1 format, which has also been backed by Google. Hopefully, a future update will address that issue.