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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.
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.
Microsoft Weekly: Trying Edge, FPS Boost, and Windows 10 21H1
by Florin Bodnarescu
An FPS boost for Backwards Compatible titles on console, an acknowledgement of 21H1, and even some Edge updates at the forefront. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of February 14 – 20.
Unlike previous columns, in which Edge news was relegated to the final section, this time we’re switching things around a little.
We’ll start with the Canary channel, which now allows testers to open Office files directly in the browser – similar to how you would open PDFs -, as well as introducing a Kids Mode (perhaps not too dissimilar to Kid’s Corner from the Windows Phone 8 days). The latter is aimed at children between the ages of 5-8 and 9-12, and allows the browser to make sure the little ones receive “friendly content” via Bing SafeSearch, among other protections that are put in place.
Over in the Dev channel, build 90.0.796.0 made its way to testers, adding SSO (Single Sign-On) support on the Mac, the ability to start typing to search as soon as the favorites and history menus are open, and suggestions from local browsing history when clicking on an empty address bar, to name but three.
Also in plan but not exactly tied to a specific version is a scoring system for websites to prevent annoying notifications, and a not to subtle nudge from Microsoft for Edge desktop users. The latter sees the Redmond giant suggest that folks download the mobile version of the browser on their non-desktop devices.
Although there were plenty of gaming-related announcements this week, one that is sure to please fans of backwards compatibility is something Microsoft is calling FPS Boost.
In short, its Xbox Series line of consoles (Series S and Series X) now has the ability to effectively double the frame rate of supported Backwards Compatible games with no extra work required from developers. Benefiting from this currently are five titles, - FarCry 4, Sniper Elite 4, Watch Dogs 2, UFC 4, and New Super Lucky’s Tale -, with more on the way. Of the five, New Super Lucky’s Tale goes all the way up to 120FPS, with the other tiles supporting 60FPS.
Staying a little bit longer on the software side, screenshots of Xbox game streaming on the web have leaked, Dandara and Lost Planet 2 are now free to claim as part of the Games with Gold program, Dirt 5, Pillars of Eternity 2, Code Vein, and others have arrived on Game Pass, and there are myriad Deals with Gold for you to peruse, including ones for Shenmue and Star Wars: Squadrons.
As far as first-party titles are concerned, Sea of Thieves now has Steam friends support, Japanese localization, and more, while Flight Simulator has received its third World Update with enhancements for the UK and Ireland.
Microsoft has also gone ahead and updated its Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, and released a $99.99 Xbox Wireless Headset with spatial audio support. Somewhat similar in design to the Surface Headphones, the accessory will be available starting March 16.
And finally, for those that were waiting, or indeed just curious, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout will be making its debut across the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles this summer.
Windows 10 21H1
Among the other bits of news that this week brought, we also found that Microsoft indirectly confirmed the existence of the spring update for Windows 10, otherwise known under its 21H1 codename. The acknowledgement came by way of a Tech Community forum post detailing the fact that hardware certification will remain identical between 20H2 and 21H1, meaning the latter is likely to be a smaller update.
Microsoft did also release a 21H1 build, namely 19043.844 if you’re in the Beta channel or 19042.844 in the Release Preview channel. If you want to start testing this forthcoming version, here’s a short rundown of what settings you need to change.
But if you thought the company would release builds tied to a specific version only, you’d be mistaken, as the firm additionally pushed out build 21318 - from its ever-nebulous vNext branch -, which landed in the Dev channel. After being burned with Sets – which was definitely going to be in Redstone 5, until it definitely wasn’t -, the company is a lot more careful about which features it declares will ship with which variant of Windows 10. However, this build does bring in the ability to paste as plain text in clipboard history, as well as a sizeable array of fixes.
In other operating system news, the Windows 10 Team 2020 Update is now starting its rollout in Germany and The Netherlands, Microsoft has announced the latest version of its standalone Office product, Office 2021 – can’t have Office 2022, otherwise that would be much too consistent with the previous naming scheme -, and a couple of optional updates for Windows 10 version 1909 and 1809 have also showed up.
For those interested, the Surface Duo can be had for just $10/month on AT&T if you trade in a phone, and the device just got its February Android security patch. Microsoft stated no customer data was accessed during the Solorigate cyberattack. There’s now an app called Journal from the Microsoft Garage. Microsoft Launcher also started out in life as a Garage project. The unified Office app is now available for iPadOS devices. Logging off
We wrap up this week, and indeed the column, with a selection of dev-related news.
For one, arguably the biggest news this week was the arrival of .NET 6 Preview 1. Released as the next step in the company’s goal of unifying the various and disparate developer solutions, we’ve essentially reached the midway point of the unification that’s set to be complete with .NET 7.
Among its new features, .NET 6 has a multi-platform App UI that’s built on top of Xamarin, with the focus being on “faster developer experiences”, control themes, and of course, performance. ARM64 support, WinForms and WPF support are also key targets, with initial support already being added for Apple Silicon ARM64 chips.
Moving on to app samples, there’s now one called TwoNote for the company’s Surface Duo emulator, with the Redmond giant also eyeing easier development for its Power Platform.
Regarding the latter, this will be done via what the company is allegedly working on, the low-code language dubbed Power Fx. Due to the naming scheme, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley stated that this may just be targeted at Excel users.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout hits Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One this summer
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
The battle royale game that has people platforming to win instead of shooting each other, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, today revealed it is getting an Xbox platform launch this summer. Developer Mediatonic did not give out an exact release date but Xbox fans now at least have a time frame to look forward to.
The humorous title throws 60 players into maps that feature various chaotic obstacle courses and mini-games. Much like battle royale experiences, the last player (or team) standing after multiple rounds of these elimination courses is declared the winner in the end.
"The rest of the team and myself at Mediatonic have been hard at work concocting more and more elaborate schemes for future content and I really feel Xbox players will be joining the Fall Guys shenanigans at a particularly exciting time," said Mediatonic lead game designer Joe Walsh regarding the upcoming release. "There’s a delicious selection of dapper costumes, imaginative rounds, features and improvements in the pipeline and I can’t wait to share them all with our lovely new Xbox audience this Summer."
The game released on PlayStation 4 and PC in August last year and went on to become a smash hit across both platforms with millions of players. Since launch, there has also been a steady stream of new content in the form of new courses and cosmetic items being added to the game.
The studio just yesterday revealed a Nintendo Switch version of Fall Guys as well, and interestingly, that also sports a summer 2021 launch window. This may turn out to be an August 2021 launch across both new platforms if that's when any exiting one-year-long console exclusivity deals expire.