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Control hits the Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription on January 21
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
The Xbox Game Pass subscription on PC is gaining a new experience later this week, as Microsoft announced over the weekend that Control is finally debuting on the PC variant. The action game had arrived to the console version of the subscription last month.
This delay of gaining high-profile content on the PC Game Pass side compared to the console version is not an uncommon sight anymore, as Doom Eternal - and in a larger way EA Play - also suffered a similar delay.
Control will be available to Xbox Game Pass for PC subscribers this Thursday, January 21. The hit title developed by Remedy Entertainment is a third-person action experience surrounding a government agency, the Federal Bureau of Control, that investigates supernatural events. It is set in the developer's connected universe of games where the classic Alan Wake series also resides.
Keep in mind that this should only be the base game that is arriving to the subscription, and gaining access to the two expansions of Control, The Foundation and AWE, will require additional purchases. Meanwhile, another Xbox Game Pass content injection announcement is very likely to be happening soon, as the previous one only covered the first half of January.
Microsoft announces the Pulse Red Xbox Wireless Controller
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
The modernized Xbox Wireless Controller that Microsoft launched with its new generation of Xbox Series X and S consoles is gaining a new variant soon. Announced today, the Pulse Red variant will be joining the Carbon Black, Robot White, and Shock Blue controller options that are already available.
Similar to the Shock Blue controller's coloring style, the new Pulse Red arrives with red analog sticks, menu buttons, and a top case, which are joined by a white back case. Meanwhile, the front of the controller, triggers, bumpers, and the D-pad are matte black.
As expected, all of the improvements brought to the new generation of controllers can be seen here too, such as the new remappable Share button on the middle, textured dot pattern on triggers and bumpers, multiple device recognition, and USB-C connection, among others. The controller is compatible with Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One console families, PC, and mobile devices.
The Pulse Red Xbox Wireless Controller will go on sale for $64.99 starting February 9 across most Xbox-supported regions, and an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate 14-day trial will be included in the package. Gamers in China will be able to pick the controller up starting tomorrow, January 12.
Microsoft Weekly: Windows builds, built-in apps, and no more Minecraft Earth
by Florin Bodnarescu
Returning for the year’s first Microsoft Weekly column, we take a look at the latest Windows 10 preview builds, some changes Microsoft is planning for built-in Windows apps, and the end of Minecraft Earth. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of January 3 – 9, 2021.
You may remember than Microsoft put a hold on the release of preview builds to the public in December, but said release stoppage has now been lifted. As such, build 21286 made its way to testers in the Dev channel, and switched everybody back to the rs_prerelease branch. It has a number of features, from UI changes to Storage Spaces in the Settings app, to the ability to run commands on startup in the WSL, and even enhancements to time zone transitioning. There’s also a new taskbar toolbar, but we’ll discuss that in the ‘Logging off’ portion of this column.
As you’d expect, the build also comes with a set of fixes, including the option to disable automatic controller-to-virtual-key mapping for UWP apps, as well as fixes for sign-in issues, UWP app behavior, Narrator problems, and high contrast bugs.
If you want to install this build from scratch, ISO images are available.
Finally, to wrap up this section, cast your mind back to 2018. Back then, Microsoft was rumored to be building a sleek version of Windows 10 codenamed Polaris, which would - under the Windows Core OS umbrella - deliver a modular experience for users. This would also include the experience on mobile devices like the subsequently canceled one codenamed Andromeda.
Both the device and the OS were canceled in the aforementioned year, but an RTM build from the RS3 release has now leaked online. It unfortunately has no GUI, so there’s not much to see, but it is compatible with the ARM32 architecture, meaning you can run it on the now rare Surface RT.
This Windows Core OS effort was subsequently supplanted by Windows 10X, which Microsoft plans to deliver in the spring.
And since we’re on the subject of future things, the Redmond giant is preparing to replace both the Mail and Calendar apps in Windows 10 with something a little more sensible. Codenamed Project Monarch, it’ll have a significantly smaller footprint than the existing apps, and previews will begin showing up this year. General availability is targeted for 2022.
On a slightly related note, in the area of managing B2B (business-to-business) identities, Microsoft has now announced the GA of email OTP for business clients. This is what the company refers to as BYOI, or Bring Your Own Identity.
Switching over to another set of things meant to improve the overall UX, Edge now supports the Apple M1 chips, and as a result can run on ARM-based MacBooks. This is true as of Dev version 89.0.752.1, which finishes the rollout of the Sleeping Tabs feature, as well as adding a number of fixes and small UI improvements.
A feature that has been missing from the browser itself for a while, but which is making its way now to the stable channel is history and tab sync. Again, this is just the beginning of the rollout, so it’s possible you may not see the feature just yet on your end.
As a result of this, folks have started recommending switching to other apps, and of course, Microsoft was quick to point out that Skype is also an option. Whether people will actually switch to Skype, despite having the option, is an entirely different matter.
No more Minecraft Earth
In case the name of the game doesn’t really ring any bells, this was the AR (or as Microsoft likes to call it, Mixed Reality) effort from Mojang that aimed to transform Minecraft into a bit of a Pokemon GO experience.
Having been announced in May of 2019 and subsequently released in October of that same year – even being demoed on stage at WWDC -, the game seems to have had a sharp decline in interest from players. As such, all real-money transaction abilities have been removed, folks that have spent money on the game are to be provided with a copy of the main game itself, and the servers will be online until April 26. Minecraft Earth however is set to properly shut down on June 30.
In better news for folks who enjoy gaming, Injustice 2 and eFootball PES 2021 Season Update are already playable on Xbox Game Pass, with titles like Torchlight III and What Remains of Edith Finch set to arrive on January 14. There’s also a list of titles leaving the subscription, as of January 15, so be sure to check those at this link, if you’re interested.
Moving on to console-specific news, Microsoft has promised that the Series X controller disconnect issue will be fixed in a future update. This is the bug whereby the controller disconnects and reconnects while playing a game.
And since we’ve touched on controllers, the company has made it clear that no, there isn’t some kind of master plan that forces you to use Duracell batteries with Xbox controllers. The more likely reason for bundling that particular brand is that Microsoft has a partnership in place. Using Sony batteries will not magically set the controller on fire.
Ending things with another rather amusing tidbit, Microsoft actually tried to outright buy Nintendo about 21 years ago. The Japanese console maker reportedly laughed in the face of such an absurd proposal, even declining a joint partnership offer. Then Microsoft went on to release the original Xbox with Halo, and Nintendo released the GameCube, complete with a handle which made it easier to carry around.
Microsoft has highlighted the December updates to Teams. The company has also shined a spotlight on the features added to OneDrive in the last month of 2020. The Redmond giant has revealed details about requests filed by the U.S. Government to access customer data. Microsoft Launcher version 6.2.201202.9334 has brought in improvements to profile setup, app padding, and more. Microsoft’s AI model has outperformed humans in natural language understanding. The Surface Studio has received a firmware update to improve stability. Teams recordings will be stored on OneDrive for Business and SharePoint after March 1. Logging off
We end the week, and indeed the column, with a bit of news concerning a UI overhaul for Windows 10. Yes, another one.
Job listings have showed up for something called a Sun Valley UI overhaul of Microsoft’s main OS. Said to arrive with the 21H2 update from the second half of 2021, this will be a “sweeping visual rejuvenation of Windows”.
Folks would understandably not be too impressed with this statement. After all, this is the same thing that happened with Vista, and Windows 8 to a greater or lesser extent. Even so, Windows 9x-era dialog boxes and icons will still remain, as will hints of Aero and Metro, Microsoft Design Language, Modern, or however else to company ended up naming its previous design initiative. In the end, due in no small part to its backwards compatibility, Windows is mostly likely still going to remain a mishmash of old and new.
Whether this is one of the waves of the larger Fluent Design System is frankly unknown at this point.
However, if you’re eager to see what exactly this Sun Valley experiment is set to bring, you may want to use the ‘news and interests’ feature that’s available in the taskbar as part of the just-released Insider build we discussed in the first section of this column. As the name implies, it allows you to browse news and topics of interest directly from the taskbar.
Thankfully, it can be turned off.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.
By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft debunks rumors of being forced to use Duracell batteries in Xbox controllers
by Usama Jawad
Microsoft uses Duracell's AA batteries in its wireless Xbox controllers, and has been doing so for quite some time. The companies have also appeared in marketing material together, and there has been some criticism aimed at the Redmond tech giant from time to time about this solution. Recently, a rumor made the headlines that the firm sports AA Duracell batteries as the charging solution with Xbox controllers only because it is forced to do so as part of a long-running agreement between the two. Now, Microsoft has debunked this report.
The original report comes from Stealth Optional, which cited Duracell's UK marketing manager Luke Anderson as saying that the partnership between the two firms is "a constant agreement". He reportedly also went on to say that:
In response to this statement, Microsoft strongly denied the allegation, telling Eurogamer that:
Based on the strong wording, it appears that Microsoft has put this theory to rest once and for all. The company may engage with Duracell in the context of promotional material and including its AA batteries in its Xbox controllers, it definitely is not forced to do so, and in fact recommends the use of AA batteries from "any brand".
Microsoft tried to buy Nintendo before launching the Xbox, but Nintendo laughed it off
by João Carrasqueira
Steve Ballmer photo via Shutterstock It was twenty years ago that Microsoft fully unveiled its foray into the console market with the original Xbox, at the 2001 edition of CES. To celebrate the occasion, Bloomberg's Dina Bass recently interviewed multiple members of the team responsible for the launch, as well as partners Microsoft reached out to at the time.
While the whole story is interesting for Xbox fans, there's a tidbit in there that also involves Japanese rival Nintendo. In the interview, Kevin Bachus, then director of third-party relations, revealed that Microsoft met with Nintendo, hoping to explore the possibility of an acquisition. However, the offer wasn't taken seriously, with Nintendo laughing it off. In Bachus' words:
In addition to the acquisition attempt, Microsoft had also tried to approach the Japanese giant with the possibility of a joint venture, where Microsoft would provide the hardware while Nintendo would focus on software development.
At the time, Nintendo was developing the GameCube, a console that would eventually become one of Nintendo's least successful systems. While Nintendo finally moved to optical discs for games, it used a proprietary miniDVD-based disc, which meant it couldn't play actual DVDs, plus the discs could only store about 1.46GB of data, much less than a DVD. According to Bob McBreen, head of business development at Microsoft at the time, Microsoft's pitch was that Nintendo's hardware sucked and that Microsoft could handle that side of the business. Of course, as we all know, that didn't pan out.
Bloomberg reached out to Howard Lincoln, then chairman of Nintendo of America, regarding these talks, but in typical Nintendo fashion, it got a non-answer:
While Microsoft didn't get access to Nintendo's franchises, it did end up buying Rare, which had closely partnered with Nintendo up until that point. Some franchises and games that were exclusive to Nintendo platforms, such as Conkers Bad Fur Day, Banjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark, all moved to Xbox platforms.
Twenty years later, the two companies continue to be rivals, though we've seen them work closely together in some instances, with titles such as Cuphead and the Ori series coming to Nintendo Switch. Still, it's interesting to wonder about what could have been had Nintendo taken a different stance at the time.