Microsoft Weekly: An extended Surface, security updates, and cloud business

The biggest news this week came out of Microsoft’s October 2 event in New York, where the company announced a bunch of Surface hardware refreshes, as well as something that came out of left field: a phone-like device. You can find that – as well as the usual little bit extra – below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of September 28 – October 4.

An extended Surface

Microsoft had an event on October 2, which really focused more on Surface than anything else, which I think everybody knew was going to happen. This idea was helped along by the leaked promotional images which were actually pretty generic, not revealing any new colour or functionality.

Among the expected things there was the Surface Pro 7 – with a really mild refresh featuring better internals and USB-C. It now starts at $749.

Then there was the third generation Laptop, which now gives you the option of a machined aluminium finish instead of only the Alcantara-lined palm rest of previous gens. The Laptop 3 also comes in two sizes now, the 13.5-inch powered by Intel’s 10th-gen Ice Lake processors, and the 15-inch which is underpinned by custom AMD Ryzen chips dubbed the AMD Ryzen Surface Edition processors, based on the chip maker’s Zen+ architecture (12nm). Oddly enough, Microsoft is also selling business SKUs of the 15-inch Laptop 3 which come with Intel processors only rather than AMD ones. The 13.5-inch model starts at $999, with the 15-inch setting you back $1,199 for the base model.

Then there was the Surface Pro X, an ARM-based version of the company’s most successful convertible. It comes in at 5.3mm at its thinnest point, and weighs in at just 1.68 pounds. Furthermore, it features a custom SQ1 chip co-developed by Microsoft and Qualcomm, most likely based on the latter’s Snapdragon 8cx. It starts at $999, comes with a new, rechargeable Surface Slim Pen and a Signature Keyboard cover. The device uses the same 12-inch chassis that’s been the norm with Surface convertibles for a while, though it increases the screen size to 13 inches by reducing the bezels. One thing to note is that Adobe has stated it’s working on brining its full Creative Cloud suite to Windows 10 on ARM, and that one of its apps, Fresco, will be available for the Pro X soon. Google however, seems to be holding back on Chrome, for some reason or another. You can check out our hands-on with the device here.

Following it were the Surface Earbuds, which Microsoft is quoting as being capable of 8 hours of continuous listening on a single charge and up to 24 hours with the included charging case. They feature a circular touch area on the outside which is used to control things via gestures – much like the Surface Headphones -, and integrate with Office 365 for translation (in over 60 languages) and live transcription. They will also work with Google Assistant, Cortana, and more, and will be available later this year for $249.

One of the highlights of the event was the dual-screen Surface that was rumored to be showed off, codenamed Centaurus. Unveiled as the Surface Neo – it’s unclear whether this is a codename or its final retail name since it launches Holiday 2020 -, the device is very reminiscent of the company’s Courier concept from about 11 years ago. It features two 9-inch screens, a 360-degree hinge, a thickness of 5.6mm (0.22 inches) per side - thanks to the thinnest LCD ever put into a device -, as well as coming in at just 655 grams (1.44 pounds). The displays are connected via more than 60 micro coaxial cables, which are thinner than a human hair. The device is powered by Intel’s 11th-gen Lakefield chipset, which allowed the Redmond giant to use half the size of a regular PCB. The device closes akin to a book, and has two accessories for now: a Surface Slim Pen (the same as the one on the Pro X) and a Bluetooth keyboard, both of which attach magnetically to it. In Neo’s laptop “posture”, the keyboard can be placed on the bottom half of the second screen to reveal a strip of useful commands, a trackpad, or an area to which you can dock a playing video. If you slide it to the top half of the second screen, the free area reveals a touchpad, which presumably has haptic feedback.

As leaked a few hours ahead of the event, the Neo runs on Windows 10X, the Redmond giant’s new flavor of Windows for foldable and dual screen devices. It will be able to run Win32 apps, but in containers, and it’s most likely going to be available - like the device which it’s powering - in the holiday season of next year.

Last but not least, there was the reveal that blindsided everyone, the Surface Duo. This is the mythical Surface phone – that Panos Panay doesn’t want you to call a phone -, most likely based on the shelved device codenamed Andromeda, if not actually being Andromeda itself. It has two 5.6-inch screens and a similar dual screen design to the Neo, although instead of running 10X, it features what might be a custom Android ROM. And yes, this one is also coming Holiday 2020.

We do know that the white finish in which both dual screen devices were presented is called Glacier White, in case anyone was curious.

Pre-orders for the Surface Pro 7, Laptop 3, and Pro X are now all available with a release date of October 22. None of these has Thunderbolt 3 support, which our own Rich Woods argues is OK.

On a somewhat related, if not as glamorous note, a new selection of mice and keyboards is also available for pre-order now, including a new Bluetooth keyboard, new Ergonomic Keyboard and mouse, and new colours for the Bluetooth Mouse and Arc Mouse. These will all launch on October 15.

Security updates

The Surface hardware wasn’t the only thing to get updates, as all variants of Windows 10 got a set of security patches mere days before Patch Tuesday, and in stark contrast to other times, these are mandatory. While the officially listed “highlight” of the update is a fix for an intermittent issue with the print spooler service that may cause print jobs to fail, included is also an expansion for the out-of-band security update on September 23. This one mitigates the memory corruption vulnerability in IE’s scripting engine (CVE-2019-1367). Here are the relevant KB articles and build numbers:

  • May 2019 Update (1903): KB4524147, build 18362.388.

  • October 2018 Update (1809): KB4524148, build 17763.775.

  • April 2018 Update (1803): KB4524149, build 17134.1040.

  • ­Fall Creators Update (1709): KB4524150, build 16299.1421.

  • Creators Update (1703): KB4524151, build 15063.2079.

  • Anniversary Update (1607): KB4524152, build 14393.3243.

  • Windows 10 LTSC (1507): KB4524153, build 10240.18335.

Folks have reported that the same update listed for 1903 has also been pushed to 1909. Remember that these are mandatory fixes, so they’ll install automatically via Windows Update.

It’s worth noting that some users on 1903 have reported issues with the Start Menu refusing to open after installing KB4524147, while others have had problems with Search and VMware Workstation caused by the optional cumulative update at the end of September.

Coincidentally or not, despite its looming end of life support, Microsoft has decided to offer its Extended Security Updates (ESU) offer to SMBs (small-and mid-size businesses) as well. What this means is that SMBs will get three years of additional support, much like Volume Licensing and certain Microsoft 365 users. Those who choose this path will make use of the Cloud Solution Provider program, with signups starting December 1.

In other news, build 18990 of the Windows 10 SDK Preview was released with, predictably, nothing new added. Office Insiders on the Mac were treated to a new version, 16.30, which added ink replay for PowerPoint, as well as a Visio add-in for Excel.

Last but not least, the Fast ring on the Windows side received build 18995 from the 20H1 branch, which brought the option of Windows Hello PIN sign-in in Safe mode, a number of WSL fixes, and some new features for Your Phone – like a battery level indicator and phone home screen wallpaper. Fixes on the other hand are plentiful, from those for DWM crashes to screenshot-taking reliability, although known issues are more numerous than before. The new ones include the Search bar in Control Panel or File Explorer becoming gray and preventing input, devices configured with dual scan (WSUS and Windows Update) not being offered new Fast ring builds, some HDR-capable devices experiencing a blue tint on the display after using Night Light, theme packs from the Store not applying, Settings refusing to launch or not being present anywhere in the UI, and the Windows Update page showing the same build needs to be installed, even though it’s been installed already. Needless to say, 20H1 still has some kinks to work out before its spring 2020 debut.

Cloud business

It’s become a bit more of a norm to dedicate a main section to changes in business software over the past couple of columns, and the trend continues on this occasion too.

Starting with Microsoft Learn, it now has Dynamics 365 Business Central modules, allowing folks to learn more about the functionality of the business-centric app. In somewhat related news, Dynamics 365 Customer Insights has received a bunch of new features in its October update, like compounded segments and measures, an option to manually override system match records (in preview), and more. The aforementioned capabilities are a small part of the over 400 new ones that debuted as part of the general availability of Dynamics 365’s 2019 release wave 2.

If you’re interested in the latest Power BI features announced as part of the aforementioned 2019 release wave 2 of Dynamics 365, you’ll have to wait until October 10 when Microsoft will hold its Business Applications Virtual Launch Event.

What you won’t have to wait for is the October update of Azure Data Studio, which brings in a Query History extension, bug fixes, and the ability to copy rows and columns from Data Studio and paste them to a different grid – like the one in Excel. Also in the Azure ecosystem, Cosmos DB now has support for Jupyter Notebooks, through which you can now interactively run queries, explore, analyze, and visualize data, as well as build, train and run machine learning AI models.

As far as last month’s updates to its services, Microsoft was eager to point out that Teams received improvements to calling, as well as channel cross-posting. Microsoft 365 as a whole was updated too, with new IT management features – like support for Android Enterprise devices in Intune -, an improved conversation UI in Yammer, a Presenter Coach feature in PowerPoint on the web, and much more.

OneDrive Personal Vault is now generally available worldwide, and allows you to store files encrypted via BitLocker, while also requiring either a “strong authentication method”- likely biometric - or two-factor authentication. Files stored within are not shareable, but there is a bit of an asterisk associated with this: if you’re on the free of 100GB plan, you can only store three files in the Vault.

Last but not least, Windows Virtual Desktop is also generally available, allowing business to ease the transition from Windows 7 or run the decade-old OS in a virtual environment – complete with three years of free extended security updates.

The Fast ring

Hot corner

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.

Logging off

We end the column on a bit more of a gaming note, as a number of things have happened this week.

First off there’s Minecraft Earth, the AR free-to-play game unveiled as part of the title’s 10-year anniversary celebrations earlier this year. Mojang has revealed that it is set to enter early access on iOS and Android sometime this month.

In a similar vein, and as promised, Microsoft sent out invites for the latest Halo: Reach Insider test on console which went live a couple of days ago. There’s unfortunately no info on how many players were actually invited, but 343 has said that for those on PC, there are two more Insider sessions planned, including a head to head multiplayer-focused one.

If you’re a Game Pass user, you are now able to play Dishonored 2 as part of the subscription, with World War Z and Yooka Laylee being added on October 10, followed by Fallout: New Vegas, Felix the Reaper, and Panzer Dragoon Orta on October 17. New Game Pass Ultimate subscribers on the other hand now get six months of Spotify Premium when signing up.

If you have an Xbox Live Gold subscription, Tembo the Badass Elephant and Disney’s Bolt are now free to claim, and on the off chance that you were a fan of Mixer streaming via the Game Bar in Windows 10, that’s now being removed. The relatively basic functionality was apparently not enticing enough for streamers, and the company is directing folks to install dedicated apps like OBS and XSplit.

Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.

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