Microsoft Weekly: Bashing bugs, conquering compatibility, and getting better apps

We’re pretty much at the tail end of 19H1 development, which means another session of Bug Bashing is upon us. Furthermore, Xbox’s Backward Compatibility list got four rather sought-after RTS titles, and a number of the Redmond giant’s apps got well deserved updates. Find out about all that, and the usual little bit extra, in your Microsoft digest for the week of January 19-25.

Bugs getting bashed

As is usually the case with Windows 10 development, the period of time in the run-up to a feature update’s RTM – in this case 19H1 – is reserved for squashing bugs. As such, the first round of this latest Bug Bash kicked off mid-week with just the Insiders in the Fast ring. That’s not to say the flow of builds is stopping – far from it.

One such build is the one dropped a mere day before the Bug Bash, i.e. build 18317 for Windows Server Insiders. Being the first one in a little over a month, this newest variant brings preview support for a dark theme, two new PowerShell modules meant for automating Windows Admin Center, and something called WDAC. This essentially allows for the support of multiple code integrity policies.

There is obviously an SDK build with the same number as the one above, which unfortunately will only work on preview builds from the 19H1 branch. Given that this particular feature update isn’t out yet, apps created for the Microsoft Store will still need to target Windows 10 1809 (October 2018 Update).

Life in the Fast ring does go on regardless though, as Microsoft did release build 18323 on Friday. There was a slight issue, namely the build going live sans its accompanying changelog post, but that was rectified a mere 15 minutes later. As it turns out, 18323 has better RAW image support – achieved by downloading a codec package form the Store -, and improves a number of design bugs related to the Light theme. To nobody’s surprise, Microsoft’s efforts are concentrated on fixes, and thus there are quite a few for this build. A number of previous recurring bugs like the Cortana Permissions UI not showing up, Night Light not working, and quick actions in Action Center going missing have all been resolved. On top of those, File Explorer no longer hangs when interacting with MP4s, Windows Update now displays accurate statuses in its history page, and a number of Focus Assist and Narrator improvements have also been added. Folks with a design itch will also be happy to know that the grid alignment issue in Calculator has been fixed as of version 1812 of the app.

Among the known issues – of which there are a few – it’s worth mentioning Creative X-Fi cards that still aren’t working properly, anti-cheat software in games triggering bugchecks, and USB devices like mice and keyboards potentially not working post-update. Just try plugging the device(s) in a different port, and that might fix the problem.

Regular Windows 10 got updated too, though this time we’re only talking about version 1809 or the October 2018 Update. In this case, you need to be on the lookout for KB4476976, which will bump up your build number to 17763.292. Among issues addressed are the one which prevented third-party apps from authenticating hotspots, the bug which caused audio playback to hang when playing FLAC files, and an issue which made File Explorer simply stop working when you tuned on the timeline feature. There are issues to be aware of, like the Access 97 file format bug – which Microsoft detailed a fix for previously -, and an users’ inability to load a webpage in Edge when using a local IP address. To address the latter, you’ll need to go add your local IP address to Trusted Sites (under Internet Options > Security > Trusted Sites) and check “Require server verification (https:) for all sites in this zone”. Restart the browser and it should all be fine.

The conquering of compatibility

Folks in the Xbox Insider Program, specifically its Alpha Ring, should be on the lookout for a build with the 19h1_release_xbox_dev_1904.190122-1520 string. This contains the second announced for version 1904 of the console’s software, namely the ability to reprogram buttons on the Xbox Media Remote. For example, instead of a certain button opening OneGuide, you can simply make it open Netflix or any other app you may prefer.

In case insidering (which may or may not be a word) isn’t for you, Microsoft now gives you the nuclear option for your account. While the ability to leave the program was already there, this option is a tad more drastic. Found under Settings > Manage Account, it allows you to remove all data associated with your activity as an Xbox Insider. In case you rejoin at a later date, you’ll need to work your way back up the hierarchy, going through Omega, Delta, and Beta rings. Alpha is unfortunately still invitation only at this time.

Since we mentioned drastic changes, it’s perhaps worthy to remind folks that the now first-party studio Obsidian has a nice little free update for Pillars of Eternity 2 players. Arriving as an option which was a staple of games like Fallout 1, owners of the CRPG will get to experience the title’s combat in a turn-based fashion. Keep in mind though that this can only be done for new games, so if you’re already some hours in and want to experience this combat variant, you’ll need to start anew.

Finally, a bit of news that should make Westwood RTS fans happy, Command & Conquer 3, Command & Conquer 3: Kane’s Wrath, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, as well as Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 (Commander’s Challenge) are now all part of the Backwards Compatibility list.

Apps refreshed

Microsoft has decided this week to update a number of its apps, across operating systems and use cases.

One such example is the integration between Cortana and Microsoft To-Do, which is now live in the U.S., UK, India, and Australia and allows you to use the digital assistant to add something to your existing lists. For this to work best, you do need to disconnect Wunderlist from Cortana. That’s not all, as the beta of Microsoft To-Do on Android has gotten support for file attachments, due dates, reminders and recurrence, as well as number of accessibility features. The version folks should be looking for is 1.49.7632.

Also on Android, and also in beta is SwiftKey, which with version 7.2.2.31, automatically switches to incognito mode when typing in sensitive fields. While you’re on the update screen, you might also want to check out version 5.2 of the Microsoft Launcher, which adds improvements for one-handed use, overall design tweaks, and the ability to long-press shortcuts even when the home screen is locked. You do need to be a beta tester to get this version now though.

For those using the built-in Mail app in Windows 10, there’s now a much better implementation of the dark theme – not too dissimilar to the Outlook.com variant -, and the ability to more easily switch between accounts. That said, on January 24 an outage caused by the Domain Controller infrastructure meant that some Office 365 users were unable to access their mailboxes. The issue seems to have been alleviated, but no update regarding it being completely resolved has been published. If you’re tracking this, details are being published under Admin Center EX172491.

On a more positive note, Office is finally available in the Mac App Store, and in an effort to basically protect users from themselves, Microsoft will change the default save location for Office 365 documents to OneDrive or SharePoint Online starting in February. No specific date has been provided for the latter.

Finally, in an effort to create some semblance of cohesion between its services, Microsoft has decided to rename Skype Room Systems – meant for conference call management – to Teams Rooms. This is of course to bring it in line branding-wise with its Slack competitor, Microsoft Teams. That still doesn’t make the new name any less awkward, though.

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

Rounding off this column is a PowerShell script courtesy of Tero Alhonen, which revealed that the potential final name for 19H1 may be the April 2019 Update. This is of course a rather sensible approach that follows the naming convention used last year. It’s worth pointing out that a similar script had the April 2018 Update listed as Spring Creators Update, which did not come to pass. If all goes well, this next quasi-major variant of Windows 10 should be made available in less than three months.

On the subject of availability, you won’t be able to use the Microsoft Wallet app anymore on Windows phones starting February 28. The seeming successor for this is Microsoft Pay, which hasn’t really gone anywhere recently.

If you’re particularly bored and want to try something, why not install Windows on ARM on your Lumia 950 or 950XL? Our own Rich Woods details how to do so, if you’re interested.

Did you miss any of the previous columns? Be sure to check them all out right here.

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