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Microsoft Weekly: DirectStorage for Windows, new updates, and Surface firmware

DirectStorage making its way to Windows, Microsoft once again being awarded the JEDI contract, and even the accidental mention of an Xbox Series S were all uncovered this week. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of August 29 - September 4.

DirectStorage for Windows

One of the more interesting bits of gaming news this week concerns the cross-pollination between Microsoft’s console and Windows, namely in the DirectX technologies sector.

As was promised when the company first announced DirectX XII Ultimate, Microsoft is looking to bring DirectStorage from the Xbox Velocity Architecture to Windows. Via this API, developers will be able to establish multiple I/O queues – so in essence parallelization of I/O requests -, improving load times, latency, and rendering ability in games.

Sticking to the console a tad longer though, we’ve compiled a list of the best Xbox One games launching next week, a new Designed for Xbox branding and set of partners has been revealed, there are a number of Deals with Gold currently active, with The Division and de Blob 2 being available to claim for free if you’re an Xbox Live Gold subscriber.

Switching a tad to next-gen news, Microsoft has started mentioning the Xbox Series S in publicly available products – despite not officially announcing the thing -, and CD Projekt RED has announced that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be getting a next-gen edition with ray tracing which is set to be free for all owners of the current-gen edition across console and PC.

Folks who play the array of games in Halo: The Master Chief Collection can look forward to a server browser and cross-play improvements, Ubisoft’s Immortals Fenyx Rising has been revealed via a Microsoft Store leak, and the annual Minecraft Live event is set to arrive virtually on October 3.

In other first-party news, Sea of Thieves: Vaults of the Ancients will launch on September 9, adding heaps of gold, and Flight Simulator’s version patch is now out. The aforementioned sim has gained in excess of one million players, making it the biggest Game Pass launch yet.

And speaking of Game Pass, if you’re on PC, you’re now able to play Crusader Kings III, Resident Evil 7 Biohazard, Tell Me Why: Chapter Two, Touhou Luna Nights, and World War Z, with Star Renegades arriving September 8. Disgaea 4 Complete+, and Tell Me Why: Chapter Three are set to arrive to the PC subscription on September 10.

For folks on console, the Jackbox Party Pack 4, Resident Evil 7 Biohazard, Tell Me Why: Chapter Two, and Touhou Luna Nights are available right now, with Hotshot Racing and Tell Me Why: Chapter Three arriving September 10. Destiny 2: Shadowkeep and Forsaken is also coming to Xbox Game Pass for Console, though there’s no date attached just yet.

Finally, it’s worth noting that on September 1, NBA 2K20 was removed from the console subscription, with Red Dead Redemption 2 to be removed on September 7 and Jump Force on September 15. Also on the latter date, Gonner: Blueberry Edition will be removed from both the console and PC subscriptions.

New updates

A smattering of updates has surfaced this week, including but not limited to a newly deprecated feature in the May 2020 Update for Windows 10.

This specific feature is the Connect app, which uses Miracast tech and lets folks mirror their display wirelessly to a Windows 10 PC. Due to not a lot of people using it, Microsoft has decided to make this app an optional feature, meaning it can be uninstalled if the user so desires.

In not so great news, though Microsoft was slowly but surely lifting all blocks that prevented people from installing the May 2020 Update, a brand new one was just imposed this week. It concerns devices with LTE modems, users of which may see that the Network Connectivity Status Indicator (NCSI) states there’s no connectivity upon waking the device from sleep or hibernation. If you’ve already installed the update, just toggle Airplane mode on and off, which should mitigate this issue.

It's worth highlighting the fact that build 19041.488 for the May 2020 Update also appeared this week, featuring tons of fixes, and that Microsoft has pushed out Intel microcode updates for all supported Windows 10 versions in order to revise mitigations for four Microarchitectural Data Sampling (MDS) threats. These updates are:

  • May 2020 Update (2004): KB4558130
  • May 2019 Update / November 2019 Update (1903 and 1909): KB4497165
  • October 2018 Update (1809): KB4494174
  • April 2018 Update (1803): KB4494451
  • Fall Creators Update (1709): KB4494452
  • Creators Update (1703): KB4494453
  • Anniversary Update (1607): KB4494175
  • Windows 10 RTM LTSC (1507): KB4494454

On the Insider side there’s been some activity too, with build 20206 hitting the Dev channel with keyboard and typing improvements in tow, as well as a decently long list of fixes. Microsoft does warn that some users have seen long install times for builds, so patience is required if you want to obtain this shiny and new Insider variant.

Build 20206 of the vNext Server preview also showed up, bringing improvements to the SMB protocol, as well as Storage Migration Services.

Surface firmware

Though nowhere near as numerous when compared to those about updates, a couple bits of news popped up this week in regards to the Surface line.

For one, owners of the Surface Laptop 3 15-inch have received new firmware and driver updates. These are meant to address stability and reliability issues that some users may have been confronted with, including ones relating to waking from sleep and even battery reliability. To even get these updates you’ll need to be on Windows 10 1903 (May 2019 Update) or newer, and the rollout of these updates does not seem to be gradual.

What is gradual, if a new report is to be believed, is the availability of the Surface Duo outside of the U.S. market. Wanting to gauge the adoption of the dual-screen device in the United States first, Microsoft is reportedly contemplating an expansion into other markets, but not until the first half of 2021.

Something that folks won’t have to wait quite as long is notification banner customization in the Your Phone app. You’re able to access this feature right now if you’re an Insider, which gives you the ability to choose between three notification banner styles: ‘Hide all content’, ‘Show with sender only’, or ‘Show with previews’. And yes, the app supports the Surface Duo fully, in case you’ve somehow picked up one of those.

Dev channel

Logging off

The Force was with Microsoft back in October of 2019, and it seems it’s still by the software giant’s side on this occasion.

In October of last year, Microsoft won the $10B U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract. Once the decision was made public, there were protests, and Amazon even filed a lawsuit in November of the same year, challenging the decision.

According to the eCommerce giant, the contract was given to Microsoft due to “political influence and errors”, with Microsoft stating simply that it offered “significantly superior technology at a better price”.

After re-evaluating the bids and requesting both Amazon and Microsoft to submit revised bids back in March, the DoD has awarded the contract to Microsoft, as originally planned.

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

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