Microsoft Weekly: Game a tad, builds not bad, feature clad

This week’s been a little bit lighter on the news front, but there are nevertheless some interesting highlights to discuss. Crazy high Gamescore points, the lack of Insider preview builds and nice little additions to cross-platform services; all can be found here in your Microsoft digest for the week of November 17-23.

Game a tad

The gaming presence has been fairly subtle this week, but there are a couple of nice things to bring to the fore.

The first and perhaps most time-sensitive of all these is Minecraft’s crafty Block Friday sale which slashes 30% off in-game content. This means you’ll be able to get skin packs, texture packs, maps, mini-games and others cheaper than usual. Furthermore, there’s a Block Friday Xbox One bundle that’s 64% off – just $3.99 – and which includes the Festive Mash-Up Pack, the Town Folks Skin Pack, and 310 Minecoins. Finally, if you’re looking to actually buy Microsoft’s home console, there’s an Xbox One S 1TB Minecraft Creators Bundle which is going to set you back $199 (a $100 discount compared to its regular price). Regardless of the deal you’ll spring for, it all runs through Monday.

Speaking of Xbox, Raymond Cox, who goes by username Stallion83, just broke his own record and thus became the world record holder for most Gamerscore points. Having reached the one million mark in 2014, he went on to double that number four years later. The Xbox team even sent him a personalized controller with the text ‘2.000.000 G’ engraved in the peripheral. Cox isn’t quite sure if he’ll pursue the three million point milestone as well, but anything is possible.

To round off this section, there’s a new hire at Microsoft’s The Initiative. As you may remember, the software giant announced this studio as one of its five headline first-party offerings back at E3. Headed by former Tomb Raider head Darrell Gallagher, the organization recently welcomed Drew Murray, former Sunset Overdrive director at Insomniac Games. Murray had a 13-year stint at Insomniac, where he worked on the second and third titles in the Resistance series, as well as Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. Given all of the talent at both The Initiative and the other first-party studios, Microsoft could be coming out swinging as the next console generation zooms into view.

Builds not bad

Things were a bit quieter on the Insider front this week, mostly due to Thanksgiving. That doesn’t mean there was complete silence though.

Despite the absence of preview builds for 19H1 on the consumer side, folks in the Insider Program on the Server side did get something to play with. The build is 18282, the first build of its kind to be released since the launch of Server 2019 and Server version 1809. ISO images are available for all 18 supported Server languages, with VHDX files only available in English. For those curious, the build expires on December 14, this year. Let’s hope there will be another build to replace it by then.

Matching up nicely with that Server build is the SDK one, which adds support for a new blend mode of the AcrylicBrush called Luminosity. This is basically to do with shadows not appearing behind acrylic surfaces that don’t have a cutout.

On the subject of software development kits, those using Visual Studio 15.9.1 can harness the power of the latest SDK for a number of new capabilities. These include support for the Windows UI Library (WinUI) – which means devs can access XAML controls and other elements via NuGet packages; UWP XAML Islands for apps built using WinForms, Win32 APIs or C/C++; Adaptive Cards 1.1 which allows for support of Media Element and Action Icons, plus the Windows Machine Learning API, and more.

To make UWP app development easier, there is of course Windows Template Studio, which this week was bumped up to version 2.5. In general, it brings support for Visual Studio 2019, Navigation View now uses the WinUI Library, and it has a number of bug fixes and performance improvements like improved startup times.

Keeping things still in the insider circles so to speak, those who’ve been testing various preview builds of Skype v8 now have the option to share OneDrive files. And no, that doesn’t mean simply copy-pasting links in chat, but actual native integration with Microsoft’s cloud service. This means you can just tap that ‘+’ icon and find a file stored on your personal OneDrive that you can share with your contacts. Keep in mind that the feature is currently rolling out and as of writing can be accessed only via the Android app. With life in general – and Microsoft in particular – patience is a virtue, so this feature will show up at one point.

Feature clad

This service approach for games and apps especially does have some advantages, like the ones detailed below.

If you’re using Microsoft Launcher on the beta channel, look out for version 5.1. This one brings support for Skype, Outlook, and To-Do information on the launcher’s To Do Card, and the Notes card will show your synced Sticky Notes. There’s also a new screen time card so you can track just how much you use your phone, and a beta version of the Hey Cortana voice controls.

Speaking of Cortana, you’ll soon be able to add lists and reminders in Microsoft To-Do via the digital assistant. While you wait for that feature though, why not try out To-Do on iOS, which now lets you view scheduled tasks in groups as part of the Planned smart list. Empty smart lists will be hidden automatically, and you can collapse individual sections in the Planned smart list so you can see things more clearly.

Last but not least, Microsoft’s continual push to get rid of the antiquated password has a new tool in its arsenal. If you want to sign into your Microsoft Account (or MSA) in the Edge browser, you can now make use of a FIDO2 key to complete the operation. Offerings from Yubico and Feitian are in the $40 - $50 range, and if those don’t float your boat, there’s also support for Windows Hello sign-in. Limited to just Edge 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

Remember how the rather late re-release of the October 2018 Update seemed to be off to a rather good start? Well, not anymore.

If you were looking forward to checking out version 1809 of Windows 10, there’s some bad news for you, especially if you’re running two particular versions of Intel’s display driver. If you were “lucky” enough to get version 24.20.100.6344 or 24.20.100.6345, the October 2018 Update is blocked from reaching your PC. The reason for this is that Microsoft identified that devices running these two versions of the display drivers exhibited problems with audio playback from monitors or TVs connected to a PC either via HDMI, USB-C, or DisplayPort. There’s no ETA on when a fix for this will show up.

Unfortunately for this latest version of Windows 10, that is not the only issue. If you’re trying to install iCloud version 7.7.0.27 on 1809, the software will refuse to install citing a compatibility problem. If, however, you already had iCloud installed before upgrading to 1809, you may have problems syncing your Shared Albums. Needless to say, Microsoft’s blocking PCs with this version of iCloud from receiving 1809 too.

Missed any of the previous columns? Find them all here.

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