The beginning of the year was a tad quiet, as it usually tends to be, so this is the first Microsoft Weekly column of 2020 – and indeed the decade. We’ll cover some interesting gaming milestones, the updated Edge icons, and the first Insider Preview of the year. You can find that – as well as the usual little bit extra – below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of January 4 – 10.
We begin the section with a milestone coming from the folks at Rare, who revealed that Sea of Thieves has been played by over 10 million players since its launch back in March of 2018.
To celebrate this occasion, anybody who logs into the game between January 15 and 22 will get custom sails and a brand new emote. As it so happens, the next content update, dubbed Legends of the Seas will be pushed out on the 15, with more info being revealed closer to its release.
Another milestone relates to Flight Simulator, whose Tech Alpha 2 has entered its final testing phase. For those who haven’t gotten into the first Tech Alpha, a second wave of invites should be going out between January 13 – 17. Microsoft has also made the Feedback Snapshot for its Tech Alpha 1 viewable for the general public, with it being previously confined to the Insiders Area.
On January 20 the first wave of Tech Alpha 2 invites will be sent, with the 27 being the cutoff date for invitations and the beginning of build access emails. These should all conclude by January 31. If you were part of Tech Alpha 1 testing, you’ll automatically be allowed access to Tech Alpha 2.
Moving on to Game Pass, those on console can now finally play Grand Theft Auto V as part of the subscription, with Frostpunk: Console Edition and Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet being recently added to the lineup as well. Tekken 7 will join the roster on January 16.
For those on PC, Frostpunk and FTL: Faster Than Light will be made available, though no dates have been communicated.
As far as departures are concerned, LEGO City Undercover and Just Cause 3 will be leaving in less than a month, so if you want to try them out, now is the time.
Last but not least, there was a bit of confusion regarding the Xbox Series X and its array of ports this week. During AMD’s CES event, a render was shown which included the back of the console, something Microsoft has yet to show.
In the end, it turned out that this was a third-party render and not representative of the final product, with Brad Sams obtaining an actual list of what’s – currently – on the back of the Series X. There are two USB SuperSpeed Type-A ports, an HDMI port, Ethernet, optical audio, and power adaptor port, along with the expected air intake vents. It’s worth noting that this can – and most likely will – change between now and the final version.
Although the main icon for Microsoft’s Chromium Edge was revealed last year, it wasn’t rolled out to every platform and especially not every testing branch. All that changed this week as the stable channel on iOS got the new icon along with enhanced navigation and UI features for easier access to favorites, search, and others.
It follows in the footsteps of the beta versions on iOS as well as Android, which got the updated icon near the beginning of the year. The new features added then were the choice of legacy or new Edge on Android, and a new control center on Apple’s platform.
Folks on the desktop weren’t left out though, as the first Edge Dev build of the year materialized. Version 81.0.381.0 re-enables favorites syncing, as well as introducing features like suggesting of correct URLs if said URL is misspelled, the ability to paste multiple items into a Collection at the same time, and a keyboard shortcut (Ctrl + Shift + U) for starting Read Aloud.
Fixes were included too, and they were quite numerous, covering mostly issues related to reliability of the browser itself and many of its features like syncing, Collections, Tracking Prevention, and others.
An improved Task Manager
Opening the Insider build floodgates for 2020, build 19541 of Microsoft’s very vaguely named Windows 10 vNext was pushed out.
The feature set is quite small, covering some updates to the separate Cortana app – like the return of Bing Instant Answers and Timers -, as well as a notification area icon to denote when location services are in use.
In addition to the above, there’s now an option to show the architecture of each process listed under the Details tab of Task Manager. It’s unclear whether this is a replacement for the already available Platform option, or if it will be present as just another column you can select.
In terms of fixes, the reliability of System Settings has been improved, notifications that a reboot is needed no longer persist after rebooting, and the Feedback Hub, Search, as well as Task Manager have gotten their own little patches too.
The BattlEye known issue is still present, as are unresponsive external USB 3.0 drives, and long update periods when installing a new build. Optimize Drives in Control Panel may also have trouble displaying optimization status, the Documents section icon under Privacy in Settings is broken, Timeline doesn’t show any activities, Outlook search isn’t working, Snipping doesn’t work on secondary monitors, and Remote Desktop Connection crashes if you try to connect to multiple sessions. Other than that, all is well.
The Fast ring
Teams will be getting a Walkie Talkie feature, bolstering its first line worker features.
The business and education-focused variants of the Microsoft Store are reportedly being shut down, with the deprecation date set for June 30.
Microsoft has rolled out updated Online Services Terms for commercial customers, clarifying its role as the assumed data controller.
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.
Excel on the web has gotten a new feature called Office Scripts, available in public preview now.
Native Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 packages are now available for SQL Server 2019.
Microsoft’s Fluid Framework preview has started its rollout.
Cumulative update 1 for the RTM version of SQL Server 2019 is now available.
To end the column, we’ll take another look at Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox Series X, and how it will approach exclusive games.
In addition to helping make sense of the console ports kerfuffle at CES, Microsoft also clarified how it plans to approach the subject of exclusive games for the most powerful variant of its next-gen console.
According to Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, the content the company will be pushing out “in the next year, two years” will be playable across the range of Xbox consoles from current to next gen. This is not too dissimilar to how a PC works in terms of compatibility – something that the Redmond giant has been vocal about -, with Booty stating that “if someone invests in Xbox between now and [Series X] that they feel that they made a good investment and that we’re committed to them with content.”
This of course means there won’t be any Series X only games (or exclusives so to speak), at least not initially. However, the approach will bolster the already available 500 plus Backward Compatibility titles which are being brought forward, as well as Game Pass, in terms of value proposition. There’s also the question of why someone would want to buy the console sans exclusives, though the upgraded specs are certainly nothing to scoff at. Ray tracing support as well as higher frame per second counts and resolutions would be good reasons to upgrade also.
There’s still plenty of time for more info to come out, with E3 most notably taking place in a few short months, where the company could showcase the rumored lower-powered Lockhart next-gen console. It goes without saying that Halo Infinite should also be further along by that point, with a showcase pretty much guaranteed at E3. After all, it’s a next-gen launch title.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.