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Microsoft Weekly: Gaming sloop, preview group, hardware soup

Gaming news has become a more prominent part in terms of output, as far as the Redmond campus is concerned, something which is set to continue with the E3 Xbox Briefing. Nevertheless, some hardware, Insider preview and acquisition news was also present, to complete the lineup. All of that and much more right below in your Microsoft digest for the week of June 2-8.

Gaming sloop

Considering it’s pre-E3, this week has been rather packed with game news, all things considered. We got stuff from Rare’s cartoony piracy adventure, some State of Decay 2 stats, and a couple more noteworthy tidbits.

First up is Sea of Thieves with its 1.1.1 update and the enhanced open and closed crew function, plus the more substantial loot for Pirate Legends. Of course, fixes were included as well, ranging from those for bounty quests to washed-up items, icons, chat indicators, and others.

Another Microsoft-published game, State of Decay 2 broke the two million player mark in less than a fortnight, while receiving a hefty and more than welcome 20GB patch to boot. From the same camp however, Crackdown 3 doesn’t seem to be able to catch a break, as reports came out that the title would be delayed to 2019. Soon after, we got official confirmation that the game was indeed pushed back to February next year.

However, until all that there’s E3 2018, and Microsoft has taken full advantage of this event to host a sale and discount its top-of-the-line Xbox One X by $50 to entice potential buyers. Controllers will also be $10 off during the sale, and you might even want to take a look at the Skip Ahead ring for Xbox Insiders once you get your console.

If none of that is of interest to you, but an Xbox console is in your living room, the Backward Compatibility list might be worth looking through, as it got three new games this week: GTA San Andreas, Midnight Club: Los Angeles, and Rockstar Table Tennis.

Lastly, Playground Games, the makers of the Forza Horizon and an upcoming open-world action RPG – which may or may not be a new entry in the Fable series – could soon become part of Microsoft, if rumors are to be believed. However, given the rather large sum of money the company recently parted with for GitHub, the idea is certainly interesting.

Preview group

If there’s something Microsoft has become rather fond of in recent years, it’s word ‘preview’. As such, operating systems and even apps have dedicated Insider previews. Let’s take a look at some of the latest builds released for said preview programs.

First off is build 17682 of the SDK, which brings support for the MSIX format. This allows folks to put apps in containers and can be done via the MakeAppx tool.

Hot on its heels we find build 17686 for the Fast ring with its Region, privacy and Mixed Reality improvements. Of course, some bugs are to be expected and those include fonts bought from the Microsoft Store not working in certain apps, some Start-related reliability issues, and some Fluent Design visual bugs. On the flip side, issues have also been fixed, meaning stuff like frequent CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED bugchecks, invisible cursors in Command Prompt or unexpected dark elements in the ‘Replace or skip files’ dialog should be a thing of the past.

Also on the Insider side we’ve got the Skype preview for iOS, whose recent update fixed the crashing issue in iOS 12. This behavior was present during a similar period of the iOS 11 beta, so its presence and rather quick fix wasn’t much of a surprise.

Hopping back to the other side of the fence we see that Microsoft has announced Visual Studio 2019, the latest iteration of its IDE, a preview for which is not yet available. We do however know that unlike Office 2019 which will run only on Windows 10, VS2019 runs on all of the systems its predecessor did, meaning Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 too.

Last but not least we’ve got the regular version of Windows 10 which got an update of its own this week for the April 2018 Update. KB4348548, which bumps the build number to 17134.83, addresses an issue which prevented the 2017 and 2018 versions of Intuit QuickBooks Desktop from running in multi-user mode. Those who make use of the software should now be able to use it problem-free on the latest iteration of Microsoft’s OS.

Hardware soup

Although a few years back the notion of Microsoft making its own hardware was a tad science-fiction – outside of mice and other kinds of peripherals -, these days it’s more of a norm. That however, doesn’t make the whole thing any less confusing.

Much to their surprise, Surface 3 owners got a firmware update of their own this week, along with an update for the integrated Intel HD Graphics. This is the first update in a year and a half and most likely the last one the device will see. On the other hand, the newest entry on the Surface Pro side has gotten yet another SKU folks can choose from, namely a 4G LTE-enabled variant of the Core i5 / 8GB RAM / 128GB SSD option.

In somewhat related news, Microsoft announced Windows Collaboration Displays, which are kind of like the Surface Hub, but not really. These are basically third-party variants of what the Hub offers, only they are meant to work with Windows 10 PCs and don’t run a customized version of the OS, unlike the Surface Hub. These could be rather good companions for Windows 10 Always Connected PCs, which took a step forward this week thanks to Qualcomm and its announcement of the Snapdragon 850. The chipmaker’s latest mobile platform is targeted specifically at these kinds of always connected devices and helps bring solidify the idea of Windows 10 on ARM even more. To test this out, you can even grab a couple of devices from HP and ASUS, now listed in the Microsoft Store.

What won’t be listed anymore is the Alcatel IDOL 4S Windows phone, which was recently taken down from the tech giant’s own Store, leaving only the HP Elite x3 on sale. Thought Windows Phone and its Windows Mobile successor might be slowly fading away, there’s no reason we can’t look to the future, and that’s exactly what someone did with this interesting concept for a Surface Phone.

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 with what’s quite possibly the biggest news from Microsoft this past week, namely its acquisition of GitHub.

As you know, late last week rumors emerged that Microsoft was looking into a buyout agreement with code repository GitHub, a service whose most recent valuation put it at around $2 billion. An agreement was revealed to have been reached two days later without a sum being floated around.

Luckily, later the same day, the final deal was revealed: GitHub would shake hands with the Redmond giant for a cool $7.5 billion. This is the third largest sum of money Microsoft has ever paid for a company, behind LinkedIn ($26.2 billion) and Skype ($8.5 billion). It’s also a tad more than it paid for Nokia’s Devices & Services division ($7.2 billion).

With the closure of its very own CodePlex – which was rather unfortunately revealed on April 1 last year – and open-sourcing of quite of few of its technologies, the acquisition makes a lot of sense for Microsoft. The only thing left now is to see just how well managed this is going to be.

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