This week has been rather interesting in terms of news and announcements, with the preparations for Gears 5’s launch being in full swing, Microsoft fixing its weird split ring approach, and the leaking of a bunch of new – and more colourful - icons. You can find that – as well as the usual little bit extra – below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of August 31 – September 6.
Gearing up for launch
Even though the console generation is nearly coming to an end, with both Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Scarlett dropping next year, that doesn’t mean the latter will simply stop releasing games for the Xbox One. One of its biggest first-party franchises, Gears of War, is on the precipice of the release of its fifth entry in the series.
Beyond the availability of the launch trailer for Gears 5 - which promises “the biggest Gears ever”, including the presence of Sarah Connor, the T800 Endoskeleton from Terminator: Dark Fate, Spartans Emile-A239, Kat-B320 from Halo: Reach, and even Dave Bautista - it's worth noting that the latest Gears title is also already available to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, ahead of its September 10 global launch.
Speaking of, with the exception of Bautista’s character, all the other ones mentioned are available only to XGP Ultimate subscribers or owners of Gears 5 Ultimate Edition. Nevertheless, Game Pass owners of different tiers will still be able to enjoy the latest FPS title from Microsoft regardless of their sub tier, along with a slew of other games.
On September 5 for example, Dead Cells was included for both console and PC Game Pass, while Metal Gear Solid HD Edition: 2 & 3 were made available only for the Xbox. On the 6, Gears 5 Ultimate Edition and Creature in the Well arrived for the subscription on both platforms – with the notable asterisk that Gears 5 was only for Game Pass Ultimate users. September 10 will see the availability of the Standard Edition of the game, again, on both platforms.
September 12 will also bring a couple of games to PC and console, like Enter the Gungeon and Gonner Blüeberry Edition. In addition to those, Bad North: Jotunn Edition is coming to Xbox One and PC, with Shadow Warrior 2 being added to Game Pass on PC. These last two are only confirmed to be arriving “this month”, with no date provided.
As is the norm with these kinds of things, certain titles are also being removed. Onrush, LEGO Batman 2, Joy Ride Turbo, Splosion Man, and The Maw have already left, while LEGO Indiana Jones, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Split/Second, Ninja Gaiden Black, and theHunter: Call of the Wild are set to be removed on September 30.
Going back to the Xbox side, features coming in version 1910 were finally announced. Said features are Wish List notifications, a better Mixer viewing experience (built into the Dashboard), “significant improvements” to Recent Players, a better game capture experience, and the ability to recommend Game Pass games to friends. In addition, enhancements under the hood should mean fewer “update required” screens when launching games. As expected, the same day it announced the new features, Microsoft also pushed out build 18363.7134 (or 19H2 for console, or version 1910) to the Delta Ring.
The new Dashboard experience that was briefly tested by Alpha ring Insiders is now back, with a few minor visual changes, though it’s still limited to 50% of testers. This is phase two of testing, though it’s unclear how many more of these there will be.
If you’re lucky enough to be in the Alpha Skip Ahead ring, you got build 18975.1004, which is the first one from the 20H1 branch to be made available for those on Xbox. Because it’s the first one, the feature set is identical to 19H2.
Closing out this section is a joint announcement about a partnership between SK Telecom and Microsoft, centered on 5G cloud gaming in South Korea. This is of course good timing because the Redmond giant plans to kick off its Project xCloud preview next month.
Folks that have stuck around to test various Fast ring builds were rewarded this past week with yet another one, on this occasion, 18975. One of the features present, though only for 50% of Insiders, is the ability to move Cortana, but not in the way that you’d expect. You can’t just install it somewhere else and forget about it, but instead, half of the Fast ring testers can now move the window from its default position. Not quite earth-shattering, but a good addition nonetheless.
Improvements to WSL are present too, Virtual Desktop renaming is now available for all Insiders, and a preview version of the rebooted Power Toys – available initially for Windows 95 – is also included. For those not familiar, this was a selection of utilities for power users, meant to enhance Windows 95 through XP in terms of window management, AutoPlay behavior, and more.
The number of fixes is extensive, as expected, and it includes patches for bugs like text not rendering properly in certain Settings pages, unexpected modification of File Explorer settings, issues with the behavior of window controls, reliability problems with Action Center, and more. The list of known issues has grown with the addition of two Reset this PC cloud download-related bugs, one related to netprofmsvc.dll which may cause the upgrade to this build to freeze at 98%, and issues with Mixed Reality.
If you’ve chosen to only interact with Insider builds via the Slow ring, Microsoft pushed out build 18362.10019. Unlike previous occasions, this does not split the ring into two tracks, but rather it’s made available for all. It contains all the previously announced 19H2 features – like the ability to create an event straight from the Calendar flyout – which hadn’t made their way to the Slow ring before.
Microsoft also untangled the mess in the Release Preview ring – at least for now – by offering 19H2 builds to everybody in the aforementioned ring. The split ring approach seems to have been just a small experiment that hopefully will not be making a return.
In case something has gone wrong and you need to clean install your Insider VM or even your dedicated box, ISOs for build 18363 for the 19H2 branch, as well as build 18970 for the 20H1 branch are now available.
Finally, if you’ve been experiencing high CPU usage from SearchUI.exe, the Redmond giant has acknowledged this bug and stated it will provide a fix “in an upcoming release”. This most likely means this month’s Patch Tuesday, set to arrive on September 10. In the meantime, you can temporarily reclaim your CPU by uninstalling KB4512941 via Settings > Update & security > Windows Update > View update history > Uninstall updates.
Microsoft's various online services and enterprise offerings got a bit of attention this week too, as Power BI Mobile received a public preview of a welcome UI revamp. This brings it more in line with the desktop app, and also ditches the “Hamburger” menu for a navigation bar at the bottom.
In terms of what’s happened with Azure, a Cognitive Service that was announced earlier this year, namely Form Recognizer, now has the ability to recognize handwritten characters in documents, as well as the ability to extract info from mixed-mode forms. That means that information can be gleaned from documents regardless if they’re printed, handwritten, or both.
Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, for its part, got improved performance for the Power BI Connector, triggers for Microsoft Flow, and even the ability to reorder and duplicate match rules. This comes a mere week after improvements were made to another Dynamics product, namely Guides.
In a bit of dual integration news, Visual Studio Code now supports SQL Server 2019 Big Data Clusters PySpark development, while Microsoft Intune has been directly integrated with Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.
Lastly, OneDrive got a few changes of its own, like the ability to comment on non-Office files, a Popular Around Me section in the Shared with the Me category, sharing of direct links to specific files in a PowerPoint presentation on the web, and OneDrive sync client support for Sever 2019 with Files On-Demand. Also listed on the roadmap are Time to Read and Inside Look features, the former of which tells you how long a document would take to read, and the latter of which shows a list of key points in the document without the need to open it.
The Fast ring
- Windows on ARM for the Lumia 950 is apparently getting more usable.
- The Surface Pro 5 and 6 have gotten a few new firmware updates.
- Microsoft has acquired Movere to streamline customer migration to Azure.
- The Redmond giant has made a weird musical about itself.
- Office Insiders in the Slow ring can now edit PDFs in Word for Mac.
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.
- Azure Data Explorer is now generally available in the Azure portal.
- Azure Event Hubs support for Azure AD – based on access control – has now hit its GA phase.
- Microsoft Intune now supports Android Q.
- Support dates for the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) have been standardized.
- The developer preview phase of AMP for email in Outlook.com has now begun.
We close this column with a bit of news regarding Edge Dev, and Microsoft’s discovery of colours other than blue.
Last week, the team behind Edgium (or the Chrome-based Edge) announced a new Dev build that had quite a few new features. It was unfortunately delayed due to some delivery issues, but now, build 78.0.262.0 has surfaced.
It includes all the features from the unreleased build, like built-in blocking of harmful ads, Collections, the Windows 10 Share UI, as well as a new management policy, a UI improvement for Clear Browsing Data, and more.
And finally, a few new icons have leaked, including those for Solitaire, File Explorer, Weather, Movies & TV, and even, inexplicably, Groove Music. The good news is that they’re not all blue, which was a common theme with the previously leaked icons.
Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.