It's a new week, and Microsoft was quite busy. While there was plenty of Windows news - as always - the company also offered quite a bit of gaming news, not only for Xbox One and PC gamers, but for the company's gaming division as a whole.
Welcome to Microsoft Weekly for the week of January 13-19.
Last year, Microsoft gaming boss Phil Spencer was moved into a bigger role as executive VP of gaming and joined the Senior Leadership Team. He decided to fill his old job this week by promoting Minecraft boss Matt Booty to Corporate VP of Microsoft Studios. Booty's challenge will be to lead all of the company's first-party game studios - Rare, Mojang, Turn 10 and 343 Industries - to release games that can be competitive with such Sony PlayStation 4 exclusives such as Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted.
Xbox has been falling behind in the console battle and the promotion of Booty is meant to try to stimulate the games division to bigger and better things. He has a strong track record in management and is well-respected in the industry, so it will be worth keeping an eye on not only the games currently in the pipeline, but the announcements of new titles that could happen at E3, such as a new Fable game.
Speaking of E3, the company is looking at switching up its press conference format this year. In talking to Larry Hryb (aka Major Nelson), Spencer hinted at some changes coming that fans might appreciate. Just what those may be is being kept a closely guarded secret for now, but the tease should keep people buzzing until June.
Microsoft was quite busy with actual games this week as well. From the announcement of six new backward compatible titles for Xbox One to new titles for the Xbox Games Pass, gamers got their fair share of love. Here's a quick rundown:
- Forza Horizon 3 got to show off some new enhancements for Xbox One X.
- Age of Empires: Definitive Edition finally has a new release date, slated for next month.
- Deals with Gold offered up a pretty big sale on some older titles.
- Games with Gold added two new free games.
- And of course, hardware is always nice, especially if you are hoping for a new Elite controller.
Microsoft has been making significant strides in developing artificial intelligence. The company has already said that it thinks 2018 will be the year of AI, and two stories that came out this week seem to indicate they are right.
The first dealt with the development of a bot that was able to read a document, then answer questions based on what it "read." Using a standardized system of scoring, the AI was able to achieve scores comparable to humans tested on the same reading material. While the score was remarkable, Microsoft said it is going to keep working on the language processing of its AI.
If that wasn't enough to raise some eyebrows, two days later Microsoft unveiled an AI that can draw for you. The "drawing bot" takes a caption-like description and turns it into a picture that looks remarkably real. The process shows off a further evolution of language recognition and camera vision. Again, Microsoft says the process is imperfect and will continue to work on it.
Pretty soon, Microsoft's AI bots might be teaching - or at least doing your kid's homework for you.
The company has also teamed up with NordCloud to help spread Azure-based AI solutions throughout Europe. The partnership is designed to help developers with their AI projects.
While this is great news for Ai in general, Microsoft's Cortana - the face of an AI assistant for many gamers - is still facing some problems. Alexa and Google Assistant were on prominent display at CES this year, and while Cortana made a couple of minor appearances, Rich feels that Cortana and Microsoft should be afraid of the progress other assistants are making.
Microsoft isn't blinking yet, however, as it is still keeping Cortana as a major fixture in Windows 10, although it could be moving her to a different part of the building.
There was plenty of Windows 10 news this week, with a new Redstone 4 build showing up on the Fast ring, a then the Slow ring. Build 17074.1002's biggest feature was removing a block that Microsoft had put in place to protect users of AMD chips after the previous Spectre and Meltdown patch to cause some AMD PCs to fail to boot. In addition, a 17074 preview version of Windows Server was also released to Insiders.
If you aren't an Insider and privy to all of the early builds, you weren't left out this week, as Microsoft released into the wild updates for the Anniversary, Creators and Fall Creators versions of Windows 10. The update's sole purpose was to fix the issue of unbootable AMD PCs, a problem that Microsoft had blamed on AMD for not providing the company proper chip specifications.
Developers also got a new version of Windows 10 SDK - build 17069. The biggest feature here was the ability to install the SDK on any supported version of Windows 10, not just Insider preview builds.
- It appears the phase-out of Control Panel is continuing. Windows 10 could be getting a Fonts page in Settings in the near future.
- Microsoft is bringing a file restore feature to OneDrive. When the feature is finally added, users will be able to bring back deleted files from up to 90 days previous.
- Surface Book 2 is now coming to all markets where the original Surface was released.
- Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac was released, marking the first time in 20 years that all products are using the same code base.
- In a showing of what might have been, enthusiasts got Windows 10 for ARM working on a Lumia 830.
- If you are one of the few still using Windows 8.1, you got your monthly roll-up.
- Edge for Android gets an update, including some new features.
- Microsoft Messenger has joined the ranks of other apps upgraded to the Fluent Design look.
- The Healthvault Insights app, an attempt by the company to help users gather health data, is being pulled from mobile stores.
- Azure Analysis Services availability has been extended to four new regions.
In a rather surprising turn of events, the Spanish city of Barcelona has decided to dump Microsoft products in favor of open source programs. Outlook and Exchange Server will be phased out, and while the city has not announced an OS, it is likely to again be Ubuntu, something they have been using already.
The move is not so much a dissatisfaction with the Microsoft product line as it is trying to keep in line with Free Software Foundation Europe pushing cities to use open source solutions. Of course, the savings on licensing fees could also be a factor.
The timing comes as Barcelona is again gearing up for next month's Mobile World Congress, the annual showcase for smartphones and mobile tech. Given that Windows 10 Mobile is on its deathbed, maybe the move away from Microsoft products is a bit of life imitating tech.
Until next week, TTFN.
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