Microsoft Weekly: Holiday gaming, a Visual Studio preview, and more

It’s been a good seven days for gamers, and a very interesting couple of days for the future of Windows and Microsoft’s strategy going forward. Be sure to check that out and the usual extra below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of December 1-7.

Holiday gaming

With the holidays approaching fast, Microsoft has decided to add a bit more interest to its Game Pass subscription.

First off is Ashen – that ARPG with those faceless characters -, which has just landed on the Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass and the PC. For the latter platform, you can obtain it through the newly-launched Epic Games Store.

Since Microsoft has resurrected the ‘Jump In’ tagline from back in the 360 days, it’s also bringing back a Summer of Arcade-inspired promotion. Dubbed Winter of Arcade, it will deliver a bunch of deals and of course games, this time to Game Pass. You can now get Ashen and Mortal Kombat X, followed by Kingdom Two Crowns on December 11, Pro Evolution Soccer 19 and Spintires: Mudrunner on the 13, Below on the 14, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on the 17, and finally Shadow Warrior 2 and Ori and the Blind Forest on December 20. While Game Pass is normally $9.99/month, you can get your first month for just $1 as part of the company’s holiday celebrations.

If you’re looking to play some of the older games you already have, the Backward Compatibility list has, once again, gotten a bunch of titles added to it. On this occasion, Duke Nukem Forever, The Darkness, and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified have joined the roster. Also joining a roster, this time of Xbox One X enhanced titles is Rocket League, enhancement which was delivered as part of the V1.56 December Update.

Users who like living on the edge might want to check out the new Preview Alpha (build 181129-1920) and Skip Ahead (181130-1900) builds which are part of the upcoming 1902 and 1904 updates (respectively) for the Microsoft console. They include the usual array of performance tweaks and addressed issues, with the latter laying the foundation for a set of upcoming features that are yet to be revealed. If this isn’t quite your thing, there’s an updated Spotify app for the Xbox One, which has an improved design and supports Cortana voice commands.

Last but not least, the now Microsoft-owned Obsidian Entertainment has finally unveiled its upcoming single-player sci-fi RPG at The Game Awards this year. Dubbed The Outer Worlds, it brings together much of the original team that created Fallout – including its original creator and game designer, Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky – and the developers of Fallout: New Vegas. The title blends a bit of the post-apocalyptic aesthetic with a few BioShock and even Borderlands influences in terms of its art style, while also maintaining the characteristic subtle humor in previous Obsidian titles. Do keep in mind that this has been in development for about two years now and it’s slated to be released under 2K’s Private Division publishing imprint sometime next year. Because the developer will honor its existing contracts, The Outer Worlds isn’t exclusive to the Microsoft platform, instead coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam.

Previews of updates and updates of previews

In case you were expecting this week to also bring in a bunch of updates and even some preview builds, you weren’t wrong. Folks eager to learn about the new version of Visual Studio have even more of a reason to rejoice.

At its Connect(); event earlier this week, Microsoft announced a bunch of new things, among which the availability of .NET Core 3.0 and the open sourcing of its Windows Forms, WPF, and the WinUI library. Another major bit of news to come out of the event was the availability – in preview – of the next version of Visual Studio, VS 2019. Though it was first revealed in June, folks weren’t able to test it until now. In terms of new features, this next major iteration brings improvements to the starting UI, code refactoring, IntelliCode (specifically auto-complete suggestions), and the search experience. Live Share is also integrated into the program directly, and the pull request experience has been polished up too.

In other news for developers, build 18290 of the Windows 10 SDK can now be obtained by those interested. This is also in preview and is part of the upcoming 19H1 feature update wave for the operating system, even if it doesn’t brink any major changes to the software development kit.

As far as Insider Preview ISOs are concerned, those aren’t being offered for build 18272 anymore. Do keep in mind that the disc images were initially revealed over a month ago and contain a Fast ring build – which wasn’t the case previously. The only time when we’d actually get new ISOs would be with the release of a Slow ring build, but given that said ring hasn’t even received one 19H1 build yet, the current situation is understandable. And don’t think Microsoft is removing ISOs just for the hell of it. Build 18272 expires December 14, so it was no point in offering anymore. A replacement would’ve been nice, though.

The update front for the stable side of Windows 10 is a little lighter this week, but that’s because Patch Tuesday hasn’t arrived yet. Nevertheless, whether you’re on the Long-Term Servicing Channel for the Anniversary Update (1607), or the October 2018 Update (1809), here’s what you need to look out for:

  • Anniversary Update (1607) LTSC, Education, Enterprise, Server 2016: KB4478877, build 14393.2641 – has a single fix which addresses an issue with Source Network Address Translation port allocation. There are a total of three bugs to be aware of, among which the that ever-present SqlConnection exception, the invisible Seek Bar in Media Player, and the system becoming unresponsive “when features related to end-user-defined-characters are used”. A workaround for the last issue is to double click on any font file or to navigate to the font folders upon logging on. Fixes for the other two are coming soon.
  • October 2018 Update (1809) – KB4469342, build 17763.168 – drag-and-drop uploads via Edge now work as expected, time zone information for Fiji, Morocco, and Russia has been updated, an IE issue which degraded performance is fixed, there should be no more black screens on servers upon waking up from sleep or when trying to play live TV Hulu content in Edge, Bluetooth headsets should be once again working as expected – as should the brightness slider -, and setting Win32 app defaults should also work correctly. There are two bugs to be aware of, one being the Windows Media Player invisible Seek Bar issue, and the other being nVidia-driver related, causing Edge to crash when playing video. The latter has been fixed by the GPU maker via an updated driver.

Since we mentioned said Media Player bug – which apparently seems to go all the way back to Windows 7 -, Microsoft has said it will fix it in mid-December. The not so brilliant news is that this appears to be limited to Windows 10, which users on previous versions not being given any info on the matter. Still, Patch Tuesday falls on December 11, so that’s one date to potentially look forward to.

Windows looking to the future

Remember how Windows 10 was supposed to be ‘the last version of Windows’ from Microsoft? Well, the company seems to be taking that statement in its most literal sense yet.

We should start with yet another blocked update path to 1809, which presents itself if you happen to be using the anti-malware solution from Morphisec. If you have this or any other application that uses the Morphisec SDK (such as Cisco AMP for Endpoints), you won’t be offered this update because said apps can interfere with the saving of Office documents.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, because Windows 10 Enterprise for example is set to finally support ARM via the upcoming Snapdragon 8cx. Meant to compete with Intel’s 15W Core i5 chips, this one for Qualcomm is built specifically for PCs. Brining performance improvements and integrated 4G LTE, the chip is set to be shipping on new devices starting in the third quarter of 2019. If you’re interested in this, be sure to check out our hands-on with the 8cx right here.

Remaining just a tad longer on the subject of the ARM architecture, both open-source Chromium and Firefox are confirmed to have native Windows on ARM variants coming. There’s no word on when exactly they’ll be available for ARM64, but keeping an eye on the Nightly channels of these two browsers is a good idea.

The final tidbit that needs mentioning is Microsoft’s plan for the successor of Windows 10 S. Not only is the mysterious ‘Windows Lite’ seeming dropping the number denomination completely, it’s possible it might not even be called Windows at all. Running only UWP apps and PWAs from the Store, the upcoming OS is said to be OEM-only and be used to power experiences like the Andromeda-like Centaurus device rumored to show up next year. Because of its deprecation of legacy features – Win32 apps will not run on this thing -, Microsoft is apparently considering dropping the Windows name altogether, hopefully for something sensible. This is what the Redmond giant should have done with Windows RT, but it’s a tad late for that now.

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.

  • Azure Information Protection now integrates with Windows Defender ATP and analytics Activity logs.
  • Folks using the Multi-Geo capabilities in Office 365 will soon be able to choose India as a satellite geo-location for storing Exchange Online mailboxes and OneDrive for Business files at-rest.
  • The Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2 preview has been updated with more features and has brought increased performance.
  • VNet Service Endpoints for Azure SQL Data Warehouse are now generally available.
  • The Azure IoT Java SDK for Android has been updated, bringing improved testing toolsets and new samples.

Logging off

Microsoft is pretty serious about changing plans – again -, and killing off Edge seems to be one of the pieces of its revised strategy.

Though perhaps a tad unexpected, the Redmond giant has decided to scrap EdgeHTML in favour of a Chromium-based implementation (the same thing Google Chrome is based on). I say unexpected because EdgeHTML also underpins the apps submitted to the Store, and shifting away from it likely means submission rules would see quite a change. It’s not clear at this point if Edge will remain present in name alone, of it the name too will be changed.

What we do know currently is that Anaheim, as this is codenamed, should arrive as part of 19H1, the next feature update to Windows 10. And yes, it’s making its way to Windows 7, 8.1, as well as – for the first time since Internet Explorer 5 – macOS.

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