Microsoft Weekly: Insider builds, Game Pass in the cloud, and dual surfaces

From cloud gaming to TikTok acquisitions and even Surface renders, it’s been a rather eventful week as it relates to the Redmond giant. You can find info about that, as well as much more below, in your Microsoft digest for the week of August 1 - 7.

Insider builds

To nobody’s surprise, some Windows-related news surfaced in the past seven days, starting with the pair of Insider builds for both the consumer and Server sides.

For consumers, Windows 10 build 20185 of the ever-nebulous vNext branch appeared, carrying improved DNS configuration in Settings, as well as new ADMX files (administrative templates). The latter, totalling 56, contain 647 new policies which can be configured via an Intune custom profile, with Intune UX planned to be available later in 2020.

Fixes were of course present, listed among which is the moving of the 3D Viewer app into the Windows Accessories folder. Known issues like certain Store games failing to launch if they use Easy Anti-Cheat, or opening of a WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux) 1 distribution resulting in an error (among others) are still being worked on.

The identically numbered Server build made its way to testers as well, lacking a changelog, as usual. The SDK, ADK, and WDK carrying build number 20180 (so slightly behind) were released at the same time.

In case you don’t really want to bother with all of the activity surrounding Insider testing, but the new Start menu design (coming in 20H2) has caught your eye, there’s a solution. You need to modify the registry, as detailed here, but upon restarting you will get the new theme-aware design for Start. It must be said that while we have not noticed any issues, modifying the Registry is something you should do at your own risk.

Speaking of modifications, Microsoft decided to modify the structure of the Azure team a tad. In simple terms, former Surface head Panos Panay was promoted earlier this year to lead both hardware and the Windows Experience group, creating the Windows and Devices division. As part of this latest reorg re-org, employees from the Core OS and Intelligent Edge (COSINE) team will be moved to the Windows team (also under Panay), helping to “create more of an end-to-end servicing and shipping experience”. The parts of the COSINE team relating to engineering (Server, Linux) and Windows Core will however remain under Azure EVP Jason Zander.

There’s now also a Windows, Developers, and Experiences (WDX) Engineering team led by CVP Jeff Johnson, while CVP Michael Fortin will be joining Windows and Devices (Panay’s group) to lead a new team managing COSINE services and fundamentals.

Lastly, there’s now an Azure Core team, as well as an Azure COSINE group focusing on Azure Edge, with changes taking place in terms of the leadership of the Azure Edge + Platform teams.

In fewer words, this is a consolidation of the hardware and software under Panay for a more unified approach to the whole customer experience.

Game Pass in the cloud

We couldn’t end the week without also talking about some of the gaming news that came out of Microsoft. As you’d imagine, the most time was dedicated to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, namely the announcement of the launch for Cloud Gaming as part of the subscription.

Way back at E3 2019, Microsoft announced that what it then called Project xCloud (a name the company still seems fond of using) would be launching as a preview in October, with a full launch coming later. At that point in time, it was not known whether this would be a separate service or if it would somehow be a bonus to the company’s existing offerings.

As it turns out, and as announced a couple of weeks ago, the cloud streaming capability will be added to Game Pass Ultimate (the $14.99/month tier, currently $1 for the first month), boosting the already great value of the subscription which offers members access to Game Pass for Console, Game Pass for PC, and Xbox Live Gold, as well as various perks like early access to games.

There is however an asterisk in regards to the launch, because the so-called cloud gaming component part of GPU (Game Pass Ultimate) is launching on September 15 in 22 markets for Android alone. While there has been a preview of the service on iOS since February, it will be shutting down, with no launch date in sight. This is due to Apple’s restrictive App Store policies which have caused similar services like Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Google’s Stadia to not be allowed either.

Getting back to Game Pass itself, if you’re a member on console, you can already play F1 2019, Darksiders: Genesis, It Lurks Below, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, Trailmakers, UnderMine, and Xeno Crisis, with Final Fantasy VII HD set to arrive on August 13. On the PC side, the list is nearly identical (as are the release dates), save for the absence of Darksiders: Genesis and The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan. Don’t forget that Flight Simulator (August 18), Battletoads (August 20) and Tell Me Why Episode 1 (August 27), and even Wasteland 3 (August 28) are set to arrive to the service this month.

As of August 14 however, there are some titles leaving the subscription. On console, you’ll say goodbye to Devil May Cry 5, on PC to Space Hulk: Tactics as well as Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, while both platforms will lose Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Yoku’s Island Express.

Since it was briefly mentioned, it’s worth highlighting the fact that Microsoft has partnered with in order to enhance its Flight Simulator offering. In additional news, a new and faster Microsoft Store on console is currently being rolled out to Insiders, as part of a new Alpha Ring preview build which also contains other new features.

Dual surfaces

To round off the trio of main sections, we need to touch on the smattering of Surface news that came to the fore this week. And yes, there's some about the first of Microsoft’s dual-screen devices as well.

The Android-based Surface Duo was unveiled in October of last year, along with its bigger counterpart, the Surface Neo. While the latter is still MIA, the former seems to be moving along rather quickly, with an expected release during the week of August 24, at least according to rumors.

Stoking the rumor fire some more were some leaked renders which showed up this past week, showing, among other things, Spotify as a pre-installed app. According to leakster Evan Blass, the renders represent the “Microsoft Surface Duo for AT&T”, which thus implies the presence of a carrier deal. It’s unclear if this is the only carrier the Redmond giant plans to offer its dual-screen device from.

As far as existing Surface devices are concerned, the Pro 7 got a number of firmware and driver updates, resulting in enhancements to the compatibility between it and the Surface Dock 2, as well as improved power efficiency. Needless to say, you’ll have to be running the May 2019 Update (1903) to even be offered these updates.

Dev channel

Logging off

You may expect the end of this column to relate to Microsoft, and you’d be correct in your expectation.

After rumors came to the fore last week, the Redmond giant made said rumors official this week by confirming that it is indeed interested in acquiring TikTok’s U.S. operations (which include Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). No, hell has not frozen over quite yet, but temperatures have undoubtedly dipped as a result of this announcement.

The fact that U.S. Government has put out an order banning transactions with TikTok, set to take effect in 45 days, should certainly help acquisition talks, though the social media firm has threatened legal action.

We’ll have to wait and see whether MicroTok is somewhere in our collective future, or whether a potential Twitter-TikTok combo is more likely.

Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to have a look right here.

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