Microsoft Weekly: Old games compound, gadget's background, patches inbound

An array of old games now playable on the latest Xbox family of consoles, some other hardware news tidbits, the always appearing patches and some unfortunate news as well. There’s all that plus a bit more in your Microsoft digest for the week of October 13-19.

Old games compound

Though new games are undeniably more polished both in terms of technology and in areas like graphics, sound, and gameplay mechanics, there’s a certain nostalgia hit associated with older titles.

Aiding in the growth of the Backward Compatibility lineup is Crysis. In fact, the entire trilogy is now part of this program, which means you can play all three titles on your Xbox One console. Taking a look at some previously added backward compatible games, Half-Life 2, Portal: Still Alive, as well as both Left 4 Dead titles are now Xbox One X enhanced.

Speaking of the X, Microsoft has partnered with Taco Bell to offer custom Xbox One X consoles complete with an exclusive Taco Bell ‘ring’ startup sound and more. Having started on October 18, the promotion will run through November 21.

Xbox Insiders have gotten a treat as well, via the preview for version 1811 which is said to bring support for mouse and keyboard. It’s worth noting that Warframe is currently the only game supporting this feature, and that more should be added soon.

In the meantime, there are two games free to claim if you have an Xbox Live Gold subscription, specifically Victor Vran on the Xbox One between October 16 and November 15, as well as Hitman: Blood Money on the 360 between October 16-31. Claimed Xbox 360 games remain playable if you discontinue your subscription, whereas the Xbox One titles require an active Gold subscription.

In somewhat game-related news, the ASUS ROG Phone is available to pre-order from the Microsoft Store, packing a Snapdragon 845 and 8GB of RAM and starting at $899.99 for 128GB of storage. In keeping with the gaming theme, the Razer Phone 2 is also available in the Microsoft Store, starting at $799.

Gadget’s background

Microsoft’s hardware event has come and gone, and now more and more details are starting to surface (pun intended) regarding availability and special editions.

If you were as puzzled as many others when it came to Microsoft’s refusal to stream its latest hardware event – with the tech giant having streamed its previous events -, you won’t get answers. What you will however get is a series of highlights which can be watched over here.

What you also get is the ability to outright buy (not pre-order) the Surface Pro 6 and Laptop 2, as they are both available now. The former starts at $899 for a Core i5-8250U, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD, while the Surface Laptop 2 has a $999 asking price for the same specs. You do however get a more traditional clamshell design with the latter and obviously the keyboard, which may reflect the $100 base price difference between these two devices. Though you do have an option to choose a black variant of the Pro and Laptop – a bit of a throwback to the finish on the first-gen Surface Pro and Surface RT – there’s also a pink colour called Blush that’s exclusive to China.

With all that being said, the latest mobile Surfaces are very difficult if not impossible to repair, getting a 1 and 0 out of 10, respectively, from iFixit. Courtesy of the same deconstruction crew you can however get a wallpaper showcasing the innards of the device, if you so desire.

While you’re clicking links, you might want to hop on over to our unboxing and first impressions of the entry-level device in Microsoft’s mobile hardware lineup, the Surface Go.

Folks keeping track of the Redmond giant’s efforts in the augmented reality space will be perhaps disappointed to find out that the latest generation of HoloLens (technically the third iteration, but probably marketed as HoloLens 2) has in fact been delayed to late Q2 next year. Initially slated to arrive in the first quarter of 2019, the device is said to improve battery life, feature a larger field of view, have a smaller footprint and, perhaps most importantly, be cheaper than the current $3,000 dev kit.

Patches inbound

Though in light of the bumpy launch for the October 2018 Update you may be forgiven for not wanting to hear of any other patches, there’s been a positive development in this regard. There’s also a new Insider build to check out for those interested.

We should probably start with a new patch issued by Microsoft which fixed the unfortunate array of BSODs on HP devices post-October 2018 Update. If you have a device from this manufacturer and experience this problem, there’s a way to apply this patch both if you can or can’t access the desktop.

There have also been updates issued for systems not on the latest Windows 10 version, as follows:

  • Creators Update (1803): KB4462939, build 15063.1418 - addresses the issue with Edge and the “Hosted by…” dialog box which would appear when "Block only third-party cookies” was turned on, updates Venezuelan currency information, as well as addressing cloud authentication performance issues, the OS becoming unresponsive when transitioning form Sleep to Hibernation, and certain .NET Framework issues as detailed below. There are no known issues in this build.
  • Fall Creators Update (1709): KB4462932, build 16299.755 – addresses issues around applications using the TLS protocol, .NET Framework apps crashing due to a race condition in temporary files, App-V packages failing due to missing file or DLL error, updates Venezuelan currency information, and addresses the issue with Edge and the “Hosted by…” dialog box which would appear when "Block only third-party cookies” was turned on. There are no known issues in this build.
  • Anniversary Update LTSC, Server 2016 (1607 – Long-Term Servicing Channel): KB4462928, build 14393.2580 – addresses a lot of the issues described above, as well as some problems with Hyper-V VHDX expansion which led to disk corruption, Active Directory Federation Services, Extranet Smart Lockout and Alternate Login ID interoperation, plus the intermittent node failures in Server 2016 clusters. The same key management issue present in the previous update is still here though.

In a bit of good news, the upcoming 19H1 feature update for Windows 10 is set to improve system performance after the Spectre patch slowdowns. Slated for the first half of next year, this is said to reduce the performance hit to “noise-level for most scenarios”, according to Mehmet Iyigun, who’s part of the Windows Kernel team.

While we’re on the subject of 19H1, you might want to have a gander at the Fast ring, which this week was host to build 18262. Beyond the usual bug fixes, it also brought some DPI support improvements for Task Manager, Narrator enhancements, plus perhaps one of the better features, the ability to easily uninstall even more inbox apps like Paint 3D or Groove. Sure enough, there are a bunch of Task Manager fixes, as well as ones for the brightness reset bug and the Settings app crash when using the Make Text Bigger setting in Ease of Access. In terms of known issues, there’s a rather vague statement about Settings crashing when invoking actions on certain pages, plus problems launching Inbox Apps post-update.

Speaking of problems, these should be diminished in the latest October 2018 Update build, 17763.104 – or KB4464455 – that hit the Slow and Release Preview rings on Wednesday. Also diminished should be the friction between the built-in Mail and Calendar app and Microsoft To-Do, as the former is set to get a dedicated To-Do button and dark mode tweaks.

In further update news, support for Transport Layer Security (TLS) version 1.0 and 1.1 will be disabled in Edge and IE11 by early 2020. This is in light of the latest 1.3 version of the protocol being approved earlier in 2018.

In terms of Office updates, Word and OneNote Online will get an expanded dictation set to help dyslexic students, set which should arrive in the coming weeks. Staying a little more on the subject of OneNote, there’s support for cloud file attachments – which requires that you turn it on via Settings -, searchable tags, the ability to change AutoCorrect options and even the ability to insert a picture right from a device’s camera and the capability to share a link to a specific section. The first two features are for the Windows 10 and macOS versions of the app, while the last three are for OneNote Online specifically.

On the off chance that you use Office Lens you’ll find a nice set of updates this month. First there’s tap to select support and Snap to Edge – the latter of which allows the crop handles to snap to a document’s edge -, and the Immersive Reader, all coming to Android. If you’re on iOS, you will now be able to add text annotations to your scans using a variety of colours and styles.

Finally, a quality of life improvement has arrived to the Microsoft Store via the ability to gift someone either an avatar or an app. Some restrictions do apply, like the gift tokens only being able to be redeemed in the country or region where they were purchased, as well as the inability to gift Xbox 360, original Xbox, pre-orders, free products, or consumable DLC. A rather unfortunate omission is also the impossibility to time the delivery of a gift around a certain date or time. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome start.

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

Unlike previous columns, we end this one on a sad note.

Though most folks will be familiar with Bill Gates’ role in the creation of Microsoft, the company was actually jointly founded by him and Paul Allen. Of the two, this bit of news concerns the latter, who at the top of the week unfortunately passed away at the hands of a non-Hodgkin lymphoma he was receiving treatment for.

The 65 year-old philanthropist was apparently the one to spark the idea for Microsoft by Gates’ own admission. Furthermore, Bill Gates pins the company’s early success on Allen’s idea to emulate less powerful chips on more capable hardware.

Allen also had a wide range of interests manifested along his life through investments in sports teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, as well as the creation of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Institute for Cell Science.

Beyond giving more than $2 billion to over 1,500 non-profits which focused on everything from technology to science, education and even wildlife conservation, Allen also had a controlling stake in Charter Communications. This meant that he had more or less directly invested in the creation – back in 1998 - of TechTV, a 24-hour satellite and cable channel that focused on technology and gaming, and which some of our older members may be familiar with.

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