Microsoft Weekly: Play with no delay, updates here to stay, hardware far away

Another seven days have gone by, and thus another pile of various Redmond-centred news has been gathered. Redstone 5 showing up on both Xbox and Windows 10, some new details about upcoming Surface devices and more, all in your Microsoft digest for the week of June 30-July 6.

Play with no delay

There’s no shortage of updates for the Xbox, especially in the Insider Program. Outside of the Program though, updates are present too.

Insiders were greeted with not one, but in fact two Redstone 5 builds, admittedly just for the Skip Ahead subset of the Alpha Ring. These are previews of the next feature update which is set to be finalized in October, and the one to open the flood gates was build 1810.180629-1900 teased a few hours before its release. Three days later, build 1810.180702-1938 arrived and much like its predecessor, it contained no new features. That said, performance and bug fixes for Games, Narrator, and Groups were indeed present.

On the other, perhaps less hectic side of the fence, the July update for Xbox One (1806) started rolling out, complete with its marquee feature, FastStart for Xbox Game Pass titles. There are also Mixer improvements and the ability to quickly access search by pressing Y when you’re on the Dashboard. Also in the update pile was the Backward Compatibility list, which added Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter to its roster.

Sea of Thieves players noticed the 1.1.5 update which added the Bear & Bird Figurehead for ships. This is in celebration of the two-decade anniversary for the Rare-developed platformer Banjo-Kazooie. This can be had until the end of July for the cheeky price of 1998 gold. Naturally, fixes were included too, ranging from gameplay to performance, and a ban wave washed over those caught cheating in the game.

Lastly, players looking forward to the Shenmue I and II collection will be happy to know it’s coming to the big three platforms (PC, PS4, Xbox One) on August 21. To hold you over, Microsoft has unveiled a couple of new bundles. The first is the Xbox One S Minecraft Bundle (which gives you the game, the first season of Telltale’s Minecraft Story Mode, the console itself, one month of Game Pass and a 14-day trial of Xbox Live Gold) for $299. The other one is an Xbox One X PUBG Bundle for $499.99, which should be available a tad later. Unfortunately, the Minecraft bundle can only be purchased via the Microsoft Store and Walmart in the U.S.

Updates here to stay

For this incarnation of the update wave that regularly sweeps Windows 10, we head over to the Insider Program.

Much like the store from which it borrows its number, build 17711 for the Fast ring brings a slew of convenient Edge improvements like learning tools, line focus and PDF bar improvements. The Registry editor got a bit of polish as well, and new Fluent Design cues have started appearing in more UI spots. A laundry list of fixes centred around Settings is also in this build, as are some bugs with the Dark Theme implementation for File Explorer, multi monitor, ICC colour profiles and Ease of Access.

Build 17704 of the Windows 10 SDK showed up this past week as well, bringing no new features but a known issue with MIDL generated headers, which may be inconsistent with system generated ones. To fix this, you can use one of two methods: either compile the IDL file with the /ns_prefix MIDL switch, or add #define DISABLE_NS_PREFIX_CHECKS before the Windows headers.

A bit of a surprise this week was the presence of a new Slow ring Redstone 5 build, 17692.1004. This is the first one since the April 2018 Update RTM back in April and it brings HEIF support, a new snipping experience, new pen settings, and others. There are also fixes for Picture Password, DRM video playback in Edge, and Start launching reliability and performance.

Hardware far away

Some Surface models will be seeing a refresh this year, so a couple of the existing variants have dropped in price – some of them, quite a bit. However, a few tidbits about what’s coming have been revealed too.

Folks in the UK looking to get a Surface Studio will be delighted to find out that the base model has gotten a £600 discount, while the top end one got £1,062 knocked off its regular price. This is most likely in preparation of the refresh model, but it’s not a bad deal either way. Another deal, this time across the pond, is for a Surface Pro and Platinum Type Cover, a bundle which is $360 off, thus costing only $799. The first is a limited time offer (while supplies last), the second runs until September 15.

Sticking to the theme of cheaper Surfaces, the reported $400 model will have a few spec tiers, the lowest-end one using Gemini Lake Pentium Silver processors, with better specced variants opting for Kaby Lake-based Pentium Gold chips. The mystery device also showed up in an OpenCL benchmark with a score of 15,992, a tad lower than the 17,647 points for the Mid-2017 MacBook against which it was pitted. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, a number of documents have been discovered which reveal that this low-end Surface has passed through the FCC approval process.

We couldn’t end this section without talking about the halo device that is Surface Andromeda. The will they / won’t they debate continues, as it’s been essentially confirmed to not come out in 2018. This hasn’t stopped users from imagining yet other modes in which to use the Courier-like gadget, including a laptop and Nintendo 3DS-like gaming mode.

The news about the delay came packaged with a bit of an asterisk hinting that Andromeda could either be pushed back or even end up cancelled. Our very own Rich Woods made the case for the existence of it, citing Microsoft’s need for risk taking in the context of its storied hardware past. In fact, people are so eager for this Surface device to materialize that a petition has been started to save it, which currently has over 7,700 signatories.

The Fast ring

Hot corner

  • Microsoft Teams now supports the conducting of eDiscovery searches within Calls/Meetings, adding to the existing ‘Files’ and ‘Messages’ filters.
  • The Customer Key encryption capability is now available for Exchange Online in Office 365 government instances (GCC, GCC High, DoD). Availability of this same feature for SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business in Office 365 government is scheduled for end of Q3 2018.
  • Microsoft has unveiled Proposal Manager, a Microsoft 365-based solution for streamlining the “corporate lending loan origination process”.
  • The teams behind Microsoft’s multi-year Redmond campus modernization project have been announced. When the process is completed, 18 new buildings will have been added – ranging from 180 to 220 thousand square feet, all focused on sustainability and connectedness.
  • The FindTime add-in for Outlook has been brought back – for now – following customer feedback.

Logging off

To wrap things up, we take a look at the dark side of Microsoft-offered services.

This isn’t as dramatic as it sounds and no, it has nothing to do with quests for unlimited power in galaxies far, far away, nor is it related to cookies. It is however related to catering to those who prefer a dark theme that’s easier on the eyes at night. To that end, a new version of Microsoft’s To-Do app for Windows 10 – namely 1.33.11732.0 - has been released, complete with its very own nighttime-friendly UI. To-Do however, is not the only one to eschew lighter tones in favour of darker ones.

As some may remember, Microsoft decided to celebrate Halloween last year by turning the lights off on their Outlook.com service. It would seem it wasn’t just a one-off gag, and that a dark skin for the email solution has in fact been in testing for a few months. Other than the vague ‘very soon’ time frame and a promise of “the best Dark Mode of any leading email client”, not much is known about when this’ll debut. Let’s just hope this isn’t a Windows Phone-esque kind of ‘very soon’.

Missed any of the previous columns? Find them all right here.

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