Microsoft Weekly: Preview express, Surface progress, Xbox All Access

Some gaming news surfaced this week, as did a few more preview builds and updates. That, plus a few cross-platform software niceties can all be found below in your Microsoft digest for the week of August 25-31.

Preview express

As we get close to the RTM of Redstone 5, builds are starting to pop up a tad more often, but that doesn’t mean other software previews are being put on the back burner.

In a bit of good news for those stockpiling ISOs – or really just need an image for a clean install – the disc image files for build 17738 were made available this week. In other preview news, those relying on the SDK got to play with build 17744 of said development kit, while Server 2019 testers were offered an identically numbered build which brought improvements to Hyper-V. At long last also joining this group is the exact same build, which made its way to the at times forgotten Slow ring of the Insider Preview.

Fast ring testers were treated to build 17751 which removes the lower right-hand corner watermark, fixes the logout Green Screen of Death issue, optimizes some design-related bugs, and generally improves performance. Do keep in mind that Ease of Access and Narrator are still experiencing a couple of hiccups, as are links in PWAs, which at the time of writing cannot open inside a browser.

While the news over on the Skip Ahead ring hasn’t been quite as frequent, said Insiders got a taste of version 3.0 for Sticky Notes, complete with cross-device sync, a dark theme, and support for many other formatting and input types detailed previously.

Flipping the page over to the stable builds of Windows 10, an update to the Intel graphics driver has fixed YouTube playback issues and has optimized performance for games like Vampyr, Monster Hunter: World and World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. And while we’re on the subject of updates, here’s what you should look out for if you open up Windows Update on your Windows 10 system:

  • April 2018 Update (1803): KB4346783, build 17134.254 – addresses an issue with causes apps that use Microsoft Foundation Class to flicker, addresses the input type inconsistency in WPF apps, fixes a couple of Universal CRT issues, addresses Wi-Fi bugs, and contains a singular known issue: the launching of Microsoft Edge via the New Application Guard Window may fail, though regular instances aren’t affected. If KB4343909 is installed, it should be uninstalled, then the user should install KB4340917, afterwards followed by KB4343909.
  • Fall Creators Update (1709): KB4343893, build 16299.637 – beyond a few similarities to the changelog above, this one also fixes a bug which would ask for your password twice during a Remote Desktop session, fixes an issue which wouldn’t allow a checkpoint created on a Windows Server 2016 cluster for being reapplied, and addresses an issue which prevents Edge from working if a DLL rule is set in AppLocker. Like in previous builds, certain phrases may appear in English rather than the localized language, and Microsoft is working on a fix for that.
  • Creators Update (1703): KB4343889, build 15063.1292 – similar changelog to the April 2018 Update, no known issues.
  • Anniversary Update (1607), Server 2016: KB4343884, build 14393.2457 – similar changelogs to the updates above, apart from a couple of Server 2016-specific fixes. Also no known issues.

On the subject of updates and software enhancements, the SharePoint mobile app on iOS and Android is now improved thanks to a new design and the addition of a Find tab – which merges the Links, People, Sites, and Search tabs. You can also create and share updates, reports, and more with a team, as well as receive notifications when people publish news articles or engage with the ones published.

Last but not least is Skype. The service has received a brand new update across the board which fixes a lot of the issues users had with the new design – especially on the desktop. While it’s by no means perfect, version 8.29 heralds a return to simplicity, which should please long time and power users alike.

Surface progress

Seems like Microsoft’s flagship hardware division is hard at work on something akin to fast charging, only proprietary.

We should start with something that’s not exactly widespread, and that’s quite the hefty discount on a number of Surface models. Currently, all models are $200 off, which means the cheapest Surface Pro starts at $599.

If you’re already an owner and are using a Surface Studio, a big pile of firmware updates is headed your way. As always, these improve system stability, but nothing more is provided beyond this cryptic line of text.

In other Surface news, the newest Pro model got its own firmware update to improve LTE stability – even though this got offered to Wi-FI only models as well. Updates are always welcome, even if it’s for a capability the device doesn’t really have.

In the patent department, the Redmond giant has hinted that it may be working on „ultrafast charging” for its Surface line of devices. While other manufacturers seem to have adopted the TypeC / Thunderbolt 3 port for fast charging needs, Microsoft looks to be sticking with its proprietary offering. We’ll just have to wait and see what the performance is like via this new breed of „smart batteries”.

What we won’t have to wait for is the Surface Plus program, which is going away less than a year after its creation. This program offered consumers easy financing options and upgrades every year and a half. And now, it’s no more. Oddly enough, Surface Plus for Business is still going at the time of writing.

Xbox All Access

It may be borrowed from the mobile carrier world, but what the Redmond giant’s vision for "the future of play” might just make sense.

Last week there was some speculation about something called Xbox All Access and what it could really be. Turns out, we didn’t have to wait long, as Microsoft made it official this past week. This financing deal (because that’s what it is in essence) would allow someone to finance either an Xbox One S or Xbox One X along with Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass over a two year period for $21.99 or $34.99 per month (depending on which console you choose). This is done through a Dell Preferred Account and will be exclusively available through physical Microsoft Stores.

Switching things to the hardware side, a white version of the Xbox One X that’s part of the Special Edition Robot White Fallout 76 bundle has been announced, along with a White Special Edition Xbox Elite Wireless Controller (yes, the name is that long), plus a Turtle Beach Elite Pro 2 headset. If anything, this won’t necessarily do anything to assure consumers who were already confused by the similar sounding One S and One X variants.

Also on the hardware side is a cancelled Xbox VR headset, which was said to be made to compete with PlayStation VR. Microsoft even went as far as to talk to certain developers in order to have games for this other gaming experience. Sadly, the unit was said to be on par with offerings like the Vive or the Rift and wouldn’t have been a match for the Xbox One X, quality-wise at least.

In a bit of Xbox software news, Dolby Vision HDR was made available to Alpha Skip Ahead and Alpha rings of the Xbox Insider Program, while these same rings got a preview build for Xbox One version 1810. A streamlined My Games & Apps section, a grouping of filter options under a single button, and a bunch of performance improvements have all arrived via this build. Keep in mind that it’s still rather buggy since we’re looking at test software.

For those using the Plex app on Microsoft’s console, a brand new update has added a bunch of settings and fixes for bugs related to album preplay, UI unresponsiveness, Mark as Played inconsistencies, and more. Furthermore, the EA Access Hub app is now available to Xbox Insiders, and the Xbox Forums are now part of the unified Microsoft Community Forums.

But really, the main point of owning an Xbox is represented by the games on it, be it the ones you already have or are planning to buy. And those? Well those are plenty.

First off, Xbox Live Gold subscribers get to pick Prison Architect: Xbox One Edition (Xbox One, September 1-30), Livelock (Xbox One, September 16-October 15), LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (Xbox 360, September 1-15), or Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World (Xbox 360, September 16-30). All these titles are free, and 360 titles are also available thanks to Backwards Compatibility. Speaking of compatibility, the latest addition to the list should please FPS fans, as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has just joined the 500+ titles already available.

On the other end of the subscription spectrum, Xbox Game Pass users will get Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Quantum Break, Aven Colony, Shadow Warrior (2013), Sky Force Reloaded, Manual Samuel, Snake Pass, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams ,and InnerSpace on September 1, followed by Onrush on September 5.

Lastly, for people playing Sea of Thieves, the 1.2.4 update has brought in a number of additions like cursed cannonballs, a PVP flag, Beached Treasures, shop purchase updates, new animations, and more.

The Fast ring

  • Tech Mahindra and Microsoft intend to build a blockchain system for dealing with spam calls in India.
  • A public preview for Microsoft Authenticator on Apple Watch is now available.
  • Microsoft has announced a renewed focus on news for its search engine, while also reworking the Bing Spotlight experience.
  • The task scheduler in Windows is vulnerable to hackers, but no fix has been issued yet.
  • AI-powered features like video and audio transcription, video, image and audio search and more are coming to OneDrive and SharePoint.
  • Building on the recent enhancements, the Microsoft Store is set to receive a new category view in order to aid with navigation.
  • Starting October 2, Office 365 subscribers will be able to install the suite on an unlimited number of devices.
  • Any company supplying Microsoft will need to provide paid parental leave for their employees, if it wants to continue doing business with the software giant.
  • An AI-based model in Azure was demoed by Microsoft, a model which the company says would reduce the banking fraud detection time to two seconds.
  • Video sharing service Stream is coming to Office 365 Business and Business Essentials, as well as Microsoft 365 Business. Furthermore, Microsoft Bookings, Pay, and Invoicing are now integrated.
  • Those on Windows 10 S devices may soon get to play around with Alexa via a UWP app.

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

We end with a little nugget of news that might seem common sense to most, but then again, it’s always better to hear it from an official source.

While the speculation was healthy around what Microsoft would name its next Windows 10 feature update, a clear winner soon emerged. It’s been rumored, and rumored again, but at long last, the company officially confirmed the name this week.

In a blog post showing off some Windows 10 PCs from IFA 2018, the Redmond giant stated that its next major OS update would be called the October 2018 Update. This follows a trend started by a similarly named update in April and drops the rather silly – and limiting – ‚Creators’ moniker.

What may cause confusion among some is that the version number and the public name of the updates don’t actually match. For example, the April 2018 Update was named as such for the month in which it was made generally available – despite being initially finished in March and being branded as such version 1803. It’s the same story here with version 1809, but this is really just a small nitpick which shouldn’t affect users’ day-to-day use of the operating system.

Click here if you missed any of the previous columns.

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