Microsoft Weekly: Surface upgrades, troublesome updates, gaming states

Quite a bit has happened in terms of announcements this past week, starting with the hardware event on October 2 and continuing with the general availability of Redstone 5 (the October 2018 Update). Be sure to catch up via your Microsoft digest for the week of September 29 – October 5.

Surface upgrades

As has been indicated previously, Tuesday was the Redmond giant’s hardware event. This was a chance to highlight some of the upcoming Surface devices which now have a slick new colour option.

Following a number of rumors about anything from USB-C port inclusion – or rather, exclusion – to a new black variant for the devices and even some downright puzzling other choices, the generational refresh across Surface Pro, Laptop and Studio was revealed. Taking things beyond rumor, official images for the black colourway leaked mere hours before the event.

Perhaps a bit unexpected was the naming scheme. As opposed to last year’s numberless Pro, this refresh is dubbed Surface Pro 6. It was joined by the second –gen Laptop and Studio, the latter of which got a sizeable bump in specs compared to the first generation. Packing up to a GTX 1070 and adding a 2TB SSD option, the device tops out at an eye watering $4,799. If you place your pre-order, the all-in-one PC should start shipping to customers on November 15.

Yet another surprise was a somewhat lower-end variant of the Pro 6, which has a Core m3, 4GB RAM and 128GB of storage. Priced at $749 this is even cheaper than the current base price of the Pro 6, $899 – a $100 reduction in cost compared to last year’s model. The catch however is that only certain retailers will carry this cheaper option, said retailers being Best Buy as well as B&H Photo Video.

Ticking yet another box in the confirmed rumor column is the change in operating system on the Surface Pro. Whereas previous variants shipped with the Pro version of the OS – in fact, it’s what the name of the device was inspired by -, the Pro 6 ships with Windows 10 Home. When asked to comment on the change, Microsoft stated that most consumers’ needs are met by Windows 10 Home, and that variants of the new hybrid aimed at businesses will ship with Windows 10 Pro.

A bit of an unexpected entrance was made by the Surface Headphones, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones with 13 levels of adjustable ambient noise control. This adjustment is done via a circular dial on the ear cups which controls the volume and noise cancellation level. Charging via USB-C and supporting a 3.5mm jack for wired connections, the Headphones also pause the audio playing when you take them off. Lastly, there’s also Cortana integration which you can invoke thanks to the eight built-in microphones. This of course is also meant to improve phone call quality, as Surface Headphones can pair with any Bluetooth-enabled device. Coming in at $350, these will be available to buy “in time for the holidays”.

For those interested, you can check this link to see where you can pre-order. Keep in mind that the links provided are currently for those based in the U.S., with the first two devices being available on October 16, and the Studio 2 launching on November 15.

While you decide whether to pre-order or in fact which device to buy, you can check out our hands-on with the Pro 6, Laptop 2, and Studio 2, as well as watch the assortment of promo videos for them.

Absent however from the entire lineup is the foldable halo device codenamed Andromeda, or how some call it, Surface Phone. Thanks to a series of language packs, we’re able to discern that the device has a number of functions including the ability to automatically send a message asking a caller to respond via text if Andromeda is flipped over. Beyond the various states like either one or both screens being turned off, there are numerous references to Andromeda OS.

The lack of details surrounding even the device’s existence is said to be due to Microsoft execs’ lack of confidence in Surface Phone’s place in the market, as well as an unwillingness to tarnish the established brand with a sub-par product. Nevertheless, according to the company’s Chief Product Officer, Panos Panay, a pocketable Surface is still his “baby”.

Until all this comes to pass, you might want to check for updates if you have a Surface Studio, and head over here to find out why our very own Muhammad Jarir Kanji doesn’t think a modular Surface computer is all that practical.

Troublesome updates

Wrapping up its development on Redstone 5, Microsoft decided to ‘skip ahead’ one ring and push version 1809 of Windows 10 to the general consumer. The result of this was less than desirable.

Announced at the hardware event in New York, the October 2018 Update went straight for general availability, circumventing the Release Preview ring – the first update to ever do so. Of course, not just the Windows 10 consumer and business editions got this feature release, but IoT devices as well. That would normally be all well and good, but on this occasion, it’s not.

First in the series of problems were issues with modern apps and their ability to connect to the internet. This was tied in certain cases to network settings, and solved by enabling IPv6. In yet others, a Microsoft employee suggested folks switch the network profile to Public, and even run Network reset if none of the above work.

If your network settings were fine, then you could be one of the ‘lucky’ few to be denied installation on the basis of Intel driver incompatibility. Affecting sixth-generation and newer chips, this block was imposed on the basis that said drivers “result in excessive processor demand and reduced battery life”. A fix is provided already, and affected users should update to Intel Display Audio Driver version, which is included in Graphics Driver version

Adding to the problems above, there’s also the as of yet not fixed Task Manager bug which results in the display of incorrect CPU usage. Furthermore, an even more severe bug – detailed in the Logging off section of this column – caused the deletion of files in the Documents, Videos, Music, and Pictures folders post-upgrade. The latter in particular has caused Microsoft to no longer push the October 2018 Update as it investigates this problem. In light of such news, Rich Woods has expressed his opinion as to why Microsoft’s “seeker” deployment mantra is flawed.

On the bright side however, whenever this version of Windows 10 will in fact make its complete debut, there are a number of improvements to take advantage of. There are developer and design improvements in Edge, new Narrator functions and an updated Accessibility keyboard, plus the overall polishing of the Fluent Design System, Notepad upgrades, Cloud Clipboard, and even a dark theme for File Explorer which respects the system-wide setting.

On the other hand, there’s always the Insider Program, which you can leave now if you so desire. In case you want to stick around, there’s the first Fast ring build for 19H1, namely 18252. In terms of new features, there’s the addition of Ebrima font with ADLaM support, a new icon to indicate when you’re disconnected from the internet, as well as some enhanced Ethernet settings.

In terms of fixes, the issue causing incorrect reporting of CPU usage in Task Manger has been fixed, along with the constant blink on the expand arrows for Background processes. A microphone icon will now show up in the system tray when you microphone is in use, and Narrator, Registry Editor, the Emoji Panel, plus Windows Hello have gotten improvements too. There are some known issues like the inability to log in or an update failing, the former being solved with a restart and the latter with another attempt to check for updates. If you have issues with certain Settings pages crashing, it’s a known issue, as are issues launching Inbox Apps. A fix for this last issue is detailed here.

Gaming states

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft is still chugging along on its push for an improved gaming experience across all its platforms. Racing fans in particular should be rather thrilled by the recently launched Forza Horizon 4.

Speaking of the newest title from the now first-party Playground Games, it got a day one patch to fix stutter issues and improve performance on PC, in particular around MSAA 2x and 4x. Visual presets have also been added for those running Nvidia’s RTX 2070, 2080, and 2080Ti cards.

On the subject of Nvidia, the company has released its 416.16 WHQL drivers to bring DirectX Ray Tracing to Windows 10’s October 2018 Update. Fixes include those for the Quake HD Remix on Pascal GPUs (no more black square glitches), Rainbow 6: Siege on the GTX 1060, as well as a driver error on the Titan Xp and a playback resolution bug on the newly launched Turing cards. The known issues are centered on Windows 10’s Application Guard, as well as Windows Media Player, a random DPC watchdog violation error on the GTX 1080Ti, AV receiver switching to 2-channel stereo mode on the GTX 1060, and brief corruption occurring when hovering over certain links in Firefox.

Switching from updates to drivers to updates for games, Helen Chang, Minecraft’s boss, has stated that there won’t be a Minecraft 2, as the company doesn’t wish to introduce fragmentation to the user base. The aforementioned base of users has grown to a healthy 91 million, up from 74 million in December of last year. Those who have kept up with news do know of Minecraft: Dungeons, which in itself isn’t actually a sequel, but more of an expansion to the game. Despite bearing the name of the sandbox game, this is more of a four-player dungeon crawler with less emphasis on the crafting and more on the adventure.

If you’re a fan of Microsoft’s Mixer streaming service, there will be Mixer Movie Nights every Saturday this month. Each of the five movies will be played once at 7pm BST, and once at 7pm PT.

And lastly, on the off chance that in fact gaming is more your thing, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has gotten a few Xbox One X enhancements, and ten new titles now support FastStart on the Xbox One. For the curious among you, these are BattleBlock Theater, Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed I (and its sequel) for the 360, plus Costume Quest 2, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, Kingdom New Lands, Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, and State of Decay: Year-One for the Xbox One. Support for FastStart is currently limited to Insiders, and specifically those whose console language is set to English. Expanded language support is however in the works.

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

We end this week’s recap with a solution for one of the October 2018 Update’s more serious problems.

As part of its hardware event at the top of the week, Microsoft also announced the availability of Windows 10 version 1809, or the October 2018 Update. Unfortunately though, the upgrade process came with quite a few problems.

The biggest and perhaps most serious one is related to disappearing documents, videos, music, and pictures from the OS partition. The Reddit thread that brought this issue to light has amassed quite a few replies, underlining that even document libraries located on different partitions have been affected.

What you should probably do is first check your own documents folder. If there are any files left there, you weren’t affected by this bug according to Windows Insider Head Dona Sarkar. If you were among the folks who have experienced this bug, Sarkar has indicated that you should contact Microsoft support.

Needless to say, the rollout of the update has been paused for all users while these missing file reports are being investigated.

Missed any of the previous columns? Be sure to check them out at this link.

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