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Microsoft Weekly: Xbox aglow, updates will flow, Surface to go

We’ve had half a fortnight of surprise hardware announcements, expected presence of quite a few software updates, and a little look at what the future might bring. All that and more in your Microsoft digest for the week of July 7-13.

Xbox aglow

Fans of Redmond’s home console have been given a few more reasons to make that Xbox logo glow once again this week.

Consoles aren’t really about all the bells and whistles of the software, so much as they are platforms to give players what they want most: games. To that end, the Backward Compatibility list has grown again with the addition of Overlord and its sequel, while RC car-football hybrid Rocket League made its way to Xbox Game Pass. Sea of Thieves received the 1.1.6 update, complete with The Sunken Curse - a new Bilge Rat adventure – plus the usual assortment of bug fixes, UI updates, and general performance improvements.

Far be it from me to dawdle, but a related piece of news this week concerns the product pages from the Xbox Store. Insiders in the Skip Ahead, Alpha, and Beta rings are now able to test a brand new game listing page in the Store, which the company says streamlines the experience due to “new integrated product details pages”.

While you’re at it, you might want to check out 17712.2000 or 1810.180706-1920, a Skip Ahead build which initially caused the console to factory refresh the Xbox One. This basically meant that you’d have to redo the OOBE (out-of-box experience), a bug which has since been fixed with the arrival of 17712.2002 in the Alpha ring. Given such a small delta between Skip Ahead and Alpha ring arrivals of builds with mirroring feature sets, one would have to question the utility – and really the existence – of the former. The good news, however, is that issues with Notifications, the Virtual Keyboard and FastStart have been addressed, but there are known problems with Edge, Networking, Groups, and more. Then again, this is par for the course with alpha software.

Rounding off this section is a bunch of Xbox Gear Store items which will have their exclusive debut at San Diego Comic-Con, as well as something you can buy right now: a Sport White Xbox Wireless controller in all its duo-tone glory.

Updates will flow

Much like water or that one automation app from Microsoft, software updates tend to flow. This has been the case even more so this week due to Patch Tuesday.

First in the spotlight was Windows 10, which saw a number of patches corresponding to the myriad of versions of the OS:

  • April 2018 Update (1803): KB4338819, build 17134.165 – includes security updates for Internet Explorer, Windows graphics, virtualization, wireless networking, kernel, and more. Also fixes a Mitigation Options Group Policy issue, as well as allowing the debugging of WebView content in UWP apps via Microsoft Edge DevTools Preview app.
  • Fall Creators Update (1709): KB4338825, build 16299.547 – addresses a DNS-proxy interaction issue in Edge, form submission issues in Internet Explorer, provides the same security enhancements as the update above, and more. The same two issues reported a few weeks back, namely certain text strings appearing in English for localized systems are still present. Fixes should be available in “an upcoming release”. These same fixes apply to those running the Windows 10 Mobile version of 1709 for whom Microsoft has prepared build 15254.490. There are no known issues.
  • Creators Update (1703): KB4338826, build 15063.1206 – has the same fixes as the Fall Creators Update above. No known issues.
  • Anniversary Update (1607): KB4338814, build 14393.2363 – has the same fixes as the two updates above, along with a policy update for Internet Explorer’s Inspect Element feature which disables the launch of Developer Tools. No known issues.
  • November Update (1511) – in keeping with the unbroken streak since May, there’s been no patch issued for this version of Windows 10.
  • Windows 10 RTM (1507): KB4338826, build 10240.17914 – the same fixes as the updates above, plus protection against the Lazy Floating Point State Restore speculative execution.

Of course, what would a Patch Tuesday be without the same treatment being offered to previous and still supported versions of the OS? Here’s what you’ll see for the Windows 7 and 8.1 family of operating systems:

  • Windows 7 SP1, Server 2008 R2 SP1: KB4338818 – the same Lazy Floating Point protections, as well as the IE Inspect Element policy update and the security updates for various Windows components. There is a known issue relating to the oem.inf and interaction between Windows and third-party software. After applying this update, the network interface controller will stop working, an issue which is fixed by re-scanning for hardware after launching devmgmt.msc or updating the network drivers. The security-only equivalent for this update is KB4338823.
  • Windows 8.1, Server 2012 R2: KB4338815 – as well as the fixes above, it also provides mitigations for the Speculative Store Bypass and the control of Indirect Branch Prediction Barrier. The security-only equivalent of this update is KB4338824.
  • Windows Server 2012: KB4338830 – includes the same mitigations as the update for 8.1 and 2012 R2, along with Lazy Floating Point State Restore and the assortment of security updates for a number of Windows components. The security-only update is KB4338820.

Naturally, the Insider Program continues, and none is a better example of this than the release of Server 2019 and SDK build 17709 with its new Group Managed Service Accounts and Windows container image. If you’re upgrading from a previous preview build, there may be some issues with System Insights and its parsing and visualization of prediction results.

A few doors down, Fast ring Insiders got to play with Windows 10 build 17713 which brings a number of improvements to Edge media autoplay, the Edge PDF reader, Application Guard, Notepad, Inking, and the Windows 10 sign-in experience. Bugs around Narrator, app updating Settings menu and InPrivate browsing in Edge have been addressed, but a few issues remain, mostly in terms of UI. A curious thing is also the removal of the switch to S Mode option, which seems to be absent in this build.

In perhaps better news, the April 2018 Update is no longer blocked on certain Alienware devices, and Microsoft has begun resetting the Skip Ahead ring for the next phase of Windows 10 development. Just to be clear, this new phase is the one after Redstone 5 which is likely to arrive in about three months as the rather sensibly-named October 2018 Update. The feature update for which the reset is being done is codenamed 19H1, and is thus likely to arrive in the first half of 2019.

Surface to go

There’s pretty much always this idea of a product or person boldly going to some new place. While yes, it’s used more than people going somewhere in say an italic way, there’s no denying that it’s a fitting turn of phrase for the latest device in the Surface family.

We’ve seen it hoped for, then rumored under the codename Libra, then it showed up in benchmarks. What was known was its $399 price point, its smaller size, and the fact that it was coming ‘later this year’. As it turned out, it was in fact sooner rather than later that reports of a launch this week came out, followed not long after by a tease from the company itself. And then it happened: Surface Go.

The 10-inch device weighs in at 1.15 pounds (roughly 521 grams), is powered by a dual-core Pentium Gold 4415Y 14nm Kaby Lake chip, and has a microSD card reader, 3.5mm jack, Surface Connect port, and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port. There are also Dolby Audio Premium-certified speakers, an IR camera for Windows Hello, and an option of 4GB or 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM, plus 64GB eMMC or 128GB SSD storage. The 4GB RAM/64GB ROM model is $399, while the 8GB RAM /128GB ROM variant comes in at $549.

There are also new accessories such as the USB Type-A dongle or new Surface Mobile Mouse for $34.99 and Signature Type covers for $129, both of these in Cobalt Blue, Burgundy, and Platinum. There’s also an option for a polyurethane Type Cover that’s $99. The device can be pre-ordered in U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Taiwan, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Malaysia, Japan, and Thailand. Singapore and South Korea will follow on August 2, as will China on August 8, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain on September 12, and India on October 2. Retail availability for the U.S. and Canada is pegged on August 2, with no dates for the other markets.

Our own Michael Allison makes the case that the Surface Go is not so much “a tablet that can replace your tablet” rather it is more focused on the tablet part than any of the other Surface models.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a week in recent Microsoft history without yet another hint at what fate might have befallen the mystery dual-screened Surface Andromeda. The good news is that this is a ‘long live the king’ moment, and the device is being ‘significantly reworked’. It’s a move that makes sense in light of Microsoft’s upcoming “next generation” OS, a rumor about which is dissected in the last section of this column.

The Fast ring

Hot corner

  • Microsoft Kaizala, the Office 365 mobile app for “large group communications and work management” aimed at firstline workers is now available for iOS and Android in up to 18 languages.
  • The Service Trust Portal can now be accessed in 11 languages including Korean, Chinese, French, and Italian.
  • Mailbox Auditing will be enabled by default in Exchange Online for all Office 365 commercial users by the end of calendar year 2018.
  • A live events feature (essentially live streaming) is now available in preview for Microsoft Teams.
  • The newest version of Skype Room Systems v2 (update – which is now rolling out – enables Skype for Business and Teams meetings support in Rooms Systems devices.

Logging off

At the tail end of this Microsoft Weekly, we’re taking a look at the company’s perhaps medium to long-term plans surrounding operating systems and device interaction.

The first area coming into focus relates to a recently published patent which was filed by the Redmond giant back in 2016. The simplistic “Touchless input” document reveals a line of thinking similar to that which led to the Kinect sensor. It’s also difficult not to reference the ill-fated Nokia 1030 (codenamed McLaren) and its gesture-based UI paradigm.

Unlike the Kinect however, this seems to be centered specifically on detecting hand movements and usage on mobile devices. Given the recent “Surface Andromeda is dead, long live Surface Andromeda” moment, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see this tech integrated into the reworked device… whenever it ends up coming out.

To end with a bit of a slip-up on Synaptics’ end, we’ve been thrown a hint that Microsoft might be working on a “next-generation” operation system focused on biometric security and Windows Hello. This could be the upcoming Windows Core OS which is said to be much more lightweight and modular. Seeing as Microsoft has ping-ponged this feature in and out of the consumer variant of Windows 10, an appearance from ReFS (Resilient File System) in this OS wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

Insisting a little on that last point for folks not familiar, ReFS is meant as the successor for NTFS and was initially spotted in Windows 8 dev builds. The feature ended up being added initially to Windows Server 2012, then Windows 8.1 and of course Windows 10, before being rather unceremoniously taken out of Windows 10 Pro via the Fall Creators Update.

It’s really anybody’s guess at this point, but these two bits of info paint a rather exciting picture for upcoming Microsoft products.

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