I'm going to make it call me Chief
Microsoft made a splash with Cortana when Windows Phone 8.1 finally launched a couple of months ago, and after months of testing people have gotten a pretty good idea of how accurate and useful Microsoft’s Siri alternative truly is – and as it turns out, Cortana is actually pretty impressive. It should come as little surprise then that Microsoft is working on bringing its Cortana Personal Assistant to the next major version of Windows, Codename “Threshold”, which will likely be named Windows 9 upon its release in 2015. According to Neowin, who has provided accurate information in the past, current development builds of Windows Threshold actually do have placeholders for Cortana, however it has yet to be fully realized in the most recent builds.
Rumor has it Microsoft will integrate Cortana deeply into the core of the operating system, as opposed to acting as just a separate application that runs on top of the operating system. Microsoft currently takes a similar approach to Cortana in Windows Phone 8.1. Windows Threshold is rumored to be announced later this year at an upcoming Special Event alongside an early Developer Preview of the operating system and will be home to a significant reworking of the way Windows currently works and looks. Recent rumors indicate that Microsoft is killing off the much loathed Charms bar in Threshold while also bringing native support for virtual desktops – a feature that has been in most Linux distributions and Mac OS X for quite some time now.
Recently leaked screenshots have also revealed that Microsoft has reimplemented a newly redesigned version of the Start Menu in Windows Threshold, which seems to be a monster mash between the Windows 7-era Start Menu and the Windows 8 Start Screen. Recently opened applications are seen on the left side of the Start Menu while the right is dominated by live updating tiles, which users could presumably pin for easy access to glanceable information.
September looks to be a busy month
The progression of the Lumia line has kind of slowed since Microsoft completed their purchase of Nokia’s mobile phone division a couple of months ago, but all at once the blockade is breaking. Just a few short days after announcing the company’s second generation Android smartphone, the Nokia X2, and then promptly killing the Android program all together – Microsoft has officially announced that they’ll be holding their first Lumia Special Event on September 4th in Berlin, Germany. While the invitation never says the word “Lumia” directly – for all we know, Microsoft could actually be killing the Lumia name in favor of something a little more Surface-y – it does invite us to join Microsoft for some “face time” with a nice photo of a Nokia’s PureView camera like the one found on the Lumia 1020.
According to recent rumors, the phones slated to make an appearance are the Lumia 730 and the Lumia 830. Both are slated to be fairly midrange phones, with the 730 rumored to be coming with an impressive 5.1 megapixel front facing camera, all the better for taking selfies. The 830 will feature an all aluminum build similar to the Lumia 925, but with fairly midrange internal specifications and a PureView branded camera.
Whatever Microsoft is so excited to talk about on September 4th, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date on the latest news regarding Microsoft’s upcoming first Lumia Special Event.
Start building the internet of things
When Microsoft announced Windows for the Internet of Things at the company’s annual Build conference this year, people were excited. A little bit confused, considering how nebulous the term “Internet of Things” has actually become, but excited nonetheless – this is a totally new vision of Windows designed to run on small, ultra-low power devices. The company had remained tight lipped on their plans for the launch of the program right up until a couple of weeks ago, when they announced that they’d be shipping free Intel’s x86 based low power Galileo boards – the same ones that usually run around $80 – totally free of charge to any interested developer alongside the IoT SDK as Windows for the Internet of Things development kits.
Registration for these free boards have been closed for some time, and it appears Microsoft has finally gotten around to actually shipping the kits to at least some interested developers. We’ve heard reports from at least one developer who received the above email this morning, claiming his free Galileo board has been shipped over FedEx, tracking number and all. It appears not all developers have received their emails just yet, but if you’re one of the lucky few who got into Microsoft’s IoT developer program before it closed, keep your eyes fixed on your inbox.
Windows for power users
Although we’ve heard this for a couple days now, Mary Jo Foley has posted that the next version of Windows will indeed feature virtual desktops, a feature that Linux has had for nearly 20 years and one that Microsoft has historically never added as their own studies found users would often get confused as to which desktop they were in.
That’s not all that’s coming to Threshold – The Charms Bar, which has been a feature of Windows 8 since the first developer preview, will be going away in Threshold. According to Mary Jo Foley’s sources, not only will it be going away for desktop users, it’s going away for all users, including touch users. The functionality of each of the charms won’t be going away as every Metro app will have a new menu bar with the charms added to it, or developers can manually add a charm to their own app.
While this is another major score for the 100% of Windows users still using the desktop, I can’t help but shake the feeling that Windows Threshold is becoming nothing more than Windows 7 with an extra extension of .NET bolted onto it. But then again, maybe that’s for the better.
Well, there goes one defining feature
It was almost a year ago that Microsoft announced that every Xbox One would double as a developer kit for inexpensive game development for independent game developers and hardcore professionals alike, but it seems as though today that dream – or, promise, rather – has died. Microsoft’s Xbox Advanced Technology Group’s Martin Fuller has, unfortunately, confirmed to popular UK technology magazine DigitalSpy that “there are no plans” at the moment to implement the promised functionality.
Fuller continued, “We were in the early stages of Xbox One looking at the idea of a retail kit that could be turned into a development kit, and vice versa… in the end, although that was a very admirable goal, it hasn’t happened unfortunately. Can’t tell you the specifics of exactly why not.”
So there you have it, one stand out feature of the Xbox One dead before it even got off the ground. We should have known there was trouble in paradise when there hadn’t been a single word on the functionality for almost a year, but there were some of us who had held out hope. As developer Steven Troughton-Smith put it on Twitter this afternoon, “…that settles the ‘will I get an Xbox One?’ question.”
We can only guess the decision has just been made for more than just a couple of people, Steven.
Well its about time
If your computer is one of the many affected by the bug that blocks its copy of Windows 8 from being upgraded to Windows 8.1, there’s good news on the horizon. Microsoft is finally taking pity on your computer’s soul and has decided to fix that, allowing previously (and randomly) un-upgradeable copies of Windows 8 from being upgraded to Windows 8.1.
The bug, which affected computers and tablets running both Windows 8 as well as the original version of Windows RT, affects only a small number of computers – so chances are, if you haven’t upgraded yet, you’ll be able to do that now just fine. But if not, keep an eye out for the fix due any day now.
It seems as if the Nokia X was so popular that it demanded a new version – and here it is, the Nokia X2. While still aimed at the low-end, off-contract market, the X2 has been vastly upgraded and improves just about everything that was present in the Nokia X.
While the X2 still comes with a custom fork of Android that isn’t Play-certified, the hardware has been massively upgraded and even trumps the low-end Windows Phone market. Specs-wise, you get a dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 200, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of storage, a 5-megapixel camera with flash, a front facing camera and even a MicroSD card slot that supports up to 32GB cards.
On the software side of things, the Metro-esque custom launcher comes with a few improvements like an apps list similar to that of Windows Phone, new screens, and the ability to set the color of the tiles pinned to your Start Screen, also a feature straight out of Windows Phone. Pre-loaded apps include Skype, Outlook and OneDrive with a generous 15GB of online storage (though this was given to every non-paying OneDrive user recently). And being Android, apps aren’t a worry even if it’s not Play-certified.
As mentioned before, the device will sell for about $135 and will be available immediately in “select countries”. As ever, they come in a wide variety of colors; green, orange and black are the launch colors and they’ll later introduce yellow, white and grey colors.
But will it work?
As was evident during the Surface Pro 3 launch event, Microsoft really wants you to ditch your Macbook Air for a Surface Pro 3. A new promotion has popped up for Air owners: If you want a Surface Pro 3, Microsoft will give you up to $650 towards the purchase of a Surface Pro 3.
As you’d expect, the trade-in is only good if your Air is in decent working condition with no water damage or a cracked screen. There’s no mention as to which models are eligible for the promotion so it may be that old, first-generation Air from 2007 is just as eligible as a mid-2013 Air – just don’t expect to get a lot for it.
Now the question is, is this just an early promotion or are they already despairing?
It's all about the games, games, games
At E3 2013, Microsoft was all about the hardware – the Xbox One had just been announced a few weeks earlier, and we were getting our first look at some hardware peripherals and the power that came along with the new hardware. The story shifted considerably this year: with the rumored 7-inch Xbox branded Surface tablet shot down, today’s conference was all about three things – games, games, and games. Oh, that’s one thing? My bad. There was a lot of games.
Today’s Xbox presentation at the E3 game conference was packed with demos, trailers, and confirmations of some of the world’s biggest franchises. We were given a first look at Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which basically now looks like some sort of futuristic mix of Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall and the Call of Duty: Black Ops series of games; we got a look at Inside, an unofficial follow up to game developer Playdead’s hit game Limbo, and even an in-depth look at Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the next-gen exclusive fifth entry in the popular Assassin’s Creed franchise, and a look at Forza Horizons 2, the next entry in Microsoft’s long running racing franchise.
But, the big reveal? Our best look yet at Halo 5, shown alongside the announcement that Microsoft would be bringing the entirety of the Halo universe’s main four games to the Xbox One in the aptly named Halo: The Master Chief Collection. With Halo: CE Anniversary, a new beefed up version of Halo 2, dubbed Halo 2: Anniversary, as well as the original versions of Halo 3 and Halo 4 remastered for the Xbox One – alongside the entirety of the series’ online and offline multiplayer content, The Master Chief Collection is basically a Halo fanboy’s dream come true.
But then, if it’s a dream come true, why was it so unsurprising? That’s because today’s E3 presentation basically confirmed that a massive set of Xbox rumors leaked by anonymous neogaf user and supposed Microsoft insider ntkrnl were pretty much 100% accurate. So essentially, if you had read and believed those rumors, you knew exactly what Microsoft and the gang were up to – all the way down to Forza Horizons 2‘s “dynamic weather system”. Hey, at least you got the first word.
Because it’s so darn awesome, we’ve embedded Microsoft’s Halo 5 and The Master Chief Collection trailer after the break below. If you’re as big of a Halo nerd as I am, you’ll want to watch this – and feel free to speculate about the Arbiter’s role in the trailer below!
Microsoft CEO speaks
It’s almost fitting that Microsoft’s new CEO made one of his first public interviews as CEO of Microsoft at Re/code’s first ever Code Conference – and while there wasn’t exactly much talked about that we didn’t already know, Nadella did have a few nuggets of good information sprinkled about his interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.
First, the CEO finally tackled head on the rumors that the company is planning on selling or spinning off their Xbox gaming business. The news is, of course, good – at least as far as those who work in the Xbox division are concerned. “I have no intent to do anything different with Xbox than we are doing today,” Nadella said, pointing out that in order to create software – the company’s “most malleable resource” – hardware such as the Xbox plays an important role.
Nadella also took the opportunity to introduce a brand new bit of functionality coming soon to the company’s Skype clients, a new feature called “Skype Translator” that is capable of translating foreign language in what appears to be essentially real time. The way it works is almost as impressive as the concept – the other person’s spoken word is translated as subtitles at the bottom of the window as they speak them, as seen in the video after the break.
Skype Translator will reportedly be entering beta for Windows 8 users later this year, with a broader release planned sometime after that. While the initial release will focus on bringing Skype Translate to the Windows 8 client, other versions of the application – including OS X, Windows 7, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone – will also be getting to join in on the fun.
Microsoft keeps swinging, but keeps missing
For a brief while, I owned a Surface tablet.
I got a really good deal on one, almost a year or so back now. My Surface was an original, 32GB Surface RT tablet, the one that Microsoft is still happy to sell you for a now-outrageous $299. The original Surface has always been something of a mixed bag – too heavy and unwieldy to use to be a particularly good tablet, with no real desktop application support and a slow processor holding it back from being a good laptop replacement.
Barely six months after purchasing my original Surface tablet, I sold it. I found that, for my use case, the Surface just wasn’t good enough at doing the things I wanted to do with the tablet form factor. It was awkwardly shaped, so I didn’t really enjoy holding it to watch movies, or reading books; it was slow, so it was frustrating to browse the web with – and it didn’t work at all on my lap, so there goes my using Microsoft Office with.
I sold that Surface, and instead I bought – after a couple of weeks of deciding on what my replacement would be – an iPad mini with Retina Display. I had owned an iPad mini before, an original generation, that I used mostly to read books on. While using my Surface I often longed for the convenience of the iPad mini’s form factor; the small, light frame that was a perfect companion to Netflix and the Kindle application. And while the original iPad mini was no speed demon, it was definitely faster than my Surface RT.
And ever since, I’ve been extremely happy with my new iPad mini. While I do sometimes long for the ability to plug in a keyboard and get access to a real trackpad – even a bad one – the benefits of the iPad mini’s form factor far, far outweighs the negatives. That’s why I was so excited this month when Microsoft issued invitations to the media to attend a “small” gathering, one that we all – myself included – took to be the introduction of the elusiveelusive 7-to-8″ Surface tablet. Such a device, I thought, could be my ideal Surface tablet – one small and light enough to read comfortably on, yet powerful enough to do actual work on with that keyboard attachment. It could have easily replaced the original, aging Surface RT in Microsoft’s lineup as a $299 device actually worthy of the price tag if given beefier internals.
But that device never came. Instead, we got the Surface Pro 3 – a device that, again, aims to be more of a laptop replacement than an actual tablet. That’s fine, of course. There’s nothing wrong with such a tablet, and though I haven’t gotten my hands on a Surface Pro 3 just yet, I would be interested to give it a try and see for myself how it does. But I know that, based on my experience with my original Surface, that it’s not the tablet I’m looking for. It’ll still be too heavy for me to read a book on, too inconvenient for me to hold as a book in bed – though that 3:2 aspect ratio is a blessing, and an aspect that I would love to see trickle down to other Surface models, including that elusive Surface Mini if it ever comes.
And boy, do I hope it comes. I feel strongly as though that could be the perfect tablet for me, and I would absolutely spend $300 of my hard earned money to pay for it. But until Microsoft realizes that they’re ignoring – either intentionally or unintentionally – such a huge segment of the market, I don’t think I would go out of my to buy a Surface product ever again. I gave them a shot, and it didn’t work out. Are you willing to go the extra mile, Microsoft?