Microsoft splits VSTS five ways to build new Azure DevOps platform

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Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS), Microsoft’s application lifecycle management system, is to undergo a major shake-up and rebranding. Instead of a single Visual Studio-branded service, it’s being split into five separate Azure-branded services, under the banner Azure DevOps.

The five components:

  • Azure Pipelines, a continuous integration, testing, and deployment system that can connect to any Git repository
  • Azure Boards, a work tracking system with Kanban boards, dashboards, reporting
  • Azure Artifacts, a hosting facility for Maven, npm, and NuGet packages
  • Azure Repos, a cloud-hosted private Git repository service
  • Azure Test Plans, for managing tests and capturing data about defects.

VSTS has been broken up in this way to further Microsoft’s ambition of making its developer tooling useful to any development process and workflow, regardless of language or platform. The division into individual components should make it easier for developers to adopt portions of the Azure DevOps platform, without requiring them to go “all in” on VSTS. The reduced scope of each component means that it’s cheaper than the VSTS pricing, making incremental adoption more palatable. For example, a Pipelines process could build and test a Node.js service from a GitHub repository and then deploy to a container on Amazon’s AWS cloud, without requiring use of any of the other Azure DevOps components.

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New Microsoft hardware launching on October 2

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Microsoft is holding a hardware event in New York City on October 2.

We’re expecting the event to be relatively low-key, with a focus on refreshes of existing form factors rather than anything extraordinary and new. The release of the Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake processors by Intel means that the Surface Laptop, Surface Pro, and Surface Book 2 could all stand to see a processor bump. The niche Surface Studio would also be a good candidate for an update (its processor is two generations old and its GPU is one generation old), but we’re not honestly sure if Microsoft is even continuing to develop that particular form factor.

The one thing we can be confident that we won’t see is a Surface Phone. The last rumors around Andromeda, Microsoft’s alleged dual-screen handheld pocket-sized device, were that it was being delayed because the software wasn’t ready and nobody is quite sure what it’s good for. Since then, we’ve heard nothing more, so we’d expect this to still be the case.

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Windows 10 support extended again: September releases now get 30 months

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In its continued efforts to encourage corporate customers to make the switch to Windows 10, Microsoft is shaking up its support and life cycle plans again. Support for some Windows 10 releases is being extended, and the company is offering new services to help detect and address compatibility issues should they arise.

The new policy builds on and extends the commitments made in February this year. Microsoft has settled on two annual feature updates (the “Semi-Annual Channel,” SAC) to Windows 10, one finalized in March (and delivered in April) and the other finalized in September (and delivered in October). Initially, the company promised 18 months of support for each feature update, a policy that would allow customers to defer deployment of feature updates or even skip some updates entirely. Going forward, the September releases are going to see even longer support periods; for Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education, each September release will receive 30 months of servicing. In principle, an organization that stuck to the September releases could go two years between feature updates.

Customers of Windows 10 Home, Pro, and Pro for Workstations will continue to receive only 18 months of updates for both March and September releases.

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You can now use Alexa and Cortana to control your Xbox

You can now control the Xbox from Alexa and Cortana. Microsoft announced his morning it’s introducing a new way to interact with Xbox One using voice commands, by way of an Xbox Skill that works with both Alexa and Cortana, across platforms. The skill will allow users to launch games, adjust the volume, start and stop their broadcasts to Mixer, capture screenshots and more.

For example, players will be able to say to their Echo speaker, “Alexa, start Rocket League,” and the console would power on, sign them in, and launch the game.

To use the new feature with Alexa, players will first have to sign in with their Amazon account then link their Microsoft account to the skill. With Cortana, users will instead have to first sign into the Xbox they want to control, then sign in with their Microsoft account to link the skill on their Windows 10 PC.

They could then say something like “Hey Cortana, tell Xbox to open Netflix.”

 

Microsoft says the skill will work across a range of voice-powered devices, including Windows 10 PC, Amazon Echo devices, Harman Kardon Invoke, Sonos One, or the Cortana and Alexa apps for iOS and Android.

A full list of its commands will be posted to the Xbox Insiders Reddit. 

The Xbox Skill, at launch, will be rolling out gradually to U.S. Xbox Insider rings (Alpha Skip Ahead, Alpha, Beta) as the company takes in feedback from its early adopters. To see if you have the option available, you’ll need to look in Settings –> Devices on your console to see if the “Digital Assistant” setting is visible.

Xbox Adaptive Controller is now out—and we go hand, foot, fingers, and elbows-on

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Microsoft’s newest game accessory, the Xbox Adaptive Controller, probably isn’t for you. That’s just an odds game, when counting the percentage of people who fall into the “limited mobility” camp that this strange, unique controller is aimed at.

But that’s the incredible thing about the XAC: that it’s targeting a particularly fractured audience. Limited mobility is a giant, vague category, after all, with so many physical ailments to account for (let alone psychological ones). And previous answers in the gaming sphere have typically been specialized, one-of-a-kind controllers for single hands, feet, heads, and more.

XAC wins out in an odd way: by leaving some major work in users’ hands. This $99 lap-sized device is truly incomplete on its own, as it’s designed from the ground up to require add-on joysticks, buttons, and more. As a result, there’s no way to fully review the possibilities Microsoft’s XAC opens up for disabled gamers. Still, we’ve put a retail unit through its paces to see what kind of accessibility canvas this revolutionary “controller” opens up—and exactly how it works—to help limited-mobility gamers and their caretakers decide if its functionality, ease-of-use, and practical cost is right for them.

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The Xbox Adaptive Controller goes on sale today and is also now part of the V&A museum’s collection

In an important move for inclusion in the gaming community, the Xbox Adaptive Controller, created for gamers with mobility issues, is now on sale. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) also announced today that it has acquired the Xbox Adaptive Controller for display in its Rapid Response gallery dedicated to current events and pop culture.

First introduced in May, the Xbox Adaptive Controller can now be purchased online for $99.99. To create the controller, Microsoft collaborated with gamers with disabilities and limited mobility, as well as partners from several organizations, including the AbleGamers Charity, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Special Effect and Warfighter Engaged.

According to Microsoft, the Xbox Adaptive Controller project first took root in 2014 when one of its engineers spotted a custom gaming controller made by Warfighter Engaged, a non-profit that provides gaming devices for wounded and disabled veterans. During several of Microsoft’s hackathons, teams of employees began working on gaming devices for people with limited mobility, which in turn gave momentum to the development of the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

In its announcement, the V&A said it added the Xbox Adaptive Controller to its collection because “as the first adaptive controller designed and manufactured at large-scale by a leading technology company, it represents a landmark moment in videogame play, and demonstrates how design can be harnessed to encourage inclusively and access.”

The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large buttons that can be programmed to fit its user’s needs, as well as 19 jacks and two USB ports that are spread out in a single line on the back of the device to make them easier to access. Symbols embossed along the back of the controller’s top help identify ports so gamers don’t have to turn it around or lift it up to find the one they need, while grooves serve as guidelines to help them plug in devices. Based on gamer feedback, Microsoft moved controls including the D Pad to the side of the device and put the A and B buttons closer together, so users can easily move between them with one hand.

The controller slopes down toward the front, enabling gamers to slide their hands onto it without having to lift them (and also makes it easier to control with feet) and has rounded edges to reduce the change of injury if it’s dropped on a foot. The Xbox Adaptive Controller was designed to rest comfortably in laps and also has three threaded inserts so it can be mounted with hardware to wheelchairs, lap boards or desks.

In terms of visual design, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is sleek and unobtrusive, since Microsoft heard from many gamers with limited mobility that they dislike using adaptive devices because they often look like toys. The company’s attention to detail also extends into the controller’s packaging, which is very easy to unbox because gamers told Microsoft that they are often forced to open boxes and other product packages with their teeth.

Skype Introduces Call Recording Feature for Mac and iOS

Microsoft today announced that it has added call recording functionality to the latest version of Skype available on Mac and iOS.

Skype says that the new call recording feature is cloud-based, with Skype informing every participant in a given call that a call is being recorded.



Call recording for video chats includes everyone’s video and screens that are shared during the call, with the call available to be saved and shared for the next 30 days. There is no way to record the audio portion of a video chat without also recording the video.

On both mobile and desktop, call recording can be initiated by clicking or tapping on the “+” icon at the bottom of the screen and then selecting “Start recording.” Once call recording has been initiated, participants will see a mobile banner letting them know that a recording is in progress.

Call recording is available in the current version of Skype, which can be downloaded from the Skype website on the Mac or the App Store on iOS. [Direct Link]

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Skype finally adds call recording

Skype is the communication tool of choice (and necessity) for millions, but it has always lacked a basic feature that no doubt many of those millions have requested: call recording. Well, Microsoft finally heard our cries, and recording is now built into Skype on both desktop and mobile.

Inexplicably, the ability is available in the latest version of the app on every platform except Windows 10. Apparently it’ll be added in a few weeks.

Recording is pretty simple to activate. Once you’re in a call, just hit the plus sign on the lower right and then select “Start recording.”

The others on the call will see a little banner announcing the call is being recorded, “so there are no surprises.” But Microsoft is clearly leery of consent laws and reminds you via that same banner to verbally inform your interlocutors that you’re recording it.

When the call is finished, the recording — video and audio — is stored online as an MP4 for up to 30 days, during which time you and anyone who was on the call can save it locally or share a link to it.

It doesn’t seem like there’s a way to record only audio, which is a bit annoying. A call with 3 people on video can get big fast. Hopefully they’ll address that in an update.

People have used third party apps for years to record their Skype conversations; I’ve been using MP3 Skype Recorder, and it’s been pretty solid. I’m afraid that it might not survive the duplication of its key feature — recording, obviously — inside the app on which it piggybacks. But because, among other things, I’m paranoid, I’ll probably keep it installed as a backup. I’ve asked the creator what he thinks of Skype’s latest feature and what it means for apps like his.

In the meantime everyone except Windows 10 users should start Skyping like never before and recording everything to do a bit of system stressing for Microsoft. It’s what they’d want.