Surface Hub 2 coming in 2019, looks amazing

Surface Hub 2 Intro video.

Microsoft gave an early look at its next-generation Surface Hub 2 today. It will go on sale next year, with certain selected customers testing it this year.

Microsoft’s Surface Hub, its conference room computer, was something of a surprise hit. The system has been in short supply since its launch about three years ago, especially in its 84-inch version: its combination of video conferencing and whiteboarding makes it a collaborative tool with few direct competitors.

The central feature of the new system is that it’s a 50.5-inch 4K display with a rotating mount. Instead of the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, the Surface Hub 2 has the same 3:2 ratio of Microsoft’s other Surface systems. Need a larger screen? Up to four Surface Hub 2s can be tiled together in either portrait or landscape mode. The bezels are much narrower to enable this kind of tiling. Even with this much sleeker look, it still contains speakers, a far-field microphone array, and a camera.

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Download and play these Xbox Games Pass titles while you still can

Microsoft’s $10 per month Xbox Games Pass subscription service will be seeing the first significant reduction in its game library at the end of May. That’s when 21 available titles—primarily backward-compatible Xbox 360 games—will be rotating out of the service.

Microsoft has been adding seven to ten games to Games Pass every month since its launch last June, bringing the total number of Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles subscribers can download to over 170. Only a small handful of previously available titles have been removed during that run, including WWE 2K17, NBA 2K17, and Metal Gear Solid V.

Industry watchers (including yours truly) have been referring to Games Pass as a “Netflix for Games” since before its launch. But this is the first real sign that the service will mimic Netflix’s practice of regularly cycling movies and TV shows in and out of its selection month to month. The end of May will represent exactly one year since Games Pass’ full launch, suggesting that expiring year-long licensing agreements with third-party publishers could be behind the latest reductions.

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The UK and USA need to extend their “special relationship” to technology development

The UK and the USA have always had an enduring bond, with diplomatic, cultural and economic ties that have remained firm for centuries.

We live in an era of profound change, and are living with technologies set to change things ever faster. If Britain and America work together to develop these technologies for the good of mankind, in a way that is open and free, yet also safe and good for our citizens, we can maintain the global lead our nations have enjoyed in the fields of innovation.

Over past months we have seen some very significant strides forward in this business relationship. All of the biggest US companies have made decisions to invest in the UK. Apple is developing a new HQ in the iconic Battersea Power Station, close to the new US embassy, while Google is building a billion dollar new HQ in the increasingly fashionable King’s Cross. Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft are all extending their operations, and a multitude of smaller US firms are basing their international headquarters in London.

They are all coming here because as we prepare to leave the EU we are building a forward looking Britain that is open to the wider world, and tech is at the heart of this.

Similarly, there have been major expansions or new investment from British firms into the US. Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer, supports more than 9,000 jobs in the USA and have recently opened their new multimillion-dollar corporate North America HQ in New Jersey.  iProov, a leading British provider of biometric facial verification technology, became the first international company to be awarded a contract from the US Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program last month.

We want to work with our global partners – to share expertise, and encourage investment – as we harness technology for the wider good. And that of course includes our old friend and closest ally, the USA.

We have a great deal to offer.

The UK was recently ranked the most AI ready nation among all the OECD countries. In the past three years, new AI start-ups have been created in the UK on an almost weekly basis.

Recently, UK government and industry together committed over $1 billion to support our AI sector, much of which will go towards entrepreneurs. Funding has been set aside to create a nationwide network of tech incubators, that we’re calling “Tech Nation”, which will support new AI businesses as they get off the ground.

We are also excited by — and I am a firm advocate for — the development of blockchain and similar technologies. The UK is leading the way in many areas where blockchain has the potential to be used, such as Fintech. There are now more people working in UK Fintech than in New York or in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia combined.

And we are eminent in the development of immersive technologies, like Augmented and Virtual Reality, which look set to radically improve many areas of life in coming years, with applications as varied as flight simulation and surgical training techniques.

There is so much to be gained from close collaboration between our two countries on these new technologies and from sharing our expertise.

Together, we can reap the economic benefits of stealing an early lead in their development. We estimate that AI, for example, if widely adopted, could add $33 billion to the UK economy. But, perhaps most importantly, we can also work together to build a strong regulatory and ethical frameworks for their wider application.

It is the role of governments across the world, the UK and US included, to set frameworks for these decentralised, cross border systems so we can manage their use in a safe and effective way.

Our aim should be to harness the power and capability of technology but always for the benefit of, and in service to the populace.

We in the UK are avowedly pro-tech, always seeking to put its power in the hands of our citizens.

We have all learned valuable lessons from the recent scandals regarding data use, most recently around Facebook’s use of data.

We want to build a system that protects and cherishes the freedom of the Internet while protecting the rights of individuals, and their property, including intellectual property.

We want to see freedom in a framework; where our tech entrepreneurs have the space to innovate, knowing they do so with full public trust. Trust underpins a strong economy, and trust in data underpins a strong digital economy.

So in the UK we are developing a Digital Charter, to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice. Our starting point is that what is unacceptable offline should not be tolerated in the online world. That includes how tech companies treat private citizens and use their data, as well as how people treat each other online.

Important changes like these cannot be agreed by one country alone. It is more important than ever that we work together and find common ground so we can make sure that tech continues to change the world for the better. Based on our mutual love of freedom and individual rights Britain and America have through history risen to challenges together. I firmly believe working together we can build that brighter future.

Microsoft can’t fix “flickergate” Surface Pro 4s with software, so it’s replacing them

Microsoft will replace Surface Pro 4s that are afflicted with a screen flickering issue that is caused by a hardware problem and is unfixable in firmware or software.

For more than a year, there have been complaints from Surface Pro 4 users that their tablet computers were developing a nasty screen flickering issue. You can see the issue in action here. The random occurrence and nature of the corruption made it clear that the hardware was the cause. To try and eke some life out of their systems, Surface Pro 4 users were going to extreme lengths. Sticking the machines in the freezer would restore normal function for a short period, and other owners felt that hairdryers were a better solution.

With Microsoft now properly acknowledging the problem, these hacks are no longer necessary. Customers with affected machines must request a replacement within three years of the initial purchase, whether it was a consumer or a corporate sale. They’ll receive a refurbished but otherwise equivalent Surface Pro 4.

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Explorer is getting a dark theme, and it’s very dark

As long-time practitioners of the “dark theme” concept—it’s still an option here at Ars for those who prefer light text on dark backgrounds—we’re excited to see that Microsoft is extending the reach of its dark theme to include Explorer.

Windows 10 has a toggle to switch between the standard regular (dark text/light background) theme and the inverted dark theme.
For those who routinely use their computers in poorly lit rooms, the dark theme offers relief from the more traditional eye-searing white of the standard theme. For the most part, the only applications that follow this are new, modern applications built using the Universal Windows Platform. The latest Insider build, version 17666, extends that to Explorer, one of the most important and widely used traditional Win32 applications.

The new build has some other bits and pieces too, including greater use of Microsoft’s “Fluent” design language, but really, it’s the dark Explorer that’s exciting.

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Microsoft’s Snip Insights puts A.I. technology into a screenshot-taking tool

A team of Microsoft interns have thought up a new way to put A.I. technology to work – in a screenshot snipping tool. Microsoft today is launching their project, Snip Insights, a Windows desktop app that lets you retrieve intelligent insights – or even turn a scan of a textbook or report into an editable document – when you take a screenshot on your PC.

The team’s manager challenged the interns to think up a way to integrate A.I. into a widely used tool, used by millions.

They decided to try a screenshotting tool, like the Windows Snipping Tool or Snip, a previous project from Microsoft’s internal incubator, Microsoft Garage. The team went with the latter, because it would be easier to release as an independent app.

Their new tool leverages Cloud AI services in order to do more with screenshots – like convert images to translated text, automatically detect and tag image content, and more.

For example, you could screenshot a photo of a great pair of shoes you saw on a friend’s Facebook page, and the tool could search the web to help you find where to buy them. (This part of its functionality is similar to what’s already offered today by Pinterest). 

The tool can also take a scanned image of a document, and turn a screenshot of that into editable text.

And it can identify famous people, places or landmarks in the images you capture with a screenshot.

Although it’s a relatively narrow use case for A.I., the Snip Insights tool is an interesting example of how A.I. technology can be integrated into everyday productivity tools – and the potential that lies ahead as A.I. becomes a part of even simple pieces of software.

The tool is being released as Microsoft Garage project, but it’s open-sourced.

The Snip Insights GitHub repository will be maintained by the Cloud AI team going forward.


PS4 expands its sales lead, now 71% of “two-console” market with Xbox One

New statements from Electronic Arts suggest that Sony’s PlayStation 4 has sold 2.5 times as many consoles as Microsoft’s Xbox One through the end of 2017, with Sony now controlling over 70 percent of the “two-console” market worldwide.

As Variety noticed this morning, the numbers can be derived from a recent EA investor conference call, where CEO Andrew Wilson mentions “sales of current-generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony” totaling 103 million at the end of 2017. Combine that with Sony’s own reports of 73.6 million consoles sold through the end of 2017, and you get a rough estimate of 29.4 million Xbox One consoles on the market. That amounts to just under 40 percent of the PS4’s reported sales.

Even with a bit of wiggle room to account for EA’s market-size estimation methods, that’s an extremely tepid result for Microsoft’s console. The last time public estimates of the Xbox One’s installed base leaked out at the beginning of 2017, they fell in the 25 million to 30 million unit range, suggesting Microsoft sold less than five million systems in the 2017 calendar year. The PlayStation 4, meanwhile sold roughly 20 million consoles in 2017, expanding its already sizable lead in overall installed base.

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Notepad gets a major upgrade, now does Unix line endings

Notepad, the text editor that ships with Windows, is not a complicated application. For many, this is its major advantage—by having virtually no features, it cannot go wrong—but especially for software developers, it has often proven an annoyance.

That’s because Notepad has traditionally only understood Windows line endings. Windows, Unix, and “classic” MacOS all use different conventions for indicating the end of a line of text. Windows does things correctly: it uses a pair of characters, the carriage return (CR) followed by the line feed (LF). Two characters are needed because they do different things: the CR moves the print head to the start of a line; the LF advances the paper by one line. Separating these is valuable, as it allows for effects such as underlining to be emulated: first print the text to be underlined, then issue a CR, and then print underscore characters.

Unix, however, uses a bare line feed to denote that a new line should be started. Classic MacOS (though not modern macOS) uses a bare carriage return for the same purpose. Given the meaning behind the CR and LF characters, these operating systems are both obviously wrong, but sometimes wrongness is allowed to prevail and persist.

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