Archive for the ‘microsoft’ Category

There’s a new Minecraft game coming, and it’s played entirely in augmented reality

May 17th, 2019

Microsoft may believe it has made augmented reality's killer app: the just-announced Minecraft Earth for iOS and Android.

AR on mobile devices may carry tremendous potential, but it's easy enough to argue that the mainstream value proposition hasn't arrived yet. Pokémon Go is probably the most oft-cited "killer app" for AR, but it's only barely a true AR app. And there are some neat shopping apps and educational tools (from Warby Parker and Ikea, for example) but none of them have made a big dent in the mainstream consciousness.

Minecraft Earth

At first glance, Minecraft Earth seems a bit like Pokémon Go, given that it seems to be location aware in some ways. But there's a bit more to it than that. Players will be able to construct builds on their living room tables either alone or in collaboration with others, then go and place them full-size in the outside world when they're ready. You can collect new mobs (both familiar and new) and resources around you to incorporate in your build, then fight them in the life-size version of the build. Fundamentally, it appears to be the basic Minecraft experience translated to augmented reality with geolocation features.

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Posted in ar, arkit, augmented reality, Gaming & Culture, microsoft, Minecraft, Minecraft Earth, pokemon go, Tech | Comments (0)

Xbox, PC get a little bit closer with the latest Xbox updates

May 17th, 2019
Xbox, PC get a little bit closer with the latest Xbox updates

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

The May 2019 update for the Xbox One's system software is now rolling out, bringing some small refinements to the friends list, messaging, and game/app list.

Starting with the last one first, the app list will now ignore "a," "an," and "the" when sorting or grouping alphabetically. This is the kind of change that makes me amazed that they weren't already doing this, as it almost always makes for easier-to-use listings. Video games don't even have The The to contend with.

The Messaging change is rather inexplicable. There's a sensible change: incoming messaging requests from your friends are now prioritized, with requests from non-friends put in a separate category. But for some reason, Microsoft is going to wipe all group messages as a result. You can save backups of the messages for a limited time at Xbox.com, and messages with individual users are safe, but the group messages are all going. There's no obvious justification for this change, as even if there were some significant change being made to group messaging, one would expect Microsoft to handle migrating the messages from old to new.

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Posted in console gaming, Gaming & Culture, microsoft, PC gaming, Windows, XBox | Comments (0)

Saved from obsolescence, Microsoft is now making Paint better

May 16th, 2019
A picture apparently constructed in Paint using the keyboard exclusively.

Enlarge / A picture apparently constructed in Paint using the keyboard exclusively. (credit: Microsoft)

The news for mspaint.exe aficionados is just getting better and better. Microsoft's original plan was to deprecate Paint and end its development. It would still be installable from the Store but would no longer be included with Windows or receive any updates.

Last month, the company relented and said that the app would continue to be included in Windows. And now things have gone a step further: the program has been updated to include some surprising new features.

Paint has been updated to include keyboard support. More explicitly: Paint can now be controlled through the keyboard exclusively. The cursor can be moved with the cursor keys while the space bar is used to activate tools. There are keyboard bindings to control selections, switch between resize handles/control points, and generally do all the things that currently use the mouse.

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Posted in accessibility, microsoft, paint, Tech | Comments (0)

What Microsoft and Sony’s streaming partnership means for gaming’s future

May 16th, 2019
Superheroes the Wonder Twins fist-bump in front of giant computer parts.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty / Hanna-Barbera)

In a rare move, console rivals Microsoft and Sony announced a major collaboration on Thursday to join forces on a potentially huge new gaming sector: the cloud. The companies announced today that they have entered into a "memorandum of understanding" to "explore joint development of future cloud solutions in Microsoft Azure to support their respective game and content-streaming services."

The surprise move is the closest sign of collaboration between two fierce competitors in the console-gaming space, but it is probably not a sign that they will stop being competitors any time soon.

As part of the agreement, Sony will still use Microsoft's Azure servers and data centers for its own game and content-streaming services. That presumably includes PlayStation Now—the Sony game-streaming service launched in 2014 after Sony's 2012 acquisition of streaming company Gaikai—and PlayStation Vue, the company's Internet-based cable TV alternative.

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Posted in azure, gaikai, Gaming & Culture, microsoft, PlayStation, Sony, XBox, xclous | Comments (0)

Windows dual booting no longer looking likely on Pixebooks

May 15th, 2019
Google's Pixelbook.

Enlarge / Google's Pixelbook. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Just under a year ago, there were signs that Google was modifying the firmware of its Pixelbook laptop to enable dual booting into Windows 10. The firmware was updated to give the Pixelbook the ability to boot into an "Alternative OS" ("AltOS" mode). The work included references to the Windows Hardware Certification Kit (WHCK) and the Windows Hardware Lab Kit (HLK), Microsoft's testing frameworks for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 respectively.

Google now appears to have abandoned this effort. A redditor called crosfrog noticed that AltOs mode was now deprecated (via Android Police). Pixelbooks are going to be for Chrome OS only, after all.

The dual boot work was being done under the name Project Campfire. There appears to have been little development work on Project Campfire since last December. This suggests that Google actually decided not to bother with dual booting many months ago.

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Posted in Chrome OS, dual boot, google, linux, microsoft, Open Source, Tech, Windows | Comments (0)

Microsoft open sources algorithm that gives Bing some of its smarts

May 15th, 2019
The Eiffel Tower.

Enlarge / The Eiffel Tower. (credit: Pedro Szekely)

Search engines today are more than just the dumb keyword matchers they used to be. You can ask a question—say, "How tall is the tower in Paris?"—and they'll tell you that the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters (1,063 feet) tall, about the same as an 81-story building. They can do this even though the question never actually names the tower.

How do they do this? As with everything else these days, they use machine learning. Machine-learning algorithms are used to build vectors—essentially, long lists of numbers—that in some sense represent their input data, whether it be text on a webpage, images, sound, or videos. Bing captures billions of these vectors for all the different kinds of media that it indexes. To search the vectors, Microsoft uses an algorithm it calls SPTAG ("Space Partition Tree and Graph"). An input query is converted into a vector, and SPTAG is used to quickly find "approximate nearest neighbors" (ANN), which is to say, vectors that are similar to the input.

This (with some amount of hand-waving) is how the Eiffel Tower question can be answered: a search for "How tall is the tower in Paris?" will be "near" pages talking about towers, Paris, and how tall things are. Such pages are almost surely going to be about the Eiffel Tower.

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Posted in machine learning, microsoft, Open Source, Tech | Comments (0)

Microsoft warns wormable Windows bug could lead to another WannaCry

May 14th, 2019
Image of ones and zeros with the word

(credit: Pixabay)

Microsoft is warning that the Internet could see another exploit with the magnitude of the WannaCry attack that shut down computers all over the world two years ago unless people patch a high-severity vulnerability. The software maker took the unusual step of backporting the just-released patch for Windows 2003 and XP, which haven’t been supported in four and five years, respectively.

“This vulnerability is pre-authentication and requires no user interaction,” Simon Pope, director of incident response at the Microsoft Security Response Center, wrote in a published post that coincided with the company’s May Update Tuesday release. “In other words, the vulnerability is ‘wormable,’ meaning that any future malware that exploits this vulnerability could propagate from vulnerable computer to vulnerable computer in a similar way as the WannaCry malware spread across the globe in 2017. While we have observed no exploitation of this vulnerability, it is highly likely that malicious actors will write an exploit for this vulnerability and incorporate it into their malware.”

As if a self-replicating, code-execution vulnerability wasn’t serious enough, CVE-2017-0708, as the flaw in Windows Remote Desktop Services is indexed, requires low complexity to exploit. Microsoft’s Common Vulnerability Scoring System Calculator scores that complexity as 3.9 out of 10. (To be clear, the WannaCry developers had potent exploit code written by, and later stolen from, the National Security Agency, to exploit the wormable CVE-2017-0144 and CVE-2017-0145 flaws, which had exploit complexities rated as "high.") Ultimately, though, developing reliable exploit code for this latest Windows vulnerability will require relatively little work.

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Posted in Biz & IT, computer worm, exploits, microsoft, vulnerabilities, Windows | Comments (0)

One month later, $249 All-Digital Xbox One S still seems unsustainable

May 14th, 2019
Psht, who needs 'em?

Psht, who needs 'em? (credit: Squirmelia)

It has been about a month since Microsoft announced its disc-drive-free, "All Digital" Xbox One S. At the time, we pointed out that the system's $249.99 MSRP was unsustainably high given the fact that standard 1TB Xbox One S systems, complete with a disc drive and a bundled game, were selling for the same price or less at major retailers.

Now that the All Digital edition has been on store shelves for about a week, that state of affairs has continued. While the less-capable, disc-drive free system was officially supposed to undercut the price of its disc-drive equipped brethren, it seems the reverse is still happening at some major retailers.

Yes, major retailers like Target and Best Buy are sticking to Microsoft's MSRP of $299.99 for a 1TB, disc drive-equipped Xbox One S bundle. That price does indeed make the $249.99 all-digital edition, complete with three downloadable games, look like a great deal.

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Posted in digital, Gaming & Culture, microsoft, pricing, xbox one s | Comments (0)

Microsoft: The open source company

May 10th, 2019
Microsoft: The open source company

Enlarge

The news from Microsoft's Build developer conference that surprised me most was that Microsoft will ship a genuine Linux kernel—GPLed, with all patches published—with Windows. That announcement was made with the announcement of Windows Terminal, a new front-end for command-line programs on Windows that will, among other things, support tabs.

Microsoft's increased involvement with open source software isn't new, as projects such as Visual Studio Code and the .NET runtime have operated as open source, community-driven projects. But this week's announcements felt a bit different.

The Linux kernel will be powering Microsoft's second generation Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). The first generation WSL contains a partial re-implementation of the Linux kernel API that uses the Windows NT kernel to perform its functionality. In choosing this approach, Microsoft avoided using any actual Linux code, and hence the company avoided the GPL license with its "viral" stipulations that would have arguably forced Microsoft to open source WSL and perhaps even parts of Windows itself.

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Posted in development, GPL, linux, microsoft, Open Source, Tech, Windows | Comments (0)

Microsoft patented a braille-displaying controller accessory for the blind

May 9th, 2019

Last year, Microsoft released its highly customizable Adaptive Controller as a way to further engage with gamers facing a variety of "limited mobility" disabilities. But a newly surfaced patent first filed in 2017 shows the company was also looking into a braille-compatible controller aimed at visually impaired gamers.

Microsoft's patent for a "Braille chording accessory for a game controller" describes a device that would attach to the back of what looks in diagrams to be a standard Xbox One controller, adding "a plurality of paddles arranged as a braille cell on the housing, and a control circuit to translate a touch force applied to at least a portion of the plurality of paddles into individual braille characters."

As described and shown, the device would contain a 3×3 grid of standardized braille dots that rise and fall to represent letters and numbers by touch. Thus, the accessory would "output a braille representation of any game text or any game audio occurring during the course of game play," the patent suggests.

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Posted in blind, controller, Gaming & Culture, microsoft, patent | Comments (0)