Microsoft Monday: Build 2018 Announcements, Improved Screenshot Tool, Minecraft Aquatic Update

“Microsoft Monday” is a weekly column that focuses on all things Microsoft. This week, Microsoft Monday includes details about the Build 2018 announcements, a major Outlook update, an improved screenshot tool, 1 billion hours of Xbox One backward compatibility logged and much more!

Build 2018 Announcements

Today, Microsoft hosted its annual Build conference. Here is a breakdown of the major announcements that Microsoft made at the event:

Alexa And Cortana Talk To Each Other

It has been known for a while that Microsoft and Amazon were working together on integrating Alexa and Cortana. And at the Build conference, Microsoft demoed Cortana running on Alexa and Alexa running on Cortana. This can be activated by saying “Alexa, open Cortana.” Then you can request queries like “what is the weather?” or “send an email to John.”

The integration of Cortana and Alexa is currently in limited beta. And it is unknown when the integration will roll out for everyone, but you can receive email updates about it.

Windows 10 Is Now Used On Nearly 700 Million Devices

At Build, Microsoft said that there are now nearly 700 million devices that are running Windows 10. This is up from about 500 million a year ago. Back in 2015, Microsoft set an ambitious goal of hitting 1 billion Windows 10 devices by 2018. However, it will most likely take at least another year to hit that goal.

Windows 10 Timeline For Android And iOS Coming


The Windows 10 Timeline feature will be added to Android and iOS as part of the Launcher and Edge apps. Specifically, the Timeline feature will be built into the Edge app on iOS and the Launcher app for Android. The Timeline feature allows you to pull up a task or a file that you were working on in the past as long as you are connected to your Microsoft Account.

Better Revenue Share For Developers

At the Build conference, Microsoft said that later this year, developers of consumer apps (with the exception of games) in the Microsoft Store will receive 95% of the revenueearned from the app and in-app sales when a customer uses a deep link to get to and purchase the app. And when Microsoft delivers developers a customer through other methods like a collection on the Microsoft Store or any other Microsoft properties, 85% of the revenue will be paid out.

“The new fee structure is applicable to purchases made on Windows 10 PCs, Windows Mixed Reality, Windows Phone and Surface Hub devices and excludes purchases on Xbox consoles,” said Microsoft in a blog post.

Your Phone App

Microsoft Your Phone feature

Microsoft is releasing a new app called Your Phone. The Your Phone app will mirror what you see on your phone to your PC. This will allow Windows 10 users to interact with text messages, photos and notifications on their Windows 10 devices.

It’s worth mentioning that the features will vary depending on whether you have an iOS or Android device. Since Android has less restrictions, Microsoft will be able to mirror more Android features to Windows 10 devices. And the Your Phone app will be tested with Windows Insiders this week and is expected to be released to the public in the fall.

The Return Of The Kinect


The Microsoft Kinect is returning, but it will be used for Azure rather than the Xbox in this iteration. The Kinect for Xbox was suspended in 2017. Project Kinect for Azure will have a next-generation depth camera and a processor designed for handling artificial intelligence.

Specifically, it can be used for robotic guidance systems, tracking movements in office buildings and retail stores and handling facial recognition reports Business Insider.

In 2011, Microsoft attempted to bring Kinect to the enterprise. But it did not resonate with businesses at the time. In this iteration, Microsoft is emphasizing edge computing for Project Kinect for Azure, which processes a substantial amount of data before it is backed up to the cloud.

Project Kinect for Azure unlocks countless new opportunities to take advantage of Machine Learning, Cognitive Services and IoT Edge. We envision that Project Kinect for Azure will result in new AI solutions from Microsoft and our ecosystem of partners, built on the growing range of sensors integrating with Azure AI services,” wrote Microsoft’s Alex Kipman. “I cannot wait to see how developers leverage it to create practical, intelligent and fun solutions that were not previously possible across a raft of industries and scenarios.”

Project Ink Analysis

Microsoft announced Project Ink Analysis at the Build conference. This feature transcribes digitally written notes into text. And this tool is able to understand the words, bullet points and alignment.

Microsoft Excel: Custom JavaScript Functions And BI Visuals

Today Microsoft is launching several features to Excel, including Azure Machine Learning and custom JavaScript functions. Developers will be able to build new data visualizations in Excel through support for Power BI Custom Visuals. And with support for Azure Machine Learning, Excel users will be able to utilize machine learning models created by Microsoft’s data scientists.


“Machine Learning functions can be created by AI developers, including data scientists and other experts. The functions are each based on a service that calculates or predicts values with a machine learning model,” said Microsoft in a blog post. “Once the model is deployed, the creators can enable it for anyone they choose. Within a company, administrators can configure who has access to which proprietary functions. Then, every time someone wants to run the function, they simply type in a cell, just like for any other Excel function. The function calls a live web service on the company’s Azure subscription and returns the result asynchronously.”

JS custom functions for Excel is available now in Developer preview to Office 365 subscribers who are enrolled in the Office Insiders program. And Azure Machine Learning functions and Power BI Custom Visuals will be rolling out in preview soon.

Speech Devices SDK

Microsoft has announced that it will be launching a software development kit (SDK) for audio processing called Speech Devices. Support for noise cancellation and far-field voice recognition will be included in the SDK. So this could help in building applications involving a variety of voice scenarios including noisy conditions.

$25 Million Commitment For AI For Accessibility

Microsoft President Brad Smith said that only one in 10 people with disabilities have access to assistive technology. To addresses this problem, Microsoft has announced that it is investing $25 million as part of a five-year AI for Accessibility project.

The AI for Accessibility program will provide grants to developers, NGOs and universities. To receive a grant, the projects must emphasize on creating solutions that creates new ways to assist people with disabilities with life, work and human connections. Microsoft will also provide resources to help that project scale.

Azure IoT Edge

At the Build conference, Microsoft announced that Azure IoT Edge — which is a set of tools that facilitates artificial intelligence for IoT devices — will be updated with several new features. And Azure IoT Edge will gain support for Microsoft Cognitive Services APIs. Plus Azure IoT Edge runtime is being open sourced so developers can customize deployments.

Qualcomm Partnership


Microsoft has partnered with Qualcomm for launching an artificial intelligence developer kit for “on-device inferencing on the edge.” The first version of the kit will revolve around camera-based solutions.

“This vision AI developer kit brings all the key hardware and software required to develop camera-based IoT solutions using Azure IoT Edge and Azure Machine Learning—helping developers deliver the next generation of AI-enabled robotics, industrial safety, retail, home and enterprise security cameras, smart home devices, and more,” said Microsoft in a blog post.

GitHub Partnership

Visual Studio App Center

Microsoft has announced it has partnered with GitHub to bring the Visual Studio App Center to the GitHub marketplace. The Visual Studio App Center is a mobile app development solution for developers to create Windows, macOS, Android and iOS apps.

The Visual Studio App Center automates the building, testing and monitoring Swift, Java, Xamarin, C#, Objective-C and Reactive Native apps in one place. And developers that utilize GitHub will be able to automate processes from within the code repository service.

DJI Partnership

Microsoft and DJI announced a strategic partnership at the Build event today. As part of the partnership, Microsoft Azure is now its preferred cloud computing partner. Azure will be used for analyzing video data captured by DJI drones.

And DJI is releasing a software development kit (SDK) for Windows. The companies will offer commercial drone solutions with Azure IoT Edge and AI technologies to many verticals. And the two companies are already working together on Microsoft FarmBeats, which is an AI service for farmers.

“As computing becomes ubiquitous, the intelligent edge is emerging as the next technology frontier,” said Microsoft EVP of the Cloud and Enterprise Group Scott Guthrie. “DJI is the leader in commercial drone technology, and Microsoft Azure is the preferred cloud for commercial businesses. Together, we are bringing unparalleled intelligent cloud and Azure IoT capabilities to devices on the edge, creating the potential to change the game for multiple industries spanning agriculture, public safety, construction and more.”

Azure Bot Service

The Azure Bot Service is known for providing developers with tools for building and deploying bots across applications like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Skype and Messenger. Over 100 new features have been added to the Azure Bot Service based around bots, speech and translation.

Preview Of Project Brainwave

Today Microsoft announced a preview launch of the Project Brainwave hardware architecture for accelerating real-time AI calculations. “The Project Brainwave architecture is deployed on a type of computer chip from Intel called a field programmable gate array, or FPGA, to make real-time AI calculations at competitive cost and with the industry’s lowest latency, or lag time,” said Microsoft’s Allison Linn. “This is based on internal performance measurements and comparisons to other organization’s publicly posted information.”

IntelliCode

Microsoft announced a new developer tool for Visual Studio called IntelliCode. IntelliCode helps developers improve productivity by recommending the most likely API. This reduces the amount of keystrokes required for completing lines of code.

“IntelliCode is a set of AI-assisted capabilities that improve developer productivity with features like contextual IntelliSense, inference and enforcement for code styles, and focused reviews for your pull requests (PRs.),” said Microsoft in a blog post.

Microsoft Layout

Microsoft Layout is a new mixed reality tool that will enable designers to visualize spaces using the HoloLens or another VR headset. And Layout can be used for defining floor plans and move around 3D models using the VR headset.

Microsoft Pay Arrives On Outlook


Microsoft Pay in Outlook

At Build, Microsoft said that the Microsoft Pay platform will be integrated into Outlook. So when you receive an invoice in an email and you use Outlook to read it, you will be able to pay the bill directly without having to leave the email platform. This feature will appear in the form of an Adaptive Card on the right-hand side of Outlook.

Some of the third party companies that will have Microsoft Pay integrated into its platforms first include Stripe, Braintree, Zuora, FreshBooks, Intuit and Xero.

Outlook Gets A Major Update

Microsoft has updated the Outlook email service with several new features. Here is a breakdown of some of the new features that will be added to Outlook.

Bill Pay Reminders

Bill pay reminders service on Outlook.com

In Outlook Calendar, Microsoft has added a bill pay reminder feature to automatically track your related events. “Outlook will identify bills you receive in email, show you a summary at the top, and automatically add a calendar event on the due date. You will also receive an email reminder two days before the due date so you can always pay your bills on time,” said the Outlook team in a blog post.

Suggested Event Locations And Meeting Rooms

Outlook will start offering suggestions for your meeting locations before you start typing. This will be based on recently used and available conference rooms and other common locations like your office.

For public locations, Outlook will add the full address to your Outlook calendar event. And Outlook for iOS will use your current location, your destination address and it will send you traffic updates with suggestions on when it is time to leave.

Meeting RSVP Tracking/Forwarding


Meeting RSVP tracking feature

Outlook now allows users to see the tracked responses and RSVPs for your meetings. This will make it easier for invited attendees to manage their time and decide “if they should attend based on the plans of others.” This means you will know who’s going in order to save time if you decide the meeting can be addressed by other teammates who are planning to attend.

However, if you plan to attend a meeting that has tight controls of the attendee list, Outlook can allow or prevent the forwarding of calendar invitations. You can find this under the Response Options and then select New Meeting and check/uncheck Allow Forwarding. This will be coming soon for Outlook for Windows and Outlook on the web.

Response options on Outlook

Plus Outlook has adjusted the tracking of RSVPs for meetings with large attendee lists. And if you use a distribution list to reach over 500 recipients, Outlook will now track the responses for everyone individually. And you can update the details for the large meetings any time changes are necessary outside of the Office 365 email and calendar recipient maximum of 500. This feature is available across all versions of Outlook.

Multiple Time Zones

Sometimes you may find yourself switching between multiple time zones so Outlook has been updated with the ability to define the start and end times of appointments and meetings across the zones. For example, you can set up a travel event in one time zone and the arrival time in the time zone of the destination. And in the main calendar grid, it can now show multiple time zones in Outlook.

You can add up to three time zones under File > Options > Calendar Time Zones. And in Outlook for Mac, you can add one additional time zone under Outlook > Preferences > Calendar Time Zones. On Outlook on the web, click the Time Zone drop-down arrow in the Calendar meeting invite to add an additional time zone.

Outlook is also now adding organization directory details to your Outlook contact information. This makes it easier to learn who does what at your company. And if your company data is connected to Azure Active Directory, you will be able to see who your contact reports to and the chain of command in the company along with other colleagues they work with the most.

Outlook’s organization directory details feature

When you tap search in the Outlook mobile app, you can quickly identify your key contact, open the contact card and view the organizational details. This feature is available in Outlook for iOS.

Coming Soon For Outlook For Android And iOS


Syncing Draft Folders: Microsoft is adding the ability to draft a message in Outlook on one device and finish it on other devices. This feature is expected to arrive on Outlook for iOS later this month. And it is already available in Outlook for Windows, Mac and Android.

Office Lens In Outlook For Android: Microsoft added a new photo icon to Outlook which activates the Office Lens feature. This makes it easier to capture the content written on whiteboards, photos and documents. To use the feature, you simply need to start a new message in Outlook and touch the photo icon to capture the whiteboard, document and photo to get an enhanced image embedded in your email message. This feature is coming to Outlook for Android later this month.

Quick Replies: Microsoft is making it easier to respond quickly in Outlook. When you keep your message content in view, you will notice a new reply box at the bottom of the screen with suggested responses. This feature is coming to Outlook for Android later this month and to Outlook for Mac later this summer. Currently, this feature is already available in Outlook for iOS.

Favorite People: Microsoft is soon going to add the ability to tag your favorite people in Outlook. This should make contacting those people much more efficient similar to how people add their contacts to a favorites section on their mobile devices. And this feature will be added to Outlook for Android and iOS in June 2018.

Ability To Block External Content: Sometimes the images embedded in emails may have content that lets the sender know that you have opened the email. This feature is generally used by digital marketers. If you do not want to be tracked, then Outlook can prevent this by blocking the external content. This feature is coming to Outlook for Android in May 2018.

Additional Features

To block direct access to the internet from mobile devices, some companies have been using proxies. Outlook now supports companies that use SOCKS proxies for an added level of protection between company data and the internet. This is available in Outlook for Android and iOS.

And there is a new BCC warning feature. “Outlook protects you if you reply to that message by alerting you that you were blind copied—you might choose not to reply to everyone on the recipient list but only reply to the sender, with all due respect,” added the Outlook team in the announcement. This feature is available in Outlook for Windows.

Minecraft Aquatic Will Be The Last Update For Older Consoles

Minecraft Aquatic Update

Mojang, the company behind Minecraft, announced that Aquatic will be the last update for older consoles. And new versions of Minecraft on Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch will be available with Aquatic included going forward.

“Arriving a little while after the initial launch, players on PlayStation 4 Edition, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PS Vita and Wii U will all receive the Update Aquatic. With the exception of PlayStation 4 Edition, this will mark the last big effort to keep those editions up to date with our newer versions of the game,” wrote Mojang’s staff in an announcement. “Although we’d love to keep bringing new content to all our players forever, the older generation of consoles now make up less than 5% of our active players, so we’ve made the difficult decision to focus our efforts to support players where they play Minecraft the most and where we plan to add new features: on Java, PlayStation 4 Edition and the versions of Minecraft made with the Bedrock Engine on other consoles, mobile, and Windows 10.”

Fix Being Worked On For Chrome And Cortana Bug


According to The Register, Microsoft is actively working on a fix to a bug in the Windows 10 April 2018 Update that caused “Hey Cortana” and Google Chrome to no longer function properly. For the time being, Microsoft is suggesting users to try pressing the Windows logo key + Ctrl + Shift + B to wake up the screen and to open/close the lid for laptops as a temporary fix.

Developers at Intel and Google are also trying to find a way to fix the bug as well. Intel developer Yang Gu suggested that this problem appears to specifically affect consumers using Windows 10 (version 1803) with Intel Kabylake (HD 620 and 630) chips.

Hopefully, a fix should be ready by the time Patch Tuesday happens tomorrow.

Improved Screenshot Tool Coming To Windows 10

Screen Sketch for Windows

According to The Verge, a new update to Windows 10 will include a better screenshot feature. This is being done by taking the Screen Sketch feature — which was previously bundled with Windows Ink — and making it a separate app that can take screenshots.

Microsoft is also making Windows key + shift + S the keyboard shortcut for pulling up a select tool to take screenshots, which gets added to the clipboard. The app will show a notification for annotating and sharing the screenshot. And you can replace the print screen button on the keyboard with that feature.

And Microsoft will also make some minor changes to the Fluent Design in the build (17661). For example, the Task View area of the Windows 10 Timeline feature will have a blur effect that matches other effects in the Windows 10 April 2018 Update. The Focus Assist feature will also automatically become enabled when you are playing a game in full screen. Plus Microsoft is making improvements to High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) support in File Explorer.

1 Billion Hours Of Xbox One Backward Compatibility Logged

Last week, Microsoft announced that Xbox One players have logged nearly 1 billion hours of original Xbox and Xbox 360 games through the backwards compatibility program. This is up from 508 million hours in June 2017. And about half of all Xbox One owners have used the feature.

Some of the other milestones that Microsoft announced in the blog post include an increase of 13% Xbox Live players year-over-year, Xbox One sales increasing 15% year-over-year, over 600,000 friendships being made with the Looking For Group feature, over 1.2 million Clubs on Xbox Live, over 200 games enhanced for Xbox One X, players logging over 4 billion hours of ID@Xbox games and Mixer hitting over 10 million active users.

Digital Summer Camps For Kids At Stores

Last week, Forbes contributor Anna Powers published an article about how Microsoft is introducing free digital summer camps for kids ages 8 and up at its stores. Microsoft’s stores in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada are going to host five curriculums for students. The camps will be taking place between May until the end of August. Parents and teachers are also encouraged to participate in the camps as well.

The topics at the digital summer camps will range between charity fundraising, coding, movie editing and robotics. And the camps are designed to be in short intervals with two-hour sessions and a total of 1-4 sessions per camps.

The summer camp will also allow kids to try out Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Program. Through the program, kids will be able to learn how to create characters and develop a storyline.

Patent For Device With Hinged And Bendable Displays

Microsoft has applied for a patent that features the design of a device with a bendable display that would facilitate it to be folded like a book, according to TechRepublic. To make this design work, Microsoft wrote that the edges closest to the hinge would naturally curve.


And to address the curves in the elements on the display, Microsoft would integrate an image-correcting feature. “The image-correcting layer is configured to transmit light released from the flat face portion of the display matrix and to reorient light released from curved corner portion such that the transmitted light and the reoriented light exit the image-correcting later substantially parallel forming an apparent plane image of pixel series,” says the patent application.

Steve Ballmer Sells Twitter Stake, Keeps Microsoft Shares

Former Microsoft CEO, LA Clippers owner and USAFacts founder Steve Ballmer has sold all of his shares in Twitter, but it is not because of his thoughts on the future of the company, according to CNBC. Ballmer had purchased a 4% stake of Twitter at more than $25 per share. That was about the same amount of stake Ballmer had in Microsoft.

“I sold really because I decided investing money is not my business,” said Ballmer via CNBC. “I’m in index funds, I’m in Microsoft — it keeps my life simpler.” But Ballmer said he was still bullish about Twitter in the long run.

Ballmer had also told Bloomberg that he believes Microsoft has a solid position on data privacy and cloud initiatives. Ballmer was also asked his stance on Google. And Ballmer said that he believes that Google’s power in Europe “is out of control.” Ballmer said that he believes Google should be “regulated to permit competition.” And Ballmer said that he had the same opinion when he worked at Microsoft and now.

Currently, Ballmer also runs a philanthropic organization called the Ballmer Group along with his wife Connie. And USAFacts recently held a “shareholder meeting” for the American taxpayers to coincide with its second annual report.

Chairman John Thompson Joins Lightspeed As Venture Partner

Microsoft Chairman John Thompson has joined Lightspeed as a Venture Partner. Thompson had succeeded Bill Gates as the chairman at Microsoft and was instrumental in selecting Satya Nadella as CEO of the company. Thompson is also on the boards of Rubrik and Illumina.

Thompson was previously CEO of a startup called Virtual Instruments (VI), which was funded by Lightspeed. And before VI, Thompson worked as the CEO of Symantec for 10 years where he took the company from $600 million in revenue to $6 billion. And before Symantec, Thompson worked at IBM for 28 years.