Crap artists rejoice! MS Paint is getting a last-minute reprieve

Who needs Aurich's artistic talents, anyway?

Enlarge / Who needs Aurich’s artistic talents, anyway? (credit: Peter Bright)

Long, long ago, Microsoft quietly announced that it was going to remove the venerable mspaint.exe from Windows 10. The app was listed as deprecated, indicating intent to remove it in a future Windows 10 update, and the app itself was even updated to warn users that it was going to be removed from Windows in a future release.

Microsoft said that Paint would still be installable from the Store, but it was no longer going to be included by default. The app was even updated to include a “Product alert” button on its ribbon that, when clicked, showed a message box to warn that Paint would soon be moving to the Store. Paint’s role would be filled by the new Paint 3D application, which contains most Paint features, as well as lots of 3D things.

But there’s good news. The very latest builds of the Windows 10 May 2019 Update have removed the “Product alert” button, and Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc has confirmed that Paint will in fact continue to be shipped with Windows 10. You won’t need to get it from the Store. As such, there will be nothing standing between Windows users and terrible artwork.

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Windows 10’s “Sets” tabbed windows will never see the light of day

Microsoft's inspiration, evidently.

Enlarge / Microsoft’s inspiration, evidently. (credit: Jerry / Flickr)

For two periods last year, those using preview builds of Windows 10 could access to a feature called Sets: a tabbed interface that was eventually to allow tabs to be put in the titlebar of just about any window. These tabs would allow both multiple copies of the same application to be combined—a tabbed Explorer or Command Prompt, say—and multiple disparate windows to be grouped—combining, say, a browser window containing research with the Word window. However, both times the feature was enabled only for a few weeks, so Microsoft could gather data, before disabling it. Sets aren’t in the Windows 10 May 2019 update.

It seems now that Sets are unlikely to ever materialize. Rich Turner, who oversees Microsoft’s revamping of the Windows command-line infrastructure and the Windows Subsystem for Linux tweeted that the interface “is no more.” Having everything tabbed everywhere isn’t going to happen. Adding tabs specifically for command-line windows is, however, “high on [Microsoft’s] to do list.”

There was initially some confusion that the tweet might have meant that some other system-wide approach to tabs was going to be used. But Turner clarified today that the command-line tabs will be purpose-built for command-line windows, not a general feature for the entire operating system.

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Now it’s Microsoft’s turn for an anti-diversity internal revolt

Now it’s Microsoft’s turn for an anti-diversity internal revolt

Enlarge (credit: Rory Finneren)

Some Microsoft employees are criticizing the company’s efforts to increase hiring from under-represented demographics to make its staff more diverse, according to messages leaked to Quartz.

Threads started by an as-yet unnamed female program manager and posted on the internal Yammer message board in January and April assert that white and Asian men are being penalized or overlooked because of hiring practices that reward managers for hiring people outside of those groups. (Quartz hasn’t named the employee who is apparently identified in the messages.) Further, the employee questions the value of diversity at all: “Many women simply aren’t cut out for the corporate rat race, so to speak, and that’s not because of ‘the patriarchy,’ it’s because men and women aren’t identical.” She follows up that it is “established fact” that the “specific types of thought process and problem solving required for engineering of all kinds (software or otherwise) are simply less prevalent among women,” and that women simply aren’t interested in engineering jobs.

Established fact?

Of course, these claims seemingly ignore troves of evidence showing how bias seeps into hiring and the workplace. Research has shown merely having a male name produces a more positive assessment of a job application, having a male presenter produces more positive reactions to pitches, and that managers skew their judgement criteria so as to favor men. Software developers who don’t happen to be white and male are paid less than white men, and women, unlike men, are viewed negatively when they attempt to negotiate higher pay.

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Latest Windows patch having problems with a growing number of anti-virus software

This is a colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion. (Cynthia Goldsmith)

Enlarge / This is a colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of an Ebola virus virion. (Cynthia Goldsmith) (credit: CDC)

The most recent Windows patch, released April 9, seems to have done something (still to be determined) that’s causing problems with anti-malware software. Over the last few days, Microsoft has been adding more and more anti-virus scanners to its list of known issues. At the time of writing, client-side anti-virus software from Sophos, Avira, ArcaBit, Avast, and most recently McAfee are all showing problems with the patch.

Affected machines seem to be fine until an attempt is made to log in, at which point the system grinds to a halt. It’s not immediately clear if systems are freezing altogether, or just going extraordinarily slowly. Some users have reported that they can log in, but the process takes ten or more hours. Logging in to Windows 7, 8.1, Server 2008 R2, Server 2012, and Server 2012 R2 are all affected.

Booting into safe mode is unaffected, and the current advice is to use this to disable the anti-virus applications and allow the machines to boot normally. Sophos additionally reports that adding the anti-virus software’s own directory to the list of excluded locations also serves as a fix, which is a little strange.

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Microsoft buys Express Logic, adds a third operating system to its IoT range

Different-colored rolls of thread are lined next to each other.

Enlarge / Multi-threading. (credit: Jamie Golden / Flickr)

Not content with having a Windows-based Internet of Things platform (Windows 10 IoT) and a Linux-based Internet of Things platform (Azure Sphere), Micrsoft has added a third option. The company has announced that it has bought Express Logic and its ThreadX real-time operating system for an undisclosed sum.

Real-time operating systems (RTOSes) differ from more conventional platforms in their predictability. With an RTOS, a developer can guarantee that, for example, interrupt handling or switching from one process to another takes a known, bounded amount of time. This gives applications strong guarantees that they’ll be able to respond in time to hardware events, timers, or other things that might make an application want to use the CPU. This predictability is essential for control applications; for example, ThreadX was used in NASA’s Deep Impact mission that hurled a large object at a comet. ThreadX was also used in the iPhone 4’s cellular radio controller, and ThreadX is embedded in the firmware of many Wi-Fi devices. These tasks need the determinism of an RTOS because there are timing constraints on how quickly they need to respond.

Linux can be built with various options to offer more predictable behavior and so can address some similar scenarios. But ThreadX has another big advantage up its sleeve: it’s tiny. A minimal ThreadX installation takes 2,000 bytes of storage and needs 1KB of RAM, far less than Linux can use. By way of comparison, Microsoft’s Sphere hardware (which uses a custom-designed ARM processor with various security features embedded) has 4MB of RAM for applications and 16MB of storage. There are an estimated 6.2 billion deployments of ThreadX running on several dozen different kinds of processor or microcontroller.

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50-inch Surface Hub 2S: $8,999, shipping in June; 85-inch version next year

50-inch Surface Hub 2S: $8,999, shipping in June; 85-inch version next year

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

First announced last year, Microsoft’s second-generation Surface Hub now has a price and release schedule—and a couple of new siblings, too.

Surface Hub is Microsoft’s hardware dedicated to collaboration within meetings. It combines several roles, most notably digital whiteboarding and video conferencing, with Teams, Skype, and OneNote built into a single combined, integrated package. The 50-inch 2S is only vaguely specified: it has a custom-built 3:2 aspect ratio 4K (3840×2560 with 10 bits per pixel) screen with embedded touch sensors that work with both pen and finger. Inside is an 8th-generation Core i5 (Microsoft offered no more specifics than that) with 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage; while that may seem miserly, the Surface Hub 2 software is designed so that it doesn’t store data locally, so 128GB should be abundant. To support video conferencing, it has an array of eight microphones, front-firing speakers, and a detachable 4K webcam. It will be available in the US from June, with other markets following, for a price of $8,999. One pen and one camera come in the box.

As we’ve come to expect from Microsoft, the screen looks great. It has a matte finish (reflections are too hard to avoid otherwise), so it doesn’t quite have the punch a gloss finish would get it, but it’s far better than many of the 1080p screens I’ve seen in offices around the world. Using techniques refined from building its portable Surface devices, the Hub 2’s display integrates the touch-sensing layers into the glass of the screen, a design that makes the screen itself much thinner and reduces the parallax error when using a pen (it was 3mm in the first generation, down to 1.7mm in this).

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Report: Microsoft is jumping onto the wireless earbud bandwagon

Microsoft's Surface Headphones. Its on-device dial controls are great. Battery life and noise-cancelling, not so much, for the price.

Enlarge / Microsoft’s Surface Headphones. Its on-device dial controls are great. Battery life and noise-cancelling, not so much, for the price. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

It appears that Microsoft is going to expand its range of audio hardware. Last year the company released the Surface Headphones, a pair of premium-priced wireless noise-cancelling headphones with integrated microphones. They will be joined by a set of wireless earbuds, according to a report by Brad Sams at Thurrott.com.

Apple’s AirPods have made wireless earbuds the must-have accessory. Amazon is expected to release its own Alexa-connected earbuds, and Samsung has its own Galaxy-branded earbuds. Distinguishing them from traditional earbuds, these all contain microphones so you can talk to Siri, Alexa, or Bixby. For Microsoft, Cortana would be an option, but it’s more likely that you’d be talking to Siri or Google Assistant, given Cortana’s diminishing presence.

Microsoft has shipped earbuds before: the Zune media player came with earbuds with a feature that sounds simple but is actually ingenious: the earbuds were magnetic and would stick together back to back. The result? Much less cable tangling when you put them in your pocket or bag. Surface Headphones seem to be competitive with other noise-cancelling over-the-ear headphones: their wireless range is great, the noise cancelling is solid, and their volume and noise-cancelling dials are a joy to use, but their battery life and Bluetooth audio standard support are both weak. As such, Microsoft is not totally without experience in this area and has shown that it can engineer thoughtful, compelling designs. How the putative earbuds will stand out from the crowd remains to be seen, of course.

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