Microsoft will have game streaming within 3 years as focus shifts to software

Enlarge / A lot of tech packed into this svelte box. (credit: Kyle Orland)

Microsoft is renewing its focus on Xbox software and services, according to Xbox chief Phil Spencer speaking to Bloomberg.

The company’s original ambition for the Xbox One spanned not just gaming but also a wide range of TV and media capabilities, coupled with a Steam-like download-based distribution model. Sony, in contrast, focused squarely on gaming and had somewhat more powerful hardware to boot. The reaction from the gaming community to Microsoft’s plans was hostile, and, while the company backtracked both on the media focus and the move away from physical media, the Xbox One has consistently trailed the PlayStation 4’s sales.

Microsoft’s position was further weakened by a shortage of first-party, exclusive titles. As Nintendo has demonstrated over the years, a solid stable of first-party titles can go a long way toward overcoming hardware weaknesses. But rather than expanding its development efforts, Microsoft has done the reverse: last year it shuttered UK developer Lionhead and Danish developer Press Play.

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Team Xbox dishes on the new One X, fields our ridiculous requests

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REDMOND, Wash.—Ahead of Xbox One X‘s November 7 launch, Ars Technica was invited to hang out at the company’s Xbox campus and chat with one of the console’s leading managers. With this opportunity in mind, we grabbed a camera crew and asked as many questions of Kevin Gammill, the Xbox division’s “core platform group program manager,” as we could.

For the most part, we stuck with questions about the past, present, and future of the Xbox One X console, which the company is positioning as a current-gen “upgrade” option. Team Xbox wants players to feel comfortable that their games will work on any Xbox they buy from here on out, whether that’s the more budget-minded Xbox One S or the brand-new, $500 Xbox One X. The more expensive option has its merits, particularly 4K-friendly updates (which are significantly less than an equivalent PC) for those with such a TV. But we took the opportunity to ask questions about concerns we ran into during our tests.

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The last official way to get a free Windows 10 upgrade is ending soon

Microsoft’s initial announcement of the upgrade offer, way back in January 2015. (credit: Microsoft)

For the first year of its availability, Microsoft offered a free upgrade to Windows 10 for users of non-enterprise versions of Windows 7 and 8. For most people, that scheme ended last July, but one group of Windows users continued to be eligible for a free upgrade even after that cut-off point: those using assistive technology such as screen readers, Braille screens, or other usability aids.

At the time, there was no end-date for when those users would have to upgrade. But now, as spotted by Ed Bott, there is: December 31, 2017. After then, even users of assistive technology won’t be eligible for a free upgrade.

What that means in practice, however, is less than clear. The limitations of the upgrade offer have never been meaningfully enforced. Paul Thurrott has been testing the ability to perform clean installations of Windows 10 (using the media creation tools from Microsoft) with Windows 7 or Windows 8 license keys, and this continues to work even with the latest Fall Creators Update. There’s no verification that you’re actually using assistive technology or anything like that; you can just enter the key, and the software installs and activates normally.

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There’s now a really nice Windows phone available on Verizon, and I’m not sure why

HP Elite x3 (credit: HP)

Early in 2016, HP announced the Elite X3, a high-end Windows 10 Mobile phone that was, well, actually really nice. A then-current Snapdragon 820, 4GB RAM, dual SIM, 6 inch 2560×1400 AMOLED screen, iris and fingerprint recognition, Qi and PMA wireless charging, waterproof, 16MP rear and 8MP front cameras: it was the kind of thing flagships are made of.

HP was aiming the phone at corporate customers, but there was a sticking point; it didn’t support CDMA, which meant it wasn’t compatible with Verizon’s legacy 3G network (though LTE service areas would have been fine). With Verizon having an estimated 50 percent of the corporate phone market, this was a big problem. While Windows Phone 8 had CDMA support, its successor, Windows 10 Mobile, did not—part of the fallout of the Nokia layoffs. This meant that even though phones like the X3 and Lumia 950 and 950 XL had the right radio hardware in their Qualcomm processors to work on Verizon’s network, they were in practice restricted to T-Mobile and AT&T, the US’s GSM carriers.

But even though Microsoft is no longer developing new features for Windows 10 Mobile, it turns out that for whatever reason, someone at Redmond has been busying themselves with writing CDMA support. And lo, it’s actually shipped: the Microsoft Store now has a Verizon version of the x3.

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HoloLens availability expanded as Microsoft continues pushing it to industry

HoloLens Development Edition. (credit: Microsoft)

Much of the interest around augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) has focused on consumers and, in particular, gaming, but if those technologies are to become a significant and sustained part of the computing landscape, these things probably need to find markets beyond entertainment. Microsoft has been pushing its HoloLens AR headset as an enterprise product, and today the company greatly expanded its availability.

Previously available in ten countries, Microsoft has added a further 29 European markets, bringing HoloLens to 39 countries in total.

While the headset remains priced far out of reach of consumers, Redmond is championing it as a device with a wide range of industrial applications. Ford, for example, is using HoloLens headsets to improve its design process, allowing modifications of both its clay models and real cars to be viewed and modified on the fly, without having to re-sculpt or rebuild anything. ThyssenKrupp has trialled equipping the technicians that service the elevators that the company builds with HoloLens headsets. They can use the headsets to show engineers the faults they’re trying to diagnose, and likewise those engineers can annotate the physical infrastructure in front of them to highlight problem areas and guide maintenance and repairs—and all while leaving the technician’s hands free.

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Surface Pro with 450Mbps LTE launching December 1, starting at $1,149

Enlarge / Surface Pro with a Cobalt Blue Type Cover.

Microsoft already let slip most of the details of the Surface Pro with LTE back in September at its Ignite conference, but today at an event in London, Panos Panay, vice president of Microsoft Devices, formally launched the device and filled in a few of the remaining details.

The Surface Pro with LTE Advanced takes two configurations of the 2017 Surface Pro—both Core i5, one with 4GB RAM and 128GB storage, the other with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage—and adds to them a Category 9 LTE Advanced modem. Given a suitable phone network to connect to, this can offer up to 450Mbps download speed. It supports 20 different radio bands, and as such should support LTE connectivity in most countries, provided that a suitable SIM is installed. Microsoft insists that LTE battery life will be substantially identical to that when using Wi-Fi, so as long as you’re only using one kind of connectivity at a time, there shouldn’t be any real impact from

The LTE versions are being squarely positioned at business customers and what Microsoft calls a “new culture of work;” in particular, the company estimates that by 2020 some half of all workers will be mobile, to a greater or lesser degree, working not just in an office but at home, in airports, cafés, customer sites, or beyond. Even today, Wi-Fi connectivity is neither as ubiquitous nor as reliable as one might like (and security concerns about Wi-Fi in places like cafés and hotels will always be with us), and integrated LTE bridges that gap.

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Microsoft cans Outlook.com Premium as it rolls its features into Office 365

Enlarge (credit: Alexander Savin)

Microsoft is shaking up its consumer-oriented e-mail offerings, further improving the value of its Office 365 subscriptions as it continues to push customers away from perpetual licenses.

Features formerly part of the Outlook.com Premium scheme, an annual subscription to Microsoft’s consumer e-mail and calendaring service, are now rolled into the Office 365 Home and Personal subscriptions. But there’s a downside to this: Outlook.com Premium is being discontinued (as spotted by Paul Thurrott). At least for now, that service includes features not found in Office 365 Home or Personal.

Consumer editions of Office 365, unlike their corporate counterparts, don’t come with an Exchange account for e-mail. Rather, Microsoft’s consumer e-mail solution is Outlook.com, an ad-supported free-mail provider. Separately from Office 365, Microsoft also sold Outlook.com Premium. This removed the ads, increased the size of your inbox, and allowed the use of Outlook.com mail with a custom domain name.

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