Microsoft starts shipping Windows 10 mixed reality developer kits this month

Microsoft previously let us know that a range of its OEM partners with familiar names from the PC world would be building headsets that offer mixed reality experiences on Windows 10 hardware. The first of those, from Acer, will begin shipping out to developers this month, with a phased rollout that will see developer edition headsets continue to arrive at partner doorsteps throughout the next few months.

This is also the first we’ve heard of Windows Mixed Reality, which is the new branding for what Microsoft had previously been calling Windows Holographic, a moniker many pointed out wasn’t technically correct.

The plan from Microsoft is to seed these with devs so that it can get a good base layer of software ready for the eventual launch of its mixed reality OS integration across the Xbox One family of devices, including the forthcoming Scorpio Xbox successor, in 2018. It’s also going to be stepping up its efforts with mixed reality on Windows 10 on PCs, which is a core feature of the forthcoming Creators Update for Microsoft’s desktop OS.

Acer’s mixed reality headset will feature inside-out tracking, as will forthcoming devices from Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo, which means you won’t have to install external tracker devices in the room where you plan to use them in order for them to work. Instead, the headsets have all the sensors they need onboard to scan your surroundings, helping accurately track your movements for proper rendering of virtual objects.

 The Acer kit going out to developers starting today boasts two LCD screens with 1440×1440 resolution, with a 90Hz refresh rate. There’s also a 3.5 mm jack for both audio out and mic in, and the headset connects to the computer running Windows 10 via a single cable that incorporates both HDMI 2.0 and USB 3.0.

Mixed reality is probably going to prove a lot more interesting to a lot more people than virtual reality, if only because of the added potential it has to offer versatile new productivity tools for office and other workers. Of course, it’ll all depend on Microsoft building up a library of worthwhile, quality software, which is what this whole dev kit seed is all about.

Microsoft, Tata Motors Ink Technology Collaboration Deal

Tata Motors and Microsoft on Thursday announced a strategic collaboration on the technology front to make driving a more personalised and connected experience.

Microsoft, Tata Motors Ink Technology Collaboration Deal

The first vehicle showcasing the enhanced driving experiences will be unveiled at the Geneva International Motor show on March 7, the companies said.

This will be via Tata Motors’ user interface application and services suite utilising Microsoft-enabled functionalities such as advanced navigation, telematics and remote monitoring features, they said.

Announcing the partnership, Tata Motors Managing Director Guenter Butschek said the tie-up with Microsoft can create new revenue opportunities for the company as car-buyers increasingly look for value-added services. But he did not quantity the potential.

He said the programme will begin with its recently announced sub-brand TaMo but will gradually extended to the main Tata Motors branded passenger vehicles as well.

The companies did not share the commercial details of the partnership.

“Using the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, we will provide the vehicle owners here as well as across the world a safe, productive and fun-driving experience,” Anant Maheshwari, Microsoft India President, said at a press conference.

Maheshwari said Microsoft expects 90 percent of cars to be fully connected by 2020 and even today one-third of all car-buyers/owners want personalisation of his/her mobility experience.

Butschek said Tata Motors aims to enhance in-car connectivity and efficiency to provide an enriched mobile experience for its consumers with this option.

“We will leverage Microsoft’s connected vehicle technologies that bring together artificial intelligence, advanced machine learning, and the Internet of Things capabilities on the global hyper-scale Azure cloud, to traverse the digital and physical worlds and create a highly personalised, smart and safer driving experience across the digital life of a vehicle owner,” he said.

He said the company’s recently launched ring-fenced vertical, TaMo will act as an open platform to foster innovation through a startup ecosystem and develop vehicles with on-the-go connectivity.

“In the first phase, the advanced offerings will incorporate technologies such as cloud computing, analytics, geo-spatial and mapping and increased human-machine interface, creating a new benchmark in the industry for connected vehicles,” he added.

Earlier this month, Tata Motors announced a sub-brand TaMo with an aim to introduce new technology-equipped vehicles faster in its bid to regain the lost market share.

Microsoft Partners Intel for Project Evo; Outlines Hardware Plans to Complete With Amazon Echo, Google Home

Microsoft is reportedly working on a “Home Hub” feature for Windows 10 to allow users to perform various functions using voice commands. This feature is positioned to rival devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. In the meanwhile, Microsoft has partnered with Intel for ‘Project Evo’, what appears to be a move to lay the hardware groundwork for this feature and allow device makers to incorporate Home Hub in a tablet laptop, or even a PC.

Microsoft Partners Intel for Project Evo; Outlines Hardware Plans to Complete With Amazon Echo, Google HomeIn a blog post, Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, detailed the areas the companies would be working together on. These include far-field speech communications (allowing users to use Cortana across the room), security capabilities to protect devices from malware and hacking threats (including biometric authentication), mixed reality experiences, and gaming innovations.

Microsoft looks to give the device makers the freedom to incorporate the latest artificial intelligence with Cortana in the hardware that they desire. “Customers are device creators. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for wake on voice, devices with far-field voice capabilities, devices with small screens, large screens, and no screens at all,” explained Myerson, in an interview with The Verge.
Microsoft doesn’t intend to make a hardware product similar to the Amazon Echo or Google Home, but just provide its device partners with the software ability to compete with them. This Home Hub feature should be able to listen to voice-based commands and perform tasks, support wake on voice and far-field speech communications, just like Amazon and Google’s AI assistants. This smart speaker’s feature will work on PCs, 2-in-1s, all-in-ones, and even tablets.

“From a platform perspective, our goal is to build this platform that provides a set of silicon options for these device creators, that allows them to choose the screen sizes they’re choosing, and allows them to decide whether they want touch or not, support pen or not. So they can pursue their own vision of what the ideal device is,” Myerson told the publication.
The Home Hub feature is not expected to launch before late next year. It is supposed to extend to Android and iOS devices as well, via the Cortana app. Microsoft is reportedly already in talks with hardware partners like Lenovo and HP to product Home Hub specific hardware. The new hardware that’s fully compatible with Home Hub may include light and motion sensors as well, that switches off the device when no-one is in the room.

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Finally, in what definitely seems like a step towards Home Hub, the latest Insider Preview build of Windows 10 (build 14986) brings the ability to use Cortana to switch off your PC via voice commands. The Verge reports that Cortana can also be used to put the PC to sleep, or restart it, apart from locking the PC, and changing system volume. The update lets Cortana change tracks in some music streaming services like iHeartRadio and TuneInRadio, when the PC is locked. Two other Cortana based features are the abilities to ask which song is playing, and bring up a view optimised for distance viewing if users say “Hey Cortana” when the PC is idle for more than 10 seconds.

Microsoft to Tailor Windows 10 for the Chinese Government

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Microsoft is forming a joint-venture in China to tailor a version of its new Windows 10 computer operating system for use by the Chinese government.

“We’re announcing a new joint venture that will license, deploy, manage and optimize Windows 10 for China’s government agencies and certain state owned enterprises and provide ongoing support and services for these customers,” Microsoft executive Yusuf Mehdi said in an online post late Wednesday.

If the joint-venture succeeds, state-owned enterprises cleared to buy Windows 10 would include key infrastructure fields such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation, according to Mehdi.

The joint venture, tentatively called C&M Information Technologies, is being created in a partnership with state-owned China Electronics Technology Group and will be based in Beijing, Microsoft said.

The venture will need clearance from regulators. Windows 10 is not currently allowed on Chinese government computers.

Cyber defense and reliability will be among features that would be tailored to suit the Chinese government. Making it onto the list of approved vendors means agencies there could buy Windows 10, but would not be required to do so.

“It’s common for governments to look to specialty technology partner organizations to deploy technology at scale, and this venture signals the possibility for new opportunities for Windows 10 in the many government entities in China,” Mehdi said.

The venture is significant for Microsoft, which is keen to grow in the China market but has been vexed by software piracy, as well as a ban last year on the use of Windows 8 on government computers.

Microsoft boasted that hundreds of millions of computers in China are powered by Windows software, and that it has been encouraging upgrades to the latest version through partnerships with local technology titans Baidu, Tencent, Qihoo 360, and Lenovo.

Microsoft Will Support Windows 10 Mobile Till January 2018

If you’re planning to purchase a Windows 10 Mobile smartphone or thinking of upgrading your existingWindows Phone handset to the new software version, you should know that Microsoft has committed to support the operating system until 2018.

Over at its product lifecycle page, the company has made available the date till which it plans to offer upgrades and security patches to its mobile operating system. As per which, Windows 10 Mobile for Business, Windows 10 Mobile for Consumer users are covered till January 9, 2018.

For years, Microsoft sold Windows operating system as a product. Windows 10, which it released earlier this year, is a service, however. The company has previously noted that Windows 10 will be the last version of Windows. It will be interesting to see how it goes about Windows 10 Mobile.

“Microsoft will make updates available for the Operating System, including security updates, for a minimum of 24 months after the lifecycle start date. These updates will be incremental, with each update built on the update that preceded it. Customers need to install each update in order to remain supported,” the description reads.

“The distribution of these incremental updates may be controlled by the mobile operator or the phone manufacturer from which you purchased your phone, and installation will require that your phone have any prior updates. Update availability will also vary by country, region, and hardware capabilities.”

As for other versions, Windows Phone 8.1, which the company rolled out last year will be supported till June 24, 2014. Mainstream support for Windows Phone 7.8 ended last year. All Windows Phone 8 handsets are eligible to get Windows Phone 8.1 firmware update. Windows Phone 8.1 handsets with at least 8GB of internal storage will support Windows 10 Mobile.

Media reports this week mentioned January 8, 2019 as the end of support date for Windows 10 Mobile. However, the official page now states it as January 9, 2018, essentially reducing the lifecycle from 36 months to 24 months. It is not known why Microsoft has updated the page.

Microsoft Office Productivity Bundle

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Microsoft Launches Cloud Services Powered by Datacenters in India

Redmond-based technology major Microsoft on Tuesday launched its public cloud services from local data centres which will aid business and organisations to fuel inclusive growth and spur innovation.

As part of the new launch, Microsoft will inaugurate three data centres – Chennai, Pune and Mumbai – in the country. The new centres will start operations after the facility is inaugurated by the respective state chief ministers – J Jayalalithaa and Devendra Fadnavis – on Tuesday.

“Governments, large businesses, small and medium businesses (SMBs) and citizens can use the massive computing power now available locally to fuel India’s inclusive growth, spur innovation and accelerate digital transformation,” Tyler Bryson, general manager, marketing and operations, Microsoft India, said.

“More organisations and governments will adopt the public cloud which will open up more opportunities for Microsoft,” he added explaining the launch.

Market research firm Gartner claims that the public cloud market will be at $838 million (roughly Rs. 5,527 crores) by end of 2015, an increase of 33 percent over 2014, and finally reach $2 billion (roughly Rs. 13,193 crores) by 2018.

It also adds that the Indian government spending will go up to $6.88 billion (roughly Rs. 44,856 crores) by end of 2015, an increase of 5.2 percent over 2014.

The research firm also said that more than 60 percent of all banks will process majority of their transactions on the cloud.

A public cloud is based on the standard cloud computing model, in which a service provider makes resources, such as applications and storage, available to the general public over the internet. Public cloud services may be free or offered on a pay-per-usage model.

The cloud services launched includes Microsoft Azure services, dynamics customer relationship management (CRM) online suite and Office 365. “While Office 365 services are slated for availability in October 2015, dynamics CRM online services will follow in the first half of 2016,” Tyler said.

Microsoft Launches ‘Keyboard for Excel’ App for Android Tablets

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Microsoft on Thursday launched an app called Keyboard for Excel on Google Play for Android 4.0 and higher tablet devices. As yet, the app is restricted to users in the US, and Microsoft notes that “this is an experimental keyboard that supports only English characters without auto-correct and gesture typing.”As the name suggests, Keyboard for Excel (download) is specifically optimised for users to efficiently work on Excel projects. The app is a Microsoft Garage project that provides a 10-key number layout (or numpad) on the right side of the keyboard along with a ‘Tab’ key on the left, just like the full-size physical keyboard.Not just that, the Keyboard for Excel app also includes Microsoft Excel operators prioritised in the keyboard layout for quick turnaround. The keyboard can also work like any other third party keyboard on Android tablet. and not just within the Excel app.

Earlier than this, the Microsoft Garage project behind the Keyboard for Excel app had launched two interesting lock-screen apps called the Next Lock Screen and Picturesque Lock Screen for Android devices.

The Picturesque Lock Screen app was launched earlier this month, whereas the Next Lock Screen was launched in January.

The highlight of the Picturesque Lock Screen app is that it can change images (choosing from the past 6 days of Bing home pages) with just a shake of the phone or by swiping to the right.

Both apps -the Next Lock Screen and Picturesque Lock Screen – allow users to access missed call notifications, text messages and also the search function directly from the lock screen without unlocking the phone, a stock feature found only in Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher devices.