Category Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft Edge Now Provides Auto-Generated Image Labels



Accessibility is extremely important. Microsoft appears to understand that. The company announced that Microsoft Edge will now provide auto-generated alt text for images that do not include it. Auto-generated alt text helps users of assistive technology, such as screen readers discover the meaning or intent of images on the web.

Many people who are blind or low vision experience the web primarily through a screen reader; an assistive technology that reads the content of each page aloud. Screen readers depend on having image labels (alternative text or “alt text”) provided that allows them to describe visual content – like images and charts, so the user can understand the full context of the page.

Microsoft points out that alt text is critical to making the web accessible, yet it is often overlooked. According to Microsoft, their data suggests that more than half of the images processed by screen readers are missing alt text.

To make this easier on everyone, Microsoft Edge will now use automatic image descriptions. When a screen reader finds an image without a label, that image can be automatically processed by machine learning (ML) algorithms to describe the image in words or capture the text it contains. Microsoft notes that the algorithms are not perfect, and the quality of the descriptions will vary, but for users of screen readers, having some description for an image is often better than no context at all.

After the user has granted permission, Microsoft Edge will send unlabeled images to Azure Cognitive Services’ Computer Vision API for processing. The Vision API can analyze images and create descriptive summaries in 5 languages and recognize text inside of images in over 120 languages.

There are some exceptions. Certain image types will not be sent to the auto-image caption service, nor provided to the screen reader:

  • Images that are marked as “decorative” by the web site author. Decorative images don’t contribute to the content or meaning of the web site.
  • Images smaller than 50 x 50 pixels (icon size and smaller)
  • Excessively large images
  • Images categorized by the Vision API as pornographic in nature, gory, or sexually suggestive.

If you prefer to add the alt text yourself, you can do that instead of using Computer Vision API. There is a way to turn off the policy name AccessibilityImageLabelsEnabled feature.

Another really cool thing about this is all Microsoft Edge customers on Window, Mac and Linux can use Microsoft’s built in alt-text service. However, the feature is not currently accessible for Microsoft Edge on Android and iOS.

People who don’t use screen readers may not understand why it is so important to provide a description for images that you post on your website or on social media. It only takes a few seconds to write an informative description, and it will bring more context to the images read to a person who uses a screen reader.


Microsoft and iFixit to Bring Official Tools to Independent Repairers



The Repair Association describes the Right to Repair this way: “It’s simple. You bought it, you should own it. Period. You should have the right to use it, modify it, and repair it, whenever, wherever, and however you want. It’s our mission to make sure you can. We fight for your right to fix.”

There is good news for people who want to fix their Microsoft products. Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, wrote the following in a post: iFixit Pro independent repairers, Microsoft Authorized Service Providers, Microsoft Experience Centers, and Microsoft Commercial customers can now purchase Microsoft service tools for Surface devices directly from iFixit.com.

Kyle Wiens also wrote: This program is launching with three tools, as well as weights and accessories, all designed by Microsoft and manufactured by iFixit. These tools enable precision debonding and rebonding of adhesive for select Microsoft Surface models and will undergo the same rigorous quality testing and attention to detail that we give to all of our products.

The three tools are:

  • The Surface Display Bonding Frame
  • The Surface Battery Cover
  • The Surface Display Debonding Tool

Windows Central reported that these tools are not available direct to consumers. However, it does allow companies besides Microsoft to repair consumer and enterprise Surface devices.

In other words, you will still need to take your Surface devices to a store and have someone there repair it for you. This might be easier than trying to send the damaged device to Microsoft and waiting for it to returned to you good as new. My best guess is that having the damaged device repaired by someone at iFixit would be less expensive than buying a brand new Surface.


Microsoft Reversed .NET Change after Open Source Community Feedback



Microsoft reversed a decision to remove a key feature from its upcoming .NET 6 release, after public outcry from the open source community, The Verge reported. According to The Verge, Microsoft angered the .NET open source community earlier this week by removing a key part of the Hot Reload in the upcoming release of .NET, a feature that allows developers to modify source code while an app is running and immediately see the results.

The Verge reported that the .NET 6 feature was one many had been looking forward to in Visual Studio Code and across multiple platforms. Microsoft made what The Verge described a “a controversial last-minute decision to lock it to Visual Studio 2022, a mostly paid product that’s limited to Windows”.

Microsoft responded to the controversy on its Microsoft .NET blog. From the blog post, which was written by Director Program Management, .NET, Scott Hunter:

…First and foremost, we want to apologize. We made a mistake in executing on our decision and took longer than expected to respond back to the community. We have approved the pull request to re-enable this code path and it will be in the GA build of the .NET 6 SDK…

Scott Hunter also wrote: With the runway getting short for the .NET 6 release and Visual Studio 2022, we chose to focus on bringing Hot Reload VS2022 first. We made a mistake in executing this plan in the way it was carried out. In our effort to scope, we inadvertently ended up deleting the source code instead of just not invoking that code path. We underestimated the number of developers that are dependent upon this capability in their environments across scenarios, and how the CLI was being used alongside Visual Studio to drive inner loop productivity by many…

The Verge provided more details. They asked Microsoft to comment on the fact that an executive ordered the change, but the company didn’t want to discuss the controversial decision. “We have taken steps to address the issue that some of our OSS community members have experienced,” says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. “Hot Reload capability will be in the general availability of the .NET 6 SDK available on November 8th.

So, which is it? Did an executive at Microsoft order the change to .NET 6? Or was the removal of .NET 6 a mistake that Microsoft did not intend to make? There is no clear answer.

It appears that one of the controversies here is that the .NET Foundation is an “organization established to support an innovative, commercially friendly, open-source ecosystem around the .NET platform.” The .NET Foundation was incorporated by Microsoft on March 31, 2014 to improve open-source software development and collaboration with the .NET Framework.

It seems to me that a Foundation that is focused on improving open-source software development with the .NET Framework would disagree with Microsoft’s “mistake” that put the .NET 6 feature behind a paywall.


Microsoft to Retire Internet Explorer in 2022



Microsoft announced that the future of Internet Explorer on Windows 10 is Microsoft Edge. Microsoft stated that Microsoft Edge is a faster, more secure and more modern browsing experience than Internet Explorer, but is also to able to address a key concern: compatibility for older, legacy websites and applications.

The Verge eported that Internet Explorer has been around for more than 25 years. It has been largely unused by most consumers for years, and Microsoft is retiring it on June 15, 2022.

PCMag reported: “Originally launched in 1995, the much-maligned Internet Explorer has long been irrelevant in today’s consumer market. It holds a measly 3.8% share of the desktop browser space. Google’s Chrome dominates with a nearly 70% share.”

Microsoft provided some information for those who are currently using Internet Explorer:

If you’re a consumer using Internet Explorer at home, Microsoft recommends you transition to Microsoft Edge before June 15, 2022. Microsoft points out that you probably already have it on your device. To find it, search for “Microsoft Edge” using the Windows 10 search box or look for the icon. If you don’t have it, you can download Microsoft Edge.

If you’re an organization using Internet Explorer, Microsoft says you may have a surprisingly large set of legacy Internet Explorer-based websites and apps, built up over many years. According to Microsoft, they found that enterprises have 1,678 legacy apps on average. By moving to Microsoft Edge, organizations get improved compatibility, streamlined productivity, and better browser security plus the ability to extend the life of their legacy websites and apps well beyond the Internet Explorer 11 desktop application retirement date using IE mode.


Microsoft Launched Microsoft Viva for Employees



Microsoft announced that it has launched Microsoft Viva. It is comprised of four modules: Viva Connections, Viva Insights, Viva Learning, and Viva Topics. More modules will be coming.

Microsoft describes Viva Connetions as “a gateway to your digital workplace”. They point out that research from their Work Trend Index shows that nearly 60 percent of workers feel less connected to their team since the move to remote work.

Viva Connections is built on Microsoft 365 capabilities like SharePoint to provide a curated and branded employee destination. Leaders can connect with employees via town halls, and employees can access everything from company news, policies and benefits to employee resource groups or communities they want to join with Microsoft Viva’s integration to Yammer.

Viva Insights gives individuals, managers, and leaders personalized and actionable privacy-protected insights that help everyone in an organization thrive. It brings new personal wellbeing experiences, insights, and recommended actions from Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics into the flow of people’s work in Microsoft Teams.

Viva Learning “makes learning a natural part of both every employee’s daily work and company culture”. Employees can easily discover and share everything from training courses to micro learning content. Managers get the tools they need to assign learning and track the completion of courses to help foster a learning culture.

Viva Topics enables employees to find an expert, understand company acronyms, or surface the content they need. It connects people to the knowledge, in the apps they use every day. Microsoft explains: “Think of Viva Topics as a Wikipedia with AI superpowers for your organization. It uses AI to automatically organize company-wide content and expertise into relevant categories like “projects”, “products”, “processes” and “customers”.

Microsoft Viva has been integrated with: Microsoft 365, Microsoft Power Platform, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and third-party products and services that will deliver a complete employee experience in the flow of work.

TechCrunch reported that Viva Insights is “to give managers insights into whether their team (but not individual team members) are at risk of burnout.” It also is to help company leaders “address complex challenges and respond to change by shedding light on organizational work patterns and trends.”

Personally, I think this sounds invasive. In my opinion, it sounds like a mean boss could use Viva Insights to punish an entire team for no reason other than the boss saw analytics that implied that at least one person on the team was less productive than the others.

Microsoft also pointed out that a new dashboard has been introduced for Microsoft Viva and LinkedIn’s Glint customers “that map insights about how people work to employee survey data about how people feel.” Part of the dashboard allows an organization to “leverage data from third-party tools like Zoom, Slack, workday, and SAP SuccessFactors”. It is unclear how Microsoft will prevent those third parties from grabbing employee data via Microsoft Viva.


Microsoft Suggests Ways Technology Can Improve Lives



Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, shared thoughts on the U.S. election. The main idea of the blog post is “building new bridges”. He points out some ways that technology can be used to improve lives and heal a divided country.

Here is a summarized version of Microsoft’s ideas:

Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century, vital for everything from patients needing telehealth consultations to children who are attending school from home. Today, too many rural families find there is no broadband service available, while too many underprivileged urban families find no broadband service that is affordable. A nation that would not tolerate millions of Americans living without electricity should no longer accept millions of families without broadband.

Technology-fueled automation increasingly impacts all of our jobs. Digital tools, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to make almost all of us in every job category more successful – but only if we have easier access to the new digital skills that are increasingly indispensable to the jobs of the future. … We need to make digital skills available to everyone.

Across the political spectrum, Americans share not just a commitment to, but a reverence for, democracy. …At Microsoft, this led us this election cycle to work across the political aisle to protect Republican and Democratic candidates alike. We conclude this election year even more convinced of the importance of using technology to protect not just the democratic process, but our fundamental freedoms. More than ever, we need ongoing technology innovation and stronger partnerships across the public and private sectors to better defend democracy.

…People of all political backgrounds care deeply about the privacy of their data and the security of their internet services. … Yet we continue to live with a national electronic privacy law enacted in the dial-up era of the 1980s, and when it comes to issues such as safeguards for facial recognition, we have no national law at all. We need new laws fit for the future.

…Regardless of political party, people want our economy to prosper. … We believe that technology innovation needs to create more business opportunities for every part of the economy as well as ushering in a new era for enhanced public sector services and efficiencies.

This is the first blog post I’ve seen since the winner of the 2020 presidential election was announced, that offers some actionable suggestions about how to make the people’s lives better. It appears to call upon lawmakers, and perhaps business leaders as well, to make these changes. The incoming administration could make use of these ideas.


Microsoft Adopts 10 Principles for the Microsoft Store



Microsoft has released 10 principles for their Microsoft Store on Windows 10. It appears to be done in response to Apple’s recent decisions regarding their App Store and Epic Games. Microsoft states that the 10 principles build on the ideas and work of the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF) to promote choice, ensure fairness, and promote innovation on Windows 10 and the Microsoft Store on Windows 10.

The 10 principles include:

  • Developers have the freedom to choose whether to distribute their apps for Windows through our app store. We will not block competing app stores on Windows.
  • We will not block an app from Windows based on a developer’s business model or how it delivers content and services, including whether content is installed on a device or streamed from the cloud.
  • We will not block an app from Windows based on a developer’s choice of which payment system to use for processing purchases made in its app.
  • We will give developers access to information about the interoperability interfaces we use on Windows, as set forth in our Interoperability Principles.
  • Every developer will have access to our app store as long as it meets objective standards and requirements, including those for security, privacy, quality, content and digital safety.
  • Our app store will charge reasonable fees that reflect the competition we face from other app stores on Windows and will not force a developer to sell within its app anything it doesn’t want to sell.
  • Our app store will not prevent developers from communicating directly with their users through their apps for legitimate business purposes.
  • Our app store will hold our own apps to the same standards to which it holds competing apps.
  • Microsoft will not use any non-public information or data from its app store about a developer’s app to compete with it.
  • Our app store will be transparent about its rules and policies and opportunities for promotion and marketing, apply these consistently and objectively, provide notice of changes and make available a fair process to resolve disputes.

There has been an ongoing legal battle between Epic Games and Apple which started when Epic Games created a direct payment option in which Epic Games lowered the prices for consumers who used it. Apple responded by terminating the Epic Games account on the App Store.

Microsoft’s 10 principles are a clear signal to software developers that Microsoft is not going to make the kinds of decisions that Apple has been making. I think this is a good thing. However, as a Mac user, I have concerns that this will result in even fewer developers making their video games Mac-compatible.