Category Archives: Microsoft

Windows 11’s Widgets Button Will Now Show Taskbar Alerts



Microsoft is rolling out a taskbar notification system to its Windows 11 widgets this week, The Verge reported. According to The Verge, Microsoft’s weather widget returned to Windows 11 earlier this year, it’s largely been a static experience that displays a sunny icon when the weather is good and an umbrella when its raining and “sucks to be outside”.

As of this week, Microsoft is now adding live animations to this taskbar widget. All Windows users will start to see these new widget notifications in the coming days and weeks, thanks to an update to the Windows Web Experience Pack that powers Microsoft’s widgets feature. The notifications on the taskbar weather widget, and include alerts for thunderstorms and even ticker alerts when stocks you’re following go up or down, The Verge reported.

Microsoft provided a support article titled “Stay up to date with widgets”. It explains that if you have the latest version of Windows but still don’t see all the widgets features below, it may be because some features are being rolled out to customers over several weeks and aren’t available to all customers at once.

Each widget is powered by a different app or service. To see what is powering a widget, select the More Options (…) in the upper-right corner of the widget, and look for the “Powered by” message at the bottom of the menu. Each individual widget is an extension of its corresponding app or service and is controlled by the settings for that app or service. This means the way to change your privacy settings for a widget is to change them for the app or service that powers that widget.

The support article also states that you can pin or unpin widgets and customize the widgets board to suit your needs.

Windows Central reported that the widgets will display alerts that could consist of severe weather warnings, stock changes, and breaking news.

According to Windows Central, the new widget functionality arrives in the form of a store update for the Web Experiences Pack, which is normally updated automatically, but users can manually search for the update by heading to the Microsoft Store app and selecting “Get Updates”. That said, it can take a while for all users to see the update.

Overall, it sounds like Microsoft is going to slowly roll out the new widgets to Windows 11 users. The Verge reported that Microsoft is planning to release its next major OS update on September 20. The update will include new app folders in the Start menu, drag and drop on the taskbar, new touch gestures, and more.


CMA Investigates Microsoft Acquisition of Activision Blizzard



The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it is investigating the anticipated acquisition by Microsoft Corporation of Activision Blizzard, Inc. The CMA stated that July 6, 2022 is the launch of the merger inquiry, and it gave notice to the parties. From the CMA:

“6 July 2022: The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is considering whether it is or may be the case that this transaction, if carried into effect, will result in the creation of a relevant merger situation under the merger provisions of the Enterprise Act of 2002 and, if so, whether the creation of that situation may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services.”

CNBC reported that the U.K’s Competition and Market Authority said its investigation would consider whether the deal may harm competition – “for example, through higher prices, lower quality, or reduced choice.” According to CNBC, the CMA set a September 1 deadline for its initial decision.

CNBC also reported that Lisa Tanzi, Microsoft’s corporate vice president and general counsel, said regulatory scrutiny of the deal was to be expected, adding the company would “fully cooperate” with the CMA.

If approved, CNBC reported, the acquisition would have huge implications for the $190 billion video game industry, handing control of incredibly lucrative franchises including Call of Duty, Candy Crush and Warcraft to one of the world’s biggest tech companies.

TechCrunch reported that the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also currently investigating the Microsoft – Activision Blizzard deal. According to TechCrunch, the FTC regulators have been known “to scupper, or add provisions, to deals, as well as nod them through.”

All of this comes as Activision Blizzard faces what seems to be an ongoing series of controversies. The company was the subject of a two-year investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which it described as having a “‘frat boy’ workplace culture” and a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”

TechCrunch pointed out that CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly knew about, yet failed to act, over sexual misconduct and rape allegations.

In short, Activision Blizzard is currently, and has been, a mess. While it is important to keep in mind that there are some wonderful, creative, people who work for that company, it is the inaction of the CEO and the Board that is allowing the controversy to continue. I honestly hope that the regulators allow the Microsoft – Activision Blizzard merger – if for no other reason than to give the employees a better work environment.


Microsoft Introduces Microsoft Defender – A 365 Online Security App



Microsoft introduced its Microsoft Defender. It is a new Microsoft 365 online security app for you and your family.

Everyone deserves to feel safe online. Securing your personal data and devices is more challenging than ever, increasing malicious threats, more time online, and many connected personal devices can leave us feeling vulnerable. It’s time for online security that provides simplified and secure protection to meet you where you are.

Microsoft Defender for Individuals is a new security app designed to keep individuals and families safer online. Available for Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscribers starting on June 16, 2022, Microsoft Defender helps simplify your online security through one, unified view into your family’s protections, across your personal phones and computers.

The footnotes attached to parts of that paragraph include: “App requires a Microsoft 365 Family or Personal subscription, and is available as a separate download.” A second footnote says: “App is available on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS in select Microsoft 356 Family or Personal billing regions.”

Microsoft says that Microsoft Defender extends the production already built into Windows Security beyond your PC to your macOS, iOS, and Android devices. This, too, comes with a footnote which says: “New malware protection is not available where these protections exist in iOS and Windows”. Yet another footnote says: “Security tips are available on Windows and macOS only.”

Corporate Vice President, Security, Compliance, Identity and Management, Vasu Jakkal, wrote a post titled: “Making the world a safer place with Microsoft Defender for individuals”. Here are some key points from that post:

What does Microsoft Defender Do?

Microsoft Defender is simplified online security that meets you and your family where you are by bringing multiple protections together into a single dashboard. It provides online protection across the devices you and your family use. It offers tips and recommendations to strengthen your protection further. And, as you grow your digital footprint by adding family members and devices, Defender grows with you and keeps your defenses up-to-date using trusted technology.

  • This seamless solution, which includes continuous antivirus and anti-phishing protection for your data and devices, will enable you to:
  • Manage your security protections and view security protections for everyone in your family, from a singe, easy-to-use, centralized dashboard.
  • View your existing antivirus protection (such as Norton or McAfee). Defender recognizes these protections within the dashboard.
  • Extend Windows device protections to iOS, Android, and macOS devices for cross-platform malware protection on the devices you and your family use the most.
  • Receive instant security alters, resolution strategies, and expert tips to help keep your data and devices secure.

Personally, I am pleasantly surprised that Microsoft is extending Microsoft Defender to not only people who use PCs and Android devices, but also to those of us who use macOS and iOS devices. It is unusual for a tech company to extend its security protections to those outside of its “universe” of products.


Microsoft Is Retiring The Internet Explorer Browser



Microsoft has announced it will kill off its much-maligned legacy internet browser Internet Explorer close to 27 years after it graced desktop computers in 1995, The Guardian reported. From June 15, the desktop app will be disabled and users will be redirected to Microsoft’s Edge browser instead.

On the Windows Experience Blog, Microsoft explained what happens now for everyday users.

The future of Internet Explorer is in Microsoft Edge. Internet Explore (IE) has been retired and is no longer supported. If any site you visit needs Internet Explorer, you can reload it with IE mode in Microsoft Edge. Select “Continue” to get started with Microsoft Edge, the fast and secure browser built for Windows.

Your favorites, passwords, history, cookies, and other browser data will be automatically brought over to Microsoft Edge so you can seamlessly continue browsing. You can manage this later in Settings on Microsoft Edge.

Engadget reported that, just short of its 27th birthday, Microsoft will no longer support the Internet Explorer 11 desktop app for Windows 10’s usual Semi Annual Channel as of June 15th. According to Engadget, you’ll still receive IE11 support if you’re using Windows Server 2022 or an earlier iOS release with a long-term service extension. But this marks the end of software updates for most people.

Wikipedia provides some history of Internet Explorer. It was formerly called Microsoft Internet Explorer and Windows Internet Explorer. It was a series of graphical web browsers developed by Microsoft and included in the Microsoft Windows line of operations systems, starting in 1995. Microsoft spent over US $100 million per year on Internet Explorer in the late 1990s, with over 1,000 people involved in the project by 1999. Internet Explorer was once the most widely used web browser, attaining a peak of about 95% usage share by 2003.

Personally, I remember using Internet Explorer back in 1995, when I was in college. At the time, it seemed like a wonderful tool to use to look up things that some of my college classes required me to find online – and then make use of in a paper.

I don’t miss using Internet Explorer because I’ve since moved from a PC to a Mac. However, there are people who lament the loss of Internet Explorer. The Wall Street Journal reported that some people have developed emotional connections to their internet browsers.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Internet Explorer is just the latest technology to get tossed into the digital dump. Diehards clung to their BlackBerry devices long after much of the world moved on to candy-colored smartphones. Now, the demise of the old browser is prompting sentimental feelings.


Microsoft Agrees to Respect Activision Blizzard Unionization



Microsoft said Monday it would respect the rights of Activision Blizzard workers to join a union, and would enter into a so-called labor neutrality agreement with major media union Communications Workers of America, which has been helping video game workers organize, The Washington Post reported.

According to The Washington Post, if Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard is approved, the new labor agreement will take effect for the video game giant 60 days after the deal is finalized.

The Wall Street Journal reported that earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled a set of principles aimed at demonstrating its willingness to work with unions. The company said it wouldn’t discourage employees from using their legal right to form and join unions and wouldn’t try to complicate the process of unionization for its employees.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the principles marked Microsoft’s latest attempt to carve out a position distinct from other technology companies on a sensitive subject in the industry. U.S. tech companies have long avoided unions, and some have tried to discourage employees from joining them. Microsoft reported a global workforce of more than 180,000 last year. None are currently unionized in the U.S.

The New York Times reported: A group of nearly 30 employees at one of Activision’s studios voted to unionize through an N.L.R.B. election in May despite Activision’s opposition to holding the election. But completing such a process can be time consuming, with unions and employers sometimes spending months or even years litigating the results.

According to The New York Times, through the agreement, workers will have access to an expedited process for unionizing, overseen by a neutral third party, in which they will indicate their support for a union either by signing cards or confidentially through an electronic platform.

Chris Shelton, the president of the Communications Workers unions, said in an interview, “This process does give us and Microsoft a way to do this quote unquote election without spending the time, the effort and the controversy that goes along with an N.L.R.B. election.”

Personally, I’m happy to see that Microsoft is willing to work with unions. That’s a huge change from Activision Blizzard King, where the high-ups have been fighting against unionization. The Wisconsin workers in Raven Software were able to unionize – but not before Activision engaged in union-busting attempts. Raven contractors worked on franchises like Activision’s Call of Duty games.

It would be wonderful if the Activision Blizzard King workers, who have been struggling to get the company to accept their unionization efforts, can easily join a union after the Microsoft acquisition. If so, this would set a huge precedent for workers at other gaming companies.


Xbox Gaming On Your Samsung Smart TV – No Console Required



Xbox Corporate Vice President, Gaming Experiences & Platforms, Ashley McKissick, made an announcement about Xbox Gaming on your Samsung Smart TV. You can play games – without requiring a console. From the announcement:

Our mission at Xbox is to bring the joy and community of gaming to everyone on the planet. We are committed to achieving this vision by delivering great games and services, and enabling more people to play than ever before. That’s why we created Xbox Game Pass and continue expanding Cloud Gaming to new devices – so that we can open up the ways people can play across the devices they already own; PC, console, mobile, tablet devices, and now Smart TVs.

The announcement says that as of today, the Xbox team provided an update on their approach and vision to embed Xbox experience into Smart TVs. They are now bringing the Xbox app to Smart TVs, starting with their partner Samsung.

Together, Samsung and Xbox partnered to bring Xbox Game Pass to the millions of Samsung Galaxy phones around the world, and now they are partnering again to bring their Xbox gaming experience to their 2022 Smart TVs. Ashley McKissick says you can experience cloud gaming on Smart TVs on June 30 in 27 countries.

They are bringing the Xbox App to Samsung Smart TVs first, and our intent is to explore other TV partnerships as part of this next evolution in our vision.

Here are some more details:

Playing Xbox games on 2022 Samsung Smart TVs gives Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members easy and instant access to over 100 high-quality games, including Xbox Game Studios titles on the same day they release. You can also play Fortnite without a membership through cloud gaming.

If you are getting a new Samsung 2022 Smart TV, you will now have more ways to play games in your house.

If you’re new to gaming, this is an easy way to get into the fun without needing to buy a PC or console and also to join a thriving community of over 25 million Game Pass members worldwide.

To me, this sounds like it could be a good way to get new gamers interested in playing games that are on Xbox. My concern is that it won’t work as well on a Smart TV as it does on a console or mobile device. Hopefully, Xbox tested that out and is confident that gaming works just as well on a Smart TV as it would on a console or PC. If not, there will very likely be complaints by disgruntled gamers.

In related news, The Verge reported that Microsoft is working on Project Moorcroft, a program designed to bring early game demos to Xbox Game Pass subscribers. The demos will be similar to the limited levels and early samples of games that fans would typically spend hours in line to play at E3 or PAX.

According to The Verge, the game demos are a lot of work for developers, especially getting them ready for what was the usual annual E3 conference. Microsoft’s plan is to focus on independent developers and any game developer will be compensated and able to view how their demos preform.


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.