Tag Archives: Microsoft

Play Fortnite For Free With Xbox Cloud Gaming



Catherine Gluckstein, Vice President and Head of Product, Xbox Cloud Gaming posted a blog titled: “Play Fortnite on iOS, iPadOs, Android Phones and Tablets, and Windows PC with Xbox Cloud Gaming for Free”. To me, this sounds like a great way to make Fortnite accessible to players who have disabilities by allowing them to play Fortnite on the platform of their choice.

“As part of our mission to bring the joy and community of gaming to players wherever they are and to make gaming more accessible to people around the world, I’m excited to announce that we’ve partnered with Epic Games to make Fortnite available on supported browser-enabled devices for free with Xbox Cloud Gaming (beta) in 26 countries”, Catherine Gluckstein wrote.

If you love Fortnite you only need two things to play in cloud-supported markets:

  • A Microsoft account
  • An iOS, iPadOS, Android phone or tablet, or Windows PC with internet access.

With no installation or memberships required, all you need to do is go to Xbox.com/play on your web browser and sign-in with your Microsoft Account to party-up with friends or earn your next Victory Royale in Fortnite. Players have the option of playing Fortnite with native touch controls or a supported controller, and it is easy to jump into Fortnite with Xbox Cloud Gaming.

This is the first free-to-play title that has been added to the cloud gaming catalog. Microsoft looks forward to bringing more free-to-play games people love in the future. This means there will be more games in the cloud gaming catalog – and we just have to wait and see which ones get added.

CNET reported that Microsoft struck a deal with Epic Games to offer Epic’s hit title Fortnite for free through Xbox Cloud Gaming. The move will effectively let people play Fortnite in a way similar to how they stream videos from companies like Netflix, regardless of how beefy their gaming device is.

CNET posted a statement from Microsoft. “This is just the beginning for us — we’re going to learn, implement feedback, and in time look to bring even more free-to-play titles to players through the cloud”. According to CNET, Microsoft’s Xbox team said it believes streaming will be a key way for people to play but has also tempered expectations for how quickly it will catch on.

For me, there is a lot to like about Microsoft’s decisions. First, it offers accessibility in gaming, where people with disabilities can play Fortnite (and, eventually, other games) on the system of their choice. Some will prefer Windows PC, while others may feel more physically comfortable to play on a phone or tablet. And secondly, the free-to-play games make it much easier for people on a tight budget to play Fortnite with their friends.


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.


Game Companies are Halting Sales in Russia and Belarus



Several gaming companies have halted sales of their games in Russia and Belarus. Those decisions could be in response to tweets posted by Ukranian Vice Prime Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Federov, who requested that gaming companies to leave the Russian market, and to block the participation of Russian and Belorussian teams and games in esports.

Microsoft posted information titled “Microsoft suspends new sales in Russia” on the Microsoft On the Issues blog. President & Vice Chair, Brad Smith, wrote (in part): “We are announcing today that we will suspend all new sales of Microsoft products and services in Russia. In addition, we are coordinating closely and working in lockstep with the governments of the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, and we are stopping many aspects of our business in Russia in compliance with governmental sanctions decisions.”

Electronic Arts (EA) posted (in part) “We have made the decision to stop sales of our games and content, including virtual currency bundles, in Russia and Belarus while this conflict continues. As a result, our games and content will no longer be available for purchase in our Russian region storefront on Origin or the EA app, including through in-game stores. We are also working with platform partners to remove our titles from their stores and stop the sale of new in-game content in the region.”

Electronic Sports FIFA tweeted (in part) “…In line with our partners at FIFA and UEFA, EA Sports has initiated processes to remove the Russian National Team and all Russian clubs from EA Sports FIFA products including: FIFA 22, FIFA Mobile, and FIFA Online. We’re also actively evaluating related changes to other areas of our games…”

The Verge reported that, according to a Google-translated version of the message, Nintendo stated: “Due to the fact that the payment service used in Nintendo eShop has suspended the processing pf payments in rubles, Nintendo eShop in Russia is temporally placed into maintenance mode.”

CD PROJEKT Red tweeted: (in part) “In light of the Russian military invasion of our neighboring country of Ukraine, until further notice, the CD PROJEKT Group has made the decision to halt all sales of our games to Russia and Belarus. Today, we begin working with our partners to suspend digital sales and cease physical stock deliveries of CD PROJEKT Group products, as well as all games distributed on the GOG platform, to the territories of Russia and Belarus”…

Eurogamer reported that Sony “quietly pulls PlayStation’s new blockbuster game Gran Turismo 7 from sale in Russia.” According to Eurogamer, Sony has not formally announced that game’s removal. GT7’s Russia store page now displays the text “Release date pending confirmation”.


Ukrainian Government Asks Game Companies to Cut Off Russia



The Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, Mykhailo Fedorov, tweeted: from his verified account calling on Xbox and PlayStation to leave the Russian market. The tweet includes a screenshot of an official looking longer statement.

Mykhalio Federov tweeted: “You are definitely aware of what is happening in Ukraine right now. Russia declare war not for Ukraine but for all civilized world. If you support human values, you should live the Russian market.”

Here is a piece of the statement, which was directed to all gaming companies and esports platforms:

…I am sure that you will not only hear, but also do everything possible to protect Ukraine, Europe, and finally, the entire democratic world from bloody authoritarian aggression – and I appeal to temporarily block all Russian and Belorussian accounts, temporarily stop the participation of Russian and Belorussian teams and gamers in all international esports events and cancel all international events holding on the territory of Russia and Belarius.

We are sure that such actions will motivate the citizens of Russia to proactively stop the disgraceful military aggression…

In another tweet, Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted: “@riotgames @EA @Ubisoft Gameloft @wargaming_net Right now russian troops are bombing Ukranian cities and killing Ukrainians. Please help us stop this. Close your offices in russia! There’s no place for aggressor on the global technological map!”

I find this interesting for several reasons. First of all, it isn’t common for government officials to call on gaming companies to close their offices in Russia via a couple of tweets. That said, I suppose that a person with the title “Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation in Ukraine” would be quite adept at using Twitter in this way.

Secondly, there is something to be said about the wrath of angry gamers! Unfortunately, some gamers, who decide they do not like something that was added to – or removed from – a video game, take to Twitter to complain about it to the game developers. Sometimes, they tweet rage directly at the company that makes that particular game.

One vivid example of this happened in-person at BlizzCon in 2018, after a group of Diablo players learned that Diablo Immortal would only be on phones or tablets, not on PC. They booed the people on the stage who announced it, mostly because that group of gamers only played on PC and were expecting the announcement of a highly anticipated Diablo game on PC.

If all of the gaming companies chose to follow through on Mykhalio Federov’s request, by closing their offices in Russia, preventing Russian and Belorussian teams and gamers from esports, and cancel their conferences, – there will definitely be some immediate pushback.


Microsoft Released Open App Store Principles



Microsoft posted information titled: “Adapting ahead of regulation: a principled approach to app stores”. It includes four commitments in four important areas. This could be seen as an attempt to appease regulators.

The four Open App Store Principles are:

Quality, Safety, Security & Privacy

  • We will enable all developers to access our app store as long as they meet reasonable and transparent standards for quality and safety.
  • We will continue to protect the consumers and gamers who use our app store, ensuring that developers meet our standards for security.
  • We will continue to respect the privacy of consumers in our app stores, giving them controls to manage their data and how it is used.

Accountability

  • We will hold our own apps to the same standards we hold competing apps.
  • We will not use any non-public information or data from our app store to compete with developer’s apps.

Fairness and Transparency

  • We will treat apps equally in our app store without unreasonable referencing or ranking of our apps or our business partners’ apps over others.
  • We will be transparent about rules for promotion and marketing in our app store and apply these consistently and objectively.

Developer Choice

  • We will not require developers in our app store to use our payment system to process in-app payments.
  • We will not require developers in our app store to provide more favorable terms in our app store than in other app stores
  • We will not disadvantage developers if they chose to use a payment processing system other than ours or if they offer different terms and conditions in other app stores.
  • We will not prevent developers from communicating directly with their customers through their apps for legitimate business purposes, such as pricing terms and product or service offerings.

The New York Times described Microsoft’s efforts as a “charm offensive” in order to gain government approval for its $70 billion deal to buy Activision Blizzard. The New York Times also noted that Microsoft pledges to continue to allow Activision’s major franchises, like Call of Duty, to be available on Sony PlayStation.

I find it interesting that Microsoft is not going to force game developers to use its payment systems for in-app payments. That is a big difference from Apple, who appears to strongly prefer that game developers use its payment system. Hopefully, Microsoft’s Open App Store Principles will prevent it from having to fight against a developer in court.


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.


Pentagon Announced New Cloud Initiative to Replace JEDI



The Pentagon announced a limited request for bids for a new cloud initiative that replaces the cancelled $10 billion, decade-long JEDI contract initiative, TechCrunch reported.

As you may recall, the JEDI contract was contentiously fought over by Microsoft and Amazon, even after the Pentagon announced that they had selected Microsoft. Eventually, the JEDI cloud contract was cancelled.

CNBC reported that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) said that the Defense Department has solicited bids on their new cloud initiative, called JWCC. It is known as Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability. The Defense Department has solicited bids from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle for cloud contracts.

According to CNBC, the GSA announced the following: “The Government anticipates awarding two IDIQ contracts — one to Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS) and one to Microsoft Corporation (Microsoft) — but intends to award to all Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) that demonstrate the capability to meet DoD’s requirements.”

This is being handled differently than how things were handled with the JEDI contract. This new cloud initiative appears to have an interest in working with both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services – but also seems to want to award other CSPs that can demonstrate the capability that meets the Department of Defense’s requirements. The JEDI contract was “winner take all” and that led to some complaints when the DoD chose Microsoft over Amazon.

According to TechCrunch, Microsoft and Amazon went to court over the decision, and the Pentagon got tired of it and decided to scrap the JEDI project altogether. As such, there is now a new cloud infrastructure project that appears to be interested in accepting both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services at the same time.

I cannot help but wonder if teams from those two companies will be able to work together, or if one will insist they are not being treated fairly. There is also the possibility that smaller CSPs, who don’t meet the DoD’s requirements, will end up going to court over this.