All posts in “Microsoft”

Cortana will now interrupt your Skype chats


Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana has finally arrived in Skype. Announced at last year’s Microsoft Build 2016 event, the assistant’s integration was also previewed when the company released an overhauled, Snapchat-inspired version of its mobile messaging app this summer. But Cortana for Skype wasn’t ready at that time. Now, the feature is live, offering users in-context assistance during their chats, as well as the option to message Cortana directly to ask questions or get help with a number of other tasks.

It’s unclear why Cortana’s arrival in Skype took as long as it did, but the big Skype makeover could have contributed to the delay.

However, the idea to bring an A.I.-like helper to mobile messaging isn’t unique to Microsoft. Google’s Allo app is aided by Google Assistant, while Facebook Messenger has its own assistant, “M,” for example.

Similarly, Cortana will pop into conversations to offer suggestions based on the context of your chats. This includes “smart replies,” which are quick responses like “Yes!,” “Sure!”, and others, which you can select with a tap to save you from typing.

Cortana can also offer other input, like restaurant options, movie reviews, a good place to meet, a fact it knows the answer to, and more. Plus, the assistant can help with scheduling events and setting up reminders, which are then synced to your other devices where Cortana is enabled, like your Windows 10 PC.

  1. SKYPE_CORTANA_CONVERSATION-v2

  2. SKYPE_CORTANA_CONVERSATION_REMINDER-v2

  3. SKYPE_CORTANA_IN_CHAT2

In addition, Cortana is being added to your Skype as a contact you can message directly, if you choose. In this case, you can chat with Cortana to ask it things like fact-based questions, the current weather, your flight status, stock quotes, restaurant ideas, directions, and more – very much like Google Assistant can already do.

While it seems like it’s now becoming table stakes to include an A.I.-powered assistant in mobile messaging apps, the real-world benefits of these integrations for end users are still a bit unproven. Too often, the suggestions interrupt and slow down conversations instead of adding value. And on multiple occasions, I’ve had to explain what those “dumb little icons” are that are getting in the way during a Facebook Messenger-based chat session. (“M” is suggesting stickers – and yes, that’s an exact quote from an annoyed friend.)

Smart replies on their own are a useful enough feature, as they feel more like an upgraded version of a keyboard app’s phrase suggestion, but many of the other A.I.-powered inputs are less than welcome. The problem is that these bots are butting in automatically, instead of being asked to contribute. Ideally, the user interface for these in-app assistants would be one where you press a button to ask for their help, rather than having them automatically add their 2 cents at every turn.

Microsoft says that Cortana began its rollout on Monday to iOS and Android users in the U.S. But this is not a switch that’s being flipped, so to speak – the rollout is gradual, meaning you may not yet see Cortana yet.

Microsoft just buried Windows Phone… on Twitter

Windows Phone is dead. 

You know this. Microsoft has told you in not so many words that they wouldn’t be updating the platform, but some factions held out hope for a reprieve. After all, Microsoft has yet to clarify their position on the rumored Surface Phone, which could be a radical update path for the Windows Phone, and it technically still supports Windows 10 Mobile, the successor to Windows Phone (though there is very little hardware). So there’s still hope, right?

Nope. None other than long-time Microsoft executive and the man who once championed the Windows Phone platform, Joe Belfiore, took out a 140-character stake on Sunday and jammed it through Windows mobile’s barely beating heart.

If you want to blame someone or something for the delivery of this painful news, try Edge for iOS

Last week, Microsoft expanded on its strategy of Microsoft Everywhere by offering up a version of its relatively new web browser, Microsoft Edge, for iOS and Android. The platform-friendly version of Edge comes even as Windows 10 users still haven’t fully accepted Edge as their default browser. Yes, most of us still use Chrome on Windows.

Since the announcement, Belfiore, who currently serves as Microsoft corporate vice president of operating systems, has been on Twitter chatting about Windows, and, yes, Edge fans about the new mobile offerings. Inevitably, talk turned to Windows Phone.

One Twitter member asked plaintively, “Is it time to leave Windows Mobile platform?”

Aybata was asking a question tens of thousands of Windows mobile users want answered (even 0.03% of the estimated 2 billion smartphone users in the world would be 600,000).

Belfiore didn’t try to duck the question. Instead, he opened up, on Twitter of all places, and in a rather un-Microsoft-like fashion.

Sure, he started off slow, buffering the truth with a “Depends:”

But then he reminded Aybata that even he has given up on Windows Phone and is now using a different platform (we know from previous reports that it’s an iPhone) and in a way that mirrors many Windows desktop OS users. (He’s not the only one.)

That prompted one Twitter user to remind Belfiore that some individuals still choose to use Windows Phone. That’s when Belfiore dropped the hammer in a pair of tweets that offer more clarity on the situation than we’ve ever gotten before from Microsoft’s official channels.

There it is: Building is done, EOL support is underway.

Perhaps it was the distressed face emoji, but something prompted Belfiore to share even more about how hard Microsoft had worked to make Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile a thing and the rejection they faced.

Belfiore revealing on Twitter that Microsoft tried paying companies to build apps for the mobile platform is not something you typically hear Microsoft or really any developer admit.

I was impressed with Belfiore’s transparency, but, this being Twitter, some went on the attack. 

Unfazed, Belfiore simply reminded Ingo about the world we really live in:

Microsoft still wants 1 billion Windows 10 users, but its strategy long ago stopped being about Windows Everywhere and has transitioned to Microsoft Everywhere, which is why it’s so comfortable porting core apps to other platforms and why Belfiore is so confident debating with Windows fans on Twitter.

This mobile-first Microsoft Everywhere strategy is what sets Microsoft apart from Apple, which still maintains a closed ecosystem with product parts bolted onto complete a comprehensive and inescapable Apple World.

Microsoft lost the smartphone war so long ago that it does’t even bother to sow the seeds of uncertainty on social media when it comes to its mobile platform’s future. 

A new (140-character) voice?

Belfiore’s Twitter thread, though, marks some of Microsoft’s clearest and most illuminating statements on the fate of Microsoft’s mobile strategy and should be taken as a signal for all Windows mobile customers when they think about future deployments. Investing too heavily in Windows on mobile could be a mistake.

I’m thinking of companies like Delta. As a frequent flier, I marvel at how the flight attendants still use Nokia Lumia 1520 Windows Phone phablets (they standardized on the platform in 2013) to conduct in-flight drink and meal transactions. Pilots, according to a Delta spokesperson, use Surface tablets. On a recent flight, I thought I spotted one attendant using an iPhone, but that might have been an air-pressure-induced hallucination.

Over the next year or so, Windows Phone’s 0.03% device market share should dwindle to none, unless, of course, Microsoft decides to revive it as Surface Phone, a risky move that would be the uphill battle to end all uphill battles.

Microsoft didn’t want to talk about Surface Phone speculation when I contacted them — they never do — and a spokesperson had only this to say about Belfiore’s tweets:

We get that a lot of people who have a Windows 10 device may also have an iPhone or Android phone and we want to give them the most seamless experience possible no matter what device they’re carrying. In the Fall Creators Update, we’re focused on the mobility of experiences and bringing the benefits of Windows to life across devices to enable our customers to create, play and get more done. We will continue to support Lumia phones such as the Lumia 650, Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL as well as devices from our OEM partners. 

Like Joe said, “bug fixes, security updates, etc. But building new features/hw aren’t the focus.”

Thanks, Twitter, for helping clear this up.

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2017%2f5%2f79fc39c6 0cea 2fd7%2fthumb%2f00001

This is not a drill: Microsoft admits Windows Phone is dead for real


It’s time to say goodbye for real this time. Windows Phone’s death has been slow and painful, but, as CNET spotted, the head of Microsoft’s Windows division finally admitted you shouldn’t expect anything more when it comes to Windows Phone.

Microsoft doesn’t plan to let existing Windows Phone users down — there will be security updates. But don’t expect anything new. Joe Belfiore admitted that Microsoft isn’t working on any software or hardware update.

He even admitted that there’s no way to solve Microsoft’s app problems. Companies and indie developers simply don’t want to work on Windows Phone apps — most of them probably never cared in the first place.

So there you have it. Microsoft is giving up. This isn’t the first time Microsoft is realizing things are going awry. TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas even wrote that Windows Phone 7 was doomed back in 2012.

It’s a shame because Windows Phone’s user interface was interesting. Most of the operating system featured a black background with a focus on text instead of icons. The home screen wasn’t just a boring grid of icons and widgets, it featured tiles with previews of your apps. Microsoft tried something different with Windows Phone, but it wasn’t enough.

Microsoft is going to focus on mobile in different ways. The company has been working on mobile apps and some of them are quite successful. For instance, Microsoft Edge is coming to Android and iOS. The company has dozens of apps on iOS and Android, including Microsoft Office, Outlook, Swiftkey, Skype and more.

In other words, Microsoft is copying Sega and developing for other platforms.

Microsoft is bringing its Edge browser to Android and iOS


While Microsoft is still officially working on the mobile version of Windows 10, it’s no secret that the company has all but given up on building its own mobile ecosystem. That only leaves Microsoft with one option: concede defeat and bring its applications to the likes of Android and iOS. That’s exactly what the company has been doing for the last few years and today the company announced that its Edge browser (the successor to the much — and often justly — maligned Internet Explorer) will soon come to iOS and Android, too. The company is also graduating its Arrow Launcher for Android and renaming it to Microsoft Launcher.

Even though Microsoft basically doesn’t play in the mobile OS and hardware space anymore, it still needs to have a presence on rival platforms if it doesn’t want to risk losing its relevancy on the desktop, too. Edge and the Microsoft Launcher are both key to this strategy because they’ll help the company to extend the Microsoft Graph even further. The Graph is Microsoft’s cross-platform system for allowing you to sync the state of your work and documents across devices and the company sees it as key to the future of Windows.

It’s no surprise then that this new version of Edge promises to make it easier to connect your PC and mobile device, with easy syncing of your browser sessions and other features.

For now, though, Edge for iOS and Android remain previews that you can sign up for here. The Android version will be available as a beta in the Google Play store soon and the iOS version will be made available through Testflight in the near future, too.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft won’t bring its own rendering engine to these platforms. Instead, it’ll rely on WebKit on iOS and the Blink engine on Android (and not the Android WebView control). On Android, this means that Microsoft is now actually shipping its own version of the Blink engine inside its app — and that’s not something we expected to hear anytime soon.

As for the launcher, it’s worth noting that it’s actually a quite capable Android launcher that nicely integrates with all of the Google apps you probably use every day (calendar, Gmail, etc.). Microsoft’s version of the Google Feed, that left-most homescreen on your Android device, is actually quite useful, too, and puts your calendar and other info front and center whereas Google now uses it for a general news feed.

Tech giants pressured to auto-flag “illegal” content in Europe


Social media giants have again been put on notice that they need to do more to speed up removals of hate speech and other illegal content from their platforms in the European Union.

The bloc’s executive body, the European Commission today announced a set of “guidelines and principles” aimed at pushing tech platforms to be more pro-active about takedowns of content deemed a problem. Specifically it’s urging they build tools to automate flagging and re-uploading of such content.

“The increasing availability and spreading of terrorist material and content that incites violence and hatred online is a serious threat to the security and safety of EU citizens,” it said in a press release, arguing that illegal content also “undermines citizens’ trust and confidence in the digital environment” and can thus have a knock on impact on “innovation, growth and jobs”.

“Given their increasingly important role in providing access to information, the Commission expects online platforms to take swift action over the coming months, in particular in the area of terrorism and illegal hate speech — which is already illegal under EU law, both online and offline,” it added.

In a statement on the guidance, VP for the EU’s Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, described the plan as “a sound EU answer to the challenge of illegal content online”, and added: “We make it easier for platforms to fulfil their duty, in close cooperation with law enforcement and civil society. Our guidance includes safeguards to avoid over-removal and ensure transparency and the protection of fundamental rights such as freedom of speech.”

The move follows a voluntary Code of Conduct, unveiled by the Commission last year, with Facebook, Twitter, Google’s YouTube and Microsoft signed up to agree to remove illegal hate speech which breaches their community principles in less than 24 hours.

In a recent assessment of how that code is operating on hate speech takedowns the Commission said there had been some progress. But it’s still unhappy that a large portion (it now says ~28%) of takedowns are still taking as long as a week.

It said it will monitor progress over the next six months to decide whether to take additional measures — including the possibility of proposing legislative if it feels not enough is being done.

Its assessment (and possible legislative proposals) will be completed by May 2018. After which it would need to put any proposed new rules to the European Parliament for MEPs to vote on, as well as to the European Council. So it’s likely there would be challenges and amendments before a consensus could be reached on any new law.

Some individual EU member states have been pushing to go further than the EC’s voluntary code of conduct on illegal hate speech on online platforms. In April, for example, the German cabinet backed proposals to hit social media firms with fines of up to €50 million if they fail to promptly remove illegal content.

A committee of UK MPs also called for the government to consider similar moves earlier this year. While the UK prime minister has led a push by G7 nations to ramp up pressure on social media firms to expedite takedowns of extremist material in a bid to check the spread of terrorist propaganda online.

That drive goes even further than the current EC Code of Conduct — with a call for takedowns of extremist material to take place within two hours.

However the EC’s proposals today on tackling illegal content online appears to be attempting to pass guidance across a rather more expansive bundle of content, saying the aim is to “mainstream good procedural practices across different forms of illegal content” — so apparently seeking to roll hate speech, terrorist propaganda and child exploitation into the same “illegal” bundle as copyrighted content. Which makes for a far more controversial mix.

(The EC does explicitly state the measures are not intended to be applied in respect of “fake news”, noting this is “not necessary illegal”, ergo it’s one online problem it’s not seeking to stuff into this conglomerate bundle. “The problem of fake news will be addressed separately,” it adds.)

The Commission has divided its set of illegal content “guidelines and principles” into three areas — which it explains as follows:

  • “Detection and notification”: On this it says online platforms should cooperate more closely with competent national authorities, by appointing points of contact to ensure they can be contacted rapidly to remove illegal content. “To speed up detection, online platforms are encouraged to work closely with trusted flaggers, i.e. specialised entities with expert knowledge on what constitutes illegal content,” it writes. “Additionally, they should establish easily accessible mechanisms to allow users to flag illegal content and to invest in automatic detection technologies”
  • “Effective removal”: It says illegal content should be removed “as fast as possible” but also says it “can be subject to specific timeframes, where serious harm is at stake, for instance in cases of incitement to terrorist acts”. It adds that it intends to further analyze the specific timeframes issue. “Platforms should clearly explain to their users their content policy and issue transparency reports detailing the number and types of notices received. Internet companies should also introduce safeguards to prevent the risk of over-removal,” it adds.
  • “Prevention of re-appearance”: Here it says platforms should take “measures” to dissuade users from repeatedly uploading illegal content. “The Commission strongly encourages the further use and development of automatic tools to prevent the re-appearance of previously removed content,” it adds.

Ergo, that’s a whole lot of “automatic tools” the Commission is proposing commercial tech giants build to block the uploading of a poorly defined bundle of “illegal content”.

Given the mix of vague guidance and expansive aims — to apparently apply the same and/or similar measures to tackle issues as different as terrorist propaganda and copyrighted material — the guidelines have unsurprisingly drawn swift criticism.

MEP Jan Philip Albrecht, for example, couched them as “vague requests”, and described the approach as “neither effective” (i.e. in its aim of regulating tech platforms) nor “in line with rule of law principles”. He added a big thumbs down.

He’s not the only European politician with that criticism, either. Other MEPs have warned the guidance is a “step backwards” for the rule of law online — seizing specifically on the Commission’s call for automatic tools to prevent illegal content being re-uploaded as a move towards upload-filters (which is something the executive has been pushing for as part of its controversial plan to reform the bloc’s digital copyright rules).

“Installing censorship infrastructure that surveils everything people upload and letting algorithms make judgement calls about what we all can and cannot say online is an attack on our fundamental rights,” writes MEP Julia Redia in another response condemning the Commission’s plan. She then goes on to list a series of examples where algorithmic filtering failed…

While MEP Marietje Schaake blogged with a warning about making companies “the arbiters of limitations of our fundamental rights”. “Unfortunately the good parts on enhancing transparency and accountability for the removal of illegal content are completely overshadowed by the parts that encourage automated measures by online platforms,” she added.

European digital rights group the EDRI, which campaigns for free speech across the region, is also eviscerating in its response to the guidance, arguing that: “The document puts virtually all its focus on Internet companies monitoring online communications, in order to remove content that they decide might be illegal. It presents few safeguards for free speech, and little concern for dealing with content that is actually criminal.”

“The Commission makes no effort at all to reflect on whether the content being deleted is actually illegal, nor if the impact is counterproductive. The speed and proportion of removals is praised simply due to the number of takedowns,” it added, concluding that: “The Commission’s approach of fully privatising freedom of expression online, it’s almost complete indifference diligent assessment of the impacts of this privatisation.”