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Microsoft Officially Announces the Windows 10 "China Government" Edition

Remember that piece regarding Microsoft's Windows 10 for the chinese government? Well, Microsoft has just officially announced it in its Shanghai presentation today. In a joint-venture with China's government, CETC (China Electronics Technology Group), CMIT (a conglomerate of China-based manufacturers), and Lenovo, the Redmond-based company has apparently managed to deliver what they themselves thought impossible: a version of their operating system that doesn't spy on its users. Lenovo, as you might have guessed already, will be one of the first OEM partners to preinstall Windows 10 China Government Edition on new devices.

Based on Windows 10 Enterprise Edition, the Windows 10 China Government Edition ironically ticks all the boxes for what enthusiasts would like to see from their OS: it's a modular approach to Windows, where users (read, in this case, government entities) can remove features they aren't looking to take advantage of (like OneDrive), whilst giving the capability to "manage all telemetry and updates." Aren't those just great features to have?

WannaCry: Its Origins, and Why Future Attacks may be Worse

WannaCry, the Cryptographic Ransomware that encrypted entire PCs and then demanded payment via Bitcoin to unlock them, is actually not a new piece of technology. Ransomware of this type has existed nearly as long as the cryptocurrency Bitcoin has. What made headlines was the pace with which it spread and the level of damage it caused to several facilities dependent on old, seldom-updated software (Hospitals, for example). It's not a stretch to say this may be the first cyberattack directly attributable to a civilian death, though that has not been concluded yet as we are still waiting for the dust to settle. What is clear however is WHY it spread so quickly, and it's quite simple really: Many users don't have their PCs up to date.

Original Xbox Game Phantom Dust Re-Releases Today - Available for Free

The original Xbox's Phantum Dust was an original, striking game, which carved itself a cult following for its original gameplay. The re-release has had a troubled development, being downgraded from full remake towards a remaster of sorts, though Microsoft says the game's assets will scale up with your system up to 4K resolution. One interesting tidbit regarding this re-release is that the original game's source-code was apparently nowhere to be found, and Microsoft thus had to reverse engineer the engine so as to be able to carry this re-release torch forward. Interesting that Microsoft would go to all this work for a game it is now releasing for free. Looks like the Redmond company really is looking out after its image in gamers' eyes.

The game is now available for the Xbox One and Windows 10 platforms, through Microsoft's UWP. This might sour the release for some of you, but why not give it a go? It's free, and it's kind of a throwback Tuesday - and the game is only 3.4 GB in size, so you won't have to be staring at Microsoft's storefront for that long. Phantom Dust is an Xbox Play Anywhere title (with cross-play between Windows 10 and Xbox One,) complete with progression syncing and roaming in-app purchases (so, Microsoft is looking to recoup some of the investment made on bringing this game back from the dead.) The game's ability system revolves around deck building mechanics, with each card representing a different skill in your character's load-out, which you can customize as you see fit.

Source: Twitter

Microsoft to Launch First-Party Titles for Its Mixed Reality HMDs?

Microsoft has been slowly building up its mixed reality endeavor, by baking in support for the platform in its latest Windows 10 updates, as well as the recent announcements of actual HMDs from hardware partners like HP and Acer. Acer's solution, their Mixed Reality HMD, will ship to developers and customers with a $400 price-tag for both the headset and a pair of 6 DoF controllers, which easily remind users of HTC's Vive and Oculus's Rift controllers. Microsoft's implementation, however, makes away with the Rift's and Vive's ouside-in trackers, only needing to be within "sight" of the sensors on the front of the HMD to which they're connected, thus making them truly world-scale (if at the expense of some sweet swordplay moves, but I digress.)

Microsoft Announces New Fall Creators Update With Fluent Design System

After announcing its plan for a new, six-month update cycle for Windows 10, which Microsoft is treating as the last, monolithic release of Windows, the Redmond company has now announced its plans for the forthcoming Fall Creators Update (aherm) update.

Microsoft also announced the adoption of a new, Fluent design language, which strikes me as aesthetically pleasing, and a far cry from the Metro interface we've been saddled with since Windows 8. It carries on the bold color schemes, but marries it with a more subdued, less in-you-face style of user interface, and is supposed to encourage developers to design their apps in a way that makes sense on a variety of platforms - which, considering the advent of the Universal Windows Platform, makes all kinds of sense, doesn't it?

Google Project Zero Finds Windows Vulnerabilty, "Worst in Recent Memory"

Google's Project Zero has found yet another critical Windows Vulnerability, this time going so far as to call it "Crazy Bad" in a lone tweet by Google security researcher Tavis Ormandy. Tavis went on to elaborate that the vulnerability "works against a default install, [you] don't need to be on the same LAN, and it's wormable."

Sounds like the stuff of nightmares from a security perspective, right? The good news is Google's policy is to give companies 90 days to patch bugs like this before revealing the exploits details. The idea is to pressure developers to fix vulnerabilities before the reveal, so users remain protected and companies are forced to act rather than adopt a "wait and see" approach. Microsoft however, does not have the best follow-up reputation, having left at least two major security bugs unpatched for the entire 90-day security-flaw reveal window as recently as this year.

Microsoft Announces the New Generation Surface Laptop

Earlier today, we shared our vision for empowering today's students and teachers to create the world of tomorrow. This is a vision that resonates deeply with us on the Surface team because it taps directly into why we created Surface - to empower people to bring their ideas to life. To bring hardware and software together to transform the way people learn and create. This is what Surface has always been about. We built Surface Laptop to do two things: refresh the classic laptop form factor that our customers, especially college students, have been asking for; and make a Surface that works seamlessly to showcase the best of Windows 10 S.

The result is the most personal and balanced Surface we've ever made. This Surface perfectly blends fabric and function, power and portability, beauty and performance. It does all of this without compromising on the things we know are important to higher education students: battery life, display quality, storage, and portability.

NVIDIA to Support 4K Netflix on GTX 10 Series Cards

Up to now, only users with Intel's latest Kaby Lake architecture processors could enjoy 4K Netflix due to some strict DRM requirements. Now, NVIDIA is taking it upon itself to allow users with one of its GTX 10 series graphics cards (absent the 1050, at least for now) to enjoy some 4K Netflix and chillin'. Though you really do seem to have to go through some hoops to get there, none of these should pose a problem.

The requirements to enable Netflix UHD playback, as per NVIDIA, are so:
  • NVIDIA Driver version exclusively provided via Microsoft Windows Insider Program (currently 381.74).
  • No other GeForce driver will support this functionality at this time
  • If you are not currently registered for WIP, follow this link for instructions to join: https://insider.windows.com/
  • NVIDIA Pascal based GPU, GeForce GTX 1050 or greater with minimum 3GB memory
  • HDCP 2.2 capable monitor(s). Please see the additional section below if you are using multiple monitors and/or multiple GPUs.
  • Microsoft Edge browser or Netflix app from the Windows Store
  • Approximately 25Mbps (or faster) internet connection.

Microsoft Trademarks Direct Physics - HAVOK Rebranded?

As you might recall, Microsoft bought HAVOK from Intel back in 2015, promising to "add Havok's IP to its existing tools and platforms, including DirectX 12, Visual Studio, and Azure." Well, it would seem we are seeing the fruits of that particular seeding, with Microsoft having trademarked "Direct Physics".

With Microsoft having previously talked about integrating HAVOK with its DX12 API, that is probably the most probable scenario for this trademark. A tighter, in-DX12 integration could possibly allow for the physics workflow to have increased performance under the API, which is something we can all get behind of. However, this also begs the question as to what exactly happens to HAVOK licensing in the process. I myself wouldn't expect Microsoft to put its HAVOK tools and libraries behind a DX12 implementation wall - the number of companies who license those libraries aren't few in number. So my guess is that Microsoft is simply rebranding the HAVOK middleware for integration under its DX12 API, which could mean opening up its libraries to any game that makes use of DX12.

Microsoft Releases FY17 Q3 Earnings - Azure Revenue Increases 93%

Microsoft just reported earnings for the last quarter, with the company reporting non-GAAP revenue of $23.6 billion and non-GAAP earnings per share of $0.73. YoY, Microsoft reported increased earnings per share of $0.11, from $0.62 in last year's quarter. Microsoft's "Intelligent Cloud" business hit $6.8 billion this quarter, up 11 percent from last year's $6.1 billion, and on its way to Microsoft's estimated $20 billion run rate by 2018. Azure revenue was up a staggering 93 percent, driven both by increased demand for the core Azure compute services as well as Azure's premium services. Azure's annual run rate is now $15.2 billion, which puts it on track to hit the $20 billion run rate Microsoft expects to achieve by 2020.

Kaspersky Backs Away From Threat of Antitrust Lawsuit against Microsoft / Win10

Russian-based Kaspersky Labs is backing away from its earlier threat of an antitrust case filing with the European Commission, instead opting for a "wait and see" approach with regards to its complaints with Microsoft over Windows 10 and its included security software "Windows Defender."

Kaspersky Labs has been threatening to press an antitrust action since November 2016, when in a November blog post titled "That's it. I've had enough!" Chief Executive Eugene Kaspersky complained that Microsoft did not give developers ample time to prepare for a new Windows release, and was using their "compatibility checker" tool to effectively remove competing software in favor of Windows Defender.

NSA's Windows Exploit "DoublePulsar" Being Actively Utilized in the Wild

The "DoublePulsar" exploit exposed recently as part of the leaked NSA-derived hacking toolkit posted online, is set to become one of the more significant issues related to the leak. Not because it is unpatched, because it has been patched for roughly a month, but rather because according to a threatpost.com report, few users are as up to date as they should be.

Microsoft Advises Against Installing The Creators Update Manually

Apparently, Microsoft is alerting would-be Creators Update takers that doing so manually (as in, before its automatic update roll-out through Windows Update itself) may result in a bad first experience. Microsoft is therefore suggesting that the majority of Windows 10 users should wait for the Windows Update version of the (ahem) update, due to concerns with some hardware compatibility problems.

In a blog post, Microsoft give the example of a user who reported issues between a Bluetooth connectivity accessory (Broadcom-based) for their PC and Windows 10 Creators Update, which resulted in Microsoft blocking all machines with similar hardware from being able to update until issues are solved. I for one must say I manually updated my system on April 7th and found nothing wanting, so these really do seem like hardware-specific snags. Microsoft is apparently doing everything in its power to make sure adopters of the latest version of Windows find a hassle-free experience on the other side of their screens, which is commendable. This does seem like a sensible solution to the problem, with power users (or simply users who don't care about warnings and are confident on their success and hardware compatibility) still being able to update, while less tech-savy customers are left waiting for a proven version for their hardware configuration. Here's hoping that doesn't take long, since the 3D-version of Paint really brought back childhood joy (for some of us, at least.)

Source: Blog.Windows.com, Tom's Hardware

Windows 10 Creators Update Still Activates with "old" Windows 7/8 License Keys

Although Microsoft officially stopped offering free upgrades to Windows 10 back in the summer of 2016, it seems loophole after loophole keeps being discovered for those with a bit of computer knowledge to upgrade anyways. This latest loophole, which comes in the form of activating via an older Windows 7 or 8 key, is not exactly new. This method of upgrading was first released to ease free upgrades to Windows 10 during the official upgrade period, but was never switched off in the summer of 2016 as one would've expected. Nor was it switched off with the Anniversary Update, and now again, Microsoft seems content to leave it enabled even with its latest Creators Update.

Microsoft Confirms Windows, Office 6-Month Update Cycle

Microsoft has been steadily increasing stability, features and, the company hopes, attractiveness of its latest Windows 10 operating system. Recently, its Creator's Update has brought, among other features, a performance-boosting Game Mode, a 3D version of the popular and (respectably ancient) Paint app, as well as increased privacy control, something users clamored for. Now, the Redmond company has confirmed that it's looking towards a six month update cycle for Windows 10 (thus aligning it with Office 365 ProPlus), looking to streamline and increase predictability of its support.

Microsoft released the Windows 10 Anniversary Update in August 2016, and the Creators Update made its public debut on April 11 2017, which is already close to the six-month update cycle the company is now confirming (seven months, in this case.) Now the company has confirmed that it plans to release its next step on the Windows 10 operating system on September 2017. From then on, updates should arrive in a steady cadence, on every subsequent March and September. Each Windows 10 feature release will be serviced and supported for 18 months, as is currently the case, and the company has also added that its System Center Configuration Manager will support this new aligned update model for Office 365 ProPlus and Windows 10, "making both easier to deploy and keep up to date."

Source: Blogs.Windows.com, Tom's Hardware

User Patch Unlocks Windows 7 and 8.1 Updates for Core "Kaby Lake" and Ryzen

Microsoft, in a bid to ensure users of 7th generation Intel Core "Kaby Lake," AMD A-series "Bristol Ridge," and AMD Ryzen "Summit Ridge" processors stick to Windows 10, ensured that the three platforms don't receive software updates when running older Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 operating systems. A new user-made patch removes this draconian restriction, letting you install Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 on your new-generation CPU powered machine, and receive regular software updates through Windows Update.

The patch is open-source, so you can inspect its code, and available on GitHub. The author of the patch, Zeffy, discovered two new functions to system file wuaueng.dll after the March 2017 update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, labeled "IsCPUSupported(void)" and "IsDeviceServiceable(void)." This library is patched to toggle those two functions "1," telling Windows Update that the CPU is "supported" and that the platform is "serviceable," making it eligible to receive updates.

DOWNLOAD: New-gen CPU Windows Update Unlocking Patch for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 by ZeffySource: Github

Upcoming XBOX "Project Scorpio" to Support Freesync 2, HDMI 2.1 VRR

In what could spell very interesting things for the uptake of the Freesync 2 open-standard, Digital Foundry has confirmed that Microsoft's upcoming "Project Scorpio" console will leverage AMD's FreeSync 2 standard so as to improve fluidity of frames. The objective is, as usual, to eliminate tearing and reduce stutter, allowing the GPU to trigger the display refresh rate at exactly the same frequency as it can churn out frames. The FreeSync 2 revision of the open standard is HDR-compatible, which means it supports what is being touted as The Next Big Thing™ in image quality. Like always, the available FreeSync-supported band will still depend on the panel's actual specifications. Additionally, the Scorpio is going to offer support for the upcoming VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) implemented within the HDMI 2.1 specifications.

Though TV panels don't support either of those standards currently, AMD has teased that FreeSync support on TVs would be possible - and upcoming. If true, and if this FreeSync support were to take off, this might spell an increased uptake on AMD's open standard implementation of VRR over NVIDIA's G-SYNC. The adoption of these VRR technologies would also allow developers to perhaps change their performance targets (say, from 60 FPS to 45 FPS), while also increasing fluidity of games that struggle to maintain their target frame rate. The Scorpio could be the first mainstream piece of tech to offer widespread support for VRR standards, thus increasing the user base and industry adoption rate of this technologies, which can only be good. To say that this adoption spells the death of NVIDIA's proprietary G-SYNC is nothing more than wild, boastful speculation; saying it could drive FreeSync and HDMI's VRR implementation towards mainstream usage is not. And that could mean a slow push of G-SYNC towards a niche PC-monitor solution with reduced uptake from monitor manufacturers.

Source: EuroGamer

Windows 10 Creators Update to Feature New Levels of Privacy Control

Developing on the latest Creator's Update release version of Windows 10 being available from Microsoft's Update Tool, there is a feature that needs further addressing: the new privacy settings. Microsoft is well aware (as well it should be, given the public outcry at its telemetry features) that Windows users were not happy with the fact that the company seemed to be trading their privacy for increased information - and ad revenues - in their new "Windows as a service" approach. Even though some of this telemetry and usage reports are essential towards achieving a good user experience in later updates, the general opinion was that Microsoft collected too much, with too little information being shared with users about what, when, and why. Now, Microsoft is looking to clean up its act without the obfuscation of hiding privacy setting in endless sub-menus.

There are now three levels of diagnostic information collecting being done at the OS level: Basic, Enhanced, and Full. Notice the absence of an "off" mode, which is something Microsoft likely will never budge on this new "Windows as a service" approach. However, the Basic mode now collects almost half of all the information that was previously collected. Users installing new versions of Windows will see a screen upon the configuration stage where they will be able to toggle privacy settings with a more refined filter than before, and your privacy settings will now (finally) carry over between major Windows updates, which means they won't reset without your knowledge. The same will happen with users that simply upgrade their Windows version with the new Creators Update.

Source: Windows Blogs, Tom's Hardware

Windows 10 Creators Update Available for Download

Even though the awaited Creators Update for Windows 10 is only set to arrive on April 11th, users who want to get ahead of the launch - and maybe themselves - can now update their version of Windows. Through the Windows 10 Update Assistant, Microsoft has made it possible for users to update to the latest version of windows ahead of time. After downloading and running the tool from Microsoft's website, it should display that Build 15063 is available - the official build number for the Creators Update.

The most awaited feature for the upcoming Windows update should be the Game Mode, though Beam live-streaming (which some say is better than Twitch) from the Game Bar, a PiP (picture-in-picture) mode for streaming videos while working on those pesky Excel budget .xlxs, and improved privacy settings (which aren't at the same level as the special edition built for the chinese market, though.) Microsoft's Edge is also seeing performance and security improvements, and Windows will now integrate a night mode that reduces blue light emissions - and thus the strain in your old eye globes. You can now also lock your Windows 10 PC at a distance through Windows Hello on your smartphone of choice, and can partake on some crazy Paint marathons with its improved 3D tool, which should elevate it to new, never before seen heights - maybe in the next update you can use the new Paint with Mixed-Reality products?

Source: Tom's HardwareSource: Microsoft Blogs

Windows 10 Creators Update Officially Launching April 11th

Microsoft has officially pegged its much-vaunted Creators Update for an April 11th Release (it's actually been available in its "RTM gold" state for some time via leaks on the web and even briefly via their own update tool, but there will surely be security patches between now and the release).

As far as features go, this update focuses a lot on features that Microsoft says enable users to "Unleash Creativity." This includes an update to the paint application that enables 3D functionality, improved support for Mixed Reality, a new "Game Mode" to dedicate resources to games, and a lot of features relating to broadcasting. Outside of the "creativity" theme, Microsoft claims it brings "new features to Microsoft Edge, additional security capabilities and privacy tools, and so much more."

Microsoft Lifts "Spying" Components in Windows 10 for Chinese Government Version

Reports have started coming in that Microsoft has finalized its special, "non-spying" edition of Windows 10 for the Chinese government. In a joint-venture with China's own CTEC (China Electronics Technology Group), the Redmond-based company has apparently managed to deliver what they themselves thought impossible: a version of their operating system that doesn't spy on its users.

China's government previously banned Windows 8 and its derivatives, citing security concerns, and later launched an anti-monopoly probe against Microsoft. This meant that Microsoft was largely left out of China's huge state-backed enterprises in China - and one can imagine how lucrative a market this one is. Microsoft surely wouldn't be willing to allow such a chance of revenue to just jostle over to the Linux field, following the Chinese government's attempts to craft a custom OS (Kylin, which failed) and recent efforts with new NeoKylin initiative. Microsoft isn't willing to relent so as to what and how were features cut from their Windows 10 version that leads it to continue normal functions even without the heavily baked-in, essential, flaunted telemetry features. What is true, though, is that the company did say telemetry and data collection was so deeply embedded on their operating system that removing them would break it at a fundamental level which is, apparently, only the case if you don't have the money (or potential revenue) to pony up for a custom edition.

Source: The Verge

Vulkan Multi-GPU Support to be Available in Windows 10, 8.x, 7, and Linux

Vulkan is arguably the API which has garnered the most positive reactions from enthusiasts. Its implementation in Doom, for example, brought about incredible performance improvements in a game that not only looked and played great, but also performed amazingly well. Vulkan's support for other operating systems other than Windows 10 (where Microsoft still has a lot of ground to cover in acquiring enthusiast trust and interest) is one of its greatest selling points, and the API has been gaining ever more traction in the market, with some developers even going so far as to axe DX12 support in favor of Vulkan.

Now, Khronos Group has come ahead and clarified that "(...) the Vulkan multi-GPU specification is very definitely NOT tied to Windows 10. It is possible to implement the Vulkan multi-GPU extension on any desktop OS including Windows 7, 8.X and 10 and Linux." Khronos also goes on to say that they are aware that some developers are already baking Multi-GPU support into their games in various platforms other than Windows 10. These are sure to come as good news - the fact that Vulkan is platform agnostic is great for consumers and developers alike. And maybe this support - which still depends on developers to implement it - will bring about the shot in the arm that multi-GPU implementations sorely need.

ARM Reveals Its Plan for World Domination: Announces DynamIQ Technology

ARM processors have been making forays into hitherto shallow markets, with it's technology and processor architectures winning an ever increasing amount of design wins. Most recently, Microsoft itself announced a platform meant to use ARM processors in a server environment. Now, ARM has put forward its plans towards achieving a grand total of 100 billion chips shipped in the 2017-2021 time frame.

To put that goal in perspective, ARM is looking to ship as many ARM-powered processors in this 2017-2021 time frame as it did between 1991 and 2017. This is no easy task - at least if ARM were to stay in its known markets, where it has already achieved almost total saturation. The plan: to widen the appeal of its processor design, with big bets in the AI, Automotive, XR (which encompasses the Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality markets), leveraged by what ARM does best: hyper-efficient processors.

Microsoft Locks System Updates for Windows 7, 8.1 on Ryzen, Kaby Lake Systems

It would seem Microsoft is ever looking for more creative ways of pushing its Windows 10 operating system towards the masses. Some Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users have apparently encountered one of these: a lock on system updates. The error message, which reads "Your PC uses a processor that isn't supported on this version of Windows", points towards a hardware lock-in in exchange for added security and updates.

A Microsoft Support page sheds some light on this issue: that Windows 10 is the only Microsoft operating system to support particular hardware configurations. Namely, systems based on Intel's "seventh (7th)-generation processors or a later generation" (Kaby Lake); "AMD seventh (7th)-generation ("Bristol Ridge") processor or a later generation"; and "Qualcomm "8996" processor or a later generation". This move on Windows 7 might make some sense; however, Windows 8.1 is still in its lease of life (and Microsoft support) until at least 2018.

Source: Microsoft Support
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