Nov
04
2019
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The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite

It’s Microsoft Ignite this week, the company’s premier event for IT professionals and decision-makers. But it’s not just about new tools for role-based access. Ignite is also very much a forward-looking conference that keeps the changing role of IT in mind. And while there isn’t a lot of consumer news at the event, the company does tend to make a few announcements for developers, as well.

This year’s Ignite was especially news-heavy. Ahead of the event, the company provided journalists and analysts with an 87-page document that lists all of the news items. If I counted correctly, there were about 175 separate announcements. Here are the top seven you really need to know about.

Azure Arc: you can now use Azure to manage resources anywhere, including on AWS and Google Cloud

What was announced: Microsoft was among the first of the big cloud vendors to bet big on hybrid deployments. With Arc, the company is taking this a step further. It will let enterprises use Azure to manage their resources across clouds — including those of competitors like AWS and Google Cloud. It’ll work for Windows and Linux Servers, as well as Kubernetes clusters, and also allows users to take some limited Azure data services with them to these platforms.

Why it matters: With Azure Stack, Microsoft already allowed businesses to bring many of Azure’s capabilities into their own data centers. But because it’s basically a local version of Azure, it only worked on a limited set of hardware. Arc doesn’t bring all of the Azure Services, but it gives enterprises a single platform to manage all of their resources across the large clouds and their own data centers. Virtually every major enterprise uses multiple clouds. Managing those environments is hard. So if that’s the case, Microsoft is essentially saying, let’s give them a tool to do so — and keep them in the Azure ecosystem. In many ways, that’s similar to Google’s Anthos, yet with an obvious Microsoft flavor, less reliance on Kubernetes and without the managed services piece.

Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

What was announced: Project Cortex creates a knowledge network for your company. It uses machine learning to analyze all of the documents and contracts in your various repositories — including those of third-party partners — and then surfaces them in Microsoft apps like Outlook, Teams and its Office apps when appropriate. It’s the company’s first new commercial service since the launch of Teams.

Why it matters: Enterprises these days generate tons of documents and data, but it’s often spread across numerous repositories and is hard to find. With this new knowledge network, the company aims to surface this information proactively, but it also looks at who the people are who work on them and tries to help you find the subject matter experts when you’re working on a document about a given subject, for example.

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Microsoft launched Endpoint Manager to modernize device management

What was announced: Microsoft is combining its ConfigMgr and Intune services that allow enterprises to manage the PCs, laptops, phones and tablets they issue to their employees under the Endpoint Manager brand. With that, it’s also launching a number of tools and recommendations to help companies modernize their deployment strategies. ConfigMgr users will now also get a license to Intune to allow them to move to cloud-based management.

Why it matters: In this world of BYOD, where every employee uses multiple devices, as well as constant attacks against employee machines, effectively managing these devices has become challenging for most IT departments. They often use a mix of different tools (ConfigMgr for PCs, for example, and Intune for cloud-based management of phones). Now, they can get a single view of their deployments with the Endpoint Manager, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described as one of the most important announcements of the event, and ConfigMgr users will get an easy path to move to cloud-based device management thanks to the Intune license they now have access to.

Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

What was announced: Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge will be generally available on January 15. The release candidate is available now. That’s the culmination of a lot of work from the Edge team, and, with today’s release, the company is also adding a number of new privacy features to Edge that, in combination with Bing, offers some capabilities that some of Microsoft’s rivals can’t yet match, thanks to its newly enhanced InPrivate browsing mode.

Why it matters: Browsers are interesting again. After years of focusing on speed, the new focus is now privacy, and that’s giving Microsoft a chance to gain users back from Chrome (though maybe not Firefox). At Ignite, Microsoft also stressed that Edge’s business users will get to benefit from a deep integration with its updated Bing engine, which can now surface business documents, too.

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You can now try Microsoft’s web-based version of Visual Studio

What was announced: At Build earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would soon launch a web-based version of its Visual Studio development environment, based on the work it did on the free Visual Studio Code editor. This experience, with deep integrations into the Microsoft-owned GitHub, is now live in a preview.

Why it matters: Microsoft has long said that it wants to meet developers where they are. While Visual Studio Online isn’t likely to replace the desktop-based IDE for most developers, it’s an easy way for them to make quick changes to code that lives in GitHub, for example, without having to set up their IDE locally. As long as they have a browser, developers will be able to get their work done..

Microsoft launches Power Virtual Agents, its no-code bot builder

What was announced: Power Virtual Agents is Microsoft’s new no-code/low-code tool for building chatbots. It leverages a lot of Azure’s machine learning smarts to let you create a chatbot with the help of a visual interface. In case you outgrow that and want to get to the actual code, you can always do so, too.

Why it matters: Chatbots aren’t exactly at the top of the hype cycle, but they do have lots of legitimate uses. Microsoft argues that a lot of early efforts were hampered by the fact that the developers were far removed from the user. With a visual too, though, anybody can come in and build a chatbot — and a lot of those builders will have a far better understanding of what their users are looking for than a developer who is far removed from that business group.

Cortana wants to be your personal executive assistant and read your emails to you, too

What was announced: Cortana lives — and it now also has a male voice. But more importantly, Microsoft launched a few new focused Cortana-based experiences that show how the company is focusing on its voice assistant as a tool for productivity. In Outlook on iOS (with Android coming later), Cortana can now read you a summary of what’s in your inbox — and you can have a chat with it to flag emails, delete them or dictate answers. Cortana can now also send you a daily summary of your calendar appointments, important emails that need answers and suggest focus time for you to get actual work done that’s not email.

Why it matters: In this world of competing assistants, Microsoft is very much betting on productivity. Cortana didn’t work out as a consumer product, but the company believes there is a large (and lucrative) niche for an assistant that helps you get work done. Because Microsoft doesn’t have a lot of consumer data, but does have lots of data about your work, that’s probably a smart move.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 02: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the new Cortana logo as he delivers a keynote address during the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference on April 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Bonus: Microsoft agrees with you and thinks meetings are broken — and often it’s the broken meeting room that makes meetings even harder. To battle this, the company today launched Managed Meeting Rooms, which for $50 per room/month lets you delegate to Microsoft the monitoring and management of the technical infrastructure of your meeting rooms.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft launches Project Cortex, a knowledge network for your company

At its annual Ignite IT conference in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft today announced Project Cortex, its first new commercial product since the launch of Teams. The general idea here is to allow employees to quickly find information that’s spread out across documents in Microsoft’s various services and make it available both through searches and, when its algorithms deem it appropriate, in the form of hover-links inside of Microsoft products like the Office apps, Outlook and Teams.

“As we have thought about people getting work done together, as we have thought about productivity — really broadly defined — for more than 10 years we have had this vision of being able to not only help people transactionally get things done but also allowing them to take a step back and capture what the organization knows and put that to use, put that to work,” said Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of its Microsoft 365 business, in a pre-recorded press briefing the company made available to the media ahead of today’s announcement.

So with Project Cortex, which Microsoft referred to simply as “Knowledge Network” in earlier materials it provided to the press, the company built a system that can ingest all of these artifacts, including all of the Office documents, email, chat logs and transcripts from meeting recordings that a company generates, and that then uses machine learning to classify all of this information into topics and topics collections to form this network.

“The whole idea here is that it’s kind of a spelunker that’s going down into all your content repositories, whether they’re in Microsoft 365, on-prem and file shares and other systems,” explained Spataro. “And it’s searching these things out and putting them together and saying, ‘hey, you have a project here,’ for instance a project or something you’re working on. I can put documents and videos and meetings together, calendar appointments. I can pull people and I can tell you what the organization knows in a 360-degree view about this topic.”

All of this data can then be surfaced inside Microsoft’s products. If you’re writing an email and Microsoft detects that it’s about a project that the Knowledge Network knows about, it’ll link that term so you can hover over the words and see additional information about it. It’ll show you who is working on this, when the work started, and a map that shows you this project or topic in relation to others. Ideally, this helps you identify the experts about a given topic inside your organization and make connections you would otherwise miss.

All of these are lofty ideas, and we’ve heard some of these promises before, in relation to the Microsoft Graph, which is a slightly different project but which was also meant to make all of the data inside an organization more accessible, though mostly by developers.

Project Cortex is now in private preview. It’ll be generally available in the first half of 2020.

Nov
04
2019
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Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser gets new privacy features, will be generally available January 15

Microsoft today announced that its Chromium-based Edge browser will be generally available on January 15 and that the release candidate for Windows and macOS is now available for download (and that it features a new icon).

The development of the new Edge has progressed pretty rapidly and the latest build has been very stable, even as Microsoft started building more differentiated features like Collections into its more experimental builds.

With today’s release, Microsoft also is announcing new privacy features. The marquee feature here is probably the new InPrivate browsing mode that now, in combination with Bing, will keep your online searches and identities private. InPrivate, as the name implies, already deleted any information about your browsing session on your local machine when you closed the window. But now, when you search with Bing, Microsoft’s search engine you’ve probably forgotten about, your search history on Bing and any personally identifiable data will also not be saved or associated back to you.

By default, Edge will also now enable tracking prevention. “One of the things that’s hard on the web is how to balance the desire for privacy and the protection of your data — and yet you still want the web to be personalized,” said Yusuf Mehdi, the corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Modern Life, Search and Devices Group, in a pre-recorded briefing ahead of today’s announcement. “The problem today is, nobody has really nailed it. You’ve got some good companies doing some really innovative work to try and have super-strict privacy controls. The problem is, they break the web. And then you’ve got other ones who say, ‘hey, don’t worry about it, we’re just going to make it all work for you.’ But in the background, your data is getting tracked.” Mehdi, of course, thinks that Microsoft’s approach is the better one here — and more balanced.

Mar
01
2018
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Microsoft advances several of its hosted artificial intelligence algorithms

 Microsoft Cognitive Services is home to the company’s hosted artificial intelligence algorithms. Today, the company announced advances to several Cognitive Services tools including Microsoft Custom Vision Service, the Face API and Bing Entity Search . Joseph Sirosh, who leads the Microsoft’s cloud AI efforts, defined Microsoft Cognitive Services in a company blog post announcing… Read More

Sep
25
2017
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Bing now means business

 Unless you’re a regular Bing user, chances are you haven’t thought about Microsoft’s search engine all that much in recent years. While Microsoft has kept adding features to the service over time, its market share has remained pretty stable. At Microsoft’s Ignite conference in Orlando, however, Bing took center stage for a little while. Read More

Aug
22
2016
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Media.net acquired for $900M in mega ad-tech deal

Divyank Turakhia, co-founder and president of Directi, poses for a photograph at the Dublin Web Summit in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday, Oct. 29, 2010. Leaders of some of the world's leading technology companies gathered in Ireland for the Dublin Web Summit Oct. 28-29. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images The flow of Chinese capital into foreign ad-tech companies increased this morning with the acquisition of Media.net for $900 million USD. A consortium will be paying cash for the startup with key operation centers in New York City and Dubai. Eventually the company is set to be acquired from the consortium by Miteno Communication Technology, a Chinese tech conglomerate. The transaction is… Read More

Jul
07
2016
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Microsoft now helps businesses use the data that powers Bing Predicts

2016-07-07_0936   A few years ago, Microsoft launched Bing Predicts, a project that aims to correctly predict sporting events and elections by combining lots of data with machine learning algorithms. Until now, though, there wasn’t really a product that made Bing Predicts available to users. Today, however, the company launched its Cortana Intelligence with Bing Predicts service. Sadly, this… Read More

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