May
02
2019
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Microsoft announces the $3,500 HoloLens 2 Development Edition

As part of its rather odd Thursday afternoon pre-Build news dump, Microsoft today announced the HoloLens 2 Development Edition. The company announced the much-improved HoloLens 2 at MWC Barcelona earlier this year, but it’s not shipping to developers yet. Currently, the best release date we have is “later this year.” The Development Edition will launch alongside the regular HoloLens 2.

The Development Edition, which will retail for $3,500 to own outright or on a $99 per month installment plan, doesn’t feature any special hardware. Instead, it comes with $500 in Azure credits and 3-month trials of Unity Pro and the Unity PiXYZ plugin for bringing engineering renderings into Unity.

To get the Development Edition, potential buyers have to join the Microsoft Mixed Reality Developer Program and those who already pre-ordered the standard edition will be able to change their order later this year.

As far as HoloLens news goes, that’s all a bit underwhelming. Anybody can get free Azure credits, after all (though usually only $200) and free trials of Unity Pro are also readily available (though typically limited to 30 days).

Oddly, the regular HoloLens 2 was also supposed to cost $3,500. It’s unclear if the regular edition will now be somewhat cheaper, cost the same but come without the credits, or really why Microsoft isn’t doing this at all. Turning this into a special “Development Edition” feels more like a marketing gimmick than anything else, as well as an attempt to bring some of the futuristic glamour of the HoloLens visor to today’s announcements.

The folks at Unity are clearly excited, though. “Pairing HoloLens 2 with Unity’s real-time 3D development platform enables businesses to accelerate innovation, create immersive experiences, and engage with industrial customers in more interactive ways,” says Tim McDonough, GM of Industrial at Unity, in today’s announcement. “The addition of Unity Pro and PiXYZ Plugin to HoloLens 2 Development Edition gives businesses the immediate ability to create real-time 2D, 3D, VR, and AR interactive experiences while allowing for the importing and preparation of design data to create real-time experiences.”

Microsoft also today noted that Unreal Engine 4 support for HoloLens 2 will become available by the end of May.

Mar
20
2019
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Windows Virtual Desktop is now in public preview

Last year, Microsoft announced the launch of its Windows Virtual Desktop service. At the time, this was a private preview, but starting today, any enterprise user who wants to try out what using a virtual Windows 10 desktop that’s hosted in the Azure cloud looks like will be able to give it a try.

It’s worth noting that this is very much a product for businesses. You’re not going to use this to play Apex Legends on a virtual machine somewhere in the cloud. The idea here is that a service like this, which also includes access to Office 365 ProPlus, makes managing machines and the software that runs on them easier for enterprises. It also allows employers in regulated industries to provide their mobile workers with a virtual desktop that ensures that all of their precious data remains secure.

One stand-out feature here is that businesses can run multiple Windows 10 sessions on a single virtual machine.

It’s also worth noting that many of the features of this service are powered by technology from FSLogix, which Microsoft acquired last year. Specifically, these technologies allow Microsoft to give the non-persistent users relatively fast access to applications like their Outlook and OneDrive applications, for example.

For most Microsoft 365 enterprise customers, access to this service is simply part of the subscription cost they already pay — though they will need an Azure subscription and to pay for the virtual machines that run in the cloud.

Right now, the service is only available in the US East 2 and US Central Azure regions. Over time, and once the preview is over, Microsoft will expand it to all of its cloud regions.

Sep
24
2018
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Microsoft hopes enterprises will want to use Cortana

In a world dominated by Alexa and the Google Assistant, Cortana suffers the fate of a perfectly good alternative that nobody uses and everybody forgets about. But Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if it just gave up on its investment in this space, so it’s now launching the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to see if that’s a niche where Cortana can succeed.

This new kit is an end-to-end solution for enterprises that want to build their own skills and agents. Of course, they could have done this before using the existing developer tools. This kit isn’t all that different from those, after all. Microsoft notes that it is designed for deployment inside an organization and represents a new platform for them to build these experiences.

The Skills Kit platform is based on the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding feature.

Overall, this is probably not a bad bet on Microsoft’s part. I can see how some enterprises would want to build their own skills for their employees and customers to access internal data, for example, or to complete routine tasks.

For now, this tool is only available in private preview. No word on when we can expect a wider launch.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Sep
06
2018
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Microsoft commits to fixing custom apps broken by Windows 10 upgrades

Microsoft wants to make life easier for enterprise customers. Starting today, it is committing to fix any custom applications that may break as a result of updates to Windows 10 or the Office 365 product suite.

Most large companies have a series of custom applications that play a crucial role inside their organizations. When you update Windows and Office 365, Murphy’s Law of updates says one or more of those applications is going to break.

Up until this announcement when that inevitably happened, it was entirely the problem of the customer. Microsoft has taken a huge step today by promising to help companies understand which applications will likely break when you install updates, and working to help fix them if it ultimately happens anyway.

One of the reasons the company can afford to be so generous is they have data that suggests the vast majority of applications won’t break when customers move from Windows 7 to Windows 10. “Using millions of data points from customer diagnostic data and the Windows Insider validation process, we’ve found that 99 percent of apps are compatible with new Windows updates,” Microsoft’s Jared Spataro wrote in a blog post announcing these programs.

To that end, they have a new tool called Desktop Deployment Analytics, which creates a map of your applications and predicts using artificial intelligence which of them are most likely to have problems with the update.

“You now have the ability with the cloud to have intelligence in how you manage these end points and get smart recommendations around how you deploy Windows,” Spataro, who is corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, told TechCrunch.

Even with that kind of intelligence-driven preventive approach, things still break, and that’s where the next program, Desktop App Assure, comes into play. It’s a service designed to address any application compatibility issues with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus. In fact, Microsoft has promised to assign an engineer to a company to fix anything that breaks, even if it’s unique to a particular organization.

That’s quite a commitment, and Spataro recognizes that there will be plenty of skeptics where this program in particular is concerned. He says that it’s up to Microsoft to deliver what it’s promised.

Over the years, organizations have spent countless resources getting applications to work after Windows updates, sometimes leaving older versions in place for years to avoid incompatibility problems. These programs theoretically completely remove that pain point from the equation, placing the burden to fix the applications squarely on Microsoft.

“We will look to make changes in Windows or Office before we ask you to make changes in your custom application,” Spataro says, but if that doesn’t solve it, they have committed to helping you fix it.

Finally, the company heard a lot of complaints from customers when they announced they were ending extended support for Windows 7 in 2020. Spataro said Microsoft listened to its customers, and has now extended paid support until 2024, letting companies change at their own pace. Theoretically, however, if they can assure customers that updating won’t break things, and they will commit to fixing them if that happens, it should help move customers to Windows 10, which appears to be the company’s goal here.

They also made changes to the standard support and update cadence for Windows 10 and Office 365:

All of these programs appear to be a major shift in how Microsoft has traditionally done business, showing a much stronger commitment to servicing the requirements of enterprise customers, while shifting the cost of fixing custom applications from the customer to Microsoft when updates to its core products cause issues. But they have done so knowing that they can help prevent a lot of those incompatibility problems before they happen, making it easier to commit to this type of program.

May
07
2018
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Microsoft brings more AI smarts to the edge

At its Build developer conference this week, Microsoft is putting a lot of emphasis on artificial intelligence and edge computing. To a large degree, that means bringing many of the existing Azure services to machines that sit at the edge, no matter whether that’s a large industrial machine in a warehouse or a remote oil-drilling platform. The service that brings all of this together is Azure IoT Edge, which is getting quite a few updates today. IoT Edge is a collection of tools that brings AI, Azure services and custom apps to IoT devices.

As Microsoft announced today, Azure IoT Edge, which sits on top of Microsoft’s IoT Hub service, is now getting support for Microsoft’s Cognitive Services APIs, for example, as well as support for Event Grid and Kubernetes containers. In addition, Microsoft is also open sourcing the Azure IoT Edge runtime, which will allow developers to customize their edge deployments as needed.

The highlight here is support for Cognitive Services for edge deployments. Right now, this is a bit of a limited service as it actually only supports the Custom Vision service, but over time, the company plans to bring other Cognitive Services to the edge as well. The appeal of this service is pretty obvious, too, as it will allow industrial equipment or even drones to use these machine learning models without internet connectivity so they can take action even when they are offline.

As far as AI goes, Microsoft also today announced that it will bring its new Brainwave deep neural network acceleration platform for real-time AI to the edge.

The company has also teamed up with Qualcomm to launch an AI developer kit for on-device inferencing on the edge. The focus of the first version of this kit will be on camera-based solutions, which doesn’t come as a major surprise given that Qualcomm recently launched its own vision intelligence platform.

IoT Edge is also getting a number of other updates that don’t directly involve machine learning. Kubernetes support is an obvious one and a smart addition, given that it will allow developers to build Kubernetes clusters that can span both the edge and a more centralized cloud.

The appeal of running Event Grid, Microsoft’s event routing service, at the edge is also pretty obvious, given that it’ll allow developers to connect services with far lower latency than if all the data had to run through a remote data center.

Other IoT Edge updates include the planned launch of a marketplace that will allow Microsoft partners and developers to share and monetize their edge modules, as well as a new certification program for hardware manufacturers to ensure that their devices are compatible with Microsoft’s platform. IoT Edge, as well as Windows 10 IoT and Azure Machine Learning, will also soon support hardware-accelerated model evaluation with DirextX 12 GPU, which is available in virtually every modern Windows PC.

Jun
14
2017
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Facebook teaches machines to negotiate with humans

 Though Facebook is rarely mentioned alongside Apple, Microsoft and Amazon in discussions about conversational AI, the company has published a hoard of papers that underscore a deep interest in dialog systems. As has become clear with Siri, Cortana and Alexa, dialog is hard — it requires more than just good speech recognition to deliver a killer experience to users. From the sidelines… Read More

May
10
2017
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Microsoft Maluuba is teaching machines to ask questions

 Microsoft Maluuba, the research team of PhDs that Microsoft acquired back in January, has been hard at work exploring the nexus of machine learning and question generation with the aim of delivering an intelligent personal assistant that surpasses the limited capabilities of today’s market leaders. Read More

Jan
10
2017
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The latest Windows 10 Creators Update preview gets a blue light mode and browser upgrades

windows10-my-people Announced in October, Windows 10 Creators Update is still a ways off — slated to be released this spring – but Microsoft’s already testing new features galore by way of its Windows Insider preview. The latest edition includes a number of usual updates for the forthcoming OS that are shaping up to make a pretty compelling upgrade. On the list of new offerings in the latest… Read More

Dec
06
2016
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Windows 10 Creators update loads up on features for IT

can_9787 Microsoft announced a slew of goodies today for its upcoming Windows 10 Creators update, designed to please IT admins and simplify management of Windows 10 inside large enterprises. Microsoft has been trying to get enterprise companies — you know the ones with lots of users — to make the switch to Windows 10. They claim, even before this announcement, the number of… Read More

Sep
26
2016
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Windows 10 hits 400 million machines as growth slows post-free upgrade

Satya spoke about new platforms and uses for Windows 10 Back in July, Microsoft tempered its Windows 10 expectations a touch, noting that its initial projection of mid-2018 for one billion active devices was probably a bit over-ambitious. That pronouncement came shortly after the company announced that its OS had hit 350 million machines (after hitting 300 million in May) — and roughly a fortnight before ending its free upgrade period.… Read More

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