Microsoft's Master Chief calls time on Cortana as a standalone AI platform

Plus: Retail services win for Azure and 365, new toy for XAML UWP devs, and more


Roundup Culling Cortana, poking Phone users and feeding the UWP XAML developers – it's all in a week's work for Microsoft.

For whom Nadella the Axeman cometh

We noted last week that Microsoft's unloved assistant, Cortana, had been booted from desktop search in the latest Windows Insider build (how Microsoft avoids spanking its billions on decent quality control).

According to reports, CEO Satya Nadella has concluded that the AI helper should be relegated to a "skill" on competing platforms.

Nadella took a look at the smart-speaker market and realised (like most of us) that Microsoft would probably end up an also-ran against the likes of Google and Amazon.

Cortana hardware therefore looks set to join the Band and Phone as great Microsoft products that, sadly, no one but die-hards bought.

Of course, Cortana will live on – it is already a skill on Amazon's platform, and an app on iOS and Android. Nadella would also like to see it popping up on Google's Home speakers.

The apparent culling of Cortana, at least as a standalone appliance, fits in well with the Microsoft's services focus. The tech slipping into the background makes the 365-branded and Azure product lines all the more tempting.

Hammering more nails into the Windows Phone coffin

As if to ram home the point that Microsoft isn't that interested in consumer hardware that doesn't run Forza in 4K, the company tweaked the Windows Phone death march page, as if to remind hold-outs that it really is time to ditch their beloved handsets.

Microsoft's FAQ page was updated to remind the dwindling group of Windows Phone users that, as well as the 10 December 2019 end-of-support for the platform, creating new backups of the handsets would stop working on 10 March 2020, three months later. You might still be able to restore devices or upload photos until 10 December 2020, but the company isn't making any promises.

So, while Windows 7 users squirm nervously as 2020 approaches, if you're still using a Windows Phone you should probably start thinking about what to put on your Christmas list.

Microsoft: Rescuing retailers from AWS

Away from the consumer-focused fanbase, Microsoft continued to punt its services product line, scoring a potentially lucrative deal with the US Department of Defense and signing US retail giant Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) up for its Azure, Cloud and AI platform.

The deal will see 12 in-store "digital health corners" flogging healthcare-related hardware and devices (presumably not a Microsoft Band) and, more importantly, the majority of WBA's IT infrastructure moved to Azure and 380,000 employees migrated to Microsoft O365.

The announcement follows the previous week's trumpeting of a deal with another US retailer, grocery giant Kroger, which will see Azure processing the data generated in-store and on Kroger's app to "introduce never-before-seen shopping experiences".

Or, in other words, help Kroger sell more stuff.

Skipping lightly over the privacy issues, both deals indicate retailers would prefer not to throw their lot in with AWS, the cloudy arm of e-tail leviathan Amazon.

Sadly, however, it has resulted in yet another acronym being inflicted on the industry: Retail as a Service or "RaaS". Walgreens Boots probably has a cream for that.

New toy for UWP XAML developers

Last week Microsoft Garage released a free tool that it hopes will let devs prototype UWP XAML for user interfaces without recourse to a full-fat installation of Visual Studio.

With a tagline of "It looks like you're trying to build a UI? Would you like help?" the app allows devs to quickly drop in some XAML and see how it looks and works.

We gave it go and found it a fast and lightweight way of visualising XAML without having to sit around while Visual Studio had a good, long think about opening up an editor.

However, even with Intellisense and a control box to create ready-made XAML elements, users expecting something that will allow them to draw up interfaces with zero XAML experience should look elsewhere for their rapid prototyping.

For anyone else still working in the UWP XAML world, however, this Garage project is worth a closer look.

Got Azure IoT devices? You're special. Come preview an updated agent

While Azure DevOps was inviting hackers to give its sensitive parts a good kicking, the second-placed cloud giant also lobbed IoT Device Agent V2 into public preview.

Redmond may be sidling away from an in-yer-face consumer presence, based on recent events, but the company has a foothold in the IoT world which it would dearly like to grow.

To that end Microsoft has put out a public preview of its device agent, which allows Windows 10 IoT customers to manage their devices from the comfort of their Azure dashboard rather than having to actually connect to the things directly.

Those who have bought into Microsoft's IoT vision can manage Azure IoT Hub identities on devices and manage (and renew) connections.

Windows 10 IoT Enterprise and IoT Core-based devices will both feel the love with this release. ®

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