What's that, Skippy? You want a taste of Windows 10 19H2? Oops, too late

New exec, new dev toys, and more from the world of Microsoft

Roundup Over the past week in MicrosoftLand, Windows Mixed Reality continued its slow shuffle to relevance, a new Project Rome ushered in a world of cross-platform data slinging and Insiders had a play with the latest Skype tweaks.

Azure woes

The services key to Microsoft's success continued to wobble last week.

As well as the Office 365 outage earlier in the week, the Active Directory service tottered from 08:00 UTC on 1 February as some unlucky Europeans found themselves having problems accessing the cloudy services of the Windows giant.

Functionality within the likes of Azure Portal, Azure Active Directory B2C, Azure Active Directory Privileged Identity Management, Managed Service Identity, Azure RBAC and Microsoft Teams took a dive while engineers scratched their heads.

Microsoft's Twitter support mouthpiece initially professed ignorance then suggested users give the thing a kick by logging off and logging on again, before swiftly unleashing the hardworking team of engineers tasked with tracking down the cause of the day's embuggerance as the reports came rolling in.

The staggering subsided by 10:00 UTC as engineers dealt with the thing.

New builds and getting skippy once again in Windows 10

While Azure had its woes, the Windows gang emitted another Windows 10 build and slammed the door on Skip Ahead invitations.

Skip Ahead gives testers access to even newer Windows code. While the rest of the Windows Insider fast-ring crew continues to prod and poke at 19H1 (likely due for release in April), the lucky few on Skip Ahead will start receiving builds of 19H2, which will probably be released in October.

We say "lucky few" because the option to enroll was only open between 30 January and 1 February.

And, with the solitary bug-bash coming to a close, the Windows Insider team released a fresh build of 19H1 in the form of 18329.

The steady-as-she-goes approach of this version of Windows 10 has continued, with tweaks to Search to show the most-used apps first and the addition of the ability to stick desktop Win32 apps into a Microsoft Mixed Reality environment. The gang pointed to opportunities afforded by the function such as cranking out some script in Visual Studio Code while sat in the company's virtual world rather than face the grim reality of an office cubicle.

As if to indicate that this remains a work in progress, a large number of known issues remain, not least errors while unzipping files, problems getting the Windows Sandbox running and a vaguely horrifying scenario where two narrator voices end up talking at the same time. The Windows team advised a reboot to deal with the issue.

The additional love given to Windows Mixed Reality comes as the headsets struggle to make much headway against the might of the Oculus Rift. According to a fresh batch of statistics from game distribution platform Steam, the tech accounts for just over 8.9 per cent of VR users on the service. The growth looks to have come at the expense of HTC, who lays claim to 40.6 and 2.6 per cent of users for its Vive and Vive Pro headsets respectively. The Rift retains its lead at 47 per cent usage.

At the current rate of growth, Microsoft's take on VR might finally tip into double digits before long, assuming axeman extraordinaire Satya Nadella doesn't wield the blade in favour of the Hololens. His willingness to sacrifice consumer technology has been already ably demonstrated.

Just ask Cortana.

TypeScript, Project Rome and musical exec chairs – a week of developer goodness

Microsoft continued flinging out toys for devs like an incontinent walrus on a waltzer. The previous week's release candidate of TypeScript 3.3 went to general availability for those that like a little type checking in their JavaScript, while Shanku Niyogi leapt from being director of Project Management for Google's Cloud Platform to the position of SVP of Product for Microsoft's code shack acquisition, GitHub.

Niyogi has reassuring chops when it comes to development, having been Engineering GM and director of Visual Studio as well as Product and Engineering Leader of .NET Framework during an 18-year stint at Microsoft prior to his short-lived career at Mountain View.

Microsoft famously ditched its mobile platform in favour of a pivot toward services (witness last week's financial results) and so it was that the Project Rome SDK for iOS and Android put in a version 1.0 release last week.

The aim of Project Rome is to enable "seamless cross-device and cross-platform experiences". If you're thinking "that sounds a lot like Timeline" you'd be right, and well done for paying attention at the back.

Of course, there is far more to Project Rome than having activities from mobile devices appear in Windows 10's Timeline. Device Relay lets users start activities on one device (say, an Android smartphone) and then resume them on another (perhaps Windows 10 desktop?) Finally Microsoft Graph notifications allow developers to make their apps stay in the face of specific users.

And yes, those users will need a Microsoft account for any of it to work.

Skype users – expressing themselves through emoticons

Finally, Microsoft had a clutch of Skype tweaks for its platoon of Insiders to play with. Most usefully, a single tap on the screen during a video call will dispense with all the interface clutter, leaving only your visage and that of the person you're chatting to on the display. The gang has also shifted the speaker and audio button to make one-handed operation easier and embiggened the user's own video.

Alas, with every handy new feature there must come some fripperies, and Skype Insiders have not been left out in this regard. The team has made it easier to pop a GIF in a message, with the imagery selectable from what is trending or manually searched for.

The gang has also added personalised emoticons to the chat platform – a right-click on the desktop version or a longer press on the mobile incarnation allows lucky users to switch from the usual round, jaundiced head to a monkey, koala, kitten or dog.

It is fair to say that users have reacted somewhat negatively to this in the Skype forum, with one user asking "Who asked for this?" while another replied a little plaintively to Microsoft's cheerful "Who do you want to be today?" with a sad little "Someone who can use Skype Classic." ®

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