There’s a new settings page where you can link a new device and remove a device more easily, as well as switching between active devices through the app. “Now each device is identifiable on its own device card with your personally sync’d wallpaper,” Microsoft said.
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Mike Snider, USA TODAY
Published 9:02 p.m. ET Sept. 28, 2020
You’re not the only one experiencing issues with Microsoft Office.
Microsoft 365 was down Monday evening, affecting users’ new access request to multiple services including Outlook, Word, Excel and Microsoft Teams.
“We’re investigating an issue affecting access to multiple Microsoft 365 services,” the Microsoft 365 Status account tweeted Monday at 5:44 p.m. ET. “We’re working to identify the full impact and will provide more information shortly.”
“Users may be unable to access multiple Microsoft 365 services,” the software giant posted on its Office status website.
The company determined that a specific portion of its infrastructure was not processing authentication requests in a timely manner. “We’re pursuing mitigation steps for this issue,” the status update said.
Microsoft Office program users who were already logged in would be able to continue their sessions, the company confirmed.
Microsoft Office outage reports began coming in at 5 p.m. ET Monday at online traffic site DownDetector. Some users began reporting a return of service about 8:30 p.m. ET on the site.
The outage stopped work for some, but created more work for some: IT specialists. “The #Office365 outage is generating tickets like crazy,” tweeted one. “I have just told 5 people in a row: ‘No I cannot fix it. Microsoft is working on it.”
This #Office365 outage is generating tickets like crazy. I have just told 5 people in a row that: “No I cannot fix it. Microsoft is working on it.”
If you are planning to design your very own Xbox controller ahead of the Xbox Series X and S launch on November 10th, you might want to act fast. Microsoft is temporarily shutting down its Xbox Design Lab on October 14th.
Announced back in 2016, Xbox Design Lab brings a lot of flexibility and personal flair to the Xbox One controller. For $80, you have access to over 40 different color options for the various parts of the controller, adding up to over a million different combinations in total.
A couple years ago, I designed one for a close friend and was amazed how much customization I could do; it didn’t feel like I was just creating another color variant, but a truly unique personalized product. My friend loved it, telling me they thought I’d bought a rare controller online.
But starting October 14th until sometime in 2021, Microsoft says the service will be “offline temporarily so that we can bring you some updates.” The company didn’t say why or exactly when in 2021 the service will be back online, but it’s likely that Microsoft is preparing to expand the service to include customization features for the new Xbox controller.
Unlike the PS5’s DualSense controller, which strays away from the design of the DualShock series in terms of design and color scheme, the new Xbox Series X and S controller has a pretty familiar design. Microsoft says the controller’s “size and shape have been refined to accommodate an even wider range of people,” which makes it slightly smaller than its predecessor. The new Xbox controller also includes a redesigned D-Pad and a dedicated share button.
After months of waiting, we finally know when the Xbox Series X, Series S and PlayStation 5 will launch, and some games that will be available on day one.
But the new hardware requires some investment: the Xbox Series X / S will cost $499 and $299, while the PS5 and its discless Digital Edition will cost $499 and $399. And if you want to take the plunge, you’ll also need to be able to actually find a console, which hasn’t been easy with PS5 preorders so far. (Fingers crossed that the Xbox Series X / S preorders go more smoothly.)
Are Microsoft and Sony offering enough to convince you to buy into the next generation at launch? Our newsroom is torn, so we wanted to share our thoughts in case it helps you make a decision — even if that decision is, “I’m going to wait a while.”
Taylor Lyles: I plan to buy both a PS5 and Xbox Series X at launch in addition to upgrading my PC to next-gen hardware.
Initially, I wanted to buy a Series X at launch for Halo Infinite, but after it was delayed, there was nothing that was incentivizing me to buy an Xbox Series X until 2021. Then, Microsoft acquired a bunch of ZeniMax properties, including one of my favorite gaming franchises, Fallout, reigniting my interest to purchase Microsoft’s next-gen system on launch day.
Julia Alexander: I would first like to state that while I respect my colleagues purchasing the big Xbox console, I am more interested in seeing their living room setups. Where are they placing the console? Does it fit inside their TV stand? Is it going to lay forever on the floor because there simply is nowhere else for it to exist? It’s so big! It is, quite frankly, too big. I’m looking at an Xbox One right now and it’s a perfect size. But I digress.
I’m probably going to buy a PlayStation 5. Wait. Stop. Don’t “well, actually” me just yet in the comments. I’m aware that technically the PS5 is bigger than the Xbox Series X, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t seem as imposing, as looming, as threatening to me as the Series X.
Look, this isn’t me saying “sOnY iS bEtTeR” so please don’t email me things about hating on Xbox. I’ve used PlayStation consoles all my life, and at this point I’m mainly using consoles as general entertainment systems. So if I have to choose (although I’d like to be able to live freely and just throw both on my Visa), I’m basically buying what I think looks cooler. I’m going with the Tron-looking console. Consoles are living room set pieces. The PS5 looks like it’ll really tie the room together. I’ll take the futuristic, Wall-E-inspired console over the very big, boring brick.
Sean Hollister: I’ve never been a day-one console buyer, always waiting for the reviews and early glitches to get ironed out — and with the PS5 and Xbox Series X and S, I feel like there’s less reason to buy at launch than ever. I badly want to play Miles Morales and Horizon: Forbidden West, but Sony says I’ll be able to do that on my existing PS4 Pro! Plus, I wrote a whole editorial on how I probably won’t need an Xbox at all — every big game is also coming to PCs, and many of them to the cloud.
Plus, the biggest games for both consoles probably won’t be out anytime soon. I love me some Demon’s Souls and the first footage of Bluepoint’s remaster made me giddy, but will we even see the delayed Halo: Infinite or that new Horizon before holiday 2021? Deathloop got delayed till 2021 as well. And heck, if I wait long enough, I can probably play the “PS5 exclusive” Demon’s Souls and Final Fantasy XVI on PC as well.
But… I did manage to get a PS5 pre-order. Feels like a shame to waste it? I’ve got plenty of good stuff on PS4 that’ll be backwards compatible, and we’re all still stuck at home right now. I guess I can sell it at a loss on Craigslist or something, if it’s not getting enough use. That’s how I originally bought my PS3 and PS4, after all.
Cameron Faulkner: I’m almost fully certain that there’s nothing the Xbox Series S will be able to do that my current PC can’t do better — yet I still crave that $299 console. I thought that as consoles became more like PCs on the inside, getting equipped with fast processors and — finally, FINALLY — faster PCIe-based storage, I would be driven further away from them, since I’m all set on the PC front.
Yet, I’m as drawn as ever to the idea of being among the first to get the Series S. I’m a big fan of Game Pass, but beyond that, I think Microsoft’s strategy of setting expectations with the specs of the Series S (not over-hyping like it did with the One X), and allowing me to use all of my controllers from the Xbox One generation, are both sitting well with me.
Kaitlin Hatton: My last foray into the console world was with the PlayStation 2. However, I eventually switched over to PC games, as they were easier to maintain through four years of college and several long-distance moves. Then the pandemic hit, and as an adult with a little pocket change and a lot of spare time, console gaming was calling me.
This is all to say that my return to the console world is going to come with the digital version of the PlayStation 5. I have no disc games so my decision between the two versions was pretty easy. I likely won’t buy it the day it launches, but I’m hoping to have one before the new year.
Tom Warren: I’ve preordered a PS5, and I’ll be preordering an Xbox Series S for sure. I’m debating getting all three because I’m addicted to games, but I already have a powerful gaming PC that will play all the Xbox exclusives. The Xbox Series S just looks like a great deal for something I can attach to my 1440p monitor and quickly access Xbox games.
Jay Peters: I have a pre-order for the PS5 Digital Edition, and I’m planning to pre-order the Xbox Series S. But if I’m being totally honest, I might cancel the PS5 pre-order and stick with the Xbox Series S for the beginning of this console generation.
I just got a PS4 in May and I still have a lot of its back catalog to get through. (I’m currently 70 hours into Persona 5 Royal, if you were wondering.) The PS5 game I was looking forward to most, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, will also be available on PS4, so there’s nothing brand-new on PS5 that’s calling me on day one. And that $69.99 price tag for some PS5 games is a lot.
A $299 Xbox Series S paired with a $9.99 per month Xbox Game Pass subscription, on the other hand, will let me dive into Xbox’s back catalog (I haven’t owned an Xbox since the Xbox 360) and play every future next-generation first-party launch title. For the same $399 I’m paying for the PS5, I can get an Xbox Series S and 10 months of games on Game Pass.
We’ll see if I hold onto that PS5 pre-order.
Jon Porter: I didn’t buy a PS4 until pretty late into the current generation of consoles, and if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t know when I’ll get around to upgrading. I recently treated my gaming PC to its first new CPU in five years (I leapt from an Intel i7-4790k to a Ryzen 5 3600), and together with its Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics card I can get a reasonable experience out of most modern games.
That might change if more of them start integrating performance intensive graphics features like ray-tracing to maintain parity with the next-gen consoles, but even then it’ll be easier to turn down a couple of settings on PC than to shell out hundreds of dollars on new equipment.
So for me, the decision on when to upgrade will probably come down to one or two exclusive games that everyone’s talking about. It’s not going to be Spider-Man: Miles Morales or Horizon: Forbidden West, since I’ll be able to play both on PS4, and it’s not going to be any of Microsoft’s first-party games like Halo Infinite, since I’ll be able to play those on PC.
If I had to guess, I’d say that I’ll probably end up upgrading for a big third-party release like Grand Theft Auto 6, or the second part of the Final Fantasy VII remake (if/when either get announced). Given their publishers’ tendencies to release PC ports of their games a year or more after their original console release, I think either could push me to buy a new machine to play them on day one.
Chaim Gartenberg: I will probably get a PS5 at some point, because I would like to play God of War, Horizon Forbidden West, and the other presumably good PS5 exclusives that Sony will have down the line (and so that my coworkers will stop making fun of me for not buying a PS4 last console generation.)
But I’m not buying a PS5 at launch because there’s no real point for me right now. Same with the Xbox Series X / S — it doesn’t play anything that my first-gen Xbox One doesn’t, although I might upgrade at some point if there’s a decent trade-in offer, just to futureproof. Maybe that will change once the next-gen games start to come out, but right now neither Microsoft or Sony has me champing at the bit to rush out for a new console just yet.
TC Sottek: The last console I bought was an Xbox One X. I played it for a total of about 3 hours and then gave the console to my brother. Before that, I had a PlayStation 4 that I used to play through about a third of The Witcher 3 before giving up. When the world invents a controller that doesn’t cause my hands to ache painfully after 30 minutes of use I’ll consider going back to consoles. I’d let Elon Musk put a chip in my brain before I’d pick up joysticks again.
Apple has released iOS 14 today, and Microsoft is one of the first to support the new default mail app option in Apple’s latest update. Apple is introducing the ability to switch default apps for both mail and the browser, and Outlook has been updated today to include the support.
Browser and mail apps will need to be updated to support the ability to switch defaults on iOS 14, and iPhone and iPad users will need to delve into the main settings interface in the OS to switch defaults. If you want to set Outlook as the default, for example, you’ll need to head into settings, scroll down to Outlook, tap, and then select default mail app.
At the time of writing, Google has not yet updated its Gmail app to allow it to be set as default on iOS 14. Both Google and Microsoft updated Chrome and Edge earlier this week to let you set these browsers as defaults, although they’re still powered by Apple’s Safari rendering engine underneath.
Phones are like lifeboats, now. iPads ($285 at Back Market) and Chromebooks are classrooms. VR is my escape pod. Every device in my house has taken on a special purpose, connecting to schools, work, and everywhere else in some sort of insane clockwork dance. I pick my tools carefully. Experimentation happens, of course, but things need to work. This is the life of gadgets in our overburdened virtualized world, 2020.
The Microsoft Surface Duo seems at first like the perfect little device for this new work-from-home world. Two screens instead of one. Extra space, more apps. A phone that becomes a tablet. (And yes, it’s a real phone with a SIM card and everything.) And it costs $1,400 (about £1,070 or AU$1,960). This is encouraging. While I’ve never found dual-screen phones appealing, the Surface Duo arrived promising a well-thought-out argument for being useful.
From the outside it looked promising. I like the feel, the hinge. But if only the experience was as good on the inside. My time using the Surface Duo has been a rough ride through what feels like not-fully-baked software, and so far it most definitely has not convinced me of the value of dual screens. In particular, the sense of flow that the Duo aspires to — that feel of things working well together, the device not getting in the way — hasn’t been there for me.
Beautiful thin design
Sturdy hinge can bend and stay in any orientation
Sharp OLED screens are good for documents and reading
Supports Microsoft Pen
Laggy, buggy software
Few apps support cross-screen multitasking
Not great for full-screen movie watching
Just one not-good camera
There are some things the Duo does do well: Its feel and shape are compelling. It can stand up at multiple angles, which normal phones can’t do. The bonus screen can come in handy as an extra help at times, although I found I needed it less than I’d expected. (Scanning something like Twitter or Slack is helpful, but multitasking with keyboard input can get weird.) And if the dual screen stuff gets frustrating, well, it can be folded over and used as a single-screen phone. It’s perfectly fine at that — but that’s not why you’d get a Surface Duo, is it?
And, this Duo is arriving alongside the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, a more expensive $2,000 (£1,799 or about AU$3,270) phone that’s thicker, but has a nearly seamless folding display (rather than two hinged displays), multiple cameras, 5G, a better processor, and more RAM. I haven’t used the Z Fold 2, but my colleague Jessica Dolcourt did, and she loved it. I don’t know if I’d like the Z Fold 2 any better than the Surface Duo, but The Z Fold 2 is Samsung’s second-year effort on folding phones. The Surface Duo ends up seeming, by comparison, like an idea that could still use another year of fleshing out. But even if the Z Fold 2 never existed, I’d still feel dissatisfied with aspects of the Surface Duo.
Here is a summary of my psychological state with this product: the Five Stages of Duo Acceptance.
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Stage 1: What a pretty design
All glass, metal, a wonderful smooth hinge. The Surface Duo’s shape won me over and got me thinking, hey, maybe this dual-screen-folding-device future could work. It’s not necessarily futuristic, but oddly practical? It seems like a book, or a mini laptop. Or a Nintendo 3DS. The dimensions seem proper and promising.
The displays are nice: 5.6-inch, 1,800×1,350-pixel AMOLED, crisp and well-matched. Together they’re 8.1 inches diagonally, like an iPad Mini ($259 at Back Market).
I already wonder how I’m going to hold this, or protect it. There’s a bumper in the box. It’s strips of rubber. I don’t want to put it on, but I know I should. It will help with sliding around. I’m worried it’ll glide right out of my pocket and crash to the floor. (But once I put that bumper on, it stays on.)
Stage 2: Whoa, why is nothing working smoothly?
New devices need special guidance, magical assistance and amazing tutorials. I think about the Nintendo Switch, the original iPhone and the Oculus Quest: These are things that push you out of your comfort zone, but reach out with magical tools and software and lure you in. I enjoyed every step of the journey with those devices. I felt like I was being transported. And that made me feel comfortable learning the new tools needed to adapt.
Microsoft’s Surface Duo needs those tools, that unique software, that special touch. I don’t see it here yet. I get a brief tutorial explaining the swipes and gestures to move around, and there are two sets of sign-ins: one for my Microsoft app ecosystem, the other for Google and Android. This boots up like an Android phone, because it is an Android phone. Not all of the Android parts feel ready for the Microsoft Surface Duo parts.
The early software on the Duo review unit I’ve been using was sometimes so frustrating, I wanted to stop using it. A more recent update prerelease has fixed a lot of the totally broken issues, but there’s a persistent lagginess and problem with screen orientation that’s throwing off the whole experience for me. And again, when all I want to do is open an app, or throw one app to another screen, or close it up again and make it single-screen, the Duo can’t keep up with me.
It could be that it’s still evolving to a new interface. Or I am. By trying to seem like an everyday phone times two, the Duo ends up ducking some of the bigger interface questions I still have, but it doesn’t really solve them.
Stage 3: How do you use this, exactly?
I get the idea of a bigger screen you can unfold or tuck into your pocket: That’s the promise of a Galaxy Fold ($1,980 at Best Buy) or Z Flip. Two different screens suggest you’ll find ways of making apps work together, and there aren’t many that play nicely like this. Really, it’s just Microsoft’s suite of apps, some of which need a Microsoft 365 subscription to unlock all the features.
The laggy feel of my review Duo and its early software, plus the weird interface, make navigation a serious challenge. I try Slack and Gmail, which work together fine… until I get hamstrung by popping the keyboard up in one window or another and trying to either thumb-swipe or flip the phone and type.
Zoom works, and Zoom plus a browser or window to read things in is OK. But again, any attempt to type makes the keyboard fly up and either take over one app completely or interrupt the flow.
I keep coming back to the keyboard because that’s my main way of being productive: writing and taking notes. It’s just plain weird on the Surface Duo at the moment.
Some of the multitasking flow reminds me of multiple apps on the iPad, using a little handle on the bottom to move an app to one screen or another, or holding it over both to expand it out. A quick-launch dock of six apps on the bottom of the screen is meant to help, but I want more than six apps at the ready. Finding others in Android’s app drawers isn’t as convenient.
New devices demand new software: new games or apps made specifically for that platform that then let you see how it works and what makes it exciting. The Surface Duo lacks those system-selling apps. Microsoft’s core apps still feel buggy and weird on the Duo, and too limiting. I can drag text across apps, but not images. I can jot down notes with a Surface Pen (which isn’t included, but should be), but it doesn’t feel like a universal annotation tool on Android. Apps don’t always resize automatically. The shift from single to dual screen hasn’t been magical at all. It’s been a struggle.
If the Duo came with a smaller Surface Pen that slotted in somewhere, like the Note, it could feel more like a little notebook. If it could handle Google’s core productivity apps the same way as Microsoft’s and helped manage both equally, it could feel like a bridge between Windows and Android. If it had better and more versatile cameras, it could be a next-gen videoconferencing tool for work and chat. But the Duo in its current form is none of these things. I also think it’s a shame it can’t turn into one seamless, massive screen. If it did that, I could watch movies on it. Video viewing on the Duo means accepting a big bar in the middle, or large bezels on each half of the glass. That’s one area where a single folding screen has an advantage.
Stage 4: I miss my old comfy phone
When new devices are this tough to use, you stop using them. The first Apple Watch was so slow at opening apps that I just went back to the iPhone instead. If the Duo makes email and Slack and Zoom weirder, I’d just reach for a normal-feeling smartphone or tablet or laptop instead — which is what I’ve been doing.
Phones are good at what they do. Most new phones have amazing cameras, optimized apps for nearly everything and they can zip between tasks at speeds we take for granted. I appreciate them again after seeing the hiccups on the Surface Duo. If the Surface Duo worked at the same speed, I’d love it. Maybe some of that is software that still needs work. Maybe it’s because Google hasn’t made Android truly dual-screen optimized yet or Microsoft is still figuring out how it wants to tackle dual-screen for its ecosystem. I think it’s all of these. I’m finding it hard to adapt, and the Duo isn’t helping.
I wonder what the Duo would have been like with more RAM or a faster processor. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 and 6GB of RAM seems underpowered for dual high-res displays, and it shows. I also wonder about 5G, especially in a year where most major flagship phones are going that way. It’s unclear how the Duo can be a future phone when it leaves out the future’s network.
But bleeding-edge tech isn’t always the path to comfort. I use the devices I use because they work and I understand them. Or, because they’re so amazing at what they do (like the Oculus Quest) that I want to dive in and use them over and over.
The camera on the Surface Duo (and there’s only one) is fine. Definitely not great. It’s been serviceable for Zoom, and has created some photos and video clips that aren’t as good as what I’ve come to expect. Image stabilization for video seems particularly jittery. Also, the corner-oriented camera, while trying to serve all Duo positions, is too off-center for comfortable Zooming while it’s propped up — I always seem like I’m staring off to the side.
Stage 5: Accepting a slow road to the future
Phones are clearly evolving. They’re already overpowered-everything machines that have outstripped their size. But rebuilding the phone isn’t easy. I see some logic to the book-tablet design Microsoft is going for here. The form and shape make sense, but the speed and implementation and features don’t. Yeah, this is $600 less than a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, but it’s also left parts off that probably should have been here.
The perfect folding and dual-screen devices may be coming later. Google hasn’t solved for all of this in Android. Microsoft’s going to take another shot at figuring it out on the Windows-based Surface Neo next year. The idea isn’t going away, and just like the first big wave of smartphones, there will be plenty more experiments.
Microsoft Surface Duo, hands-on with an intriguing double-screened foldable
Microsoft is striving for something that just hasn’t come together on this first Duo. Maybe it will with the next one. Or maybe, like experimental wearables that have fallen by the wayside, this will be a moment in time as well. I love the idea of experimentation, but I don’t like using experiments that don’t feel good. And right now, I don’t see who the Duo is for. But in a year, it might well be a better solution. I was convinced by my conversations with Microsoft and it would be nice if that ended up happening. But it’s not yet here on the Surface Duo.
Yeah, it’s also a phone
I didn’t even get into phone testing here because… well, I’m at home all the time. Seeing how the Duo makes phone calls isn’t my focus when I’m already struggling with the interface. Calls seemed fine, but I can’t yet comment on cellular strength and lack of 5G, since I’m at home. There’s 4×4 MIMO for greater strength, plus a physical SIM and eSIM. I have a test AT&T SIM I’m using.
Battery life seems to last for the day
The 3,577-mAh dual battery is rated for 15.5 hours of video playback, and an 18-watt USB-C fast charger comes in the box. So far, it seems to hang in there for my needs. I’m not sure what a full commuting train ride away from home would be like, because I’m always at home now.
It doesn’t have Wi-Fi 6
So, it doesn’t have next-gen cellular or Wi-Fi. Still, the Wi-Fi seemed OK but sometimes fell out of my home’s range faster than my iPhone or laptop did. I got speeds that match my 100-megabit budget FiOS connection.
It comes in 2 storage configurtions
One at $1,400 with 128GB, and one at $1,500 with 256GB. There’s no expandable storage.
Some apps seem to hang, maybe because apps need to be updated
Most Android apps functioned, but occasionally Minecraft, Netflix, and a few others had issues that either caused playback weirdness or a situation where I couldn’t swipe out of apps. Sometimes it seems like app touch zones and the OS’ swipe-away navigation caused conflict.
I like the rubber bumper
It’s ugly, but I’d want to use it to protect the Duo. It adds grippiness and prevents it from sliding around.
Microsoft confirmed Tuesday that it is set to launch a smaller, cheaper version of its upcoming next-generation console.
The company is currently gearing up for the release of its Xbox Series X device later this year, promising powerful specs and improved graphics quality in a bid to convince gamers to part with their cash for new gaming hardware.
It will go head-to-head with Sony’s PlayStation 5, or PS5, with both consoles expected to hit shelves ahead of the holidays. You can check out a breakdown of the main differences between the Xbox Series X and PS5 here.
Microsoft teased the new device, called the Xbox Series S, in a tweet Tuesday. It said the Xbox Series S would be the “smallest Xbox ever” and cost $299. It later revealed that the console would debut on Nov. 10.
The company added that the Xbox Series S is around 60% smaller than the Xbox Series X and won’t come with a disc drive, meaning users will have to download or stream games and movies. Sony has done something similar with the PS5, with both standard and digital-only versions of the console set to be released this fall.
For context, Microsoft has said the Xbox Series X will be four times more powerful than its predecessor, the Xbox One X. It’ll come with an eight-core AMD Zen 2 processor — like the PS5 — but will have a better graphics card than Sony’s rival machine.
With the Xbox Series S, there are also some impressive specs — such as support for realistic so-called ray tracing graphics — but it will have less internal storage. Microsoft has been heavily marketing its Game Pass Ultimate subscription service, which is set to include a cloud-gaming feature that lets users stream games from their phone or tablet, from Sept. 15.
Microsoft was plagued by leaks about the more affordable next-gen machine ahead of the announcement Tuesday. Windows Central — a publication that closely follows Microsoft news — reported overnight that the main Xbox Series X console would cost $499, while the Xbox Series S would come with a $299 price tag.
Citing sources, Windows Central said that both consoles would have monthly financing options. Consumers would reportedly be able to buy an Xbox Series X for $35 per month or the Xbox Series S with a $25 a month plan. Microsoft said it had nothing further to share beyond its tweets Tuesday.
It’s the first time either of the major console manufacturers have disclosed any pricing details for their next-gen devices. Sony unveiled the PS5 for the first time in June, but didn’t reveal any pricing or release date information. According to Windows Central, both of Microsoft’s new consoles are set to launch on Nov. 10.
Microsoft Lists aims to make it easier than ever to track and prioritize work within Teams.
Microsoft has added the Lists app to Teams for business and government customers. Lists is a Microsoft 365
app announced by Microsoft during Build 2020. As the name implies, the app allows teams to create lists for tracking information across various projects and workloads, offering a combination of ready-made templates as well as custom lists that can be built from scratch, either from Excel tables or other sources, such as SharePoint. Lists data is stored in the SharePoint Online team site.
Microsoft Lists is accessed in Teams via the tabs bar. It includes eight standard templates and three industry-specific ones targeting healthcare (Patients), government agencies (Incidents) and financial institutions (Loans).
In practice, healthcare organizations can use the Patients template to track patient progress and keep in touch with their peers, while government users can use the Lists app in Teams to do things like track incidents and for coordinated incident response.
Loan officers, meanwhile, can use the Lists app to track and approve loans in Teams in collaboration with colleagues, Microsoft said.
Users can start a conversation on individual list items in Teams, making it easier to collaborate, address and feed back on individual items. Since the conversation is a channel message in Teams, it supports all of the platform’s rich messaging capabilities such as ‘@’ mentions, GIFs, stickers, emojis, and attachments.
“Lists are simple, smart, and flexible, so you can stay on top of what matters most to your team,” Microsoft said. Lists is also available through the Teams mobile app for Android and iOS devices, with a dedicated Lists mobile app expected to be released by the end of 2020.
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Microsoft has added to the slowly growing pile of technologies aimed at spotting synthetic media (aka deepfakes) with the launch of a tool for analyzing videos and still photos to generate a manipulation score.
The tool, called Video Authenticator, provides what Microsoft calls “a percentage chance, or confidence score” that the media has been artificially manipulated.
“In the case of a video, it can provide this percentage in real-time on each frame as the video plays,” it writes in a blog post announcing the tech. “It works by detecting the blending boundary of the deepfake and subtle fading or greyscale elements that might not be detectable by the human eye.”
If a piece of online content looks real but ‘smells’ wrong chances are it’s a high tech manipulation trying to pass as real — perhaps with a malicious intent to misinform people.
And while plenty of deepfakes are created with a very different intent — to be funny or entertaining — taken out of context such synthetic media can still take on a life of its own as it spreads, meaning it can also end up tricking unsuspecting viewers.
While AI tech is used to generate realistic deepfakes, identifying visual disinformation using technology is still a hard problem — and a critically thinking mind remains the best tool for spotting high tech BS.
Nonetheless, technologists continue to work on deepfake spotters — including this latest offering from Microsoft.
Although its blog post warns the tech may offer only passing utility in the AI-fuelled disinformation arms race: “The fact that [deepfakes are] generated by AI that can continue to learn makes it inevitable that they will beat conventional detection technology. However, in the short run, such as the upcoming U.S. election, advanced detection technologies can be a useful tool to help discerning users identify deepfakes.”
This summer a competition kicked off by Facebook to develop a deepfake detector served up results that were better than guessing — but only just in the case of a data-set the researchers hadn’t had prior access to.
Microsoft, meanwhile, says its Video Authenticator tool was created using a public dataset from Face Forensic++ and tested on the DeepFake Detection Challenge Dataset, which it notes are “both leading models for training and testing deepfake detection technologies”.
It’s partnering with the San Francisco-based AI Foundation to make the tool available to organizations involved in the democratic process this year — including news outlets and political campaigns.
“Video Authenticator will initially be available only through RD2020 [Reality Defender 2020], which will guide organizations through the limitations and ethical considerations inherent in any deepfake detection technology. Campaigns and journalists interested in learning more can contact RD2020 here,” Microsoft adds.
The tool has been developed by its R&D division, Microsoft Research, in coordination with its Responsible AI team and an internal advisory body on AI, Ethics and Effects in Engineering and Research Committee — as part of a wider program Microsoft is running aimed at defending democracy from threats posed by disinformation.
“We expect that methods for generating synthetic media will continue to grow in sophistication,” it continues. “As all AI detection methods have rates of failure, we have to understand and be ready to respond to deepfakes that slip through detection methods. Thus, in the longer term, we must seek stronger methods for maintaining and certifying the authenticity of news articles and other media. There are few tools today to help assure readers that the media they’re seeing online came from a trusted source and that it wasn’t altered.”
On the latter front, Microsoft has also announced a system that will enable content producers to add digital hashes and certificates to media that remain in their metadata as the content travels online — providing a reference point for authenticity.
The second component of the system is a reader tool, which can be deployed as a browser extension, for checking certificates and matching the hashes to offer the viewer what Microsoft calls “a high degree of accuracy” that a particular piece of content is authentic/hasn’t been changed.
The certification will also provide the viewer with details about who produced the media.
Microsoft is hoping this digital watermarking authenticity system will end up underpinning a Trusted News Initiative announced last year by UK publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC — specifically for a verification component, called Project Origin, which is led by a coalition of the BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, Microsoft and The New York Times.
It says the digital watermarking tech will be tested by Project Origin with the aim of developing it into a standard that can be adopted broadly.
“The Trusted News Initiative, which includes a range of publishers and social media companies, has also agreed to engage with this technology. In the months ahead, we hope to broaden work in this area to even more technology companies, news publishers and social media companies,” Microsoft adds.
While work on technologies to identify deepfakes continues, its blog post also emphasizes the importance of media literacy — flagging a partnership with the University of Washington, Sensity and USA Today aimed at boosting critical thinking ahead of the US election.
This partnership has launched a Spot the Deepfake Quiz for voters in the US to “learn about synthetic media, develop critical media literacy skills and gain awareness of the impact of synthetic media on democracy”, as it puts it.
The interactive quiz will be distributed across web and social media properties owned by USA Today, Microsoft and the University of Washington and through social media advertising, per the blog post.
The tech giant also notes that it’s supporting a public service announcement (PSA) campaign in the US encouraging people to take a “reflective pause” and check to make sure information comes from a reputable news organization before they share or promote it on social media ahead of the upcoming election.
“The PSA campaign will help people better understand the harm misinformation and disinformation have on our democracy and the importance of taking the time to identify, share and consume reliable information. The ads will run across radio stations in the United States in September and October,” it adds.