Microsoft brings PowerToys back to let anyone improve Windows 10 for power users

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Microsoft first introduced the concept of “PowerToys” in Windows 95. It was originally a way for Windows engineers to test a prototype feature, and Microsoft packaged some of the best ones into a PowerToys bundle. These PowerToys included popular utilities like Tweak UI to customize the Windows user interface, Quick Res to quickly change screen resolutions, and Send To X that let you send files and folders to the command line, clipboard, or desktop.

PowerToys disappeared after Windows XP, during a time when co-founder Bill Gates ordered a security review of everything that was going into Windows. These useful utilities are now being revived by Microsoft in a new effort to focus on what power users need in Windows 10. The software giant is open-sourcing PowerToys on GitHub, so anyone can contribute and create power user tools for Windows 10.

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The first two utilities that Microsoft is working on for Windows 10 are a new maximize to desktop widget and a Windows key shortcut guide. The maximize to desktop widget places a pop-up button over the maximize button when you hover over it. It’s designed to let you quickly send an app to another desktop, utilizing Windows 10’s multi-desktop view. The Windows shortcut guide utility simply shows a keyboard shortcut guide when you hold down the Windows key.

Microsoft is also considering 10 other utilities for these new PowerToys for Windows 10:

  1. Full window manager, including specific layouts for docking and undocking laptops
  2. Keyboard shortcut manager
  3. Win+R replacement
  4. Better alt+tab including browser tab integration and search for running apps
  5. Battery tracker
  6. Batch file re-namer
  7. Quick resolution swaps in task bar
  8. Mouse events without focus
  9. Cmd (or PS or Bash) from here
  10. Contents menu file browsing

Microsoft is looking for feedback and contributions over on GitHub, much like how the company recently open-sourced its Windows calculator for additional input and ideas. That effort resulted in a graphing mode being added to the Windows calculator. Microsoft is now planning to preview these PowerToys utilities in the summer, alongside the corresponding source code being published on GitHub.

GitHub Package Registry

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From today, GitHub Package Registry, a package management service that makes it easy to publish public or private packages next to your source code, is fully integrated with GitHub, so you can use the same search, browsing, and management tools to find and publish packages as you do for your repositories. You can also use the same user and team permissions to manage code and packages together. GitHub Package Registry provides fast, reliable downloads backed by GitHub’s global CDN. And it supports familiar package management tools: JavaScript (npm), Java (Maven), Ruby (RubyGems), .NET (NuGet), and Docker images, with more to come.

You can try GitHub Package Registry today in limited beta. It will always be free to use for open source—more pricing details will be announced soon.

Sign up for the beta

Microsoft’s Chromium Edge browser is now officially available to test

Microsoft is making its Chromium-powered Edge browser available to developers today. The software giant is releasing its Canary and Developer builds, offering daily or weekly updates to the changes that are coming to Edge. Both downloads are available on Microsoft’s new Edge insider site, and they are designed for developers to get an early look at how Edge is changing.

Microsoft has focused on the fundamentals of browsing, reliability, and extension support for this early version of Edge built on Chromium, and the company is looking for feedback about the basics to start. Encouragingly, this new Edge browser runs surprisingly well, with full support for existing Chrome extensions. Microsoft is even building in sync support for things like favorites, browsing history, and extensions to sync across Edge. Favorites is only supported in this early version today, but sync support will be gradually improved before this new version of Edge is more broadly available in a beta version.

Both Microsoft and Google engineers have been working together to improve the underlying Chromium project so that Chrome and Edge run better on Windows. Microsoft has had around 150 commits accepted into Chromium, paving the way for improvements to Edge and Chromium on Windows 10. That includes improving accessibility, smooth scrolling support, Windows Hello integration, and things like ensuring the touch keyboard shows up reliably.

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The Windows 3.0 File Manager is now available in the Microsoft Store

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Microsoft open sourced the original File Manager that shipped with Windows 3.0, allowing users to make changes and if they want, compile it for use on Windows 10. Now, the firm is making it easier to run the legacy app, as it's offering the Windows 3.0 File Manager through the Microsoft Store (via Aggiornamenti Lumia) as a UWP app.

The app is listed as being available on PC, mobile, Surface Hub, and HoloLens; however, it also requires the device to be installed on Windows 10 build 16299 or newer. Obviously, there are no mobile devices that qualify. If you do have a Windows phone that you want to try it out on, you could always download the code and try to compile it for an earlier build.

Obviously, there were some modifications that had to be made to the original app to get it to run on Windows 10. After all, Windows 3.0 was a 16-bit operating system. Microsoft also had to add header files that were previously stored in the NT source tree, and it had to make some APIs public.

This isn't the first time that Microsoft has dabbled in software nostalgia. As an April Fool's joke in 2015, it released an MS-DOS Mobile app for Windows phones. If you want to download the Windows File Manager app, you can find it here.

Latest Windows 10 build puts desktop apps in a 3D world

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Microsoft has released a new Insider preview build of Windows 10. Build 18329 should be available now to most people who have opted into the fast preview ring. Though it's not available to everyone because, for some reason, the new build isn't available in all the languages it'd normally be shipped in.

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The strangest new feature is that you can now launch and run regular Win32 apps—2D apps built for the desktop—in the Windows Mixed Reality environment that's used for both virtual reality headsets and the HoloLens augmented reality headset. Previously, it was only possible to run apps built using the modern UWP API. Now, it seems that any Windows application will work. If you want to use Photoshop or Visual Studio with a headset on, you can.The new build also adds a couple of new scripts to support the writing of languages that until recently had no adequate written form. There's the Osage language spoken by the Osage Nation in Oklahoma (which prior to 2006 used the Latin alphabet with various diacritics) and the ADLaM script used to write Pular, the language of the Fulani people in West Africa (which, similarly, used the Roman alphabet with diacritics prior to the development of the new alphabet in the 1980s). ADLaM and Osage were both added to Unicode in 2016.

GitHub now gives free users unlimited private repositories

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GitHub is by far the most popular way to build and share software. That said, one weakness of the platform is that it limits who can create private repositories – that is, software projects that aren’t visible to the broader public, and are shared only with a handful of pre-defined collaborators – to paying users.

Fortunately, that’s no longer the case, as GitHub today announced it was giving users of its free plan access to unlimited private repositories. This is great news for GitHub’s users, but there is a caveat, of course.

Private repositories on free accounts are limited to three collaborators apiece. So, while this might work for a small project (like, for example, a team competing in a hackathon), it isn’t particularly well-suited for actual commercial usage.

That was probably a deliberate move from GitHub. There’s little risk of the company cannibalizing its existing paid users with this new free offering.

Until recently, developers who wanted to create private git repositories without opening their wallets were forced to use a rival service – most frequently BitBucket. Today’s news, obviously, isn’t great for Atlassian’s flagship code sharing platform, but it does mean that coders aren’t forced to use two disparate code management services for their private and public projects

I also wonder what ubiquitous private repositories will mean for Github’s culture of self-exhibition and sharing.

Microsoft’s new Office icons are part of a bigger design overhaul

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Microsoft is modernizing its Office icons as part of a broader focus on design for its various Office apps. It’s the first time the Office icons have changed in five years, and they’re designed to be more simple and modern to span across multiple devices and platforms. Office now exists on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, and Microsoft has been building a single core codebase to make rapid monthly improvements to the apps. These icons are designed to reflect how Office has changed recently, with new AI features, more collaborative features, and its platform independence for key apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

The new icons deemphasize the letter for each Office app, but still manage to look familiar. “Our design solution was to de-couple the letter and the symbol from the icons, essentially creating two panels (one for the letter and one for the symbol) that we can pair or separate,” explains Jon Friedman, partner director of design at Microsoft. “This allows us to maintain familiarity while still emphasizing simplicity when inside the app.”

Microsoft snaps up GitHub for $7.5 billion

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As we anticipated yesterday, Microsoft has reached an agreement to buy GitHub, the source repository and collaboration platform, in a deal worth $7.5 billion. The all-stock deal is expected to close by the end of the year, subject to regulatory approval in the US and EU.

Decade-old GitHub is built on Git, the open source version control software originally written by Linux creator Linus Torvalds. Git is a distributed version control system: each developer has their own repository that they make changes to, and these changes can be propagated between repositories to share those changes. GitHub provides a repository hosting service: a place to put those repositories so that other developers can readily access them. Since its inception, it has become a mainstay of the open source world, with countless projects—including Microsoft projects such as the Visual Studio Code text editor and the .NET runtime—using GitHub repositories as a place to publish their code to the world and coordinate collaborative development. In total, some 28 million developers use GitHub, and there are 85 million code repositories.

Microsoft has reportedly acquired GitHub

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Microsoft has reportedly acquired GitHub, and could announce the deal as early as Monday. Bloomberg reports that the software giant has agreed to acquire GitHub, and that the company chose Microsoft partly because of CEO Satya Nadella. Business Insider first reported that Microsoft had been in talks with GitHub recently.

GitHub is a vast code repository that has become popular with developers and companies hosting their projects, documentation, and code. Apple, Amazon, Google, and many other big tech companies use GitHub. Microsoft is the top contributor to the site, and has more than 1,000 employees actively pushing code to repositories on GitHub. Microsoft even hosts its own original Windows File Manager source code on GitHub. The service was last valued at $2 billion back in 2015, but it’s not clear exactly how much Microsoft has paid to acquire GitHub.

Microsoft has been rapidly investing in open source technology since Satya Nadella took over the CEO role. Microsoft has open sourced PowerShell, Visual Studio Code, and the Microsoft Edge JavaScript engine. Microsoft also partnered with Canonical to bring Ubuntu to Windows 10, and acquired Xamarin to assist with mobile app development.

Microsoft is also using the open source Git version control system for Windows development, and the company even brought SQL Server to Linux. Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code, which lets developers build and debug web and cloud applications, has soared in popularity with developers. Microsoft’s GitHub acquisition will likely mean we’ll start to see even closer integration between Microsoft’s developer tools and the service. At Build last month, Microsoft continued its close work with GitHub by integrating the service into the company’s App Center for developers.

Microsoft Buys Conversational AI Company Semantic Machines

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In a blog post, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of AI & Research David Ku announced the acquisition of Berkeley, California-based conversational AI company Semantic Machines. The natural language processing technology developed by Semantic Machines will be integrated into Microsoft’s products like Cortana and the Azure Bot Service.

On its website, Semantic Machines says that existing natural language systems such as Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Google Now only understands commands, but not conversations. However, Semantic Machines' technology understands conversations rather than just commands. Some of the most typical commands that digital assistants can handle today include weather reports, music controls, setting up timers and creating reminders. “For rich and effective communication, intelligent assistants need to be able to have a natural dialogue instead of just responding to commands,” said Ku.

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