Hey Cortana, open Alexa: Microsoft and Amazon’s first-of-its-kind collaboration

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I talk to Cortana every day — at home, work and on-the-go — to get information about my day, to set reminders so I don’t forget things, and to answer my questions. But I don’t just use one digital assistant. I also frequently talk to Alexa to listen to audio books or to add things to my shopping list. Because people use and interact with all kinds of products, we’re very excited to announce a first-of-its-kind collaboration with Amazon between Cortana and Alexa that will offer more choice, value and access to both intelligent personal assistants.

Available later this year, this collaboration will allow you to access Alexa via Cortana on Windows 10 PCs, followed by Android and iOS in the future. Conversely, you’ll be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show.

As our CEO, Satya Nadella, said in today’s Amazon press release, the collaboration between Microsoft and Amazon reflects our belief that when people and technology work together, everybody wins:

“Ensuring Cortana is available for our customers everywhere and across any device is a key priority for us. Bringing Cortana’s knowledge, Office 365 integration, commitments and reminders to Alexa is a great step toward that goal.”

By bringing Cortana to Alexa and Alexa to Cortana, I’m excited that we’re adding more value and choice for consumers and developers alike. Cortana users will be able to have Alexa shop on Amazon.com and manage their Amazon orders and access many of Alexa’s third-party skills by asking Cortana to open Alexa, just as Alexa users will have access to Cortana’s world knowledge and helpful productivity features such as calendar management, day at a glance and location-based reminders simply by asking Alexa to open Cortana.

Bill Gates made these 15 predictions in 1999 — and it's scary how accurate he was

Bill-Gates

After reading ’Business @ the Speed of Thought’, my respect for Bill Gates has increased exponentially. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t a fan of his before. I’ve always been impressed by the strategies that Microsoft carried out in its early days, but that doesn’t come close to how impressed I am now. In this book, published in 1999, Gates outlined how information systems, the Internet, and technology in general would change the way that businesses function. Along the way, he made some incredibly accurate predictions, most of which have since become huge industries: smart phones, smart homes, social networks, and an array of other uses for the Internet-a few of which have yet to be developed.

Gates presents a few key elements for a good information system. While we have to keep in mind that the book was written in the late 90’s, many of these questions are still hardly answered by today’s technology, and present opportunities for new businesses.

Predictions

  1. Automated price comparison services will be developed, allowing people to see prices across multiple websites, making it effortless to find the cheapest product for all industries.
  2. People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are. They will be able to check the news, see flights they have booked, get information from financial markets, and do just about anything else on these devices.
  3. People will pay their bills, take care of their finances, and communicate with their doctors over the Internet.
  4. “Personal companions” will be developed. They will connect and sync all your devices in a smart way, whether they are at home or in the office, and allow them to exchange data. The device will check your email or notifications, and present the information that you need. When you go to the store, you can tell it what recipes you want to prepare, and it will generate a list of ingredients that you need to pick up. It will inform all the devices that you use of your purchases and schedule, allowing them to automatically adjust to what you’re doing.
  5. Constant video feeds of your house will become common, which inform you when somebody visits while you are not home.
  6. Private websites for your friends and family will be common, allowing you to chat and plan for events.
  7. Software that knows when you’ve booked a trip and uses that information to suggest activities at the local destination. It suggests activities, discounts, offers, and cheaper prices for all the things that you want to take part in.
  8. While watching a sports competition on television, services will allow you to discuss what is going on live, and enter contest where you vote on who you think will win.
  9. Devices will have smart advertising. They will know your purchasing trends, and will display advertisements that are tailored toward your preferences.
  10. Television broadcast will include links to relevant websites and content that complement what you are watching.
  11. Residents of cities and countries will be able to have Internet-based discussions concerning issues that affect them, such as local politics, city planning or safety.
  12. Online communities will not be influenced by your location, but rather, your interest.
  13. Project managers looking to put a team together will be able to go online, describe the project, and receive recommendations for available people who would fit their requirements.
  14. Similarly, people looking for work will be able to find employment opportunities online by declaring their interest, needs, and specialized skills.
  15. Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for both big companies that want to outsource work that they don’t usually face, businesses looking for new clients, and corporations that don’t have a go-to provider for the said service.

The original post is here.

Microsoft says iOS and Android support doesn’t mean Windows Phone is dead

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In an interview with Business Insider, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore spoke briefly about Microsoft’s recent announcements made at Build such as the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update but also took the time to comfort those worried about the small presence of Windows phones at the event and Microsoft’s growing focus on iOS and Android devices.

“We’re going to continue to support Windows phone,” Belfiore said before adding that, “Windows is a platform that drives the experience on a whole range of devices. We live in a highly diverse world.”

With the significantly higher number of users on iOS and Android compared to Windows 10 Mobile, it’s understandable that Microsoft would want to offer their services and products to those using those ecosystems. This often frustrates Windows phone users though as it can appear that Microsoft favors offering support for other companies’ mobile devices over their own. And for the most part, recently anyway, this has been fairly true.

It’s been a while since Microsoft released their own Windows phone device (they’ve been relying on other companies to manufacture phones) but the Windows 10 Mobile operating system continues to get updates (though admittedly not as big as the Windows 10 updates) as do many Windows phone apps. There’s also a growing number of rumors and statements that suggest that Microsoft could be planning a “Surface Phone” which could radically redefine what a smartphone looks like and is used for.

WebAssembly is now ready for browsers to use

WebAssembly, a portable code format that could make for a faster web, has moved to minimum viable product (MVP) status, with browser vendors now able to switch WebAssembly on by default.

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A recent bulletin from Mozilla Senior Staff Engineer Luke Wagner said representatives of the four major browsers agreed that the design and binary format were complete to the extent that no further design work was doable without implementation experience and significant usage. Browsers represented included Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, and WebKit, which is Apple's browser engine for Safari, according to the bulletin posted on a World Wide Web Consortium mailing list.

WebAssembly is a highly touted effort that not only is set to run web apps in the browser at near-native speeds but also allow for other languages to be used for browser programming beyond JavaScript. The effort has drawn praise from JavaScript founder Brendan Eich, who recently expressed concern that the four browser vendors might end up disunifying over the project, thus jeopardizing it. But Wagner said proponents for all four browsers have been active and participate in the WebAssembly Community Group.

For developers, WebAssembly provides fast load times for large codes and predictable, near-native runtime performance, Wagner said. "This enables developers to bring functionality and experiences to the web that might have otherwise been gated on JavaScript." Since WebAssembly can be used as a library from JavaScript, JavaScript developers can utilize WebAssembly's performance through libraries and frameworks.

WebAssembly could possibly use other languages, such as Python, in the browser, depends on the language's ecosystem, Wagner said. "One requirement for supporting a language is that WebAssembly provides the necessary features to run that language efficiently. For many languages, this requires adding garbage collection [memory management] features to WebAssembly, which is on the road map but will take at least a year or two." The other challenge of supporting a language is porting over language libraries and frameworks to run in a browser and use web APIs.

This is iPhone 8

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The hardware that allows the iPhone 8's rumored facial recognition capability could consist of a "revolutionary" new camera system for its front-facing camera.

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The report follows related rumors of Apple augmenting or ditching its Touch ID fingerprint scanner in favor of iris or facial recognition technology, fueled by its acquisition of Israeli facial recognition startup RealFace. Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 -- yep, that Galaxy Note 7 -- was among the first phones to come equipped with an iris scanner.

99.6 percent of new smartphones run Android or iOS

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The latest smartphone figures from Gartner are out, and they paint an extremely familiar picture. Between them, Android and iOS accounted for 99.6 percent of all smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2016. This duopoly has been the norm for a while now (in the second quarter of 2015 this figure was 96.8 percent), but it’s always impressive — and slightly terrifying — to see how Google and Apple continue to wring the last decimal point drops of market share from global smartphone users.

Of the 432 million smartphones sold in the last quarter, 352 million ran Android (81.7 percent) and 77 million ran iOS (17.9 percent), but what happened to the other players? Well, in the same quarter, Windows Phone managed to round up 0.3 percent of the market, while BlackBerry was reduced to a rounding error. The once-great firm sold just over 200,000 units, amounting to 0.0 percent market share.

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Visual Studio 2017 is coming on March 7

VisualStudio2017LaunchEvent

Join us at 8:00 AM PST on March 7 for a two-day online event celebrating the launch of our latest version as well as 20 years of Visual Studio. Watch the live stream featuring Julia Liuson, Brian Harry, Miguel de Icaza, and Scott Hanselman as they share the newest innovations in Visual Studio, .NET, Xamarin, Azure, and more. After the keynote, Microsoft engineers will lead interactive technical demo sessions to help you get the most out of Visual Studio 2017 and the rest of our tools and platform.

On March 8, we’ll help you get productive even faster by hosting a full day of live interactive trainings. Don’t forget to click Save the Date above and sign up for email reminders!

Whether you are new to our tools or have been with us since the beginning, we’d love to hear and share your Visual Studio story. Share a photo of memorabilia or a short video clip of your story with Visual Studio on Instagram or post your story on Twitter and Facebook using #MyVSstory. Check out Julia’s launch event announcement for more details.

Microsoft's new adaptive shell will help Windows 10 scale across PC, Mobile, and Xbox

The Windows Shell is essentially the Windows environment we all know and love. In layman's terms, it gives us access to system elements and objects necessary for running applications, and houses features such as the Taskbar, Start Menu, Desktop and more. Currently, the Windows Shell is different depending on the version of Windows 10 you're using. For example, Mobile is using a different Windows Shell than desktop; but Microsoft is working to change and streamline that.

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Microsoft is building an "adaptive shell" into Windows 10 that'll work across PCs and tablets, phones, HoloLens, and even Xbox. As it currently stands, the Windows Shell isn't a true universal element of Windows, unlike the OneCore subsystem and Universal Windows Apps. PCs and tablets share the same shell thanks to Continuum, but Mobile, HoloLens and Xbox have their own individual shells that are updated and maintained separately.

Over the next few Windows 10 releases however, Microsoft will be bringing each of these device categories under one Windows Shell, making for a true universal Windows 10 experience no matter what device you're using. Internally referred to as "Composable Shell" or "CSHELL", this new Windows Shell will be able to scale in real-time between all types of devices, similarly to how Continuum currently works between desktop mode and tablet mode, only this time it'll scale across Xbox and Mobile as well.

For our more techy readers, the Composable Shell is essentially a shell modularized into sub-components. The system can transition between each component if it is required, making for a much more flexible experience on devices like 2-in-1's or something that has multiple form-factors.

Microsoft’s Channel 9 introduces .Game, a new series focused on game development using .NET

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Microsoft has introduced a new show to its Channel 9 video platform aimed at teaching and showing off Microsoft’s products and services. The new show is called .Game and aims to teach people how to develop games using .NET.

In this new series, viewers will be able to watch along and discover how game development works and how to do it themselves. The first episode of the show is already available and focuses on the basics with Unity, a popular game engine.

The above video introduces the .Game show. Stacey Haffner explains that the show will provide tips and tricks, as well as access to files on Github to make use of, in addition to resources and other tutorials that people may find helpful when it comes to game development.

Microsoft's new service turns FAQs into bots

QnAMaker-HomePage

Finding customer service help online can be a pain. Filtering through a knowledge base to find the right answer to your question can be an exercise in fighting with nested frequently asked questions documents.

Microsoft is aiming to help by making it easier for companies to create intelligent bots that can answer common questions.

The QnA Maker, launched in beta on Tuesday, will let users train an automated conversation partner on existing frequently-asked-questions content. After that information is fed in, the service will create a bot that will respond to customer questions with the content from the knowledge base. Once the information is loaded into the service, users can then view how the bot has paired up questions and answers and add their own custom questions and responses.

After that, they can test it in Microsoft's web interface to see how the bot will respond.

Microsoft has been pushing hard to get companies to build intelligent, automated conversation partners, but getting intelligent bots off the ground can take time. This service lowers the barrier to entry by making it possible for people without hardcore developer skills to build a useful bot that addresses a key concern.

When the system thinks multiple answers in a knowledge base might work for one query, it will allow users training the bot to pick from different possible responses and saves the choice to the knowledge base.

The system creates an API endpoint that can be used as a bot on its own or integrated into another, larger conversational system.

Right now, the service is available for free, but limits users to 10,000 transactions per month, and 10 transactions per minute. In the future, Microsoft will offer it as a paid service.

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