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.

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.

Surface phone: is it the real time?

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Surface Phone Rumors: Microsoft to Finally Unveil Mythical Device at the MWC 2018.

While some people are resigned to the fact that the long-rumored Surface Phone is nothing more than a figment of the imagination, new reports claim that the long-rumored mythical Microsoft device may finally be unveiled at next month's MWC (Mobile World Congress).

Rumors about the Surface Phone have been in existence for two years now, but no one outside Microsoft cannot really confirm if the device is in the pipeline. However, according to recent reports, the wait may be soon over as it is alleged that the Redmond-based company will reveal the Surface Phone at the annual MWC happening at Barcelona next month.

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Microsoft gives up on Windows 10 Mobile

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The company's Windows 10 chief has tweeted that developing new features and hardware for the Mobile version of the OS was no longer a "focus".

Joe Belfiore added that he had also switched to Android himself.

Windows 10 Mobile tried to attract users by letting them run the same "universal apps" on both their PCs and handsets, but the concept failed to catch on.

The OS accounted for just 0.03% of the global market - based on smartphone shipments - between April and June, according to research company IDC.

The market intelligence provider said the news had been a long time coming.

"There wasn't a wide range of devices running Windows 10 Mobile, so it wasn't attractive to retailers or operators," said IDC's Francisco Jeronimo.

"And from a consumer perspective, the operating system didn't provide as good an experience as Android or iOS."

Mr Belfiore began a series of tweets on Sunday by discussing the recent launch of a test version of Microsoft's Edge web browser for Android and iOS - the latest in a series of releases of its core software for rival mobile platforms.

He then went on to respond to questions about whether there was any point sticking with Windows 10 Mobile.

He said that while Microsoft would support the "many companies" that had adopted the platform, he had switched to Android for the diversity of its apps and hardware.

"Of course we'll continue to support the platform... bug fixes, security updates, et cetera," he said.

"But building new features or hardware is not the focus."

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.

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 is working on a new design language for Windows 10 codenamed Project NEON

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Microsoft has made several adjustments to its design language over the last few years, starting with Windows 8 and evolving into what we now know as "Microsoft Design Language 2" or MDL2 in Windows 10. With MDL2 being the current design language used throughout Windows 10, Microsoft has plans to begin using a much more streamlined design language with Redstone 3, codenamed Project NEON.

A Metro 2.0?

Cassim Ketfi at Numerama.com confirms our information and has heard Project NEON called "basically Metro 2". That designation refers to the first Metro design language (née Modern) that harkens to Windows Media Center up through Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8.

Metro was the defining look of the Windows Phone OS with strict principles and guidelines. It also kicked off the design movement of flat, chrome-less design focused on simplicity that even iOS and Android now mimic.

Per our sources, Project NEON has been in the works for over a year internally at Microsoft. It builds upon the design language introduced with Windows 10, with its simple and clean interfaces, but adds some much-needed flair to the UI that the current design language just lacks.

Details are still scarce, but we hear some of the new designs in the plans include adding more animations and transitions, with the overall goal of making the UI very fluid and "beautiful" compared to the current, almost static UI that is MDL2. One source familiar with Microsoft's plans described NEON as "Very fluid, lots of motion and nice transitions."

Other things we've heard include app-elements being able to "escape" the borders of a window making for a much more unique experience.

Some more information about NEON reveals that it serves as a bridge between holographic and augmented reality (AR) and the desktop environment. It's a "UI that transports across devices" with a UX that maps to the physical world. It uses textures, 3D models, lighting and more.

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Timeline

Internal plans appear to suggest that the bulk of this new design language will start showing up with Redstone 3 in the early Fall of 2017, but Insiders will likely start seeing these new changes a lot sooner, as Insiders are supposed to start receiving RS3 builds in April-May. There is also a reasonable chance we may see some NEON bits begin to appear in Redstone 2 in early 2017.

Microsoft will continue working on Project NEON throughout Redstone 3's development cycle and leading into Redstone 4 in 2018, where 3rd-party developers will also be able to take advantage of the new design language.

Windows switching to differential patching in the Creators Update

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Major Windows 10 updates, including this summer's Anniversary Update and next year's Creators Update, are distributed as essentially full operating system installs. The downloads are around 4GB, and installing them performs a complete in-place upgrade to Windows.

That is set to change as Microsoft rolls out what it calls its Unified Update Platform (UUP). Major upgrades will be shipped as differential updates, where only the differences between the currently installed version and the newly installed version need to be downloaded. The company estimates that this will result in major version upgrades being around 35 percent smaller.

UUP should also make checking for updates faster, as more of the computational workload to figure out the patches that a system needs will be handled in the cloud rather than on the client.

In making this change, some differences between the Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 PC update process are being eliminated. Currently the desktop platform can generally upgrade from any patch level to the latest version in one shot; on mobile, sometimes multiple updates are required, with two separate download, install, and reboot processes.

End-users on stable builds of Windows won't see this change take effect until after the Creators Update; the client-side infrastructure necessary to support these differential updates will be a part of that release. Insiders, however, who regularly perform major version updates (as every new Insider build is installed as an in-place upgrade) will begin seeing the improvements much sooner. Mobile releases will enable UUP updating starting with today's build 14959, with the technology coming to PC builds a little later in the year, followed by Windows IoT and Windows for HoloLens. Excluded from this is Xbox, which will retain its own update process.

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