Amazon’s Fire TV Cube is a set top box crossed with an Echo

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Amazon just added another model to its increasingly crowded selection of living room offerings. There’s bound to be some consumer confusion around the line, but the Cube differentiates itself by bridging the gap between Fire TV and Echo. Sure, past set top offerings have incorporated Alexa control, but this latest addition folds in the full smart speaker experience.

In fact, the Cube looks like a big, square Echo Dot. It’s not much to look at, honestly, but the familiar design elements are all there, including the four Echo buttons on top and a glowing blue light that lets you know when Alexa is listening.

The Fire TV Cube follows the lead of the JBL Link Bar announced back at I/O, which has Chromecast built in and effectively doubles as a Google Home when not in use. Here, however, the speaker is only really good for Echo-like functionality. Amazon is largely banking on users bringing their own home theater system to the table.

The upshot of that is that the device runs $120 normally, a price that includes an IR extender capable and ethernet adapter. And those who pre-order the thing in the next two days can get their hands on one for $90. There’s also a $200 bundle that includes Amazon’s Cloud Cam, for those who really want to go all in with Amazon hardware.

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.

London launches world’s first contactless payment scheme for street performers

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Here’s a casualty of the cashless society you might not have previously thought of: the humble street performer. After all, if more of us are paying our way with smartphones and contactless cards, how can we give spare change to musicians on the subway? London has one solution: a new scheme that outfits performers with contactless payment terminals.

The project was launched this weekend by the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and is a collaboration with Busk In London (a professional body for buskers) and the Swedish payments firm iZettle (which was bought this month by PayPal for $2.2 billion). A select few performers have been testing iZettle’s contactless readers on the streets for the past few weeks, and Khan now says the scheme will be rolled out across London’s 32 boroughs.

Charlotte Campbell, a full-time street performer who was part of the trial, told BBC News that the new tech “had a significant impact on contributions.” Said Campbell: “More people than ever tap-to-donate whilst I sing, and often, when one person does, another follows.”

The readers need to be connected to a smartphone or tablet, and accept payments of fixed amounts (set by the individual performer). They work with contactless cards, phones, and even smartwatches. There’s no detail yet on how many readers will be provided to London’s street performers, or whether they will have to pay for the readers themselves.

Although individuals do sometimes set up their own contactless payment systems (and in China, it’s not uncommon to see street performers and beggars use QR codes to solicit mobile tips), this seems to be the first scheme of its kind spearheaded by a city authority.

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.

Microsoft turns SharePoint into the simplest VR creation tool yet

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Microsoft is sticking with its pragmatic approach to VR with SharePoint spaces, a new addition to its collaboration platform that lets you quickly build and view Mixed Reality experiences. It's a lot like how PowerPoint made it easy for anyone to create business presentations. Sharepoint spaces features templates for things like a gallery of 3D models or 360-degree videos, all of which are viewable in Mixed Reality headsets (or any browser that supports WebVR). While they're certainly not complex virtual environments, they're still immersive enough to be used for employee training, or as a quick virtual catalog for your customers.

"Until now, it has been prohibitively complex and costly to develop customized MR apps to address these and other business scenarios," wrote Jeff Teper, Microsoft's corporate VP for OneDrive, SharePoint and Office, in a blog post today. "SharePoint spaces empower creators to build immersive experiences with point-and-click simplicity."

Google AI can make calls for you

During the on-stage demonstration, Google played calls to a number of businesses including a hair salon and a Chinese restaurant. At no point did either of the people on the other end of the line appear to suspect that the entity they were interacting with was a bot. And how could they when the Assistant would even throw in random "ums", "ahhs" and other verbal fillers people use when they're in the middle of a thought? According to the company, it's already generated hundreds of similar interactions over the course of the technology's development.

Never give up!

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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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The Invoke Smart Speaker Brings Microsoft’s Cortana AI to Your Living Room

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Cortana virtual assistant already integrates into Windows 10, works on iOS and Android, and will start showing up in cars soon, it’s ready for your home with Invoke. It's good for work, good for play, even has a cool name.

The new Invoke speaker, made by Harman Kardon, is more or less a direct copy of the Amazon Echo - a tall, cylindrical speaker with a blue light at the top that glows when the speaker is listening to you. It can control some of your smart-home devices, set reminders, name the members of One Direction (RIP), and many other things Echo can also do. So far, the Invoke appears to have exactly one unique feature: It can make and receive calls with Skype.

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