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G Suite is now Google Workspace in a bid to merge Gmail, Chat, and Docs – The Verge

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Google is announcing a big rebranding and redesign for its suite of office apps today, rebranding G Suite with a new name: Google Workspace. Along with the new branding for the product that encompasses Gmail, Docs, Meet, Sheets, and Calendar are new features designed to make all those products feel like they’re more integrated with one another. Google is also changing up its pricing tiers just a bit, adding a new “Business Plus” level with more device management features.

As an example of the new features, a Chat window can spawn a new document for everybody in the group without needing a new tab. And in Google Docs, instead of chasing each others’ cursors around or opening up a chat window, you can immediately just start a video call right in the same window for everybody who’s active in the document.

The idea of blowing up the idea of separate apps into little pieces that can be embedded in other places isn’t entirely new — Microsoft has been trying the same thing with its Fluid framework in Office. That Google’s launching similar capabilities in Google Workspace is a sign it may try to get serious about challenging Microsoft. If that’s too vague for you, the press release quote from the VP in charge of Google Workspace, Javier Soltero, is much more explicit: “This is the end of the ‘office’ as we know it.”

Google has already taken some steps in this new direction — the integration of Google Meet into Gmail was a big one. Now, though, Google is hoping to draw in more users with the convenience of fully integrated services that don’t send you looking for another tab. It’s not so much that everything is all going to live inside a Gmail tab on the desktop, but that whatever work surface you happen to be using will be able to include elements from other work surfaces.

Some small examples of this kind of integration will be available beginning today. Google Workspace apps will let users bring up small previews of other documents embedded in the thing they’re working on. Google will also expand the use of “smart chips,” which are little contact cards that can pop up when you @-mention somebody in a document.

The more ambitious features, including creating a doc directly from a Chat window or starting a video call from within a presentation, will be rolling out “in the coming weeks” or “coming months.” As for non-business customers, these changes will be available later than for business users — again, “in the coming months.”

It should also be said that all of this is very desktop-centric, focused on Google’s apps inside web browsers like Chrome (and hopefully others). Beyond the aforementioned (and not universally loved) inclusion of Meet into Gmail, Google’s other mobile apps won’t be this tightly integrated to start.

Finally, Google is changing up the iconography for its Google Workspace apps. I suspect that there will be a worldwide revolt at the idea of changing the Gmail icon from its familiar all-red M to the multicolored one you see at the top of this post — with Calendar a close second for the most jarring change.

Soltero tells me that Google has no intention of reducing support for third-party apps in Google Workspace. If your team uses a mix of Google services, Slack, Asana, Zoom, or whatever else, nothing should change there. But the new integrations and promise of less tab-hopping shows that Google is hoping that more of its users will start using more of its products instead of the alternative.

As for Microsoft, these changes are unlikely to knock Office off its perch anytime soon. Think of these updates as a statement of intent more than a frontal assault. G Suite (now Google Workspace) has seen faster and more substantial updates in Soltero’s first year in charge than it had in several years prior. It sure looks like Google is putting in resources and is gearing up to have that fight with Office.

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Facebook quietly debuts cloud-streaming service for Facebook Gaming – Gamasutra

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Facebook is working on a cloud-streaming service that will grant instant access to select titles via the Facebook app or in-browser.

The service will be integrated with Facebook Gaming, and is already available in beta form for a limited number of users. According to Facebook’s vice president of play, Jason Rubin, over 200,000 people have already played games through the nascent platform. 

As it stands, users can access five titles through the service including Asphalt 9: Legends, Mobile Legends: Adventure, PGA TOUR Golf ShootoutSolitaire: Arthur’s Tale, and WWE SuperCard, but Facebook plans to diversify that lineup as the platform continues to scale. 

“It’s critical for us to start with latency-tolerant games so we can deliver a good experience for players across a variety of devices,” commented Rubin in a blog post. “For the purposes of our beta, that includes genres like sports, card, simulation, and strategy games. 

“This is cloud gaming after all, so even with latency-tolerant games players may notice some glitches. We’ll occasionally show player rating cards and feedback forms to help improve the experience over time.”

Rubin also stressed that Facebook will build the service slowly to avoid overpromising and under-delivering, and noted that it isn’t designed to compete with or replace more robust offerings like Stadia and xCloud. 

“Cloud game streaming for the masses still has a way to go, and it’s important to embrace both the advantages and the reality of the technology rather than try to oversell where it’ll be in the future,” he continued. 

 “We’re [also] not trying to replace your favorite gaming hardware. We love console and PC gaming and both formats will be around for a long time. We believe cloud gaming will increase — not replace — the options to jump into great games.”

Notably, the VP also touched on the issue of bringing cloud-gaming to iOS, and suggested that while Facebook would like to venture onto the platform, Apple’s recently revised App Store guidelines could prove too big a hurdle.

“Even with Apple’s new cloud games policy, we don’t know if launching on the App Store is a viable path,” he continued. “‘Of course, there is always the open Internet,’ so mobile browsers may wind up being an option, but there are limitations to what we can offer on Safari.

“While our iOS path is uncertain, one thing is clear. Apple treats games differently and continues to exert control over a very precious resource.”

You can hear more from the Facebook VP over on the Facebook Gaming blog

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Microsoft quietly prepares to avoid spotlight under Biden – Kitco NEWS

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp, which has largely evaded Washington’s scrutiny of Big Tech companies and scored a lucrative $10 billion government contract under the Trump administration, has emerged as a significant backer of the Biden campaign.

The Redmond, Washington-based software company is the fourth largest contributor to Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s candidate campaign committee, according to data from OpenSecrets, a website which tracks money in politics and campaign finance records.

The company’s President Brad Smith is playing a key role behind the scenes, hosting a fundraiser for Biden last year in Medina, Washington. He is also a big dollar bundler – people who help raise more than $25,000 for the Biden campaign – and had a public role during the Democratic National Convention, similar to Amazon.com Inc policy chief Jay Carney.

Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott and his wife have contributed over $50,000 supporting committees helping Biden win, according to campaign finance records. And Microsoft board member and co-founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, and his wife have also donated generously to the Biden campaign. Hoffman’s wife has contributed over half a million dollars to the Biden victory fund.

Microsoft senior executives also have donated more to the Biden campaign during the primaries than any other large tech company, according to data from the Revolving Door Project, part of Center for Economic & Policy Research (CERP).

“Microsoft has been playing politics for much longer than the other large technology companies that are widely talked about,” said Max Moran, a researcher at CERP, noting it has been around longer than most U.S. tech companies.

“It knows how to play the game on both sides of the aisle,” he added.

Companies are prohibited by law from donating themselves. The contributions, according to OpenSecrets, were either made by the company’s political action committees (PACs) themselves, members of the PAC or their employees.

Microsoft spokeswoman said the company has a history of engaging with administrations on issues that matter to its business. “Our approach has been consistent: we’ll partner where we can, we’ll stand apart where we should,” she said, adding that the contributions were made by its employees, without offering more details.

Large technology companies including Microsoft have not emerged in the top 20 contributors list for the Trump candidate campaign committee. However, Microsoft’s Smith, whose donations have mostly helped Democrats, has made several contributions to Republicans, including a $15,000 donation to the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to campaign finance records.

The Trump campaign’s top contributors include government employees from the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Defense, followed by companies such as American Airlines Group and banks such as Wells Fargo, according to OpenSecrets.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden campaign spokesman Matt Hill did not comment on the story, but he pointed to an earlier statement shared with Reuters, which said: “Many technology giants and their executives have not only abused their power, but misled the American people, damaged our democracy, and evaded any form of responsibility. That ends with a President Biden.”

Microsoft has escaped escalating criticism from Washington lawmakers and probes by regulatory agencies – which has culminated into one of the largest antitrust lawsuits against Alphabet’s Google by the Justice Department.

In fact, the lawsuit has delivered a potential opportunity for Microsoft to increase usage of its Bing search engine, a win years after it abandoned a long campaign for legal relief.

The company’s other large competitors, such as Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc, are also grappling with various state and federal investigations.

Earlier this year, Microsoft also won a highly controversial $10 billion cloud computing contract from the U.S. Department of Defense after it defeated Amazon in a contest marred by allegations of political influence by President Donald Trump.

‘ADULT IN THE ROOM’

Microsoft has presented itself as an “adult in the room” to both parties on the topic of antitrust, a strategy that will continue to ensure attention is diverted to its rivals, CERP’s Moran said.

Smith and Microsoft, for example, have invested time and resources in staying in the good graces of Democratic lawmakers.

Earlier this year, Smith met with the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, which produced a scathing report on how Big Tech hurts competitors. During the meeting, Smith offered Microsoft’s perspective as a company that has faced antitrust regulation in the past and also discussed his company’s concerns about the way Apple operates its App Store, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Lawyers and antitrust experts said there are some challenges Microsoft still faces, even though they are not likely to result in any meaningful action in the immediate future under a Biden administration. For example, in February the Federal Trade Commission said it will examine prior acquisitions from Big Tech companies including Microsoft. The company also faces an antitrust complaint in Europe from Slack, which operates a product similar to Microsoft Teams.

“It’s the classic case of shiny objects,” said Andrew Gavil, a professor at Howard University School of Law. “Microsoft has succeeded in making sure the attention stays on everybody else even when they continue to be dominant in many areas they operate.”

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Chris Sanders and Edward Tobin

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5 video games for kids to while away the fall hours – that parents might like, too – Humboldt Journal

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With winter weather approaching and our social options limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kids and teenagers might be tempted to fill their free time playing video games.

Here are five games released in 2020 that parents might be comfortable letting their kids play as they while away the hours this fall.

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MARIO KART LIVE: HOME CIRCUIT

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

ESRB Rating: E (everyone)

Suggested Retail Price: $129.99

The anticipated latest entry into Nintendo’s “Mario Kart” series literally takes the action into your house.

The “Mario Kart Live” kit comes with a real toy kart (Mario and Luigi are the characters currently available) mounted with a camera.

Players use the Switch to drive the cart around the house to create a racetrack. Once finished, players can race on the track in the game.

The “augmented reality” mix of real-world and virtual environments gives creative players a wealth of tools at their disposal to make challenging tracks. Standard Mario Kart elements such as items to boost speed or obstacles to impede karts can be mixed with everyday household items used as ramps or obstacles.

What’s more, the game is free of some of the limitations of similar toys like slot-car racetracks. Setup and takedown is a breeze, as the only items that needed to be placed on the floor is four gates for the kart to drive through.

There are, however, a couple of potential drawbacks.

To get the most out of “Mario Kart: Home Circuit,” you will need a large, well-lit space. It’s possible to make smaller tracks for more compact areas, but the scope of what you can do will be limited.

Also, multiplayer presents some problems. The game supports up to four players on a track, but each must have their own kart and Switch console. There is no online multiplayer option.

Not only can multiplayer be costly, but the pandemic makes it difficult to meet in the same space to race against someone not in your social bubble.

Still, as both a collectible and a game, there’s little doubt that this will be high on the wish list for any Mario Kart fan. Those with the space and the desire to create increasingly devious tracks should find enough replay value in the title for months to come.

ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW HORIZONS

Platforms: Nintendo Switch

ESRB Rating: E (everyone)

Suggested Retail Price: $79.99

The latest instalment of the popular “Animal Crossing” game was released in March, just as households across the country were preparing for the lockdown in response to the spreading pandemic.

The lighthearted nature of the game, which tasks you with developing an island paradise for your anthropomorphic animal buddies, was a welcome contrast to the uncertainty of the time.

The charming title has grown since then, with Nintendo releasing a number of free updates to keep the game fresh.

The recently released fall update includes Halloween-themed costumes to wear and decorations to place around the island, giving players several creative options to make their habitat suitably spooky.

With a Thanksgiving/Christmas themed update announced for sometime next month, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” gives gamers of all ages a lot of bang for their buck.

ORI AND THE WILL OF THE WISPS

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

ESRB Rating: E (everyone)

Suggested Retail Price: $39.99

An action/adventure game in the style of the Nintendo classic “Metroid”, “Ori and the Will of the Wisps” game sees the light spirit Ori navigate a forest full of wondrous sights and treacherous traps in a mission to rescue a friend, and heal the land in the process.

The latest Ori adventure boasts beautiful art direction, clever level design and an empathetic tone that should resonate with younger players.

Some of the combat and puzzles could be challenging for inexperienced gamers, though that could be remedied by playing on an easier difficulty setting.

The sequel to the indie hit “Ori and the Blind Forest” received strong reviews for its gameplay and story when it was originally released for the Xbox One and Windows earlier this year. A version for the Switch was released last month.

NHL 21

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One,

ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Recommended for gamers 10 and over)

Suggested Retail Price: $79.99

With the 2020 Stanley Cup already awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL’s Edmonton bubble, and the next season delayed until at least the beginning of January, “NHL 21” might help fill the hockey void.

“NHL 21” lets you lead your favourite hockey team to glory, or you can create your own player and take the journey from promising prospect to all-star.

Players can compete online against others, so friends can match skills while staying in a safe environment. Parents may want to monitor if their kids play online against strangers.

EA Sports releases a new game in its NHL franchise every year, and there is often not a lot to differentiate the titles on a year-to-year basis. If you have a recent NHL title, you may want to direct your entertainment budget elsewhere.

If you haven’t bought an NHL title in a while, or are looking to pick up your first game in the series, then “NHL 21” is a way to scratch the hockey itch while the pro leagues are on hiatus and minor programs are suspended.

MARVEL’S AVENGERS

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PS4, Google Stadia

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Suggested Retail Price: $79.99

It’s fair to say “Marvel’s Avengers” didn’t quite live up to its heroic hype when it was released last month.

Reviews were mixed, with praise for its short but excellent single-player campaign and a lukewarm reception for its directionless online component.

Still, superheroes are pop culture dynamos, and there is enough here for fans of Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow to enjoy.

Combat is fast and furious, and each of the six currently available Avengers have their own play style. Rampaging into a horde of the enemies with the Hulk or lighting them up with Thor’s hammer feels right.

While the Avengers are a force for good, the violence might be intense for very young gamers. Teen players who are into superheroes, however, will find a relatable protagonist in the delightful Kamala Khan, otherwise known as Ms. Marvel.

“Marvel’s Avengers” might currently be a bit thin on content for those who aren’t big fans of the genre, but that might change. The game’s developers have beefed up the multiplayer since launch, and new characters are on the way, with the Kate Bishop version of Hawkeye expected in the coming weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.

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