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Microsoft in 2019: a year of Edge wins and Windows fails – TechRadar

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Looking back at 2019, was it a good year for Microsoft? It certainly wasn’t all smooth running, that’s for sure, particularly not regarding Windows 10, which witnessed what can only be described as a staggering run of blunders and bugs, as fixes for various glitches created fresh problems in turn.

There were highs, too, as Microsoft made impressive strides with the revamped Edge browser, and also a number of nifty moves on the gaming front, not the least of which was the reveal of a powerful next-gen Xbox.

Speaking of Xbox Series X (formerly known as Project Scarlett), we’ll briefly touch on Microsoft’s progress in the console arena, but note that we are primarily focusing on the computing front here (meaning PCs and Windows).

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 10 bug blunders

Sadly, the first thing that comes to our mind when you mention Microsoft’s 2019 is the quite frankly head-scratching debacle whereby a string of cumulative updates were pushed out, which resolved bugs on one hand, but caused others at the same time.

This episode began at the start of September, with a patch to fix some relatively minor bugs which had been kicking about for a while – but the cumulative update in question ended up causing a new problem whereby Cortana started spiking CPU usage. Then when Microsoft fixed that Cortana flaw, it inadvertently triggered more bugs with the Start menu and Taskbar, and it broke internet connectivity for some users. And this went on, and on…

In the end, this carry-on prompted us to vent in an opinion piece about these issues (and others – like a ‘fix’ for Windows Defender effectively disabling the most commonly used virus scans) and how they could be causing Microsoft serious reputational damage which might have long-lasting repercussions.

Things quietened down a little on the bug front towards the end of the year, but then Microsoft put its foot in it again, when in December the software giant embarrassingly deployed an update meant for businesses to Windows 10 Home users – for the second time, to make matters worse. Clearly, wonky quality assurance was a definite black smudge in Microsoft’s 2019 copybook.

Microsoft Edge

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Edging forward

Microsoft has been busy working on its revamped Chromium-based Edge browser all year, and it has shaped up nicely, introducing some nifty elements including moves to bolster online privacy, upping the ante on the security front, plus a load of other stuff (and of course a dark mode – everything needs a dark mode).

Generally speaking, the new Edge has been well-received by testers, and there’s a pretty positive atmosphere about what Microsoft has done with the browser, and how it might tempt folks away from Chrome (not least because it isn’t such a memory hog).

That said, Microsoft still has a hell of a mountain to climb with Edge, as the existing browser has a pitifully small market share, and in the most recent stats from Net Applications at the time of writing, it slipped slightly (again) to under 6%. When it’s officially launched in January 2020, the revamped Edge will doubtless come out fighting – but one of the trickiest opponents it may face is the spectre of its former reputation.

There’s also the consideration that now Microsoft is driving forward with Chromium, the bells and whistles brought to Edge will also benefit Google’s dominant Chrome browser. Still, it’s clearly commendable to see Microsoft engaging like this, and indeed running with a broader push in the open source world on many fronts (including seriously bolstering support for Linux within Windows 10).

Of course, Edge is coming to Linux, and a big part of Microsoft’s strategy with the new browser is to deploy it across multiple platforms. While it’s arguable how much impact Edge might have in some of these arenas – Linux fans aren’t typically jumping up and down to adopt Microsoft products – this move is still giving the revamped browser the best chance possible (unlike the original Edge, which was confined exclusively to Windows 10).

Overall, then, the rebooted Edge hit a positive note for Microsoft this year, but the real test will come in 2020, when those best laid plans are tested in post-launch reality.

Surface Neo

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Surfacing

On the hardware front, Microsoft impressed with its Surface products in some respects, and remained distinctly static in other ways.

Most of the excitement was around the Surface Neo and Duo, which were revealed, but won’t launch until 2020. The Neo is a dual-screen device which is essentially two tablets hinged together like a book (with a small physical keyboard that magnetically attaches to the lower screen when needed, taking up about half the display).

Coupled with Windows 10X, a fresh spin on the desktop OS purpose-built for dual-screen products, Neo promises a tight integration of software and hardware which will hopefully deliver levels of versatility that we’ve never seen before in a Surface hybrid.

Surface Duo is essentially a smaller version of Neo, and to all intents and purposes, it’s Microsoft’s long-rumored foldable phone (it runs Android, not Windows). Although Microsoft is pitching it as more of a pocket-sized computer, and trying to get away from the concept that this is a dual-screen smartphone (it is capable of making phone calls, incidentally – but it’s not a phone, got it?).

These pieces of hardware represent the exciting future of Surface, but sadly the products actually released in 2019 fell short. The Surface Pro X at least represented a shot at something different, but in our review, we found that while it was a very slickly designed and highly portable 2-in-1, the device is just too pricey for the basic performance levels delivered by the ARM processor, and battery life was disappointing too.

Worse still, Microsoft’s latest update for the veteran Surface Pro range felt hugely underwhelming, and pretty much forgotten in the shadow of all the aforementioned products. While the Surface Pro 7 did benefit from the introduction of a USB-C port, that move was long overdue (and the Type-C connector doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, either).

And yes, we also got a new processor which was a good upgrade on the performance front – particularly with much better Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics – but while Microsoft gave with one hand, the new CPU had a negative effect on battery life. And otherwise, the Surface Pro 7 remained pretty much identical to its predecessor, which was disappointing. Likewise, the Surface Laptop 3 wasn’t all we’d hoped for, either.

So, in short, we were shown devices with a lot of promise for 2020, but what we actually got in the here and now was pretty pedestrian at best. On a more positive note, it is admittedly good to see Microsoft taking its time with the dual-screen devices – something it made noises about previously – to ensure the company gets them right.

Surface Neo and Duo are massive moves for Microsoft – the company’s chief product officer Panos Panay has admitted himself they’re something of a gamble – but the time it’s taking, and the focus it’s giving this new breed of dual-screen hardware is encouraging, so we have to give Microsoft a tick in that respect.

Shroud

(Image credit: Shroud / Microsoft)

Mixing it up

In the world of live streaming, Microsoft did its best to push Mixer against dominant services like Twitch. Back in July, Microsoft set its stall out by declaring it was instigating measures to help combat some of the toxic behavior which can blight the gaming community (or any online community, for that matter).

Then came the really interesting move – Microsoft poached two big-name Twitch streamers. And when we say big-name, we mean really-huge-name: Ninja and Shroud. This has raised the profile of Microsoft’s streaming service considerably, and if more money is going to be thrown around in this respect, we could see things really start to happen for Mixer.

Then again, these moves haven’t had much impact in the near-term, and Mixer still has a hell of a long way to go to become anything like competitive with Twitch, which holds something like three-quarters of the streaming market.

Still, what we’ve seen happening in 2019 might just foretell one of the biggest shifts – and indeed shocks – in this sideline of the gaming industry. And more broadly, it shows how much emphasis Microsoft is placing on pushing the gaming side of its business these days.

Xbox Series X

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Xbox-ing clever

Speaking of that grand push on the gaming front, Microsoft had a lot to say at E3 back in June. Top of the bill, naturally, was the revelation of the next-gen Xbox, with the console being heralded as (up to) four times as powerful as the Xbox One X, no less; and that it would be launching with Halo Infinite.

Xbox Series X will go on sale in Holiday 2020 (and was further teased at the end of the year at The Game Awards 2019, when we got our first glimpse of what looks more like a tower gaming PC – albeit a compact one – than a typical console).

On the PC front, though, the big news was the arrival of Microsoft’s subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, for PC gamers. The service is a little confusing, and still in beta, but we cover everything you need to know about it here. The short version is you access it via the new Xbox app in Windows 10, and it offers a library of over 100 games currently for a subscription of $5 / £4 / AU$4.95 monthly (at least while it remains in beta).

There are still a lot of issues to iron out – again, not exactly unexpected for beta software – but equally there are some pretty smart games on offer, and this represented a very useful addition for PC. Indeed, throughout the year, Microsoft was making all sorts of noises about how it has rather let down PC gamers in the past, and that all this is going to change.

Xbox Game Pass is part of that, as is bringing a load of Xbox Game Studio titles to Steam – including Gears 5 – and this has all been a refreshing change for 2019.

Project xCloud

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Cloudy future

A final big cog in Microsoft’s gaming machine of 2019 was Project xCloud, the firm’s game streaming service which launched a public preview in October. The idea is to let you stream games to any device, and although it only supports mobile phones currently, Windows 10 PCs will be covered in 2020.

Microsoft’s big advantage here is that it has the necessary infrastructure in place, already commanding a large network of (Azure) data centers. The plan is to have a massive library of games eventually – although options are pretty limited now – and also let gamers stream Xbox games they already own.

Again, Microsoft is apparently flexing its muscles and potentially leveraging those deep coffers, with reports that the company is looking at securing exclusive games for Project xCloud – although this is just a rumor, and any such deals would likely be years down the line. But we can well believe this is the case.

As to the reality of Project xCloud right now, our impressions are that Microsoft is nailing things in the crucial department of latency, and overall performance is good, despite some issues (but again, with a beta, gremlins are expected).

So this is another bright spot, but Google Stadia does have the jump on Microsoft in this sector, having already launched with impressive results – at least for those with good net connections. From what we’ve seen early on, Microsoft could have the edge in terms of performance with more average broadband speeds (and that could be a key aspect, of course).

(Image credit: Future)

Concluding thoughts

Microsoft’s 2019 was really all about Microsoft’s 2020. What we mean by that is the full products which actually came out in 2019 weren’t anything to particularly shout about, but Microsoft was laying a hefty weight of foundations for a successful next year.

So we had a pretty underwhelming set of Surface devices, and a particularly uninspiring launch in the Surface Pro 7. And the reputation of Windows 10 copped a load of flak thanks to all those incidents of bugs causing yet more bugs, although at least Microsoft avoided any major disasters with its biannual updates.

That said, there wasn’t much doing with the big updates, with the second outing of 2019 effectively being a mere service pack with no major new features. So when Windows 10 wasn’t plagued with gremlins, the rest of the year was all rather yawn-inducing.

But then comes the promise, and all the groundwork laid for 2020. That included pushing forward with some impressive work on Edge, which has generally been well-received anecdotally, and could make a big impact next year. Then we have the Surface Neo and Duo poised to take computing versatility to another level – if the hardware and indeed Windows 10X pans out right.

Along with a lot of promising stuff on the beta front in the gaming world, namely Project xCloud and Xbox Game Pass for PC. Microsoft is even trying to gain some momentum with Mixer against the might of Twitch, which may seem a little on the futile side, arguably, but certainly shows a commitment to driving forward across all facets of gaming. And naturally Xbox Series X is a major force poised in the wings…

In the end, 2019 was really a reshaping and rebuilding year, trying to get all this stuff aligned – and we can’t underestimate how important that might be for Microsoft if all of the above does come to fruition in terms of being successful in 2020. But still, it’s hard to get excited about what actually happened in 2019, as opposed to what was revealed, teased or beta-tested.

  • Which of Microsoft’s Surface devices is on our best laptops list?

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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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Let's encrypt the fund building an HTTP back-end based on Hyper (Rust) – The Market Mail

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If we have read in recent times that the famous tool for requesting in many protocols is being rewritten with the language created by the Mozilla Foundation, it is not.

Daniel Steinberg has clearly detailed it on his blog. The base libcurl library is written in C and will remain so. Even though the language has its own problems and weaknesses are sometimes detected, none has been significant and their numbers are decreasing.

Above all, this software brick found in millions of machines worldwide is known for, stable and appreciated. A full port would be a pharaonic job, even before Google eventually recalled Steinberg.

However, the design of CURL is flexible. It can be compiled with different back-ends, 33 to be precise. Each can be used to support a particular protocol, with its advantages and disadvantages.


The announcement made a few days ago is about the creation of a new back-end for HTTP requests. It will use Hyper, a library used in Rust, a language considered “memory safe”, because of its design and its specialized memory management.

This back-end, which will support both HTTP / 1 and HTTP / 2, will support quiche and Mesalink, already supported as well as written in Rust. Its construction was funded by ISRG, the organization behind Let’s Encrypt N.

Steinberg says the job will take time. Hyper does not yet have an API that allows it to communicate with code written in C, its development is underway. Only after this step can the actual design of the new back-end begin.

A dedicated branch has been created on the CURL GitHub repository. No date has been given yet on the outcome of the project.


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Fitness: Exercise is a golden opportunity for older adults – Sarnia and Lambton County This Week

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But does age warrant a new set of guidelines?

It used to be that the golden years were all about putting your feet up and taking it easy. But that was before exercise was linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease and increased longevity. Being physically active is now considered a vital component of a long and healthy life, and is especially important for older adults, including those who have yet to jump on the exercise bandwagon.

But there’s no clear consensus as to what type of physical activity is best suited for older populations looking to take advantage of all that exercise has to offer. Is the non-age-specific recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week the best option? Or are there workout routines that offer better results for older exercisers?

A team of researchers set out to get answers by comparing the long- and short-term results of three exercise routines on a large group of Norwegians aged 70 to 77, divided into three groups. The control group (780 people) was asked to follow the national guidelines for physical activity, which in Norway call for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. The second group (387 people) swapped out two days of the general 30-minute workouts for 50 continuous minutes of exercise performed at an intensity equivalent to 70 per cent of their maximum heart rate. The third group (400 people) was also asked to swap out two days a week of the 30-minute workouts, but their routine consisted of four high-intensity intervals of four minutes performed at 90 per cent of their maximum heart rate. Fitness and health data for all three groups, whose average age was 72.8, was collected at the start of the study and again one, three and five years later.

To ensure the two non-control groups stayed on target, they met regularly with professionals who supervised workouts designed to ensure participants exercised in the appropriate training zone, with intensity measured by heart rate monitors and ratings of perceived exertion. Adherence to the exercise routine was analyzed through self-reporting, with anyone who participated in less than 50 per cent of the workouts considered to be non-compliant. At the end of the study, two physicians analyzed the medical data of all three groups, including any deaths, without knowing which exercise routine they followed.

The researchers anticipated that the two groups that exceeded the national recommendations for physical activity would realize an added boost of longevity, but there were no differences in the mortality rate between those who followed the 30-minute general routine and those who didn’t. There was, however, a slight boost in longevity among the high-intensity interval group when compared to the exercisers who performed 50 minutes of continuous moderate-intensity exercise.

The researchers aren’t sure why their hypothesis wasn’t realized, but suspect it had something to do with the overall good health of the study subjects. A whopping 80 per cent reported a medium or high level of physical activity at the start of the study, which suggests that exercise was already contributing to their overall health and longevity. Another finding to consider is that 47 per cent of the exercisers doing the high-intensity interval training stuck with it to the end of the study, compared to the 69 per cent of the controls who kept up their routine for the full five years.

“Participants in the control group did not receive supervised exercise, yet exercised at relatively high levels throughout the five years,” said the researchers.

Another unexpected finding is that peak oxygen uptake, a measure of cardiovascular fitness, showed no age-related decline over the course of the study. This is good news for older exercisers, as a decline in peak oxygen uptake is typical in this age group and is associated with an increased risk of premature death and coronary heart disease.

The bottom line is that there are a number of options for older adults who want to reap all the health benefits physical activity has to offer. It’s also clear that for active older adults, judging the effectiveness of a workout by its length or intensity isn’t a good practice.

“The central implication is that either shorter-duration vigorous physical activity or longer-duration moderate physical activity or a combination of the two, that amount to the same amount of work each week, will have the same favourable health outcomes, with vigorous physical activity being the time-efficient alternative,” stated the researchers.

So go ahead and pick the workout of your choice — or better yet, mix it up between all three routines featured in this study. For older adults, not only does exercise have the potential to mitigate several of the negative health conditions associated with aging, it can truly make the latter decades of life golden.

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