Microsoft will stop Cortana from interrupting during Windows 10 setup

“The decision to axe the AI was based on “user feedback.”


People aren’t keen on having Microsoft’s digital assistant butting in during the PC setup process. “Based on feedback”, Microsoft is getting rid of Cortana’s voice walkthroughs for Windows 10 clean instals by default on Pro, Enterprise, or Education editions, the company said in a blog post.

That doesn’t mean the AI is gone forever: Microsoft states you can fire up Narrator at any time by pressing “WIN + Ctrl + Enter.” Home users, on the other hand, will still have Cortana enabled by default. The change will come into effect with the next Windows 10 feature update, codenamed 19H1, which is expected in April.

When Microsoft introduced Cortana integration during setup last year, it seemed like an attractive feature for Windows 10 newcomers, as it allowed users to offload some tasks to the AI helper. You could, for example, use your voice to tell Windows to connect to your WiFi network, choose keyboard options and sign into your Microsoft Account. But it seems people were quite happy to go it alone.

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New Windows 10 Preview Furthers Microsoft’s Plan to Kill Passwords

Released today for Windows Insiders in the Fast ring, preview build 18309 extends a feature that lets you sign in to your account with an SMS code sent to your phone instead of a password to all Windows 10 editions.

Windows 10 Start Screen

With its latest Windows 10 preview build, Microsoft is moving along with its plans to kill passwords.

Released today for Windows Insiders in the Fast ring, preview build 18309 extends a feature that lets you sign in to your account with an SMS code sent to your phone instead of a password to all Windows 10 editions. Microsoft first introduced this feature last month as part of preview build 18305, but at the time it was limited to Windows 10 Home.

“If you have a Microsoft account with your phone number, you can use an SMS code to sign in, and set up your account on Windows 10,” Microsoft’s Dona Sarkar and Brandon LeBlanc explained in a blog post. “Once you’ve setup your account, you can use Windows Hello Face, Fingerprint, or a PIN (depending on your device capabilities) to sign in to Windows 10. No password needed anywhere!”

With this build, Microsoft is also bringing the more “streamlined Windows Hello PIN reset experience” it first introduced last month for Windows 10 Home to all editions of the operating system. To reset your code, just click the “I forgot my PIN” link.

Build 18309 also includes some Narrator improvements, including the ability to download additional voices in other languages without having to download language packs (got to Narrator Settings and select “Add more voices”). For easier navigation, you can now tab between all the main actions on Narrator Home, such as Quick Start and Settings. Meanwhile, Microsoft also added 11 additional mouse pointer sizes in the Cursor and Pointers settings menu for a total of 15.

There’s also a long list of “general changes, improvements, and fixes.” Before grabbing this build, keep in mind that it’s still early in the development cycle and may contain “painful” bugs, Microsoft warns. Slow ring builds are less buggy.

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Microsoft is privately testing ‘Bali,’ a way to give users control of data collected about them

  • microsoftbaliproject.jpg

    Credit: Microsoft

    Microsoft is working on a project codenamed “Bali,” which is designed to give users control of data collected about them. The project is a Microsoft Research incubation effort and seems to be in private testing at this stage.
    I learned of the existence of Bali in a tweet from “Longhorn,” which I saw via another Twitter user, “Walking Cat.” Longhorn described Bali as “a project that can delete all your connection and account information (inverseprivacyproject).”
    I found a link to the Bali project page. That page allows those with a code to sign into the site and says those without a code can request one.
    The “About” page for Bali describes it as a “new personal data bank which puts users in control of all data collected about them…. The bank will enable users to store all data (raw and inferred) generated by them. It will allow the user to visualize, manage, control, share and monetize the data.”
    According to the About page, Bali is based on the concept of “Inverse Privacy,” the subject of a paper authored in 2014 by Yuri Gurevich, Efim Hudis and Jeannette Wing, who all worked for Microsoft Research at that time. An item of personal information is inversely private if some party has access to it, but the creator/user of it does not. Health providers, police, toll-road operators, grocery chains and employers all create inversely private data, which, in many cases, users could benefit from owning, the authors noted.
    The Bali About page says that the Bali project is in “initial stage,” meaning the developers are focused on helping users aggregate personal data from various websites and have an ability to view the data.”

    While not every Microsoft Research project turns into a commercialized product or service in some way, these days many do. So I’d think Bali has a good chance of becoming a commercially available entity at some point. With other tech vendors like Facebook in the news as of late for data-privacy-related problems, Microsoft would benefit from releasing something that championed users’ control over their own data.

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    Microsoft gets explicit about Windows 10 upgrade blockers


    hand at keyboard with Windows logo Thinkstock/Microsoft

    Microsoft now warns customers of specific bugs and compatibility problems that prevent it – at least temporarily – from offering Windows 10 PCs the latest feature upgrade.

    After Microsoft re-released the October 2018 Update – labeled 1809 in the company’s yymm format – on Nov. 13, it expanded the section titled “Current status of Windows, version 1809, Windows Server 2019, and Windows Server, version 1809” on the definitive Windows 10 update history support page, adding more information about blockers.

    Five blockers currently stymy installation of 1809 to, among others, PCs running a pair of Trend Micro security packages and machines relying on new Intel display drivers. Rather than offer 1809 to such systems, Microsoft simply refuses to give them the upgrade.

    Microsoft explains upgrade blocking

    Microsoft spelled out upgrade blocking to those who had no inkling of the practice.

    “Blocking the availability of a Windows 10 feature update to devices we know will experience issues is a key aspect of our controlled rollout approach to provide users with a great update experience,” Microsoft said. “We decide what to block based on user impact from closely monitoring feedback and device diagnostics. If we detect that your device may have an issue, such as an application incompatibility, we will not install the update until that issue is resolved, even if you ‘Check for updates’ [in Windows 10]. We do this so that you avoid encountering any known problems.”

    Something not mentioned was that Microsoft practiced upgrade blocking for decades. For example, it required pre-Windows 10 versions to have been dealt very specific updates prior to the OS accepting and installing a service pack or upgrading to an entirely new edition. “Some updates require a prerequisite update before they can be applied to a system,” Microsoft explained in a support document. Microsoft had also frequently declared that a just-issued security update wouldn’t install sans one or more previous updates being detected in place._

    With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft applied update/upgrade blocking more often, in part simply because its rapid release model resulted in many more upgrades – two a year at this point – and so had more opportunities. Microsoft also blocked more frequently simply because it could.


    Windows 10 telemetry is key to blocking

    Windows 10’s mandated internal data collection and diagnostics, and transmission of the results to Microsoft – the whole described as telemetry – gave the company significantly more, and more detailed, insight into customers’ PCs than ever before. Unlike previous versions of Windows, where telemetry, at least originally, was optional, Windows 10 gave users no choice. Admins were allowed to dial down the data collection in Windows 10 Enterprise, however.

    Microsoft has used this telemetry for multiple applications, but pertinent for blocking are the insights the data provides for upgrade distribution. Engineers can, and do, monitor the telemetry as an upgrade launches (before that, Microsoft uses telemetry to evaluate previews of the upgrade as they’re pushed to volunteers who participated in Windows Insider). When a telemetry-reported issue reaches Microsoft’s criticality, and the company has not shared the details of that evaluation process, it blocks the upgrade from systems that match the specifications of those that failed to install the upgrade or worse, crippled PCs, broke workflows or hampered one or more applications.

    Upgrades and telemetry

    The company has used, and talked about using, telemetry during its upgrade launches since at least mid-2016, when it released the build dubbed both “Anniversary Update” and 1607.

    Although Microsoft has described telemetry’s usage in only general terms and sometimes merely hinted why it collects data, it’s become increasingly clear that one of the primary purposes of harvesting diagnostic information is to improve the chance that an update or upgrade would first, successfully install, and second, wouldn’t brick the PC or do lesser harm to the system, applications and user data.

    Initially, Microsoft couched telemetry’s usefulness as helpful in the opening acts of an upgrade launch, even though one had to read between the lines to know that. Upgrades were rolled out in stages – Microsoft called them “phases” – to produce no-problem installations right off the bat, then build off that success by gradually expanding the pool of PCs to which the code was offered.

    “The first phase will target newer devices, especially those we tested together with our OEM hardware partners,” said John Cable, director of program management in the Windows servicing and delivery group, in a post to a March 2017 blog, referring to the upcoming 1703 upgrade. “We will then expand the Creators Update release to additional devices based on the feedback we receive during the initial phase [emphasis added]. We’ll iterate this process over a period of several months until all compatible devices running Windows 10 worldwide are offered the Creators Update.”

    By “feedback,” Cable meant the diagnostic data, or telemetry, transmitted to Microsoft’s engineers.

    “Microsoft is finally getting a handle on this because of Windows 10 and its telemetry,” said Chris Goettl, product manager with client security and management vendor Ivanti. “They get much more information about systems, without it being an afterthought.”

    Microsoft calls blocking issues a ‘high priority’

    A month later, after Windows 10 1709 had been released to and installed by some customers, Cable expanded on the blocking practice.

    “Blocking availability of the update to devices we know will experience issues is a key aspect of our controlled rollout approach,” he said. “We decide what to block based on user impact, and blocking issues are a high priority for us to address as quickly as possible. During the time it takes to address an issue, we want to limit the number of customers exposed to that issue.”

    Cable also pointed out that the barriers Microsoft set on the upgrade road could be circumvented by manually downloading the file as a disk image. (The same went for upgrades processed through WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) or other patch management platforms, because IT administrators had complete freedom to shove code to users, blockers be damned.) “Therefore, we continue to recommend (unless you’re an advanced user who is prepared to work through some issues) that you wait until the Windows 10 Creators Update is automatically offered to you,” he said.

    That’s increasingly been Microsoft’s plea, even though its actions have often contradicted the warning, as when, with the October 2018 Update, aka 1809, it let the over-anxious grab the upgrade immediately by checking for updates within Windows 10. The results were disastrous.

    Coming clean on blockers

    The 1809 debacle forced Microsoft’s hand on identifying blockers, said Goettl, of Ivanti. “[Windows 10] 1809, that was the catalyst that forced Microsoft to finally (publish its block list),” he said in an interview. “But it’s telemetry that makes the cost of [identifying blockers] feasible.”

    Before the list here, Microsoft did not publicize what was preventing some users from receiving a Windows 10 upgrade.

    In a long missive published Nov. 13, the day Microsoft re-released 1809 – more than a month after it was yanked from distribution – Michael Fortin, the top Windows executive, laid out his company’s quality control case. Much of it was familiar to customers who have kept up with Microsoft’s public pronouncements. But he also described upgrade blocking in some detail.

    “We do this by watching our telemetry, closely partnering with our customer service team to understand what customers report to us, analyzing feedback logs and screenshots directly through our Feedback Hub, and listening to signals sent through social media channels,” Fortin contended. “If we find a combination of factors that results in a bad experience, we create a block that prevents similar devices from receiving an update until a full resolution occurs.”

    But as 1809 proved, the practice Fortin outlined didn’t prevent destruction of user data.

    Fortin implicitly acknowledged the screw-up, then promised that Microsoft would do more to communicate with customers. “Our focus until now has been almost exclusively on detecting and fixing issues quickly,” he admitted. “[But] we will increase our focus on transparency and communication. We will continue to invest in clear and regular communications with our customers when there are issues.”

    The blocking list was certainly part of that pledge.

    “We will see more of this over time,” said Goettl. “They can see things in a bigger picture, and at some point maybe they’ll have the ability to prevent bad things from happening.”

    That, at least, is the hope.

    This story, “Microsoft gets explicit about Windows 10 upgrade blockers” was originally published by Computerworld .


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    How to Customize Your Windows 10 Lock Screen

    The Windows 10 lock screen may seem like an obstacle, but it offers helpful information and customization options, from photos and apps to Cortana.

    Windows 10 Lock Screen

    You can do a lot of cool things in Windows 10, but the first item that greets you when you fire up the OS is the lock screen. Clicking or tapping on it brings you to the sign-in screen where you log in to Windows. It might seem unnecessary, but it carries with it some tidbits that can be useful before you even launch Windows.

    From the lock screen, you can view information from certain apps, including your calendar, the weather, and other helpful features. Those who have the Windows 10 Anniversary update and above can also chat with Cortana. And you can customize the screen with your favorite background image or slideshow. Here’s how.

    To access the settings for your lock screen, navigate to Settings > Personalization > Lock screen.

    Windows 10 Lock Screen Background

    The first thing you can change is the lock-screen image. Under Background, choose between Windows spotlight, a static picture, or a slideshow of multiple images.

    Windows 10 Lock-screen image

    If you select Windows spotlight, the lock screen will display different images periodically. You can vote on which images you prefer (hover over “Like what you see?” on the top right to vote yes or no), allowing Windows 10 to better understand your preferences and display images you will like.

    If you prefer to make the decision yourself, selecting Picture will allow you to choose from a selection of thumbnails. You can also find a picture of your own by browsing your computer folders. The Slideshow option will let you choose multiple images to become part of a slideshow of rotating pictures.

    If you’re happy with your lock-screen image, you can keep the same one for your sign-in screen. Just scroll down in the Lock screen settings page to turn on the option to “Show lock screen background picture on the sign-in screen.”

    Windows 10 Lock-screen image

    Windows 10 Lock Screen Apps

    Windows 10 also allows you to add certain pieces of information to your lock screen. Click the plus sign under “Choose an app to show detailed status.”

    Windows 10 lock screen apps

    Here, you can opt to see details from Xbox, Messaging, Mail, 3D Viewer, Weather, and Calendar, and more. For example, choosing Calendar might show you the day’s appointments, while choosing Weather will display the current temperature.

    Windows 10 lock screen apps

    You can then also choose several apps to display a quick status, which simply means fewer details. Click on each icon under the phrase “Choose apps to show quick status.” Again, you can select such apps as Weather, Messaging, and Calendar as well as Alarms & Clock, Mail, and Windows Store. The next time the lock screen pops up, you should see information from the apps you chose.

    Windows 10 lock screen apps

    Chat With Cortana on the Lock Screen

    The coolest option of all may be the ability to chat with Cortana at the lock screen without having to log in. On the Lock screen menu, scroll down to and click on “Cortana lock screen settings.” Scroll down to Lock Screen and make sure “Use Cortana even when my device is locked” is turned on.

    Windows 10 lock screen Cortana

    As long as this option is activated you can say “Hey, Cortana,” and talk directly to the Microsoft’s voice assistant, even if you’re not signed into Windows 10. Again, you’ll need to have the Windows 10 Anniversary update or higher installed.

    To enhance your interactions with Cortana at the lock screen, select the option to allow integration with your calendar, email, messages, and Power BI data even when your device is locked.

    You’ll find that with a few simple tweaks and setting changes, there are lots of things you can do in Windows 10 before you even have a chance to sign into your account. And if you don’t want to remember a password, use a picture instead. You can also go without one entirely, though we don’t recommend it.

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    Windows 10 tops Windows 7 as most popular OS

    Microsoft’s Windows 10 Launch In Sydney

    Just in time for the new year, a report from New Marketshare puts Windows 10 in the top spot for desktop operating systems. It’s the first time Microsoft’s OS took the top spot since hitting the market three and a half years ago.

    At 39.22 percent of the market, Windows 10’s rise isn’t an overnight success story, but its notable, given the rocky reception its other operating systems have received in recent years. Windows 10 just edges out Windows 7’s 36.90. The more recent Windows 8.1, meanwhile, is a distant fifth — more than a percentage point below Windows XP.

    Windows 10 is now in place on 700 million devices, comprising a broad range of products. Microsoft gambled with the release of a convertible operating system that could bridge the device between PC and tablet, and it appears to have paid off. As has the decision to bring the OS to its Xbox platform.

    The numbers look solid, even as some enterprise customers continue to drag their feet. That’s to be expected with any relatively new operating system, as anyone who’s ever worked for a large business can tell you. There’s a reason XP is still in the top five.

    All of this marks a nice end to Microsoft’s solid year, which found it once again at the top of the most valuable companies. Apple, which is now in the number two spot, secured number three on the OS list, with 10.14 Mojave pulling in 4.73 percent of the market.

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    Microsoft Surface Go Is Actually More Successful than Many Haters Expected Haters gonna hate, Surface gonna… prosper

    There’s not much happening in the Microsoft Surface ecosystem right now, as many critics claim the upgrades that the software giant unveiled the past October aren’t by any means exciting.

    While others disagree, what’s more important is that there’s another Surface model that’s getting all the praise right now.

    It’s the Surface Go, Microsoft’s smallest and most affordable Surface device to date, which according to new data, is actually more successful than many people anticipated.

    AdDuplex data for the month of December reveals that Microsoft’s Surface Go is now the fourth Surface model in terms of market share, just after the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Pro (2017), and the Surface 3.

    The Go already managed to overtake both generations of the Surface Book and the Surface Laptop, but this isn’t necessarily surprising given it’s a lot more affordable.

    Microsoft Store-based stats

    However, there’s one very important thing that needs to be mentioned here. The cited AdDuplex numbers are based on data collected from approximately 5,000 apps published in the Microsoft Store and running the AdDuplex SDK.

    In other words, Surface models that do not connect to the Microsoft Store aren’t included in these figures. Surface Go users are more likely to download apps from the Microsoft Store because the device comes with Windows 10 in S Mode, which is restricted to Store apps and blocks the installation of Win32 software by default, whereas Surface Book and Surface Pro 6 run full Windows 10.

    Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that the Surface Go is doing just fine right now, and buyers seem to love it despite the more or less limited performance.

    As long as people know exactly what to expect when getting the Surface Go, there’s no chance they wouldn’t be impressed, especially because the device is based on the same high-quality build as all the other Surface models.

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