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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 04:42

Microsoft is expected to announce some details of its next version of Windows -- referred to in news outlets and blogs as "Windows 9" -- at an event in San Francisco on Sept. 30.

Microsoft sent out invitations Monday, but declined to say whether the event will mark the official debut of Windows 9.

The company said only that the event is an update for press and analysts at which Microsoft will discussing "what's next for Windows and the enterprise."

The discussion will be led by Terry Myerson, head of Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, and Joe Belfiore, a corporate vice president in the group.

For Microsoft, much rides on the shoulders of the next version Windows. For one thing, the company needs to win back enterprise customers who didn't find Windows 8 particularly appealing for business use.

"The next major release of the Windows client system has to be suitable for corporate users," IDC analyst Al Gillen said in an earlier Seattle Times story on what's at stake with Windows 9.

“The problem with Windows 8 has been that initially it was such a radically different experience, especially for power users who really needed applications that lived in the Windows 7 [desktop] environment," Gillen said. "It was not inviting to business customers.”

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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 04:41

It's official: Microsoft said Monday morning that it's buying Mojang, maker of the popular "Minecraft" video game, for $2.5 billion.

The Mojang team will join Microsoft Studios, maker of games such as the "Halo" and "Forza" franchises, according to a Microsoft news release.

"Microsoft’s investments in cloud and mobile technologies will enable 'Minecraft' players to benefit from richer and faster worlds, more powerful development tools, and more opportunities to connect across the 'Minecraft' community," the company said in the news release.

Microsoft said it expects the acquisition, which is expected to close in 2014, to be break even in fiscal year 2015.

"Minecraft" has had more than 100 million downloads on PCs alone since its launch in 2009, is the most popular online game on Xbox, and the top paid app on the iOS and Android platforms in the U.S., Microsoft said.

"The 'Minecraft' community is among the most active and passionate in the industry, with more than 2 billion hours played on Xbox 360 alone in the past two years," the company said in the news release. "Minecraft fans are loyal, with nearly 90 percent of paid customers on the PC having signed in within the past 12 months."

Microsoft also touted the appeal as "Minecraft" as as a platform rather than just a stand-alone game such as Angry Birds -- with the ability to build modifications to the game driving up user engagement.

"Minecraft is more than a great game franchise – it is an open world platform, driven by a vibrant community we care deeply about, and rich with new opportunities for that community and for Microsoft," CEO Satya Nadella said in the news release.

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox and Microsoft Studios, said in a blog post Monday morning:

We respect the brand and independent spirit that has made Minecraft great, and we’ll carry on the tradition of innovation to move the franchise forward. ... 

Minecraft adds diversity to our game portfolio and helps us reach new gamers across multiple platforms. Gaming is the top activity across devices and we see great potential to continue to grow the Minecraft community and nurture the franchise. That is why we plan to continue to make Minecraft available across platforms – including iOS, Android and PlayStation, in addition to Xbox and PC. 

Microsoft is also interested in seeing if "Minecraft" can reach new audiences in schools, according to someone with knowledge of the matter. There are already modifications to the game, at MinecraftEdu, that are currently in use in classrooms.

Mojang is a small, independent game developer studio based in Stockholm, Sweden. Last year, the company made a profit of 816 million Swedish kroner ($128 million) on 2.07 billion kroner in revenue ($360 million), according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported last week that Microsoft was considering the purchase.

"Change is scary, and this is a big change for all of us," the Mojang team wrote in a blog post Monday morning, seeking to reassure the community of "Minecraft" players. "It’s going to be good though. Everything is going to be OK."

Mojang agreed to be acquired, the game studio said in the blog post, because "Minecraft has grown from a simple game to a project of monumental significance. Though we’re massively proud of what Minecraft has become, it was never Notch’s intention for it to get this big."

Markus Persson -- known by gamers as "Notch" -- is the creator of "Minecraft" and is Mojang's majority shareholder. According to the Mojang blog post, Notch decided:

He doesn’t want the responsibility of owning a company of such global significance. Over the past few years he’s made attempts to work on smaller projects, but the pressure of owning Minecraft became too much for him to handle. The only option was to sell Mojang. ...

There are only a handful of potential buyers with the resources to grow Minecraft on a scale that it deserves. We’ve worked closely with Microsoft since 2012, and have been impressed by their continued dedication to our game and its development. We’re confident that Minecraft will continue to grow in an awesome way.

The company said it expects most of Mojang's employees to remain there for the time being, though Mojang's three founders -- including Persson -- are leaving.

This is Nadella's first major acquisition since becoming Microsoft CEO in February.

In a July memo, in which Nadella outlined his vision for the company, he said the company would focus on "digital work and life experiences that are reinvented for the mobile-first and cloud-first world."

"The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming," he said in the memo.

Given Nadella's vision, the "Minecraft"/Mojang acquisition is important to Microsoft's mobile strategy, IDC analyst Al Hilwa said in an email Monday morning.

Hilwa continued:

Microsoft is a mobile ecosystem owner and has no choice but to keep building it if it is to maintain its relevance in the long term. ... Minecraft strengthens Microsoft’s hand in the battle with Google, Apple and Amazon. ... Minecraft is a solid business with intense user loyalty. That it can be purchased with overseas cash is also a part of the attraction, but its strategic value is that it is another brick fortifying Microsoft’s consumer services, a key lever in its mobile relevance. Gamers on other platforms will demand Minecraft for some time to come...

Successful and sticky games like Minecraft are powerful strategic consumer services for their owners. Microsoft is wise to build up its services assets to make its mobile platform more compelling.

 

 

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Date: Tuesday, 16 Sep 2014 04:41

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made his big civic appearance debut Monday on the same day the company announced it was buying "Minecraft" maker Mojang for $2.5 billion -- Nadella's first major acquisition since he became CEO in February.

“We’re really excited about being the stewards of the community of 'Minecraft,' " Nadella told the crowd of about 1,100 people at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce annual meeting/luncheon.

Nadella spoke briefly of the success of "Minecraft," which has more than 100 million downloads on PCs and is the top paid app on the iOS and Android platforms in the U.S.

But "what Minecraft represents is more than a game franchise," Nadella said. "It's an open-world platform."

He also spoke of the possibility of getting kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields by playing "Minecraft."

“It’s the one game parents want their kids to play," he said.

Nadella's comments came as part of a "fireside chat" with Seattle Chamber President and CEO Maud Daudon, who noted that Nadella's appearance was a civic "coming out party" for him.

Their chat touched on a number of different areas, including company culture, Microsoft's plans in the mobile space, and a couple of more personal topics.

When asked by Daudon how he plans to increase Microsoft's mobile market share (the company currently has less than 5 percent market share worldwide in smartphones and tablets), Nadella said he wasn't focused on today's market share.

“When you define mobile in the marketplace, we don’t think of it by just today’s market share position on a given form factor," he said. "Devices sizes come and go."

Rather, he said, the vision for Microsoft is not of the devices as central, but of the individual user as the center of a host of digital memories and productivity experiences accessed through her devices.

And though Microsoft's share of mobile devices currently is small, "we're very grounded in the cross-platform world," said Nadella, referring to services such as Office and Skype, which are on multiple platforms.

And now, he added, laughing, Minecraft will be "on every 8-year-old's phone."

Nadella said he was focusing much attention on creating a company culture that "fosters constant renewal and learning."

Especially in the tech world, he said, if companies are not innovating and changing, they won't have longevity.

Daudon also asked Nadella what he would say to inspire young people and why he came to Microsoft.

Nadella said of his experiences to date: "It's pretty surreal."

Until he was 18, he said, he hadn't thought much of the world west of Bombay, India. (Nadella was born and grew up in India.)

"And here I am in Seattle," he said. "In fact, when I showed up in Wisconsin -- that was quite a culture shock for a kid who had not seen snow."

One thing he's learned, he said, is that "it’s not so much all the plans that you may have, but the choices you make with both the opportunities and challenges that come your way that perhaps shape you."

He made the choice to come to Microsoft because "I wanted to be part of a team, a company that could change the world" -- something he believes Microsoft can still do.

Daudon noted that many of Nadella's memos that he's issued in the past few months have been peppered with literary quotes.

"Reading great literature has been a source of inspiration," Nadella said. “Literature, in fact, captures the essence of what the human condition is.”

Now that his attention span has decreased, he joked, he's turned to poetry.

He didn't think many people would notice or make much of his references to literature, but, he noted with a laugh, people were quick to point out when he misquoted Oscar Wilde.

Nadella also said that in the next three weeks, he will be visiting China, Japan, Korea and India.

He didn't say what was on the agenda for the trip, other than to note that China is "somewhere we've been for many, many years. I’m enthusiastic about what opportunity there is to have real impact and business success with it."

Microsoft is launching its Xbox One console in China Sept. 23 and, earlier this year, became the first multinational company to offer public cloud services in China with the launch there of Microsoft Azure. But in addition to opportunities, there have been challenges.

Chinese government officials are conducting an antitrust investigation of Microsoft -- one of several such probes the government has launched against foreign companies. Antitrust authorities there have questions  about compatibility issues related to Windows and Office, as well as Microsoft's use of verification codes.

It's unclear whether Nadella will be discussing the investigation with Chinese officials. Microsoft had issued a statement earlier saying Nadella's trip was planned before the Chinese government investigation began and that it's committed to complying with China's laws and addressing the government's concerns.

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Date: Wednesday, 10 Sep 2014 00:37

Microsoft is close to buying game studio Mojang, maker of the popular "Minecraft" video game, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The deal, estimated at more than $2 billion, could be signed as early as this week, the Journal reported, citing a person with knowledge of the matter.

Mojang is a small, independent game developer studio based in Stockholm, Sweden. Last year, the company made a profit of 816 Swedish kroner ($128 million)  on 2.07 billion kroner in revenue ($360 million), according to the Journal.

Adding "Minecraft" and the studio behind it could provide a boost for Xbox and for Microsoft's mobile efforts.

More than 50 million copies of the game have been sold since its release in 2011, according to The Associated Press, and it's among the top downloaded mobile apps.

While Xbox and video gaming may not be central to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's vision of a Microsoft that's focused on "productivity and platforms," Nadella has indicated his support for Xbox, calling it “one of the most-revered consumer brands."

He also indicated his support for gaming. "The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming," he said in a July memo to employees that outlined his vision for the company. "We are fortunate to have Xbox in our family to go after this opportunity with unique and bold innovation. "

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.

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Date: Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 04:42

[This story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times on Sept. 7, 2014.]

When Microsoft presents its first public glimpse of Windows 9 — it’s expected to happen late this month or early next — a lot more than just an operating system is at stake.

Smartphones and tablets are firmly entrenched as important, sometimes even primary, computing devices for many people. At the same time, a recent upsurge in PC sales notwithstanding, sales of desktops and laptops are declining.

With Microsoft’s share of the worldwide smartphone and tablet markets still under 5 percent, “really, what’s at stake is the continued dominance of Windows as a thing that people use every day,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.

Windows 8 was supposed to be Microsoft’s solution to that challenge — an operating system, the company said, that worked equally well for mouse-and-keyboard PC users as for touch-centric tablet users.

Turned out, not all users agreed.

Windows 8, launched two years ago, jammed together two different user interfaces — a tile-based, touch-friendly mode that was radically different from any previous version of Windows, and the traditional desktop interface.

Many users found it jarring to go back and forth between the two.

“Certainly Windows 8 did not set the world on fire the way Microsoft had hoped,” said Stephen Kleynhans, an analyst at research firm Gartner. “They tried the big departure and it wasn’t quite what people were looking for.”

With Windows 9 — the name Microsoft presumably will give the operating system code named “Threshhold” — it’s anticipated that Microsoft will bring back some familiar features from Windows past.

In addition, the new OS is believed to be more specifically tailored to the type of input — whether touch or keyboard-and-mouse — the person is using at a given time.

The world is likely to know in late September or early October, when the company reportedly will have a technical preview of Windows 9 at a media event.

[Continue reading the story here.]

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Date: Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 00:16

Update Sept. 8: Microsoft has removed the Bing Image Widget following Getty's filing of its lawsuit last week. Microsoft issued a statement, saying: "We have temporarily removed the Bing Image Widget beta so we can take time to talk with Getty Images and better understand its concerns."

From earlier:

Getty Images filed a lawsuit Thursday, claiming that Microsoft's recently launched Bing Image Widget infringes on, and facilitates the "massive infringement" of, copyrights.

Bing Image Widget, which Microsoft launched about Aug. 22, allows website owners to embed a panel on their sites that displays images brought up using the Bing search engine.

"Bing Image Widget enhances your website with the power of Bing Image Search and provides your users with beautiful, configurable image collages and slideshows," Microsoft says on the product's page.

The problem, according to Getty's lawsuit, is that the images that come up are typically copyrighted, including images whose copyrights are owned or controlled by Getty.

"Rather than draw from a licensed collection of images, Defendant gathers these images by crawling as much of the Internet as it can, copying and indexing every image it finds, without regard to the copyright status of the images and without permission from copyright owners like Plaintiff," Getty Images said in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

Microsoft issued a statement Thursday, saying; "As a copyright owner ourselves we think the laws in this area are important. We'll take a close look at Getty's concerns."

Getty says in its complaint that the supply of images for Bing Image Widget numbers in the "billions -- essentially, the entire universe of images" Microsoft's search engine can find on the Internet, including Getty's "highly valuable copyrighted works."

Microsoft, the suit continues, has essentially "turned the entirety of the world's online images into little more than a vast, unlicensed 'clip art' collection for the benefit of those website publishers who implement the Bing Image Widget."

Getty made it clear that the lawsuit was not targeting Bing's image search function. Rather, it said in the complaint, Microsoft markets the widget as a "website enhancement tool" -- one that's designed to make websites using it to be more visually attractive and, therefore, of greater "economic value."

Getty contends that Microsoft also derives economic value from the fact that clicking an image in the widget display panels takes the user to Microsoft's Bing image search website. Microsoft could then benefit by being able to collect more information about users or by being able to charge advertisers more because of increased traffic or increased time that users spend on its site.

"This, more than being a search engine, is really a website tool,"  John Lapham, Getty's general counse, said in an interview Thursday. "Website owners, unbeknownst to them, are putting up great-looking websites with stolen copyright. ...  [The images that come up using the widget] belong to somebody else. And all of it is done without any permission from the photographers or copyright owners."

Lapham said his company in March launched a photo embedding tool of its own. It enables noncommercial websites and social media users to freely use any of about 50 million of Getty's copyrighted images.

"The difference is that we have all the contractual rights and relationships in order to represent the content we're distributing," Lapham said. "The difference for Microsoft is they don’t have any of those rights."

Getty is seeking both a preliminary and permanent injunction against the use and offering of the Bing Image Widget until Microsoft can satisfy the court that it's not infringing on Getty's copyrights. Getty is also seeking unspecified monetary damages "as may be proven at trial" for any violations by Microsoft of Getty Images' copyrights.

Getty Images, which used to be headquartered in Seattle, still has about 500 employees here. The company's headquarters is now in New York City.

 

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Date: Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 00:16

Microsoft on Monday began rolling out Office Delve, an application that unearths information and connections, to Office 365 business customers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCbyer0Xupg

Office Delve "displays information that is most relevant for each person based on the work they are doing and the people with whom they are engaging," Julia White, a Microsoft Office general manager, wrote in a blog post. "With Delve, information finds you versus you having to find information."

Delve is powered by Office Graph, the name for Office's machine-learning capabilities that take in signals from how a person uses email, Yammer and other Office services, maps the relationships between the user's relationships and content, and adapts accordingly. For instance, it might show the email messages deemed most important, rather than just showing them in the order they arrive in the user’s inbox. Delve then displays that content in a card-based format.

Microsoft announced it was working on Delve, formerly codenamed "Oslo," at its SharePoint conference earlier this year.

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Date: Monday, 08 Sep 2014 21:16

Microsoft unveiled a remade MSN.com Sunday, emphasizing "premium" content from media partners, along with productivity and personalization capabilities -- and answering the question of what direction MSN would be taking after substantial job cuts last fall signaled that the web portal was getting out of providing original content.

The new MSN.com, which can been seen in preview at preview.msn.com, began its rollout Sunday night.

It includes content from media sources around the world; is integrated with services including OneDrive, Skype, Outlook, Facebook, and Twitter; and can be personalized to reflect the user's interests.

In addition, the company will be releasing MSN apps across iOS and Android devices in the coming months "to complement our corresponding Windows and Windows Phone apps," according to a a blog post by Brian MacDonald, Microsoft corporate vice president of information and content experiences.

The revamped MSN fits in with CEO Satya Nadella's "mobile first, cloud first" strategy, in which the company emphasizes services that can sync across users' multiple devices, even if those devices run on competitors' platforms.

With the new MSN website and apps, "you only need to set your favorites once, and your preferences will be connected across MSN, Cortana, Bing and other Microsoft experiences," MacDonald wrote. "Whether it is your watchlist of stocks in MSN Money, your favorite sports teams in MSN Sports, or your recipe collections in MSN Food & Drink, those things will always be with you at your PC at work, on your iPad in the living room, or on your Android phone when you are on the go."

The new MSN is also aiming to carry out Nadella's "productivity and platforms" vision for the company.

In addition to providing content, MSN will present "actionable information together with content and personal productivity tools like shopping lists, a savings calculator, a symptom checker," MacDonald wrote. "Every MSN experience includes features to make users more productive and efficient in what they’re trying to achieve."

There were rumblings about a new direction for MSN last fall, when Microsoft cut a substantial number of its MSN freelancers, contractors and vendors. It was seen by some as a move by the company to get MSN away from providing original content so as not to compete with partnerships MSN was forming with media companies that could provide their own content. (Indeed, Microsoft is now touting to advertisers the "premium" nature of the publications featured on MSN, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.)

The cuts were also seen by some as a move to steer the MSN team toward focusing on Bing apps, a collection of news, weather, sports and other apps, first created for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

Bing apps have now been rebranded MSN apps.

MSN currently has an audience of more than 425 million people across 50 countries, according to Microsoft.

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Date: Thursday, 04 Sep 2014 21:45

Microsoft announced three new Nokia Lumia phones Thursday -- the Lumia 830, Lumia 735 and Lumia 730 -- as well as a Lumia update.

The phones, which run the latest Windows Phone 8.1 operating system, will roll out globally this month, according to the news release. [Update 12:43 p.m.: It is unclear whether the phones will be sold in the U.S.  A Microsoft spokeswoman said only: "We’re announcing the products globally at this time, and will have more information on availability in each market at a later date."] (Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows notes: "The Lumia 830 begins shipping this month 'globally,' which is a code word for 'not in the United States.' Sadly that's true of all the phones Microsoft is announcing today: They're all international only.")

The Lumia 830  has a 10-megapixel camera, runs a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 16GB of memory which is expandable by 128GB via microSD and is priced at around 330 euros (about $430).

The Lumia 730 and 735 have  6.7-megapixel cameras and run on 1.2 GHz Snapdragon quad-core processors with 8GB of memory, which can be expanded with a 128GB microSD card. They're being geared toward people who love to take selfies, Skype and connect socially. The cameras have 5-megapixel front-facing cameras, come pre-loaded with a new Lumia Selfie app, two microphones and voice processing designed to clear out unwanted background noise. The Lumia 730 Dual SIM will be priced around 199 euros (about $259), and the Lumia 735 with LTE/4G and wireless charging support will be priced around 219 euros (about $285).

In addition, Microsoft announced Lumia Denim -- an update that combines Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 with new features exclusively for Lumia phones. Lumia Denim includes updates  intended to make the  camera work faster and more intuitively. Lumia Denim will ship with Lumia 830, 730 and 735. All other Lumia Windows Phone 8 smartphones will get over-the-air updates, which are scheduled to start rolling out in the fourth quarter this year, following partner testing and approvals, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft made those announcements at the IFA technology show in Berlin.

At IFA, the company also showed off some new Windows 8.1 devices from its manufacturing partners.

Among the new devices are 2-in-1s (notebook computers that can also turn into tablets) such as the Acer Aspire R13, the HP Pavilion X2 and Lenovo ThinkPad Helix; and small tablets such as the 7-inch Toshiba Encore Mini and the 5-inch rugged Panasonic ToughPad FZ-E1.

 

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Date: Tuesday, 02 Sep 2014 13:09

Chinese antitrust officials  have given Microsoft 20 days to respond to questions about compatibility issues related to Windows and Office, as well as its use of verification codes, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce [SAIC], which is conducting an antitrust investigation of Microsoft, is requiring Microsoft to explain "problems like incompatibility and other issues caused by a lack of released information about its Windows and Office software," according to The Wall Street Journal report.

In addition, the SAIC is requiring Microsoft to explain its use of verification codes -- a tool used by companies to combat piracy. Microsoft's use of such codes "may have violated China's anti-monopoly law", the official Xinhua news agency said, according to the Reuters report.

Microsoft said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that: "We strictly adhere to the relevant laws and rules in China and we have been actively cooperating with the SAIC's investigation."

The SAIC opened its case in June, saying Microsoft improperly failed to publish all documentation regarding its Windows and Office software. The agency said investigators visited Microsoft’s China headquarters in Beijing and branches in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu in southwestern China in July, according to an Associated Press report.

The investigation is one of several antitrust probes China has launched against foreign companies.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is scheduled to visit China later this month, though it's unclear whether he will be discussing the investigation with Chinese officials. Microsoft issued a statement last Friday, saying: “Satya's trip was planned before the Chinese government investigation began. We’re committed to complying with China's laws and addressing SAIC's questions and concerns."

In addition to the antitrust investigation, there are a number of other issues Microsoft is dealing with in China, including widespread piracy of its software; mass layoffs of workers at its Nokia facilities in China — layoffs that have been greeted with protestsand efforts to increase sales of its Windows Phone handsets, Xbox One consoles, and cloud offerings.

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Date: Thursday, 28 Aug 2014 21:51

Microsoft this week outlined the steps it's taking to combat the problem of apps in its Windows Store that have misleading names or descriptions.

In a blog entry posted Wednesday, Todd Brix, Microsoft's general manager of Windows Apps and Store, wrote:

Every app store finds its own balance between app quality and choice, which in turn opens the door to people trying to game the system with misleading titles or descriptions. Our approach has long been to create and enforce strong but transparent policies to govern our certification and store experience. Earlier this year we heard loud and clear that people were finding it more difficult to find the apps they were searching for; often having to sort through lists of apps with confusing or misleading titles.

In response, Microsoft modified its Windows Store app certification process, requiring app developers to clearly and accurately reflect their apps' functionality, make sure their apps are categorized correctly, and to differentiate their icons from those of other apps. While many app developers agreed to make the changes, some did not and Microsoft said it removed 1,500 apps so far from the store.

Brix also said in the blog post: "We will gladly refund the cost of an app that is downloaded as a result of an erroneous title or description."

Those who want a refund can contact Microsoft via Windows Support or Windows Phone Support.

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Date: Thursday, 28 Aug 2014 21:19

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is scheduled to visit China next month, according to a report Thursday from Reuters.

The visit would be coming amid a Chinese government antitrust investigation of Microsoft, though it was unclear whether Nadella would be meeting Chinese government officials to discuss the investigation, according to the Reuters report, which cited a source familiar with the matter.

In addition to the antitrust investigation, there are a number of other issues Microsoft is dealing with in China, including mass layoffs of workers at its Nokia facilities in China -- layoffs that have been greeted with protests; widespread piracy of its software; and efforts to increase sales of its Windows Phone handsets, Xbox One consoles, and cloud offerings.

[Update 2:16 p.m. Aug. 28: Microsoft declined to say what Nadella's trip agenda entails but the company issued a statement, saying: “Satya's trip was planned before the Chinese government investigation began. We’re committed to complying with China's laws and addressing SAIC's questions and concerns."]

On the antitrust front, China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce [SAIC] opened a case in June, saying Microsoft improperly failed to publish all documentation regarding its Windows and Office software. The agency said investigators visited Microsoft's China headquarters in Beijing and branches in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu in southwestern China in July, according to an Associated Press report.

Microsoft said at the time that it aims "to build products that deliver the features, security and reliability customers expect, and we will address any concerns the government may have," according to the AP report.

According to Thursday's Reuters report, China is focusing its investigation on Microsoft's web browser and media player, as well as whether the company was transparent about its Windows and Office sales. The report goes on to say:

The investigation has been met with puzzlement outside China, given that Microsoft settled U.S. and European antitrust cases around Windows more than a decade ago, and its desktop software monopoly is now largely irrelevant with the explosion of tablets and phones running Apple Inc or Google Inc software.

The probe comes amid a spate of antitrust probes against foreign firms in China, including Qualcomm and German car maker Daimler AG's luxury auto unit Mercedes-Benz, renewing fears of Chinese protectionism.

 

 

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Date: Thursday, 28 Aug 2014 18:46

Microsoft is launching a standalone version of its Kinect voice- and motion-sensor for the Xbox One.

The standalone Kinect sensor will sell for $150, bundled with Dance Central Spotlight, starting Oct. 7.

When Microsoft launched Xbox One in November, it came bundled with the Kinect voice- and motion-sensor, and sold for $500.

That may not have been the wisest move. The $500 price came in at $100 more than Sony's PlayStation 4, which also launched in November.

Sony's gaming console has been outselling the Xbox One for months now.

In April, Microsoft said it had sold 5 million Xbox One consoles to retailers, while Sony said it had sold 7 million PlayStation 4 units to consumers.

Earlier this month, Sony said it had sold 10 million PlayStation 4 consoles to consumers. Microsoft has not released an Xbox One sales figure since April.

Microsoft has already made a series of price cuts, including bundling top games and Xbox Live Gold membership into the price of its console.

Then in June, Microsoft unbundled the console and sensor, selling the  Xbox One without Kinect for $399. Sales of Xbox One more than doubled in the U.S. after Microsoft unbundled that console and sensor, the company said in July.

The Kinect sensors allows users to control their Xbox One consoles and play games using voice and gesture commands.

 

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Date: Wednesday, 20 Aug 2014 04:24

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is stepping down from Microsoft's board.

Here's the text of the letters from Ballmer and from Nadella:

Dear Satya,

As I approach the six month mark of my retirement and your appointment as CEO, I have been reflecting on my life, my ongoing ownership of Microsoft stock, and my involvement with the company. I have reached some conclusions and wanted to share them with you. I know August is the key month during which the company starts to prepare the proxy statement for the next shareholders’ meeting, and so these thoughts are probably timely for that too.

First, Microsoft has been my life’s work and I am proud of that and excited by what I see in front of the company and this leadership team. There are challenges ahead but the opportunities are even larger. No company in the world has the mix of software skills, cloud skills, and hardware skills we have assembled. We draw talent as well as any company in the world. We have the profitability to invest in long-term opportunities and still deliver superior shorter term performance. You’re off to a bold and exciting start.

Microsoft will need to be bold and make big bets to succeed in this new environment. Writing great software is a tremendous accomplishment and selling software has been a fabulous business. In the mobile-first, cloud-first world, software development is a key skill, but success requires moving to monetization through enterprise subscriptions, hardware gross margins, and advertising revenues. Making that change while also managing the existing software business well requires a boldness and fearlessness that I believe the management team has. Our board must also support and encourage that fearlessness for shareholders to get the best performance from Microsoft. You must drive that.

I had not spent any time really contemplating my post-Microsoft life until my last day with the company. In the six months since leaving, I have become very busy. I see a combination of the Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and study taking a lot of time. I have confidence in our approach of mobile-first, cloud-first, and in our primary innovation emphasis on platforms and productivity and the building of capability in devices and services as core business drivers. I hold more Microsoft shares than anyone other than index funds and love the mix of profits, investments and dividends returned in our stock. I expect to continue holding that position for the foreseeable future.

Given my confidence and the multitude of new commitments I am taking on now, I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off. The fall will be hectic between teaching a new class and the start of the NBA season so my departure from the board is effective immediately.

I bleed Microsoft — have for 34 years and I always will. I continue to love discussing the company’s future. I love trying new products and sending feedback. I love reading about what is going on at the company. Count on me to keep ideas and inputs flowing. The company will move to higher heights. I will be proud, and I will benefit through my share ownership. I promise to support and encourage boldness by management in my role as a shareholder in any way I can.

All the best,

Steve

Satya Nadella response to Steve Ballmer:

Steve,

First, thank you for all of your support during my transition this year and for the past 34 years. It’s been a great privilege to have worked with you and learned from you. Under your leadership, we created an incredible foundation that we continue to build on — and Microsoft will thrive in the mobile-first, cloud-first world.

While your insights and leadership will be greatly missed as part of the board, I understand and support your decision.

As you embark on your new journey, I am sure that you will bring the same boldness, passion and impact to your new endeavors that you brought to Microsoft, and we wish you incredible success. I also look forward to partnering with you as a shareholder.

On behalf of all of Microsoft and the Board of Directors, thank you.

Satya

[Update: Here's our story, running in the print edition of The Seattle Times on Aug. 20, 2014.]

Author: "--" Tags: "Microsoft Pri0"
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Date: Tuesday, 19 Aug 2014 20:01

HTC is releasing a Windows Phone version of its flagship HTC One phone.

The Windows Phone version, called HTC One (M8) for Windows, comes with a 5-inch 1080p HD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.3GHz processor, and 32GB of storage and microSD card slot, and ships with Windows Phone 8.1 Update installed.

It will run on Verizon's 4G LTE network and is available for online order starting today and in stores tomorrow.

HTC has had success with the Android version of the HTC One. 

But both Windows Phone and HTC have a lot of catching up to do.

Windows Phone’s worldwide market share declined in the second quarter this year to 2.5 percent, down from 3.4 percent a year ago, according to research firm IDC.

And HTC is no longer among the world's top smartphone makers after 10 straight quarters of shipment declines, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

 

Author: "--" Tags: "Microsoft Pri0"
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 22:32

Some Microsoft Azure customers are still experiencing connectivity issues after an outage that began shortly Monday before 11 a.m. Pacific Time.

Microsoft said in its Azure status dashboard that "starting at 18 Aug 2014 17:49 UTC, a small subset of customers are experiencing connectivity issues to some Azure Services which may include Cloud Services, Virtual Machines, Websites, Automation, Service Bus, Backup, Site Recovery, HDInsight, Mobile Services, StorSimple and possible other Azure Services in multiple regions. Recovery continues underway across affected regions. Customers in many regions began to experience service restoration."

Some Azure users had experienced other problems earlier in August, including full service interruptions for Visual Studio Online customers in multiple regions on on Aug. 14.

Microsoft issued a statement, saying the company is "working quickly to address the issue."

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Date: Saturday, 16 Aug 2014 19:04

Former Microsoft CEO and current LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer got in on the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for ALS.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xWAZ02e70wc

Ballmer said in a tweet that he was nominated by Spencer Hawes, center for the LA Clippers (and a former UW Huskies and Seattle Prep player).

In turn, after dumping a bowl of ice water over his head, Ballmer nominated Rick Neuheisel, football analyst and former coach for the UW and UCLA football teams; Doc Rivers, LA Clippers coach; and someone whose name sounds like "Hal Wright." (I have asked Microsoft if they can clarify who Hal Wright is and will post any response.)

Ballmer, who remains a director on Microsoft's board, is among the list of tech titans who took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and dollars for ALS research and services. Those tech industry leaders   include Microsoft co-founder Bill GatesMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — is a neuromuscular disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing those with the disease to progressively lose control of their muscle movements. It often leads to paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis, according to the ALS Association. There is no known cure.

On Friday, the ALS Association said it had received $9.5 million in donations from July 29 to Aug. 15, compared to $1.6 million during the same time period last year. The association added that the contributions have come from existing donors and 184,812 new donors.

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Date: Saturday, 16 Aug 2014 18:46

Bill Gates is the latest tech titan to take up the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for ALS.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XS6ysDFTbLU

Gates accepted the challenge, issued Wednesday, by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Gates drenched himself in ice water in the most engineery sort of way (see video above). He then challenged Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, entertainment host Ryan Seacrest and TED curator Chris Anderson.

In addition to Gates and Zuckerberg, other tech titans -- including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin -- have joined a spate of celebrities in taking part in this summer's viral video stunt that has raised millions for ALS research.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said Gates also made a personal donation to the cause, though she didn't specify the amount.

ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — is a neuromuscular disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing those with the disease to progressively lose control of their muscle movements. It often leads to paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis, according to the ALS Association. There is no known cure.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was started by the family of Pete Frates, a former Division I baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, according to a Bloomberg report.

As of Friday, the ALS Association said it had received $9.5 million in donations, compared to $1.6 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 15), adding that the contributions have come from existing donors and 184,812 new donors.

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Date: Friday, 15 Aug 2014 19:10

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is among the latest to take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for ALS.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YDxB6hXWYc

ALS -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease -- is a neuromuscular disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing those with the disease to progressively lose control of their muscle movements. It often leads to paralysis and death within two to five years of diagnosis, according to the ALS Association. There is no known cure.

Nadella's participation in the Ice Bucket drenching was spurred by a challenge from former NFL player Steve Gleason, a former safety with the New Orleans Saints and a former football star at Washington State University. Gleason, who has ALS and uses a wheelchair, has been working with Microsoft for a few years now, using the company's Surface tablet, along with Tobii eye-tracking technology, to communicate. The Surface tablet turns what he "types" on the tablet with his eye movements into speech.

Recently, Gleason worked with a team from Microsoft during the company's first global hackathon. The team, called Ability Eye Gaze, worked with Gleason to develop ways to keep his Surface always on, to improve the speed at which his eye movements turn what he "types" into speech, and to allow him to move his wheelchair using a joystick guided by his eyes.

That team was announced Wednesday as the grand prize winner of Microsoft's company-wide hackathon, in which Microsoft employees worldwide worked on some 2,700 different projects.

The Ability Eye Gaze team also got the chance Wednesday to dump ice water on Nadella, who, after his drenching, challenged Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and Google CEO Larry Page to take part in their own Ice Bucket Challenges.

Nadella also made a personal donation -- Microsoft didn't specify the amount --  to Team Gleason and the ALS Association. The company also donated $25,000 total to both organizations.

[Update Aug. 14: The ALS Association on Thursday thanked those who have accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge so far, noting that the association has received $7.6 million in donations from July 29 to Aug. 14, compared to $1.4 million during the same time period last year.]

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Date: Thursday, 14 Aug 2014 23:01

Research firm IDC's latest figures shows Windows Phone's worldwide market share declined in the second quarter this year to 2.5 percent, down from 3.4 percent in the year-ago quarter.

Shipment volumes for Windows Phone were down, too, to 7.4 million in the second quarter this year, down from 8.2 million last year. IDC notes, though, that this year's second quarter volume was up slightly from the previous quarter.

The overall number of smartphone shipments rose 25 percent year-over-year to a total of 301.3 million units shipped in the second quarter this year. Android (with 84.7 percent market share, up from 79.6 percent last year) and iOS (with 11.7 percent market share, down from 13 percent last year) together made up 96.4 percent of the phones shipped

Here's IDC's chart:

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