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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 18:16

Microsoft today launched Office 365 Personal, its lower-priced subscription option for users who want to use Office on only one PC or Mac or one tablet.

Office 365 Personal is priced at $69.99 for a one-year subscription or $6.99 a month if paying month-to-month.

Previously, the package offered to most consumers was Office 365 Home, which can be used on up to five PCs or Macs and up to five tablets and costs about $100 a year or $10 a month.

Microsoft had announced earlier this year -- ahead of the Office for iPad launch -- that it would be offering Office 365 Personal,

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Date: Friday, 18 Apr 2014 13:32

Microsoft has sold 5 million Xbox One consoles to retailers, continuing to lag behind Sony's PlayStation 4, which has sold 7 million units to consumers so far.


Microsoft revealed the sales figure -- the first update since the company said it sold 3.9 million units through the end of 2013 -- in a blog post today from Yusuf Mehdi, vice president of marketing and strategy for Xbox.

Sony revealed its sales figure yesterday.

Both consoles launched in November.

Microsoft's Mehdi did not address the console's continuing sales lag behind the competition in his blog post today. Rather, he compared Xbox One sales to those of the previous generation of Xbox consoles, saying: "The new generation is off to a strong start, with global Xbox One sales outpacing Xbox 360 by more than 60 percent at the same point in time, a true testament to your love of console gaming."

Microsoft had pinned great hopes that the launch last month of "Titanfall" --  the much-anticipated first-person shooter from Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment that debuted as an exclusive to the Xbox and Windows platforms -- would help goose Xbox One sales.

Indeed, "Titanfall" was the top-selling game in March, "with a solid attach rate to the Xbox One," and is currently the second-highest selling game for Xbox One, according to the latest report from research firm NPD Group.

Still, it wasn't enough for Xbox One to overtake PlayStation 4, as Sony's console led hardware sales for the third month in a row in March, according to NPD Group.

When the Xbox One console -- which included the Kinect motion- and voice-sensor -- launched Nov. 22, it was priced at $100 more than the PlayStation 4.

Microsoft has been cutting the price since. Last month, the company began offering a "Titanfall” bundle that included the console, game and a month of Xbox Live Gold membership for $500. Now, that package (or a comparable one that includes "Forza Motorsport 5" instead of "Titanfall") is selling for $450.

Hardware sales overall in March were up 78 percent from the year-ago period, due mainly to the success of both the PS4 and Xbox One, according to NPD Group.

"PS4 and Xbox One continue to see success with cumulative sales of the two consoles through the first five month currently totaling more than double that of their predecessors, the PS3 and Xbox 360," NPD analyst Liam Callahan, wrote in a note.

Retail video game sales increased 3 percent in March over the year-ago period, but sales of games that launched in March this year were 42 percent less than those launched a year ago.

"Last March we saw eight of the top 10 games were new launches with games like 'Bioshock Infinite,' 'Tomb Raider,' 'Gears of War: Judgment,' 'God of War: Ascension,' Callahan wrote."This March saw six of the top 10 games as new launches with 'Titanfall,' 'inFAMOUS Second Son,' 'South Park: The Stick Of Truth,' and 'Dark Souls II.' ”

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Date: Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 23:01

Nokia has suspended sales of its Lumia 2520 tablet in several European countries due a faulty charger, and halted sales of a travel charger accessory for the tablet in the U.S.

The AC-300 charger, made by a third party, is the charger packaged with the Lumia 2520 sold in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

"Under certain conditions, the plastic cover of the charger’s exchangeable plug could come loose and separate. If loose and separated, certain internal components may cause an electric shock if touched while the plug remains in the live socket," Nokia said.

"While there have been no confirmed consumer incidents related to this potential quality issue, product quality and safety are top priorities at Nokia," Jo Harlow, Nokia's vice president of smart devices, said in a news release. "We apologize to the owners of the Lumia 2520, and we are working with urgency to minimize the inconvenience."

The company strongly advised that people not use the charger until further notice.

Nokia estimates that about 30,000 chargers are affected by the advisory.

The AC-300 charger is not the charger that is sold with the Lumia 2520 tablet in the United States, and Nokia is not suspending sales of the tablet in the U.S.

But the company is halting U.S. sales of a travel charger accessory for the Lumia 2520. About 600 of those have been sold and owners of those chargers are being advised to stop using them until further notice.

Nokia is posting updates about the whole issue here. In the FAQ, the company did not specify when replacement chargers will be available, saying only that "we’re working with all our suppliers to minimize the inconvenience."

The Lumia 2520 is one of the few tablets on the market running Windows RT 8.1, the Windows version designed to run on devices using battery-saving ARM processors.

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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 16:22

Reining in the National Security Agency, keeping laws and civil rights protections up to date with the digital era, and the tension between national security and personal privacy were among the topics of a panel discussion held this morning at the University of Washington School of Law.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina; Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel; and Gabe Rottman, national office legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, participated in the panel moderated by UW Law Professor William Covington.

The discussion began with a question about what the panelists think are the current challenges regarding privacy rights.

Smith said the tension between national security and personal privacy is something the U.S. has grappled with at various points in its history, including when President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War and when President Franklin Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans during World War II.

But what's different now, Smith said, is that the war on terror feels more permanent and, because of that, "we have to come to terms with a longer lasting approach."

What's also different, he said, is that people have more information about themselves stored in other places than ever before.

DelBene talked about how the laws regarding privacy rights are "out of date with technology."

For instance, DelBene, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, noted that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act did not hold digital information stored in the cloud to the same warrant standard as a piece of paper sitting in a person's desk drawer.

"That difference alone shows you that the world has changed a lot; the law hasn't kept up with that," said DelBene, who co-sponsored a bill to modernize the act. "People assume that we have certain rights based on property that may be different now in a digital world."

Rottman talked about the government's centralized power and secrecy: "The government has been able to engage in bulk surveillance backed by secret legal reasoning," he said. "Those two things have created a toxic mix."

In addition, he said, people now produce so much more information about themselves that travel over networks and over which they have less control than before. The result is a fundamental change  from surveillance based on "individualized suspicion of wrongdoing to programmatic surveillance where the government collects all the information and analyzes it, looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack," Rottman said. "Ending programmatic surveillance is the most important thing to do."

To address some of those challenges, Smith advocated changing public policy and law to end the government's bulk collection of data, reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and to increase transparency on the general type of information the government is seeking from companies. He also called for new international agreements, given that data now flows across borders and law enforcement need legal processes that work across countries.

And companies themselves need to take steps to protect its customers, such as increasing encryption "to protect the hacking of data outside of the legal process," Smith said.

A Washington Post story that ran last October about how the NSA had broken into Google’s and Yahoo’s private networks "sent an earthquake through the tech sector," he said.

The tech companies, which had previously assumed the government sought information from the companies only through legal means, now questioned "what other means are being employed outside the legal process," Smith said. "I don't think the tech sector is going to feel good about the resolution of these issues until it is clear that the U.S. government is going to stop seeking to hack its way into the datacenters or cables of U.S. companies."

Smith also assailed the secrecy of FISA court.

Generally, in the U.S., court proceedings are open to the public, with sensitive information filed under seal if necessary, he said. Also, in general, each side in a case usually knows what the other side is arguing and telling the judge.

"In this case, we have an entire court that operates in secret," Smith said, adding that "when we've found ourselves before the FISA court, we have sometimes found that the government's own briefs have been so heavily redacted that we ourselves do not know what they are arguing."

DelBene advocated for the USA Freedom Act, which seeks to end the bulk collection of communication records, increase the transparency of the FISA court, allow Internet and telecom companies to disclose more information about law enforcement requests they receive, and create a public advocate position before the FISA court.

She also stressed the need to update laws related to electronic communications, and the need to create a warrant standard not just for electronic communication, but also geolocation information.

"Stay engaged, be part of the process," she said.

Smith said that throughout U.S. history, Americans have always been able to adapt to change while preserving freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

How to do so now, amidst the fight against terrorism and in a digital age, he said, "will be one of the defining issues of our time."

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Date: Friday, 11 Apr 2014 02:09

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be the speaker at the University of Washington commencement ceremony on June 14.

“Steve Ballmer is one of a handful of visionary technology leaders who over the past several decades have had a dramatic impact on how we live and work,” UW President Michael Young said in the announcement from the university. “I’m sure he will have some interesting things to say to our students as they get ready to make their own marks upon the world just as he did but in ways we can hardly imagine.”

Ballmer, who stepped down earlier this year after 14 years as Microsoft CEO, was the commencement speaker three years ago for University of Southern California.

Last year's UW commencement speaker was former ambassador and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

The UW expects about 5,000 students and 40,000 family members and friends  to attend the 139th  commencement ceremonies, which will take place at Husky Stadium. About 12,000 degrees will be awarded.

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Date: Friday, 11 Apr 2014 01:23

A King County judge has agreed to release Leonard David Raymundo, a Microsoft vendor employee accused of filming upskirt videos of some 93 different women, to electronic home monitoring, pending his arraignment.

Raymundo was charged March 28 with two counts of voyeurism. He has no criminal history but a King County prosecutor noted in charging documents that Raymundo's "actions of filming unsuspecting females were prolific" and that "there were 86 video images recovered with 93 different unidentified female victims on the videos."

Today, a King County Superior Court judge agreed to release Raymundo from King County Jail on condition that he be placed on electronic home monitoring and that he not use the Internet except as approved by his sexual deviancy treatment provider.

Raymundo was caught after another vendor employee walking on Microsoft's Redmond campus found a video camera lying on a footpath, saw that the camera included upskirt videos, and reported the incident to Microsoft security. In reviewing surveillance video of the pathway where the video camera was found, security officers saw footage of a woman exiting a campus building with a man walking right behind her. A short time later, the same man was caught on camera rushing back toward the building appearing "nervous, frantically looking around," according to court documents. The man then used his key card to enter the building; Microsoft security used the key card log to identify the man as Raymundo, the court document says.

Raymundo admitted to a Microsoft investigator and a human resources employee that he had taken upskirt images on the Microsoft campus, and a subsequent examination by Redmond police of his assigned Microsoft laptop showed that Raymundo had visited voyeurism-themed websites, according to court documents.

Raymundo has since taken part in a sexual deviancy treatment program.

He is scheduled to be arraigned on April 22.

[Seattle Times reporter Sara Jean Green contributed to this report.]

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Date: Thursday, 10 Apr 2014 13:26

The Imagine Cup world finals, the last leg of Microsoft's annual competition for student developers, will be held in Seattle for the first time in its 12-year history and the Seattle public will be able to able to view some of the student projects.

The finals, which will take place July 29 to Aug. 2, brings together teams of high school and college students from around the world who are competing to create technology solutions in one of three categories: social issues such as education, healthcare and the environment;  innovation; and games. The teams that make it to the world finals are those that have made it past their national finals, and the world semi-finals.

One of the finalist teams will get to meet Bill Gates. And the winning team in each of the three categories will receive $50,000 per team as well as opportunities to receive mentoring.

The Museum of History and Industry, one of the local organizations partnering with Microsoft on the world finals, will host Imagine Cup Day on Aug. 2. On that day, admission to the museum will be free and visitors will get to see the teams' projects and meet the students who created them. Visitors will also be able to vote for their favorite project with the winning team of that vote getting a $1,000 prize and a $1,000 donation to the team's school.

"In twelve years, Imagine Cup has held the finals all over the world, and yet never in Microsoft’s own hometown. We felt it was time to bring the student competitors to Seattle where they could experience being at Microsoft and everything the city has to offer," said Diane Nye, Microsoft's senior marketing manager for student developer evangelism. "Over time, the Imagine Cup program has grown beyond its origins as a world citizenship technology competition and become a key part of Microsoft’s engagement with student developers. As part of that growth, Imagine Cup has beefed up its skill building and mentorship opportunities for students, and we felt the natural home for that was Microsoft headquarters."

Though Microsoft has typically invited representatives of local colleges and universities to the Imagine Cup finals' public showcase, this is the first time the company is partnering with a local organization and inviting the general public, Nye said.

No word yet on who will be the host for this year's Imagine Cup finals. Last year's host was "Doctor Who" star Matt Smith.

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Date: Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 13:50

The day is finally upon us -- the one that Microsoft has been issuing warnings about for more than a year: Today, more than a decade after its launch, Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP.

That means the company will no longer issue security updates, fixes and content updates nor offer technical support. The company is also ending support for Office 2003, Exchange 2003 and SharePoint 2003.

Windows XP, released in October 2001, has been one of Microsoft's most popular versions of its key operating system.

The company has been pushing those who still use XP to upgrade by offering deals such as $100 off a Windows 8 PC costing more than $599.

Separately, Microsoft's Windows 8.1 Update, designed to make the user interface more friendly to mouse-and-keyboard users is beginning to roll out today. It comes free to Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 users via Windows Update. Windows 8 users can get the update via the Windows Store.

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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 18:46

Microsoft has been pushing to create original programming for its Xbox entertainment platform for the past two years and more details are emerging now about some of the first TV shows that will be debuting this summer.

The shows, which will start rolling out globally beginning in June, include a comedy sketch show featuring comedian Sarah Silverman and a stop-motion show featuring actor Seth Green's Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, maker of "Robot Chicken," according to a Bloomberg News report

Microsoft had previously announced shows including “Halo, the Television Series,” produced by Steven Spielberg; a multi-film documentary series with Academy Award winning producer Simon Chinn (“Searching for Sugar Man” ) and Emmy winning producer Jonathan Chinn (FX’s “30 Days."); "Every Street United," an unscripted series about street soccer, and content from the  Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. In addition, Microsoft said today that it's teaming up with UK broadcaster Channel 4 to produce "Humans," an hour-long, eight-episode drama series set in a parallel world where families own robot servants. "Humans" will debut in 2015.

The company has long been positioning the Xbox console as not just for gaming but as a hub of living room entertainment.

It began its push into creating original content for the platform with the 2012 hiring of Nancy Tellem, former president of  CBS Network Television Entertainment Group. Tellem became Microsoft’s president of Entertainment & Digital Media, overseeing a new production studio — Xbox Entertainment Studios — in Los Angeles. Tellem had said earlier that she hoped to launch the first of the programs in the first or second quarter of this year.

Other recent hires include Ari Mark, a former AMC programming director, who was hired as head of unscripted programming for Xbox Entertainment Studios.

Tellem says Microsoft's TV programming is targeted toward the Xbox's gamer audience of mainly males between 18 and 34 years old, and will include interactive elements -- such as extra scenes or games -- that take advantage of Xbox technology, according to the Bloomberg report.

By getting into producing original TV content, Microsoft is joining an increasingly busy field of not only traditional broadcast and cable networks but also companies including Netflix, Amazon.com and, more recently, Sony. Amazon.com, which debuted its own original shows last year, introduced its own set-top box last week -- the $99 Fire TV -- that includes voice-controlled search and casual games in addition to streaming capabilities. Sony, meanwhile, which already has streaming-capable hardware in the form of its PlayStation 4 gaming console, announced last year that it would be creating original programs for the PlayStation and last month ordered its first original series.

The Xbox group has seen much churn in the past year, with the departures of former division head Don Mattrick, who left just ahead of a company-wide reorganization last July, and chief product officer Marc Whitten, who left last month. Additionally, Blair Westlake, who served as Microsoft's liaison with the media and entertainment industries for a decade, departed in January, saying that "the organization is moving in a direction that does not fit either my expertise or my skill sets,” according to Variety.

Phil Spencer, most recently head of Microsoft Studios, last week was named the new leader of the combined Xbox and Xbox Live development teams and the Microsoft Studios team. Spencer now  leads Xbox, Xbox Live, Xbox Music and Xbox Video teams, and Microsoft Studios.

[Note: The print story on this news, running in The Seattle Times April 8, 2014, is here.]

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Date: Monday, 07 Apr 2014 15:16

[This story is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times April 7, 2014.]

It doesn’t take much to get Ben Gilbert enthused.

Mention backpacking, and he’ll tell you about being an Eagle Scout and his hiking trips through Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.

Ask him about hobbies and he’ll get into his past involvement in theater and swing choir, and how the hip-hop dance skills he learned came in handy at weddings.

But what gets Gilbert most excited is when the talk turns to innovation, problem solving, startups and new business ideas.

His eyes get brighter. His words come even faster. He springs to his feet — clad, more often than not, in Vibram toe shoes — as though his excitement simply can’t be contained.

Which makes Gilbert a natural for his current role leading The Garage, Microsoft’s 5-year-old incubator for employees’ passion projects.

The Garage, and Gilbert’s approach to running it, is one way a more “collaborative” Microsoft is playing out as the company transitions from software giant into a devices-and-services company. Trying to foster a more collaborative company culture, as well as one that’s more agile and innovative, lies at the heart of a company reorganization former CEO Steve Ballmer began last July and that new CEO Satya Nadella is continuing.

The Garage is both a physical space — actually, two physical spaces — on Microsoft’s campus and a community that spans several countries and many interests.

From its beginnings as a lab for Microsoft Office folks to experiment with innovative ideas, The Garage has become a companywide employee effort, where engineers, designers, hardware tinkerers and others from many different teams gather to work on their own or with others on pet projects, some of which could potentially benefit the company.

[Continue reading the story here.]

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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 17:17

SAN FRANCISCO - While the Day 1 keynote at Build yesterday focused on products that were familiar to consumers -- Windows and Windows Phone -- as well as developers, today's Day 2 keynote focused mainly on developers' tools.

Build, Microsoft's annual conference for independent, third-party developers, is taking place through Friday at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

During the keynote today, Microsoft executives announced new features and products for its Azure cloud platform, as well as that the company would be making open source one of its largest pieces of code.

Among  the company's announcements were:

*Azure Preview Portal, which brings together infrastructure and platform services and integrates Microsoft's and third party services of the user's choice, allowing developers and IT workers to create and manage apps in one place. The portal enables developers to manage resources such as Azure Web Sites or databases as a single group, rather than separately.

*The general availability of Visual Studio Online, the online version of the development environment developers use to create applications. Included in this are a lightweight editor to enable the making of code changes without having to leave Azure, the ability to de-bug in Visual Studio also without leaving Azure, and Application Insights, which gathers data on an application's health and allows for easy retrieval of that data.

*The open-source availability of the .NET compiler platform (code-named "Roslyn"). "This opens up the C# and Visual Basic compilers as APIs that allow developers to share in the wealth of information the compilers store about code," Microsoft said. Scott Guthrie, Microsoft's executive vice president of Cloud and Enterprise, also announced the formation of the .NET Foundation designed to "foster open development and collaboration around the growing collection of open source technologies for .NET." (.NET is Microsoft's programming framework used by many developers to create Windows applications.)

Here's my live blog from this morning's keynote:

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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 17:15

[This story is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times April 3, 2014.]

SAN FRANCISCO — While Microsoft has dominated in a world ruled by PCs, it has lagged far behind in the smartphone and tablet battles.

Part of the problem has been many developers haven’t wanted to devote resources to creating apps for platforms in distant third place behind Apple and Google.

But, in a vicious cycle, the lack of apps is likely one reason customers have stayed away from Microsoft’s tablets and smartphones.

Wednesday, the first day of Microsoft’s annual Build conference for independent developers, the company took a big step toward solving that dilemma — and toward a more cohesive, unified experience for those who use a range of Microsoft-powered devices.

Microsoft’s response came with what it calls “universal Windows apps.”

The company introduced the technology in a wide-ranging, three-hour opening keynote, during which it also introduced a digital voice technology called Cortana, an update to Windows Phone software, and an update to Windows 8.1.

The keynote also included an appearance by new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who answered pre-videotaped questions from developers.

In reply to a question about his vision for Microsoft, he said it was: “To thrive in this world of mobile first, cloud first. There’s going to be more ubiquitous computing everywhere and more ambient intelligence everywhere.”

[Continue reading the story here.]

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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 17:14

[This story is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times April 4, 2014.]

SAN FRANCISCO ­ — Though Satya Nadella did not appear during the keynote on the second day of Build, a certain spirit of openness some attribute to the new Microsoft CEO seemed to pervade the announcements.

On Thursday, in a keynote centered on advancements in the company’s tools and cloud services for developers, the executives onstage at the annual conference also made sure to emphasize the cross-platform capabilities of its offerings and even made open source one of its largest pieces of code.

To be sure, many of these projects were going on under former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, said analyst Al Hilwa with research firm IDC.

“But it seems to have accelerated under Satya,” Hilwa said. “There’s a change in attitude toward other platforms. They’re changing their business model more aggressively.”

Among the announcements Microsoft made Thursday:

• The introduction of Azure Preview Portal, which brings together infrastructure and platform services and integrates Microsoft’s and third-party services of the user’s choice, allowing developers and IT workers to create and manage apps in one place.

Azure is Microsoft’s cloud platform.

• The general availability of Visual Studio Online, the online version of the environment developers use to create applications. Included are a lightweight editor to make code changes without having to leave Azure, the ability to debug in Visual Studio also without leaving Azure, and Application Insights, which gathers data on an application’s health and allows for easy retrieval of that data.

• The open-source availability of the .NET compiler platform (code-named “Roslyn”).

.NET is the Microsoft programming framework used by many developers to create Windows applications. A compiler translates code from the language the programmer uses to the language a machine uses to run a program.

Making the .NET compiler platform open source enables developers to see and tinker with something that has historically been proprietary.

Hilwa, the IDC analyst, said: “This technology is probably the single biggest piece of code Microsoft has put in open source, ever. It’s a major technology.”

He sees the move as symbolic of a more open Microsoft, given Microsoft’s historic antagonism toward open source.

[Continue reading the story here.]

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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 04:00

There have been some layoffs at Microsoft Studios, though the company declined to say how many people were affected or the work the laid off team was doing.

The company released this statement:

At Xbox, our goal is to constantly create new fun, social and interactive entertainment experiences. As part of our commitment to this goal, we are always evaluating our development priorities, and there are times when decisions need to be made to realign plans and refocus our efforts. Microsoft Studios continues to grow as an overall organization as we focus and invest in key priority areas that will drive future profitable growth. While we do not discuss personnel decisions, the team affected was small relative to the overall size of Microsoft Studios.

Entertainment website IGN reported that two staffers tweeted that they were laid off.

Earlier this week, new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella named Phil Spencer, most recently head of Microsoft Studios, as head of the Xbox and Xbox Live development teams as well as the Microsoft Studios team.

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Date: Friday, 04 Apr 2014 03:58

Microsoft launched Office for iPad just a week ago and the suite of productivity apps have together tallied 12 million downloads so far, the company said in a tweet today.


The apps are free to download and those who want to read or present documents using those apps can also do so for free. But those who want to create or edit in Word, Excel or PowerPoint must purchase an Office 365 subscription. (OneNote does not require an Office 365 subscription to create or edit.)

Microsoft declined to say how many Office 365 subscriptions it has sold via Office for iPad in-app purchases or to users of Office for iPad. "We’re extremely pleased with the Office for iPad interest we’ve seen from consumers and business alike. We have no additional details to share," the company said in a statement.

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Date: Thursday, 03 Apr 2014 04:44

Microsoft moved closer toward unifying its platforms and making it easier for developers to write across them, and introduced its version of Siri at Day 1 today of Build, the company's annual conference for independent, third-party developers.

Among today's highlights:

  • The company introduced "universal Windows apps," making it easier for developers to write once and have their apps run across different Windows devices including Windows PCs, tablets, and Windows Phone (and Xbox sometime in the future). Specifically, developers can use "approximately 90 percent of the same code, a single packaging system, and a common user interface to target apps for phones, tablets and PCs," according to Microsoft.
  • Microsoft is now offering Windows for free to manufacturers of devices with screen sizes smaller than 9 inches.
  • Windows 8.1 Update, with features to make it more friendly to mouse-and-keyboard users, is coming soon. Such features include -- on desktops and laptops -- booting to desktop mode by default (which the user can change if desired);  the Windows Store app pinned to the taskbar at the bottom; a title bar on top with buttons to close or minimize open apps; small icons for search and powering on or off at the top right; and other features to make the Windows 8.1 experience more familiar to mouse-and-keyboard users.
  • Windows Phone 8.1 will start rolling out to current Windows Phone users in the next few months and will come pre-installed in new phones starting this month. The update includes features such as as an "action screen" for notifications; more personalization options for lockscreens and the Start screen; and a keyboard that allows for Swype-like typing. In addition, for many, the update will also include Cortana, a digital voice assistant (akin to Apple's Siri on iOS). Cortana is launching in the U.S. as a beta, and in the U.K. and China in the second half of this year.
  • Nokia is coming out with new Lumia phones, including the Lumia 930, 635 and 630.

Today's announcements were handled largely by Terry Myerson, head of the Operating Systems group at Microsoft, and his top lieutenants, including Joe Belfiore and David Treadwell. Nokia's Stephen Elop, who is set to re-join Microsoft soon, introduced the new Lumias.

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella appeared at the end, answering pre-videotaped questions from developers. He didn't say much new but retiterated his vision of Microsoft: "To thrive in this world of mobile first, cloud first. There's going to be more ubiquitous computing everywhere and more ambient intelligence everywhere."

Here's my live blog of the keynote:

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Date: Wednesday, 02 Apr 2014 13:21

Alex Kibkalo, a former Microsoft employee accused of stealing that company's trade secrets, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Kibkalo and federal prosecutors reached an agreement in which prosecutors are recommending a 3-month prison sentence for Kibkalo, as well as a payment of $22,500 in restitution to Microsoft, according to his plea agreement.

Sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 1.

Kibkalo, a Russian national and former Microsoft software architect who worked for the company in Lebanon, was arrested last month and charged with stealing trade secrets related to pre-release software updates for Windows 8 and Microsoft’s “Activation Server Software Development Kit,” and giving that information to an unidentified tech blogger in France.

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Date: Monday, 31 Mar 2014 22:59

Following on his shuffling of the leadership ranks earlier this month, new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced more changes today.

Nadella this morning named Scott Guthrie executive vice president of the Cloud and Enterprise group. Guthrie had been serving as interim head of the group after Nadella, who had previously led the division, became CEO last month. The promotion today means he's now the permanent (well, as permanent as these things get) head of the group.

Phil Spencer, most recently head of Microsoft Studios, will be taking on a new role, leading a combined team of Xbox and Xbox Live development teams and the Microsoft Studios Team. Spencer, who will report to Operating Systems division head Terry Myerson, will now lead Xbox, Xbox Live, Xbox Music and Xbox Video teams, and Microsoft Studios. (Microsoft Studios produces gaming and entertainment experiences.) Spencer posted his own note about his new role here.

Once Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's handset business if finalized, former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop will return to Microsoft to head what is now being called the Microsoft Devices group. (The division had formerly been called the Devices and Studios group.) The decision to have Elop head Microsoft's hardware division was announced last September when Microsoft said it was acquiring Nokia's phone business.

Here's the email from Nadella outlining the changes:

From: Satya Nadella

To: Microsoft – All Employees

Subject: Tuning our organization

Today marks the start of another big week for Microsoft as we gear up for the Build conference in San Francisco. We continue to push on the momentum from last week’s news about how we will thrive and grow in a mobile-first, cloud-first world, as shown by the great Office apps for iOS, rich new APIs for developers and our new Enterprise Mobility Suite.

In advance of Build, I want to highlight three announcements about how we’re continuing to evolve and tune our organization for maximum focus and impact.

First, I am pleased to announce that after his two months as acting leader for the Cloud and Enterprise organization, I have promoted Scott Guthrie to Executive Vice President, where he will continue to lead and drive the organization. As you know, Scott has been a very public and passionate evangelist for many of our most important developer and infrastructure businesses. Since joining Microsoft in 1997, he has made critical contributions to .NET and other pivotal technologies that help power the Microsoft ecosystem today, and most recently has been the driver behind the unprecedented growth of Microsoft Azure. As a leader, Scott has shown incredible energy and insight into how we create technology that others can build on, and which can be built on what others have created. Please join me in congratulating Scott on his promotion!

Next, I have asked Phil Spencer to take on a new role leading Xbox, combining the Xbox and Xbox Live development teams with the Microsoft Studios team. Phil will report to Terry Myerson, allowing us to keep gaming close to the group developing operating systems across devices. In this new job, Phil will lead the Xbox, Xbox Live, Xbox Music and Xbox Video teams, and Microsoft Studios. Combining all our software, gaming and content assets across the Xbox team under a single leader and aligning with the OSG team will help ensure we continue to do great work across the Xbox business, and bring more of the magic of Xbox to all form factors, including tablets, PCs and phones. Phil will continue his close partnership with Yusuf Mehdi, who leads business strategy and marketing for Xbox, George Peckham, who heads up third-party partnerships and Mike Angiulo, who will continue leading Xbox hardware. Over the years, Phil’s team at Microsoft Studios has helped build a community of more than 80 million Xbox owners and 48 million Xbox Live members through blockbuster game franchises such as “Halo,” “Gears of War,” “Kinect Sports,” “Fable,” “Forza Motorsport” and many others. He’s helped drive the development of brand-new entertainment offerings like the partnership with the NFL and the formation of Xbox Entertainment Studios. I love the way the Xbox team is focused on great games and gaming experiences (go, “Titanfall”!), connects with its fans, pushes the boundary of entertainment and has embraced the power of the cloud in such interesting and impactful ways. Phil is the right person to lead Xbox forward.

Finally, effective with the close of our deal with Nokia, Stephen Elop will join Microsoft as Executive Vice President, Microsoft Devices Group, reporting to me. We expect to close the acquisition by the end of April 2014. I’ve had a chance to work closely with Stephen, when he was previously a senior leader with Microsoft, as a key partner during his tenure as Nokia CEO, and again in the last several months as we’ve worked through the initial stages of integration planning. I look forward to working with Stephen as a key member of the senior leadership team and welcoming the Nokia Devices and Services employees to the Microsoft family. The mobile capabilities, hardware design expertise, and world-class manufacturing and supply chain operations they bring will help us drive innovations in devices to delight our customers. Stephen will partner closely with Phil and Terry on Xbox and will bring together many of the top leaders from his existing Nokia Devices and Services organization as well as the current leaders of the Devices and Studios team.

Recently, I’ve discussed with the Microsoft leadership team the need to zero in on what truly makes Microsoft unique. As I said on my first day, we need to do everything possible to thrive in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. The announcements last week, our news this week, the Nokia acquisition closing soon, and the leaders and teams we are putting in place are all great first steps in making this happen.

There’s a lot of work ahead of us and I am counting on every single one of you to bring your “A” game every single day. I look forward to our second employee Q&A; session on Thursday and hearing what’s on your mind and sharing more about what’s on mine.


Author: "--" Tags: "Microsoft Pri0"
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Date: Monday, 31 Mar 2014 20:01

[Microsoft's annual Build developers conference starts this Wednesday. Here's my story running in the print edition of The Seattle Times today on what can be expected there.

Also, Microsoft this morning released the list of sessions at Build. It can be found here.]

Even as Microsoft last week launched Office for iPad, and new CEO Satya Nadella talked about delivering great apps that run across different platforms, he reassured listeners that, still, “Windows is a massive agenda for us.”

That Nadella would have to spell that out is an indication of how far the perception of Microsoft has shifted in just a few weeks, from that of a predominantly Windows-centric company to one more focused on mobile and cloud, with the role of Windows up in the air.

At Microsoft’s annual Build conference for independent developers, running Wednesday through Friday in San Francisco, the company will aim to clarify where Windows fits in Microsoft’s new — as Nadella puts it — “mobile first, cloud first” era.

“I’ll be back [in San Francisco] at Build, and many other leaders from our company will be here talking about the innovations in Windows, because one of the questions right up front I wanted to address is: ‘What about Windows, where does Windows fit in with all of this?’ ” Nadella said during the Office for iPad launch last week.

“Windows is a massive agenda for us,” he said. “We will innovate, and you will see us talk [at Build] about the great innovations in the operating system and great innovations in devices.”

Microsoft hasn’t released any details about what’s on the agenda at Build.

At the very least, it’s likely the company will talk about an update to Windows 8.1.

The update is reportedly focused on making the Windows 8.1 experience better for mouse-and-keyboard users, according The Verge, which said Microsoft itself had apparently provided a way — circuitous and backdoor though it was — for users to download the update early. That method has since been disabled by the company.

Microsoft would not confirm whether it will be talking about any larger upcoming Windows versions — a Windows 8.2 or Windows 9, say — but it is expected that Nadella and other top executives will discuss their broad vision for Windows and Windows Phone, as well as what that means for developers.

Nokia merger

Also expected are official debuts of the next update to the Windows Phone system — Windows Phone 8.1 — and news about the imminent merger of Nokia’s phone division with Microsoft.

The company’s acquisition of that business is expected to close sometime next month, at which point Microsoft will become one of the largest handset-makers in the world.

Nokia already has scheduled an event in San Francisco to coincide with Build. It’s expected the event, taking place Wednesday evening, will likely include the introduction of the new Lumia Windows Phone handsets — possibly including the rumored Lumia 630 entry-level phone and the rumored Lumia 930 — given that the invitation includes the hashtag #moreLumia.

[Continue reading the story here.]

Author: "--" Tags: "Microsoft Pri0"
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Date: Monday, 31 Mar 2014 19:31

The exodus and reshuffling of former Windows executives continues with the departure of longtime Microsoft exec Antoine Leblond.

Leblond, a 25-year Microsoft employee who had recently served as corporate vice president for Windows program management and who is best known for his leadership roles in Windows and Office, is leaving the company after his last day on Monday.

In an email to colleagues, Leblond wrote:

This coming Monday will be my 9000th day at Microsoft. It will also be my last one. After almost 25 years, I’ve decided it’s time for me to go out and see what the non-Microsoft world has to offer.

Every single day I have had here has been amazing in its own way, and I will never look back on all of these years with anything but fondness, pride in what we’ve accomplished together, and a real appreciation for having been lucky enough to be part of so many awesome things. I am sad to leave all of you, but also incredibly excited for what comes next.

Thanks to each and every one of you for being a part of this amazing experience. I wish you all the best.

Leblond's departure follows those of Jon DeVaan, a former corporate vice president for Windows development, and George Grant, who was in charge of software testing for Office and Windows. Their departures -- and several reshufflings -- came after a company-wide reorganization that began last July.

As part of that reorganization, Windows, which had formerly been its own division, became part of what is now called the Operating Systems division, headed by former Windows Phone chief Terry Myerson. The Operating Systems division includes Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox platforms.

Among former Windows leaders who have moved on to new roles were Jensen Harris, previously director of program management for Windows User Experience, who moved over to the Bing team as its director of program management.

Dean Hachamovitch, who had headed Internet Explorer, said last November that he was changing roles at Microsoft to "start a new team to take on something new."

Also part of the reorganization was the move of Julie Larson-Green, a longtime Windows exec who briefly co-led the Windows division following the departure of former Windows President Steven Sinofsky in late 2012. After the re-org, Larson-Green became head of the company's new hardware division. Then last month, the company announced that Larson-Green would be moving over to the Applications and Services group to work on unifying the user experience across products such as Office, Bing and Skype.

Meanwhile, Tami Reller, who had co-led Windows with Larson-Green following Sinofsky's departure, became head of all Microsoft marketing following the company reorganization. But this month, new CEO Satya Nadella announced that Reller would be leaving the company -- part of several reshuffling moves among the company's top ranks since Nadella took over.

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