Here’s a first look at Android on Microsoft’s dual-screen Surface Duo

Microsoft unveiled its Surface Duo device at the company’s hardware event back in October. The dual-screen device includes two 5.6-inch displays (1350 x 1800) that fold out into an 8.3-inch overall screen. While we saw a lot about the hardware back in October, Microsoft didn’t let anyone play around with the Android software and apps that power the Surface Duo. That’s all changing this week, thanks to Microsoft publishing its Android emulator for developers.

Zac Bowden managed to play around with the emulator and navigation gestures, and Jonas Daehnert — known as PhoneDesigner — has overlaid that footage onto the Surface Duo itself to give us a much better idea of how these dual screens will work in practice.

In the nearly two minute video you can see how apps and Android’s built-in settings will open on a single display fullscreen. Microsoft is making it a user choice to span the apps across both displays, and advising developers to start testing their apps and optimizing them.

While apps and settings menus open fullscreen, you can also see how Microsoft is reflowing how pinned apps on the Android home screen span across the two displays. Once an app is launched, the apps immediately flow onto the opposite display so you’ve always got access to open more. The Android task manager also only appears on one display, allowing Surface Duo users to drag and drop apps onto the second one.

Now that developers can start building Android apps that are optimized for both displays, it will be interested to see just how many really take advantage of having an extra screen. Android tablet apps have been notoriously bad in the past, but Microsoft’s approach means they’ll mostly just run on a single display fullscreen, so you can use them side-by-side. That should, by default, make the experience pretty manageable out of the box, but there are more complicated apps that you’d want to span across both displays that will require some work to avoid the seam in the middle.

Developers can download the new Android emulator from Microsoft and start getting apps ready. It’s optimized for the Surface Duo, and a similar emulator will be available for Windows 10X next month to get Windows developers ready for the bigger Surface Neo hardware. We’re also expecting Microsoft to detail more of its dual-screen plans during a developer webcast next month, and at the company’s Build conference in May.

This is Microsoft’s vision for dual-screen apps on Windows 10X and Android

Microsoft is starting to share more details on exactly how it imagines apps will run on dual-screen devices like the Surface Duo and Surface Neo. The software giant unveiled both devices back in October, with the smaller Surface Duo running Android and the larger Surface Neo powered by Windows 10X. Now, Microsoft is getting developers ready to test their apps to see how both devices will span them across both displays.

By default, an app will occupy a single screen according to Microsoft. Surface Duo or Surface Neo users can then span the app across both displays when they’re in double-portrait or double-landscape layout. Microsoft envisions that app developers will experiment with different ways to utilize both screens. Some of these include simply using both screens as an extended canvas, having two pages of a document shown at once, using the second display as a companion or dual view of something, or having a master part of the app on one display and details on the second.

Microsoft’s dual-screen app vision.
Image: Microsoft

These are “initial app pattern ideas,” according to Microsoft, and the company could well extend them based on developer feedback in the coming months. Microsoft is also asking developers to consider a variety of inputs and to embrace the way orientations these new dual-screen devices will be used in.

On the input side of things, Microsoft wants developers to optimize apps that are built for things like note taking to work best in landscape mode. “Our studies show that users are more comfortable typing or writing on a flat surface,” says a lengthy Microsoft dual-screen document. These variety of inputs include stylus, pen, and touch, just like many Windows 10 devices today.

While Windows 10 already natively supports touch, Microsoft wants dual-screen app developers to embrace drag and drop. Because apps open fullscreen on one display by default, you can also window them to have two running side-by-side on each display. “A dual-screen device that runs apps side-by-side especially lends itself to drag-and-drop interactions for a great app experience,” explains Microsoft. If developers enable multiple instances for their apps, you’ll also be able to open multiple instances of the same app and run them side-by-side.

Microsoft appears to be readying developers largely for dual-screen devices, and not single foldable displays. These multiple displays do introduce an obvious seam in the middle, and Microsoft is providing some guidance on embracing that gap or avoiding it. Apps like Google Maps can embrace the seam easily because map data can be moved freely, but some apps will have dialog boxes that were designed to be centered, or images that are displayed in the center.

Microsoft is recommending that app-launched dialogs should move to one screen instead of trying to stretching across both. That’s the same for context menus or drop down menus, that should ideally treat the gap between the displays as a boundary and not try to display menus there.

Developers will also need to consider snapping to the seam, to avoid content in a grid or tabular layout not being displayed correctly. Responsive layouts will help here, by rearrange content when the screen orientation or size changes. Developers can also choose how to handle images spanning across the two displays. They can either mask, where an image is rendered behind the seam, or split which cuts the image apart. The mask technique leaves it up to a users’ brain to “naturally connect the ‘unseen’ parts,” according to Microsoft, and it’s a recommended technique for videos and photos.

Microsoft is also releasing an Android emulator for the Surface Duo today to allow devs to test mobile apps. A Windows 10X emulator for the Surface Neo will arrive next month at around the same time that Microsoft plans to detail more of its dual-screen plans during a developer webcast.

Microsoft’s Android emulator will naturally support Android apps, and the Windows 10X version will include support for native Windows APIs to let developers detect hinge positions and optimize their win32 or Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps for these new devices. Microsoft is also proposing new web standards for dual-screen layouts, and is “actively incubating new capabilities that enable web content to provide a great experience on dual-screen devices.”

Windows 10X Emulator.
Image: Microsoft

Other OEMs like Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Asus are also working on Windows 10X dual-screen and foldable devices. We’ve already seen one from Lenovo in the form of the ThinkPad X1 Fold, but we’re hoping to see more in the coming months. Microsoft is also planning to reveal more details about its dual-screen plans at the company’s Build developer conference in May.

Update, January 23rd 4:20AM ET: Article updated with more information from Microsoft’s dual-screen documentation.

Windows 7 extended security updates to cost German government around $887,000

The German government is facing a bill of around $887,000 (800,000 euros) for failing to upgrade to Windows 10 ahead of the Windows 7 end of support date last week. German newspaper Handelsblatt reports that the German Federal Ministry is looking to secure at least 33,000 machines still running Windows 7, which involves paying Microsoft a fee per device for a year of extended security protection.

Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 last week, but millions of PCs still run the operating system. While Microsoft won’t be issuing public security updates and fixes for Windows 7, businesses who haven’t migrated to Windows 10 in time can pay for Extended Security Updates (ESU). It’s costly if you still have thousands of machines running Windows 7, just like the German government.

Extended updates for Windows 7 Enterprise, used in most big businesses, is approximately $25 per machine, and the cost doubles to $50 per device in 2021 and again to $100 in 2022. It’s even worse for Windows 7 Pro users, used in smaller firms, which starts at $50 per machine and jumps to $100 in 2021 and $200 in 2022. These costs will vary depending on the volume of PCs in use at a business, and some larger firms can negotiate discounts for thousands of machines.

The German government is reportedly in the middle of an upgrade to Windows 10, but it hasn’t managed to get every PC upgraded in time. Handelsblatt reports that 20,000 of 85,000 machines in Berlin government offices are still running Windows 7, highlighting the issue the German government has.

Microsoft has also started using full-screen notifications for Windows 7 users, alerting them that the OS is no longer supported. The software maker used Windows 7 notifications throughout 2019, so people had a lot of warning about the end of support. Millions of machines are still running Windows 7, though, so we’re bound to see a lot more cases of businesses paying high sums to protect their machines from viruses, ransomware, and more.

Microsoft’s CEO looks to a future beyond Windows, iOS, and Android

“What do you think is the biggest hardware business at Microsoft?” asked Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella last week during a private media event. “Xbox,” answered a reporter who had been quizzing Nadella on how the company’s hardware products like Surface and Xbox fit into the broader ambitions of Microsoft. “No, it’s our cloud,” fired back Nadella, explaining how Microsoft is building everything from the data centers to the servers and network stack that fit inside.

As the reporter pushed further on the hardware point, a frequent question given Microsoft’s focus on the cloud, Nadella provided us with the best vision for the modern Microsoft that moves well beyond the billion-or-so Windows users that previously defined the company.

“The way I look at it is Windows is the billion user install base of ours. We continue to add a couple of hundred million PCs every year, and we want to serve that in a super good way,” explained Nadella. “The thing that we also want to think about is the broader context. We don’t want to be defined by just what we achieved. We look at if there’s going to be 50 billion endpoints. Windows with its billion is good, Android with its 2 billion is good, iOS with its billion is good — but there is 46 billion more. So let’s go and look at what that 46 billion plus 4 [billion] looks like, and define a strategy for that, and then have everything have a place under the sun.”

Microsoft’s Surface Pro X.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Microsoft has talked about the potential for rapid Internet of Things (IoT) growth from sensors and simple devices for years, all while the company has been building a cloud empire and quietly acquiring companies that will help it manage these billions of cloud-connected devices. Some analysts claim that there are already 22 billion connected devices, growing to 50 billion connected devices this year, by 2025, or 2030 depending on which study you believe. There might be disagreement on exactly how many devices will be connected to the internet and when, but Nadella has reorganized Windows and Azure to get ready for them.

“Sometimes I say, ‘Hey, look. Should I call Windows… Azure Edge?’” revealed Nadella during the same media event last week, noting that’s what the operating system essentially is today by using the hardware to expose an app model. “Our new organization that manages all of this at the core kernel level and the hardware … that team is the same. Whether it is something that is on Surface or something on Azure host, it’s literally the same people.”

While we often hear Nadella quote philosophers or poets in memos, investor calls, and during onstage appearances, it’s rare to hear him be so direct and succinct about Microsoft’s ambitions. You don’t need to decipher his language here to understand that Microsoft is looking far beyond iOS, Android, and Windows to build Azure into what the company calls “the world’s computer.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Photo by Amelia Krales / The Verge

It’s easy for consumers to misunderstand Nadella’s new Microsoft that’s focused on Azure and cloud computing or worry the company could be turning into another IBM. Microsoft will need to tread carefully if it wants to avoid such comparisons. But the company is certainly being ambitious in its efforts to create a cross-platform environment that spans the world’s computing devices — whether that’s making distributed computing possible with elastic processing power and storage or using Xbox technology to build microcontrollers for its Azure Sphere operating system that’s built on top of a custom Linux kernel.

Microsoft also faces huge challenges from competitors that also want to manage these billions of internet-connected devices. Amazon, ARM, Dell, Huawei, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Google, HP, Oracle, Qualcomm, Samsung, and more are fighting over this potential market, but there’s no clear winner in sight. The software giant will also need to convince competitors, and partner with many, if it’s even going to get close to pulling off this ambitious bet. That’s why we’ve seen Microsoft partner with Amazon on Alexa and Cortana integration, Samsung for Android apps, Walmart on tech for grocery stores, Sony on the future of gaming in the cloud, and many more in recent years.

Nadella has obviously steered Microsoft in a different direction since taking over as CEO nearly six years ago. The results were evident after just a year, and the company reorganized its Windows division nearly two years ago to prepare for a world beyond Windows. Nadella’s message back in October when Microsoft embraced Android for the Surface Duo was that the operating system doesn’t matter, and it’s all about the app model and experience. It’s an obvious acknowledgment of how mobile computing has shifted the way we communicate and work, and it’s a nod that Microsoft is looking far more broadly to get back to its roots as a software company — not just the maker of Windows and Office — and try not to miss the next big thing.

That doesn’t mean Windows is dead or that Microsoft will give up on it anytime soon. It’s just not as important as it once was to the company when you consider the future Nadella is building Microsoft toward.

“We are absolutely, no question, allocating a lot to what is that next big thing,” explained Nadella last week. “But at the same time, we’re also not saying that’s our way back to saying all of iOS, all of Android, and all of Windows will suddenly be subsumed by this one thing. If anything, what people have come to realize is that Windows is there with a billion users, iOS is there with a billion users, and Android is there with 2 billion users. It’s not like one killed the other.”

Microsoft puts the pressure on Slack with first TV ad for Microsoft Teams

Microsoft is unveiling its first TV commercial for Microsoft Teams this weekend. A 30-second ad will air during Sunday’s NFL playoffs, and will also be shown in the UK, France, and Germany next month. Dubbed “The Power of Teams,” the ad opens with boring business meetings, flip charts, ancient speaker phones, and slidedecks printed on paper before quickly moving on to Teams. Microsoft has been aligning its Teams software as the hub for the future of its Office suite, and this ad plays into that.

This TV commercial, which also includes Microsoft’s latest Surface hardware, is obviously designed to take on Slack in markets that may consider the rival group chat software over Microsoft’s alternative. Microsoft has successfully chased and overtaken its Slack competition during the past year, leading to Teams being used actively by 20 million people daily compared to Slack’s 12 million.

The competition has been tense recently, with Microsoft claiming Slack doesn’t have the “breadth and depth that’s really required to reinvent what it looks like to work together.” Slack has claimed it’s not worried about the reach of Office 365, and it’s focused on how many of its users love its product and the amount of time they spend using the app. Slack even mocked Microsoft last year, accusing it of ripping off its ads.

Despite the increased competition between both companies, there’s likely room for both Slack and Microsoft Teams in the market. A large number of small businesses rely on a combination of Zoom, Slack, Google, and Dropbox instead of an Office 365 subscription. Whereas Microsoft is comfortably winning the larger enterprise side of the chat app market, with 91 companies from the Fortune 100 already using Microsoft Teams.

BT partners with Google to bundle free Stadia with broadband deals in the UK

BT is partnering with Google to launch broadband plans in the UK that come with access to the Stadia cloud gaming service. It’s a first for Europe, allowing BT to offer a free Google Stadia Premiere Edition with broadband deals direct to consumers. BT, the biggest ISP in the UK, is planning to offer the free kit to customers who opt for the company’s Superfast Broadband 2, Ultrafast Fibre 100, or Ultrafast Fibre 250 services. BT is also planning a marketing campaign to promote its Stadia bundles.

Google recommends a connection of at least 35Mbps for Stadia 4K streaming, and the vast majority of the UK will only be able to access the basic “Superfast Fibre 2” service from BT, offering average download speeds of 67Mbps. That’s not as “superfast” as the name implies, and it’s no guarantee you will get 67Mbps regularly. BT’s Fiber To The Premises (FTTP) packages are still being rolled out to homes, and the company expects to offer average download speeds of 145Mbps and 300Mbps through its two “Ultrafast” deals to 12 million homes this year. If you drop below 100Mbps on BT’s FTTP services then the company will compensate you.

BT’s deal with Google comes just a day after the promise of more than 120 games in 2020 for Stadia, including 10 exclusives. That’s a big jump from the 26 games currently available, and Google had previously only confirmed four games for 2020. Google is also bringing 4K gaming to the web part of Stadia in the coming months, alongside support for more Android phones and wireless gameplay on the web with the Stadia controller.

How to download Microsoft’s new Edge browser

Microsoft is launching its new Chromium-based Edge browser today. It comes with built-in tracking protection, a new Collections feature to grab images and content from the web, and an Internet Explorer mode for businesses. If you’re currently a Chrome user, then it’s very familiar in terms of overall features and the user interface.

Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, and macOS users will all be able to download and install the new version of Edge today. Microsoft will be rolling this out via Windows Update to Windows 10 users in the coming weeks, but here’s how to get it right now.

  • Head over to Microsoft’s Edge site, and download the installer
  • Run the installer. Once it’s finished, the task bar icon for Edge (assuming the older version was already installed) will change to the new logo
  • Launch the new Edge. You’ll be greeted with a welcome screen where you can choose to import data from Chrome / old Edge or start fresh.

  • You can also configure how new tabs will look and / or sign in to a Microsoft Account to enable sync of favorites, passwords, and more

  • Finally, by clicking on the “Next” button, you can disable Microsoft’s personalized ads, search, news, etc.

Use the new Edge on your mobile device

If you’re interested in using Edge across your desktop and mobile devices, Microsoft is also making it available on both Android and iOS. (Note that if you download the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and then sign in with the same Microsoft Account you use on Windows or macOS, it will sync your favorites, passwords, and more.)

You can enable tracking protection under Settings. You can customize the Edge mobile menu by hitting the three dots at the bottom, selecting change menu, and then dragging and dropping icons where you want them to appear.

Full browsing history and open tab sync between desktop and mobile aren’t available yet, but Microsoft is planning to add them in the coming months. Microsoft is also adding extension sync across the desktop versions of Edge soon, and it will enable Collections to sync, too.

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Microsoft’s new Edge Chromium browser launches on Windows and macOS

Microsoft is officially launching its new Edge Chromium browser today across both Windows and macOS. A stable version of the browser is now available for everyone to download, just over a year after the software maker revealed its plans to switch to Chromium. Microsoft is initially targeting Edge at enterprise users of Windows and macOS, but consumers will be able to manually download and install it, too.

In the coming months, Microsoft plans to automatically update Windows 10 users with this new version of Edge which will fully replace the existing built-in browser. The company is taking a slow and careful approach, bringing the new Edge gradually to groups of Windows 10 users through Windows Update before it’s fully rolled out to everyone in the summertime. Microsoft is also releasing this version of Edge to OEMs today, so expect to see machines start arriving in the back-to-school period with the new version of Edge preinstalled. Microsoft will eventually bake this directly into a future Windows 10 update, and it will be part of Windows 10X for foldable and dual-screen devices. An ARM64 version of Edge won’t be available today, but it’s expected to come to the stable channel shortly.

While Edge Chromium is available today, it’s also launching without some features you might be familiar with if you’re used to using Chrome. Both history sync and extension sync are missing at launch, but things like favorites, settings, addresses / contact info, and passwords will all sync. Microsoft is planning to have these missing sync features available later this year. The good thing is the rest of Edge is very similar to Chrome and even includes support for Chrome extensions. Where Edge differs is new features like Collections, which allows you to collate images and content from the web, and tracking prevention.

Microsoft’s new Edge browser on Windows 10.

You can choose from three different levels to avoid being tracked on the web in Edge, and the default setting will block trackers from sites you haven’t visited before. This makes sure content and ads are less personalized and harmful trackers are blocked. There’s also a strict setting that blocks the majority of trackers on the web, but that could mean some parts of sites fail to load or might not work correctly. If you’re familiar with Ghostery, then Microsoft’s built-in protection Edge is similar.

So why even switch to Microsoft’s Edge Chromium browser? Microsoft is banking on enterprise users switching to get access to features like Internet Explorer mode, which lets businesses load legacy IE sites within Edge automatically. The added anti-tracking features, Collections, and support for 4K Netflix with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision will also be important differentiators over Chrome.

There’s also the aspect of trust and which browser company you want to trust with your browsing history and privacy. Google is phasing out third-party cookies and trackers in Chrome but not for two years. That gives Edge, Safari, Firefox, and others an opportunity to capitalize on web users who are a little more privacy-conscious. This alone won’t be enough to get everyone to switch away from Chrome, but Microsoft has a better opportunity than most with its Windows dominance in the enterprise and the fact Edge is now a lot more compatible with the web.

Edge Collections feature.

Compatibility is key, and it’s one of the big reasons why Microsoft chose Chromium in the first place. Chromium offers instant web compatibility, and it also allows Microsoft to bring its web browser elsewhere. Unusually, Microsoft is releasing Edge for Windows 7 today, even though it just went out of support. The company won’t say how long it will support Edge on Windows 7 for, but Google has committed to at least mid-2021. Edge is also arriving on Windows 8.1 and macOS, and it’s being updated on both Android and iOS.

Ultimately, the success of Edge Chromium could come down to whether it’s fully embraced by web developers and competitors like Google. During the beta period of Edge, we’ve seen both Google Meet and Google Stadia be inaccessible in Edge Chromium, despite working in both Chrome and beta versions of Chrome. Hopefully, this new version of Edge will prevent Chrome from turning into the new Internet Explorer 6 and restore some healthy browser competition to a market that is dominated by Chrome. It’s a good thing for consumers to have two tech giants competing to improve the web, as everyone gets a better web browser as a result.

If you’re interested in trying out the new Edge, you can download it for Windows or macOS over at Microsoft’s Edge site.

Microsoft patches Windows 10 security flaw discovered by the NSA

Microsoft is patching a serious flaw in various versions of Windows today after the National Security Agency (NSA) discovered and reported a security vulnerability in Microsoft’s handling of certificate and cryptographic messaging functions in Windows. The flaw, which hasn’t been marked critical by Microsoft, could allow attackers to spoof the digital signature tied to pieces of software, allowing unsigned and malicious code to masquerade as legitimate software.

The bug is a problem for environments that rely on digital certificates to validate the software that machines run, a potentially far-reaching security issue if left unpatched. The NSA reported the flaw to Microsoft recently, and it’s recommending that enterprises patch it immediately or prioritize systems that host critical infrastructure like domain controllers, VPN servers, or DNS servers. Security reporter Brian Krebs first revealed the extent of the flaw yesterday, warning of potential issues with authentication on Windows desktops and servers.

Microsoft is now patching Windows 10, Windows Server 2016, and Windows Server 2019. The software giant says it has not seen active exploitation of the flaw in the wild, and it has marked it as “important” and not the highest “critical” level that it uses for major security flaws. That’s not a reason to delay patching, though. Malicious actors will inevitably reverse-engineer the fix to discover the flaw and use it on unpatched systems.

The NSA warns of exactly that in its own advisory, and suggests that this is a major vulnerability despite Microsoft not marking it as critical. “The vulnerability places Windows endpoints at risk to a broad range of exploitation vectors,” says an NSA statement. “NSA assesses the vulnerability to be severe and that sophisticated cyber actors will understand the underlying flaw very quickly and, if exploited, would render the previously mentioned platforms as fundamentally vulnerable.”

It’s unusual to see the NSA reporting these types of vulnerabilities directly to Microsoft, but it’s not the first time the government agency has done so. This is the first time the NSA has accepted attribution from Microsoft for a vulnerability report, though. Krebs claims it’s part of a new initiative to make the agency’s research available to software vendors and the public.

A previous NSA exploit targeting Windows’ file-sharing protocol, dubbed EternalBlue, leaked two years ago and caused widespread damage. It led to WannaCry ransomware and other variants locking up computers from the UK’s National Health Service to the Russian Ministry of the Interior. Microsoft was forced to issue an emergency patch for Windows XP, even though the operating system had reached end of support.

Update, January 14th 2PM ET: Article updated with statement from the NSA.

How to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for free

Microsoft’s free upgrade offer for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users ended a few years ago, but you can still technically upgrade to Windows 10 free of charge. While Microsoft has removed the special upgrade offer sites, the company continues to activate Windows 10 licenses for people who upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott has been testing this method for years, and the free upgrade still works. It’s also really simple for anyone to upgrade from Windows 7, especially as support ends for the operating system today. Assuming your PC supports the minimum requirements for Windows 10, you’ll be able to upgrade from Microsoft’s site.

The most important thing to remember is that the Windows 7 to Windows 10 upgrade could wipe your settings and apps. There’s an option to keep your files and personal data, but because of differences between Windows 10 and Windows 7, it’s not always possible to keep all of your existing apps. Make sure you’ve noted what apps you use regularly so you can easily obtain them by downloading the installers again. Windows 8.1 can also be upgraded the same way, but without needing to wipe your apps and settings.

Here’s how to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10:

  • Back up all of your important documents, apps, and data
  • Head over to Microsoft’s Windows 10 download site
  • In the Create Windows 10 installation media section, select “Download tool now,” and run the app
  • When prompted, choose “Upgrade this PC now.”

Windows 7 upgrade prompt
Microsoft

  • You’ll then be asked whether you want to keep your personal files or start fresh. Remember: starting fresh or keeping your files still means that all apps and settings will be deleted for the Windows 10 upgrade.
  • Once the upgrade is complete, you should receive a digital license for Windows 10, which can be found under Settings > Update & Security > Activation.

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