Microsoft’s software plan for the Duo Android phone is surprisingly realistic

Welcome back to Processor, a mostly daily newsletter mostly about computers, by which I mostly mean the consumer electronics industry at large. I’m Dieter and if you already know all of the above, thanks for sticking around. If you’re new, welcome!

I’m going to leave the analysis of the truly bonkers story of Jeff Bezos’ phone hack to Casey Newton’s newsletter, The Interface. Go subscribe now. He’s drafting it as I write these words and it contains Very Practical Advice like “Never open a WhatsApp message from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.”

For me and my personal obsession with the various ways companies are trying to reinvent the computer and computer interfaces, the most exciting story of the day was Microsoft releasing a bunch of software tools for its upcoming dual-screen Android phone, the Duo. It includes the necessary bits to build Android apps that are aware of the hinge and its various positions and even some proposed web standards so web pages can do the same.

I promise the previous very nerdy paragraph has implications that matter to more than just Android developers.

I am really into Microsoft’s developer tools for a lot of reasons — especially the various proposals for making the web work better on dual-screen devices, which in theory could help everybody. But the most important thing is the overall context: Microsoft has the horse and cart in the right order. It’s trying to get the software right before it releases the hardware.

There have been two big problems with foldable devices thus far: 1. the screens are too fragile and 2. Android is not great on tablets and so the windowing systems have been kind of bad. (And, well, a third big problem is that they have been super expensive.)

I have no idea when the fragility thing will be fixed, but I like that Microsoft isn’t bothering with a flexible display. It compromised on whiz-bang hardware to make something more durable and, in many ways, elegant. But the trade-off is that there’s a big ol’ seam between the Duo’s two screens. That’s the cart.

The horse, then, is how the software is designed to deal with that trade-off. (This is a bad metaphor because I don’t know what goes in the cart but we’re in too deep to turn back now.) The details of Microsoft’s answer to “how does Android work on a dual-screen device” all seem really smart.

Windows Central’s Zac Bowden installed the emulator and made a little video showing how windows move around and it’s refreshingly simple. Apps open on a single screen, you go into the multitasking view and drag them to move them across to the other screen, or you move them over the seam for some kind of split-screen.

There are different ways to split-screen: sometimes there’s a list on one side and details on the other, sometimes there’s two pages like on a book, and sometimes the canvas covers the whole thing and you just have to deal with the seam.

Image: Microsoft

All that is fine, but it’s not the smart part. Just because Microsoft appears to have created an elegant SDK doesn’t mean that anybody will actually use it. We’ve seen Microsoft try and fail to woo mobile developers before. RIP Windows Phone, we still miss ya.

But for the Duo, it’s even worse than that. We’ve watched Google struggle to get Android developers to make better big-screen layouts for their apps for years to disappointing results. Android tablets have gone the way of the dodo and Android apps on Chrome OS are best used in small doses.

So the way Microsoft appears to have dealt with that reality is one reason that I’m actually more hopeful today than I was yesterday about the Duo’s chances. That’s because even if literally nobody customizes their Android apps for the Duo, it should still work pretty well. Instead of pinning the Duo’s chances on the nearly impossible task of getting Android developers to invest resources in a completely new and untested phone, Microsoft is working with where the ecosystem is today.

The key reason is that Microsoft explicitly says that apps will only open on one screen by default and in fact, apps will not be allowed to open up on both screens — that can only happen if a user drags a window into that state.

Your app by default will occupy a single screen, but users can span the app to cover both screens when the device is in a double-portrait or double-landscape layout. You can programmatically enable full-screen mode for your app at any time, but spanning is limited to user activity for now.

It has the very practical benefit of working better with existing Android apps by default. Instead of being annoyed that many apps are kind of junky and poorly-designed in a tablet screen context, the entry experience will just be two normal Android apps, side by side. Android apps generally look alright on portrait, phone-style screens — and that’s the way they’ll launch on the Duo.

So even in the worst case scenario where only Microsoft’s own apps are aware of the hinge, the Duo will still work. It’s like the theory of progressive enhancement (and graceful degradation) in web design, but applied to dual-screen Android apps. It’s smart because, frankly, the worst-case scenario also happens to be the most likely scenario at launch.

Only allowing users to choose when to make apps span two screens adds a level of predictability that will be important for users to built up their intuitions for how things work on the dual-screen device. (Side note: I have a whole rant about how there’s no such thing as “intuitive” design in software, it’s all learned.)

Assuming it all works, users won’t be forced to learn a whole series of gestures and layouts and grids and whatever. Instead, they’ll just be able to move stuff around and let the software do the right thing.

It is, pardon the alliteration, programmatically pragmatic.

None of this guarantees that the Duo will be any good or that my relative optimism will be rewarded. I’m just glad that Microsoft isn’t setting the whole situation up for immediate failure from the jump. There’s simply very little chance that a ton of Android apps will be customized for the Duo’s dual screens for launch, but that hopefully won’t matter.

Speaking of things that aren’t guaranteed: Windows 10X. The developer tools for that OS are still forthcoming and the questions about how it will operate are much more numerous than for the Duo. Given how many PC manufacturers are waiting for that OS for their foldables, the stakes for Windows 10X are much higher.

As Tom Warren noted yesterday, we should expect to see more at Microsoft’s Build developers’ conference in May. If there were ever a time for Microsoft to be a little less hand-wavy about 10X, that will be it.


More from The Verge

Microsoft to force Chrome default search to Bing using Office 365 installer

In case you were feeling really good about the new Microsoft working across platforms, here is a reminder that it still sometimes does crappy things.

Senator asks Jeff Bezos for more information on Saudi-linked hack

Reading the bullet points in Wyden’s letter really drives home how every successively revealed detail in this story is more eye-popping and mysterious than the last.

Alleged Xbox Series X photos show off the port selection

No HDMI-in, yet another sign that Microsoft isn’t trying to make the Xbox the central hub of your living room. It’s the right call. This feels vaguely related to the idea of a hub but I’ll leave it to you to connect the dots: the more I look at this big box the more it feels like one of those old HP MediaSmart home servers.

Motorola’s foldable Razr will launch on February 6th after delay

It’s still $1499 and it’s coming out just days before Samsung is expected to announce its own flip phone. But when people think flip phone, they think Razr, so Motorola still has a good chance even though it’s up against a bigger company. A real question in my mind is how big this launch will actually be. Will Verizon, because it has an exclusive, try to make this a huge deal with tons of marketing?

During the announcement, Motorola acted supremely confident in the Razr’s reliability and battery life. How much oomph gets put into the retail launch will say a lot about how real that confidence was.

Google publishes largest ever high-resolution map of brain connectivity

Google designed an envelope you can use to hide your phone from yourself

Amazon Music passes 55 million customers as it chips away at Spotify and Apple Music

Great interview by Loren Grush: NASA administrator on the year ahead: ‘A lot of things have to go right’

Rapid global response to the new coronavirus shows progress made since SARS

Nicole Wetsman:

By comparison, the SARS virus emerged in November 2002, but it took until April 2003 for scientists to get a full genetic sequence. It took several months of disease spreading in Western Africa in 2013 before authorities determined it was caused by Ebola. It took around a year to identify Zika as the cause of illnesses in Brazil in 2014 and 2015.

How an experimental story about gender and warfare shook the sci-fi community

Incredible story about how we perceive each other online, how platforms like Google affect that, how the platforms themselves can be affected by our actions, identity online and off… I could go on. Even if you aren’t interested in the specific things I just mentioned, I bet that the way this piece tells the story of their collisions and interactions will suck you in.

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.

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.

Alleged Xbox Series X photos show off the port selection

The back panel of the Xbox Series X has been the subject of heightened speculation ever since AMD used a fake render of the upcoming console as part of its CES presentation. Now, alleged photos have appeared online of a prototype unit that may give some indication as to what Microsoft is preparing to ship.

First appearing on Twitter and corroborated as authentic by Thurrott’s Brad Sams, the images show the Series X’s vents, two USB-A ports on the back, one on the front, a single HDMI-out, an optical audio port, Ethernet, and a power-in. A further mysterious rectangular port is for diagnostics, according to Sams. The unit is marked with a serial number and labeled as “Xbox Product Name Placeholder.”

Even assuming the photos’ authenticity, they shouldn’t be taken as indicative of a finished product that isn’t set to be released for almost a year. It’s more than possible that Microsoft could alter the design or never intended prototype models to be identical to retail units. That said, the images do suggest certain hardware decisions on Microsoft’s part; the removal of the Xbox One’s HDMI-in, for example, would mark the final backtrack from Xbox’s ill-fated focus on TV features.

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.

Microsoft wants to capture all of the carbon dioxide it’s ever emitted

Microsoft plans to remove all of the carbon dioxide it has ever released into the atmosphere by 2050, it announced today. The company committed to becoming carbon negative by 2030, meaning that it plans to draw down more planet-heating carbon dioxide than it emits.

The technology needed to make that goal a reality is still expensive and not widely commercially available, so the company also plans to spend $1 billion over the next four years to fund innovation in reducing, capturing, and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The company has been carbon neutral since 2012, canceling out its emissions by purchasing renewable energy and carbon offsets. That’s also when it started charging an internal fee on its business units for the greenhouse gases they generate as a way to get its divisions to slash their emissions. Those measures are no longer ambitious enough for the company, according to Microsoft president Brad Smith. It now plans to source all of its electricity use from renewables by 2025. And it will start charging its businesses for the planet-heating gases they generate along the entire supply chain to help fund its new climate initiatives.

“It reminds me of the Microsoft of old. They used to do big, audacious stuff like this all the time and I’m glad to see that ethos return on a planetary basis. It’s also long overdue,” Julio Friedmann, a senior research scholar at Columbia University who previously led the Department of Energy’s R&D on carbon capture and storage, tells The Verge.

The most audacious commitment from Microsoft is its push to take carbon out of the atmosphere. The company is putting its faith in nascent technology, and it’s injecting a significant investment into a still controversial climate solution. Proponents of carbon capture, like Friedmann, say that the technology is mature enough to accomplish Microsoft’s aims. It’s just way too expensive right now. Microsoft’s backing — and its $1 billion infusion of cash — could ultimately make the tech cheaper and more appealing to other companies looking for new ways to go green.

Microsoft expects to put out 16 million metric tons of carbon this year, which is roughly as much as 15 coal-fired power plants. Capturing carbon dioxide from the air can still cost up to $600 per ton. At that rate, it could cost Microsoft $9.6 billion just to remove this year’s emissions, let alone everything it’s released since the company’s founding in 1975.

But as more people adopt negative emissions technology, prices are expected to drop — just as the cost of solar energy fell from roughly $30 per watt in 1980 to less than $1 per watt in 2019.

“The only way we can go forward is actually to take steps that will remove carbon from the environment,” Smith said at an event for media this week. He acknowledged, however, that “the technology that we will need to solve this problem does not exist today, at least not in the way that would make it affordable and effective the way the world would require.”

Critics of carbon capture, like presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders worry that relying on drawing down carbon after it’s been released takes the pressure off polluters to actually burn less fossil fuel. Carbon capture is popular within the fossil fuel industry; 10 oil and gas companies together decided to funnel $1 billion into developing the technologies in 2016.

For its part, Microsoft says that it has committed to slashing emissions by more than half by 2030. Switching over to renewable electricity sources in 2025 will get it part of the way to that goal, but it will have to make adjustments in other areas as well. The company is holding itself responsible for not only the greenhouse gas emissions it directly emits, but also for emissions from suppliers it contracts with and the pollution from consumers who use its products. When it comes to Microsoft’s Xbox, for example, the company is factoring in the pollution from the materials it took to make the gaming console, the electricity Microsoft uses for its operations, emissions from shipping, and ultimately the energy someone uses when they plug it in and play.

To address climate change with negative emissions technologies, Microsoft would also need to make sure that there’s a safe and essentially permanent way to store the carbon it captures so that it doesn’t just get released again. “The devil is always in the details with this. And I think it’s going to be really important that Microsoft is transparent about what exactly they mean by carbon negative and how they plan to get there,” Noah Deich, executive director at the NGO Carbon180, formerly the Center for Carbon Removal, tells The Verge.

Microsoft is still doing business with fossil fuel companies. In September, it announced a major deal with oil industry giants Chevron and Schlumberger to “accelerate development of cloud-native solutions and deliver actionable data insights for the industry” using Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform Azure. In its announcement today, Microsoft said it’s launching a new “sustainability calculator” to help Azure customers track and report their carbon footprint.

Employees at Microsoft have called for the company to take bigger steps to address the climate crisis. In a September letter, they demanded zero contracts with fossil fuel companies, zero funding for politicians pushing climate denial, and zero emissions by 2030.

The browser wars are back, but it’s different this time

If you weren’t convinced we live in a new era for Microsoft’s consumer-facing software, the one-two punch of Windows 7 closing down and the new Chromium-based version of Edge officially launching ought to do it for you. Microsoft’s new Edge Chromium browser is out now for both Windows and macOS.

We’ll be taking a closer, more critical look at the Edge browser now that it’s no longer in beta over the coming days. Tom Warren has just as many thoughts about the future of Windows as I do about the implications of the switch over to the Chromium codebase, which is mostly maintained by Google.

We’ll be getting into all of it, but I want to start with some very high-level things to know about browsers right now — because after many years of stasis, things are really about to change.

Just today, alongside the Edge launch we also got the very sad news that Mozilla had to lay off about 70 people, TechCrunch reports. In a public memo, interim CEO Mitchell Baker wrote that “to responsibly make additional investments in innovation to improve the internet, we can and must work within the limits of our core finances.”

The Mozilla and Microsoft news isn’t directly connected, but it is indirectly connected in a thousand ways. Both companies have in some sense spent the past few years contending with Google.

For Microsoft, it was the realization that its project to create its own web rendering engine was an uphill climb that wasn’t worth the investment. Too many websites rendered oddly in Edge, often because they were coded specifically for Chrome or Safari’s Webkit instead of following more generic standards. The deep irony is that long ago, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer nearly broke the web because it demanded custom code from web developers.

So Microsoft made the tough call: it bailed and switched to the same technology that runs Chrome. But there are key differences: Microsoft has taken a different stance on web tracking than Google and it has also, obviously, plugged Edge into Microsoft’s services.

For me, the key thing to watch will be whether or not this new Chromium-based Edge feels tacked-on to Windows. On a very personal note, the fact that some Microsoft email clients still revert to Word’s HTML rendering engine is a huge thorn in my side. But there are a million ways that HTML rendering affects and OS, and I’ll be waiting to see how Chromium affects Windows and vice verse. One of the old Edge’s best features was how kind it was to battery life.

There’s also the question of Microsoft’s app framework future — how much of it will be Electron, how much will be Progressive Web Apps, and how much will be actual Windows apps. All open questions, and all questions I’m likely to defer to Tom Warren on. As with everything else, something to watch.

For Mozilla, it was switching back to Google Search as the default in Firefox and leading the charge to a more privacy-focused model. Firefox’s decisions around blocking trackers inspired Apple to be even more aggressive in doing the same last year. This week even Google was forced to throw in the towel and commit to eventually disabling third-party cookie.

As I noted in my article on Tuesday about Chrome’s decision, there are many, many (many!) forces at play in the coming browser wars. At a high level, if I had to explain what’s happening without worrying too much about the details, here’s how I’d put it in one incredibly overwrought sentence:

The mobile web is broken and unfettered tracking and data sharing have made visiting websites feel toxic, but since the ecosystem of websites and ad companies can’t fix it through collective action, it falls on browser makers to use technological innovations to limit that surveillance, however each company that makes a browser is taking a different approach to creating those innovations, and everybody distrusts everybody else to act in the best interest of the web instead of the best interest of their employers’ profits.

Here’s a shorter sentence: the next browser war is here and it’s a goat rodeo.

I’ve been avoiding getting into the precise details of the proposals out there to fix the tracking problem because things are changing so quickly across so many different tracks. I am sure that sometime soon I will break and tuck into Google’s Privacy Sandbox and Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention and Mozilla’s defaults that deserve credit for kicking a lot of this off. Until then, know that there are two important things to know.

First: there are new browser technologies and limits coming that could radically change how ads work and could make it easier for you to protect your privacy no matter what browser you use. Since this is the web, it’ll take time, but everybody seems committed.

Second: the way many of us think about a Browser War is in terms of marketshare — and that is the wrong metric this time. There is a browser war, but it won’t be won or lost based on who can convince the most people to switch to their browser. Because most people can’t or won’t switch on the platform that matters: mobile.

In 2020, the desktop is a minor skirmish compared to browsers on phones.

On phones, many people aren’t really free to choose their browser. That’s literally true on the iPhone, which Apple locks down so apps can only use its web rendering technology. And it’s for-intents-and-purposes true on Android, where the vast majority of browsers just use Chromium. Yes, there is an Android browser ballot happening in Europe, but it’s much too early to know what its effects will be.

That brings me back to the new Edge. Microsoft has committed itself to Android so fully that it is currently working on making its own Android-based Surface phone, due out later this year. And so if you’re Microsoft, it makes perfect sense to want to get your own first-party browser that’s fully kitted up with your services on that phone.

The easiest, best way to do that on Android is to just use Chromium. And if you want your company to be good at Chromium on mobile, it doesn’t hurt to ensure it’s also good at Chromium on Windows.

The fact that I’ve looped all the way back to Microsoft needing to provide services on mobile isn’t (just) my usual rhetorical meandering, it’s the whole point. The new Browser Wars aren’t about who makes the fastest or best browser, they’re about whose services you want and whose data policies you trust.

Anyway, here’s how to download Microsoft’s new Edge browser. You should do it. And install Firefox. And maybe Brave and Vivaldi and whatever else. A return to real browser competition on the desktop means we might have our best chance in years to fix up the web again — and it might just create some momentum that could make the mobile web better too.


More from The Verge

Bose is closing all of its retail stores in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia

Google now treats iPhones as physical security keys

I have been enrolled in Google’s Advanced Protection Program for a few months now and by-and-large it’s not been a problem. But it is often a hassle. I can’t seem to get my personal Gmail info working on Windows’ default apps and often on phones where I use Login with Google things to haywire.

Anyway, this is a good step forward and hopefully builds up demand for more standardized support for FIDO security keys. But my Very Strongly Stated Advice if you sign up is to spend some time making sure the logins you absolutely need still work and — most of all — buy some backup security keys and keep them in a safe place. Because if you get locked out from losing a two-factor key, friend you are Locked The Eff Out.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey on edit button: ‘We’ll probably never do it’

So you’re telling me there’s a chance?

Reviews

Jabra Elite 75t earbuds review: the best AirPods alternative

Great review from Chris Welch. These earbuds look so much more elegant than AirPods. The main downsides are a lack of wireless charging and active noise cancellation. The upside is USB-C charging and working with two paired devices at once. And price! And battery life!

I haven’t listened to them myself but my gut tells me that unless you really want active noice cancellation, these will be my default recommendation.

This global power adapter makes traveling with USB-C devices less of a pain

Cameron Faulkner reviews a very simple thing that significantly improves your quality of life when you travel internationally.

Some fun

Spotify will now make a playlist for your cat

This daily word guessing game is the perfect way to kill time — and confidence

Welp this is habit forming.

This Jigglypuff Bluetooth speaker could be a sleeper hit

Just trust me: click through and see the eldrich horror that is a plastic Jigglypuff in a brightly list FCC testing facility. Ominous. Looming. Scary.

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.

Windows 7 is gone, but what’s next for Windows 10?

Yesterday’s computer news was about something old: Windows 7. After 11 years, Microsoft is officially ending support for it — though as Tom Warren notes, there’s a healthy chance the company will blink and provide some kind of security update at some point for something critical.

Windows has a reputation for shipping a good version, then a bad version. Windows 7 was one of the good versions, and upgrades to Windows 10 are free for consumers. That means you can skip right over Windows 8, and more power to you.

Now, the future for Windows is harder to divine. Microsoft won’t be releasing a “Windows 11,” but instead updating Windows 10 on whatever cadence it can decide on from year to year. Early on it seemed like it wanted to be a lot like Chrome OS in issuing updates on a regular and frequent cadence, but lately things are moving a little slower as some bugs have crept in. There’s also Windows 10X coming later this year, the version of Windows 10 designed for foldable devices.

When I interviewed Microsoft’s CEO back in May 2018 (time flies!!), it was clear to me that Microsoft wants to make sure its fortunes don’t depend on Windows — and Nadella has achieved that goal already. Microsoft is as focused on making sure its software runs well on other platforms as it is on maintaining the platform that made the company — maybe more so.

I think the action for the next while is going to be centered around the new Edge browser — based on Chromium — and what Microsoft can do with it. I’m confident the Edge browser itself will run fairly well and hopeful it’ll be less of a battery killer than Chrome. For me, the thing to watch is whether Microsoft can use that technology elsewhere in Windows and Office or if Edge will just feel tacked-on.

Goodbye, Windows 7

Microsoft bids farewell to Windows 7 and the millions of PCs that still run it

Thank you to Windows 7 for undoing some of Vista’s excesses. Thank you also to Windows 7 for being good enough to allow millions of people to skip Windows 8 because of its excesses. You have been stalwart and true, but now is the time for you to rest. May your registry always be clean and your start menu uncluttered.

I salute you, oh Windows 7, with the salute emoticon, which happily includes the number seven: o7

How to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for free

The PC market just had its first year of growth since 2011

With Microsoft ending support for Windows 7 today, businesses around the world are being forced to upgrade their legacy devices, leading to “vibrant business demand” for Windows 10, according to Gartner.

Microsoft patches Windows 10 security flaw discovered by the NSA

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

More news from The Verge

Trump accuses Apple of refusing to unlock criminals’ iPhones, setting the stage for a fight

Latest Galaxy S20 Plus leak shows off 120Hz display and no headphone jack

Max Weinbach is back with more details and specs. Looks like 120Hz screens is going to be baseline for Android flagships this year. I’m also intrigued by the taller/longer shape. I really did like it on the Sony Xperia phones last year.

By the way — the consensus is that “Bloom” was the codename for Samsung’s folding phone and the actual product name is going to be “Galaxy Z Flip.” I think my concerns about addressing gender could still stand, though, depending on how Samsung positions the phone. I will say that the only thing that endears me to the phrase “Galaxy Z Flip” is that is has the last three letters of the English alphabet all a row.

Yahoo parent Verizon promises it won’t track you with OneSearch, its new privacy-focused search engine

From the company that brought you the Super Cookie, a …privacy-focused search engine? Fool me once but I guess we could take Verizon at its word here, because it would be quite a scandal if it turned out otherwise. Maybe.

Let’s just call this a trust-but-verify kind of situation — if we’ve learned anything about tracking over the past decade, its that people find ways to do it that you never would have imagined.

Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time is the GOAT of low-stakes television

One sign of admiration that you can see in this article and everywhere else is that we write it “Jeopardy!,” exclamation point included and do so without the usual millennial irony. (Or is it Gen X irony?). If you want to teach somebody how to be stoic, kind, funny, and empathetic all at once, you could do a lot worse than sit them down have them watch Alex Trebek host this show.

Time zones mess up more than just your sense of time

You might think you know what you’re getting into with this video by Cory Zapatka and Verge Science, but it takes a fascinating and vital turn halfway through. For some, setting their watch is a political act.

Coral is Google’s quiet initiative to enable AI without the cloud

Little, easily programmable AI chips are going to be an essential part of our computing infrastructure — it can’t all go to the cloud. James Vincent looks into Google’s offering in that regard, Coral. It’s a little too tightly tied to Google’s own AI ecosystem for many, though.

Anyway, if you’ve heard Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talk about “the intelligent edge” any time in the past year and wondered what he’s on about, this story is a good primer on what these devices are, why they’re needed, and what their potential might be — whether they’re made by Google or not.

Instagram starts bringing DMs to the web

Good get from Ashley Carman. Access on the desktop may not be the main way mobile chat apps are used these days, but it’s essential for people who have office jobs. If you’re staring at a certain screen all day and your fingers are on a certain keyboard, you’re more likely to use the chat app that can appear on that screen and work with that keyboard.

Google to ‘phase out’ third-party cookies in Chrome, but not for two years

Here’s me, touching briefly on what’s going on with the browser war. It really does inflame a lot of passions and I really do think every side here is not giving the other side the benefit of the doubt. And that those sides would probably say ‘you darn tootin’ we’re not giving those varmints the benefit of the doubt!’ That’s how web developers talk, you see. There are very good reasons for everybody to distrust everybody else in this whole privacy mess.

Here comes the cliche, though: good, so long as all that contention leads to a more resilient and long-lasting solution. We need to have this conversation and the web and the browsers we use to access it need to develop more quickly. Too many things are broken right now.

SpaceX continues to blast satellites into orbit as the space community worries

Elon Musk’s plan to put 42,000(!) internet-providing satellites into space raises a lot of legitimate issues, especially when it comes to tracking satellites and preventing collisions. Loren Grush has a deep, nuanced look at the current state of things for both that and astronomy. Worth your time:

The truth about Starlink is that there is no solid truth. Depending on who you ask, the constellation either won’t be that much of a problem, or it will lead to a space apocalypse

OnePlus CEO Pete Lau doesn’t think folding phones are good enough

This was a fun podcast — Lau’s first, he says.