Microsoft: New icons, new drivers, AI! Everything is awesome!

Help on minding your PowerPoint language in this week's MS round-up

As its services tottered once more last week, the gang at Redmond kept themselves busy tinkering with Office while Intel announced some changes to graphics drivers in the post Windows 10 October 2018 Update world.

Office 365 gets more intelligent

Microsoft continued the policy of continually updating its bread-and-butter productivity suite, Office 365, by whacking it repeatedly with an AI stick for collaboration purposes.

Word users will shortly be able to enjoy something Visual Studio-using devs have had for years. If you write to-do items (by, say, writing TODO: finish this), the word processor will automatically track them and allow writers to navigate back to the correct spot.

Kind of like the stuff programmers have had for years before it was fashionable to label everything as AI.

A neat twist, however, is the ability for Word to automatically email users @identified in a TODO with a link to throw them into the document at the place to get their stuff done.

Microsoft has also tipped machine learning secret sauce onto its venerable PowerPoint presentation builder. AI smarts will be deployed to tell users when wording is awkward or grammar incorrect and give "guidance on clarity and conciseness".

Sadly, the AI assistance does not yet stretch as far as yelling at the user when a presentation winds up festooned with bullet points or exceeds 100 pages. We can but hope that AI, coupled with the audio smarts of Cortana, could detect when a presenter is simply reading out the slides and issue a polite cough. Or a small electric jolt via the clicker.

Playing with polish

Microsoft was also chuffed to announce that new icons are on the way for its suite in a posting that will leave users who struggled to even connect to the cloudy service scratching their heads in bafflement at where the software giant is flinging its copious cash.

The current set of application icons for Office date back to 2013 and, as more apps have been tipped into the suite over the years, the gang at Redmond decided that a refresh was needed.

It is all about collaboration, as one would expect. Microsoft's designers have removed the frames around the unique symbolic depiction of each application to bang home the whole integrated nature of its suite. And if a set of horizontal blue lines doesn’t make you think "Word", well, there's still that big ol' W there for you.

Oddly, the blog posting made no mention whatsoever of the fluent design language, which Microsoft is keen for devs to adopt. However, the new icons certainly have the appearance of being made over with the design language brush. Microsoft's designers reckoned the updates are the "result of many iterations, a lot of research and testing, and plenty of late nights and weekends".

Now, about those servers...

Easier Outlook log-ins

Web-based users of Outlook (and goodness, there were quite a few of those this week after Outlook connectivity took a tumble) are also getting some love in December.

Hidden away among the Office 365 announcements was one that users with work or school accounts would be able to sign-in via from December. Or rather, would fling them to their organisation's sign-in page with a pre-populated email address. Seemingly a minor change, it should speed up sign-ins and the Office team was suitably excited about it all:

Intel welcomes some users to a wonderful Modern Windows Driver world

Windows 10 October 2018 Update users bruised by audio silenced by yet another broken display driver (Microsoft was quick to point the finger at Intel for that one) will be overjoyed to learn that Microsoft now requires the use of Windows Modern Drivers on Windows 10 (for the 1809 update and onwards) according to Intel.

Chipzilla will be shovelling out these drivers for its products from now on.

Modern Drivers (also known as Universal Windows Drivers) are single driver packages designed to run over multiple PC types. The device manufacturer provides the base driver while OEMs add on their own fripperies.

The things come from Windows Update, so no more installing drivers from disks. It also means Intel's venerable control panel has been ditched (although can be picked up from the Microsoft store).

There is, unfortunately, only a limited set of graphics controllers due to receive Intel and Microsoft's largesse: Coffee Lake, Gemini Lake, Kaby Lake, Apollo Lake and Skylake. Anything older will have to make do with legacy drivers.

Who will actually maintain those legacy drivers is open to question. We have contacted Intel for a statement on the status of those chipsets and will update with any response.

For users lucky enough to be on supported hardware, a Windows Modern Driver will soon make an appearance. Intel has strongly advised against trying to roll back to a Legacy driver which the chipmaker said is "a complex process that can result in system instability".

And nobody wants that. ®

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