Windows builds, Azure axings and Microsoft pushes will.i.am's buttons

It wasn't all Surface, Surface, Surface in the Microsoft world last week. It just felt like it

will.i.am looking unamused
Will.i.am was not am.used by Microsoft's earbuds alleged similarity to his own hipster earrings. Pic Shutterstock

Roundup Amid all the excited spurtings over Microsoft's shiny new hardware, the Redmond gnomes continued their toiling. Here's a roundup of some other interesting things that happened last week in the Microsoft world.

Another week, another build and look! We fixed that printing thing!

The Windows Insider team celebrated its fifth birthday by hiring back those redundo-gunned testers... of course it didn't. The gang continued its creep toward the imminent next release of Windows 10 (expected this month) with an update for Insiders in the Release Preview Ring to take their 19H2 (the next version of Windows 10) build to 18363.388.

It's a relatively minor update, consisting of KB4524147, which is small but important. As well as addressing yet another vulnerability in Internet Explorer, a browser Microsoft would dearly like you to move on from, it also deals with an issue that borked the print spooler for some users.

The Slow Ring, which also contains 19H2, remains resolutely a build behind the Release Preview Ring for reasons that are not entirely clear, since stuff is supposed to flow through Slow before appearing in Release Preview. But what the heck, if the Windows Insider team can redefine the seasons to suit themselves, mere numbering schemes should present no problem.

The looming 19H2 aside, Microsoft also emitted a new build of 20H1 – next year's Windows 10 – to the Fast Ring. Build 18995 lacks many in-yer-face features, an indicator of work going on under the hood, but it does include a handy improvement to allow the Windows Hello PIN to be used in Safe Mode.

Safe Mode, as many Windows user will know from painful experience, is a way of booting the OS when something has become seriously broken. A minimal number of files are used to get things running to allow the user to troubleshoot the problem. The addition of the PIN means users don't need a password to get in, handy if that user has long moved on to the passwordless world.

The gang also highlighted more tweaks to the Your Phone app, which should be rolling out to all Insiders who have the thing installed.

Your Phone has become quite the useful tool – if you have an Android Phone – and as well as the Link quick-connect function rolling out to Samsung Galaxy S10, S10+, S10e, S10 5G, and Fold devices in "select global markets", the gang also extended the roll-out of Phone Screen to more Samsung devices, as well as adding a battery indicator and the phone's wallpaper to its icon in the app.

Besides a swathe of relatively minor fixes, Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 also received its usual round of updates, including a move to version 4.19.72 of the Linux kernel and the ability to specify additional kernel command line parameters.

Azure giveth and Azure taketh away – hello Data Studio, bye-bye Media Indexer

It's a brutal life, being a component in Microsoft's cloud strategy. Introduced back in 2014 Azure Media Indexer was all about using language processing to tag a video file.

The service enjoyed a few brief years in the sunshine until the young pretender Azure Video Indexer put in an appearance at the company's Build 2017 and eventually went to General Availability in September 2018. A year later, and it's time to put Grandpa out to pasture. Describing the upstart's speech-to-text model as "dramatically more advanced" with more capabilities, Nadella's axeman beckons.

If you have apps using the Media Indexer v2 preview, you can expect things to start blowing up from 1 January 2020. The "legacy" v1 incarnation will carry on a little longer before the sweet, sweet release of retirement beckons on 1 October 2020.

No flowers.

Also heading six feet under is Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) support for the oh-so-trendy container orchestration tech earlier than 1.13.x.

Microsoft expects Kubernetes 1.15 to become available on AKS on 9 December 2019 and so as part of the plan to only support the current GA release, and the previous two minor versions (rather than three which, historically, is how AKS ran things), the axe must fall.

It's not an entirely surprising move, although enterprises yet to embrace to CI/CD DevOps world could be forgiven for wishing that things could slow down a little.

While the lights won't be immediately switched off, of course, any requests for support for a "retired" Kubernetes version on AKS will be met with a polite suggestion of 'Hey, how about that upgrade, huh?'

Still, the axeman didn't get to have all the fun, and on the same day as Microsoft's new hardware was splashing over the front pages, the SQL Server team quietly dropped October's Azure Data Studio.

The cross-platform data botherer, aimed at Windows, Mac or Linux users targeting on-prem or cloudy databases, gained some seemingly minor but much needed improvements this time around.

The first is an extension to access a history of previously executed queries, just like in SQL Server Management Studio. It is one of those productivity features that, once you know it's there, can become a critical part of the workflow.

The extension only keeps track of that session of Azure Data Studio and, as well as the query itself, also shows if execution was successful, the connection and, of course, when it happened.

Also in the team's big bag of "about time too" features came some huge improvements in the copying and pasting from the results grid into a spreadsheet such as Excel. Rather than tedious blocks of data, a user can now copy a selection of rows, columns or individual cells and paste them elsewhere without risk of all manner of nonsense coming along for the ride.

The copy function is intelligent enough to realise that a selection of columns has been copied or preserve the layout of a multi-cell selection.

Finally, as well as a variety of bug fixes, the gang has also updated the whole Powershell experience by adding v2019.9.0 to the Extensions marketplace.

Going retro with Cascadia

Microsoft's new monospaced font, Cascadia, got an update last week. While this hack finds the visuals easier on the eye than the likes of Consolas in a Windows Terminal session, a tweak to a font would not normally merit mention.

However, while the arrival of the full ISO-8859-1 glyph set is handy on the internationalisation front, it is the Box Drawing Glyphs that will delight command line fans.

A text adventure in Windows Terminal with boxy artwork courtesy of Cascadia is not only what we need, it is what we deserve.

There is no escape from emojis

It seems a release of Windows 10 cannot pass without some mention of the Emoji keyboard. However, there is great news for those who find hitting the Windows and full-stop keys just a bit too much like hard work – Microsoft has added an emoji key to its next batch of keyboards.

Lucky US buyers can get their fingers on the new keyboards from 15 October and enjoy both an Office 365 and Emoji key for a mere $49.99 for the Bluetooth version.

Oddly, in all his wanging on about new hardware this week, Panos Panay managed to skip this.

Now, if you'll excuse us, we're off to make some keyboard art with Cascadia, just like the BBSes of old.

will.i.am Screams & Shouts about Microsoft's new Earbuds

Microsoft's new Surface Earbuds are undeniably funny looking things, but that hasn't deterred US popster will.i.am from calling foul on the design.

The music production and sometime talent show judge took to Twitter after Microsoft's great unveiling of the ungainly ear discs to declare that the things bore a distinct resemblance to his own i.am+ BUTTONS ear pieces.

Far be it from us to pass judgement on Mr i.am's tweet, but we'd have to point out that Microsoft has chosen a markedly different colour from the black, pink, gold and silver of the musician's buds. Microsoft's are also wireless, lacking the connecting cable enjoyed by will.i.am's units.

And, course, while the rapper's i.am+ BUTTONS have a controller on the cable, Microsoft's take on the circle relies on the user poking the discs themselves.

We're pretty sure the popster's product also doesn't have quite the same Office 365 integration enjoyed by Microsoft's Surface Earbuds, although both are similarly eye-wateringly expensive.

Then again, with the US authorities granting some rather broad patents, perhaps declaring oneself the inventor of the odd-looking Ear Circle is not that far-fetched after all. ®

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