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September 15, 2014

Microsoft Buys Minecraft Maker Mojang for $2.5 Billion

Minecraft: An Explainer for Old People

Heads up, Minecraft fans — the acquisition rumors were true.

Microsoft has purchased Mojang, maker of the massively popular sandbox building game, for $2.5 billion, the Swedish game developer announced on Monday. The company also announced that founders Markus "Notch" Persson, Carl Manneh, and Jakob Porser are leaving.

The news follows reports last week that Microsoft and Mojang were in "serious discussions" about a multibillion dollar acquisition.

"Change is scary, and this is a big change for all of us," the Mojang team wrote in a note on its website. "It's going to be good though. Everything is going to be OK."

The developer continued: "Please remember that the future of Minecraft and you — the community — are extremely important to everyone involved."

The acquisition is somewhat surprising given that Persson, who created Minecraft, has, in the past, avoided outside investment and derided big firms like Microsoft. But as Minecraft grew from a "simple game to a project of monumental significance," the pressure of owning it became too much for Persson to handle.



September 4, 2014

Microsoft Tips New Version of Windows Phone, Lumia Denim

Lumia 830 BERLIN—Microsoft might license its Windows Phone OS to third-party manufacturers, but it really only wants you to buy Lumia devices. How do I know? Look no further than the new Lumia Denim update for Windows Phone 8.1, which the company announced at IFA on Thursday.

Lumia Denim—a much catchier name than Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2—combines the latest Windows Phone 8.1 update with exclusive enhancements for Lumia smartphones, particularly in the camera department. But I'll get to that in a moment.

Microsoft has introduced a feature called "Hey Cortana," which is a more convenient, hands-free way to activate Cortana, Microsoft's Siri-like voice assistant. All you have to do is say "Hey Cortana" and your phone will automatically be listening for you, even when it's in an idle state. Cortana is rolling out to new markets, too, including China, the U.K., Australia, India, and Canada.



August 25, 2014

Microsoft Surface 2 Gets $100 Price Drop

Surface 2

Just in time for back-to-school season, Microsoft is slashing the prices of its Surface 2 tablets.

Head over to the company's online store, where you can now get $100 off all configurations of the tablet, including the 4G LTE model. This brings the price of the 32GB Surface 2 down to just $349, while the 64GB version is now $449. The 4G LTE model will now set you back $579.

The move could be an indication that Redmond is gearing up to launch a new Surface model this fall, though the company has not made any announcements on this front. It could also be trying to clear out inventory as the Surface Pro 3 just made its debut in May.

If you want to take advantage of the Surface 2 deal, you better act fast as it's only available through Sept. 27, "or while supplies last." According to the fine print, the promotion is available in select Microsoft retail and online stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.



August 21, 2014

Report: Microsoft to Reveal Windows 9 on Sept. 30

New Microsoft Logo Microsoft's follow-up to Windows 8 could make its debut as early as next month, according to reports.

The Verge, citing unnamed sources familiar with Microsoft's plans, reported today that the software giant is gearing up to unveil the updated operating system at a special press event tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30. That information corroborates a recent ZDNet report from veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley claiming that Microsoft is planning to preview a new version of Windows by late September or early October.

Previous rumors indicated that the OS - codenamed Threshold but likely to be named Windows 9 - was being developed as part of Redmond's "One Windows" strategy and slated for release in the first half of 2015.

For its part, Microsoft is keeping tight-lipped on the matter. The company has not made any public statements about the next version of Windows. When contacted by PCMag on Thursday, a Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the reports, saying "We have nothing to share."



August 19, 2014

Microsoft Goes From Cellar to Stellar in New Antivirus Test

AV-ComparativesMany independent antivirus testing labs have taken to calling Microsoft Security Essentials their baseline, separate from the products undergoing testing. If an antivirus can't do better than Microsoft, it's a poor product indeed. However, Dennis Batchelder, director of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center (MMPC), contends that lab tests don't reflect the product's actual user protection, and that in the real world Microsoft is much more effective than the tests show. A recent test suggests that just might be true.

World-Wide Telemetry
The basis of Batchelder's claim is that Microsoft's researchers know more about the actual prevalence of specific malware families than just about anybody. Why? Because every Patch Tuesday the Malicious Software Removal Tool both deletes prevalent malware and reports a raft of non-personal information back to Microsoft. The returned telemetry includes what (if any) threats were neutralized, but also tells them the Windows version, the version of any installed antivirus software, whether that software is up to date, and more.

The MMPC website offers visitors a lightweight summary of current statistics. Under the hood, they've got vastly more data, and they use that data to prioritize protection against the most dangerous and most prevalent malware threats. Or so they say.

Considering Prevalence
Microsoft commissioned the well-known lab AV-Comparatives to re-evaluate a recent test taking prevalence of samples into account. This was a simple file detection test—run an antivirus scan with each product and note how many of over 100,000 samples it detects.

The samples are selected to represent malware prevalent in the wild and to avoid over-representation of any one malware family. However, in calculating the detection rate, every sample gets the same weight. The new report takes the same data and applies weighting based on Microsoft's reported prevalence. The results were vastly different from the original, as you can see in the chart below.

Ranking Change Based on Prevalence

Weighting didn't change the top and bottom scores. Kaspersky Lab is still number one, and AhnLab is still in the cellar. But other rankings changed dramatically. Instead of being second-to-last, Microsoft ranked better than three-quarters of the competition. And aside from Kaspersky, all those ranked above Microsoft came up from lower rankings.

By the same token, most of the lowest-ranked products started off much higher. Bitdefender, Lavasoft, Kingsoft, Emsisoft, Qihoo, and BullGuard had originally tied for sixth place. After weighting for prevalence they're ranked from 15th place on down. Baidu took the biggest plunge, from second place to 22nd. Why? Because while it didn't miss many samples, the ones it did miss were extremely widespread.

The full report from AV-Comparatives describes the weighting scheme in detail and also offers country-specific analysis showing each product's performance on a global map. It states, "This report should be regarded as a prototype, the purpose of which is spark debate on the significance of prevalence data, and promote ideas for improving the method," and expresses a hope that other vendors will share telemetry data with Microsoft "in order to get a more significant and impartial customer-impact analysis."

That sounds like a good plan to me. The radically different results using Microsoft's prevalence data alone suggests that we need data from a broader set of sources.



August 19, 2014

Ballmer Resigns From Microsoft Board

Ballmer

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today stepped down from the company's board, though he plans to remain Redmond's top shareholder.

Ballmer, who left Microsoft in February after Satya Nadella was named CEO, pointed to a "hectic" schedule as his reason for departing.

"In the six months since leaving, I have become very busy. I see a combination of the Clippers, civic contribution, teaching and study taking a lot of time," Ballmer said in a memo to Nadella.

Ballmer is the now the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, and he greeted his new team in typical Ballmer fashion this week. Some of those civic contributions, meanwhile, include taking part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

"I have confidence in our approach of mobile-first, cloud-first, and in our primary innovation emphasis on platforms and productivity and the building of capability in devices and services as core business drivers," Ballmer wrote. "Given my confidence and the multitude of new commitments I am taking on now, I think it would be impractical for me to continue to serve on the board, and it is best for me to move off."

"I bleed Microsoft," the former CEO insisted: 34 years and counting.

"Count on me to keep ideas and inputs flowing. The company will move to higher heights," he wrote. "I will be proud, and I will benefit through my share ownership. I promise to support and encourage boldness by management in my role as a shareholder in any way I can."

Ballmer announced plans to step down as CEO last summer after a tough period that saw Windows 8 and Windows Phone, not to mention Surface tablet, fail to really catch on. Nadella has his work cut out for him, and recently announced massive layoffs in a bid to transform the software giant.



August 17, 2014

Microsoft Issues Hotfix for Internet Explorer Slowdowns

A Closer Look at Windows 8's Browser: Internet Explorer 10 Having some trouble with your Web browser? Specifically, Internet Explorer? If you've noticed that your Microsoft browser has felt as if it's been crawling to a halt lately, then we have some good news for you: Microsoft knows about the issue and has recently issued a hotfix to correct it.

If you have no idea what we're talking about, we'll start from the top. There are two Internet Explorer updates that, when applied to any iteration of the browser between Internet Explorer 7 and 11 (yikes), could eventually cause the browser to grind to a halt. The culprit? "Web applications that implement consecutive modal dialog boxes," reads Microsoft's hotfix.

So how do you know if you have these updates installed? If your browser hasn't yet gotten sluggish, but you want to prevent it from doing so in the future, start by hitting up your Windows Control Panel. Once there, click on the icon for "Windows Update." In the windows that appears, click on the "View update history" in the left-most sidebar (and while you're here, make sure you've downloaded and installed all the latest Microsoft updates for your system!)

Within the list of updates, which we recommend you sort by name just to make the entire process easier, you're going to want to look for one of two different patches: KB2962872 or KB2976627. If you system automatically downloads and installs Windows updates, odds are good you have both—like this article's writer.

If you'd like to head off Internet Explorer's issues at the pass—or if you're already suffering strange slowdowns—you'll want to check out Microsoft's KB2991509 article. In it, Microsoft has a laundry list of update links for all versions of Internet Explorer from 7 to 11, for all operating systems. That includes 64-bit verisons; if you're not sure whether you're running a 64-bit OS, Microsoft has you covered there as well.

Simply click on the correct package for your Internet Explorer and Windows OS combination, download it, and install it. It's that easy.

It's unclear if or when Microsoft will roll out the hotfix as an automatic update, but it never hurts to fix your browser early, right?



August 6, 2014

Microsoft Squashes Rumors of Major Windows 8.1 Update

8 Things You Need to Know About Windows 8.1 Update Microsoft this week said its August update to Windows 8.1 will be modest and incremental rather than another massive package of new tools and toys like April's Windows 8.1 Update.

Call the pending Aug. 12 rollout of new Windows 8.1 features, fixes, and security upgrades a little "u" update to the operating system instead of the big "U" represented by April's massive blowout. And Redmond said Windows users should expect more of these scaled-down but regularly delivered updates in the months to come.

"[D]espite rumors and speculation, we are not planning to deliver a Windows 8.1 'Update 2,'" Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc wrote on Blogging Windows.

Microsoft is also preparing a similarly incremental update schedule for Windows Server 2012 R2, the company said.

So if the Aug. 12 update won't have as many bells and whistles as Windows 8.1 Update provided —April's bundle of improvements included the much-requested Boot to Desktop feature, some big additions to the Start screen, smarter navigation and UI partitioning for modern apps, and more—what will it have?

In addition to the behind-the-scenes security upgrades, here are the new features in the upcoming Windows 8.1 update, as described by Microsoft:

  • Precision touchpad improvements: Three new end-user settings have been added: Leave touch pad on when a mouse is connected; allow right-clicks on the touchpad; double-tap and drag.
  • Miracast Receive: Exposes a set of Wi-Fi direct APIs for Independent Hardware Vendor (IHV) drivers or OEM drivers to develop Windows 32-bit applications that run on all supported x86-based or x64-based versions of Windows 8.1, enabling the computer as a Miracast receiver.
  • Minimizing login prompts for SharePoint Online: Reduces the number of prompts with federated use in accessing SharePoint Online sites. If you select the "Keep me signed in" check box when you log on for the first time, you will not see prompts for successive access to that SharePoint Online site.

Hey, they already gave us the Start button back, so how much more were you expecting?

As initiated with the big Windows 8.1 Update on April 8, Microsoft's next Windows 8.1 update will be pushed out automatically and for free via Windows Update (learn how to check that you're receiving automatic updates at the Microsoft Update site. You can also check in at the Windows Update landing page to download the update in advance.



August 4, 2014

Leak Teases White Xbox One

White Xbox OneThe Xbox One is currently only available in one color: basic, boring black. But it might soon be on sale in white, too.

According to a listing from the French retailer Micromania, the white Xbox One could make its retail debut as part of a new bundle with the platform exclusive title Sunset Overdrive. The now-removed listing indicated that the white Xbox One bundle will be priced at €399 ($535).

Microsoft last year gifted its employees with a free white-and-silver Xbox One, but the light-colored console has never been available to the general public. The news prompted plenty of requests for Microsoft to market the white version.

"Looks 10x better than black," NeoGAF user Aquavelvaman wrote at the time.

A handful of Microsoft employees (or their family and friends) decided to try and make a few extra bucks by selling their exclusive white and silver Xbox One gaming consoles. Ten white versions of the machine appeared on eBay in March for upwards of $3,500 from nine different sellers.



August 2, 2014

Microsoft Sues Samsung Over Unpaid Bills

New Microsoft Logo It seems Samsung may be getting a bit careless about paying its bills. At least Microsoft thinks so—the software giant is suing Samsung over unpaid patent royalty payments.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, describes patent royalty payments Samsung agreed to pay for using Microsoft's technology in Android-based smartphones and tablets. The amount Microsoft is seeking from Samsung wasn't named.

In the lawsuit and in a blog post by Microsoft's deputy general counsel David Howard, Redmond cited a confidential agreement reached between the two companies in September 2011 to cross-license their patent portfolios for various products.

The long and the short of it is that Microsoft claims Samsung stopped living up to its end of the deal last fall when the South Korean company refused "to make its Fiscal Year 2 royalty payment on time" and further refused "to pay interest on its late payment."

Microsoft, meanwhile, says it has lived up to its end of its agreement to provide Samsung with unspecified remuneration for using Samsung IP in Microsoft products.

Howard said Samsung was claiming the 2011 cross-license agreement had somehow been rendered void following Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's handset business for $7.2 billion, a deal announced last September and completed in April.

"In September 2013, after Microsoft announced it was acquiring the Nokia Devices and Services business, Samsung began using the acquisition as an excuse to breach its contract. Curiously, Samsung did not ask the court to decide whether the Nokia acquisition invalidated its contract with Microsoft, likely because it knew its position was meritless," Howard said.

Howard also pointed to the rapid growth of Samsung's smartphone business as a possible factor for Samsung's supposed change of heart about the 2011 agreement.

"Since Samsung entered into the agreement, its smartphone sales have quadrupled and it is now the leading worldwide player in the smartphone market," he said. "Consider this: when Samsung entered into the agreement in 2011, it shipped 82 million Android smartphones. Just three years later, it shipped 314 million Android smartphones. Samsung predicted it would be successful, but no one imagined their Android smartphone sales would increase this much."

Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, PCWorld reported Friday that a Samsung spokesperson said "the company would review the complaint in detail and determine appropriate measures in response."