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Microsoft Starts Skype Translator Preview to All, But Still Calls it a Preview

When is a preview no longer a preview?

When everybody has access, but don’t tell Microsoft that. The company is making Skype Translator Preview available to everyone running Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 Preview, but keeping the “Preview” name intact.

Five months after Microsoft introduced the real-time translation-ready version of its popular video, voice and chat communication tool, it removed the sign-up requirement and is letting anyone download the app from the Windows Store.

Skype Translator Preview is the company’s first foray into real-time translation services.

In December, we used it to conduct a lively conversation with a Spanish-speaking linguistics expert in Seville, Spain. At the time, I was impressed with Skype Translator Preview’s ability to deliver translated English audio to her and spoken Spanish translation to me instantly. It was clear that the system was not only interpreting each word, it was understanding the context.

In December, Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, told me the system does try to make sense of the words, “It’s not good enough to just get all the words you’re saying, [you] have to understand a little bit about the words,” he said.

Since that first trial run, Microsoft has added Italian and Chinese (Mandarin) voice translation services. It can also do text-only translation for 50 languages.

Along with the wider release of Skype Translator Preview, Microsoft posted a video highlighting the app’s impact on the New York City-based nonprofit Pro Mujer and its work with women in Latin America.

No word yet on when “preview” will be dropped or if it will ever support Windows 7.

Microsoft Announces Office plug-ins for Uber, LinkedIn and DocuSign

Microsoft has revealed a series of extensions for Office 2016 called “add-ins,” which let third-party developers offer services that work in tandem with the company’s software suite.

The add-ins will work across different platforms. Among the first companies to take advantage are DocuSign, which now integrates its electronic signatures with Word, and SAP, which runs in Excel. Plug-ins for Outlook, from LinkedIn and Salesforce, will offer more information and context about people who have emailed you pulled from their own data.

Microsoft also announced a unified API, which makes it easier for developers to access Office data and build compatible products and services.

In one scenario many of us will appreciate, Microsoft Director of Product Management Robert Lefferts demonstrated an Uber add-in for Outlook. It reminds users — even users on iPhones — about an upcoming appointment, and automatically fills the Uber app’s destination field with the address of the appointment.

Hmm that Uber extension via Outlook reminds me of some of the feature of certain smart calendars, still very cool #Build2015

— Karissa Bell (@karissabe) April 29, 2015

“Outlook knew where I needed to be, and Uber knows where I need to go,” Lefferts added.

On the downside, Outlook users now have even less of an excuse to say they were late to their meetings.

Microsoft shows off new visual features in Windows 10

At its annual Build conference, Microsoft showed off some new features of Windows 10, including a more transparent look and feel.

Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore, corporate vice-president of the operating system group, unveiled updates to Cortana and the company’s new web browser, Microsoft Edge (originally called Project Spartan).

One of the big visual changes to Windows 10 is the re-addition of the transparent Aero Glass look from Windows Vista and Windows 7. “We’re trying to bring back some of that feel,” Belfiore said.

And it’s a good decision, as Aero Glass has aged far better than other UI paradigms. In fact, Apple embraced Aero Glass-ness with its latest desktop operating system, OS X Yosemite.

In addition to its Start menu, Microsoft is bringing back Jump Lists. Windows 10 will also use a new Spotlight feature to show users interesting images on their desktop’s lock screen and various Windows 10 apps. Users can then choose to install an app directly from the lock screen (this feature can be turned off).

Microsoft announced new ways for developers to get apps to its platform and inside the Windows Store.

Until now, developers have had to package their apps as Windows Universal apps for the Windows Store. While that’s fine for new apps written with more modern design language, traditional applications written in Win32 or .NET are unable to be added to the Windows Store.

That changes with Windows 10. Now, Microsoft is allowing developers to package their Win32 and .NET apps to sell in the Windows Store.

To ensure security, those apps will be run sandboxed, so they don’t harm other parts of the system.

This is big news for traditional app makers. Adobe has already said it will be bringing Adobe Photoshop Elements and Adobe Premiere Elements to the Windows Store.

Finally, Microsoft is going to make it easy for developers to bring their iOS and Android code to Windows.

First Look on with Microsoft’s next browser, Project Spartan

We’re finally getting a real taste of Microsoft’s new Web browser Project Spartan. That’s just a codename for now, but based on my recent experience with the online surfing tool, which I downloaded with the latest Windows 10 Preview Build, the name fits.

It would be easy to describe Project Spartan as a boiled-down version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s legacy browser that will live on with less frequent updates. But that description would also be wrong. Spartan, which arrives alongside Windows 10 later this year, has a new browsing engine, one that IE will not share.

In practice, Spartan feels whip-fast. It may also be that there’s little else that comes along with the web pages — in the form of icons, menus or other surrounding clutter — to slow down page loads.

Project Spartan is still recognizable as a web browser. But Microsoft dispensed with things like color (beyond white and gray) and text, leaving a very simplistic interface. You have to intuit what the icons mean and where to type in your URL.

If that sounds like a bad thing, it’s not. Project Spartan delivers Microsoft’s goal: a browser where everything but the website fades into the background.

There are still tabs, of course and a simple plus sign lets you add more. Forward, back and reload buttons exist, too. There’s an icon for storing your favorite site URLs, and a smiley face button that lets you offer feedback and report bugs. There are also some more interesting features, such as the ability to mark up and share page elements (under a simple pen and paper icon).


Project Spartan lets you markup web pages with text and art. You can also clip and share portions.

Page markup works well. I could draw on any website, and highlight and clip any portion of a page. I could then paste the clip into a Paint file, email or social media account.

Spartan is also the first Microsoft browser to integrate Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant. When I typed “weather” into the address bar, Cortana jumped into action and showed the weather for my location in a large box below the address bar (where I typed the original query). I know it’s Cortana because of the red circle next to it. I was also able to select a topic on any web page and right click to access Cortana, which offers up topic details in a large pane on the right.

Pretty much anywhere Cortana could find extra information on my subject or desired page, it did. The one thing it didn’t do: talk to me. Cortana in Windows 10 is a voice assistant. In Spartan, it’s more like a silent assistant. Even so, I was impressed with this early look at Cortana integration in Spartan.


Project Spartan integrates Microsoft’s Cortana. It knew where I was and delivered the weather forecast.

Microsoft promises more stability with Project Spartan. So I tried to open a bunch of YouTube pages to see if I could overload it with as many videos running simultaneously as possible, but I couldn’t crash it. Not bad for beta software.


Project Spartan had no problem with YouTube video.

I checked Task Manager to see if Spartan is using resources more efficiently. But just like Google’s Chrome, it has separate processes for each page (Internet Explorer uses a lot of resources, too, but tends to group them together).

Adding them all up, it looked like Spartan was eating roughly the same amount of computing resources as other Web browsers. So, yes, it’s stable. I can’t say yet if it’s more efficient.

This is the first public beta of Spartan. By the time you use it with Windows 10, I expect the interface will have changed, Cortana will be even more visible and Project Spartan will most certainly have a new name. Though I wouldn’t mind if Microsoft decided to keep the Spartan moniker, which is fairly apt.

If you want to try out Project Spartan yourself, join the Windows Insider program and opt for “Fast Ring” downloads. This essentially gives you access to new Microsoft Windows Code as soon as Microsoft is ready to share it. Regular Insiders usually get these updates a few weeks later.

Microsoft Announced Windows 10 is Launching this summer in 190 countries

Microsoft announced on its blog that Windows 10 is launching this summer in 190 countries and 111 languages. The company didn’t name an exact date, but at least we know it’s not far off. Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for 7, 8 and 8.1 users when it’s available.

Windows 10 Product Family 798x310

It also confirmed that some partners like Lenovo and Tencent will offer “upgrade services” at service centers to get users onto the latest OS. We’d expect more of these partners to come onboard as the date gets closer.

Buried in the announcement was also a tiny mention that a small group of Xiaomi Mi 4 users will be able to download Windows 10 to their phone to test out the technical preview ahead of an eventual release this year.

That’s big news for a company that’s traditionally shipped it’s own flavor of Android on its devices. It’s not clear if this means that Xiaomi phones could dual-boot between operating systems in the future, but we sure hope so.

Microsoft said over email to us that the two companies are partnering to test Windows 10 and get feedback. It says that selected Xiaomi Mi4 users “will get the ability to flash their phones with the new Windows 10 OS and provide feedback to Xiaomi and Microsoft on their experience” and “availability will be announced in the months to come.”

Xiaomi replied to us and said that “this is an experimental program entirely led by Microsoft, and we are happy that Mi fans with Mi 4 devices in China will be able to participate and provide feedback.”

Microsoft also announced today that you’ll be able to log in to Windows 10 with biometric details like a iris scan and reports emerged that Internet Explorer will not be a major part of the OS.

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