Microsoft Paint update could make it even more Photoshop-like with handy new tools

Microsoft Paint received a plethora of new features late last year, introducing layers, a dark mode, and AI-powered image generation. These new updates brought Microsoft Paint up to speed with the rest of Windows 11's modern layout (maybe a different word? Trying to say vibe)  after years of virtually no meaningful upgrades, and it looks like Microsoft still has plans to add even more features to the humble art tool. 

X user @PhantomOfEarth made a post highlighting potential changes spotted in the Canary Development channel, and we could see these new features implemented in Microsoft Paint very soon. The Canary Dev channel is part of the Microsoft Insider Program, which allows Windows enthusiasts and developers to sign up and get an early look at upcoming releases and new features that may be on the way. 

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 We do have to take the features we see in such developer channels with a pinch of salt, as it’s common to see a cool upgrade or new software appear in the channel but never actually make it out of the development stage. That being said, PhantonOfEarth originally spotted the big changes set for Windows 11 Paint last year in the same Dev channel, so there’s a good chance that the brush size slider and layer panel update that is now present in the Canary build will actually come to fruition in a public update soon.   

Show my girl Paint some love

It’s great to see Microsoft continue to show some love for the iconic Paint app, as it had been somewhat forgotten about for quite some time. It seems like the company has finally taken note of the app's charm, as many of us can certainly admit to holding a soft spot for Paint and would hate to see it abandoned. I have many memories of using Paint; as a child in IT class learning to use a computer for the first time, or firing it up to do some casual scribbles while waiting for my family’s slow Wi-Fi to connect. 

These proposed features won’t make Paint the next Photoshop (at least for now), but they do bring the app closer to being a simple, free art tool that most everyday people will have access to. Cast your mind back to the middle of last year, when Photoshop introduced image generation capabilities – if you wanted to use them, you’d have to have paid for Adobe Firefly access or a Photoshop license. Now, if you’re looking to do something quick and simple with AI image-gen, you can do it in Paint. 

Better brush size control and layers may not seem like the most important or exciting new features, especially compared to last year's overhaul of Windows Paint, but it is proof that the team at Microsoft is still thinking about Paint. In fact, the addition of a proper layers panel will do a lot to justify the program’s worth to digital artists. It could also be the beginning of a new direction for Paint if more people flock back to the revamped app. I hope that Microsoft continues to improve it – just so long as it remains a free feature of Windows.

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ChatGPT is broken again and it’s being even creepier than usual – but OpenAI says there’s nothing to worry about

OpenAI has been enjoying the limelight this week with its incredibly impressive Sora text-to-video tool, but it looks like the allure of AI-generated video might’ve led to its popular chatbot getting sidelined, and now the bot is acting out.

Yes, ChatGPT has gone insane–- or, more accurately, briefly went insane for a short period sometime in the past 48 hours. Users have reported a wild array of confusing and even threatening responses from the bot; some saw it get stuck in a loop of repeating nonsensical text, while others were subjected to invented words and weird monologues in broken Spanish. One user even stated that when asked about a coding problem, ChatGPT replied with an enigmatic statement that ended with a claim that it was ‘in the room’ with them.

Naturally, I checked the free version of ChatGPT straight away, and it seems to be behaving itself again now. It’s unclear at this point whether the problem was only with the paid GPT-4 model or also the free version, but OpenAI has acknowledged the problem, saying that the “issue has been identified” and that its team is “continuing to monitor the situation”. It did not, however, provide an explanation for ChatGPT’s latest tantrum.

This isn’t the first time – and it won’t be the last

ChatGPT has had plenty of blips in the past – when I set out to break it last year, it said some fairly hilarious things – but this one seems to have been a bit more widespread and problematic than past chatbot tomfoolery.

It’s a pertinent reminder that AI tools in general aren’t infallible. We recently saw Air Canada forced to honor a refund after its AI-powered chatbot invented its own policies, and it seems likely that we’re only going to see more of these odd glitches as AI continues to be implemented across the different facets of our society. While these current ChatGPT troubles are relatively harmless, there’s potential for real problems to arise – that Air Canada case feels worryingly like an omen of things to come, and may set a real precedent for human moderation requirements when AI is deployed in business settings.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaking during Microsoft's February 7, 2023 event

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman doesn’t want you (or his shareholders) to worry about ChatGPT. (Image credit: JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

As for exactly why ChatGPT had this little episode, speculation is currently rife. This is a wholly different issue to user complaints of a ‘dumber’ chatbot late last year, and some paying users of GPT-4 have suggested it might be related to the bot’s ‘temperature’.

That’s not a literal term, to be clear: when discussing chatbots, temperature refers to the degree of focus and creative control the AI exerts over the text it produces. A low temperature gives you direct, factual answers with little to no character behind them; a high temperature lets the bot out of the box and can result in more creative – and potentially weirder – responses.

Whatever the cause, it’s good to see that OpenAI appears to have a handle on ChatGPT again. This sort of ‘chatbot hallucination’ is a bad look for the company, considering its status as the spearpoint of AI research, and threatens to undermine users’ trust in the product. After all, who would want to use a chatbot that claims to be living in your walls?

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Google Maps is getting an AI-boosted upgrade to be an even better navigation assistant and your personal tour guide

It looks like Google is going all-in on artificial intelligence (AI), and following the rebranding of its generative AI chatbot from Bard to Gemini, it’s now bringing generative AI recommendations to Google Maps.

The AI-aided recommendations will help Google Maps perform even better searches for a variety of destinations, and the feature is also supposedly able to function as an advisor that can offer insights and tips about things like location, budgets, and the weather. Once the feature is enabled, it can be accessed through the search function, much like existing Google Maps features. Currently, it’s only available for US users, but hopefully, it will roll out worldwide very soon. 

This upgrade of Google Maps is the latest move in Google’s ramped-up AI push, which has seen developments like AI functionality integrated into Google Workspace apps. We’ve also had hints before that AI features and functions were coming to Google Maps – such as an improved Local Guides feature. Local Guides is intended to synthesize local knowledge and experiences and share them with users to help them discover new places.

What we know about how this feature works

Android Police got a first look at how users were introduced to the new AI-powered recommendations feature. A reader got in touch with the website and explained how they were given an option to Search with generative AI in their Google Maps search bar. When selected, it opened up a page that detailed how the new feature makes use of generative AI to provide you with recommendations in a short onboarding exercise. Tapping Continue opens up the next page that provides users with a list of suggested queries like nearby attractions they can go to kill time or good local restaurants.

Similarly to ChatGPT, Google Maps apparently also includes tips toward the bottom of that page to help you improve your search results. Users can add more details to finetune their search like their budget, a place or area they might have in mind, and what the weather looks like when they’re planning to go somewhere. If you select one of these suggested queries, Google Maps will then explain how it would go through the process of selecting specific businesses and locations to recommend.

When the user doesn’t specify an area or region, Google Maps resorts to using the user’s current location. However, if you’d like to localize your results to an area (whether you’re there or not), you’ll have to mention that in your search.

After users try the feature for the first time and go through the short onboarding in Maps, they can access it instantly through the search menu. According to Android Police, Search with generative AI will appear below the horizontal menu that lists your saved location such as Home, Work, and so on.

A promising feature with plenty of potential

Again, this feature is currently restricted to people in the US, but we hope it’ll open up to users in other regions very soon. Along with AI recommendations, Google Maps is also getting a user interface redesign aimed at upgrading the user experience.

While I get that some users might be getting annoyed or overwhelmed with generative AI being injected into every part of our digital lives, this is one app I'd like to try when equipped with AI. Also, Google is very savvy when it comes to improving the user experience of its apps, and I’m keen to see how this feature’s introduction plays out.

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The Apple Vision Pro is compatible with Intel Apple Macs – even if the performance may not be the same

The Apple Vision Pro has finally launched, and if you were thinking you may have to upgrade your Mac or MacBook to use the new headset (piling on another expensive purchase onto an already very pricey device) there is some good news, as it seems like the Vision Pro headset is compatible with Intel-based Macs, potentially opening the door for users with older models. 

A support page on the official Apple website, explaining how to use the headset with a Mac as a display, reveals that support for this feature is not limited to Apple Silicon Macs (such as recent MacBooks with the M1, M2 or M3 chips). The post explains that if you happen to be using a Mac with an Intel processor, you can still use the Vision Pro as a workspace, however, you’ll be working with resolutions capped at 3K rather than 4K as you normally would with an Apple Silicon-powered Mac. 

You’ll still be able to resize the Virtual Display window and use the computer's keyboard and trackpad. That being said, if you’re looking to take advantage of the Virtual Display feature, your Mac will need to be running on macOS 14 Sonoma or newer, so if you are planning on giving it a go you’d probably have to upgrade your operating system. Very old Macs and MacBooks may not be compatible with macOS Sonoma, which means you won’t be able to use the Vision Pro as an additional screen with those products.

Cool, but not very useful.

While I am glad to see support for older Macs, I’m not sure I see the point. Of course, Intel-based Macs are still good computers despite their age, but with the cost of the Apple Vision Pro, you could buy yourself an M3 iMac and have plenty of cash to spare. 

Of course, I’m sure plenty of people may have an older iMac collecting dust at home that would like to give it a go, but again the Apple Vision Pro isn’t exactly a product you buy on a whim. I wouldn’t really encourage anyone to buy the headset if they exclusively work on an Intel Mac since you won’t get the full 4K experience. You’d be better off just upgrading your device to a new MacBook, Mac mini or iMac and buying a Vision Pro later… if at all. 

There’s also no guarantee that this support on the Intel Macs will last forever – now that the M3 iMac has launched I wouldn’t be surprised if we started to see support for newer accessories or features being limited. So, if you are in the position to try out the Vision Pro with your older Mac, I suggest you get on it soon and decide if you like the pairing enough to justify upgrading to an Apple Silicon Mac – because you might have to in the future. 

Via 9to5Mac

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Microsoft is adding a Windows 11 feature that makes accessing your phone’s photos even easier

A new feature is coming to Windows 11 that will make transferring screenshots from your phone to your PC much easier. Thanks to testing being done by Microsoft, you should soon have the ability to access and edit your screenshots from your phone directly on your PC.

The Windows Insider Program for Developers is a channel that receives experimental builds of Windows 11 that represent any upcoming updates or new features that Microsoft plans to implement in the near future, in order to gather feedback before pushing features to the public version. 

When enabled in the Dev Channel, the Windows 11 Build 23619 now has a ‘Cross-Device Experience Host update’ that will replace the existing Phone Link feature, using this new feature instead to connect your phone and your PC.

Once your phone is connected, every time you take a screenshot on your phone a little pop-up will appear in your desktop notifications. You’ll then have to option to view, edit or share your screenshot straight from your PC.

Simple and smooth sharing 

I’m pretty excited for the feature to officially arrive in the public build of Windows 11, as it takes the hassle out of sending your photos to your PC via either a cable, messaging service or cloud storage service in order to edit them. At least once a week, I have to email myself screenshots from my phone to open on my computer, so it’ll be incredibly time-saving to simply have a little notification pop up on my desktop instead that I can choose to ignore or open and get to work. 

This feature will also be really good for those of us who might not be as technologically adept or are just in a hurry to transfer a new photo. It’s much easier to explain to someone who might need help that if you connect your phone to your PC using this feature you can simply take the screenshot and the pop-up will automatically appear, rather than explaining a lengthier step-by-step process to them.

It’s always good to see Microsoft continually working to improve Windows 11 – especially given some people’s unwillingness to upgrade from Windows 10. This update also came with some useful fixes, such as squashing a bug that caused crashes when you change voices in Narrator in Settings, and more work to improve the performance of File Explorer.

Via Betanews

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Hidden feature in Windows 11 suggests we could get the ability to uninstall AI components – and maybe even Copilot eventually?

Windows 11 often has incoming changes hidden away behind the scenes of the operating system, and another of these has just been spotted – and it’s a big one pertaining to AI.

Windows Central stumbled upon a tweet by regular leaker PhantomOfEarth on X, who has been digging around in Windows 11 preview build 26016 (in the Canary channel).

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PhantomOfEarth discovered a Settings page for AI Components which, as mentioned, is hidden, but can be turned on using a Windows configuration tool (ViVeTool).

This lists system components related to AI functionality, although it doesn’t do anything when enabled (unsurprisingly, it’s tucked away in the background for a reason – namely it doesn’t work yet).

The leaker also found strings related to the page, with one of those being: “View and remove AI components that are installed on Windows.”

So, it seems that this panel in Settings (under System) will allow you not only to view any AI-related system components, but also uninstall them if you wish.


Analysis: A necessary choice?

The AI components listed in the screenshot provided by PhantomOfEarth include Windows Security, the Microsoft Store, Phone Link and Xbox Game Bar – suggesting maybe that these will be furnished with AI extras at some point? Or they could just be placeholders, which is probably a more likely story – though we can certainly see the Microsoft Store, for example, getting augmented with AI (that suggests apps you might like based on the usage of your PC, or past downloads).

The latter brings up a point that may worry some Windows 11 users, namely privacy and exactly what AI might be doing in terms of profiling you, and building up a more in-depth picture of your likes, dislikes and so on, extrapolating from that. We should note at this point that this discussion is entirely theoretical, of course, but the general point is that some folks won’t want AI in their operating system – either for privacy reasons, or because they don’t trust it, perhaps.

It makes sense, then, that Microsoft will cater for those who want to remove AI abilities and provide these uninstallation options. Not that the presence of this Settings page in testing means anything yet – it could be scrapped in preview. Indeed, it isn’t even present in preview builds yet, it’s hidden in the background.

That brings us to another point – it’s very early work on this feature. The likelihood is that a wider swathe of AI functionality – and these options – won’t fully debut until next-gen Windows is released. (That’ll be next year, in theory, although we’re still not sure whether this will be Windows 12 – though whatever the case, big plans are afoot for AI, going by the latest rumors).

An interesting observation Windows Central makes here is that we don’t know how far AI uninstallation capabilities will reach – and whether that might include getting rid of Copilot? Yes, Copilot is in the cloud right now (so not on your PC anyway, or at least its ‘brain’ isn’t, only the interface), but Microsoft seemingly has plans to make the AI local – and if so, it’s possible that it could be made removable.

We doubt it, mind you, seeing as Copilot is such a central aspect of the OS – but at least some components relating to AI should be viable for uninstallation if this new finding is anything to go by.

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Tiny11 is now even smaller, giving you Windows 11 23H2 but without the clutter

There’s a new version of Tiny11, the super-streamlined take on Windows 11 which is now even more compact, and it’s based on the latest release of Microsoft’s desktop OS – and yes, you can add Copilot into the mix if you wish (we’ll come back to that).

The new Tiny11 2311 is based on Windows 11 23H2, the recently released upgrade for the operating system, coming with major improvements including being 20% smaller than the previous Tiny11 23H2 installation.

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The developer, NTDEV, tells us that the new version “fixes most, if not all of the nagging issues with previous releases of Tiny11.”

One of the most important fixes is that the OS now works properly with Windows Update. Previously, there were problems with implementing the monthly cumulative updates for Windows 11, but that’s no longer the case, and you can keep your Tiny11 fully up to speed with all the latest introductions from Microsoft.

As mentioned at the outset, while Copilot isn’t in the new Tiny11 by default – this project is all about streamlining, of course – if you want the AI assistant in your Tiny11 installation, you can have it.

As the dev notes: “You just have to install Edge using Winget and voila, you have Copilot on Tiny11! It’s all about choice!”


Analysis: Important advances

This is very impressive: a reduction in the footprint of an already small Windows 11 installation by 20% is no mean feat. For those interested in super-compact sizes for Microsoft’s OS, this is obviously going to be a major boon.

The ability to get Windows updates fixed is even more important, though. Cumulative updates are very necessary in terms of keeping your OS secure, of course, as without them you won’t get the latest patches for vulnerabilities, and your PC won’t be as secure as it should be.

The choice to get Copilot on board is welcome, too, for those who may want a decluttered Windows 11, but still fancy having the AI assistant on tap. While the desktop-based Copilot isn’t very fleshed out yet – at all – and not many folks will take up this option, more choice is always good (and naturally the AI will be improved considerably going forward).

Note that there’s a version of this bloat-banishing OS for Windows 10, which as you might imagine is called Tiny10 (which can run on very low-spec old hardware, it should be noted).

Via Windows Central

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Microsoft wants people to love Windows 11’s Outlook app again – even if they have an iPhone

Microsoft has given Windows 11’s desktop email app, Outlook, a major revamp with the addition of Apple iCloud functionality for people who use iPhones or other Apple devices, plus other features. This upgrade is available to all Windows 11 users and you can add your iCloud account to your Outlook app by doing the following: 

1. Click the cog icon in your Outlook menu, which should open your Email accounts setting. This is where you can see all of the accounts that are connected to your Outlook and manage them. 

2. Select Add account and sign into your Apple iCloud account. This should connect your iCloud account. 

The Outlook app had supported Apple’s email service in the past before Windows 11’s launch, but according to Windows Latest, Microsoft is in the process of deploying a new Outlook app in place of the old one. Apparently reception has been lukewarm from users, but Microsoft is adding lots of new features with every new version.

One of the biggest complaints users have with the renewed Outlook app has been that it launches in a web wrapper. The old app was a fully functional UWP app, with both online and offline support. However, the new app only got offline support very recently. User complaints about the new app persist, and Microsoft is continuing to develop the app to hopefully improve users’ experiences and improve their opinion of the new app.

The latest in a string of new developments

This development follows shortly after Microsoft also added compatibility with Gmail, Google Calendar, and contacts to Outlook. iCloud support is also now available to all Windows 11 users, and Microsoft is reportedly working on extending offline support for more parts of the Outlook app, including events and Calendar. 

One feature that users have to look forward to as part of Microsoft’s new Outlook is being able to RSVP to meetings. Windows Latest spotted this as an upcoming update in the Microsoft 365 roadmap, which details what Microsoft has in store for various Microsoft 365 apps. This will help users receive information about the nature of any specific meeting and better decide if they would like to attend. This development is expected to debut in March 2024.

Another feature that has been added will help users understand their meetings and schedules. Microsoft explained on its Tech Community blog that users will be able to track declined meetings better in the Outlook calendar. This will be useful  for many users, especially those who have overlapping or densely-packed meetings, and want to better understand what they are and aren’t attending.

meeting

(Image credit: Bild von Free Photos auf Pixabay)

How to turn on visibility for declined meetings

The above is now available within the most up to date version of Outlook, but is disabled by default. You can enable it through the following steps: 

1. Open the Outlook app. 

2. Go to: Settings > Calendar > Events & Invitations > Save declined events

3. Tick (Click) the Show declined events in your calendar box. 

This should turn on the feature and declined meetings should begin to be displayed in your Calendar. 

In order for a meeting to be classified as declined, you will have to have declined the meeting in all Outlook clients and Teams, with the exception of the original Windows Outlook client. 

It’s going to take a little more to win over Windows users it seems, but these seem like some solid steps. These are available to all Windows 11 users with a valid copy of Outlook as far as we know and if you don’t have these features yet, you may need to update your Outlook app. It is to be confirmed if this extends to free users who use Outlook online.

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The latest Windows 11 update won’t install for some users, and tanks gaming performance even if it does

Windows 11 users are experiencing issues with the update KB5031455, with some systems not installing the update, others encountering installation problems and some seeing error messages as well as gaming issues if the update does install successfully. 

According to Windows Latest, several users have complained to the site about the Windows 11 update, stating the installation would “run and fail, then reboot, run and fail again.”

Another user commented on problems with gaming performance after the update, saying that the build “broke a few games.” According to the user, some games available from Epic Games Store, such as Fortnite and Horizon Zero Dawn, crashed and refused to start. More comments like these have been left on the Windows Latest site. 

This is not the first time a string of issues has been presented due to preview updates.  KB5030310, a preview update for those using Windows 11 22H2, caused issues with File Explorer that led to buggy behaviour and slower run times.

If you’ve yet to install the KB5031455  update, we recommend you hold off a bit longer until these issues are addressed by Microsoft. But, if you’re feeling brave and want to go ahead anyway, you’ll need to go to Settings, then to Windows Update, and select ‘Check for Updates’. Once your device finds the new optional update, click the ‘Download and install’ button.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Windows Latest has tested the update on its own machines and noted the same problems listed above, so once again, we recommend you proceed with caution if you plan to install the update.

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Adobe’s new photo editor looks even more powerful than Google’s Magic Editor

Adobe MAX 2023 is less than a week away, and to promote the event, the company recently published a video teasing its new “object-aware editing engine” called Project Stardust.

According to the trailer, the feature has the ability to identify individual objects in a photograph and instantly separate them into their own layers. Those same objects can then be moved around on-screen or deleted. Selecting can be done either manually or automatically via the Remove Distractions tool. The software appears to understand the difference between the main subjects in an image and the people in the background that you want to get rid of.

What’s interesting is moving or deleting something doesn’t leave behind a hole. The empty space is filled in most likely by a generative AI model. Plus, you can clean up any left-behind evidence of a deleted item. In its sample image, Adobe erases a suitcase held by a female model and then proceeds to edit her hand so that she’s holding a bouquet of flowers instead.  

Image 1 of 2

Project Stardust editing

(Image credit: Adobe)
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Project Stardust generative AI

(Image credit: Adobe)

The same tech can also be used to change articles of clothing in pictures. A yellow down jacket can be turned into a black leather jacket or a pair of khakis into black jeans. To do this, users will have to highlight the piece of clothing and then enter what they want to see into a text prompt. 

Stardust replacement tool

(Image credit: Adobe)

AI editor

Functionally, Project Stardust operates similarly to Google’s Magic Editor which is a generative AI tool present on the Pixel 8 series. The tool lets users highlight objects in a photograph and reposition them in whatever manner they please. It, too, can fill gaps in images by creating new pixels. However, Stardust feels much more capable. The Pixel 8 Pro’s Magic Eraser can fill in gaps, but neither it nor Magic Editor can’t generate content. Additionally, Google’s version requires manual input whereas Adobe’s software doesn’t need it.

Seeing these two side-by-side, we can’t but wonder if Stardust is actually powered by Google’s AI tech. Very recently, the two companies announced they were entering a partnership “and offering a free three-month trial for Photoshop on the web for people who buy a Chromebook Plus device. Perhaps this “partnership” runs a lot deeper than free Photoshop considering how similar Stardust is to Magic Editor.

Impending reveal

We should mention that Stardust isn't perfect. If you look at the trailer, you'll notice some errors like random holes in the leather jacket and strange warping around the flower model's hands. But maybe what we see is Stardust in an early stage. 

There is still a lot we don’t know like whether it's a standalone app or will it be housed in, say, Photoshop? Is Stardust releasing in beta first or are we getting the final version? All will presumably be answered on October 10 when Adobe MAX 2023 kicks off. What’s more, the company will be showing other “AI features” coming to “Firefly, Creative Cloud, Express, and more.”

Be sure to check out TechRadar’s list of the best Photoshop courses online for 2023 if you’re thinking of learning the software, but don’t know where to start. 

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