Microsoft Edge wants to make the web more accessible for everyone

The revolutionary power of the internet is hard to quantify but for some, accessing even the basic aspects is difficult. Blind and low-vision people often interact with the web using screen readers, tools that read the contents of a page out loud. 

Unfortunately, msot screen readers rely on alternative text (or alt text) and other behind-the-scenes information to do their job properly, and developers can sometimes overlook these significant but small details.

In order to help out, Microsoft has announced new features for its Edge browser that automatically add alt text to images that do not have it already, something the company hopes will make the web more accessible.

“When a screen reader finds an image without a label, that image can be automatically processed by machine learning (ML) algorithms to describe the image in words and capture any text it contains,” says Microsoft’s Travis Leithead. “The algorithms are not perfect, and the quality of the descriptions will vary, but for users of screen readers, having some description for an image is often better than no context at all.” 

The update hopefully solves the problem of screen readers reading out “unlabelled graphic” whenever an image doesn’t have alt text. 

Microsoft Edge accessibility

Powering the technology is, of course, the company's Azure cloud platform. Any unlabelled image will be sent by Microsoft Edge to Azure’s computer vision systems, which then auto-generates alt text in English, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, or Chinese Simplified. 

Some images – like those that are smaller than 50×50 pixels, contain pornographic, gory, or sexually suggestive content, or are very large – unfortunately won’t be sent for analysis.  

Microsoft is rolling out the changes to Edge on Windows, macOS, and Linux right now and expects to add them to iOS and Android at a later date.

“This feature is still new, and we know that we are not done,” says Leithead. “We’ve already found some ways to make this feature even better, such as when images do have a label, but that label is not very helpful (e.g., a label of “image” or “picture” or similar synonym that is redundant with the obvious). Continuous image recognition and algorithm improvements will also refine the quality of the service.”

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

The Microsoft Office app has a fresh new look, but not for everyone

Microsoft has rolled out a fresh version of and the corresponding Windows application, with a revamped user interface that’s supposed to maximize productivity.

As explained in a Microsoft blog post, the changes will take effect for business and education customers first, with similar updates for personal accounts to follow “in the coming months”.

The company suggests that business customers took priority in this instance because the new functionalities are largely geared towards managing large volumes of files more efficiently, a challenge that professionals are more likely to encounter.

New-look Microsoft Office

First announced at Microsoft Ignite in November 2021, the changes to the Microsoft Office app and web client are designed to make managing and locating files simpler, by fine-tuning menu screens and introducing opportunities for customization.

“We designed and the parallel Office app for Windows to be the hub for your content – a place where you can get to all your files and documents, understand what needs your attention, and easily start creating content,” wrote Microsoft.

The most significant upgrade is perhaps the new-look home screen, which now features a Quick Access section that helps surface important files and filter options that allow users to organize files by those most recently opened, shared, favorites and various other parameters.

Microsoft Office

The new home screen. (Image credit: Microsoft)

There’s also a new My Content pane, which Microsoft says “helps you get to all the work related to you no matter the file type, where it’s stored, or how it was shared with you”. This page also benefits from infinite scroll, which eliminates the hassle of tabbing through multiple results pages to find a specific file.

Lastly, the Create pane lets users create new documents and spreadsheets with a single click, using a variety of templates as the base.

“Just select the type of content you wish to create and you’ll be presented with various template options across multiple apps all at once so you can decide which works best for you,” Microsoft explained.

These updates should take effect for all corporate and education customers by the end of the week.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

One of the coolest Microsoft Teams features is now available to everyone

The wait is finally over as Microsoft has announced that its walkie talkie feature in Microsoft Teams is now generally available.

The feature, which was first announced two years ago and has been in preview ever since, lets users of the software giant's video conferencing software use their smartphone or tablet as a walkie talkie that can work over both a cellular or wireless connection. 

While Teams' walkie talkie functionality will work on any Android smartphone by pressing and holding down an on-screen button when speaking and releasing the button to listen, it's even more useful on rugged smartphones. This is because many rugged smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy XCover 5 have a customizable button that can be mapped to Teams' walkie talkie feature so that workers won't have to unlock their phones to access push-to-talk functionality.

Teams users can now test out Microsoft's walkie talkie feature for themselves on their Android smartphones and tablets but the company has also gone ahead and brought this functionality to the Teams app for iOS.

Walkie Talkie Functionality

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Dedicated push-to-talk button

In addition to highlighting how Teams' walkie talkie feature can be used on Samsung's rugged smartphones, Microsoft has also announced an expansion of its strategic partnership with Zebra Technologies in a new blog post.

As a result, Teams' walkie talkie feature is now generally available on a wide range of Zebra mobile devices including its rugged TC-series, customer-facing EC-series and its scanning device the MC-series. However, what sets these devices apart from others is the fact that they have a dedicated push-to-talk button so that frontline workers can instantly and securely communicate with their teams with the push of a button.

In a separate blog post, corporate vice president of modern workplace verticals at Microsoft, Emma Williams explained how the company's digital walkie talkie feature is more secure than traditional radios, saying:

“This functionality, built natively into Teams, reduces the number of devices employees must carry, and lowers costs for IT. Unlike analog devices with unsecure networks, customers no longer have to worry about crosstalk or eavesdropping from outsiders. And since Walkie Talkie functions over Wi-Fi or cellular data, this capability can be used across geographic locations.”

We've also rounded up the best productivity apps, best online collaboration tools and best video conferencing software

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

This Microsoft Edge update solves a major headache, but not for everyone

Suffering a juddering scrolling experience with Microsoft Edge could soon be over thanks to a new update for the software set to launch soon.

Microsoft's browser is examining a new option to improve scrolling that will see users get a much smoother experience – but not everyone will be able to enjoy it just yet.

Available in the Edge Canary channel now, the update sees Edge using variable “screen refresh rate” when scrolling. The feature “allows Windows to temporarily boost the refresh rate up when scrolling…this provides an overall smoother scrolling experience,” the update notes.

Microsoft Edge VRR

However the change isn't set to be available to all users, as Microsoft notes that you'll need a VRR panel and a supporting driver to make sure it works as it should.

A VRR panel helps your device operate variable refresh rate (or VRR), giving you a smooth graphics experience. It's more common in gaming TVs and monitors, especially as next-gen consoles such as the PS5 and Xbox Series X become more widespread.

The main job of VRR is to eliminate what's known as screen tearing, where the image on your TV shudders mid-frame before carrying on as before. 

Screen tearing happens when your display's refresh of its image is out-of-sync with the rate at which  your console or PC graphics card delivers frames. You end up with an on-screen image that sees, for example, the top half of the screen display one frame and the bottom the next. 

This happens because TVs don’t refresh their entire screen image instantly. The driver of a display rapidly scans down the screen, usually from top to bottom, updating the state of each pixel. It often happens too fast for our eyes and brains to notice, until something goes wrong and it looks odd. 

Tearing becomes noticeable when, for example, you use a 60Hz TV and the game’s framerate vacillates between 45fps and 60fps. It’s particularly obvious in fast-motion games like first-person shooters, where turning around quickly in-game leads to a huge difference in on-screen information from one frame to the next.

This may all seem a bit detached from using Microsoft Edge as a day-to-day browser, but with more users looking to view HD video and even virtual reality experiences through their browser, it's clear Microsoft feels it needs to keep up.

You can check your devices' Refresh rate panel on your Windows devices via the Start menu, then clicking on Settings > System > Display > Advanced display.

Via WinCentral

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Wordle is distracting everyone in 2022 – but what is it?

If you’re spotting posts on social media that feature green and white dots, Wordle is responsible.

Created by Josh Wardle back in 2013 as a side-project, Wordle was revived in 2020 as a way for him and his partner to play each day during the pandemic. In three months since he made the game public in November, it’s amassed more than 300,000 players playing daily.

Its ubiquity is in its simplicity. There’s no mobile app to download from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, there’s only a website and a way to share your results on social media.

If you fancy having a go yourself to see what all the fuss is about, here’s how to play the game each day if you’re curious to jump in and have a go.

How do you play Wordle?

Every day at midnight, a new word is posted on the site, where you need to guess the five-letter word in six tries or less. If you type in a word that features yellow colors, these are correct but in the wrong order. However, letters highlighted in green are correct and in the right order, so you can attempt to guess the word in other tries, with keeping the letters that are green in the same place.

Guessing words on Wordle

(Image credit: Future)

Thanks to your web browser, Wordle will remember your streak for however long you guess the correct word. You can also share this to your social site of choice in the form of a grid, to show your friends how quickly you figured out today’s word.

See more

Plans for the future?

Wardle has no current plans to make Wordle chargeable, telling BBC Radio 4 Today (at 1:26:40) that he sees no need for it. “I’m not making money from it; there are no ads, no plans to monetize. I don’t intend to. Why can’t something just be fun?”

But there are 2,500 words that have been organized by Wardle to appear in the game each day, after looking at all of the five-letter words in the dictionary, and whittling them down. As they’re randomized, Wardle doesn’t know which word is coming next.

So far it’s an addictive game, but time will tell if it’s still a game we’ll be playing by the end of the year, or whether we’ll see Wordle evolve into its own app.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More

Windows 11 drive slowdown bug is finally fixed (but apparently not for everyone)

Windows 11 has received a new cumulative update which applies some important fixes, including patching up some File Explorer problems, and tackling the big SSD and hard drive slowdown bugbear which has been looming over the OS for a long time now (at least, in theory the patch deals with it – more on that later).

Update KB5008215 has been released for Patch Tuesday and brings with it the new emoji previously seen in testing (including Clippy replacing the paperclip), along with a whole bunch of bug fixes, most of which were already present in November’s preview update.

That includes solutions for Bluetooth audio volume problems, and various glitches with File Explorer such as it crashing after closing a window, and problems with displaying shortcut menus.

The big fix, though, is the cure for the gremlin causing sluggish drive speeds for some users. As Microsoft notes, the patch “addresses an issue that affects the performance of all disks (NVMe, SSD, hard disk) on Windows 11 by performing unnecessary actions each time a write operation occurs”.

Those write slowdowns can cut drive speeds in half, or worse, going by previous reports, so this is a major spanner in the storage works, and it’s good to see the fix go live.

Windows Latest reports that the cumulative update fixes these drive-related problems in its experience, but on a cautionary note, we have seen a few reports on the likes of Reddit from users who say their drive is still slower than it should be under Windows 11, even after applying KB5008215. There are also satisfied users commenting on those threads, too, saying their performance has been improved after the update.

Analysis: New patch is a positive step forward, but there are still concerns here

The fix for the driver issue is obviously an important one, as the performance reduction is huge in some reported cases, which hardly puts the new operating system in a good light. While this patch seems to fix things for a good number of Windows 11 users affected by sluggish drive performance, there are folks out there reporting that it didn’t do them any good; and that must remain a concern.

The drive slowdown bug is an issue which has been around for a good while now, indeed it surfaced a few months ago before Windows 11 was even released, and this – plus some scattered reports of it still not being cured now, with the fix applied – clearly point to it being a seriously thorny problem.

Hopefully Microsoft will be able to finalize any fresh tweaks that need to be done soon enough, but given that the holidays are almost here, the software giant won’t be putting out a preview update late in December. In other words, it won’t be until January that we see any further movement on this issue.

Obviously it’s also useful to see some File Explorer issues cleared up as well, but it’s another point of concern exactly how much has gone wrong with these fundamental building blocks of the desktop on Windows 11, all adding to the perception of the OS having been released a bit too early.

TechRadar – All the latest technology news

Read More