Windows 11 gets a big redesign for folders – and an exciting feature is imminent

Windows 11 just got a new preview build which brings in the much talked about revamp of File Explorer, and a number of other features besides.

File Explorer is the central pillar of the Windows 11 interface – it’s the very windows on the desktop you use to browse through folders and files – and it has undergone a full overhaul in the latest test version in the Beta channel (build 22621.2050 / 22631.2050).

Microsoft calls it a modernized File Explorer, and it comes sporting a new details pane and address bar plus search box.

When you select a file, the new details pane shows contextual info relating to that file such as a thumbnail, share status, recent activity for the file, any related files and other details.

The modernized address bar in File Explorer automatically recognizes local (on the PC) or cloud folders and shows their status as such, and for those who use OneDrive, the bar carries the storage service’s sync status to see at-a-glance (plus there’s a quota flyout).

For those signed into a Microsoft account, Quick Access folders have also been rejigged with an ‘updated experience’. And lastly, those signed into an Azure Active Directory (AAD) account (business users) will get recommended files shown in a carousel (with file thumbnails coming soon, we’re told).

Another major introduction here is the Dynamic Lighting hub that we’ve heard a lot about in the past. This provides a central place to control your peripherals with RGB lighting, so you don’t have to bloat your system with multiple third-party apps from hardware makers.

We’re told that a bunch of peripheral manufacturers have partnered with Microsoft on this, including Acer, Asus, HP, HyperX, Logitech, Razer, and Twinkly.

Elsewhere in this beta build, Windows Ink is getting pepped up so users can write into edit fields in the OS. That means you can, for example, write directly into a search box in the Windows 11 interface, with the eventual goal being you can use your stylus to write anywhere in the UI.

There’s a bunch of other bits and pieces going on here, such as a new volume mixer in Quick Settings, plus adding new natural voices for Narrator (including UK English, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish). For the full details, see Microsoft’s blog post introducing the build.

Analysis: Happiness is a setting that doesn’t work (just yet)

Clearly, there are some big moves here. For gamers, the Dynamic Lighting hub should be a real gem, although it’s slightly late arriving for testing – we were expecting to see it debut in May.

And it’s great to see the redesigned File Explorer land, of course. This will be an ongoing piece of work, and doubtless one of the central cogs of the 23H2 update when it arrives later this year – it’s also set to introduce an image gallery view for folders (which has already been incorporated into the Beta channel earlier).

Excitingly, there’s something else here – and that’s the settings for ‘never combined’ mode in Windows 11. This is a long-awaited feature for many (ourselves included) that is now included in Taskbar behaviors (in Settings) in this preview build, but sadly, the functionality doesn’t work yet.

However, Microsoft tells us that it will be enabled in a beta build ‘soon’, so the wait is nearly over for the ability to tell Windows 11 not to stack up running instances of the same app on the taskbar. This feature must also be pretty much a dead cert for the 23H2 update, too, and we’re happy about that.

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The 5 most exciting AI tools coming to Gmail, Google Docs, Sheets, and more

Google has just announced a huge set of new AI tools that could change the way we use some of its most popular apps, including Gmail, Google Docs and more.

In both an official blog post and video (below) the tech giant revealed several new AI tools that will be coming to its most popular apps. The first ones will initially only come to select group of testers in Gmail and Google Docs, but we've also been given a tantalizing preview of the ones coming to Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Meet, too.

The move is most likely to rival competitors in the AI space like Microsoft's ChatGPT-powered Bing and Microsoft 365. Since AI has grown in popularity, Google has been scrambling to match its rivals' moves in the market, going so far as rushing out an announcement of its own Google Bard chatbot, which still isn't open to the public. There was also an underwhelming presentation that even had its own employees rolling their eyes.

Still, the results from what we've seen in this demonstration look far more practical and promising than the AI tools Google has announced so far. They've been integrated into Google Workspace, so users will soon be able to use generative AI in several writing features. For now, only trusted testers will have access to these new tools but after that, they'll be rolled out to all Google users.

So, in no particular order, here are all the best AI tools coming to Google's line of products.

The 5 most useful AI tools coming to Google apps

1. Gmail: instant summaries of long conversations

a screenshot of an AI generated email

(Image credit: Future)

If you've ever opened up your work email only to find an extremely long and confusing email chain, this tool could be for you. This particular AI tool allows you to quickly summarize long email conversations, pulling out the most pertinent information and laying it out in a neat box.

From what we've seen from this demo, it even adds the names of those involved in the conversation, giving the summary even more context and clarity. And it drafts a response based on all the information gathered. Of course, it remains to be seen how accurate this tool will be, as any missing information from said summary could be detrimental to your work.

Most likely, it'll use machine learning to improve its quality of work, which should mean it doesn't skip important information as it's used more often.

2. Gmail and Google Docs: time-saving drafts when you type in a topic

a screenshot of an AI generated summary in google docs

(Image credit: Future)

Out of all the AI tools showcased in Google's presentation, this AI writing and brainstorming feature looks to be the most promising. As demonstrated in the demo, a prompt that states “Help me write” followed by the request “Job post for a regional sales rep” results in an instantly drafted job post.

From there of course the human user would edit and refine the document, but having a draft instantly created saves plenty of time and effort. You can also use the tool to add certain tones to your document depending on the situation, like whimsical or formal.

There's a lot of flexibility in this AI tool, and the fact that it works for both drafting documents and emails should make it even more valuable.

3. Google Slides: AI-generated presentations with imagery

a screenshot of an AI generated images in a presentation

(Image credit: Future)

This is easily the most controversial of the new batch of Google's AI tools. The core of the concept, creating slides for a presentation in Google Slides, is a smart one that could save a lot of time and energy in terms of creating layouts instantly. However, unlike the other tools that use text already written by either you or coworkers, this tool creates images, audio, and video, then inserts it into your presentation.

But where does that media come from? A database gathered by Google's AI of course. But then where does the AI pull the references from to generate this content? That's the problem and something Google will likely need to address.

As it stands, there's been a lot of misuse of this tech to the point of even plagiarism, and it remains to be seen if Google is using a personal database or pulling from the internet to create this content.

4. Google Meet: capture notes through AI

a screenshot of AI generated notes in google meet

(Image credit: Future)

This is another AI feature that could potentially save a lot of time and effort. This tool captures notes from conference calls and other meetings with audio, then takes “notes” of that meeting, summarizing the most important points in an easy-to-parse format.

Judging from the demo, the most impressive part of this note-taking tool is how it organizes the notes, using complex formattings like bullet points, calendar icons to indicate an important date, headings, and more. It not only looks incredibly organized but works at a far faster rate than a human could.

This tool would leave time and energy for everyone to focus on the meeting itself and not need to devote a person to take these notes. Meaning that everyone can participate.

5. Google Sheets: auto-fill data entry with AI

a screenshot of AI generated entries in google sheets

(Image credit: Future)

Data entry can be repetitive and boring at times, or even confusing when dealing with extremely large sets of data. This AI tool would be especially handy in parsing dense amounts of information, then converting that information into data charts.

The demo showed the command “Personalize messages for our client” and then next to each entry created a unique message for each of them, most likely as a mailing list. A task that would take a human a long time to accomplish was done in an instant. 

Of course, a human would have to edit each message to ensure quality, but having the drafts done is an incredibly useful and time-saving first step.

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ChatGPT is exciting, but Microsoft’s influence is cause for concern

The Artificial Intelligence dream has landed in our everyday lives, and the ethical discussions around AI have ramped up as a consequence, especially concerning how much data these AI services are collecting from users. After all, where there is mass storage of possibly sensitive information, there are cybersecurity and privacy concerns. 

Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which is newly equipped with OpenAI’s ChatGPT, and is currently being rolled out, has brought its own set of concerns, as Microsoft hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to respecting its customers’ privacy.

Microsoft has occasionally been challenged about its management and access to user data, although notably less so than its contemporaries like Apple, Google, and Facebook, even though it deals in a great deal of user information – including when it sells targeted ads. 

It’s been targeted by certain government regulatory bodies and organizations, such as when France demanded that Microsoft ceases tracking users through Windows 10, and the company responded with a set of comprehensive measures. 

Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Internet and Society Stanford Law School, speculated that this is partly due to Microsoft’s longstanding position both in its respective market and long-time relationships with governments afforded to it because of its legacy. It has more experience when dealing with regulators, so might have avoided the same level of scrutiny as its competitors.

An influx of data

Microsoft, as well as other companies, is now finding itself having to react to a mass influx of user chat data due to the popularity of chatbots like ChatGPT. According to the Telegraph, Microsoft has reviewers who analyze user submissions to limit harm and respond to potentially dangerous user inputs by combing through user conversation logs with the chatbot and stepping in to moderate “inappropriate behavior.” 

The company claims that it strips submissions of personal information, users' chat texts are only accessible to certain reviewers, and these efforts protect users even when their conversations with the chatbot are under review.

A Microsoft spokesperson elaborated that it employs both automated review efforts (as there is a great deal of data to comb through) and manual reviewers. It goes on to state that this is the standard for search engines, and is also included in Microsoft’s privacy statement. 

The spokesperson is at pains to reassure those concerned that Microsoft employs industry-standard user privacy measures such as “pseudonymization, encryption at rest, secured and approved data access management, and data retention procedures.” 

Additionally, the reviewers can only view user data on the basis of “a verified business need only, and not any third parties.” Microsoft has since updated its privacy statement to summarize and clarify the above – user information is being collected and human employees at Microsoft may be able to see it.

Under the spotlight

Microsoft isn’t the only company under scrutiny over how it collects and handles user data when it comes to AI chatbots. OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, also disclosed that it reviews user conversations. 

Recently, the company behind Snapchat announced that it was introducing a chatbot equipped with ChatGPT that will resemble its already-familiar messenger chat format. It has warned users not to submit personal sensitive information, possibly for similar reasons. 

These concerns are multiplied when considering the usage of ChatGPT and ChatGPT-equipped bots by those working at companies with their own sensitive and confidential information, many of which have warned employees not to submit confidential company information into these chatbots. Some companies, such as JP Morgan and Amazon, have restricted or banned their use at work altogether. 

Personal user data has been, and continues to be, a key issue in tech in general. Misuse of data, or even malicious use of data, can have dire consequences both for individual people and for organizations. With every introduction of a new technology, these risks are increased – but so is the potential reward. 

Tech companies would do well to pay extra attention to make sure our personal data is as secure as possible – or lose the trust of their customers and potentially kill off their fledgling AI ambitions.

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This new Microsoft PowerToys update could be the least exciting ever, but you should still install it

Microsoft has released a new update for its PowerToys utility suite for Windows 10 and Windows 11, which may be one of the least exciting for a while.

Microsoft’s PowerToys v0.55.2 is available for download now, but doesn't come with any new features or upgrades. Instead, it packs an important security update that addresses a security flaw discovered in the previous release.

That means that even though it doesn't sound particularly interesting, PowerToys users should still install the update immediately to make sure their systems stay protected.

PowerToys security

“This is a patch release to fix issues in v0.55.1. due to an installer bug and .NET 5 doing an update for the runtime,” the official changelog for the release reads. “We deemed (it) important for stability based on incoming rates.”

PowerToys users can install the update now by going to the Settings menu, then General > Updates > Check for updates.

Although perhaps not a commonly-known app for most users, PowerToys allows Windows users the chance to optimize their software for maximum efficiency and productivity.

PowerToys is an open source suite of tools for advanced Windows users, designed to help bypass certain settings and perform actions that are unavailable by default. It also offers a wider range of customization options.

Since PowerToys was rebooted in 2019, Microsoft has serviced the suite regularly with new tools and features, a pattern extended with the latest release. 

This includes the recent inclusion of a mouse crosshair tool that lets users quickly identify the location of their cursor using a keyboard shortcut, and two new File Explorer add-ons that dramatically expand the number of file types supported by the preview pane, including support for 3D printers.

A further PowerToys update earlier in 2022 also included several useful additions, including an “Always on Top” utility that allows users to toggle a window in focus to be on top with a quick press of Win + Ctrl + T. Microsoft also changed the hotkey to mute your webcam and microphone from Win + N to Win + Shift + Q to avoid conflict with an existing Windows 11 keyboard shortcut.

The latest version of PowerToys is available via both the Microsoft Store and the GitHub page.

Via: MSPowerUser

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WhatsApp is making voice messages look more exciting

Voice messages are, by their very nature, an audio experience – but this is something that WhatsApp is looking to change. When you receive a voice message form a contact (or, indeed, if you send one yourself), you will be used to seeing a progress bar during playback.

This is a handy visual aid that helps let you know how long a message is and how much more there is to listen to. But now the feature is getting a bit of an upgrade to make it more visually appealing thanks to voice waveforms.

We've seen WhatsApp playing around with waveforms previously, with Android users who are signed up for the beta program having been given a sneaky glimpse at the feature. But it was only a brief look, as voice waveforms were swiftly disabled without a word of explanation

However, they appear to be back. The fact that the new visual accompaniment to voice messages is now available for iOS and Android beta testers (but still only beta testers) could be indicative of the feature being almost complete and ready for an even wider rollout. But what's all the fuss about?

Sound and vision

On one hand, these are just pretty animations to watch while you listen to a message you have received. On the other, they are helpful visual tools that can be reassuring when there is a period of silence in a message; if there is no activity in the waveform, you can safely assume that there is no sound to hear, rather than there being a problem with your speakers… or ears.

As is often the case with WhatsApp, although this new feature is being made available to beta testers, it is not necessarily going to be available to all beta testers immediately. It's something that's controlled server-side, so while ensuring that you have the latest version of the app installed is undoubtedly a good idea, it's sadly no guarantee of getting access to voice wave forms right now.

WABetaInfo reports that WhatsApp beta for Android and WhatsApp beta for iOS are compatible with the feature, so make sure that you have one of these installed for the best possible change of getting to try out the new feature.

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It is a very exciting time to be in high-performace computing market: AMD chief

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) President and CEO Dr. Lisa Su said that it is a "very exciting time" to be in the high-performance computing market.

Speaking at the "Masters of Leadership Series” webcast, organised by Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) and Consumer Technology Association, she said that Covid19 has seen difficult times across the world but what has helped is the power of computing for remote working and remote learning.

“I am very excited about where high-performance computing (HPC) is going in the future compared to where we are today. HPCs could do amazing things in solving difficult problems and making our daily lives different,” she said.

Computing is really important in certain large markets, she said and added that the PC market is worth more than $ 30b while the data centres market is valued at more than $ 30b and the gaming market is worth about $ 12b.

“There are really large opportunities out there and they all require more computing horsepower. We were able to do some good things during Covid19 such as providing capacity to data centres and have seen a large interest in laptops,” Su said.

Moreover, she said that households which had one PC have changed completely and people have realised that it has become one of the fundamentals of communication and connectivity.

“I am excited about how computing can do to accelerate solutions to some of the problems and we have been participating with the White House computing taskforce for pandemic research,” she said.

Pushing the envelopes of technology

AMD has donated seven petaflops of supercomputing clusters to New York University (NYU), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Rice University and these clusters utilise AMD technologies such as Epyc CPUs and Radeon Instinct GPUs to help accelerate the development of potential therapeutics and vaccines. 

“Once the Covid-19 crisis is over, the HPC systems will support future medical research. I am lucky right now that I am running an important company in technology but at the end of the day, I love building things and pushing the envelopes of technology,” Su said.

Su was born in Taiwan and her family migrated to New York when she was two years old.

“I am a New Yorker at heart,” she said and added that the thought process was there are a few companies in the US that are doing high-performance microprocessor design.

After spending eight years at Boston at MIT and a large portion of her career at IBM in building semiconductor and microelectronics, Su joined the 51-year-old AMD in 2014.

“I started in that area and wanted to be a semiconductor CEO and AMD was my dream job. My interest in semiconductors is how we can use the technology to do a lot of good things,” she said.

However, she said that what AMD is really good at is building high-performance computing with an incredible amount of horsepower in people’s hands but it takes time to build the foundation and “we took time to build the foundation and reach where we are today”.

Highest paid CEO in 2019

When asked about being the highest-paid CEO in S&P 500 companies and the first woman to top the list, she said: “It is all about opportunities and there are a lot of smart people in this world but the fact is that you not only need to be smart but you also have to be in the right place at the right time and the right circumstance”.

According to a study conducted by Associated Press and Equilar Fee Analysis Executive Company, since it began in 2011, Su earned a total of $ 58.5m in 2019, nearly $ 13m more than Discovery Inc David Zaslav, who earned $ 45.m, the next highest-paid male CEO.

The study found that the average compensation for female executives was $ 13.9m compared to $ 12.3m for males, although there were far fewer women than men on the list.

 “I was very lucky because I had mentors and gave me good opportunities and I was able to capitalise on these opportunities but when we look at the diversity aspect of it, we haven’t done enough as much progress there has been and still there are not enough women in the leadership positions.

“I believe that it is because opportunities are not necessarily being presented in such a way,” Su said.   

When asked about the working norms after Covid-19, she said that working norms will change and “we all talk about what the new norms might be. Some of the changes are clearer than others. One thing is clear is that we are not going to travel and we have learned that we can do a lot by using communications tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx even though it is not quite the same as face-to-face meetings”. 

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The TCL 10 Pro isn’t the best phone of 2020, but it’s exciting nevertheless

The TCL 10 Pro isn’t the best smartphone in the world – and in fact, it didn’t even break into our main list of the top 15 phones you can buy right now – but nevertheless, I'm excited to see it on virtual shop shelves.

The TCL 10 Pro received three stars out of five from TechRadar, and we called it “not a bad phone” with a further (and more damning) clarification that “you can get so much more for the money, whether you’re minded towards Android or iOS.”

For clarity, I didn’t review the TCL 10 Pro for TechRadar so I haven’t used the handset extensively, but I’m excited because this phone shows there’s still space for new entrants in the mobile market.

Welcome to a new contender

That quote from our review is quite damning, right? But that doesn't mean we want TCL to give up. In fact, I want TCL to see that criticism (and it’s not just us, a lot of our rival tech publications seem to agree with our review of the phone) and run further with a sequel.

TCL entering the phone game with its own branding is an exciting move. Previously, the company has produced handsets through its sub brands of Alcatel and BlackBerry, both of which catered to a very different niche than TCL is trying to target with the 10 Pro.

BlackBerry handsets under TCL haven't thrived, but they've consistently offered a business-focused experience that you can't really get anywhere else. Alcatel on the other hand has been consistently producing some of the best affordable phones on the market.

With the TCL brand becoming more and more recognized in the TV market, it makes sense for the company to apply the name – and the methodology associated with it – to smartphones too.

That methodology involves offering a quality product, but making some necessary cuts to ensure it comes in at an affordable price, which is what it has tried to do with the TCL 10 Pro.

TCL 10 Pro

The rear cameras on the TCL 10 Pro

The TCL 10 Pro isn't looking to compete with the very top-end handsets for a lower price. This isn’t going to be the phone you consider instead of a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or iPhone 11 Pro Max, but it may be an alternative to a Samsung Galaxy A90 5G or even something like the OnePlus 8.

And while the TCL 10 Pro isn't entirely successful, with the experience of making that phone behind it, whatever comes next from TCL may be a true contender for the very best mid-range phone that money can buy.

No matter what, we now have another major manufacturer with a lot of money behind it – along with experience in the consumer tech market – going full throttle and developing 5G handsets for the mid-range mobile phone space. 

That's exciting, and while I won't be recommending the TCL 10 Pro itself to people, I'm excited to see what the company is capable of doing next.

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