Microsoft makes it much easier to use ChatGPT-powered Bing – with a catch

Microsoft’s Bing chatbot is now available to use without signing into a Microsoft account, you’ll doubtless be pleased to hear.

This means that anyone can now jump on and start quizzing the ChatGPT-powered AI on whatever topic is on their mind, but there’s a caveat.

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Windows Central spotted the tweet from Michael Schechter, VP of Search Growth and Distribution (Bing) at Microsoft, announcing that the Bing AI now offers unauthenticated chat access.

However, while you won’t have to sign in to use the AI, you’ll be limited to pretty short conversations – just five queries in a session. Those signed in get 20 queries per conversation.

In other Bing AI news, a further step forward for the chatbot is the addition of a share button and more export options, as well as an improved copy and paste experience, useful little touches (as Neowin flagged up).

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Analysis: Bringing Bing to everyone faster

Remember when Bing AI was first launched? The chatbot got caught up in all sorts of controversial weirdness as a result of going off the rails in long chat sessions, leading Microsoft to impose strict limits on session length to tackle that particular problem.

That limit was five queries per session – exactly what unauthenticated users are getting now. In other words, it’s the bare minimum. (Well, clearly it’s the bare minimum – any lower than five would leave little or no opportunity to explore any topic further).

Still, the absolute minimum is very much better than nothing, so we’re glad to see Microsoft take this route. It makes for a convenient way for those who haven’t tried out the Bing AI yet to do so, and of course, that should mean extra traffic for Microsoft, too.

Doubtless Microsoft hopes that by giving folks a taster of Bing, it’ll impress them enough to sign in for the full lengthier chat experience.

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Microsoft’s CEO calls Alexa and Siri ‘dumb’ – but ChatGPT isn’t much smarter

In an interview with the Financial Times a few weeks ago, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella dismissed voice assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, as “dumb as a rock”.

This might seem a little rich coming from the CEO of a company that launched (and then abandoned) the unloved Cortana voice assistant, but I actually agree. However, unlike Nadella, I'm not so sure that the new wave of AI chatbots are where the future really lies – or at least not yet. 

Sure, they appear to be smarter than the first bunch of voice assistants, including Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google's (less charmingly named) Assistant, but that's not saying a lot. I was initially really impressed with these assistants, particularly Alexa, to the extent that I put aside my misgivings about how much information Amazon already collected about me, and filled my home with Echo devices of all shapes and sizes.

That all seems a long time ago now, though. Despite all the promise those voice-activated digital assistants had when they launched, I can't help but feel they’ve turned into little more than hands-free light switches and timers for when I’m cooking. They even made me temporarily forget how to use a real light switch. Seriously.

That’s it. I don’t even use Alexa to play music any more. Partly because none of the Echo devices I have come with remotely decent speakers, and also because Alexa seems to have developed a strange habit where when I ask for a song to be played, it more often than not chooses a random alternative take or live version, rather than the studio version I was after. All very frustrating, especially if you're a Bob Dylan fan.

Even as a light switch, I’ve found it increasingly unreliable. I now often have to repeat myself several times before Alexa understands my request and complies. That’s if I’m lucky. Sometimes it listens, then just does nothing.

It’s become more of an inconvenience and annoyance – the exact opposite of what these virtual assistants were supposed to be. To be fair to Nadella, he told the Financial Times that “Whether it’s Cortana or Alexa or Google Assistant or Siri, all these just don’t work. We had a product that was supposed to be the new front-end to a lot of [information] that didn’t work.”

We’re not alone in getting disillusioned with voice assistants. As the Financial Times reports, Adam Cheyer, co-creator of Apple's Siri, says that “the previous capabilities have just been too awkward… No one knows what they can do or can’t do. They don’t know what they can say or can’t say.”

It also seems like the companies behind the voice assistants are losing interest. Not only did Microsoft unceremoniously dump Cortana after years of trying to get Windows 10 and Windows 11 users to embrace (or at least tolerate) it, Amazon has cut a large number of jobs recently, and there are reports that the teams involved with Alexa and Echo devices have been particularly hard hit.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

It may be easy to suggest that Nadella’s dismissal of voice assistants is down to sour grapes, as Microsoft’s Cortana was the least popular out of the ‘big four’ – which also includes Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri (sorry, Samsung, but no one likes Bixby either) – but I certainly agree with him. The shine has worn off.

However, it’s increasingly looking like Microsoft thinks that artificial intelligence chatbots, most noticeably ChatGPT, could solve these problems – and it’s here where I’m going to have to disagree, at least for now.

Microsoft is a big investor in ChatGPT and OpenAI, the company behind it, but when it announced it was bringing the power of ChatGPT to its Bing search engine, it managed something rare: it got people excited about Bing.

Suddenly, people were keen to try out a browser which had for so long been neglected in favor of Google. This surge in interest, plus widespread coverage in the press, has deepened Microsoft’s love affair with ChatGPT.

Having an AI bot that can converse with humans in a life-like way, and use huge amounts of stored data in its own libraries and on the internet to answer questions, seems like the natural evolution of voice assistants.

And, one day it might be. However, the technology has so far not lived up to expectations. People using ChatGPT or the version included in Bing have found the chatbot can give incorrect information, and it can also behave strangely, especially if you challenge it when it replies with the wrong answer. A similar issue emerged with Google’s rival Bard AI, which returned an incorrect answer to a question during the launch event. This quickly became quite embarrassing for Microsoft and Google, and it proved to a lot of us that AI bots are not quite ready for the limelight.

Can’t live up to the hype, sometimes unreliable and even a bit frustrating? That certainly sounds familiar, so if Microsoft and other companies don’t want history repeating, they’d do well to think twice before rushing to implement AI bots in voice assistants.

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Google Chrome won’t drain your Macbook battery as much anymore

Up until now, MacBook users seeking the ultimate browser for top battery life have often used Safari, Apple’s own offering, which has been optimized specifically to work in harmony with the company’s other hardware and software.

However this could all be about to change, with the latest version of Google Chrome promising to match Safari’s level of energy efficiency for simple web browsing tasks.

What’s more, opting to use the recently introduced Energy Saver mode will allow Chrome to even exceed Apple’s battery life predictions.

Chrome laptop battery life

Currently, Apple claims a typical battery life of 17 hours under “wireless web” usage on a 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro, its best performer in terms of battery life. Google’s testing on that same device (without Energy Save mode enabled), and using Chrome 110.0.5481.100, produced an equal prediction.

Additionally, those tests indicate that a user may be able to stream YouTube content for 18 hours, though this doesn’t quite match Apple’s 20-hour prediction for streaming on the Apple TV app.

Google said that to improve Chrome’s power usage, it tuned iframes to reduce short-term memory usage, reduced how often Javascript timers wake as developers turn to more efficient APIs, streamlined data structures, and eliminated unnecessary redraws to avoid wasting energy.

While testing was carried out on the latest Mac hardware, the developers also suggest that similar benefits will be seen on older models. It’s unclear whether this affects previous Intel-based models, or whether it’s a change primarily focused on devices running Apple Silicon. TechRadar Pro has asked Google to confirm this.

Users looking to eke out the most battery life – on any device – can also choose to enable Energy Saver mode which disables some background activity and visual effects, though the most profound effects are likely to be seen on lower-performance models.

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Microsoft Teams will no longer suck up so much of your battery life

Using Microsoft Teams may no longer be such a drain on your laptop battery life thanks to a series of updates to the platform.

The video conferencing software will now require up to 50% less power to run during “energy-intensive” scenarios such as multi-person meetings than it did 18 months ago, Microsoft has revealed.

This is thanks to a series of changes and optimizations that should mean an end to battery-sapping video calls that can leave remote workers scrambling for their charger, or being forced to go on mute as their work laptop fans kick into overdrive.

Microsoft Teams battery life

“One of the challenges brought on by the ubiquity of Teams is the need to create equitable experiences across an incredibly diverse Windows device ecosystem,” Microsoft's Robert Aichner wrote in a blog post outlining a series of improvements made since June 2020.

Aichner noted that the moves should also allow users on low-end devices to have a much better experience running Microsoft Teams, meaning no one should suddenly drop out on calls, and ensure Teams meetings are as energy-efficient as possible, regardless of setup.

This has been a long process, with Microsoft continuing to optimize Teams as user numbers boomed during the pandemic amid work from home orders.

This has included camera optimization tools to reduce the demands on using video in meetings, with tweaks such as improving configurations, reducing code complexity for auto-exposure, auto-white balance, auto-aliasing, resulting in power draw reduction from the onboard camera and stability enhancements, and face detection processes.

Microsoft has also consolidated and improved video rendering, particularly in multi-person video meetings where different participants may join with wildly different video streams due to variations in hardware. This initially meant that a nine-person call using a 3×3 video grid required nine distinct rendering operations, but Microsoft combined the streams and composed them into a single video, significantly reducing the power requirements for each device used.

More recently, Microsoft Teams has also been allowed to tap into a device’s GPU to support improved rendering performance, which has recently been expanded to the user's video preview as well.

Aichner adds that this is not the end for Teams optimization, and the company hopes to continue to release new features and improvements for some time to come.

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Twitter could soon let you be much more verbose in tweets

Since its inception, Twitter has been about content that's short and sweet. Originally capped at 140 characters, the maximum length of tweets was doubled to 280 in 2018. While this gives a little more breathing room to express opinions, the limit still forces users to be concise – or resort to tweet threads.

But a new option could be on the horizon. Evidence has been unearthed that Twitter is working on a new feature called Twitter Articles. If the feature ends up seeing the light of day, it would serve as an alternative to a tweetstorm, posting links to lengthier articles hosted elsewhere, or posting images of passages of text.

News of the feature came courtesy of serial tipster Jane Manchun Wong, who shared her finding on Twitter:

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The screenshot does not give away a great deal, but it does show that Twitter Articles could be given their own dedicated section within the app.

As there has been no official word about Articles from Twitter – coupled with the fact that the feature was only found by a well-known reverse engineer ferreting around in-app code – it is impossible to say when (or, indeed, if) the ability to post long-form articles will land on Twitter

When contacted by Social Media Today about the discovery, Twitter commented that it is “..always looking into new ways to help people start and engage in conversations”. The company did say that it would offer up more information soon.

Analysis: moving away from its origins

Keeping things short and sweet has long been Twitter's raison d'etre. For years, the character limit has prevented users from waxing too lyrically too regularly, helping to keep content flowing in easily digestible chunks.

But there have long been very vocal bands of users who have been demanding change. Some would like to see the addition of an Edit button to make it possible to amend tweets to correct spelling mistakes, but this is something that – rightly or wrongly – has been dismissed by Twitter. There have been concerns that the ability to edit tweeted material after the fact could lead to confusion and the spread of misinformation.

There have also been plenty of calls for further increases to the tweet character length, and this is something that Twitter has resisted for some time. But with the probable arrival of Twitter Articles, it seems that the company is bowing to pressure – albeit in a slightly different way to what many people would have hoped or expected.

While longer tweets will be welcomed by many, Twitter Articles would indicate quite a change of direction for Twitter and take it further away from its roots. But having branched out with options which as Twitter Blue subscriptions and the Super Follow feature, it is possible that Twitter Articles could be a feature that is only made available to a subset of users – and it could see Twitter transforming into a different type of publishing platform that competes with a slightly different sector.

Via: Social Media Today

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Closing tabs in Chrome is getting much better on Android

In a future release of Google's web browser on Android, you'll be able to avoid the mistake of closing all your tabs at once, thanks to an additional message box to confirm if you want to go ahead with it.

Google Chrome is the most widely-used web browser app on Android, mainly due to it being pre-installed on the majority of Android smartphones. But there may be an occasion when you've got multiple tabs open at once.

Some could be related to shopping, birthday ideas, or brainstorms for holidays in the summer for example. You may want to close all of these at once when you're finished.

In Chrome Canary, the test version of Google's web browser, you can enable a flag that will display a message box to confirm if you want to close all your tabs at once. This will help prevent occasions where you accidently close all the browser tabs when you didn't mean to.

How do you enable the message box confirmation?

By going to chrome://flags when running Google Chrome Canary 100 on Android, there will be a 'Close all tabs modal dialog' option.

Switching this on will make the message box appear when you're about to close all your tabs.

This can be useful if you've found yourself having mistakenly closed all your open tabs, and having to go through your history to open the links again.

This may sound like a very obvious feature, but if you mainly use Google Chrome on your phone as you're sharing links on social media and messaging apps, having all your tabs closed can be a huge annoyance.

Sometimes the little things like this can make a big difference, so it's encouraging that Google has this ready to go in its development releases for now.

Via XDA Developer

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Alt+Tab in Windows 11 is about to get much better

Microsoft is improving the appearance of switching windows using the Alt+Tab shortcut in Windows 11.

Switching windows through a keyboard shortcut has been a popular option with users, and it’s particularly useful if you’re using a full-screen app that becomes unresponsive. By pressing Alt+Tab on your keyboard, you can quickly switch out of the problematic app. 

Switching between apps in Windows 11 has seen the whole screen become blurred, while in Windows 10 you merely saw a menu of apps you could switch between to, without a blurred effect. This can look strange if you’re on a monitor bigger than 24-inches, and which will also hide the content you may have been working on.

In an upcoming build that’s in testing for Windows Insider users, which allows you to test upcoming Windows 11 features early, such as a refined taskbar, the Alt+Tab interface looks cleaner, with a blurred appearance around the feature itself, instead of taking over the entire screen.

Analysis: Another improvement for Sun Valley 2

Every major Windows update has had a codename attached to it. Windows XP had Whistler, for example, while Windows 8.1 was called Blue.

The codename for the next major Windows 11 update is Sun Valley 2. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the released version of Windows 11 had the codename Sun Valley.

This upcoming update will be full of refinements, but also improvements to what users have been getting used to for the last few months since the release of Windows 11 back in November. From the new looks of Paint, Clock and the upcoming reboot of Windows Media Player, Sun Valley 2 looks to be a significant update.

Alt+Tab already looks easier on the eye in this new build, so you can switch between apps and still see the content in the active window that you were previously looking at. 

Sun Valley 2 is scheduled for May, roughly one year since Windows 11 was announced, and we may finally see Android apps from the Amazon App Store appear on the Microsoft Store.

It’s encouraging that we’re already seeing these small improvements to many apps, alongside updates to the appearance of Windows 11, which will add up to a significant update in May that’s going to benefit users, even if you’re merely looking forward to using Notepad in dark mode.

Via Windows Latest

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WhatsApp is making iOS notifications much more helpful

WhatsApp is making a small but signification change to message notifications for iOS users. The change is currently only visible to beta testers, but will be rolling out to more users in due course.

In the latest iOS beta version, WhatsApp is making it easier to see who a message is from. The change relates to app notifications, and it brings the iOS version of the app in line with the Android version.

The change means that it's now possible for iOS users to see profile pictures next to messages in notifications. This is something that has been available to Android users for quite some time now, and is an easy and obvious way to make it easier to tell who a notification relates to at a glance.

Profile pictures can be seen next to notifications not only for chats with individuals, but also those that relate to group chats.

As the new feature makes use of APIs included as part of iOS 15, profile pictures in notifications are only available to beta testers who are running this version of iOS.

Info at a glance

Unfortunately, simply being part of the WhatsApp beta program for iOS is not enough to gain access to this updated feature. Even if you have the latest beta version of the app installed, it is no guarantee that you will see profile pictures in notifications as WhatsApp appears to be enabling this server-side for groups of users.

All you can do for the time being is sit back and wait. If you're not a beta tester, you could have a lengthy wait ahead of you, but WhatsApp   has not given any indication of timescale for rollout, making it impossible to say just when non-beta users will fell the benefits of this update.

Via WABetaInfo

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