Microsoft has gone too far: including a Game Pass ad in the Settings app ushers in a whole new age of ridiculous over-advertising

Windows 11 is getting out of hand with its push for advertisments, frankly – remember the recent full-screen pop-up to persuade users to install Edge or other Microsoft services? Then another advertisment was placed in the Start menu, and now Microsoft has finally worn my temper thin – with a new Game Pass ad coming to the Settings app.

This will likely arrive in the July update for Windows 11, or at least it’s almost certain to do so. It was present in the latest preview update Microsoft just released for the OS (and quickly paused due to a bug, but that’s another story). It’s also worth noting that the ad has been present in earlier test versions of Windows 11.

You can call it a ‘recommendation’ if you’re feeling kind, but the veiled advertisement for Game Pass appears for Windows 11 Home and Pro users who actively play games on their rig, as Windows Central reports.

Microsoft’s bid to further monetize the operating system seems to be going down the route of smaller, less conspicuous ‘recommendations’ or suggestions like this, which are happening more often, and my worry is that they will become even more frequent and annoying. 

Taking it too far… 

In my opinion, things have already gone too far. The attempt to blur the line between a recommendation and an ad makes the whole thing feel rather disingenuous. Yes, one could argue that Microsoft is (at the moment) only recommending its own products that could make the lives of Windows 11 users easier or more interesting, but who’s to say it will always stay this way? Once some kind of broad acceptance has been established with the Windows user base, the fear is that Microsoft might push boundaries in the future.

I’m thinking about third-party app ads, which have already crept into some corners of Windows 11 – will these inevitably become more prevalent? And could Microsoft’s use of them even trigger similar moves from rivals? Might I turn on my Chromebook in a few months – well, okay, years – and be bombarded with ads for things I don’t want or care for? 

Another thing that bothers me is that it’s not like these ads will appear in some obscure corner of Windows 11. Think about how often you open your Settings app and consider how aggressive this level of advertising really is in the grand scheme of things. Are you going to have to deal with a full-screen ad when you’re trying to open File Explorer eventually?

The problem is that you aren’t renting your PC – you own it, or maybe it’s a work device, but whatever the case, you, your company, or your boss have already paid for Windows. Given that, implementing inescapable ads diminishes your ownership experience – kind of like how you have to sit through ads on YouTube to watch free content. Except Windows 11 isn’t free – and if I have to navigate a maze of ads to change my wallpaper or check on an update, I’m not going to be pleased about it.

Microsoft better watch how it treads here, and keep these kinds of ads to a minimum if it doesn’t want to turn the Windows 11 user base against it – though I have my doubts that the company will. 

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The iTunes app in Windows 11 has been replaced with four new apps that’ll make life a whole lot easier for iPhone users with Windows PCs

The iTunes for Windows app has just received a sweeping overhaul. The app has now been split into four different entities: an iCloud app, Apple Music, Apple TV and a new Devices app. These new apps offer a refreshed onboarding and set-up experience, aesthetic improvements and a more intuitive syncing process that’ll make downloading your iCloud content to your PC much easier.

Even now, after all these years, iTunes in Windows 11 hasn’t improved in a sufficient way to win me over. For a long time, it’s remained clunky and slow and honestly just not that helpful. Using the app in Windows feels like navigating a twenty-year-old bit of software. 

Thankfully, it seems like Apple has finally gotten the hint and has decided to dissect it and offer four separate apps that concentrate on specific features and use cases, rather than being a jack-of-all-trades as iTunes often felt like. This move could hint at the swift death of iTunes altogether, as the app is now even more redundant.

So, what's new?

iCloud Photos gets a big boost that brings the Windows 11 app on par with the preinstalled apps you find on Apple Macs, offering the ability to create Shared Albums on your PC, and access and remove photos and videos from your cloud storage directly from your PC. Perhaps my favourite new feature is that you can now view your photos directly from the default Microsoft Photos app in Windows 11.

Being able to view all your photos, both from your PC and from your phone in one place in the Windows Photos app is an incredibly convenient change. If you need something for work or you just want to send a few photos in an email to someone, you now don’t have to use different apps and trawl folders to find what you need, now you can just open the default photo app on your Windows 11 PC and have all your photos in one place – making the process a lot more seamless – and more like the experience iCloud users on Apple devices are used to. 

Apple TV for Windows

(Image credit: Apple )

The new iCloud Drive app will now let you share files with friends, family and colleagues straight from File Explorer, which again is such a time-saving integration that makes your Apple device feel more at home with your Windows PC. Not every iPhone user will own a Mac or MacBook, and it’s great to finally see Apple implement changes that mean iPhone users with Windows 11 laptops and PCs don’t feel like second-class citizens.

Password management across your iPhone and your PC will be a lot smoother as well, so if you happen to forget any of your passwords you can just view them in the iCloud Passwords app on your Windows PC without having to pick up your iPhone or iPad. Your passwords will also be saved and synced across not just your Apple devices but to your PC as well via the Chrome and Edge web browsers with an iCloud Passwords extension. Again, this is great news for people who use PCs and need to quickly log into their accounts without having to fumble with their personal devices.

Finally, your Apple Calendars, Bookmarks and contacts will be synced up on your PC as well, so you’ll be able to view your iCloud Calendar in Microsoft Outlook. This applies to both the free version that comes with your PC and the paid version for Microsoft 365 subscribers. 

Apple Music for Windows

(Image credit: Apple )

The Apple Music app has also received a refresh to its user interface as well as time-synced lyrics and 4K music videos, which is a feature in the iOS and iPad versions of the app. The Apple TV app for Windows is a new addition that aims to bring your viewing library to your desktop, which is great news for those of us who like to have a show or a movie in the background while you work on personal projects. I love binge-watching TV shows while playing games on my PC, and this is great news because it means I won’t have to prop my iPhone up by my display just to watch something at the same time.

The fourth app being introduced to Windows is called 'Devices' and offers a straightforward way for you to keep track of what devices are connected to your iCloud account, as well as allowing you to sync, update and backup your Apple devices right from your desktop. This means the iTunes app will be left with Podcasts and Audiobooks for now, with all the other features split between these four apps. So, you won’t lose any of your favourite bits of audio content. 

The implementation of these new apps adds a more contemporary feel to the Apple experience on Windows. All these positives combined will hopefully make it feel less like you’re using an ancient app that’s been ignored for several years.

Overall, this is a positive move from Apple that finally brings some much-needed improvements to PC users who want to sync up their iPhones to their devices.  This way you get the best out of the Apple ecosystem file-sharing experience without having to own an actual Mac. 

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New Windows 11 update fixes a whole lot of things – but breaks some as well

Windows 11 users who are installing the latest update are having some serious issues, from many accounts.

Windows Latest reported that there are bugs in the preview update – so yes, this is an optional update, not something you have to install – that are causing major problems with Windows 11’s interface in one way or another.

For starters, with patch KB5034204, some users are apparently experiencing a glitch where File Explorer – the folders and files on the desktop – is becoming unresponsive. This can lead to the whole desktop going blank (all folders and icons disappearing) for a while, before returning to normal, we’re told. Others are reporting File Explorer crashing while shutting down their PC.

Windows Latest further details reports of icons like the Recycle Bin vanishing, taskbar icons not working, and even the Windows 11 taskbar itself going missing, as complained about on Reddit (plus this is a problem the tech site encountered itself).

The other issue folks seem to be experiencing with KB5034204 is that the update fails to install. There are complaints on Microsoft’s Feedback Hub that the installation process reaches 100%, so looks like it has finished, but then crashes out with a message mentioning missing files. Stop code errors (like ‘0x8007000d’) are also in evidence with these installation mishaps.


Analysis: Out of the frying pan…

Clearly, we need to take into account that this is a preview update, meaning that it’s still officially in testing, and optional patches like this aren’t installed unless you specifically ask for them. As with any pre-release software, you can expect problems, in other words.

Even so, you might want an optional update because it provides a fix for a bug you’re suffering with, and in the case of KB5034204, it resolves a couple of notable issues disrupting video chats and streaming audio (and a misbehaving Start menu, too, plus more besides).

However, in this case, you might swap one problem for another when installing this optional update, and possibly a worse glitch (the wonkiness caused with the Windows 11 interface outlined above seems pretty nasty).

That said, there is a solution (kind of) for the missing taskbar at least, which is to press the Windows key + X – apparently, that sees the bar come back, but its behavior may still be odd going by the various reports around this particular bug.

It’s disappointing to see installation failures popping up again with this preview update, mainly because this was a flaw in evidence with the January cumulative update. It seems that Microsoft hasn’t resolved this yet, then, and the fear is that it might still be present in the February update for Windows 11 (which this preview is an advance version of, as you may realize).

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Google Docs is getting a whole lot smarter – and collapsable?

In its eternal struggle to replicate features that Microsoft 365 and even Office has had for aeons, Google Docs is getting – make sure you’re sitting down – collapsible headings.

This is good – it’ll keep documents from feeling cluttered or unruly, we’re just at a loss as to why it’s taken until 2023 for this to happen.

The announcement, posted on the Google Workspace updates blog, revealed that the change will arrive shortly for Google Workspace and Personal users but, as tends to happen to us, we found that the feature isn’t yet available for us specifically.

 Making a word processor fit for purpose

We’re not being contrarian for clicks when we assert that Google software has always been behind the times – whether it’s deciding to chase the AI zeitgeist after Microsoft finds success in that space or still lacking reorderable headings in the document outline, meaning I much prefer to first draft long-form work in Microsoft Word.

And it is a shame that Google is treating artificial intelligence (which, as we’re being urged to understand at the moment, is simply a form of machine learning) as the be all and end all. 

The best way to enhance a productivity tool isn’t to throw in features that trade on buzzwords and promises of a personal assistant to do your work for you. Less ambitious features, unconcerned with grabbing headlines but which are altogether more important at making work bearable.

Google is obviously going for a little from column A and and a little for column B with this approach. Its happy medium is something like the “smart chips” across Google Workspace, allowing documents to contain links to other ones, files, people, or events, making them better at centralising information.

The “smart chips” are good, in that “smart” here means “convenient” rather than “literally sentient”. I feel like I’m on a theme here,  having written about the ills of AI in office software relatively recently, but I might like to revise what I wrote there.

It’s not so much that I need to be dazzled by innovation to keep me conscious, I just need to be able to get through the day without wanting to throw my cloud-driven office software out of the window.

So, Google, take note: make it easy to export images from Docs without making me download a zipped .html file of the whole document, do the reorderable outline thing, and just generally step back in time to 2003. That all sounds reasonable.

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Apple could be working on a whole host of financial and banking tools

Apple is reportedly working on a multi-year plan to develop its own payment processing technology and infrastructure in an effort to further build out its portfolio of financial products.

As reported by Bloomberg, the move would allow the iPhone maker to reduce its reliance on outside partners but it could also enable the company to expand its payment features beyond the US.

According to people familiar with the matter that spoke with the news outlet, the multi-year plan would bring a number of financial tasks in-house including payment processing, risk assessment for lending, fraud analysis, credit checks and other customer-service functions like handling disputes.

Since Apple is reportedly investigating the idea of launching its own hardware subscription service, being able to run credit checks and risk assessments before providing customers with devices makes a great deal of sense.

Future financial products

Although Apple already offers a credit card as well as peer-to-peer payments for businesses, its efforts to develop its own payment processing technology and infrastructure  will be focused on future financial products.

Back in July of last year, news broke that the company is also working on a “buy now, pay later” feature for Apple Pay Transactions that would allow customers to pay for items across four interest-free payments every two weeks or across several months with interest. While the plan with four payments is known internally as “Apple Pay in 4”, the longer term payment plans have been dubbed “Apple Pay Monthly Installments”.

While Apple will continue its partnership with Goldman Sachs according to Bloomberg, the company has been discussing using in-house technology for its “Apple Pay in 4” plan. 

At the same time though, the company’s in-house financial services could allow it to expand future services to additional countries. Currently Apple Pay is available in over 70 countries but other services such as peer-to-peer payments, Apple Card and Apple Cash are still US-only.

The news that Apple wants to bring more of its financial services in-house also aligns with a recent job posting looking for a hardware validation engineer to help upgrade its datacenters. Storing financial data and handling transactions could put a heavy load on its systems which is why the company wants to upgrade its datacenters with “next-generation” storage and server equipment from Intel and AMD.

Via 9to5Mac

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Gmail on Android notifications are getting a whole new look that might divide users

Android users will soon be able to quickly see whether they have a notification from Google Chat or Spaces right from the status bar as a new update is now rolling out to Gmail.

As Hangouts will soon be replaced by Google Chat for Google Workspace users, the search giant has added new status bar icons that make it easier to differentiate between Google Chat and Spaces notifications.

Up until now, Google's messaging app Chat and its Slack and Microsoft Teams competitor Spaces have both used a filled-in message bubble with another one behind it as their status bar icon. This made it difficult for users to determine whether they had a message from a single co-worker or if someone had said something in a group chat.

Thankfully, this will no longer be the case once Google's latest update for Gmail becomes widely available.

New status bar icons

As spotted by 9to5Google, Gmail for Android is currently in the process of rolling out separate icons for both Chat and Spaces notifications.

The new Chat icon is a single message bubble that's outlined and has an empty interior while the new Spaces icon depicts three people next to each other. If either of these new icons look familiar, that is because they're currently being used on Google's email client for desktop.

While the new Google Chat icon makes sense, some users might be confused by the new Spaces icon at first since it looks more like a social networking app than a workplace chat app.

According to 9to5Google, the publication has only seen these new status bar icons appear on a single Android smartphone running Gmail version 2022.02.20. However, Google will likely roll them out to more Android devices soon.

Via 9to5Google

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Gmail on Android notifications are getting a whole new look that might divide users

Android users will soon be able to quickly see whether they have a notification from Google Chat or Spaces right from the status bar as a new update is now rolling out to Gmail.

As Hangouts will soon be replaced by Google Chat for Google Workspace users, the search giant has added new status bar icons that make it easier to differentiate between Google Chat and Spaces notifications.

Up until now, Google's messaging app Chat and its Slack and Microsoft Teams competitor Spaces have both used a filled-in message bubble with another one behind it as their status bar icon. This made it difficult for users to determine whether they had a message from a single co-worker or if someone had said something in a group chat.

Thankfully, this will no longer be the case once Google's latest update for Gmail becomes widely available.

New status bar icons

As spotted by 9to5Google, Gmail for Android is currently in the process of rolling out separate icons for both Chat and Spaces notifications.

The new Chat icon is a single message bubble that's outlined and has an empty interior while the new Spaces icon depicts three people next to each other. If either of these new icons look familiar, that is because they're currently being used on Google's email client for desktop.

While the new Google Chat icon makes sense, some users might be confused by the new Spaces icon at first since it looks more like a social networking app than a workplace chat app.

According to 9to5Google, the publication has only seen these new status bar icons appear on a single Android smartphone running Gmail version 2022.02.20. However, Google will likely roll them out to more Android devices soon.

Via 9to5Google

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Google Classroom is using AI to help children learn in a whole new way

Google has announced a new feature for its online learning platform that will provide students with a more personal learning experience through interactive lessons and real-time feedback.

With practice sets in Google Classroom, educators will be able to transform their teaching content into interactive assignments while an autograding tool will help them save time so that they can focus on the needs of their students instead of being bogged down with paperwork. At the same time, practice sets can help teachers figure out which concepts require more instruction time and determine what students need extra support.

As students complete practice sets, they get real-time feedback so that they can know whether or not they're on the right track. For instance, if a student is struggling to solve a problem, they can get hints through both visual explainers and videos. Then when they get the answer correct, practice sets uses fun animations and confetti to celebrate their success.

According to a new blog post, Google is currently in the process of testing out practice sets with some schools ahead of the feature's beta launch in the coming months. Once practice sets become available in Google Classroom, any educator with the Teaching and Learning Upgrade or educational institution using Google Workspace for Education Plus will be able to test them out.

Adaptive learning technology

The concept of adaptive learning has been around for decades and refers to a type of learning where students receive customized resources and activities to address their unique learning needs.

Now though, thanks to recent AI advances in language models and video understanding, Google is working to incorporate adaptive learning technology into Google Classroom through practice sets. Adaptive learning technology also saves teachers time and provides data to help them understand the learning processes and patterns of their students. 

In a separate blog post, Google explained that a teacher testing out practice sets likened the new feature to having a teaching assistant in the classroom at all times. This is because the technology provides students with one-on-one attention and validation so that they know right away whether or not they got a problem correct. Practice sets also helped drive both student motivation and engagement.

Now that Google is adding AI capabilities to Google Classroom, expect the search giant to add even more automation to its online learning platform going forward.

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Migrating your data to Google Workspace is about to get a whole lot easier

Getting your data moved over to Google Workspace should soon be a much smoother process thanks to a new release from the company.

Google says the Workspace Migrate tool offers an easier way for admins to assess and plan migration projects, and “confidently migrate their users and large amounts of critical content directly into Google Workspace.”

Previously announced in beta way back in 2019, the tool is now generally available to admins across the world for select Google Workspace Editions.

Google Workspace Migrate

In a blog post announcing the news, Google noted that its new tool should be particularly useful for those admins looking to move a large amount of enterprise data, offering a secure and effective way to migrate information and set up on-premises infrastructure.

This includes the ability to migrate data from a wide range of sources, including Microsoft Exchange (covering Exchange 2010, 2013, 2016, and Microsoft 365), Microsoft SharePoint (including SharePoint 2010, 2013, 2016, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business), Microsoft OneDrive, file shares, and Box migrations.

Google Workspace Migrate tool

(Image credit: Google Workspace)

It will also support legacy G Suite Business and Google Workspace environments, enabling admins to selectively migrate Gmail, Calendar, Drive, and more data between Google Workspace environments. 

Alternatively, the tool will allow admins to migrate all users from one environment to another, or move specific user data (such as organizational units, users, or subsets of data) between Google Workspace environments.

The tool will also allow admins to easily identify project progress and status through frequently updated and detailed logs, as well as being able to quickly scan source environments to help accurately plan for key project milestones and watch points.

Google Workspace Migrate is available now for users on Google Workspace Business Standard, Business Plus, Enterprise Standard, Enterprise Plus, Education Standard, Education Plus, and legacy G Suite Business – however not for Google Workspace Essentials or legacy G Suite Basic users just yet.

The news comes soon after Google revealed it would be cutting down on users accessing Google Workspace for free.

The company announced that all G Suite legacy free edition users would soon be shifted over to a paid version of Google Workspace from July 1 in order to ensure they kept access to tools such as Gmail, Meet and Docs.

Google Workplace plans start at $ 6/user/month for its Business Starter option, with Business Standard ($ 12/user/month) and Business Plus ($ 18 /user/month) also on offer, providing an increasing level of services with the amount paid.

Google plans to automatically move free users from May 1 to “an upgraded Google Workspace paid subscription”, based on its analysis of the customer's usage and the features it thinks you'll need. The company is also offering businesses who don't want to pay or upgrade the chance to export their data at no extra cost.

Via 9to5Google

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Microsoft Teams meeting are about to become a whole lot more cinematic

Microsoft is working on a new update for its video conferencing software that will allow organizations with supported devices to use multiple cameras in Microsoft Teams.

There is a catch though as this new multiple camera feature will only work on select Microsoft Teams Rooms devices.

For those unfamiliar, Microsoft Teams Rooms is a dedicated hardware and software solution for video conferencing that was previously called Skype Rooms. Microsoft Teams Rooms devices include headsets, speakerphones, desk phones and Teams displays, collaboration bars, webcams and more.

According to a new post on the Microsoft 365 Roadmap, this feature is currently in development and is slated to roll out to Microsoft Teams Rooms devices like the Surface Hub 2S in January of next year.

Switching between multiple cameras

Once this new feature is available, organizations that have a meeting or conference room with more than one video camera connected to Microsoft Teams Rooms will be able to switch between them while in a video call.

To do so, they'll need to click on the icon that depicts an arrow going through a rectangle at the bottom of a Teams meeting to see a list of available cameras. From here, they'll be able to switch between cameras seamlessly without interrupting their meeting.

As more devices have built-in cameras than ever before, this new update to Microsoft Teams Rooms will allow organizations to take advantage of them. Some possible use cases include being able to switch between a wide group shot and having one individual on camera as well as being able to give attendees a close up view of a product or design.

Now that Microsoft is adding multiple camera support to Microsoft Teams Rooms, the company could eventually add this same functionality to regular Teams meetings so that individuals can also give their meetings more of a cinematic feel.

Looking to improve your video calls? Check out our roundups of the best video conferencing softwarebest business webcams and best headsets for conference calls

Via ONMSFT

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