Skype goes blurry, Office gets a kick in the privacy, and Microsoft takes us back to 1990

New Windows 10 build and Small Basic turns 1.0

Roundup Last week the headlines were dominated by Microsoft seemingly putting the boot into its own productivity suites and bashing its elderly browser. But of course there was plenty else afoot within the sphere of Redmond.

Skype smears Vaseline on the webcam

It's nearly a year since Microsoft trailed blurry backgrounds in its collaboration product, Teams, before finally unleashing it in September 2018.

It was only a matter of time before Skype got the same treatment, and last week lucky users got to join in the out-of-focus shenanigans.

Those who have not stuck tape over their webcams (and donned the prerequisite tin-foil hat) can now allow Microsoft's all-seeing AI to separate them from their background with a flick of a switch.

The AI has been trained sufficiently to spot hair, hands, arms and, as Microsoft promises, does indeed seamlessly smear the background (although I found the edge detection a little iffy on occasion).

As a way of concealing the horror of an untidy room, or underwear draped over radiators, the tech works well. However, it can present a distraction during calls as one speculates what the caller is attempting to hide rather than listening to them.

A Windows Insider Build a day helps you work, rest and Decay

The Windows team emitted another build of Windows 10 in the form of 18334 and while there is, frankly, not a massive amount that's new, the software giant is keen for gamers to clamber aboard to track down DirectX bugs. To that end, it took the unusual step of allowing a limited number of lucky Insiders to play the zombie-swatting game, State of Decay.

You can make your own jokes about the State of Decay within the bowels of Microsoft's Quality Assurance department.

Fast Ring insiders got the build first, and those on Skip Ahead received it a few hours later.

As for what is new, all Microsoft had to say was: "We're excited to bring technology tailor-made for gaming to Windows."

With the final release potentially six weeks away, not much in the way of new stuff is a good thing. The long list of fixes included Win32 file association issues, a bug that threw an error when unzipping files and a black screen on Windows Sandbox startup. The known issues list has shrunk, but problems such as two Narrator voices piping up after the update still persist. Some real-time protection options for Malwarebytes Premium are also broken in the build.

Small Basic Online hits the big one point oh

The Small Basic crew emitted a preview of version 1 of the online edition of the tool last week.

It is quite a substantial release for the community-driven project, with a buffed-up GUI, a new libraries pane to get users into the (hoped-for) Visual Studio groove, a new debugger, and a way to save files locally (in TXT format, if the user so desires).

Small Basic, which turned 10 last year, is now an open-source, community-driven entity with desktop and online editions. Once stable, the preview will replace the existing v0.91.

The gang plans to get the desktop and online incarnations synchronised for the 2.0 release, and are now able to build the desktop app from the GitHub repo.

Being a preview, there are some known issues, including a long initial load time and the thing being a bit flaky in Edge (although the team did point out that "Google Chrome works fine").

More seriously, and in spite of a cheery exhortation to "kick the tires", it appears at present that the thing is missing wheels as attempting to join the preview fun is met with a stern "Error 403 - This web app is stopped" from Azure.

We've contacted the team to find out what's up, and will report back with any response.

Office Pro Plus to cover up its privates in response to Dutch concerns

Microsoft has blinked in a face-off with Dutch lawmakers over the data slurping tendencies of its Office Pro Plus product.

A report commissioned by the Dutch government, and published back in November 2018, made difficult reading for the Windows giant as it found the productivity suite was collecting telemetry (and other content) and squirting it back to servers in the US. That was a big no-no and caused the spectre of the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to rattle its chains in a threatening way.

In a report last week, Microsoft confirmed that products that form part of its Office Pro Plus will be tweaked by the end of April to address the "concerns". Failure to do so could result in the Dutch unleashing the regulatory hounds.

The company should have no problem dealing with some of the creepier tendencies of its products. After all, as CEO Satya Nadella memorably told us all last year: "Privacy is a human right."

Scared of Visual Studio? You too can play with File Manager thanks to the Microsoft Store

We first took a look at Microsoft's freshly open-sourced version of its venerable File Manager back in April 2018 and spent a delightful hour or so bathing in the warm waters of nostalgia thanks to the twin pleasures of GitHub and Visual Studio 2017.

While downloading and compiling the code didn't present much of a problem, the gang has made it even easier to get into that whole retro vibe with a very lightly warmed-over version for the Microsoft Store.

The only changes made since April's emission are bug fixes, so now anyone can take a nostalgic trip back to 1990, when the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, New Order were putting the World in Motion (replete with a memorable rap from footballer, John Barnes) and file management tools for Windows positively flew.

Excuse us while we give these rose-tinted specs of ours a bit of a buffing. ®

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