The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite today

Microsoft is hosting its Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida this week. And although Ignite isn’t the household name that Microsoft’s Build conference has become over the course of the last few years, it’s a massive event with over 30,000 attendees and plenty of news. Indeed, there was so much news this year that Microsoft provided the press with a 27-page booklet with all of it.
We wrote about quite a few of these today, but here are the most important announcements, including one that wasn’t in Microsoft’s booklet but was featured prominently on stage.
1. Microsoft, SAP and Adobe take on Salesforce with their new Open Data Initiative for customer data
What was announced: Microsoft is teaming up with Adobe and SAP to create a single model for representing customer data that businesses will be able to move between systems.
Why it matters: Moving customer data between different enterprise systems is hard, especially because there isn’t a standardized way to represent this information. Microsoft, Adobe and SAP say they want to make it easier for this data to flow between systems. But it’s also a shot across the bow of Salesforce, the leader in the CRM space. It also represents a chance for these three companies to enable new tools that can extract value from this data — and Microsoft obviously hopes that these businesses will choose its Azure platform for analyzing the data.

2. Microsoft wants to do away with more passwords
What was announced: Businesses that use Microsoft Azure Active Directory (AD) will now be able to use the Microsoft Authenticator app on iOS and Android in place of a password to log into their business applications.
Why it matters: Passwords are annoying and they aren’t very secure. Many enterprises are starting to push their employees to use a second factor to authenticate. With this, Microsoft now replaces the password/second factor combination with a single tap on your phone — ideally without compromising security.

3. Microsoft’s new Windows Virtual Desktop lets you run Windows 10 in the cloud
What was announced: Microsoft now lets businesses rent a virtual Windows 10 desktop in Azure.
Why it matters: Until now, virtual Windows 10 desktops were the domain of third-party service providers. Now, Microsoft itself will offer these desktops. The company argues that this is the first time you can get a multiuser virtualized Windows 10 desktop in the cloud. As employees become more mobile and don’t necessarily always work from the same desktop or laptop, this virtualized solution will allow organizations to offer them a full Windows 10 desktop in the cloud, with all the Office apps they know, without the cost of having to provision and manage a physical machine.

4. Microsoft Office gets smarter
What was announced: Microsoft is adding a number of new AI tools to its Office productivity suite. Those include Ideas, which aims to take some of the hassle out of using these tools. Ideas may suggest a layout for your PowerPoint presentation or help you find interesting data in your spreadsheets, for example. Excel is also getting a couple of new tools for pulling in rich data from third-party sources. Microsoft is also building a new unified search tool for finding data across an organization’s network.
Why it matters: Microsoft Office remains the most widely used suite of productivity applications. That makes it the ideal surface for highlighting Microsoft’s AI chops, and anything that can improve employee productivity will surely drive a lot of value to businesses. If that means sitting through fewer badly designed PowerPoint slides, then this whole AI thing will have been worth it.

5. Microsoft’s massive Surface Hub 2 whiteboards will launch in Q2 2019
What was announced: The next version of the Surface Hub, Microsoft’s massive whiteboard displays, will launch in Q2 2019. The Surface Hub 2 is both lighter and thinner than the original version. Then, in 2020, an updated version, the Surface Hub 2X, will launch that will offer features like tiling and rotation.
Why it matters: We’re talking about a 50-inch touchscreen display here. You probably won’t buy one, but you’ll want one. It’s a disappointment to hear that the Surface Hub 2 won’t launch into next year and that some of the advanced features most users are waiting for won’t arrive until the refresh in 2020.

6. Microsoft Teams gets bokeh and meeting recordings with transcripts
What was announced: Microsoft Teams, its Slack competitor, can now blur the background when you are in a video meeting and it’ll automatically create transcripts of your meetings.
Why it matters: Teams has emerged as a competent Slack competitor that’s quite popular with companies that are already betting on Microsoft’s productivity tools. Microsoft is now bringing many of its machine learning smarts to Teams to offer features that most of its competitors can’t match.

7. Microsoft launches Azure Digital Twins
What was announced: Azure Digital Twins allows enterprises to model their real-world IoT deployments in the cloud.
Why it matters: IoT presents a massive new market for cloud services like Azure. Many businesses were already building their own version of Digital Twins on top of Azure, but those homegrown solutions didn’t always scale. Now, Microsoft is offering this capability out of the box, and for many businesses, this may just be the killer feature that will make them decide on standardizing their IoT workloads on Azure. And as they use Azure Digital Twins, they’ll also want to use the rest of Azure’s many IoT tools.

The 7 most important announcements from Microsoft Ignite today

The Surface Go is the laptop of the year

As a nearly constant traveler I’ve been looking for something like the Surface Go all my life. I’ve lugged around everything from massive ThinkPads to iPad Pros and I’ve always found myself stuck in one of two situations – the laptops that made the most sense were too heavy to be comfortably portable and the tablets and ultraportables I used, including the Surface Pro, offered too much of a performance trade-off to warrant swapping from a full desktop device.
I tried a number of other laptops over the past year including my daily driver, the TouchBar-powered MacBook Pro, as well as a Lenovo’s oddly designed YogaBooks. Nothing quite clicked. The trade offs were always drastic. Wanted power? Sacrifice weight. Wanted thin and light? Sacrifice the keyboard. Want battery life and compatibility? Sacrifice the desktop experience. So when the Surface Go came out I wasn’t too excited.
Now I am.
When Brian Heater first reviewed the device he found them lacking. “And the Surface Go isn’t a bad little device, at the end of the day. At $400, it’s on the pricier side for a tablet, and certain sacrifices have been made for the sake of keeping the price down versus the souped up Surface Pro,” he wrote. “And unlike other Surface devices, the Go is less about pioneering a category for Windows 10 than it is simply adding a lower-cost, portable alternative to the mix. As such, the product hits the market with a fair bit of competition. Acer and Lenovo have a couple, for starters, most of which fall below the Go’s asking price.”
He’s right. There are thin and lights available for far less, and the Surface Go, with its 6-hour battery life and mid-range specs, is no hard core gaming machine. However, the user experience of the Go when matched with a keyboard cover have blown other contenders out of the water. Why? Because, like Google’s Pixel line, Microsoft knows how to tune its hardware to its software.
The Surface Go easily replaced by MacBook for most activities including light photo editing, writing, and communications. The Go ships with Windows 10 in S mode, a performance improving mode that reduces the total number of available apps available but, thanks to a certification process, ensures the apps will be more performant. It is trivial to turn off S Mode and install any other app you want and most people will do this, realizing that while noble, S Mode just doesn’t fly if you’re trying to use the whole breadth of the Windows universe.
Once I turned off S Mode I could install Scrivener and a few other tools and even got some games running, although the tablet gets a little hot. That’s the real benefit of the Surface Go – you don’t compromise on apps, performance, or size and all of it is specially tuned to the software it runs.
If you’re thinking of exploring the Surface Go you’ll find it’s not the cheapest ultraportable on the market. At $399 for the entry level model – I regret not splurging on the $150 upgrade – and $99 for the keyboard cover – it’s still more expensive than similarly appointed devices from Asus and Lenovo . That said none of those manufacturers could hit on all of the sweet spots that Microsoft hit. In terms of design and ease-of-use the Surface Go wins and in terms of price you’re basically paying a little more for more compatibility and performance.
So if you’re looking for a portable, usable, and fun device that beats many other current laptops hands down, it might be time to turn your gaze on Microsoft. As someone who got sciatica from lugging around too many heavy laptops, your buttocks will thank you.

The Surface Go is the laptop of the year

Microsoft, SAP and Adobe take on Salesforce with their new Open Data Initiative for customer data

Microsoft, SAP and Adobe today announced a new partnership: the Open Data Initiative. This alliance, which is a clear attack against Salesforce, aims to create a single data model for consumer data that is then portable between platforms. That, the companies argue, will provide more transparency and privacy controls for consumers, but the core idea here is to make it easier for enterprises to move their customers’ data around.
That data could be standard CRM data, but also information about purchase behavior and other information about customers. Right now, moving that data between platforms is often hard, given that there’s no standard way for structuring it. That’s holding back what these companies can do with their data, of course, and in this age of machine learning, data is everything.
“We want this to be an open framework,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during his keynote at the company’s annual Ignite conference. “We are very excited about the potential here about truly putting customers in control of their own data for our entire industry,” he added.

The exact details of how this is meant to work are a bit vague right now, though. Unsurprisingly, Adobe plans to use this model for its Customer Experience Platform, while Microsoft will build it into its Dynamics 365 CRM service and SAP will support it on its Hana database platform and CRM platforms, too. Underneath all of this is a single data model and then, of course, Microsoft Azure — at least on the Microsoft side.
“Adobe, Microsoft and SAP are partnering to reimagine the customer experience management category,” said Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. “Together we will give enterprises the ability to harness and action massive volumes of customer data to deliver personalized, real-time customer experiences at scale.”
Together, these three companies have the footprint to challenge Salesforce’s hold on the CRM market and create a new standard. SAP, especially, has put a lot of emphasis on the CRM market lately, and while that’s growing fast, it’s still far behind Salesforce.

Microsoft, SAP and Adobe take on Salesforce with their new Open Data Initiative for customer data

Microsoft’s Quantum Development Kit adds a chemical simulation library

During last September’s Ignite conference, Microsoft heavily emphasized its quantum computing efforts and launched both its Q# programming language and development kits.

This year, the focus is on other things, and the announcements about quantum are few and far between (and our understanding is that Microsoft, unlike some of its competitors, doesn’t have a working quantum computing prototype yet). It did, however, announce an addition to its Quantum Development Kit that brings a new chemical simulation library to tools for getting started with quantum computing.
While there are plenty of applications for quantum computing once it becomes a reality, quite a few experts are betting on chemical simulations as one of the first areas where developers will be able to reap the fruits of this new computing paradigm. It’s maybe no surprise then that Microsoft is also betting on this.
The new library was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Labs. “The library will enable developers and organizations to create quantum-inspired solutions that can be simulated on classical computers today and quantum computers in the future – helping them tackle big chemistry challenges in such fields as agriculture and climate,” Microsoft explained ahead of today’s announcement.
While Microsoft is still working on making quantum hardware available to developers, competitors like IBM and Rigetti already offer working machines that may be limited in their capabilities — as all quantum computers currently are — but that offer developers the ability to test their algorithms on real machines. We’re still a while away from reaching the point where quantum computers will be able to live up to their potential, but as both IBM’s Dario Gil and Rigetti CEO Chad Rigetti told me at our Disrupt conference earlier this year, now is the time to get started with learning the basics.

The reality of quantum computing could be just three years away

Microsoft’s Quantum Development Kit adds a chemical simulation library

Microsoft Azure gets new high-performance storage options

Microsoft Azure is getting a number of new storage options today that mostly focus on use cases where disk performance matters.
The first of these is Azure Ultra SSD Managed Disks, which are now in public preview. Microsoft says that these drives will offer “sub-millisecond latency,” which unsurprisingly makes them ideal for workloads where latency matters.
Earlier this year, Microsoft launched its Premium and Standard SSD Managed Disks offerings for Azure into preview. These ‘ultra’ SSDs represent the next tier up from the Premium SSDs with even lower latency and higher throughput. They’ll offer 160,000 IOPS per second will less than a millisecond of read/write latency. These disks will come in sizes ranging from 4GB to 64TB.

And talking about Standard SSD Managed Disks, this service is now generally available after only three months in preview. To top things off, all of Azure’s storage tiers (Premium and Standard SSD, as well as Standard HDD) now offer 8, 16 and 32 TB storage capacity.
Also new today is Azure Premium files, which is now in preview. This, too, is an SSD-based service. Azure Files itself isn’t new, though. It offers users access to cloud storage using the standard SMB protocol. This new premium offering promises higher throughput and lower latency for these kind of SMB operations.

Microsoft Azure gets new high-performance storage options

Microsoft hopes enterprises will want to use Cortana

In a world dominated by Alexa and the Google Assistant, Cortana suffers the fate of a perfectly good alternative that nobody uses and everybody forgets about. But Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if it just gave up on its investment in this space, so it’s now launching the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to see if that’s a niche where Cortana can succeed.
This new kit is an end-to-end solution for enterprises that want to build their own skills and agents. Of course, they could have done this before using the existing developer tools. This kit isn’t all that different from those, after all. Microsoft notes that it is designed for deployment inside an organization and represents a new platform for them to build these experiences.
The Skills Kit platform is based on the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding feature.
Overall, this is probably not a bad bet on Microsoft’s part. I can see how some enterprises would want to build their own skills for their employees and customers to access internal data, for example, or to complete routine tasks.
For now, this tool is only available in private preview. No word on when we can expect a wider launch.

Microsoft hopes enterprises will want to use Cortana

Amazon's Fire TV Stick is down to $30

Streaming made affordable.

Right now, you can pick up an Amazon Fire TV Stick for $29.99, which is $10 less than it normally sells for. This deal is $5 more than one we posted recently, but it presents you with a nice opportunity to hop on a discount if you missed the last one.

The Fire TV Stick is Amazon’s most affordable streaming hardware that provides quick and easy access to popular services like Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, and more. It has an Alexa-enabled voice remote, which means that you can speak to it and get your favorite shows played without having to search for them manually.

You can also save on the Fire TV 4K and the Fire TV Game Controller for a limited time.

See at Amazon

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Is Amazon or Best Buy a better place to buy Netgear Orbi RBK50?

Best answer: Amazon all the way. They offer expansions that Best Buy doesn’t, Prime Shipping options, and have better protection plans.

Amazon: NETGEAR Orbi (RBK50V) ($319)

Different package deals are saving you money at Amazon

The standard 2-pack of the NETGEAR Orbi Mesh WiFi System (RBK50V) sells for $319 at Amazon. While that might be the same price as competitors, one thing that Amazon is doing is offering the indoor expansion for $250 that comes with a satellite offering up to 2,500 extra square feet of coverage. Then there’s an outdoor expansion for $290 that comes with a satellite that’s safe to install outdoors, also adding up to another 2,500 square feet of coverage. Best Buy doesn’t offer any of these expansions, so Amazon is currently your go-to choice for Orbi products.

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Take control over your door with the $200 August Smart Lock Pro

Knock. Knock.

The silver August Smart Lock Pro is down to $199.99 on Amazon. This lock normally sells for $230 and has only started dropping in price recently. The Dark Gray version is also down to this price.

You could also consider the Smart Lock Pro and August Connect bundle for $249.99. That’s not the lowest price we’ve seen, but it’s better than its usual $280 price. Plus, since the Connect is around $78 on its own you’re saving money over buying these individually. The Connect serves as a bridge between the 3rd generation smart lock and your smart home ecosystem.

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