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Microsoft hid lots of secret nerdy messages to devs in its Build stream

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If you tuned into Microsoft’s Build developer keynote yesterday, one of the things you may have seen was a mysterious “RGV2cw” 3D-printed object on the shelf behind CEO Satya Nadella. It was part of many Easter eggs hidden throughout Microsoft’s Build stream, spelling out “devs” in Base64 format.

The shelf also had little Easter eggs hidden away, including an 8-inch floppy disc, an original Microsoft cap, the GitHub Octocat mascot, and even a Gold Master CD-ROM that Microsoft used to use for shipping final software to PC makers.

As Build moved on from Nadella’s opening remarks to Scott Hanselman, a partner program manager at Microsoft, the Easter eggs ramped up. With most of Microsoft’s employees working from home and streaming from their living rooms, Hanselman created an hour-long TV show that was delightfully nerdy.

Hanselman’s Windows theme changed the color of the lights in his room, even switching to red when he set his Microsoft Teams status to busy. It was all powered by PresenceLight, an app that syncs the accent color from a Windows theme to Philips Hue lights. “We actually wrote a custom app to do that to listen to the backgrounds changing,” explains Hanselman in an interview with The Verge.

Even Hanselman’s desktop included an Easter egg, revealing that Microsoft’s Edge browser is coming to Linux soon. Elsewhere, an Amiga bouncing ball appeared on one of the screens. The Amiga Boing Ball demo was created for CES in 1984, demonstrating how custom chips could fake an effect without using CPU power. It wow’d people just as Amiga was getting ready to launch its Commodore personal computer, ushering in an era of classic video games like Worms and Lemmings.

If the Amiga reference and Base64 encoding wasn’t nerdy enough, an ASCII dashboard showing off Azure data centers even appeared as a Microsoft Teams background. Microsoft employees also appeared in color-coordinated polo shirts, with the company’s green, red, blue, and yellow logo colors all on display.

All of these fun Easter eggs really underlined a different Build conference this year. The pandemic made it impossible to host Build in Seattle, but Microsoft put on a remote show instead. While recent Build conferences have felt like Azure sales pitches, Nadella comfortably displayed his technical knowhow by whittling off the tools and platforms that matter to developers instead. It really brought Build back to its developer roots.

“We had scripts and storyboards. We put it on like it was an hour of television,” says Hanselman. The nerdy feel and intimacy took weeks of planning, and the film Searching and a Modern Family episode — both shot entirely on PCs and phones — inspired the Build keynote heavily.

“We really feel strongly about our developer community … a lot of us do this because we love it,” says Hanselman. “We also thought about this medium … I’m in your ear, and we thought this out. We didn’t just pull Build out of our butts.”

The typical stage and hype were removed, and it felt like dialing into a Microsoft Teams call that moved from one house to the next. Microsoft put a big focus on developers this year, with software and updates to really back that up.

The ASCII Azure background.

Build usually has 20 percent of its attendees from around the world, with the other 80 percent flying into Seattle from other US locations. This year, 65 percent are from the rest of the world, so inclusion is key. That’s reflected in a variety of languages supported in closed captions in the Build streams and even American Sign Language support.

And 95 percent of the presenters are remote, meaning several hundred people are delivering Build sessions from their bedrooms, home offices, and kitchens. “We were taking some pretty significant technology risks,” reveals Bob Bejan, Microsoft’s head of global events. Microsoft had to quickly work with its engineering teams to create a fully remote Build event. “It’s risky because we’re putting it into production immediately with large numbers of attendees.” The rapid work has meant two years of natural evolution for Microsoft events has been compressed into eight weeks, according to Bejan.

It’s clear Microsoft and Hanselman had fun putting together Build this year under the difficult circumstances of this pandemic. At one point, Microsoft Windows and devices chief Panos Panay appeared on the stream to talk to Hanselman. Panay is always pumped about everything, and Hanselman brought up a notepad during his chat with Panay and typed out “I feel like this might take a while” before jokingly fading him out with a Windows XP shutdown sound.

The majority of presenters seem to be having fun streaming live from their homes, too, providing question and answer sessions, training, and more. Hanselman admits he was worried it wasn’t going to work out, though. “Let me tell you, I was scared out of my mind it wasn’t going to land,” he says, but that “being fancy and blinged-out with a studio isn’t inclusive. Being a human is.”

There are more Easter eggs that will appear today and tomorrow as Microsoft brings its 48-hour marathon to an end. Hanselman put them in because developers have a keen eye for spotting things and solving problems — or, as he puts it: “Freaking nerds love this stuff.”

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Microsoft says CEO Satya Nadella has talked to Trump about buying TikTok

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In a blog post Sunday, Microsoft said it was “prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States,” following a conversation between its CEO Satya Nadella and President Trump. It’s the first time the company has confirmed reports it was in talks to acquire the video sharing platform.

“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury,” the blog post reads. It adds that the company expects to move “quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks, and in any event completing these discussions no later than September 15, 2020.”

The blog post also says that “the two companies have provided notice of their intent to explore a preliminary proposal that would involve a purchase of the TikTok service in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and would result in Microsoft owning and operating TikTok in these markets.”

It’s unclear how Microsoft would sever those countries from other areas where TikTok operates, like Europe and Africa. Microsoft also did not commit to undertaking the purchase entirely on its own, saying that the company “may invite other American investors to participate on a minority basis in this purchase.”

President Trump had threatened to ban TikTok in the US on Friday. Trump indicated to reporters that he was ready to sign a document to order the TikTok ban as early as Saturday, either via an executive order or emergency economic powers.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the possibility of a ban as early as July 7th, saying it was “something we’re looking at.” TikTok is a subsidiary of Beijing-based ByteDance, and critics have called out its privacy practices and potential ties to the Chinese government. Pompeo also compared TikTok to Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese companies that have been designated as threats to US national security.

The blog post describes the discussions as “preliminary,” but addresses the privacy concerns, saying the company would “ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.

“To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States,” the post continues, “Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred.”

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Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may try to be the Xbox Phone

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Samsung’s Note 20 Ultra, which is expected to launch on August 5th at the next Samsung Unpacked event, may be highly optimized to stream Xbox games over xCloud, according to a new report from WinFuture.

While that might come as a surprise, Samsung and Microsoft have actually gotten pretty cozy over the past year. Last August, at the last Galaxy Note launch event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella appeared onstage to recognize an increased partnership between the two companies, and the two companies announced that Samsung would preinstall Microsoft’s Your Phone app, Office apps, LinkedIn, and OneDrive on the Galaxy Note 10.

The two companies also announced they would be partnering on a cloud-based game streaming service in February. A Microsoft-made game streaming service would also fill a hole for Samsung, which shut down its own PC-to-phone game streaming service in March. More than 90 games will apparently be available to stream on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra over xCloud, according to WinFuture.

WinFuture’s report also included details about Samsung’s new flagship Note. The phone is expected to have a 6.9-inch screen with a 3200 x 1440 resolution, and will apparently be capable of a variable refresh rate of up to 120Hz, similar to the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The phone may also be the first to have Corning’s Gorilla Glass 7.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is expected to have three cameras on a huge camera bump — which we’ve seen on previous leaks of the phone — and WinFuture mostly corroborates other rumors about those cameras. WinFuture says the phone will have a 108 megapixel main camera, a 12 megapixel ultrawide camera, and a 12 megapixel periscope lens (though leaker Ice Universe reported it would be 13 megapixels) that can magnify up to 50X. That zoom would a step down from the Samsung S20 Ultra’s hyped 100X zoom, but that turned out to be gimmicky in real-world use, so perhaps the reduced zoom will result in better photos. And the hole-punch front camera is 10 megapixels, reports WinFuture.

The S Pen stylus in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may only have a latency of nine milliseconds, according to WinFuture. And YouTuber Jimmy Is Promo revealed that the Note 20 Ultra could have a new “pointer” mode that will let you use an on-screen cursor by pointing the S Pen at the phone, as shown in a video posted earlier this month.

Rounding out the specs, WinFuture reports the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra will work on 5G networks, comes with either 256 or 512 GB of storage that can be expanded via microSD, and has 12GB of RAM, Wi-Fi 6, and a 4,500mAh battery.

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Mixer is getting a big Fortnite tournament series hosted by Ninja

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Microsoft’s Mixer streaming platform is making a bigger splash in the live event game with a new tournament series starting this week featuring Fortnite player Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Called Ninja Battles Featuring Fortnite, the weekly tournament series will take place starting this week on May 28th and lasting every Thursday through July, reports Deadline.

The event will be hosted on Ninja’s Mixer channel, which is the platform’s most popular channel since the streamer left Twitch last August to join Microsoft’s competitor as part of a lucrative multiyear streaming deal. Ninja’s high-profile departure, orchestrated in part by his management team at the talent agency Loaded, inspired a wave of new contracts spanning the entire live-streaming ecosystem. In the months after Ninja left Twitch, several popular gaming entertainers followed him and signed new deals with other streaming platforms.

Just in the last few months alone, Twitch and YouTube have locked down popular creators like Imane “Pokimane” Anys and YouTube megastar Felix “Pewdiepie” Kjellberg to their respective platforms.

Ninja Battles Featuring Fortnite will feature $400,000 in prize money and bring together 60 Fortnite pros and other big names in the Twitch and broader live-streaming world, including Nicholas “Nick Eh 30” Amyoony, Fortnite World Cup champion Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, and Faze Clan streamers Nate Hill and Soleil “Ewok” Wheeler. Everyone will be streaming from the comfort of their home during the pandemic.

Ninja will of course be a centerpiece of the event, which is being co-produced by Ninja himself and his management team Loaded. He’ll participate in the competitions, while popular community members “BallaTW” and “MonsterDface” will commentate. Notably, Ninja was the first streamer to host a live and in-person Fortnite tournament in early 2018, just months after the game first came out and long before developer Epic Games formed an official esports circuit for the title.

“I joined Mixer to push boundaries, create different types of streaming content and interact with fans in new ways,” Ninja said in a statement. “Ninja Battles brings a new kind of gameplay to the community. I am excited to share this competitive experience with my fans as well as have my fellow gamers and friends participate.”

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