Quantum goes open and passwords must die in a week of Microsoft fun

Roundup Microsoft was cock-a-hoop over its new London retail presence last week while its resellers were less than impressed with the company's prancing around licensing. However, a whole bunch of other things happened at the company while we were looking at the big stuff.

Phone screen goes wide (if Surface is your thing)

A fresh build of next year's Windows 10 turned up in the form of build 18936, which enabled the Phone Screen function of the Your Phone app to work over more Surface Devices (the Surface Laptops, Surface Books and Pro 4, 5 and 6 tablets join the sluggish Go in supporting the tech)... This is assuming, of course, you're one of the brave Fast Ring Windows Insiders.

A new Marvell driver did the trick, and means Android phone users with a recent-ish Surface device can now squint at their phone screen on their, er, PC screen. The functionality is handy when it comes to responding to Android notifications that might otherwise require a reach for the handset.

The gang also added the ability to enter reminders directly into the calendar pop-up that appears when clicking the date on the taskbar. The requirement to use the Administrator privilege when firing up the Windows Sandbox has also been dealt with.

Alas, while the Insider team can giveth, they also taketh away. A compatibility bug with a storage driver has meant this build simply won't install on some machines. While a roll-back should happen, if you're one of the lucky users receiving the c1900101, the advice is to pause updates until Microsoft gets around to fixing the thing.

Also borked for a few users is the display driver, with some being dropped into the delightfully retro world of the Microsoft Basic Display Driver. If you're one of those affected the advice is, again, to roll back and wait for a fix.

Going passwordless

Bugs aside, one intriguing feature in the latest 20H1 build is the account option to "Make your device passwordless" meaning the system will switch all Microsoft accounts on the device to use Windows Hello Face, Fingerprint or PIN authentication.

Microsoft is on a mission to kill off passwords, and also flung out a public preview of FIDO2 security keys support for passwordless sign-in to Azure Active Directory (AAD).

Admins brave enough to use the preview feature can allow users to skip the whole pesky password thing and sign in using a FIDO2 security key, the Microsoft Authenticator app, or Windows Hello (biometric or PIN.)

The gang has added a blade to the AAD admin portal to allow passwordless sign-ins to be enabled for individual users or groups. Handy for some limited testing because, like we said, this is still very much a preview, although it is the way the software giant intends to go as far as authentication is concerned.

Marching into a Microsoft future free of pesky consumers - VR next for the chop?

Visitors to Microsoft's swish new London retail orifice would, as well being left a little deafened by the bass-heavy music, wonder if the company had much of a consumer play anymore.

Sure, there was plenty of Xbox hardware and laptops aimed at gamers. But something consumery that wasn't a Surface? Nope, unless you managed to find the Office 365 corner.

Admittedly, the company has retreated from the phone market, and devices such as the Band were crushed beneath the mighty feet of Azure. But a trickle of new hardware indicated that perhaps the Windows Mixed Reality future might not only be for the HoloLens.

Alas, not only was Microsoft's take on the idiot visor conspicuous by its absence from its flagship store, but last week an arch-Windows-prodder who goes by the Twitter handle WalkingCat hinted that Remix 3D - a kind of community 3D clipart library - was for the chop.

Sadly for those still hopeful that there were plans for VR in Redmond outside of a business setting, it was soon confirmed that Remix 3D was indeed destined to be locked in the cupboard marked "it seemed a good idea at the time" on 10 January 2020. Just before the venerable Windows 7 breathes its last.

It's an ignoble end for the platform, launched around the time of the Windows 10 Creators Update, when it looked like Microsoft was keen to get creatives onboard. Now, sadly, Remix 3D can join the long list of other platforms, such as Groove, launched with much fanfare and then left to wither as the company moved on to more corporate climes.

VR headsets that aren't a HoloLens are surely next in line for that sad-faced Microsoft engineer and her freshly sharpened axe.

Open sourcing Quantum

While the actual hardware remains as vapourlike as ever, Microsoft has continued to press ahead with the whole Quantum computing thing.

The company introduced the Quantum Development Kit (QDK) 18 months ago and last week lobbed the code onto GitHub for users to contribute their own apps and algorithms, as well help the software giant deal with the mind-bending concepts behind the technology.

The dream of Quantum computing is to perform complex operations far quicker than traditional computers, but the hardware is still a while away. That, however, has not stopped Microsoft relentlessly beating the drum for the technology.

The QDK includes the Q# programming language, simulators and resource estimators for quantum code. There are also extensions for Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code as well as Jupyter integration.

Azure Pipelines welcomes Jira and DOM debugging in Visual Studio Code

Microsoft continued its efforts to woo developers by buddying up with Atlassian to inflict Jira on Azure Pipelines. The theory goes that those who prefer Atlassian's take on issue tracking can kick things off in Jira while Azure Pipelines takes care or CI/CD.

The integration means that milestones like builds and deployments associated with a Jira issue can be tracked in Jira.

Azure Boards are all very well, but some users just want the CI/CD goodness.

Users, alas, have been underwhelmed so far. Some have commented that only GitHub is supported and the thing doesn't work with an Azure DevOps Git repo. Meaning commits aren't visible. Oops.

The Azure DevOps team admitted that there was "no official way" to do the linking, but promised pipeline traceability "soon".

As one user remarked as a one-star review was dispensed: "When is this 'soon'?"

Still, there were some other useful goodies dispensed last week to Visual Studio Code users not afraid to run the gauntlet of the Chromium Edge preview in the form of Elements for Microsoft Edge.

While in-browser DOM-botherers are nothing new, a VS Code extension allowing a user to inspect and debug the DOM from within the source editor itself is a handy thing to have. Changes to the CSS and HTML are updated in the web page, meaning a developer can remain in the warm embrace of VS Code. For Chromium Edge at least.

The Edge gang insist that this is not part of some nefarious plan to migrate the Edge DevTools out of the browser and fully into the VS Code IDE, but more aimed at improving developer workflow.

It is also very, very preview. More so, in our opinion, than the browser itself. So we'd advise some caution if you take it for a spin.

The team cheerfully admits that, as an early prototype, "it won't be perfect and we expect to learn a lot along the way." ®

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