Microsoft Monday: Negative Skype Reviews, Increasing Broadband In Rural Areas, New Outlook Features – Forbes

Microsoft Monday is a weekly column that focuses on updates in regards to the Redmond giant. This week, Microsoft Monday includes details about a plan to increase broadband in rural areas, new Outlook app features, negative Skype reviews, the Seeing AI app, how the Calibri font could bring down a Prime Minister and much more!

Microsoft’s Plan To Increase Broadband In Rural Areas

Microsoft has plans to improve rural broadband access by tapping into TV white spaces spectrum over the next five years. Many people in rural America relies on radio-powered modems, satellite connections and weak cable connections. So Microsoft will be repurposing white spaces in the 600 MHz frequency range to help deliver the Internet to thousands of people.

This would not be the first time that Microsoft utilized white spaces for deploying Internet connections. Microsoft has experience with this type of project in 17 other countries already.

Broadband Plan By County

Microsoft

Broadband Plan By County

“One of the big benefits of this new approach is a dramatic reduction in the cost of bringing broadband rates to rural communities. By relying on this mixture of technologies, the total capital and initial operating cost to eliminate the rural broadband gap falls into a range of $8 to $12 billion. This is roughly 80 percent less than the cost of using fiber cables alone, and it’s over 50 percent cheaper than the cost of current fixed wireless technology like 4G,” said Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith in a blog post.

Microsoft has a goal of connecting 2 million people in rural America by 2022 and is working several partners to get it done. However, the FCC will need to ensure that three channels below 700 MHz will remain unlicensed for wireless in every market in the country and that additional TV white spaces will be available in smaller markets. And Microsoft believes that federal and state infrastructure investments should include targeted funds on a matching basis for the capital investments for expanding coverage into rural areas that do not have access to broadband today.

Microsoft will be starting the white spaces service in 12 states including Washington, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Virginia, New York and Maine. Microsoft plans to work on the project with Virginia-based Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities and Maine-based Axiom Technologies.

Microsoft Redesigns Navigation And Conversations In Outlook For Android And iOS

Last week, Microsoft announced several new features for Outlook on Android and iOS. Outlook on Android and iOS now has a “redesigned conversation experience” with the ability to switch between accounts and browse between folders. Now you can quickly reply to everyone by tapping the quick reply box. And you can tap the recipient’s list to edit or the ellipsis to see additional actions.

From a navigational perspective, Microsoft redesigned the account and folder menu to provide faster access to all your accounts. Outlook will show more of your conversations at once and it has a clearer separation between individual messages. And after you tap on a conversation to read it, Outlook will automatically open to show the first unread message. 

Microsoft will also soon add a new intelligent search to make it easier to find an item while on the go. Plus when you tap on a contact from the search box, it will pull up the new People card. The new intelligent search will be based on the Microsoft Graph.

Skype’s Ratings Decline Following Redesign

Skype app for iOS

Microsoft

Skype app for iOS

Ever since Microsoft redesigned the Skype app in early June, the ratings have been plummeting. The ratings of the Skype app on the Apple App Store in the US dropped to 1.5 stars from 3.5 stars. And the Skype app on the Apple App Store in the UK dropped to 1 star. The consensus is that the new Skype app looks too much like Snapchat, which is not the experience that its user base wants. Some of the new Skype features include the ability to use emoji during video calls and there is a Highlight option that is just like the Snapchat feature.

Microsoft acknowledged that it is aware of the negative feedback from the new design. So some of the old features are being brought back such as status display for your contacts on the home screen and native sharing capabilities on Android and iOS. We want you to know we’ve been listening, updating, and responding to your feedback. We’re committed to providing you with an amazing experience we know only this newest generation of Skype can deliver,” said Skype in a blog post.

Microsoft To Shut Down Surface Hub Facility In Oregon

Last week, Microsoft confirmed a round of layoffs and one of the affected units will be a Wilsonville, Oregon-based manufacturing plant for the Surface Hub conference system devices. According to Biz Journals, about 124 jobs will be cut in the manufacturing plant shutdown. The Oregon plant was included as part of Microsoft’s acquisition of Perceptive Pixel Inc. (PPI) in 2012.

The plant shutdown does not mean that Microsoft will be ending the Surface Hub project. There are rumors that Microsoft is working on the Surface Hub 2 line of devices.

“We are consolidating our Surface manufacturing. This will result in the closure of the Wilsonville, OR office and factory. We remain committed to the Surface Hub product line and will move forward with Surface Hub development in Redmond,” said a Microsoft spokesperson via ZDNet.

How The Microsoft Calibri Font Could Bring Down The Pakistani Prime Minister

Many government officials are known for political corruption, but this is the first time that I have heard of a Prime Minister potentially being exploited by a font. This was determined by investigators reviewing the documents by Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Prime Minister’s family claims that the documents were created in 2006.

Interestingly, those documents were written in the Calibri font — which was not integrated into Microsoft’s Office software until 2007. But version 1.0 of the Calibri font was available as a download back in 2005. Those facts will be taken into consideration if the Supreme Court in Pakistan reviews the case. This case is being discussed on social media with the hashtag #fontgate.

Dawn, an English newspaper in Pakistan, asked for the opinion from the Calibri creator Lucas De Groot. “Why would anyone use a completely unknown font for an official document in 2006?” said Groot via Dawn. “If the person using Calibri was such a font lover that he or she had to use the new Calibri, then he or she should be able to prove that other documents were printed with Calibri in 2006, and these prints should be in the hands of other people as well.”

Sharif is currently in his third-term and he was ousted twice in the past. Now Sharif is being accused of perjury for forging documents and hiding his wealth.

Microsoft Seeing AI: An App For Visual Impaired People To Experience The World Through Audible Descriptions

According to The Verge, Microsoft has released a new app called Seeing AI — which utilizes artificial intelligence to describe what the camera lens on the device is looking at whether it is people, documents, scene or objects. The app can even describe who a person is and how they are feeling. And the app can also scan barcodes. Best of all, the artificial intelligence is run locally on their device so users will not have to use data for it to work while on the go. It is available for download on iOS now.

Microsoft Announces AI for Earth

Last week, Microsoft revealed a new project called AI for Earth. The AI for Earth program will center around artificial intelligence projects based on agriculture, climate change and biodiversity, according to TechCrunch. Microsoft will donate up to $2 million in training, services and tools for the project. This project will be overseen by Microsoft Chief Environmental Scientist Lucas Joppa.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Rebranded As Autumn Creators Update For Certain Users

Microsoft is rebranding the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (codenamed Redstone 3) as the “Autumn Creators Update” for certain users. In many parts of the world, the fall season does not follow summer. So some countries that will see the “Autumn Creators Update” instead of the Fall Creators Update includes the UK, Australia, New Zealand and India, according to Windows Central.

Microsoft Monday includes seven days worth of updates from the Redmond-based software giant. What are your thoughts about the “Microsoft Monday” news from this week? Please leave a comment!

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