Microsoft’s new Office icons are part of a bigger design overhaul

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Microsoft is modernizing its Office icons as part of a broader focus on design for its various Office apps. It’s the first time the Office icons have changed in five years, and they’re designed to be more simple and modern to span across multiple devices and platforms. Office now exists on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, and Microsoft has been building a single core codebase to make rapid monthly improvements to the apps. These icons are designed to reflect how Office has changed recently, with new AI features, more collaborative features, and its platform independence for key apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

The new icons deemphasize the letter for each Office app, but still manage to look familiar. “Our design solution was to de-couple the letter and the symbol from the icons, essentially creating two panels (one for the letter and one for the symbol) that we can pair or separate,” explains Jon Friedman, partner director of design at Microsoft. “This allows us to maintain familiarity while still emphasizing simplicity when inside the app.”

Google hints shutting down Google News over EU’s implementation of Article 11 or the “link tax”

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Last week, The Guardian reported that Google may shut down Google News in Europe if the “link tax” is implemented in a way that the company has to pay news publishers. According to the “link tax” or Article 11, news publishers must receive a fair and proportionate remuneration for their publications by the information society service providers.

The vice president of Google News, Richard Gingras expressed his concern regarding the proposal and told The Guardian that the discontinuation of the news service in Europe will depend on the final verdict, “We can’t make a decision until we see the final language.”

The first draft of the “link tax”, or more formally, Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was first issued in 2016. After several revisions and discussions, it was approved by the European Parliament on 12 September 2018. And, now a formal trilogue discussion with the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament is initiated to reach the final decision. The conclusion of this discussion is expected to be announced in January 2019.

Another part of the proposed directive, Article 13 is designed to ensure content creators are paid for material uploaded to sites such as the Google-owned YouTube. Article 11 and Article 13 have faced a lot of criticism since the directive was proposed. Mr. Gingras further said that when in 2014 the Spanish government attempted to charge a link tax on Google, the company responded by shutting down Google News in the country. It also removed Spanish newspapers from the service internationally. This resulted in a tremendous fall in traffic to Spanish news websites. “We would not like to see that happen in Europe,” Gingras added.

Julia Reda, an MEP, however, believes that this “link tax” will not be as extreme as the link tax implemented in Spain, where Google was required to pay publishers even if they didn’t want to be paid. “What we think is more likely is that publishers will have the choice to ask for Google to pay or not,” she told WIRED.

To know more in detail about Google’s response towards the link tax, read the full story on The Guardian.

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube is a set top box crossed with an Echo

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Amazon just added another model to its increasingly crowded selection of living room offerings. There’s bound to be some consumer confusion around the line, but the Cube differentiates itself by bridging the gap between Fire TV and Echo. Sure, past set top offerings have incorporated Alexa control, but this latest addition folds in the full smart speaker experience.

In fact, the Cube looks like a big, square Echo Dot. It’s not much to look at, honestly, but the familiar design elements are all there, including the four Echo buttons on top and a glowing blue light that lets you know when Alexa is listening.

The Fire TV Cube follows the lead of the JBL Link Bar announced back at I/O, which has Chromecast built in and effectively doubles as a Google Home when not in use. Here, however, the speaker is only really good for Echo-like functionality. Amazon is largely banking on users bringing their own home theater system to the table.

The upshot of that is that the device runs $120 normally, a price that includes an IR extender capable and ethernet adapter. And those who pre-order the thing in the next two days can get their hands on one for $90. There’s also a $200 bundle that includes Amazon’s Cloud Cam, for those who really want to go all in with Amazon hardware.

Microsoft snaps up GitHub for $7.5 billion

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As we anticipated yesterday, Microsoft has reached an agreement to buy GitHub, the source repository and collaboration platform, in a deal worth $7.5 billion. The all-stock deal is expected to close by the end of the year, subject to regulatory approval in the US and EU.

Decade-old GitHub is built on Git, the open source version control software originally written by Linux creator Linus Torvalds. Git is a distributed version control system: each developer has their own repository that they make changes to, and these changes can be propagated between repositories to share those changes. GitHub provides a repository hosting service: a place to put those repositories so that other developers can readily access them. Since its inception, it has become a mainstay of the open source world, with countless projects—including Microsoft projects such as the Visual Studio Code text editor and the .NET runtime—using GitHub repositories as a place to publish their code to the world and coordinate collaborative development. In total, some 28 million developers use GitHub, and there are 85 million code repositories.

Microsoft has reportedly acquired GitHub

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Microsoft has reportedly acquired GitHub, and could announce the deal as early as Monday. Bloomberg reports that the software giant has agreed to acquire GitHub, and that the company chose Microsoft partly because of CEO Satya Nadella. Business Insider first reported that Microsoft had been in talks with GitHub recently.

GitHub is a vast code repository that has become popular with developers and companies hosting their projects, documentation, and code. Apple, Amazon, Google, and many other big tech companies use GitHub. Microsoft is the top contributor to the site, and has more than 1,000 employees actively pushing code to repositories on GitHub. Microsoft even hosts its own original Windows File Manager source code on GitHub. The service was last valued at $2 billion back in 2015, but it’s not clear exactly how much Microsoft has paid to acquire GitHub.

Microsoft has been rapidly investing in open source technology since Satya Nadella took over the CEO role. Microsoft has open sourced PowerShell, Visual Studio Code, and the Microsoft Edge JavaScript engine. Microsoft also partnered with Canonical to bring Ubuntu to Windows 10, and acquired Xamarin to assist with mobile app development.

Microsoft is also using the open source Git version control system for Windows development, and the company even brought SQL Server to Linux. Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code, which lets developers build and debug web and cloud applications, has soared in popularity with developers. Microsoft’s GitHub acquisition will likely mean we’ll start to see even closer integration between Microsoft’s developer tools and the service. At Build last month, Microsoft continued its close work with GitHub by integrating the service into the company’s App Center for developers.

London launches world’s first contactless payment scheme for street performers

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Here’s a casualty of the cashless society you might not have previously thought of: the humble street performer. After all, if more of us are paying our way with smartphones and contactless cards, how can we give spare change to musicians on the subway? London has one solution: a new scheme that outfits performers with contactless payment terminals.

The project was launched this weekend by the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and is a collaboration with Busk In London (a professional body for buskers) and the Swedish payments firm iZettle (which was bought this month by PayPal for $2.2 billion). A select few performers have been testing iZettle’s contactless readers on the streets for the past few weeks, and Khan now says the scheme will be rolled out across London’s 32 boroughs.

Charlotte Campbell, a full-time street performer who was part of the trial, told BBC News that the new tech “had a significant impact on contributions.” Said Campbell: “More people than ever tap-to-donate whilst I sing, and often, when one person does, another follows.”

The readers need to be connected to a smartphone or tablet, and accept payments of fixed amounts (set by the individual performer). They work with contactless cards, phones, and even smartwatches. There’s no detail yet on how many readers will be provided to London’s street performers, or whether they will have to pay for the readers themselves.

Although individuals do sometimes set up their own contactless payment systems (and in China, it’s not uncommon to see street performers and beggars use QR codes to solicit mobile tips), this seems to be the first scheme of its kind spearheaded by a city authority.

Microsoft Buys Conversational AI Company Semantic Machines

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In a blog post, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of AI & Research David Ku announced the acquisition of Berkeley, California-based conversational AI company Semantic Machines. The natural language processing technology developed by Semantic Machines will be integrated into Microsoft’s products like Cortana and the Azure Bot Service.

On its website, Semantic Machines says that existing natural language systems such as Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Google Now only understands commands, but not conversations. However, Semantic Machines' technology understands conversations rather than just commands. Some of the most typical commands that digital assistants can handle today include weather reports, music controls, setting up timers and creating reminders. “For rich and effective communication, intelligent assistants need to be able to have a natural dialogue instead of just responding to commands,” said Ku.

Microsoft turns SharePoint into the simplest VR creation tool yet

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Microsoft is sticking with its pragmatic approach to VR with SharePoint spaces, a new addition to its collaboration platform that lets you quickly build and view Mixed Reality experiences. It's a lot like how PowerPoint made it easy for anyone to create business presentations. Sharepoint spaces features templates for things like a gallery of 3D models or 360-degree videos, all of which are viewable in Mixed Reality headsets (or any browser that supports WebVR). While they're certainly not complex virtual environments, they're still immersive enough to be used for employee training, or as a quick virtual catalog for your customers.

"Until now, it has been prohibitively complex and costly to develop customized MR apps to address these and other business scenarios," wrote Jeff Teper, Microsoft's corporate VP for OneDrive, SharePoint and Office, in a blog post today. "SharePoint spaces empower creators to build immersive experiences with point-and-click simplicity."

Google AI can make calls for you

During the on-stage demonstration, Google played calls to a number of businesses including a hair salon and a Chinese restaurant. At no point did either of the people on the other end of the line appear to suspect that the entity they were interacting with was a bot. And how could they when the Assistant would even throw in random "ums", "ahhs" and other verbal fillers people use when they're in the middle of a thought? According to the company, it's already generated hundreds of similar interactions over the course of the technology's development.

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