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LOS ANGELES — Microsoft’s pre-beta version of its Visual Studio .NET platform, “Whidbey”, is offering a trove of new simplified tools and features that should make developers jobs easier, while giving Microsoft critics new fodder, attendees at the Professional Developers Conference here said.

“There are a bunch of features that we’re adding for core language improvements. Edit and continue is one; there’s also one called generics, which is a way of enabling code reuse. So in general the main feedback depends on what kind of a developer you want to be.”

Prior versions of Visual Basic through version 6 had the “edit and continue” feature, but when Microsoft offered the version of Visual Basic .NET, the complexity of tracking a compiled application versus an interpreted application meant that .NET temporarily discontinued the feature, Montgomery said. “A lot of developers missed it. With Whidbey, it’s back.”

The new Whidbey features, many of which extend support for other development languages such as C++, are designed to help developers continue pushing Web services out to their end-users by writing in managed code of the .NET platform.

Like its “Yukon” SQL Server and “Longhorn” Windows operating system pre-beta builds unveiled at the PDC this week, the Visual Studio “Whidbey” tools are trying to help developers and architects simplify the process of designing and building applications, from simple Web and client applications, mobile applications, and global-scale, service-oriented applications, officials said.

Microsoft said the new functions include new Web services designer tools (code-named “Whitehorse”) that enable architects and developers to design service-oriented applications and operations infrastructure easily and simultaneously.

The “Whitehorse” tools deploy a drag-and-drop design surface to connect XML Web services, and then validate the resulting applications against the deployment environment using the System Definition Model (SDM), an upgrade with time and money savings in mind, said Marie Huwe, general manager of the developer tools division for Microsoft.

ASP.NET versions of Whidbey are also supporting themes and master pages in order to make it easy to create and maintain Web sites that have a consistent look and feel.

“With its current Windows version, Microsoft has placed in many safeguards that would discourage programs from installing unprompted,” Wilcox wrote Wednesday.

But officials noted that the .NET framework’s class-based development model, which updates the traditional flat API development model and is a native Web services environment, enables developers to express the same thoughts in less code and develop applications more efficiently, as well as securely.

Security is one of the main themes that developers need to think of as they of the PDC, as they adopt Web services based on open standards, said Eric Rudder, senior vice president of servers and tools for Microsoft.

For example, “think hard about levels of access control and run your components with the least possible privileges,” he told developers this week. “We do a lot of design where we see a lot of components running as admin- privilege, which can compromise the entire system if the component is compromised. And think about adding new defensive layers.”

In many instances, he added, boosting security at the development level is often a matter of getting “fresh eyes on the code” in order to be more proactive about secure design.

Whidbey is expected to be released into beta by the first half of 2004 with a release to manufacturing by the end of the year. SQL Server is also expected to be released on a similar schedule and Longhorn is widely expected to be released in 2006.

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Social Media Marketing – Not For Everyone?

After 10 years of preaching the merits of search engine optimization to sceptical business owners, I’ve found there’s a new challenge in online marketing and it’s a funny one.

Nearly all business owners I meet think they should use social media marketing to promote their businesses, but a good number have a real aversion to using social networking channels.

Do you convince such people that they need to push on, as social media marketing is a necessity these days, or is social media just not for everyone?

Whilst we’ve all heard the benefits of using social media to promote businesses, the dilemma is that using social media as an effective marketing tool also requires:

some technical ability (albeit pretty basic);

time, when you may already have issues with time management;

putting yourself ‘out there’, the social aspect of social media is intimidating to many;

creative writing skills;

a budget to hire a professional to get started or run your campaign, if you just cannot manage it internally.

Even after discussing the ways of managing all of these issues – sometimes over and over again – I still get resistance in many cases.

“I can’t see myself telling the world what I’m having for breakfast.”

“I just don’t get Facebook.”

“It’s just not ME!”

So I’ve become a Social Media Marketing Evangelist, and I’ve been able to convert nearly all of those ‘with little faith’ through:

inspiring with case studies of related businesses that have shown real results through social media marketing;

brain storming content ideas related to the areas of the business that the client is most passionate about;

using channels that are most suited to the clients skills and interests – videos for YouTube may really excite a person less inclined to write blog posts;

working out a time management plan that fits with the clients’ other responsibilities;

identifying others that may assist the client (at no or low cost) – teenage children are a good resource for sole traders, while using a variety of staff members works in larger organisations;

showing how to set a realistic budget for social media marketing in case professional assistance is needed on a regular basis;

setting up tools for integrating accounts and automated posting;

discussing the other benefits of using social media – communicating with and retaining existing customers, networking, keeping tabs on competitors, etc.;

meeting the sceptical parties in an organisation to get their buy-in and discuss setting up a social media marketing plan and policy.

Usually at some point along this path I see the client become more comfortable with using social media.  Most become full converts after signing on new clients and making more sales through their social media efforts, for example:

a small business owner, who barely used email a year ago, is now happily chatting with prospective clients on Twitter on a daily basis;

a sole trader that couldn’t see himself ‘rattling on about my daily habits online’, has a popular YouTube channel showing off his services;

a marketing assistant that had to struggle with the business owner for the okay set up a social media campaign, now amazes him with the number of sales they get through their Facebook page and Twitter.

Perhaps the super sceptics will have to take their chances using more traditional marketing methods, but as there has been such a shift in marketing practices toward using social media, they may very well fall behind their competitors and will have to come to terms with it sooner or later. In this case they are probably best off hiring a professional social media consultant to run their campaigns for them.

Social Media Marketing may not suit everyone initially, but it’s definitely something that business owners, marketing and sales staff do need to come to terms with to be competitive in the business world today.

Asus Chromebook C433Ta Review: The Laptop For Everyone

Pros

Classy design

Solid performance

Great battery life

Cons

Struggles with games

Stiff hinges

Our Verdict

Asus has remained committed to Chromebooks for years and with the C433TA it seems to have distilled all that experience into an impressive laptop. The build quality is solid and stylish, while the power on offer makes everything smooth sailing no matter how many tabs are open. Gaming performance is the only issue, but it’s not really the market that Asus is aiming at. So, if you want a quality Chromebook that looks great, works well, and has huge battery life, this is the one.

Best Prices Today: Asus Chromebook C433TA

Retailer

Price

$279.00

View Deal

Asus has updated its Chromebook lineup once again with the catchy C433TA, a model which boasts a 14in Nanoedge display squeezed into the shell of a 13in laptop. We see if it’s more than just a pretty face in our full review.

Price & Availability

Chromebook prices have been creeping up in the past few years, so while you might expect one to cost £200/$250 they now regularly push past that figure by some way. The Asus C433TA is no exception, mainly due to the higher display quality and components than the initial cheaply-made devices that started off the whole Chromebook craze. 

The Intel Core m3-8100Y model with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage has an RRP of £499 but is readily available for £399 from Amazon, John Lewis, and Currys PC World.

Customers in the USA will have to wait to get their hands on the new Chromebook, as the device is still to be released in North America but should appear soon.

Design & Build Quality

Taking the C433TA out of its box reveals a slim, long body with a brushed aluminium alloy chassis. The top cover’s edges are bevelled and anodised, making them shiny, smart looking, and adding a touch of class to the aesthetic. 

Thick hinges reveal that this is a 360-degree-style design, so you’re able to fold it flat on a desk, put it in a tent shape or wrap the display round flat against the back of the keyboard, creating a large, if somewhat cumbersome, tablet. 

Opening the unit is a bit of a struggle as those hinges are stiff. This means it’s a two-handed job, as trying it with one only lifts the whole thing up off the desk. Of course, because of these sturdy hinges we were able to use the C433TA in all of the aforementioned positions without worrying that the display would slip, so it’s swings and roundabouts. 

Putting the C433TA in a standard laptop mode lets the gorgeous screen take centre stage. It’s a 14in IPS panel running at 1920×1080 with a 16:9 widescreen format. Thin bezels give the whole display an 85% screen-to-body ratio, and Asus calls the configuration Nanoedge. 

As we’ve grown to expect in modern Chromebooks it also has touch-screen capabilities, so you can either navigate through web pages, documents or play games from the Android store using your fingers. 

Should you prefer more traditional methods then there’s the chiclet keyboard and large trackpad. Using the former feels a bit spongy to begin with, but we soon adjusted and found it to be a fast and accurate platform. The keys are backlit and you can control the brightness by holding down the Alt key and using the brightness keys.

Curiously, due to the key markings being transparent, putting it on the lowest brightness actually makes the letters pretty much disappear. So, either turn the lights off or up to a brighter level. 

The trackpad works well for the most part, although the surface does have some friction, making the movements less smooth than we’d like. Of course, this could reduce over time as the pad gets some daily use, so we won’t count it against the C433TA. 

Twin speakers are found on the underside of the chassis, with additional grills on the flanks. Volume can reach a decent level that will fill a small room, bass is on the light side but not uncomfortably so. 

Moving on from the side speakers there’s also a microSD card slot, two USB-C 3.1 ports, a USB 3.1, 3.5mm headphone jack, plus volume controls and the power button.

Specs & Performance

Certainly during our everyday use the C433TA performed without any noticeable slowdown, even with multiple tabs open and content streaming in the background. 

One area it did struggle was gaming, although we’re unsure whether this was a power issue or the touch sensors. PUBG was hard to control, with touches and finger movements not registering on multiple occasions, plus we experienced similar issues with less graphically-challenging games that required fast responses. Because of this, we’d recommend not really considering this particular device if gaming is high on your list. 

We put the C433TA through the standard benchmarks test and it scored 447.46 on Basemark 3.0 and 78 on Jetstream 2 making it one of the strongest performers we’ve seen.

4GB of LPDDR3 1866MHz RAM are onboard, with 64GB of eMMC storage keeping things ticking along nicely. On a standard Windows 10, Linux or macOS laptop this amount of storage would be a ludicrously low amount, but as ChromeOS is primarily designed to keep things in the cloud rather than on the hard drive it’s plenty.

As is standard with new Chromebooks you’re also entitled to various promotions run by Google that offer large amounts of space for free on the Google One servers. 

To test the battery life we streamed a Full HD video from YouTube, a rather lovely cracking fireplace, until all the power was drained. This took a mightily impressive, 11 and a half hours. So, the C433TA isn’t going to have any problems lasting the working day and then some.

Software

ChromeOS is coming along nicely, bolstered by Chromebooks now able to run Android apps. The interface is simple, as it’s essentially the Chrome browser with a few extra bits and pieces, so most people already know how to use it from the get go. 

The Google suite of apps make it instantly productive, with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides all free and capable replacements for Microsoft Office. Gmail integration is built right into the system, and the Web Store provides a good range of other apps. 

If you’re looking for a simple, easy to use machine then a Chromebook is a great choice, so long as you realise that many Windows and macOS apps won’t work on the system. But, there are usually alternatives or online versions that will serve you instead.

Verdict

With a street price of around £400/$400 Asus has pitched the C433TA perfectly. It’s a good looking machine, well built and has enough power to deliver pretty much anything you want from a Chromebook. 

The sluggish gaming performance is  a disappointment, but that’s about it, and if we’re honest who buys a machine of this sort to play games?

Huge battery life is a much more useful feature and a decent selection of ports makes the C433TA a versatile laptop. If you’re looking for a quality Chromebook, this one needs your serious attention.

Specs Asus Chromebook C433TA: Specs

1.1GHz 8-generation Intel Core m3 8100Y processor

4GB LPDDR3 1866MHz RAM

64GB eMMC storage

14in IPS Nanoedge display, 1920×1080 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio

ChromeOS

Dual speakers

microSD card slot

2 x USB-C 3.1 ports

1 USB 3.1

3.5mm headphone jack

Volume controls

Power button

Backlit chiclet keyboard

HD webcam

802.11ac

Bluetooth 4.0

321.7 x 207 x 16.5 mm

1.47kg

Ticpods 2 Pro Review: The Airpods For Everyone

Our Verdict

Mobvoi is giving users even more control when it comes to interaction with the TicPods 2 Pro. Alongside the return of “Tickle Touch”, new gesture and voice-based control make these a versatile set of truly wireless buds. An impressively small charging case and a considered range of colours also appeal, but not everyone will back Mobvoi’s decision to ditch the in-ear design of the TicPods 2 and 2 Pro’s predecessors, nor will some of the performance inconsistencies encountered.

Chinese AI specialist Mobvoi is bringing its second-generation true wireless buds, the TicPods 2 and 2 Pro, to the world.

Originally launching in China at the end of 2023, these new buds step in the opposite direction to Apple’s most recent wireless earbuds in one regard, whilst also gaining new functionality absent from their predecessors, the TicPods Free, in another.

The Chinese company first stepped into the true wireless space in early 2023, with the TicPods Free. Their stalked design immediately led comparisons to be drawn with Apple’s iconic wireless buds.

If you’re already sure you’re not tempted by TicPods 2 or 2 Pro, why not check out our roundup of the Best True Wireless Earbuds you can buy right now – comprised of everything we’ve reviewed so far.

Price & Availability

While both the TicPods 2 and 2 Pro are already available to purchase in China, international variants were announced at CES 2023 (the Consumer Electronics Show) on January 7 and made available to pre-order on the same day.

Both versions are available to purchase through Mobvoi’s existing retail channels and its regional online stores starting January 15.

Like their predecessors, the new TicPods offer relatively aggressive pricing, coming in at £85.99/$99 and £119.99/$129 for the 2 and 2 Pro, respectively.

Design & Build

With this year’s iterations, the company is more closely aping Apple’s original true wireless buds from a design perspective, with an all-plastic body that forgoes the TicPods Free’s extended ear tips for a less-intrusive vented design (meanwhile, Apple’s new AirPods Pro move in the other direction embracing silicone ear tips, which are absent on the classic  AirPods).

While open-bud designs such as these are few and far between (Apple, Huawei and Razer being among the few major companies with similarly-fashioned products), Mobvoi apparently made the change from one generation to the next based on user feedback. The new design allows for passive passthrough of external sounds, for those who like to maintain a level of audio awareness about their surroundings.

The trade-off is weaker sound isolation, compared to the likes of the TicPods Free, plus a looser fit – especially when working out, where sweat against the plastic finish can cause the buds to slide out of your ears if you’re not careful (it’s worth mentioning these buds’ IPX4 certification against dust and water, though).

While functionality differs between the TicPods 2 and TicPods 2 Pro, the actual design and finishes you’re able to pick these buds up in remains consistent across both variants.

The included charging case resembles that of the previous generation, with accentuated wave-cut detailing along the top to add a bit of interest, however, Mobvoi’s also managed to make it 42% smaller, with the intention that it’s compact enough to fit into the coin pocket generally found in the average pair of denim jeans – a trait that does hold water in practice, even though it’s an undoubted squeeze.

The case and buds come in one of three colour-matched hues at launch: Navy and Ice (dark blue and white) which the TicPods Free were also sold in, alongside a new Blossom (pale pink) colourway – again, an inclusion that came out of Mobvoi listening to its users.

The punchy Lava (orange/red) found on the original TicPods is also set to feature, but not until later in the year, coinciding with the likes of Valentine’s Day in relevant markets.

While there’s no doubting how impressive the compact nature of the TicPods 2 charging case is compared to most of the alternatives out there, the layout and finish leaves a little to be desired.

For one, the plastic feels a little cheap and this sense carries across to the flimsy lid design too, which was likely kept thin to keep weight down but flexes all too easily when handled.

The buds snap magnetically inside the charging case with an angled overlap but the positioning of each bud seems counterintuitive to how the average user would pry them from their respective beds.

Functionality & Controls

Like their predecessors, the TicPods 2 line features a touch-sensitive strip along the stalk of each bud. Both variants offer touch controls which the company calls “Tickle” touch; letting you change the volume, pause, play and skip tracks, make and end calls, and envoke your device’s virtual assistant.

Questionable naming aside, it’s an impressively robust means of interaction and intuitive enough to work out without much practice. Some controls can be customised by way of Mobvoi’s companion app too, which also doles out battery percentage breakdowns for each bud, plus the charging case.

Here’s where the Pro model steps out in front most prominently. Unlike the standard TicPods 2, the Pro model also packs in what’s called TicHear and TicMotion.

The first adds voice controls to the experience, letting you summon your phone’s virtual assistant (be it Android or iOS-based) using the phrase “Hey, Tico”, which works reliably well, even in noisy surroundings. There are also voice commands for the aforementioned touch controls, covering both media playback and call handling.

TicMotion, meanwhile, adds gesture-based controls, such as shaking your head up and down or side to side to accept or reject incoming calls.

We were dubious about this feature’s reliability but sure enough, so long as you make deliberate shaking motions with your head (just a couple of nods or turns – no need to give yourself an injury), the TicPods 2 Pro convert your motion into call acceptance or rejection with surprising reliability.

Once you start to gauge the sensitivity of the accelerometers at work, this feature comes in handy when your hands are full and someone’s trying to ring you.

Performance & Battery Life

Despite different Qualcomm-based Bluetooth chips between the two variants, both 2 and 2 Pro make use of the latest Bluetooth 5.0 standard. Support for the company’s own aptX audio profile is on hand when the TicPods are paired with compatible Android phones too, but the buds default to standard AAC support when used with iOS devices.

We did encounter an inconsistency across devices, with one bud sometimes failing to connect to iOS devices, while some Tickle touch gestures, like pause and play, only partially seemed to work on mobile, but then behaved as promised when used in conjunction with MacOS. 

The TicPods 2/2 Pro output sound through 13mm drivers, delivering a fairly flat sound with weak bass but good definition. There’s also the option of single or (superior) dual-microphone noise cancellation during calls, respectively.

Noise reduction is serviceable on the 2 Pro, with call recipients stating that conversations are discernable, even with background din, however, switching to the phone’s own microphone and earpiece still makes for a cleaner call experience.

The buds themselves each contain a 30mAh battery, while the case sports a 390mAh cell of its own. Battery life across the board is par for the course, considering the competition, with the richer feature-set of the Pro model actually resulting in weaker longevity compared to the more reserved TicPods 2.

Mobvoi quotes four hours of music playback from the buds themselves but a reduced 20 hours, compared to 23 hours, by the time you exhaust the 2 Pro’s charging case.

In practice, four hours seemed conservative, with our testing leading to around five hours of use from the buds before needing to go back in the case, however, without clear understanding of the setup, audio source and volume that Mobvoi gleaned its official figures from, it’s unsurprising that there’s a level of variability when it comes to longevity.

As for the case – expect to charge it daily and you should be fine. 20 hours, broken down into intermittent stints actually only means you’ll likely have just-enough to get through a day’s use. Based on the figures, the standard TicPods 2 should get you from one day to the next with a little more breathing room.

Verdict

Mobvoi’s new true wireless buds offer a rich feature set, a considered range of colours and aggressive pricing for those after some AirPods alternatives.

The functionality offered up by the TicPods 2 Pro in particular highlights the company’s strengths in AI and user interaction – something that’s prevalent across its other products, like the equally fresh-faced TicWatch Pro 4G LTE.

Where they fall down is with regards to a couple of fundamentals: the open-style ear tip’s fit won’t be for everyone and longevity measures in at just enough for daily use, no more.

Specs Mobvoi TicPods 2 Pro: Specs

13mm drivers

TicHear voice commands

TicMotion head gesture control

Touch controls

Dual-mic noise cancellation

Qualcomm aptX support

Battery life = Up to 4 hrs (buds only)

Battery life = Up to 20 hrs (with case)

Fast charging

Quick pairing

In-ear detection

Multi voice assistant support

Bluetooth 5.0

IPX4 dust and waterproof resistance

USB-C charging port

30mAh battery (each bud)

390mAh battery (charging case)

4.4 grams (each bud)

29.5 grams (charging case)

Colours: Navy, Ice, Blossom

Why Everyone Is Abandoning Sha

The Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) has been perhaps the most instrumental tool in the fight against hackers during the beginning of the 21st century. Its ability to encrypt data without an immense amount of effort while demanding an inordinate amount of hardware to break it has kept our accounts and data safe for the better part of a few decades. This is why it may come as a surprise that all the major browser developers appear to be unanimous in the idea that SHA-1 should be abandoned completely in favor of its bigger brother, SHA-2. Why is everyone suddenly determined to phase it out by 2023, and why couldn’t both of them coexist?

Hashing Explained

In order to understand SHA, we have to look into the process and purpose behind hashing as a practice. A hash is a string that represents a particular asset but doesn’t substitute it. In simpler terms, unlike most cryptographic algorithms, you can hash a sentence but you cannot “un-hash” it. The only way this is useful is if the destination server doesn’t necessarily need to know the content of the data. Instead, it only needs to compare the hash of your input with the hash inside its database and authenticate you when both of them match. This is why hashes are so useful when storing account passwords; the server doesn’t need to know your actual password to authenticate you into a site.

Why Is SHA-1 Being Abandoned Then?

If hashes are so difficult to reconstruct into actual data, then why is it that everyone is in such a hurry to phase it out of existence? All of it has to do with hardware.

You see, a hash can be “hacked” if someone can stumble upon input that produces the hash that coincides with the value that a server has in storage. If your account password has the hash b27263b7466a56b1467822108f5487422d054bbb, a hacker only needs to find another piece of text (it doesn’t necessarily have to be your password) that could create that exact combination when it is hashed. It used to be extremely expensive to acquire the kind of hardware that could do this within a reasonable amount of time. In the year 2024, however, this could all be done with the help of a cluster of GPUs. As hardware becomes more powerful and cheaper, it will be so inexpensive to solve SHA-1 that even small-time hackers and enthusiasts could feasibly do this.

Meet SHA-2

To do away with the problems that have plagued SHA-1, SHA-2 has been created as a family of cryptographic algorithms with the purpose of making life extraordinarily difficult for well-to-do hackers. Since browsers and hosts will stop using SHA-1 certificates, the cost of hacking an account through the above-mentioned method would be astronomical. SHA-2 uses a maximum of 512 bits in its output, giving it the space it needs to ensure that any attempt to decipher and reproduce the string would take an unreasonable amount of time. Of course, this algorithm will also be broken at some point in the future and will eventually be replaced by another one that can continue the fight.

For the foreseeable future, however, SHA-2 will remain the champion of the Internet.

Miguel Leiva-Gomez

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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Suddenly, Microsoft’s Surface Cameras Are A Compelling Feature

Virtually everyone now realizes that a good webcam matters. 

That might not have mattered as recently as February, when we reviewed the Surface Pro 7 Windows tablet. But in a world suddenly aware of what a ring light is, good, well-lit video is important. Webcams have become our window to the world. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or WebEx are replacing restaurants, conference rooms, hotels, cafes and coffee shops as the new “places” where people connect.

Consumers have quickly realized what TV and streaming personalities have known for decades: Viewers must be able to see and hear you clearly. No one wants to be a webcam zombie, especially now. But even Microsoft’s own employees required a shove in the right direction.

Mark Hachman / IDG

This is our life now.

A legacy of superior cameras

Most people tend to forget Microsoft’s exceptionally strong legacy of camera work. The group that develops the Surface cameras is the same group that worked on Microsoft’s standalone Lifecam Webcam business. The camera was one of the iconic features of the Lumia 1020 and other members of the defunct Windows Phone lineup, which migrated to Microsoft in 2013 as part of the Nokia acquisition. Microsoft subsequently manufactured the Lumia 950 before shutting down the business. 

Mark Hachman / IDG

Though Microsoft never technically manufactured the Lumia 1020, its massive image sensor and excellent color fidelity helped identify Microsoft’s phone platform with superb image quality.

Likewise, the original Microsoft Surface included a pair of 720p “Lifecams” on the front and rear when it debuted in 2013. With the Surface Pro 3, which represented the coming-of-age for the Surface Pro tablet line, Microsoft upgraded the user-facing camera quality to its current 5MP specification . 

“It took a while to convince people that webcams—the environments that they’re used in—are really pretty low-light,” said Doug Beck, the director of engineering of A/V systems for the Microsoft Surface team. 

Fortunately, Microsoft had the space within the company’s Surface Book and Surface Pro tablet bezels to install a larger sensor. A larger silicon area allows the sensor to capture more light, in conjunction with the camera’s lens. Microsoft’s goal was to install “as big of an aperture lens that we can put in,” Beck said, which is a F2.0 aperture. Microsoft then put its engineers to work moving up and down the scaling pipeline, including the image signal processor, to improve SNR. Microsoft works with its third-party suppliers and provides active feedback to help design better denoisers and other improvements, he said.

Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft researchers and engineers work together to determine an accurate color spectrum that’s reflected in both the cameras as well as the Surface displays, like the Surface Pro 7.

Blending art and science

“It’s just mentally straining when the audio quality is not good, and it’s mentally straining when the video quality isn’t good when you rely on it. Most people just stop looking at you, and you kind of lose that dimension of interactivity.”

Mark Hachman / IDG

Remember how some laptop manufacturers thought that a keyboard-mounted webcam was a good idea? Microsoft mounts its Surface webcams at the top of the display.

Designing a better webcam, Bathiche said, means more than just the mechanics of delivering a high-definition signal across the Internet. It’s a fusion of art and science, and artistry enters when the science isn’t good enough.

Portraying an individual accurately is essential to representing their identity. Microsoft spent a lot of time just matching skintones. “We have some IP to match skin tones, across the variability of skin tones that are out there,” Beck said. “We do a really good job of matching those up and presenting them across the calibrated pipeline.”

Microsoft also has color scientists trained in the psychovisual aspects of the human visual system, Beck explained, blended with their background in color science. “We do objective testing to fall within certain contrast and color accuracies, but then the end of our process is really a subjective process,” Beck said. “They’ll make certain adjustments that sometimes don’t feel like they go with the science, but they provide the best possible outcome.”

The future is not more megapixels

(In the first Surface RT, Microsoft tilted the rear camera so that it would be pointed straight back when the tablet was reclined with the kickstand. “We knew that people weren’t going to use it to take family photos,” Bathiche said. “That wasn’t its purpose.  If it were, we would have done things differently. But we also felt that …hey, when you wanted to show someone something, or help me fix my DVD player, it was really nice to have a rear camera in these scenarios.”)

Microsoft

Microsoft’s rear-facing Surface cameras may not get a lot of attention, but they boast autofocus capabilities and can capture 8MP still images or 1080p video.

Will Microsoft be increasing the megapixels in successive generations? Actually, no. Though the Microsoft execs wouldn’t discuss details of the sensor itself, Bathiche said that it hasn’t changed from the prior generation, calling it the “sweet spot” of what laptop camera use can be.

“There’s a lot of interesting parallels between how we design our displays to how we design our cameras,” Bathiche said. In both, Microsoft never tried to design a product by trying to put a number that’s higher than our competitors, Bathiche said.

Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft’s new Camera app can “read” documents, such as this whiteboard.

That belief carries over into how Microsoft designs cameras. “If you add more pixels there, you’re just giving me a smaller pixel which collects less light, which makes noise higher, which makes it harder to manage thermals,” Bathiche said. 

So would Microsoft ever include, say, a ring light on a Surface to better illuminate users? Again, Bathiche says that’s not the focus—Microsoft believes that the combination of a great sensor and great optics make up for that.

Where Microsoft is going, however, is the AI route—not surprising, given all of Microsoft’s recent work in the field. “For the future, the things we’re looking at are using way more sophisticated algorithms, things like deep neural networks, to essentially extract image features that are just way, way, way down in the noise floor,” Bathiche said.

That’s left the PC, and its camera, front and center in our lives. “The beauty is that we’ve seen the PC really kind of be that new virtual place where the office is cool,” Bathiche said. 

Updated at 2:36 PM with to clarify Bathiche’s title.

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