Microsoft Designer was first announced back in August of 2022 and has been available in a limited preview to since January this year to gain early feedback from users.
This week however, Microsoft announced that (whilst still in preview), the AI driven social media content creation platform would be available for anyone to try. Microsoft also announced plans to include the tools into their Edge browser in much the same way they have provided the ability to use the new Bing AI search.
Introducing Microsoft Designer
Microsoft Designer is a “Canva-like” designer tool aims to provide a simple, sleek and AI infused tool to help business and consumers quickly produce high quality online content such as social media posts, greeting cards, banners, branding, alerts, promotions etc.
Powered by DALL·E and built as a progressive web app, Microsoft Designer is the latest AI powered tool now in ‘preview-mode, which joins Bing Chat and Bing Image Creator along with many other tools which can be accessed on their own or from within the sidebar of their Chromium powered Edge browser.
Available from https://designer.microsoft.com or from the Edge side bar, users can use Designer to manage and create animations, impressive visuals, text, and design templates specifically for sharing on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, TickTok and Instagram, or of course on enterprise social tools within an organisation like Viva Engage [aka Yammer].
Here’s some of the great things you can do today in Designer.
Easily create designs with >20 different social media layout sizes across Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Automatic (manual override) of elements such as text, video and images to best accommodate your chosen layout, reducing time needed to manually format you posts.
Wide range of animation features including auto text transitions and animated backgrounds.
Save or share directly with social media your finished creations.
Being in preview there is still more to come and the app will continue to evolved based on user feedback and their development lifecycle. Here’s more AI powered tools that Mcirosoft are working on which will be coming “soon”.
New Fill tool that allows users to select an area of a design and quickly place an object in that location
Simple erase function which will allow the user to brush over a person/object in the design and have Designer remove the object, generate and replace it with another image
Expand Background tool, which will be able to quickly fill any gaps within the foreground of your design, and
Replace Background which will be able to switch the background to a new one preserving the rest of your design.
Why integrate into Edge?
Microsoft say that by integrating Designer into Edge, they are bringing these capabilities straight into where people work. Since it will be accessible directly via the edge sidebar, users can access it by simply clicking on the Designer icon. Microsoft say this makes the tools accessible and “in the flow of creativity“, meaning users can quickly create unique designs instantly by simply describing the graphic you want without needing to leave the page they are, switch windows, load apps, or download custom extensions to the browser.
The aim is to improve the workflow and “keep you in the moment” – since whilst creating a social media post, Designer in Edge will provide AI-powered design suggestions to include in the post, which can then be customised and published without needing to leave the browser of switch apps.
As with any preview, Microsoft encourage users to feedback on their experience of using designer – both as a dedicated service and as a Edge browser integrated experience.
Competing with the Design giants
Designer is still in preview and there is lots Microsoft need to do to get it to the level of comparison with other apps like Canva and Adobe, both of whom have recently released their own AI-powered features. Microsoft have done a great job so far and by opening the preview up to the masses and with their recent investment in OpenAI, I expect a plethora of enhancements and new features to keep coming.
Microsoft has released Windows 11 Insider builds ( 22621.1680 and 22624.1680) with fixes and new features. Build 22624.1680 gets fixes and new features whereas 22621.1680 just gets fixes this time round. The full release notes are here.
Evolved Widgets Board
Microsoft say they are starting to revamp the widget board experience (based on user feedback).
This includes a larger (dynamic) canvas (3-columns if supported by the device) and introduction of new zones to provide quick access to new glanceable widgets from their apps and services. Users will also be able to take a high-value break with their personalised feed which will more personalised and customised that the current version.
As always (and an ask from the Windows Insider community and Dev team is) “please file your feedback” on the new experience using the Feedback Hub (🪟 + F, Desktop Experience, Widgets).
Now in public preview, you can now make your Microsoft Teams calls now sound much more pleasing to the ear as Microsoft gives Teams a huge audio quality upgrade in the form of spatial audio support.
What is spatial audio?
Spatial audio works by virtually positioning sounds in the space around you which makes communication sound and feel more natural, inclusive and focused. It makes a significant difference and once you’ve experienced it, you won’t want to turn it off.
Spatial audio can make audio within the Teams meeting more natural, inclusive and focused for all. Spatial Audio is already used by lots of video and media platforms to improve the audio quality in films and music etc. For Teams, it now makes sound though stereo devices sound much more immersive and realistic, significantly improves the quality of virtual meetings.
This means that during a meeting, you can hear exactly where each participant is located, as if they were physically present in the same room. The result is an immersive and realistic sound experience that enhances collaboration and communication.
Another benefit of Spatial Audio is that it reduces background noise and echoes. This creates a clearer and cleaner sound, improving the overall sound quality of the meeting. This is especially useful for people working in noisy environments or with less than optimal acoustics
“This new audio experience spatializes the voices of attendees across the visual meeting stage in the Gallery view. This helps make conversations more natural, increasing the sense of audio presence, and making the conversation easier to follow when multiple people are speaking together”.
Spatial Audio | Pre requisites
Devices: To use spatial audio within Teams, you need to be using USB-wired stereo headphones, your laptop stereo speakers or external / monitor stereo speakers. Bluetooth audio is not currently supported for spatial audio – but it soon will.
People: To experience this effect, the meeting must have more than two participants in gallery view.
Bandwidth: To preserve audio quality, Teams will turn off spatial audio if your network’s bandwidth or computer memory is too low.
Teams Client: You need to be using the Teams Public Preview (it will be generally released in mid June).
How to turn on Spatial Audio
With spatial audio enables, when people speak, you’ll hear their voices coming from their relative positions on the meeting screen as per the gallery view. Here is how to enable it..
Before the meeting 1. Go to your Teams calendar and select the meeting you’d like to join. 2. Before you join, select Device settings. 3. Under Speaker section, make sure you select your compatible device. 4. Toggle the setting to enable Spatial audio.
During a meeting You can also activate Spatial in the meeting by 1. More “…” > Settings > Device Settings:
Notes and other info
Spatial audio will be enabled in Gallery view
For the best exleriwnxe, you need three or more attendees in the meeting.
1:1 calls and large meetings are not yet supported (but will be).
Wireless audio devices are not yet supported (but will be).
Feature is in public preview now and expected to available to all mid-June ate May to mid-June 2023.
Originally announced at Ignite in October 2022, Edge Workspaces provides a new way for people to separate browsing tasks into dedicated windows so you can stay focused and better organised across research and search related tasks.
As example, you might (like me) be planning a family holiday – with each family member doing their own googling (sorry binging) and research around where to go, where to stay, how to get there and where to eat. Now – rather than everyone sharing links on messaging apps, Edge Workspaces aims to provide a streamlined and more synced way to research together – through the creation of “shared workspace in Edge” dedicated to what ever you need to do together. These spaces (you can have multiple) can have their own name and colour, set of tabs and individual favourites. What’s great is that these can be co-authored and updated by everyone, making it much easier to keep in sync and stay focussed by keeping this in its own workspace.
Note: you you don’t have to share them…. Just good for organising….
Create your first workspace…
The first thing you do when you start using it is to create a new workspace [you need to be enabled for the preview first – see below to enable it).
First, if enabled (you need to be running Edge Dev), you will see the workspaces icon on the top left of the Edge browser. Edge will then walk you through getting started – it’s fairly straight forward as you can see below.
I will create a new one.. (yes we need to book a family holiday)
Workspaces then appear at the top of the page (in the colour you chose at set-up)
From here, you can do a bunch of things!!! For example you can add edit the workspace, and most importantly, invite people to your space to start collaborating with you… To do this, simply click the “invite to workspace”.
Let’s share our workspace…
To start sharing, select the “invite to workspace“. Edge creates a unique sharing link and from here you can simply copy and paste the link and send it via email or other preferred method. When they click on the sharing link (assuming they are running Edge Dev too), they will be able to start collaborating.
Staying on the same (web) page
Once the other people you invite accept the invite (see below), they can start adding to your shared workspace with you with the changes happening in real time.
Security First: Each member will only see content that they have access to. You must be signed in with a personal account to use Edge Workspaces, and Microsoft will not share browser or confidential account data like logins, cookies, and passwords with anyone else who has access.
I also wish there was a OneNote or Digital scratch pad in the workspace, to allow members to add notes and comments. – have filed this as feedback.
Does it work on mobile…? Not yet. I’m running Edge Dev on my Samsung phone and currently cant see my shared workspaces… hopefully this will come soon (feedback filed).
Getting access to the publicpreview
If you’re ready to get on the same (web) page and try out Edge Workspaces, you can access the preview here. The pre requisites are quick short but Microsoft are limiting how many people get access in the first wave!
You need to be running Microsoft Edge version 111.0.1661.51 (or higher) and also need to be signed in with your Microsoft account.
As a previewer, you get five (5) invites to send to friends and family to allow them to also join the preview.
Workspaces are only available on PC and Mac to start with (hence wont be accessible on mobile yet).
After using as Surface Pro 9 5G for 6 weeks as my daily device, this blog is my hands-on review of, IMO, an “almost” perfect device for working from “almost” anywhere!
Surface Pro 9 5G is a super thin, every bit premium, two-in-one device that continues to improve over the previous iterations. It has superb battery life and fast, always-on data with support for 5G sim and e-sim.
The Surface Pro 9 5G (SQ3)
The Surface Pro 9 range is beautifully designed, and is the first model of Surface device to come with the option of super-fast 5G support built in. Note that the Surface Pro 9 comes in two variants. The Intel version (without 5G) and the SQ3 [ARM-64] version which features built in 5G chipset along with a new NPU chip which adds additional uniqueness to the device (more on that later).
What I lovedabout it
What liked less!
✔️ Great battery life and fast 5G connectivity
❌ Windows on ARM still needs stability improvements
✔️ Premium build quality
❌ Feature differences between Intel and SQ3 (ARM) models is confusing
✔️ Best-in-class kickstand, keyboard and pen / inking experience
❌ Not all colour options available across the range
✔️ NPU – provides advanced AI powered camera and voice call features
❌Still need to buy keyboard separately,
✔️ Full HD webcam
✔️ Supports USB-C charging
Surface Pro 9 5G likes and dislikes
Overall look, feel and use
The Surface Pro 9 5G is every bit gorgeous in design and feel as previous Surface devices and looks almost identical to its sister the Surface Pro 9 (Intel version). Both are premium in every way, and feature the impressively thin, aluminium case, 13-inch 120Hz PixelSense display, and perfectly designed (optional) type-covers keyboard which now also houses the (also optional) Surface Slim Pen 2. Both models feature the built-in kickstand, which lets you prop up the screen on a table and adjust is smoothly to any viewing or working angle.
The Surface Pro 9 5G claims to have a 21-hour battery life, positioning it as the ideal choice for remote users who need a slim, sleek device without the need to carry a power supply and use clunky, unsecure coffee shop internet hotpots. This device is simply perfect for that [almost].
In my experience, the battery life was simply the best of any Surface I have ever used. Even in video calls all day and with multiple apps running, a mix of wireless and cellular (5G) usage I still have close to a third battery remaining after a 10-hour day here, there, and everywhere.
On the Surface 🤣 – outside of the internal upgrades and battery, the Surface Pro 9 is almost identical to the Surface Pro 8 and hardly distinguishable from even the older Surface Pro 7. The Surface Pro range works though – so I see no reason to make drastic changes.
Connectivity without boundaries
The Surface Pro 9’s built-in 5G connectivity support both eSIM and physical nano sim card.
I used a physical sim (which can be easily fitted into the Surface Pro 9’s expansion area under the kickstand). My 02 SIM was recognised within about fifteen seconds and being 5G enabled was giving speeds of close to 80Mbps down and 12 Mbps which was rather good. As you can see from the image above, it is also easily to swap out the SSD with a Microsoft supported SSD should you need to in the future.
The ability to have 5G available whenever I needed it is certainly something I could get used too as I didn’t have to worry about trying to join an access point in a café or customer office or tether my mobile phone (not that that is hard to do, but the process is just more seamless and slicker).
Surface Pro 9 5G – AI through its’ Neural Processing Unit
One of the new features in Windows 11 that is bought to life with the Surface Pro 9 5G is new AI enhanced video and audio enhancements known as Windows Studio Effects. Surface Pro 9 5G’s front-facing camera it’s enhanced and assisted by the NPU, that powers feature such as automatic framing, hardware-based background blurring and sustained eye contact during video calls all of which work much better than the native teams (software) experience – the automatic framing super smooth. These features work across any video app too as it happens at hardware as you can see in the example below.
Note: These new AI features are only available with the Surface Pro 9 5G (which runs ARM) – which means the Intel version of Surface Pro 9 cannot take advantage of these features. While Intel’s 12th-gen CPUs are powerful, they don’t have an NPU built-in.
If you do have the 5G Pro 9 (or another OEM device with an NPU) you can access the setting from the Setting App in Windows 11.
Surface Pro 9 with 5G starts at £1,089 (ex VAT) which gets you the entry level device with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD – though another £50 gets you the 16GB / 256GB version. Remember – you also need to add the type of cover keyboard and Surface Slim Pen.
Surface Pro 9 5G generally works out around £100 more than the Pro9 Intel based devices, but bear in mind the Pro 9 5G has, well, built in 5G connectivity. I would say, however, with the current “in-perfections” with Windows 11 on ARM (which is mainly due to lack of apps natively compiled for ARM-64) and that the performance of the Intel chipsets is better than that of the ARM based device, I had hoped that the Pro 9 5G would be cheaper than the intel version.
Changes in port and button layout.
Microsoft has moved the buttons and ports around a little from the previous generations of Surface Pro. For example, there is no 3.5mm headphone jack (which may annoy some). The two USB-C have also moved from the same side as the Surface Connector port to the opposite side, which gives them more space (this is the same as the Surface Pro X). They have also moved the power/sleep and volume rocker from sides of the device to the top of the Surface Pro 9 5G in line with other Surface devices including the Surface Book and Laptop.
“Optional” Keyboard and Pen
For me, the “optional” Typecover keyboard and Slim Pen are a necessity to get the best from a Surface Pro device such as the Surface Pro 9 5G.
The keyboard is full-sized, with comfortable spacing between the keys and 1.5mm of travel on a per-key basis for a satisfying typing experience. The Alcantara cover on the keyboard provides a nice level of comfort when typing, the 4-inch-wide touchpad is nicely positioned and in each reach.
The new type-cover, which was first available on the original Surface Pro X, features built-in storage for the Slim Pen which is a positive change to having a pen magnetically stuck to the side of the device like the previous generation of Surface Pro devices (Pro 3 to Pro 7 range). What’s more the Surface Slim pen automatically charges (no more AAAA batteries) when docked on the keyboard.
To reveal the pen, we just pull the keyboard away from the screen and pluck out the Pen. It’s always fully charged and ready to use with a pen-friendly display.
Overall, this is a more elegant and secure way to manage the pen.
Audio, Sound and Cameras
Surface Pro 9 features dual far-field microphones, which means no one will have any trouble hearing you, while the SQ3’s neural engine brings special background noise-canceling capabilities.
Speaker-wise, you get a pair of 2W Dolby Atmos-supporting stereo speakers that provide a clear and crisp sound with no distortion even at high-volume. The speakers are good for everything from video call meeting audio, to watching films in HD on the crisp 120Hz screen.
At the back of the device is a ten-mega pixel camera which is capable of capturing superior quality images and can also record in 4K.
As with all Surface Devices (except the Laptop Go), you also get Windows Hello Camera, which can be used with Windows Hello and Windows Hello for Business for biometric (MFA) authentication – meaning in short, you can unlock and logon to your device with your face which is highly secure and much better than using passwords.
Display, Touch and Ink
The screen (which follows the usual 2:3 display ration) is vivid and offers dynamic 120Hz refresh and a high resolution of 2880 x 1920 (267 ppi).
Brightness is good for most light conditions with a max brightness of 450 nits and a contrast ratio of 1200:1. This is good but not super bright and other devixes such as iPad Pro do have better. That said, it was fine for my use and I never had any brightness issues which I just left on Windows auto-brightness.
Surface of course, also benefits of being both a touch- and incredible ink/pen screen.
Inking on Surface Pro 9 felt super natural – and when taking notes in OneNote really felt like ink was flowing out of the nib of the Slim Pen 2 and onto the digitial notebook. The latest Surface Slim Pen 2 is the most precise yet and also includes haptic feedback to make it feel as if you’re scratching a pencil across real paper. The Pen is lightweight, comfortable to hold, and never slips from your grip when holding it or writing.
What I love about the Surface Pen experience is that they use both ends of the pen – you get the inking nib and then a digital eraser on the other end, which is both a button and a digital eraser. There’s also a button along the pen body that you can use to activate various features in a number of apps which can be configured by the user – In OneNote, for instance, it can be used to quickly access the eye-dropper colour picker.
Battery and PowerConsumption
If battery life and versatility is top of list for your next Windows 11 device, Surface Pro 9 5G does an awesome job.
Microsoft claim “up to 19 hours”, but in my experience I got well over a full day of use. By that I mean I managed a full day of use (starting at home, in the office, client meeting, coffee shop) and then still had 29% battery in the morning which was enough for email on the train and my first meeting before I had to connect it to my portable USB Charger.
Beware of the buts…..
Microsoft’s vision on a creating an ultra-thin, ARM-powered Surface are great, but the vision is not yet a full reality. Don’t get me wrong – this is nothing like the original attempt (if you remember or bought a Surface RT back in 2012). The Pro 9 5 is a great device and runs Windows 11 brilliantly, but there are some practical issues. If you’re at all interested in a new Surface, buy the Intel model and get a hotspot on the side.
I love the Surface Pro 5G, but there are a few things that stop me giving this a 10/10. Some of these are niggles, some of them should attract a cheaper price and some might put you off. Then again – these are my opinions and I welcome yours.
The names can be confusing
Microsoft now has a single product line running on two very different chip designs – one built on Intel’s x86 hardware and another built on Microsoft’s custom SQ3 ARM system-on-a-chip (which is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3). This can be confusing for buyers.
Performance and app compatibility needs to be understood
Of course, the Intel-powered Surface Pro 9 can run all the modern and legacy Windows apps you need.
The ARM/SQ3 model, however, can run a fewer set of apps natively (those that are ARM native apps) – whereas all other x86 apps need to run in an x86 emulated mode which naturally leads to slower performance. Windows 11 does fully supports x64 emulation, so the Pro 9 with 5G can pretty much run any x86 apps, but that doesn’t cover many games.
Microsoft claim that performance between the Intel and ARM / SQ3 models should be comparable which they are with native ARM apps, but there is occasional lag with older apps (especially those that are 32bit x86 apps. Microsoft Edge is super quick as a browser (doesn’t use Chrome) being built for Windows 11 and becuase it’s a native ARM app. For SQ3 to really shine it needs more developer support for ARM with native apps..
Do not use the ARM version if you are a gamer.
Buy the Intel version if you want to run/play most games. Since most games aren’t optimised for ARM, they simply will not run well. Advice is…if you are a gamer, you need to stick to the Intel versions or you’ll be disappointed in the performance lag.
Microsoft are making pre, during and post meetings more effective with a new capability which aligns and integrates across both Microsoft Teams and the wider Microsoft 365 apps such as Loop, Planner, To Do, Office apps and OneDrive for Business. They will also be supported in wider apps such as Microsoft Dynamics 365.
The aim is to make pre, during and post meeting experience better, more seamless and more integrated across the rest of Microsoft 365, and will be enabled by default when it rolls out (as of June 5th, it is rolling out now). This is part of number of improvements Microsoft are making to the Microsoft Teams meeting experience and also shows the further extensibility of Microsoft Loop.
Using Collaborative Meeting Notes
1. Adding Collaborative notes to a meeting.
When an organiser creates a new meeting from within Microsoft Teams, they will see a new agenda section at the bottom of the meeting form.
This new Collaborative experience uses a Loop component, meaning that rather than being static – they are live and can be updated on the fly before, during and after the meeting. Since these are loop components, they can also be copied / referenced easily outside of the meeting, into chats, emails and other docs.
This makes pre and post meeting follow-up more seamless and inclusive.
2. Using collaborative notes during a meeting
When joining a meeting, a new NotesButton will be visible during meetings that will allow users to leverage the new capability.
Any existing meeting notes will be shown on the right pane of the meeting window and there will also be the ability to pop the window out to make more room or move to your second screen/monitor. This is essential just a loop component.
All meeting participants can read and collaborate with the agenda in real time. They can update the agenda, take manual meeting notes and add tasks or actions. When participants are assigned a task in the meeting, they will also receive an email notification as well as have the tasks synced with Planner and their To Do apps.
Meeting organisers will also see have the ability to add Collaborative notes before meetings, enabling then to recreate an agendas as well keep all meeting materials available in a central place for all to access.
One the meeting has finished, the collaborative notes will remain accessible for all participants on the Teams calendar meeting details page. They can also be shared into other apps like chat or email.
This update is associated with Microsoft 365 Roadmap ID 101509
Windows 365 should soon be getting new features that will see it more tightly integrated into the Windows 11 OS.
Windows 365 App
First, there is now a native Windows 365 app. This will allow Windows 11 users to power up a Cloud PC from the Task Bar or Start menu without having to head into a browser.
Microsoft Windows and Surface VP, Panos Panay, described these new features at Ignite 2022, as “just the beginning of our Windows and Microsoft cloud integration.” These changes could signal a new direction for Windows, as Microsoft looks to continue to blend Windows 365 and Windows 11 together in the future. This is available for Windows 10 and Windows 11 today and is coming soon to iOS, Android and macOS.
You can see the Windows 365 app experience on Windows 10 below.
Windows 365 Boot
When released later this year, Windows 365 Boot will enable Windows 11 devices to log directly into a Cloud PC instance at startup instead of using the local install of Windows 11.
But why would you want to do this? Well, it is designed for devices that are shared between multiple people or for organisations that allow (or want to allow) their employees to bring their own devices to work (BYOD). This is also good for contractors and temporary staff since it ensures they have a corporate desktop experience and access to all the apps the services without IT having to install VPN software or enroll the devices into their organisations’
“Windows 365 Boot will allow different users to log in directly to their own personal and secure Windows 365 Cloud PC with their credentials”
Wangui McKelvey | General Manager | Windows 365
Windows 365 Switch
….. the name I’m not a fan of, however we will see much deeper integration between Windows 11 and Windows 365 at the OS level. As the name implies, this level of deep integration will allow Windows 365 users seamlessly switch between their local desktop and that of the Cloud PC directly from the Task View (virtual desktops) feature of Windows 11.
In case you are not familiar with “desktops” in Windows 11, then using the task view control in the Windows 11 taskbar allows users to create customise and move between desktops. This update will introduce a new option, which will allow users to quickly switch from the local desktop environment to their Cloud PC directly from the taskbar. Users will even be able to see a preview of what’s running on it. This will work both ways too – meaning when users open task view from the Cloud PC, they will also be able to quickly hop back onto the local device.
Windows 365 Offline Mode
Finally, Microsoft is working on a Windows 365 offline feature, which will enable users to continue to work locally when they do not have an internet connectivity to access their Cloud PC. This will work like a cached mode essentially and will resync automatically resync with the Windows 365 service without data loss when connectivity is restored ensuring that the user experience is consistent and un-interrupted.