Category Archives: Windows 10

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Calling all gamers: Here’s your go-to buying guide for gaming PCs this holiday

Maybe you’re thinking about purchasing a new gaming laptop this holiday but are overwhelmed by the variety of options to choose from. When shopping for new hardware, gamers often look for devices and specifications that fit their specific needs, and no two devices are the same. Whether you’re an experienced gamer or someone looking to dive into gaming for the first time, Windows 10 PCs offer something for all gamers this holiday.
This has been an exciting year for PC gaming, with new game features in the Windows 10 Creators Update and Windows 10 Fall Creators Update that support gaming for all creators alike. Not to mention acclaimed, recently released titles such as Forza Motorsport 7 and Cuphead with even more to come in 2018 like Age of Empires: Definitive Edition and Sea of Thieves.
With its built-for-gaming features, Windows 10 is the best version of Windows for gaming. Simple, built-in Mixer streaming provides exclusive near real-time, interactive moments for viewers and streamers to watch or interact with other gamers–no extra hardware required, while Xbox Play Anywhere enables you to buy a game once and play it on both your Xbox One and Windows 10 PC, including cloud save and resume. Game Mode enables gamers to dedicate more system resources to games, delivering a more performant gaming experience on Windows 10.
Let’s take a look at some Windows 10 gaming PCs from our partners that will light up gaming for everyone this holiday.
For the casual gamer looking for a PC they can not only game on, but also feel productive with Windows 10 features that may include Windows Hello, Cortana, and more, take a look at these casual gaming PCs under $1,000:
ASUS VivoBook S510UA 15.6-inch
ASUS VivoBook S510UA 15.6-inch
Acer Aspire E5-575T-3678
Acer Aspire E5-575T-3678
Dell Inspiron 15 7000
Dell Inspiron 15 7000
HP OMEN Laptop – 17t
HP OMEN Laptop – 17t
Looking for something with a little more power? A PC with faster computing and graphical expertise, maybe even a device light enough to take with you anywhere? Check out the below premium PCs:
ASUS ROG Strix GL503
ASUS ROG Strix GL503
Origin EON17-SLX 17
Origin EON17-SLX 17
Lenovo Legion Y720 Laptop
Lenovo Legion Y720 Laptop
Acer Nitro 5 Spin
Acer Nitro 5 Spin
For hardcore gamers who seek superior specs like 4K displays, powerful CPUs, high-end graphics cards, and more, we’ve got you covered! Here are a few top-of-the-line gaming rig suggestions to consider:
ASUS ROG Zephyrus
ASUS ROG Zephyrus
HP Omen X
HP Omen X
Dell Alienware 17 R4
Dell Alienware 17 R4
Razer Blade Pro
Razer Blade Pro
Acer Predator 21X
Acer Predator 21X
We’re excited about the innovation each partner brings to the Windows ecosystem, and these beautifully designed, feature-rich devices truly bring gaming to life. This holiday, experience the best Windows 10 has to offer with these powerful Windows 10 gaming PCs from our partners.

Calling all gamers: Here’s your go-to buying guide for gaming PCs this holiday
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Windows 10 Pro for Workstations: Power through advanced workloads

In the new world of work, advanced professions increasingly require high-performance computing capabilities. We’re working to ensure Windows meets your needs, even in demanding and mission-critical scenarios, which is why we announced Windows 10 Pro for Workstations in August.
For data scientists transforming big data into input signals and experimenting with multiple machine learning models, processing time equals productivity. The same is true for researchers, engineers, and teams focused on predictive modeling. Content creation roles such as media professionals and graphic designers generate — and need to preserve — an enormous amount of data and intellectual property through their work.
Enter Windows 10 Pro for Workstations. With these devices, you can power through advanced workloads with server-grade data protection & performance.
These are revolutionary performance gains for desktop machines. With these new workstations, you’ll benefit from greater speed with faster processing & file transfers, greater resilience with server-grade storage, and you’ll enjoy the full power of high-performance hardware configurations.
Let’s look at the key benefits of Windows 10 Pro for Workstations:

Speed through demanding workloads & file transfers
Windows 10 Pro for Workstations supports devices with persistent memory1 (aka non-volatile memory, or NVDIMM-N) so you can speed through advanced workloads with the fastest data storage possible on workstations. In addition, persistent memory keeps your files at hand in the event of a system power loss.
You’ll also save valuable time on file transfers between Server and PC with SMB Direct2, a Microsoft solution for network adapters with Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) capability. This technology uses RDMA capable network adapters to utilize the full throughput of high-speed networks, transferring data at line speeds. It also provides very low-latency network requests, making remote storage perform like local storage. Finally, it significantly reduces CPU utilization, so you have more computing power available to run other applications such as Autodesk AutoCAD or Adobe Creative Suite.

Work confidently with server-grade data protection on your workstation
In addition to speed, you also get server-grade data protection on your workstation – a very new and highly valuable feature for anyone working with large volumes of data, including intellectual property that needs to be preserved over time.
Windows 10 Pro for Workstations combines Microsoft’s Resilient File System (ReFS) with Storage Spaces to provide highly resilient storage for large volumes of data so you can rest assured your data is automatically backed up to multiple mirrored drives. In addition, ReFS detects when data becomes corrupt on one of the mirrored drives, and then repairs data across your drives to ensure you’re working with clean data.

Feel the power of high-performance workstations
With Windows 10 Pro for Workstations, you can select high-performance configurations with up to 4 CPUs (previously limited to 2 CPUs) and add massive memory up to 6TB (previously limited to 2TB), and it is required for server-grade Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron processors. We’ve also rolled the workstation capabilities into Windows 10 Enterprise (see diagram below).
These machines provide an enormous amount of power to run advanced workloads, with compute cycles left free so you can run other apps simultaneously.

Upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for Workstations now!
You can purchase outstanding workstation devices running Windows 10 Pro for Workstations such as Dell’s new Precision 5520 or Precision 7920 Tower. We’ll be adding more new workstations to this list as they become available, so check back often. If you’re interested in upgrading your current device3 to Windows 10 Pro for Workstations, follow these steps.
Thank you to our customers and Windows Insiders for your input and feedback. We look forward to continuing to hear from you!
1 Persistent memory requires NVDIMM-N compatible hardware, ADR-enabled chipset and compliant UEFI.2 SMB Direct requires RDMA capable network adapters on both endpoints of the connection: client/device and server.3 The minimum hardware requirements for Windows 10 Pro for Workstations are the same as Windows 10 Pro.

This Week on Windows: News from Samsung, Mixer and more

We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of This Week on Windows! You can visit this blog post to learn more about Always Connected PCs, visit this post to learn more about Microsoft Edge on iOS and Android, and read more about the artists bringing their visions to life in mixed reality. You can check out our Windows 10 Tip on what’s new in Skype for Windows 10 PCs – or, keep reading for more of this week’s news!
In case you missed it:
New Mixer app available now

Exciting news from the Mixer Blog today! Just months ago, Mixer announced they we were rebuilding the Mixer app for Android and iOS. Since then and with the help of the community, they’ve built the best version of the app to-date, and are excited to announce it’s available for download today on Android and in the coming days on iOS. To learn more about this news from Mixer, head over to their blog.
Samsung announces new Notebook 9 and Notebook 9 Pen with Windows 10
This week, Samsung announced the new Samsung Notebook 9 Pen and three new versions of the Samsung Notebook 9 (2018), offering a mobile computing experience that matches how people are using their PCs: whether at work, on the go and everything in between.

Samsung Notebook 9 Pen: Superb flexibility, portability with S Pen and convertible hinge
The Notebook 9 Pen brings a thoughtfully refined design to the 2-in-1 PC. Its full metal chassis with a premium magnesium aluminum alloy called Metal12 provides durability while keeping it super light at 2.2 pounds. The 360-degree hinge provides flexibility to convert to a tablet from a laptop with ease by rotating the keyboard behind the screen for convenience. The Notebook 9 Pen has a built-in, refined S Pen that gives you the freedom to doodle, write, sketch, paint and more with Windows Ink. The S Pen is battery-free, built into the device and designed for immediate use.
Samsung Notebook 9 (2018): Powerful design, yet lightweight and thin
With three different versions offering a 13.3” to a 15” screen and enhanced graphics capabilities, the Notebook 9 (2018) weighs up to only 2.84 pounds and measures 15.4mm. The bezel around the screen measures 6.2mm providing a more immersive experience. This means great portability without sacrificing screen size, as well as a stronger, more durable metal body featuring Metal12. The device also provides always-on power thanks to the 75Wh Hexacell battery.
Availability: The Samsung Notebook 9 Pen and Notebook 9 (2018) will be available in select countries starting in December 2017 in Korea, and in the first quarter of 2018 in the U.S. Both the Notebook 9 Pen and Notebook 9 (2018) will be displayed at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, NV. To learn more visit Samsung’s newsroom.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds now available on Xbox One

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is available now as a console launch exclusive on Xbox One! Since we first announced PUBG would be coming to Xbox at E3 2017, it’s been amazing to see the excitement and anticipation fans have shared and on behalf of everyone at PUBG Corp., we want to thank you for your support.
PUBG is a battle royale-style game which puts up to 100 players on the remote island of Erangel for a winner-takes-all showdown. Each game starts the same – you jump out of an airplane over an island, look for a safe (or dangerous) place to land, scramble for armor, weapons and health kits, and try to stay alive as the safe zone becomes smaller and smaller, forcing players to keep moving to survive.
We chose to bring PUBG to console on Xbox One in the Xbox Game Preview program, as it’s the only console platform that gives us the opportunity to partner with the community and build the game together, much like we did with the PC version. The experience you have in PUBG on Xbox One today will be somewhat similar to what we shipped back in March on PC, but with a few updates. In addition, to support for third-person solo, duo, and squad gameplay on the current Erangel map, PUBG on Xbox One will also feature vaulting at its launch into the Xbox Game Preview program. On Xbox One X, the game will be enhanced to include HDR support and 4K resolution, with more details to come.  While in the Xbox Game Preview program, PUBG on Xbox One will continue to receive new content updates including the new desert map, “Miramar,” optimizations and more. Our goal is to unify the feature set and product roadmap of the PC and Xbox versions of the game as soon as possible.
Read more about the news over at Xbox Wire!

Here’s what’s new in Microsoft Store this week:
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018 Sale

We take more pictures today than ever before, which means we need an efficient, easy way to organize, find and share them. Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018 ($69.99 Sale Price, $99.99 Regular Price) is here to help. Now on sale for 30% off through Jan. 6, Adobe PSE 2018 makes photo and video organization, editing, creating, and sharing as simple as it gets.

Trapped on the beach and surrounded by enemy forces, 400,000 Allied soldiers face impossible odds in Christopher Nolan’s epic masterpiece Dunkirk ($29.99 HD). Don’t miss one of the best-reviewed films of the year, available in the Movies & TV section of the Microsoft Store one week before it comes to Blu-ray. Plus, for a limited time, purchase Dunkirk and get a free game add-on for World of Tanks! For full details, visit:
Have a great week!

AI in Photos makes it easy to find and create the perfect holiday photo or video

It’s December…time for the annual holiday photo! If you’re like most people, you have a very large collection of photos to choose from. Good news because with the help of artificial intelligence features, in the reimagined Photos application, available with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, we’re making it easier to find that perfect photo or video and make the most of your memories, just in time for the holidays!
Search all your photos or videos with AI
With the help of AI, we’ve also introduced an easy way to search by person, place, or thing. Simply click on the search bar and images of people* from your collection appear, making it easy to click on the person you’re looking for. You’ll also see places and things that are already in your collection. If you know what you’re looking for, a photo from the playground, a video captured at Disneyland, or last year’s picture with Santa, just type those things into the search box and the automatically tagged photos will come up in your search. That’s right, the best part is, it’s all done for you through automatic intelligent tagging, no work needed on your end.

AI-powered video creation
Ready to take your photo up a notch and turn it into a video creation? With the video creation tools in the new Photos app, we’ve got you covered, no video editing skills required! Using AI, the Photos app will automatically bring together your memories into a video for great storytelling complete with soundtracks, themes, and transitions Keep the automatically generated video to enjoy and share, or easily remix it with just the click of a button for an all-new look and feel of the video, complete with a new soundtrack and transitions. AI enables the app to understand what music and transitions align best with your photos or videos.

You can even ink on and add 3D effects to moving objects in your videos. Just draw and pin an arrow, circle, or another doodle, and it stays with the object while the video plays.

Share your photos with family and friends
Once you get your creation just right, you can easily export the file into the right format to share it with family and friends in a variety of ways including via email, online to your favorite social sites or tailor it for the big screen in a larger upload.

To start creating your own personal story, for any occasion, check out the new Photos app – included with Windows 10 – or head over here to read more about what’s new in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update – and for more on how AI is infused into other Microsoft experiences, check out the blog post from our  event in San Francisco where we showcased a number of advances that use artificial intelligence to help people get more nuanced information and assist with more complex needs.
*Face detection and recognition can be turned off via settings in the Photos app.

Accelerate Windows 10 Migration with Windows Analytics

Windows Analytics accelerates enterprise Windows 10 migration. Traditionally, migrating to a new operating system while ensuring legacy applications and drivers are compatible has been a time-consuming and costly project for organizations. Windows Analytics transforms this process. With Update Compliance and Device Health services now generally available, Windows Analytics provides an end-to-end upgrade solution with actionable insights into device performance, reliability, and health, so enterprises can broadly migrate their devices from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 10 or update Windows 10 devices to the latest feature update (Windows 10, version 1709) quickly and with confidence.
End-to-end insights for Windows 10 adoption and deployment
Windows Analytics is a cloud based service that provides data driven insights, or analytics, about your devices, allowing you to detect problems, monitor device health, and remediate issues across the devices you administer. This suite of services makes upgrading to Windows 10 from legacy operating systems easier and streamlines keeping devices up-to-date and secure on Windows 10.
Upgrade Readiness uses diagnostic data to identify and resolve application and driver compatibility issues as you plan and manage the upgrade process. Once your devices are up-to-date on Windows 10, Upgrade Readiness becomes a key tool for your Windows servicing process, continually providing these insights, so you can test and deploy Windows 10 Semi-Annual Channel feature updates faster.
Update Compliance provides a unified view of Windows Update and Antivirus (AV) status of your Windows 10 devices to keep them secure and up-to-date, regardless of the management solution you use. Windows Update diagnostic data gives you immediate visibility into which of your devices are missing critical Windows security updates that help keep your devices secure and protected. It also assesses protection and threat status, and tracks deployment progress so you can troubleshoot issues as they arise.
Device Health is designed to help IT administrators monitor and proactively maintain devices. Device Health uses data to identify and report common device performance and reliability problems employees may experience so they can be resolved quickly and efficiently. By pinpointing disruptive issues like kernel crashes or third-party driver issues, Device Health data provides insight into the scope and scale of an issue, so you can focus on mitigation and remediation over investigation. Proactive monitoring of device health and performance saves you time and money by reducing support calls and improving employee productivity.
Windows Analytics provides the right insights for testing and deployment planning
Windows Analytics is currently being used by hundreds of customers on millions of devices, in over 200 countries. Companies like Independence Blue Cross are using Upgrade Readiness to plan, test and deploy Windows 10 on thousands of devices as part of their migration process. The Upgrade Readiness planning tool simplifies this process.
We often hear from customers that application compatibility is one of the biggest pain points on the enterprise upgrade path. A typical enterprise may have tens of thousands of devices and applications. Before any large-scale migration, IT administrators want to ensure their legacy applications will work. With so many apps, it is time-consuming to figure out which may have issues and how to prioritize those apps that require attention.
“Windows Upgrade Readiness helped us to quickly design a strategic approach for our Windows 10 deployment by allowing us to focus on applications that needed special attention while moving quickly to upgrade machines that were Windows 10 ready. It is also the driving force behind our Windows as a Service adoption strategy.” — Frank Trout, System Specialist, Independence Blue Cross
Upgrade Readiness collects system, application, and driver data for analysis. It then identifies compatibility issues that can block an upgrade and suggest fixes when they are known to Microsoft. Apps are automatically segmented and grouped for you, so you don’t have to review them one by one. You can see which apps are most widely used, which are supported by their software vendor, and which are considered low risk for compatibility problems. Based on this information, you’ll get suggestions on which apps to focus on, so you can start to resolve any blockers. This automated process is the same for evaluating driver compatibility, so you can fast-track upgrade readiness. As an IT admin, you have full transparency and control over the level of data gathered, so you can adjust the level or stop the flow at any time.

More tools to simplify upgrade readiness – Ready for Windows and Office 365 ProPlus solutions
Customers upgrading to Windows 10 want to know if a third-party product they use will work with the target version of Windows 10 before upgrading. To ensure a smooth upgrade process, we work closely with independent software vendors (ISVs), especially Antivirus (AV) and Security vendors, to provide customers with compatibility information on their most popular solutions on the Ready for Windows site. Third party application makers can formally assure customers that their verified software will run and be supported on Windows 10 by getting listed in the Ready for Windows directory.
Ready for Windows has also recently started collecting information from ISVs who are committed to supporting the Semi-Annual releases for Windows 10 (Always Up-to-Date), so organizations that are interested in keeping their employees’ devices up-to-date can more easily standardize on applications that will also be kept current on Windows 10.

Upgrade Readiness is not only about understanding the broad view of device readiness, it’s also about knowing which Office add-ins your employees depend on to make sure they are successful in their jobs. With diagnostic data as well as compatibility statements from Ready for Windows gathered from ISVs on Office 365 ProPlus solutions, you can easily check compatibility of the critical add-ins your employees rely upon every day. For even greater transparency and ease, Upgrade Readiness now pulls Office 365 ProPlus data into the apps view for your organization.

With Windows Analytics, you can feel confident to start testing and deploying Windows 10 sooner. You can begin pilot deployments of the latest feature update (Windows 10, 1709) using Upgrade Readiness to build confidence. Start by targeting and evaluating a small subset of your install base. We recommend using the application and device inventory data from the Upgrade Readiness service to select a set of devices that provide appropriate coverage. Then listen, monitor for issues, and remediate blockers. Once you are satisfied with the results of your pilot deployments, begin broadly deploying throughout your organization. This phased rollout follows what we do for consumers worldwide today.
Get Started with Windows Analytics today!
You can get started with Windows Analytics today by visiting our Windows for Business site. It’s free for enterprise E3 and E5 subscribers and Windows 10 Pro users. If you have questions about deploying and getting the most out of Windows Analytics in your organization, be sure to join our next Windows Analytics “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Tuesday, January 16th, 2018.
I’ll continue to share more about new features and enhancements that support Windows Analytics in the coming months. We’d also like to hear how Windows Analytics is working for you by sending us comments or suggestions via the Feedback Hub app.

Watching in awe as artists bring their visions to life in mixed reality

I’ll never forget the first time I experienced mixed reality.
It was a pre-production version of Microsoft HoloLens, and I tried a demo that had fish swimming around the room, seaweed on the floor and bubbles floating around me.  Eventually, the demo team had to gently suggest I leave, because I was mesmerized.  The fish were bouncing off the walls. The bubbles were popping on the ceiling.  I could see everything in the room and the people in it, and I could see more – things that felt just as real.  I couldn’t get enough.
Part of me is still in that moment because it’s what has motivated me to work as hard as I can with teams across Microsoft to build the devices, platforms, experiences and services that will enable infinite mixed reality experiences.
Everyone working in mixed reality today is a pioneer as they push forward, defining boundaries of technology, design and user experience while reinventing industries, education and communication.
Today, I want to talk about one group of pioneers who are using mixed reality to change the way we see the world: artists.

Since the early days of HoloLens, we have had the chance to see what happens when artists use their unique ability to see the potential of a new medium or technology. I have always been passionate about paying attention to what artists are doing with new technology platforms.  Artists, whether visual artists, media, sculpture, dance, theater or others, have both courage and the ability to see things differently.
It has been amazing to see what has been created.
Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation Exhibit at Art Basel
Last week we kicked off a partnership with Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) at Art Basel in Miami. Their exhibit, “Sandu Darie: An Immersive Experience,” aims to make important Cuban works of art accessible beyond the constraints of their physical location. The experience makes available public works of art that are permanently located in Cuba and brings them to life using Mixed Reality Viewer, Windows Mixed Reality headsets and HoloLens. For the first time outside of Cuba, visitors could view large-scale works of art in their real world through these two immersive experiences.
A photographer captures images of Cuban artist Sandu Darie’s El Día y La Noche (1982) in Havana that were used to digitally recreate the sculptural mural as a hologram
Case Western Reserve University mixed reality dance shared experience
Case Western Reserve University has truly been a pioneer in mixed reality. From the building of anatomy class experiences, to expanding to physics classes, and more recently exploring the arts with the British Museum and others, the team at Case has been leading from the edge.
I recently had the opportunity to have another once-in-a-lifetime experience: the first-ever, large-scale shared mixed reality dance performance. Eighty people all wore HoloLens to see dancers and holograms in the same performance, for the first time.  The team had no idea how to pull this off when it was conceived by the Creative Director, XX, but that’s why we’re in this space: to bring things that seem impossible into focus, and then to just figure out how to do them.
Take a look at their blog post and video to learn more about how the vision ultimately came to life.
Cornish College of the Arts
I spent two years in early HoloLens development saying, “Imagine when you go to the first holographic art gallery opening.  There will be wine and cheese, maybe some light music, but no art.  You walk in and see empty walls, empty stands. But then you put on HoloLens and the gallery is full of rich art.”
I would marvel over this with other people.
Well, this has happened, and much earlier than I expected.
Cornish College of the Arts pioneered the first exhibit in 2016, called “Through the HoloLens,” which allows students to bring to life their artistic expression in new ways through painting, dance, performance and other forms. I was fortunate to experience this firsthand with the students of Cornish, a moment I will never forget.
Gallery goers check out students’ holographic works at the Cornish College of the Arts 2016 BFA show
Artsy at the Armory
Earlier this year we partnered with online art platform Artsy and Amsterdam-based Studio Drift to create a mixed reality art installation at The Armory Show in New York.  The project was called “Concrete Storm” and was our first collaboration in a commercial art context.  It blended physical structures with holograms, which changed perspective depending on where you stood within the exhibit, allowing visitors to experience art in an entirely new way. It was fascinating to watch the typically jaded New York art crowd’s expressions the first time they put the device on; lighting up as they walked through the concrete pillars and reaching out to touch something that wasn’t really there. Proof that mixed reality can make art more accessible and interactive when it comes alive, up close and personal.
Studio Drift founders Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta view their original HoloLens work, Concrete Drift (2017), at The Armory Show in New York
I’d like to thank all working artists for your commitment to your craft and work.  And for those of you who are deeply engaged with technology, thank you again.  Your work is so very important. As we get ready for the year ahead I am eager to see what comes next.

Windows 10 Tip: What’s new in Skype for Windows 10 PCs

Today, the new features we announced last month for the latest version of Skype for Windows 10 are beginning to roll out! Let’s take a look at what’s new.
Grab a cup of coffee and catch up on what you’ve missed by clicking the bell icon to access your notification panel.

From this central place, you’ll see reactions to your messages, @mentions in group conversations, or if someone quoted you. Jump to the conversation by clicking the message in the notification panel.
Looking for that link someone sent you a few weeks ago?

Quickly find shared content in the chat gallery. Just click Gallery to see media, links, and files. You can also now search for text in individual and group conversations.
If you’d like to get someone’s attention in a group chat, type the @ symbol followed by their name to send them a notification so that they can easily respond to the message.

Status updates are back, too, so you can let your colleagues, friends, and family know when you are and aren’t available to chat by changing your presence – or, set a mood message to share what’s going on.
 Share your mixed reality world 
If you have a compatible Windows 10 PC and a Windows Mixed Reality headset, you can now share your mixed reality world with Skype. As soon as you answer a Skype call via video, the view the other person sees will be your mixed reality world. They’ll see the game you’re playing, or the ruins you’re exploring in HoloTour, or the movie you’re watching in 3D. If you want to switch back to a traditional video call where the person sees you, you can go to settings in the Skype app and change the device to your PC’s camera.
To learn more about what’s new in Skype for Windows 10 PCs, visit the Skype Blog!

Making mixed reality: Meet the mind behind interactive film Free the Night

Created by Nicole McDonald and JauntVR, the full immersive app experience Free the Night is now available on Windows Mixed Reality. Read on to learn how its award-winning director made her childhood dream into a reality.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Nicole McDonald, creator of Windows Mixed Reality immersive app experience Free the Night. But while some might bill the app as an interactive film, it would be an understatement to call Nicole simply a filmmaker.
In the 15 years since she began creating in multimedia, Nicole has worn many hats – from that of game designer, to NASA collaborator, to marketing campaign manager for the world’s biggest names, including American Idol, Cirque Du Soleil, and Toyota.
Now, Nicole is channeling her wealth of creative energy towards a new endeavor: the art of storytelling in mixed reality. The latest in a list of interactive films she’s created – many of which have been featured in festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, and SXSW – Free the Night is a collaboration between Nicole and cinematic VR producer Jaunt Studios. Designed exclusively for Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality immersive headsets, the experience enables audiences to place stars back into the sky and watch them glitter and swirl as they reclaim the night.

In celebration of Free the Night’s full release last month, I sat down with Nicole to learn more about the initial spark behind her creation.
Nicole McDonald, director and creator of interactive film Free the Night.
What inspired you to create Free the Night?
Nicole: In general, I am deeply inspired by my memories of being a child and childhood.
Free the Night was inspired by the most vivid of these: staring up into the night sky with my family. My father loved the sky and his enthusiasm and wonder of it pulled us all in. He would point out the constellations, and we’d discuss what could be out “there.” We grew up in a teeny tiny town and the sky was magnificent: there were thousands of stars, hints of the milky way, and we once saw a little bit of the aurora.
But sadly, one year, a huge mall was constructed nearby and it washed out almost everything. The amber glow of the parking lot made it impossible to view from our front lawn. It was heartbreaking. I didn’t understand how, or why, someone could do that.
Fast forward to a few years ago, when I was watching a fireworks display and thought how amazing it would be to have the same sky that my father introduced to me as the backdrop. I wanted to “blow” out all the lights out around me and… voilà, Free the Night was born.

You come from a background in advertising, filmmaking, and gaming. What led you to mixed reality as the medium for this story?
Nicole: I’ve always been interested in the marriage of narrative and technology, in understanding how innovative tools can enhance traditional storytelling. Mixed reality, to me, is placing the audience physically in the narrative, where they can participate and be moved emotionally by a story. It’s such a wonderful time of exploration, and we now have an audience that is curious, if not craving, these new media and experiences.
The setting of Free the Night, inspired by the creator’s hometown.
What can audiences expect from Free the Night when they put on their headsets?
Nicole: In Free the Night, we become giants in a mountainous landscape, tasked with liberating the stars into the night sky. We need to be able to get low enough to the ground to extinguish the manmade lights of the city and reach high enough to place the stars back into the sky. This requires us to interact with the entire 360-degree virtual space, a range of freedom only afforded in mixed reality. With Windows Mixed Reality immersive headsets, our audience has the seamless tracking and full “six degrees of freedom” to actively engage in the narrative and explore all around them.
The story begins with the silhouette of a girl releasing lights back into the night sky.
You mentioned that Free the Night encourages us to use our full 360-degree space with “six degrees of freedom” (6DOF). Can you tell me more about 6DOF for those of us who may be unfamiliar with it, and why you chose to incorporate it in your design?
Nicole: 6DOF is the freedom of movement in 3D space. Six axes of movement allow us interact with objects that are as low as the ground and as high as we can lift our hands – left and right, back and forth… all around us.
With immersive mixed reality, there’s something so delightful about playing with scale and exploring a narrative in 3D space. It challenges us to have new perspective and see and play in ways we haven’t before.
Using motion controllers, audiences can swirl and play with the embers, freeing them into the night sky.
Free the Night has been tagged as both “cinematic” and “interactive” – two qualities that, in conjunction, set the experience apart from your typical film or game. What inspired you to experiment with mixing the two media?
Nicole: Honestly, it started when I was nine years old, in a basic computer coding class. We all worked on monochromatic monitors – the instructor explained that computers would someday show us more colors. Of course, he was describing monitors that would have RGB color profiles, but, at the time, I naively thought he meant that computers would allow us to see more colors than are in our current rainbow. My mind went wild. I made up stories of who and what lived in these unseen colors… What could they do that we couldn’t?
Ever since, I’ve been captivated by using technology as a creative tool. I always ask myself if my concepts allow my audience to see more “colors,” more worlds that we’d never see without the innovations of today. I love exploring how we might profit from experiencing and interacting with these kinds of stories and, most importantly, how can we add joy and wonder to our audience’s lives.
Once freed, the stars sparkle and burst in impressive displays.
Did you have an ideal audience in mind when you decided to create this experience?
Nicole: Ideally, Free the Night is for everyone. It’s a universal story for human beings, and because it’s for all, I especially wanted it to be an invitation to those who haven’t necessarily found their space, or connection with content, in mixed reality. People sometimes think that mixed reality is just for gaming or 360-degree passive experiences, but I want my projects to be all-embracing interactive experiences – experiences in which everyone is enticed to participate in, rather than be intimidated by, the medium.

What, for you, was most intimidating about creating Free the Night?
Nicole: One of the best and hardest parts of working on interactive experiences is the ice-cream headache you get when you have to find a solution but there is no playbook available. There are so many limitations and unknowns; as creators in this nascent space, we have to be a bit like MacGyver.
For Free the Night, it was how to create the magic of extinguishing light embers in mixed reality. Traditionally, you can only have a small amount of particles on screen at any given time in VR. But we needed thousands, which would have personality and be responsive when we interacted with them. My dev team, led by long-time collaborator KC Austin, figured out how to write a system with compute buffers that allowed the experience to sing.
More generally, the biggest challenge in creating with mixed reality is disrupting our preconceived notions of the medium. People are so often intimidated by the experience they’re about to enter, or nervous that they’re going to do something wrong. We’re so conditioned to approaching this medium as a game, rather than something more. My challenge is getting people to settle in the narrative instead of trying to get the highest score.
Future of StoryTelling attendees were among the first to demo the experience in October.
Free the Night recently debuted as a demo at the annual Future of StoryTelling Summit in New York. (Congratulations!) After months of working round-the-clock, what was it like finally seeing your demo premiere?
Nicole: It was pinch-worthy. We had had our heads down working for a few months, so to see the general public instilled with the awe for which I’d hoped was a dream come true.
My favorite response was that of a peer who tried Free the Night for the first time at the Summit. As she took off the headset, her eyes welled with tears. She told me how she had been transported to her own childhood and was filled with the same wonder I’d been way back when. It’s because of reactions like this that I can’t wait for everyone to experience the full project this month.
A woman reaches for the stars at The Future of StoryTelling demo.
If there’s one idea or impression you hope audiences take away from the full version of Free the Night, what would it be?
My hope is that people feel more connected to the world when their headsets comes off – that by experiencing Free the Night, they are enticed to look up a little bit more often – and that they truly understand that we are the magic and Earth is Eden.
One of many flower-shaped constellations awaiting audiences in the experience.
We’ve talked a lot about your journey in making this childhood dream into a reality. Looking back, what advice do you have for someone aspiring to create an immersive experience as aesthetic and emotionally inspiring as Free the Night?
Nicole: Oh, my… Well, first, for those who want to create in the space, it’s extremely difficult and thus can be extremely fortifying. Before you begin, ask yourself what you want your audience to feel or take away from the experience. Try to understand how the idea will blossom in the medium; take advantage of what you can do inside mixed reality that you can’t do in traditional linear 2D displays. Don’t be afraid of limitations; you can execute the essence of ideas in many ways. Always, always storyboard, create animatics, and test and play.
For those new to MR, please, don’t be intimidated. There is no right or wrong way to create an interactive experience. Get comfortable; look around at your environment before trying to rush through it. Approach everything with the wonderment you had as a child.
Free the Night promises 360 degrees of breathtaking scenes like the one above.
One last question, Nicole, before I let you go… Now that Free the Night is officially on Windows Mixed Reality, what’s next?
Nicole: Surfing and yoga… haha. But really, I’ll be working on the full experience for HUE, an interactive film about a man named Hue who has lost his ability to see color. In this touch-based tale, he is reactive to our presence and touch like a living breathing being. We help Hue find his “full spectrum” by aiding him to see the everyday joy around him and his own potential to be wonderful.
Concept art for Nicole’s next interactive film, “HUE.”
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story, Nicole, and congratulations, again, on creating such a breathtaking experience. I can’t wait to try “Free the Night” again this week!
Free the Night is available from the Microsoft Store. Download it for free on your PC and plug in your headset to experience the magic of Windows Mixed Reality… and stay tuned for our next installment of Making mixed reality.

This Week on Windows: Microsoft Store’s 12 Days of Deals, Always Connected PCs and more

We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of This Week on Windows! Head over here to learn more about Always Connected PCs, check out Microsoft Store’s annual 12 days of deals, catch up on our Windows 10 Tips on getting started with Continue on PC in the Microsoft Edge mobile app and bringing your stories to life with the reimagined Photos app – or, keep reading for more of this week’s news!
In case you missed it:

Here’s what’s new in Microsoft Store this week:
Forza Motorsport 7 – Doritos Car Pack

From classic racers to rough-and-tumble SUVs ready to tackle any conditions you throw at them, the Doritos Car Pack for Forza Motorsport 7 features seven vehicles from six different decades. Learn more on the Forza Motorsport blog.
Affinity Photo

Affinity delivers two serious tools, Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, for creative professionals at a Microsoft-exclusive 25% discount through Dec. 11. Faster, smoother and more powerful than ever, Affinity Photo ($37.49 through Dec 11; regularly $49.99) continues to push the boundaries for professional photo editing software. Packing a huge toolset specifically engineered for creative and photography professionals, it’s a leader in power and performance.
Have a great weekend!

Behind-the-scenes at Panasonic: factory to field

In the world of devices, when you hear the Panasonic name it brings to mind our line of rugged TOUGHBOOKs. For the past 20 plus years, TOUGHBOOKs and TOUGHPADs have been used globally to enable public safety organizations, utility companies and manufacturing businesses to work both efficiently and securely in the field. At Panasonic, we take great pride in the fact that these industries are the backbone of communities and they rely upon our technology to maintain smooth day-to-day operations.
Quality Begins at the Factory
Panasonic is committed to quality and continual innovation – both in the products we create and how these products are applied to real-world situations. To help communicate the meaning of our commitment, we invite you to watch our behind-the-scenes factory tour filmed in Kobe, Japan and featuring our recently launched TOUGHBOOK CF-33. The Kobe Factory is known as our “mother” factory where all new products are originally built and then best practices are distributed and assigned to our other facilities worldwide.

Innovation in Agriculture
We have a vision for another vital component of every community – agriculture. Agriculture is a necessity to every population, but the industry has not broadly transitioned to modern technology. We believe having a device in the field is key, so files and resources can be accessed in real-time and more precise crop maintenance can be administered. Ultimately, this should drive a higher consistency in crop yield and quality. Already built for extreme conditions, our line of TOUGHBOOK and TOUGHPADS are dustproof, waterproof, and military-grade rugged. Plus, our latest TOUGHBOOK CF-33 comes standard with Windows Hello which allow you to login via facial recognition. (Meaning, no need to awkwardly type passwords with gloves.)
To further explore this concept, we caught up with a Japanese rice farmer out of the Mie Prefecture who is currently using the TOUGHBOOK CF-33 and has a vision for advancing technology in the industry. Takeshi Tsuji, who owns Tarafuku Rice Farm, was previously an engineer in the aerospace industry and transitioned to working at his family’s farm several years ago. He immediately began modernizing his farming process with the help of Panasonic, Drone Japan, and Microsoft products to maximize his crop output.

Stay Connected
We are excited at Panasonic to be part of advancements and modernizations across a variety of industries. We will continue to innovate to further enable current and future customers to support their local communities. For those companies who are already Panasonic customers and are looking to stay connected in an increasingly global workplace, we recently launched Panasonic P.180. P.180 is a seamless end-to-end platform that uses eSIM technology to connect to Tier 1 LTE access through networks spanning over 180 countries. P.180 can be used with select TOUGHBOOK and TOUGHPAD devices.
Get Started
For more information on the TOUGHBOOK CF-33 with Windows 10 Pro, please visit the Panasonic website.
For those who are already TOUGHBOOK or TOUGHPAD customers, we encourage you to learn more about P.180 and how you can better connect your workforce.