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September 26, 2018
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Artificial Intelligence

You’ll now need a subscription to get the best of Microsoft Office

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Microsoft released Office 2019 for Windows and macOS this week, the latest version of its regular, non-subscription productivity suite. It’s the kind of Office that, ten years ago, you would’ve bought in a shrink-wrapped package at Office Depot. But it’s really not the version of Office that Microsoft would like you to buy — or that you probably want to have. That’s because at this point, Office 2019 is basically a limited version that doesn’t include the most interesting new features of its Office 365 subscription counterpart.

“We are really working very hard to position Office 365 in all its flavors — ProPlus for the commercial users — as very different from these versions of Office that have a year number in them,” Microsoft’s corporate VP for Office and Windows Jared Spataro told me. “Office 2019, all the features that we released in it, had previously been released in Office 365. So are our way of talking about the cloud versions of Office 365 is that they’re connected, that this breathes life into them.”

Spataro also noted that Microsoft wants users to remember that the connected Office 365 apps will offer higher productivity because of their cloud connectivity and a higher degree of security. He also argues that these versions deliver a lower total cost of ownership.

Back when Microsoft launched Office 2016, those releases were essentially snapshots (‘carbon copies,” Spataro called them) of the regularly updated Office 365 versions, which get monthly updates and feature releases. For the first time now, the on-premises version of Office only provides a subset of the full functionality, with a lot of missing functionality because virtually all of the most interesting new features — including all the machine learning smarts that are now rolling out to Office 365 — will be missing from Office 2019.

“I think there will be some confusion,” Spataro acknowledged. “It’ll take us some time to train people that the year number doesn’t mean it’s the best version.”

In a way, though, this makes sense, given that a lot of the new functionality that Microsoft is now building into Office 365 only works because it’s connected to the cloud. That’s the only way to pull in data for the new Microsoft Search functionality, for example, and to run the machine learning models and pull in data from those — and Microsoft has decided that the best way to charge for those is through a subscription.

Microsoft’s strategy isn’t all that different from Adobe’s, for example, which now focuses on its Creative Cloud subscriptions and the cloud features that come with those to promote its subscription service over shrink-wrapped versions of its applications. That has been a very successful transition for Adobe and Microsoft is looking for the same with Office 365 (and its Microsoft 365 counterpart).

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

News Source = techcrunch.com

Adobe introduces AI assistant to help Analytics users find deeper insights

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Adobe Analytics is a sophisticated product, so much so that users might focus on a set of known metrics at the cost of missing key insights. Adobe introduced an AI-fueled virtual assistant called Intelligent Alerts today to help users find deeper insights they might have otherwise missed.

John Bates, director of product management for Adobe Analytics says that in the past, the company has used artificial intelligence and machine learning under the hood of Analytics to help their users understand their customer’s behavior better. This marks the first time, Adobe will be using this technology to understand how the user works with Analytics to offer new data they might not have considered.

“Historically we’ve analyzed the data that we collect on behalf of our customers, on behalf of brands and help provide insights. Now we’re analyzing our users’ behavior within Adobe Analytics, and then mashing them up with those insights that are most relevant and personalized for that individual, based on the signals that we see and how they use our tool,” Bates explained.

Adobe Intelligent Alerts. Screenshot: Adobe

Bates says that this isn’t unlike Netflix recommendations, which recommends content based on other shows and movies you’ve watched before, but applying it to the enterprise user, especially someone who really knows their way around Adobe Analytics. That’s because these power users provide the artificial intelligence engine with the strongest signals.

The way it works is the analyst receives some alerts they can dig into to give them additional insights. If they don’t like what they’re seeing, they can tune the system and it should learn over time what the analyst needs in terms of data.

Intelligent Alert Settings. Screenshot: Adobe

They can configure how often they see the alerts and how many they want to see. This all falls within the realm of Adobe’s artificial intelligence platform they call Sensei. Adobe built Sensei with the idea of injecting intelligence across the Adobe product line.

“It’s really a vision and strategy around how do we take things that data scientists do, and how we inject that into our technology such that an everyday user of Adobe Analytics can leverage the power of these these advanced algorithms to help them better understand their customers and better perform in their jobs,” he said.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Microsoft hopes enterprises will want to use Cortana

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In a world dominated by Alexa and the Google Assistant, Cortana suffers the fate of a perfectly good alternative that nobody uses and everybody forgets about. But Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if it just gave up on its investment in this space, so it’s now launching the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to see if that’s a niche where Cortana can succeed.

This new kit is an end-to-end solution for enterprises that want to build their own skills and agents. Of course, they could have done this before using the existing developer tools. This kit isn’t all that different from those, after all. Microsoft notes that it is designed for deployment inside an organization and represents a new platform for them to build these experiences.

The Skills Kit platform is based on the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding feature.

Overall, this is probably not a bad bet on Microsoft’s part. I can see how some enterprises would want to build their own skills for their employees and customers to access internal data, for example, or to complete routine tasks.

For now, this tool is only available in private preview. No word on when we can expect a wider launch.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Microsoft Office gets smarter

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Microsoft used its Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida, today to announce a number of new features that are coming to Office 365. Given the company’s current focus on AI, it’s no surprise that most of these new features are powered by AI in one form or another. That means all of your Office apps, on- and offline, will soon become a little bit easier to use and offer you more assistance.

The most interesting of these new features is called Ideas. With Ideas, Microsoft is rolling out a unified experience in tools like Excel and PowerPoint (with others to follow), that aim to help you save time on everyday tasks. That may be figuring out a specific design and layout in PowerPoint, or finding images for your presentation. In Excel, Ideas may suggest which charts to use or help you discover outliers in your data. This feature is now generally available in Excel and coming to PowerPoint Online as a preview in the near future. Chances are we’ll see it pop up in other Office apps soon. And yes, feel free to insert your own favorite Clippy joke here.

Excel is getting a few additional new AI features, too. Microsoft previously announced data types in Excel at Ignite 2017 — and launched into preview earlier this year. Now this feature, which helps you turn references to stocks and geographies into rich data that you can easily extend and manipulate in a spreadsheet, is generally available. The company is also bringing image recognition to Excel. This nifty new tool lets you convert a picture of a data table into… you guessed it… an Excel file. The name of this tool? Data from Picture. It’s now available in public preview.

Microsoft also notes that it is making Excel faster by speeding up lookup-type functions.

There’s another new feature here, too, that isn’t directly about AI but will still make using Office easier. Microsoft Search is a new search capability that will soon roll out to Bing and Office.com (and later to Microsoft Edge, Windows and Office) and use data from the Microsoft Graph and AI tech from Bing to offer a better and more cohesive search experience.

Microsoft notes that these new search features will also be able to index internal documents so that you can now ask questions like “Can I bring my wife and kids on a work trip?” and see an HR document that tells you that you can’t.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

News Source = techcrunch.com

Microsoft Teams gets bokeh and meeting recordings with transcripts

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If you’ve ever attended a video meeting and wished that the speakers used really expensive cameras and lenses that allowed for that soft classy background blur of a portrait photo, then Microsoft wants to make that wish come true. The company announced a number of updates to Microsoft Teams today, and one of those is a feature that automatically detects faces and blurs the background behind a speaker.

While background blur is nice (or at least we have to assume it will be because we haven’t been able to try it yet), the more useful new feature in Teams is intelligent recordings. Teams can now automatically generate captions and provide time-coded transcripts for the replays. This feature is coming to Office 365 commercial customers now.

Microsoft first demoed these new transcription capabilities at its Build developer conference earlier this year. In that demo, the transcription service was able to distinguish between speakers and create a real-time transcript of the meeting.

If you want to create live streams and on-demand video for a wider audience inside your company, Teams is also getting that capability next month, together with Microsoft Stream and Yammer (which seems to be lingering in the shadow of Teams these days).

News Source = techcrunch.com

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