Tag Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft’s female workforce shrank 2 percent last year

The company’s diversity efforts suffer a setback due to cuts at overseas factories where a high percentage of women held jobs.

Despite Microsoft’s efforts to increase employee diversity, women make up a smaller percentage of the company’s workforce than they did a year ago.

Women made up 26.8 percent of the company’s global workforce at the end of September, a drop from 29 percent a year earlier, Microsoft said in a diversity report released Monday.

The decline was due to layoffs from the restructuring of the phone businesses Microsoft acquired from Nokia last year, Gwen Houston, Microsoft’s general manager of global diversity and inclusion, wrote in the report. As part of the restructuring, the company eliminated many manufacturing jobs at factories outside the US. Those jobs were held by a high percentage of women, she said.

“We are not satisfied with where we are today regarding the percentage of women in our workforce,” she wrote. “Our senior leaders continue to be deeply committed to doing everything possible to improve these numbers.”

Like most large tech companies, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft continues to grapple with how to increase diversity in its workforce. From Facebook to Google to Twitter, some of the largest technology companies in the world have confronted the problem by starting programs aimed at increasing the number of women and minorities in the workplace.

On average, 30 percent of the tech industry workforce is female, even though women make up 59 percent of the total workforce and 51 percent of the population, according to US Census Bureau data. Microsoft is among a handful of major tech companies participating in initiatives unveiled in August by President Barack Obama to close that gap.

In a new company mission statement released in June, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted the company’s ongoing diversity initiatives, a topic that made headlines last year when the CEOimplied female employees shouldn’t ask for raises but should instead trust karma.

“We will be open to learning our own biases and changing our behaviors so we can tap into the collective power of everyone at Microsoft,” Nadella wrote in the new mission statement. “We don’t just value differences, we seek them out, we invite them in. And as a result, our ideas are better, our products are better and our customers are better served.”

Despite the decline in the percentage of women employed at Microsoft, there are signs the company’s diversity efforts are paying off. Microsoft said that women now make up 27.2 percent of senior leadership team, the highest it’s ever been. The company also said that 30.6 percent of hires from universities are women, up from 27.7 percent the previous year.

“While certain leading indicators are trending up and we are starting to see signs of progress, systemic challenges remain when it comes to increasing the presence of women and minorities at all levels of the workforce,” Houston wrote.

Minorities also saw modest increases in the company’s makeup. Of the 115,905 people employed by Microsoft worldwide, blacks made up 3.5 percent of the workforce compared with 3.4 percent a year ago. Latino employees increased to 5.4 percent from 5.1 percent a year earlier, while Asians made up 29.3 percent of the company, up from 28.8 percent.

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Microsoft to open first UK data centres for cloud computing business

Satya Nadella announces expansion amid competition from Amazon and growing scrutiny of personal data storage

Microsoft has announced a major investment in UK data centres that will allow the software giant to offer its cloud computing service from Britain for the first time.

The company plans to build two centres in the UK next year, its chief executive Satya Nadella announced at the Future Decoded conference hosted by Microsoft on Tuesday.

The investment, worth hundreds of millions of pounds, will allow the businesses and government bodies that use Microsoft’s online computing services, Azure and Office 365, to ensure data about customers and citizens is kept in the UK. Previously, businesses would have applications powered by data centres in Ireland or the Netherlands.

Microsoft’s move comes amid growing international scrutiny of data practices and the European Court of Justice’s recent decision to invalidate “Safe Harbour”, a transatlantic treaty that had allowed the unfettered transfer of personal data from the EU to the US.

Microsoft, Amazon and Google are directly competing around the world to sell on-demand cloud services, which allow businesses to outsource functions such as data storage and IT software without upfront hardware costs. The market is estimated to be worth £3.4bn in the UK alone and growing rapidly.

Microsoft Dublin data centre - microsoft cloud computing, cloud based hub, computing, it, storing data, information technology, virtualisation, hybrid cloud infrastructureMicrosoft’s cloud data centre in Dublin

Amazon announced last week that it planned to build data centres for its cloud computing business in the UK. Liam Maxwell, the Government’s chief technology officer, said the two companies were investing $3bn (£2bn) between them. Microsoft has invested more than $2bn in cloud infrastructure across Europe.

Mr Maxwell said the Government spends more than £1bn on data centre hosting because data protection rules force it to keep some personal data in the country, and that Microsoft and Amazon building UK data centres would help it save “a lot of money” by outsourcing operations.

Scott Guthrie, the head of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise division, said the decision to open data centres in the UK was not a response to the Safe Harbour treaty being scrapped, but that “data residency” is an increasingly important issue.

He said one data centre was likely to be built near London, with another on the other side of the country, and that Microsoft now has data centres in twice as many territories as Amazon and Google combined.

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Windows 10 Build 10586: ‘gold disk’ release for the big Fall Update?

With less than a week to go until the speculated November 10 release day for Windows 10 (codename) Threshold 2, Microsoft has released build 10586 to participants in the Windows Insider Program. I updated my Dell Venue 8 Pro and noticed that there isn’t a build number displayed in the lower right corner of the desktop as there was for previous preview builds. It looks like build 10586 may be released as what will be officially called the Windows 10 Fall Update. This will be the first major update since Windows 10 launched on July 29.

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If you haven’t been following Microsoft’sWindows Experience Blog, here’s a summary of what it has announced as notable changes or new features since build 10547 on September 18:

Build 10547

  • Maximum Start menu columns up from 3 to 4;
  • Maximum Start menu tiles increased from 512 to 2048;
  • In Task View, apps can be snapped to left and right, can replace a previously snapped app with another, and you can swipe down to close an app;
  • Many Windows Store apps updated, including Photos, Xbox, Groove Music, Mail, Calendar, and Maps;
  • Text Input Panel improvements, including not having it automatically open when in Desktop mode (versus Tablet mode).

Build 10565

  • Skype messaging, calling, and video capabilities added through the Messaging, Phone, and Skype Video universal Windows apps;
  • The Edge browser gained a tab preview mode that displays a preview of the web page when hovering over the tab;
  • The Edge browser could synchronize Favorites and Reading Lists;
  • Cortana could interpret inked notes and then set reminders based on locations, times, and numbers from digital annotations;
  • Title bars could be set to more vibrant colors;
  • Device Activation began accepting activation keys from Windows 7, 8, or 8.1.

Build 10576

  • Microsoft Edge browser can cast video, picture, and audio content to any Miracast- or DLNA-enabled device on your network;
  • Cortana gained the ability to search for information from text selected in a PDF document;
  • The Xbox beta app could find and add Facebook friends on Xbox Live to play games, chat, and share clips;
  • The Xbox beta app also gained the ability record voiceovers using the Game DVR.

Build 10586

This latest build release does not add any new features. However, it provides fixes to a number of annoying issues:

  • Surface Pro 3 owners can use the Power button to sleep the PC instead of shutting it down;
  • The random flashing of a disksnapshot.exe command prompt was fixed. I saw this for the last time during the upgrade to build 10586!
  • Small form-factor devices, like the Dell Venue 8 Pro, that boot with rotation or virtual mode screen size set larger than the physical screen size should no longer experience a blue screen on upgrade. I’m one of the Windows Insiders who uses a Dell Venue 8 Pro as my text PC, so this one is much appreciated;
  • Apps and games should download from the Store more reliably. This remains to be seen. I did not see any Windows Store App updates available immediately after upgrading.

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The only oddity I’ve noticed in the short time I’ve have to test build 10586 is that after switching from Tablet mode to Desktop mode and then back again, all the Start Menu tiles that had a blue background changed to a light gray background. However, that doesn’t seem like a showstopper bug, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see this build released shortly as the Fall Update.

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Microsoft Surface Book teardown reveals almost impossible-to-repair design

Microsoft has been making the first-party Surface Windows tablets for a few years, and they’ve actually won a lot of fans. Now the company is trying its hand at a more traditional laptop form factor with the Surface Book. Well, it’s not very traditional when you look at thatwacky flexing hinge, but it actually looks like a laptop, and it’s packed full of high-end hardware. In fact, it’s packed so tightly that it’s almost impossible to open and repair anything yourself. The teardown experts at iFixit have dug into the Surface Book and given it the lowest possible score for repairability.

Laptops, like smartphones, have moved to a slimmer profile and more compact design. That necessitates some changes to the design that are not as friendly to tinkerers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a laptop these days with a removable battery or RAM that isn’t soldered to the motherboard. However, some devices are still more friendly than others, and the Surface Book definitely isn’t. Right from the start, it’s a hassle to open it up.

Just like with the Surface Pro 4, the only way to open the tablet portion of the Surface Book is to apply some heat and very carefully pull the screen away from the metal frame. Too much force can break the glass, which sort of defeats the purpose of opening your computer to fix it. When the Surface Book is open, a new problem presents itself — the motherboard is upside-down. There’s probably a very good engineering reason for doing it this way, but for consumers, it means almost any repair will include actually removing the motherboard completely from the casing.

Getting the motherboard out to actually see any of the components requires removing myriad connectors, most of which are taped and glued down. There’s a theme here — almost no screws, making the process of opening the Surface Book much more frustrating. The motherboard itself is vaguely anvil-shaped and sprawls throughout the chassis, meaning everything else needs to be taken out to free it. One small mercy, the SSD is not soldered to the board — it’s just incredibly hard to reach. The CPU and RAM are soldered, though. The battery for the tablet portion is glued to the frame behind the motherboard, but it’s only 2,387mAh in capacity. Microsoft claims just 4 hours of battery life in tablet mode.

Unpacking the keyboard portion of the Surface Book is a comparative walk in the park. Again, you need heat to pop the cover off (no screws). Inside are a few small circuit boards for the ports, dock, and a custom Nvidia GeForce GPU. There’s also a huge 6,800mAh battery glued securely to the bottom.

The Surface Book got a 1 out of 10 from iFixit, indicating it’s very hard to repair. If anything goes wrong with the Surface Book, I’m not even sure how Microsoft could repair this thing. When you figure in the labor, it might be cheaper just to replace the entire device.

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Microsoft Executive Julie Larson-Green to Take Over Management of Office Apps

Microsoft plans to hand over the reins of Microsoft Office to longtime executiveJulie Larson-Green, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, the corporate VP who had been leading the company’s Office efforts, will shift to a role within the unit headed by chief marketing officer Chris Capossela, the sources said.

The move comes at a critical time for Office, long one of Microsoft’s two biggest money-makers, along with Windows. Microsoft is in the process of shifting Office from a piece of software that companies and individuals purchase and upgrade over time to one that is licensed via an annual subscription. The company has also been trying to grow Office, both in terms of the number of apps that are part of the suite, and by bringing Office to new places, such as iOS and Android. Microsoft has also moved to make mobile Office apps free for devices with a 10.1-inch or smaller display.

Not all that work has been done in-house — the company spent $200 million to acquire Acompli, which became Outlook for the iPhone and Android, and has since acquired Sunrise and Wunderlist.

Larson-Green, who has been serving as chief experience officer for Microsoft’s services group, will keep those duties and add responsibility for the teams that develop mainstays like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as newer apps such as Sway.

In her more than 20 years at Microsoft, Larson-Green has had a number of prominent roles, including being the first woman to run the Windows engineering team, as well as a brief stint running Microsoft’s devices unit. Prior to working in Windows, Larson-Green was a top executive in the Office unit.

A Microsoft representative was not immediately available for comment.

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Microsoft Opens Huge Flagship NYC Store

The Fifth Avenue Apple store has a new neighbor. Microsoft today opened its first Manhattan flagship store at Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street.

The Microsoft Flagship Store celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony, and PCMag’s Sascha Segan was on hand to check out the five-floor, 22,000-square-foot store. Whether you’re eyeing a new Surface tablet, Lumia smartphone, or Microsoft Band fitness tracker, the company’s latest hardware is on display, as are Signature Edition PCs, the Xbox One, Office software, and a variety of accessories.

The first 1,000 people in line today received complimentary tickets to Redmond’s community concert featuring Pitbull, which kicks off at 8 p.m. tonight in Rockefeller Center. Gamers, however, are invited to 677 Fifth Ave. at 9 p.m. tonight ahead of the midnight launch of Halo 5: Guardians. The celebration offers access to early gameplay, giveaways, food, and more. Attendees can also win a trip for two to Seattle for a tour of Xbox and 343 Industries—creators of the Halo franchise.

Microsoft Flagship Store

Since opening its first brick-and-mortar shop six years ago, Microsoft has expanded its retail presence with more than 110 stores across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada. But this is its first massive flagship store.

“One of our goals, since we started the stores in 2009, was to have a real marquee location where we could bring an expanded retail presence,” Kelly Soligon, general manager of Worldwide Marketing for Microsoft Retail and Online Stores, said in a statement.

“Frequently, we’re asked by customers, ‘When are you coming to my city?’ and New York has been one of the top requests,” she continued. “Waiting for that perfect real estate location, which we were able to secure last year, and building out the right footprint, is super exciting for us.”

On the third floor of Microsoft’s new Fifth Avenue location, visitors will find The Dell Experience, which showcases the full range of Dell products, from the XPS, Inspiron, and Precision computers to Alienware gaming products.

Dell Experience

There’s also an answer desk for technical questions, troubleshooting, and repairs (team members speak a total of 19 languages); a community theater for training sessions and hosting in-store events; high-definition video walls that stream videos, images, and information; and the culture wall to display noncommercial, artistic images.

Redmond will also give more than $3 million in grants to 14 nonprofit organizations in each of the city’s five boroughs. Recipients include All Star Code, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Directions for Our Youth, National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, New York Botanical Garden, New York Hall of Science, Per Scholas, PowerMyLearning, Staten Island Children’s Museum, Staten Island MakerSpace, We Connect the Dots, and Women’s Housing Economic Development Corp.

“This is something that is super important to us and really layers back up to the company’s mission of how we are helping people achieve more,” Soligon said. “We really strive to be part of the fabric of every community where we operate.”

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Windows Phone apps are disappearing from the platform — can Windows 10 turn it around?

Microsoft has struggled to make Windows Phone a viable competitorin the mobile ecosystem for more than five years now. There have been some good devices running Windows Phone, but the lack of apps has been a constant pain point that has limited adoption. On the cusp of Windows 10 coming to smartphones, Microsoft is dealing with a new problem, and it might be entirely their own doing. Developers that have previously been maintaining Windows Phone apps are losing interest, and in some cases dropping support altogether.

The latest developer to pull out of Windows Phone is the financial manager service Mint. The users of the Windows Phone app are not pleased in the least, but Mint’s position is that development resources are not infinite, and it already has Web, Android, and iOS versions to maintain. Windows Phone apparently isn’t worth the effort. This follows the end of support for apps by Pinterest, Bank of America, Kabam, and more.

Microsoft can’t blame all of this on the dominance of Android or the negative portrayal of Windows Phone in the media. Microsoft itself has often not shown Windows Phone the kind of love it should have. Implementations of Skype and Office are better on competing platforms than they are on Windows Phone, and Microsoft has removed many Lumia photography apps from the store as well. You can’t blame third-party developers for wanting to bail when Microsoft seems more interested in supporting iPad Office users than users of Windows Phone.

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There’s a chance Microsoft could turn things around with Windows 10 on phones. This will be the first universal Microsoft OS that can share apps between desktop and mobile with very little legwork for developers. And there are a lot of Windows PCs out there, many of which are eligible for a free Windows 10 upgrade. That might keep developers on-board with Windows Phone if they can easily support computers and phones with the same code.

Windows 10 will also support a method for getting Android and iOS apps running on Windows. This is a good move for Microsoft, but it’s probably also the mobile platform’s only hope. It’s not ideal either. Developers will probably port apps to Windows 10 because it’s easy, but they won’t look or work like Windows apps — they’ll work like Android and iOS apps. By making this an option, Microsoft is encouraging developers like Mint to refocus their efforts on native apps for other platforms knowing they can also port those apps to Windows 10 on phones later. Maybe it won’t work perfectly, but it’s not like there are very many Windows Phone users to complain (sorry).

Windows 10 is giving developers every possible opportunity to be part of the ecosystem, even if that won’t always offer the best experience for users. At least they’ll have an experience, right? Windows 10 is expected to start appearing on existing phones in December. After five years of Windows Phone, this might be Microsoft’s last chance.

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Hello, Halo 5: Microsoft’s fresh take on the popular game

From CNET Magazine: The Halo video game universe is about to expand with new characters and storylines. Will passionate fans like what they see? 

I’m sitting inside the armory wing of a Pelican dropship, more than 500 years in the future, getting ready to wage all-out war. The other Spartan supersoldiers, like me, are 7-foot-tall genetically augmented humans clad in 1,000-pound armor.

An arrow in my heads-up display tells me to approach a raised, hexagonal platform where the hologram of our commander briefs my fellow soldiers and me on our mission. She explains our objectives and shows us detailed 3D tours of the terrain we’re about to fight on.

We move to our battle stations, ready to strike our first blow.

In reality, I’m seated in an elaborate set on the show floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center — chilled by full-blast AC against the June heat — during the marketing extravaganza known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3. I’m also wearing Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset, which analyzes my surroundings and floats 3D images before my eyes.

This is the closest I may ever get to experiencing life inside the universe of Halo, the science fiction series that made shooting video games the most successful and beloved genre of a generation. Thanks to Microsoft, which owns the Halo brand, I’m getting a firsthand taste of Halo’s new look.

The illusion breaks when I remove the HoloLens and head off to an Xbox game controller to play Halo 5: Guardians. Due out October 27, the next major installment in the Halo series represents Microsoft’s big push to persuade players to plunk down about $350, £300 or AU$500 for its upgraded Xbox One game console. Blockbuster titles like Halo drive console sales, and Microsoft has waited nearly two years to deliver a game like Guardians.

If that sounds awfully weighty for a new game, think of it in cinematic terms. Halo is the video game equivalent of Star Wars. It’s a sweeping space opera about humanity’s ongoing struggle against hostile alien species. Players assume the role of Spartan John-117, also known as Master Chief, as he fights galactic battles with advanced civilizations. Over the Internet, gamers can mix it up in complex, multiplayer combat where an enemy player can up the stakes with a rocket launcher, a tank or a walking armored vehicle nearly two stories high.

The HoloLens adds a new wrinkle. Although Microsoft doesn’t commercially sell the headset — yet — it points to the future of video games: rooted in storytelling and delivered by technology that plunges us smack into the center of this alien world.

The trick is making sure players stay along for the ride.

Shining legacy

Three years in the making, Guardians will debut exclusively for Microsoft’s Xbox One. While it’s the fifth entry in the series, it’s only the second from Microsoft’s in-house studio 343 Industries, or 343i — named after an advanced artificial intelligence in Halo’s fictional world.

Microsoft created 343i specifically to shepherd Halo after the series’ creator, Bungie, split from the company in 2007 to make new games on its own. Microsoft’s studio released Halo 4 three years ago, receiving high marks from critics and earning $220 million the first day of its release and $300 million in its first week.

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Apple Store’s new Fifth Avenue neighbor? Microsoft

Microsoft has found a home in the Big Apple for showcasing its products and services — five blocks south of Apple’s own flagship store.

NEW YORK — The Fifth Avenue Apple store, known as the Cube, is a destination for gadget enthusiasts and tourists alike.

Just five blocks south on the famed street, Microsoft is hoping to capture that same chic with a flagship store of its own.

The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant will open the doors to its newest, and biggest, store on Monday. To attract crowds, the company is offering tickets at the grand opening for a concert later that evening with rapper Pitbull.

The Microsoft store is just the latest attempt by the company to build a stronger relationship with consumers and to bring back some excitement to its products and services. After years of letting its hardware partners sell products running its software, Microsoft is looking to have a more direct hand in pushing Windows 10 to consumers.

Customers walking into the space, which was previously occupied by Italian fashion retailer Fendi, will immediately see the latest products from Microsoft. The first two tables display the Surface Book, the much buzzed about laptop-tablet combination the company showed off earlier this month, as well as theSurface Pro 4, the updated version of its work-friendly tablet.

Beyond size and a second level, Microsoft’s newest store is similar to the rest of the more than 110 Microsoft shops in North America. There’s a lot of space and many bright lights, along with areas devoted to different facets of Windows 10, from products created by its hardware partners to Microsoft smartphones to its Xbox One video game console. Tech support can be found upstairs, along with two spaces for classes and workshops that deal with Windows 10 devices and software.

The highlight of the shop is an eye-catching 30-foot promotional display made up of 36 screens packed tightly together. That’s flanked by an array of displays that run along each side of the store and show off Microsoft products. According to the store’s senior manager, Bill Madden, they could also be used to stream local community events such as a parade in Times Square. The new store is also the only Microsoft outlet to feature the company’s massive Surface Hub touchscreen display.

Outside, the store’s facade features a “culture wall.” In the evenings it will show digital works by local artists, though the company hasn’t nailed down the details of the art that will be displayed.

Given the high-profile location, the store will serve more as a kind of interactive billboard than a simple retail outlet. Madden declined to comment on any expectations of how much revenue the store will generate.

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Microsoft sets sights on gamers with low-end Surface Book

Costing $200 more than the most basic Surface laptop, this model features an Nvidia GeForce graphics chip rather than relying on graphics tech built into the main processor.

Microsoft has tweaked its Surface Book lineup just before next week’s launch by adding a low-end model designed to lure gamers with better graphics.

This new version of the most basic Surface Book laptop, spotted Thursday by TechRadar, adds a separate Nvidia GeForce graphics chip rather than relying on graphics tech integrated directly into the model’s Intel Core i5 processor. Separate graphics chips cost extra but help endow video games with lavish landscapes and snappy performance. Until now, the GeForce option was available only on higher-end Surface Book models.

This low-end, gamer-friendly Surface Book, which includes 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, costs $1,699 (£1,100 or AU$2,350). That’s $200 more than the same model without the GeForce chip. This new version is set for release Monday, the official launch date for all Surface Book models, but is not available for preorder. All other models are showing at least four-week to seven-week waits before shipping, according to Microsoft’s site.

The Redmond, Washington-based company has touted the Surface Book, with its detachable keyboard, touchscreen display and atypical hinge, as the “ultimate laptop.” Microsoft’s first homegrown laptop, the Surface Book embodies an ambitious transformation for a company that, aside from its Xbox game console, chiefly sold software for most of its history. That has changed with the release of the first Surface tablets in 2012, as well as the Lumia smartphones released since Microsoft bought Nokia’s devices and services business in 2014.

The Windows 10 laptop is entering a crowded market, but Windows 10 has helped fuel Microsoft’s strong quarterly results, released Thursday. The Surface Book will compete not just with Apple MacBooks but with laptops from Microsoft’s own business partners that sell Windows-powered machines. Microsoft launched Windows 10 this summer in an attempt to improve a reputation damaged by the confusing Windows 8.

Microsoft has apparently been rejiggering its final Surface Book lineup since the October 6 unveiling. It also added a top-end Surface Book with 1TB of storage for $3,199 earlier this week, though that model shows a January 22 shipping date on Microsoft’s site.

The extra Nvidia graphics capabilities add $200 (£130 or AU$275) to the price of the most basic $1,499 Surface Book. The $1,699 price tag is the same as an upgrade on the most basic model to 256GB of built-in storage. Customers in that price range will need to decide whether more storage or improved graphics is a better bet for them.

One unknown factor: Microsoft hasn’t detailed which Nvidia graphics processor is in the Surface Book other than to say it will have 1GB of GDDR5 high-speed memory.

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