2018 sign

The 10 biggest Microsoft UK stories of 2018

By every measure, Microsoft has had a busy year.

The company has once again been at the cutting-edge of technology, helping people, businesses and organisations use its products in the office and at home.

Microsoft has launched new devices, worked with companies to develop the future of technology and push the boundaries of what can be achieved. It even placed a data centre in the sea off the coast of Scotland. That amazing story was just one of the 10 most-read articles on the Microsoft UK News Centre in 2018; here’s the full list:

10) The Orkney Islands in Scotland just became one of the most exciting places in tech

In June, Microsoft announced a research project with a difference – placing a data centre in the sea. In a blog, Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, wrote about her excitement at Project Natick as well as pride that it was being launched in this country.

Microsoft's Project Natick at the launch site in the city of Stromness on Orkney Island, Scotland on Sunday May 27, 2018

The shipping-container-sized prototype, which will be left in the sea for a set period of time before being recovered, can hold data and process information for up to five years without maintenance. Despite being as powerful as several thousand high-end consumer PCs, the data centre uses minimal energy, as it’s naturally cooled.

It is powered by renewable energy from the European Marine Energy Centre’s tidal turbines and wave energy converters, which generate electricity from the movement of the sea.

9) Surgeons are using HoloLens to ‘see inside’ patients before they operate on them

In February, the Microsoft UK News Centre caught up with surgeons at Imperial College London, who are using HoloLens. They are wearing the mixed-reality headset in operating theatres so they can spot key blood vessels, bones and muscles, making procedures quicker and safer.

Surgeon at Imperial College London using Hololens

HoloLens allows the surgeons to take CT scans that have previously been completed and overlay 3D digital models of them onto a patient’s limb during reconstructive surgery.

The technique has been used to help surgeons successfully move blood vessels from one part of the body to another to help open wounds heal. Patients have included a 41-year-old man who injured his leg in a car crash, an 85-year-old woman who fractured her fibula and a person who developed an infection that required surgery.

8) Microsoft unveils lightweight and portable Surface Go

Microsoft’s latest device is the Surface Go – the smallest and lightest product in the range. Designed to be carried and used anywhere, the two-in-one Surface Go has a 10-inch screen, is 8.3mm thin and weighs just 1.15 pounds. It also boasts nine hours of battery life and is able to run Office apps.

Surface Go

When it was released in July, Chief Product Officer Panos Panay wrote: “Many of us play different roles throughout the day, moving from work or school to home and everywhere in between. Our products don’t do just one thing because people don’t do just one thing. Since my two youngest daughters have started using Surface Go, I see them watching movies, reading and drawing on it every day. It’s the perfect device for them. And for me, whether I’m at home, in the office, or on a plane, putting my Surface Pen on the screen and letting my thoughts flow is a necessary step in my creative process. It’s how I work. It’s so easy to carry Surface Go with me so I can capture those moments, instantly.”

7) How a watch helped Emma write again

Despite being published in March 2017, our feature on a Microsoft researcher who helped a woman with Parkinson’s is still hugely popular.

Haiyan Zhang, an Innovation Director at Microsoft, took part in a BBC series called The Big Life Fix. While on the show, she created a watch for a woman with Parkinson’s that helped control her tremors – the Emma Watch.

Emma Watch

Emma Lawton was a graphic designer who struggled to write her own name until the Emma Watch was created. Millions of people watched the BBC programme at home as she wore the device, and put pen to paper to write one, perfect word: Emma.

6) Minecraft Better Together Update lets you start on console and keep playing on mobile

Minecraft is one of the biggest games on the planet, so it’s not surprising articles about new features are popular, too. This update let people team up with friends to play the game regardless of which platform they were using – Xbox, Windows, Apple, Google or virtual reality.

Minecraft characters on top of a mountain in the game

The update also let players create a world on a console or Windows PC and continue building it on a mobile phone.

5) Solve Xbox’s riddles and win a bunch of golden bananas valued at £80,000

In March, Xbox launched a competition to mark the release of Sea of Thieves on Xbox and PC. The response was phenomenal. Gamers from the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany and Australia battled it out to solve a series of riddles online and in the real world to win four bananas made of gold – each valued at £20,000.

Bananas made of gold

The bananas were also put on display at the National Maritime Museum’s Neptune Court, giving players the chance to see the prize up close before they joined the quest.

4) Forza Motorsport 7: Nine cars you should definitely drive

This was another article published in 2017, but continued to be read this year as the popularity of Forza Motorsport 7 grew.

Porsche car in Forza 7

The game features more than 30 tracks and over 700 cars, including the largest collection of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches ever, and each one has been authentically recreated, inside and out.

3) A powerful machine learning system used by Microsoft has been released to the world

In October, Microsoft announced it was releasing Infer.NET on open-source site GitHub. The machine learning has been used in Azure and Office, as well as being used to gain a new understanding of childhood asthma.

A blue Microsoft Surface keyboard

Infer.NET is unique because it creates a bespoke learning algorithm for an individual and their data model, so they don’t have to try to create a program using a widely-available standard algorithm that may not be a perfect match. Because the learning algorithm is compiled for a unique dataset, the person who designed it can also understand why the system behaves in a certain way when it’s running.

2) Microsoft helps launch world’s first blockchain-based investment product

In March, the UK News Centre reported on Nivaura, a UK financial technology firm that used Azure to successfully register, clear and settle two Principal Protected Notes linked to the FTSE 100 – one through the traditional clearing infrastructure and a second using an open public blockchain.

ethereum bitcoin sitting on laptop with financial charts on screen

Avtar Sehra, Chief Executive and Chief Product Architect at Nivaura, said that using the Ethereum blockchain will be cheaper for companies launching investment products as it reduces the need for middlemen and costs associated with post-trade registration, clearing and settlement

1) Completing Sea of Thieves and becoming a pirate legend unlocks new hideouts and new quests, ships and treasure, Rare reveals

The best-read article of 2018 concerns one of the biggest Xbox releases of the year. In February, Rare announced upcoming features for Sea of Thieves, such as becoming a pirate legend unlocks a new section of the game featuring hideouts, special ships and unique treasures.

sea of thieves

Developers had already said that players of the shared-world adventure game could complete quests from trading companies with the aim of being awarded the title of “pirate legend”. They then revealed that achieving that status marks the start of a new part of the game that features “legendary” voyages.