Excited fans queue for the official opening of Flagship Microsoft Store on Oxford Circus

These were the biggest Microsoft UK stories of 2019

2019 has been a busy year for Microsoft.

The company opened a flagship store in London, unveiled new Surface devices, announced an Xbox for launch in 2020, held its most successful Future Decoded ever and worked with banks, retailers, schools and more across the UK use its technology to improve how they work.

The Microsoft UK News Centre was there to cover all of it, bringing readers the latest news.

Here are the most popular stories we published in the past 12 months:

10) ‘Thank you for helping us make history’: Microsoft’s new London flagship store opens to the public

On July 11 at 11am, Microsoft opened the doors to its new flagship store in London. The first physical retail store for Microsoft in the UK is located on Oxford Circus and covers 21,932 square feet over three floors.

Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer; Cindy Rose, UK Chief Executive; and Senior Store Manager John Carter welcomed the public – some of whom had queued since 7am – by giving speeches in front of the doors on Regent Street.

Rose said the store was a “symbol of Microsoft’s enduring commitment to the UK”, which allows people to “experience the best the company has to offer”. “Thank you for helping us make history today,” she added.

Read the full story here.

9) Upgrade to Project Scarlett with Xbox All Access

In October, we revealed that gamers in the UK will be able to upgrade to Xbox’s next-generation Project Scarlett console in 2020 as part of a new All Access programme being rolled out.

Xbox All Access lets people pay for Xbox consoles over 24 months, with no upfront cost. For a limited time, anyone purchasing an Xbox One X console in this way before December 31, 2019, will have the option to upgrade to Project Scarlett when it officially launches in Holiday 2020.

Xbox has said the eagerly-awaited Project Scarlett will “set a new bar for console power, speed and performance”.

Jeff Gattis, General Manager of Platform and Devices Marketing at Xbox, wrote in a blog post: “At Xbox we believe strongly in choice. Choice in what, where and how you play, in addition to where and how you buy. It’s with that that we’re thrilled to reintroduce Xbox All Access to more players around the world starting with the US, UK and Australia – and now including an all-new upgrade option for the next Xbox console, Project Scarlett.

“With Xbox All Access, you get an all-inclusive Xbox experience with everything you need to start playing right out of the box. The program is a great choice for players who want flexibility in their purchasing options and are looking for a great value.”

Read the full story here.

8) Microsoft publishes guidance to boost public sector cloud security

At the start of 2019, Microsoft published guidance that enables public sector organisations to secure their Office 365 tenants in line with the Government’s security principles, ensuring users stay safe, while supporting organisations’ compliance efforts with GDPR.

The move will make it easier for public sector workers such as nurses, police officers and social workers to communicate and collaborate more easily with colleagues as they won’t need to rely solely on the Government’s Public Services Network.

Switching email, documents and spreadsheets to the cloud would also be more secure and save the Government money as it moves away from the internal intranet service that many parts of the public sector currently use.

Row of servers in an office, with sun rising through windows in the background

To help with the change, Microsoft has published guidance explaining how Office 365 – which includes programs such as Teams, Outlook, Word and Excel – meets the National Cyber Security Centre’s “14 Cloud Security Principles”, which was released in 2016.

Michael Wignall, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft UK, said: “This documentation provides a thoughtful and detailed outline of how to secure your Office 365 tenant in line with the Government’s security principles and offers practical guidance to ensure users stay safe right now, and helps support organisations compliance efforts with GDPR.”

Read the full story here.

7) OceanMind uses AI and Microsoft’s cloud to tackle illegal fishing

During Future Decoded in October, we published a story on Oceanmind, which uses AI and satellites to identify boats around the world that may not be complying with local regulations. The company is currently tracking thousands of vesseland has the capacity to track many more. 

Through an AI for Earth grant, Microsoft previously supported OceanMind – which is based in Didcot, Oxfordshire – as it moved its analytics programs to the cloud, which made processing quicker and enabled the application of AI in real time. 

The AI OceanMind uses to identify illegal or unregulated fishing uses data from a range of sources, including collision-avoidance transponders from boats, radar and satellite imagery, and mobile phone signals. A machine learning algorithm developed by the company then identifies potential misconduct, such as fishing too close to shore or in areas where fishing is restricted. 

The company has helped intercept a cargo boat that was wanted in Asia for illegal fishing and has links to human trafficking.

Read the full story here.

6) Let’s face it, we have to stop using passwords

A survey by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), released in April, found that “123456” was the most used password in Britain, followed by “123456789”, “qwerty” – the series of letters that appear in a line on a computer keyboard – “password” and “1111111”.

Sian John, Microsoft UK’s Chief Security Advisor, said: “A lot of people use their corporate email as their main email account. So, when they register for a website, they enter their corporate email address and the same password. They are doing this on multiple sites. The other challenge is when people use their dog’s name or a sporting team as their password.”

Guessing a simple password is just one way cybercriminals can steal a person’s data, potentially costing the victim money and time as they try to take back control of their accounts.

Microsoft is helping people fight back by trying to end the era of passwords in favour of pin numbers and biometrics, such as fingerprints. Windows Hello, for example, uses facial recognition technology, letting users log in to their computer simply by looking at the camera above their screen. You can also use the feature to sign in to selected apps, including OneDrive and Dropbox. Windows Hello-supported devices use two cameras to create a 3D image of your face, including infrared radiation to prevent spoofing.

Read the full story here.

5) The key to finding happiness at work is fulfilling your childhood ambitions, research reveals

In October, Microsoft Surface released research revealing that nearly nine in 10 (88%) people who have the job they dreamed of as a kid are happy with their career. Londoners are the happiest at work, with 72% content in their chosen career.

When it comes to specific sectors, people working in IT and Telecoms and construction are the happiest (80% each) – it’s worth pointing out that workers in both of these areas are most likely to have followed their childhood ambitions (54% and 56% respectively).

Simon Lambert, Devices Category Director at Microsoft UK, said: “It’s clear from this research that Brits want to follow careers they’re passionate about. But doing so requires access to the right skills and technologies. That’s where Microsoft can help, providing people with the tools they need to unlock their creativity, be more productive and, ultimately, fulfil their ambitions”

So, forget earning lots of money or getting promoted; for most Brits, the key to finding happiness is doing the job they have dreamed of since they were young.

Read the full story here.

4) Access granted: Helping people with disabilities explore the places they love

WeWalk and Access Earth were two companies involved in this year’s Microsoft for Startups cohort in London, which helps early-stage businesses grow through mentoring and access to technology. A feature we published in June focused on the founders of those firms and the work they are doing to promote accessibility.

WeWalk, led by Gökhan Mericliler, has created a product that fits onto any cane and uses ultrasound sensors to warn visually impaired people of high obstacles such as tree branches. The device can also be paired with a mobile phone for navigation and other digital features. The 34-year-old believes using Azure alongside Microsoft’s artificial intelligence technology can take WeWalk’s device to the next level, helping more visually impaired people leave their phones in their pockets, rather than carry them in their hands in order to hear navigation and message alerts. That’s not very safe or practical, if you’re holding a cane at the same time.

A woman uses WeWalk in the street

Access Earth, led by Matt McCann, is a free app that lets users find places that suit their own accessibility needs, based on the reviews of people who have already been there. So, if you were visiting a city or town for the weekend, you could use your phone to easily find out if the hotels, restaurants and venues you wanted to visit had step-free access, wide doors for wheelchairs, and accessible parking and bathrooms, among other things.

Read the full story here.

3) The world’s reached a turning point on data and privacy, says Microsoft president Brad Smith

In September, Microsoft President Brad Smith was interviewed at an event in the UK to mark the launch of his new book – Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age. The book, which was written with Carol Ann Browne, Senior Director of External Relations and Communications at Microsoft, looks at how the development of technology will continue to have a major, positive impact on people’s lives across the world, but there will be downsides that need to be addressed.

During the talk in London, Smith said the world was at a turning point as people demand more control over the technology they use and their data. He highlighted how global scandals involving social media companies and governments over the past decade have made the public much more protective of their personal information and how it is used. 

Smith proposed that part of the solution was to truly democratise data. 

Brad Smith and the Tools & Weapons book

He said: That means two different things. One is the right of every one of us as individuals to retain our own rights in our own data; and to think about the cloud and large data centres in which data is stored as places where we in the tech sector need to act as stewards of people’s data and protect people’s data. I think the first aspect of democratising data is recognising that it belongs to individuals. 

“The second part is the need for what we see as an open data revolution. I think there’s a real risk, especially in a world focused on artificial intelligence, that the winners will be the companies or countries that have the largest datasets. One of the things we share insight on is just how AI is developed and why it has come together the way it has.

Read the full story here.

2) New to OneNote? Here’s everything you need to know in four charts

In May, we published a quick guide to getting started with OneNote, the digital note-taking app that’s part of Office 365.

OneNote lets you type information in your notebook or insert it from other apps and web pages, take handwritten notes or draw ideas using a stylus or your finger, use highlighting and tags for easy follow-up, share notebooks to collaborate with others and access your notebooks from any device. You can even record audio notes, insert online videos and add files.

Read the full story here.

1) Microsoft announces opening date for flagship Microsoft Store in London

Two months before the Microsoft store in London opened its doors, we revealed the first details of the launch and what customers could expect.

We highlighted how those who work, live, shop in or visit the UK would be able to test and experience the latest technology, products and services from Microsoft and its partners. Interactive zones, surrounded by immersive video walls running throughout the store, make this the best place to get hands-on with Surface, Windows, Office, Xbox and PC gaming, HoloLens mixed-reality and more.

The flagship Microsoft Store features an Answer Desk, offering a dedicated area for customers to get tech support, trainings, repairs and advice from trusted advisors on Microsoft products and services.

An aerial view of the new Microsoft store in London

A Community Theatre, a space for tech, coding and STEM learning, runs free, year-round workshops and programmes for customers. If you are a business owner looking for the latest tech to grow your business, a gamer who wants to join a community or show your skills in a tournament, a student wanting to brush up on coding or a teacher looking to bring Minecraft alive in the classroom, customers of all ages and abilities can learn and develop their digital skills.

“This new flagship store builds upon Microsoft’s significant track record of investment in the UK,” said Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK. “More importantly, located in the heart of central London it will serve as a vibrant hub – for both visitors to our great city as well as a variety of different local communities – to come and play, learn, create and discover.”

Read the full story here.