This week in Microsoft devices and services

31 Jan 2021

Progress towards new feature update methods

This week another Windows Feature Experience Pack release was made available to Windows Insider Beta Channel users on Windows 10 version 2004.

Windows Feature Experience Pack is significant because historically features updates have been delivered semi-annually using a process that required a new operating system installation and the associated process of moving drivers and user content. As a result, feature updates have been significantly more intrusive, in terms of user downtime, compared to monthly quality updates.

Microsoft started the move away from delivering feature updates requiring a new Operating System installation by using “enablement packages” in late 2019 (version 1909) and also in late 2020 (version 20H2). Both feature updates used the identical set of system files to the immediately proceeding versions of Windows 1o and thus update had minimal downtime for users.

The specific Windows Feature Experience Pack released is for minor updates to screen snipping features which are arguably are no different bug fixes but no doubt it is the delivery mechanism that is important not the specific feature addressed.

Microsoft Endpoint Manager updates

Configuration Manager Technical Preview 2101 has been released. See the notes here.

If you use both Intune and Android Enterprise see the updates this week here.

Hybrid identity updates

Azure AD Connect cloud sync is now generally available. This provides an option for hybrid environments to replace their on-prem Azure AD Connect sync server. This is enabled with an agent on-prem initiating the sync and then the cloud based service executing the sync processing. There are some advantages around availability as more than one sync agent can be on-prem. No surprise with Microsoft confirming that Azure AD Connect cloud sync “is the future of our hybrid identity sync capabilities”. A significant limitation, as of current release, is password writeback is not supported on cloud sync (an essential feature for Azure Self Service Password Reset).

Security updates

Application Guard for Microsoft Office generally available. Office opens files from potentially unsafe locations in Application Guard, a secure container that’s isolated from the device through hardware-based virtualization. The minimum prerequisites include Windows 10 Enterprise version 2004 (20H1). The feature applies to Microsoft 365 Apps (formerly Office 365 ProPlus).

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint is now generally available for Windows Virtual Desktop.

If you use Microsoft MFA in a hybrid directory environment there are important changes coming on how users authentication phone numbers are managed.

Financial results

Microsoft reported quarterly results to 31 December 2020. Windows Commercial products and cloud services revenue increased by 10% (up 8% in constant currency). A big surprise to us was that Surface revenue increased only 3% compared to the same quarter last year (up 1%in constant currency), as in the same period Intel announced 33% increase in revenue for PC led sales.

AMD reported quarterly revenue of $3.24B up 53% year-over-year and full-year revenue of $9.76B up 45%.

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