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SHOWTIME, Amblin Television and 343 Industries bring Halo to television

It’s a big day for Halo – today, SHOWTIME president and CEO David Nevins announced the network has ordered a 10-episode season based on the legendary video game franchise!

In its adaptation for SHOWTIME, Halo (working title) will take place in the universe that first came to be in 2001, dramatizing an epic 26th-century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant. Kyle Killen (Awake) will serve as executive producer, writer and showrunner. Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) will direct multiple episodes and also executive produce the hour-long series which enters production in early 2019.

Halo is our most ambitious series ever, and we expect audiences who have been anticipating it for years to be thoroughly rewarded,” said Nevins. “In the history of television, there simply has never been enough great science fiction. Kyle Killen’s scripts are thrilling, expansive and provocative, Rupert Wyatt is a wonderful, world-building director, and their vision of Halo will enthrall fans of the game while also drawing the uninitiated into a world of complex characters that populate this unique universe.”

“This is a truly exciting moment for the Halo franchise,” stated Kiki Wolfkill, head of Halo Transmedia at 343 Industries. “Together with our creative and production partners at SHOWTIME and Amblin Television, the Halo television series will represent new and exciting way for fans to enter and engage with the Halo universe. We can’t wait to share more on what’s ahead.”

Halo will be executive produced by Killen, Wyatt and Scott Pennington, along with Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank for Amblin Television. The series will be distributed globally by CBS Studios International.

For all things Halo and the recently announced Halo Infinite, be sure to check out Halo Waypoint and stay tuned to Xbox Wire.

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Nimble Collective now powered by Microsoft Azure accelerates the future of animation

Nimble Collective and Microsoft Azure

— Nimble Collective on Microsoft Azure extends global reach;  plans to revolutionize animated content creation —

June 28, 2018 – MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA  – Today, Nimble Collective, the leading cloud-based animation technology platform, announced that it is available and optimized on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. As Nimble Collective’s exclusive cloud partner, Microsoft Azure provides storage and compute services to power Nimble’s high-end animation platform, rendering workloads and media asset management. As a Microsoft partner, Nimble will receive go-to-market and market development support from one of the world’s largest enterprise salesforces.

Microsoft Azure’s support of Nimble lets us expand our global reach to bring new voices, stories and artists to the world of animation,” said Rex Grignon, Co-Founder, CEO, Nimble Collective. “It will help us further reduce cost, complexity and enable new and established studios to accelerate their animation production. Nimble Collective is excited to partner with a platform company, with a trusted public cloud – Microsoft Azure – to deliver a world-class cloud-based animation production and management solution.”

Nimble Collective’s cloud-based animation production platform streamlines the traditional animation studio infrastructure. With full end-to-end production capabilities hosted in Microsoft Azure’s secure hyperscale environment, Nimble’s platform integrates everything digital animators need, including streaming workstations, asset management, license brokering, versioning, elastic compute farm to MPAA certification. All of which is seamlessly woven together in a browser-based workflow that dramatically simplifies and improves archaic animation processes.

“We go beyond data and storage to deliver a complete industrial-strength platform that dramatically lowers barriers to entry for every animator.” said Grignon. “Microsoft Azure uniquely gives us the features, performance, and scalability to offer our customers better user experiences, reliability and security a fraction of the cost of in-house studios.”

“Microsoft is committed to helping content creators achieve more using the cloud with a partner-focused approach to this industries transformation,” said Tad Brockway, General Manager, Azure Storage, Media and Edge at Microsoft Corp.  “We’re excited to work with innovators like Nimble Collective to help them transform how animated content is produced, managed and delivered.”

“This partnership with Azure represents further validation of the promise of Nimble Collective and we can’t wait to see what the future holds” said James Bennett, Co-founder/Creative Director with Shomen Productions. “Nimble is our solution of choice for our remote based production studio. We’re impressed with their user-friendly pipeline and amazing support team.”

About Nimble Collective

Founded in 2014 by Academy Award-winning animators and technology entrepreneurs, Nimble Collective is revolutionizing the animation content market by offering studio-level capabilities without the costly and complex infrastructure. With all the production capabilities of the animation pipeline hosted in a secure cloud environment, animators and their collaborators, wherever they are in the world, are able to spend more time creating instead of managing infrastructure. With Nimble Collective, studios can spend more time creating, and save up to 75% on overhead and drive faster time to market. Nimble Collective is the brainchild of animators Rex Grignon (Toy Story, Madagascar, and founding head of character animation at DreamWorks), Jason Schleifer (Lord of the Rings, Megamind) and Scott LaFleur (How to Train Your Dragon, Megamind). Learn more at NimbleCollective.com.

Media Contact for Nimble Collective

Juliet Travis
Liftoff Communications
510-612-9622
juliet@liftoffcommunications.com

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How to ‘come out’ as an LGBTQ+ ally at work

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I want to help my coworkers feel respected for who they really are. But sometimes I’m not sure what to do or say to show that I’m an ally, and I don’t want to mess up or hurt anyone’s feelings. How can I be a better ally?

Answer: The first step to becoming a better ally is wanting to be one—so you’re on the path already! There are many ways to be an ally in your professional realm, including connecting with coworkers to learn what they face and care about, stepping in when someone isn’t being treated with respect, and educating others. These Microsoft employees, who are all allies or members of the LGBTQ+ community, have some advice.

Know what an ally is and why you should be one

An LGBTQ+ ally is someone who respects equal rights, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ social movements; stands up for members of the LGBTQ+ community; and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. Allies increase protection, safety, and equality.

“Coming out” as an ally in the workplace sends a powerful message of affirmation and support to LGBTQ+ employees, which can help them feel more respected and able to do their work.

Spend a little time thinking about why you want to be an ally—and think about why allies are needed and how you could make a difference, said Andrea Llamas, a senior human resources advisor.

Often, the motivation to be an ally comes from personal stories and connections.

“Everyone has a friend or family member that is part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Llamas said. “To make the world a better place for the people in that community, [we need to get to the place where] sexual orientation or gender identity is not important.”

Once you know why you want to be an ally and what you might want to accomplish by being one—whether it’s as simple as making another person feel comfortable or as big as becoming a vocal advocate for change—you can figure out how to do it.

Set out to learn more

Many people feel unsure of their role as allies in part because they aren’t familiar with the experiences or realities of LGBTQ+ people. Don’t worry if you don’t know what a term means or if you aren’t familiar with an issue. Research is where to start, Llamas said.

“If you don’t have the information you need and if you are curious, ask,” she said.

If you do ask a coworker who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, make sure that you pose your question in a respectful way and perhaps in private. First and foremost, communicate your openness and desire to learn so that you can support.

If you’re worried about saying the wrong thing to LGBTQ+ coworkers—such as using the wrong pronoun—respectfully ask them how they prefer to be addressed or how you should refer to something. You might also ask how they would prefer that people address mistakes when they happen, suggested Michael Tan, a Microsoft manager of a transgender employee.

But don’t rely on LGBTQ+ people to educate you on everything; do your own research. Morty Scanlon, a business program manager, suggests using resources from Straight for Equality, The Human Rights Campaign, and Outstanding to learn more.

Members of Microsoft’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group GLEAM, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft, have helped create resources and workshops for coworkers who want to be allies. Find out whether your company has similar resources, suggest that they be created, or even help compile them, said Scanlon, cochair of GLEAM.

“When people have resources at their disposal, they can see a path toward their own allyship to materialize,” he said.

As you do your research, look at your own assumptions. Take the opportunity to recognize and move past bias. Use these questions as guides:

  • What assumptions have you made?
  • Do you know if they are true?
  • How could you find out?

Show support and speak up

Some gestures by allies might seem small, but they can mean a lot. For example, Llamas said, “Don’t hide any relations you have to someone in the LGBTQ+ community, such as friends or family members.” Talking about your gay brother or transgender cousin the same way that you talk about any family member or friend shows that you value people equally regardless of their identities.

You can also communicate your support in simple ways, such as by putting stickers on your computer or signs at your desk, by attending LGBTQ+ support events, or by joining an advocacy effort. These actions show people who have faced challenges or who have previously not been accepted for who they are that they have your support in little and big ways.

“Remember that there are many ways to let people know that you are an ally,” said Llamas, who serves as the GLEAM Mexico lead.

Being an ally also means speaking up when some voices aren’t heard, when someone is excluded, or when something harmful is said. Listen fully to others’ ideas, contributions, and stories. Intervene when someone is being discounted or ignored or if harmful language is used. If someone has been treated with harm, approach them to see what they need and offer support.

And people who need allies themselves can also be an ally to others, Scanlon said.

“In the same way that allies are essential to the LGBTQ+ community, we also have a responsibility to be allies for others. The lessons I’ve learned in working to be a better ally to the transgender community are lessons that I can apply to evolve my allyship beyond my own community and apply more broadly to the workplace: examining my assumptions, listening to understand, identifying and addressing my blind spots, and being brave.”

Let empathy lead

When Michael Tan, director of strategy, learned that a member of his team was transgender and would be transitioning, he set out to determine how he could help.

“My first role was trying to make sure that the work environment would respond appropriately and that people were respectful,” he said.

But he didn’t immediately know how to be an ally.

“I was in the camp initially where you’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I saw other people also so afraid of saying the wrong thing or using the wrong pronoun that they took the path of least resistance and didn’t reach out at all.”

Tan invited the Ingersoll Gender Center to talk to his group. The speakers shared firsthand experiences, background about the transgender community in the workplace, common challenges transgender employees often face, and guidance on how to be supportive.

Listening directly to people’s experiences sparked empathy, Tan said. However you can, seek out others’ stories—they will help you feel connected.

Try to understand the emotional journey that someone else goes through, he said. It’s a powerful display of support “to find out, and then do, what they need to feel comfortable.”

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‘State of Decay 2’ celebrates 3 million players with release of Independence Pack

In advance of the 4th of July holiday, we are celebrating that the State of Decay 2 community now exceeds three million players. This, along with the recent news that fans made State of Decay 2 the best-selling game of May, puts us in a festive mood. To celebrate, we are revealing our first post-launch content, the Independence Pack. This pack gives you the opportunity to take on the zombie horde with style, grace and most importantly, colorful gunpowder. Available today on both Xbox One and Windows 10, the pack unlocks an array of fiery new versions of vehicles, weapons and gear for your community. State of Decay 2 wants you to show off with explosive awesomeness to the three million player strong community. Heck, even the zeds are dressed for the occasion in this pack, and there are few things as satisfying as taking out a Revolutionary War-themed zombie during a supply run. It’s like history that you can blow up…with fireworks!

What do you get in this firework-filled content? Glad you asked, patriot. The Independence Pack features three zombie-ready vehicles, access to a supply drop containing three new patriotic melee weapons, two unique ranged weapons and piles of single-use fireworks that are perfect for causing general havoc (or making blood plague elimination a much more festive occasion):

  • Take the Pyrohawk, Burninator or Meatwagon out for a spin. With names like these, you know driving will be more entertaining.
  • Step up to your station at the BBQ with The Freedom Ringer, Grillmeister and BBQ Fork – new hand-held zed-slaying solutions.
  • Subtlety not your thing? Well we have the Pyro Launcher and Starshank Launcher so you can blast zombies with fiery explosives.
  • Just like loud noises with pretty colors? You’re in luck! The Block Rocker, Reign o’ Fire, Bouncing Boris and XL Firework Shell offer even more options to turn a mission into a celebration.

If that’s still not enough boom, you can also use the new Fireworks Crafting Station facility mod to craft additional fireworks or ammunition for your fancy new fireworks launchers. Also keep an eye out for a new wandering trader hosting a fire sale on these explosive new goodies. That’s right, a good ole traditional fireworks sale.

Grab the Independence Pack today for $4.99 USD (or for free if you purchased State of Decay 2: Ultimate Edition); Xbox Game Pass members also receive a 10 percent discount on the Independence Pack. If that isn’t enough to get you jazzed, the team also added to the existing game with a new update that focuses on non-firework content. In Update 2.0, get ready for 20 FREE new missions, nearly 10 new weapons, a “Rare Books” trader for new skills and plenty of improved gameplay in honor of the Independence Pack for ALL players. Did we mention it’s free? To read more on that, please visit StateofDecay.com for the full patch notes and other things that aren’t fireworks.

But wait, there’s more! After wiping out the blood plague and celebrating your legacy with this festive pack, get ready for completely separate shenanigans in the upcoming Daybreak Pack this September. That all-new content lets you take the fight to the zombies, featuring an exciting new mode where you play as a well-equipped Red Talon soldier. You’ll work to complete a challenging objective while protecting your fortified position against waves of zombies and freaks to earn new rewards and weapons. The Daybreak Pack is also included in State of Decay 2’s Ultimate Edition.

If you haven’t joined the community just yet, now’s a great time to get in on all the action! In addition to playing it with an Xbox Game Pass membership, you can purchase the Standard Edition for $29.99 and the Ultimate Edition for $49.99., which includes both the Independence Pack and Daybreak Pack. As an Xbox Play Anywhere game, one digital purchase gets you both the Xbox One and the Windows 10 version of the game

Video forState of Decay 2 Celebrates 3 Million Players with Today’s Release of the Independence PackVideo forState of Decay 2 Celebrates 3 Million Players with Today’s Release of the Independence Pack

Take a handful of fireworks, a new ride, some casual rocket launchers and ask yourself the one question that matters this 4th of July – How Will You Survive?

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New Azure innovations advance the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge

Today, I gathered with the tech community in the Seattle area at the GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit to talk about how customers are using the cloud and what the future holds. I joined GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and Tom Krazit on stage for a fireside chat to share more about Microsoft’s vision for emerging cloud innovation, but I also got to connect with many of you directly. In those conversations, it became even more apparent just how many of you are turning to the intelligent cloud to explore how emerging innovation like serverless, blockchain, edge computing, and AI can help you create solutions that can change your business — and people’s lives.

At Microsoft, we’re continually releasing technology that’s inspired by our customers and what you tell us you need to make the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge a reality for your businesses. For example, you may need to build applications to work in remote areas with low connectivity. Or you need to store, access, and drive insights from your data faster because of competitive pressures. And, you need confidence that your data and applications will be secure, resilient, and highly available across the globe.

During my time with Tom and Todd, I announced a few of our latest Azure solutions and newest regions and availability zones designed to bring this vision to you, our customers, and I’d like to share more on these new technologies.

Introducing the next level in big data analytics

Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2 and general availability of Azure Data Factory capabilities

Data is currency for enterprises today, and we know you need to be able to easily store and quickly access your data to drive actionable insights. You also need to be able to ingest and integrate big data quickly and easily to get to insights more readily. Today, we are introducing a preview of a highly scalable, highly performant, and cost-effective data lake solution for big data analytics, Azure Data Lake Storage Gen 2, to deliver the scale, performance, and security needed by your most demanding and sensitive workloads. 

Because Azure Data Lake Gen2 is built on the foundations of Azure blob storage, all data — from data that is constantly in use through to data that only needs to be referenced occasionally or stored for regulatory reasons — can coexist in a single store without having to copy data. This means that you will have greater speed to insight over your data along with rich security at a more cost-effective price. Azure Data Lake Storage also provides a unified data store where unstructured object data and file data can be accessed concurrently via Blob Storage and Hadoop File System protocols.

Today also brings the general availability of new features in Azure Data Factory to deliver data movement as a service capacities so you can build analytics across hybrid and multicloud environments, and drive raw data into actionable insights. The new features include a web-based graphical user interface to create, schedule and manage data pipelines, code-free data ingestion from over 70 data source connectors to accelerate data movement across on-premises and cloud, and ability to easily lift SQL Server Integration Services packages to Azure and run in managed execution environment in Azure Data Factory. You can also start taking advantage of native ADF connector for Azure Data Lake Storage to load your data lake at scale.

Enabling the intelligent edge

Azure IoT Edge is generally available

In the next 10 years, nearly all our everyday devices and many new devices will be connected. These devices are all becoming so “smart” that they can power advanced algorithms that help them see, listen, reason, predict and more, without a 24/7 dependence on the cloud. This is the intelligent edge, and it will define the next wave of innovation in how we address world issues: distributing resources like water and oil, increasing food production and quality, and responding to natural disasters.

As key part of our strategy to deliver the promise of edge computing is Azure IoT Edge, which enables consistency between cloud and edge. This means you can push AI and machine learning to the edge, providing the most comprehensive and innovative edge offering on the market. As of today, Azure IoT Edge is generally available globally, with new updates for increased flexibility, scalability, security, and more.

Also today, the Azure IoT Edge runtime is open sourced and available on GitHub. If you are a developer, this gives you even greater flexibility and control of your edge solutions, so you can modify the runtime and debug issues. Azure IoT Edge now also supports more languages than another other edge solution including C#, C, Node.js, Python, and Java, and we’ve added support for the Moby container management system. Additionally, we’ve released a Device Provisioning Service that enables you to provision tens of thousands of devices with zero touch. The new Security Manager for Azure IoT Edge acts as a well-bounded security core for protecting the IoT Edge device and all its components by abstracting the secure silicon hardware.

Azure IoT Edge customers like Schneider Electric and a farmer in Carnation, Washington are building sophisticated solutions that deliver real-time insights in areas with unreliable connectivity. Now that the solution is production-ready, with enhanced features, we can’t wait to see what else you build.

Azure global infrastructure

New Azure regions

We continuously invest in our cloud infrastructure to give you more compute power to enable the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge. We’ve announced 54 Azure regions to help you deliver cloud services and apps to nearly every corner of the globe and to provide everything that’s needed to run mission-critical applications, across scenarios, with a full set of resiliency solutions.

Today, we expanded our Azure presence in China, one of the most dynamic cloud markets in the world, with two additional regions now generally available. We were the first international cloud provider in China in 2014 (in partnership with 21Vianet), and today’s announcement doubles the number of Azure regions available there. We continue to see immense opportunity in China for cloud services to fuel innovation and multinational corporations including Adobe, Coke, Costco, Daimler, Ford, Nuance, P&G, and Toyota, which are choosing our intelligent cloud services to help deliver for their customers in China. This builds on our recently announced plans to expand our cloud infrastructure in Europe and the Middle East and announced plans for new regions coming to Norway

We’re also constantly increasing Azure’s resiliency capabilities with the addition of new Azure Availability Zones. Our Availability Zone in the Netherlands is now generally available, adding to the Zones already available in Iowa and Paris. The combination of region pairs and Availability Zones not only increases Azure’s resiliency capabilities, but broadens customer choice for business continuity architectures and delivers an industry-leading SLA for virtual machines.

It’s an exciting future

It was great to see all of you at GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit today. For those of you who weren’t able to be there live, you can follow along online. As always, we will continue to focus on building the technologies you need to drive innovation and disruption with the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge. Let us know what you think about these new solutions by sharing your feedback and comments.

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Microsoft Translator launches Levantine Arabic as a new speech translation language

Microsoft Translator has released Levantine, an Arabic dialect spoken in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, as its latest AI-powered speech translation language. It will help businesses, educators, travelers, and non-profits communicate across the language barrier with Levantine speakers during meetings, presentations, and Skype calls.

credit: Photo of Beit ed-Dine in Lebanon by Oida666 from Wikimedia Commons

Levantine, our 11th speech language, is a spoken dialect of Arabic which has over 32 million native speakers.  Since it’s a spoken language that is rarely written, it lacks the large amount of parallel data required to train a usable machine translation system. As with any AI system, without the appropriate amount of data to train the neural machine translation model, the system won’t be able to produce translations that are good enough for real-life use.

However, our researchers developed a novel approach which utilizes monolingual data to train a system for any spoken dialect. This allowed the team to build a working Levantine to English translation system despite this lack of parallel data.

We adapted a system trained on standard Arabic-to-English translation to be used on a spoken Arabic dialect (Levantine) using only monolingual data of the spoken dialect. We developed an approach to generate synthetic parallel data from monolingual data.” – Hany-Hassan Awadalla, Principal Research Scientist 

Levantine is now available as a supported speech translation language through the Translator apps, Presentation Translator for PowerPoint, the Skype Translator feature in Skype for Windows 10, and the unified Speech translation service, an Azure Cognitive Service. With this service, developers can also customize speech transcriptions, translations, and text-to-speech, before integrating them into their apps, workflows, and websites.

Recently, Microsoft has partnered with the No Lost Generation Tech Task Force, led by NetHope, and one of its members – Norwegian Refugee Council – to co-create an AI-powered solution linking youth affected by Syrian and Iraqi conflicts with educational resources. Their goal is to enable conflict-affected youth to discover and access learning resources anywhere and anytime.

“Many of the conflict-affected youth lack access to learning resources which restricts their opportunities for higher education and dignified work. Levantine support in Microsoft Translator opens up opportunities for them to learn in their native language through real-time translation of online courses and remote mentoring.” – Leila Toplic, NLG Tech Task Force Lead, NetHope

Using the Translator app’s live conversation feature, users can have live, real-time conversations with people who speak other languages, on their own device, in their chosen language.

Let’s say you’re a Lebanese business person travelling to Italy and want to have a conversation with an Italian partner. You can speak Levantine into your phone or PC, and the Levantine audio will be translated into Italian text and speech on your partner’s phone or PC. This also works in reverse: the Italian speaker can speak into their device and have real-time multilingual conversations, and the listener receives the response in Arabic. This scenario is not limited to two devices or two languages. It can support up to 100 devices, across 11 speech translation languages, and over 60 text translation languages. To learn more about the Translator live feature go to http://translate.it or watch this how-to video.

Levantine speakers can also have translated, bilingual conversations using only one device by tapping the microphone icon and using the split-screen conversation feature in the app.  Simply select your speech languages, German and Levantine for instance, and use the app’s microphone button to speak in your chosen language. Translated text appears on the split-screen in each language.

Download the Microsoft Translator app.

Presentation Translator allows users to offer live, subtitled presentations straight from PowerPoint. As you speak, the add-in powered by the Microsoft Translator live feature, allows you to display subtitles directly on your PowerPoint presentation in any one of more than 60 supported text languages. This feature can also be used for audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Additionally, up to 100 audience members in the room can follow along with the presentation in their own language, including the speaker’s language, on their phone, tablet or computer. This can also be used with the presenter’s language to support accessibility scenarios.

For example, if you’re presenting to a Levantine speaking audience and speak Spanish, you can choose Spanish as your speech translation language, and Arabic as the subtitle language. As you speak Spanish, your words will get translated to Arabic subtitling in real-time on the screen.

Levantine speakers can now also join and use their phone to ask questions, in Levantine, once the presenter unmutes the audience. This feature is useful for Q&A sessions after a presentation.

If there are audience members who speak other languages, they can follow along with the presentation in their chosen language in the Translator app or at http://translate.it.

Levantine is also available for developers through the Azure Cognitive Services Speech service.  In addition to using the default speech translation models from Levantine, developers can also customize speech transcriptions and translation models using the Custom Speech (http://customspeech.ai) and Custom Translator (http://customtranslator.ai) services.

Developers can then easily integrate speech translation into their apps using the new speech SDK available in several popular programming languages.

To learn more about Microsoft Translator for business, visit the Microsoft Translator site.

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Pride at Microsoft: Diversity and collaboration lead to better user research

What the Microsoft GLEAM Summit taught me about approaching user research with an open mind

Photo by Joshua Stitt on Unsplash

As a user researcher with Microsoft Research + Insight (R+I), I spend a lot of time listening for and addressing people’s articulated and unarticulated needs. I believe it’s important to give time and space to reflecting before acting, and to not look at things through a predetermined filter. Even though I recognize there’s a huge push for being numbers driven, I believe it’s also important to be open to information and stories that can potentially transform you.

Recently, I’ve had the privilege of hearing my fellow queer community’s stories at the second annual Microsoft GLEAM Summit. GLEAM is one part of Microsoft’s commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community. Microsoft also shows up for this community at the Seattle Pride Parade, multiple on-campus events, and advocating for LGBTQIA+ people internally and externally through legal actions, such as partnerships with the United Nations to develop global standards that eliminate LGBTQIA+ discrimination in business.

Although GLEAM is an acronym for “Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft,” its reach spans well beyond that. There is space reserved for all gender and sexual minorities (GSM) and their allies. GLEAM is one of Microsoft’s largest global employee resource groups with more than 1,000 members around the world.

GLEAM and the expansion of diversity

I attended our summit this past April in Toronto. My motivation for going was to understand interpersonal dynamics for different groups — not just employees who identify with the GSM community, but also race and other things not readily classified as “diversity.” In my mind, diversity is much broader — it’s also about working styles, how you identify and solve problems, and how you communicate. It’s richer than what people often describe.

I met Microsoft employees from different countries who work on various products across the company. Part of my role as a quantitative user researcher is curiosity, and I wanted to understand diversity from the perspective of how we all work within the system and how we think about the customer.

The experience served as a humbling reminder that even though we all serve unique roles, understanding how to think and act as an ally is paramount because it fosters the collaboration necessary for us to create innovative solutions together. In the closing of the summit, a colleague said it best: “If we are to empower our customers around the globe to achieve more, we must empower ourselves as employees first.”

How inclusivity and diversity affect user research and help us build better products

So, what does “empowering ourselves first” look like? To me, it means creating and supporting a curious environment where people question not only others’ perspectives, but also their own. Self-reflection is key.

I might not understand each person’s individual responsibilities and educational backgrounds, but I can be mindful that my colleagues are probably not going to do everything in the way I might predict they would. Further, when I’m conducting user research, remembering this helps minimize my expectations and assumptions to allow them to bring their best. If I’m putting them in a box, so to speak, then I’m limiting the success they can achieve.

That means we must be inclusive of so many walks of life, most of which are going to be different from the employees we hire. We must be cognizant of the differences we have internally and in how we work together, but also of the things that are not represented within our colleagues. As diverse as our teams are, our customer base will always be much more diverse. We must be flexible with understanding their needs, which involves having empathy and listening. This is essential for creating products that are relevant, usable, and valuable for people across the world.

How does diversity among research subjects and your colleagues affect your work? Do you have any additional thoughts or tips? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @MicrosoftRI.

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A legend reborn: Microsoft brings back the iconic Classic IntelliMouse

Microsoft IntelliMouse. Originally launched in 1996, it became instantly famous with gamers and highly regarded as a great gaming mouse. The IntelliMouse 3.0 had exceptional ergonomics due to its the asymmetric from, and sculpted buttons and finger rests, making it fit perfectly into your hand.

It also used long life Omron switches, and coupled with a low force to fire and low key idle, the buttons were easy to press, and activated with minimal slack before engaging the switch. At the time, it also had a very good low DPI optical sensor with very low error rates and good smoothing – all key elements for a great gaming mouse.

Known for always innovating, the IntelliMouse range continued to push the boundaries and offer advances in mouse technology and features until the last model launched in 2003.

Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 from 2003

Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 from 2003

Inspired by the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 from 2003, Microsoft has recently released the new Microsoft Classic IntelliMouse. Offering the same classic ergonomic look and feel, the new Microsoft Classic IntelliMouse offers improved performance and additional features made possible by technology today.

In remembering the classic mouse, we sat down with Simon Dearsley, Devices Design Director at Microsoft, to discuss the legacy of the Microsoft IntelliMouse and what you can expect from the newest version of the iconic IntelliMouse range.

Can you tell us a little bit about the heritage of the IntelliMouse range from Microsoft?

“Microsoft as a long and rich history of designing incredible mice. The first Microsoft IntelliMouse was released in 1996 and was based on the Microsoft Mouse 2.0 from 1993 and introduced the innovation of the scroll wheel to our users. We saw it as a game changer in terms of ergonomics, tactility and mouse precision.

In 1999 we continued to innovate and refine the IntelliMouse by introducing the first mass market optical tracking sensor and the iconic tail light.

This all culminated in 2003 when we introduced the IntelliMouse 3.0: it had incredible ergonomics with its light weight, sculpted finger rests, and elastomer skirt for amazing comfort and rapid movement and repositioning. The sensor really set the standard at the time for precision and accuracy. This all made the IntelliMouse 3.0 a huge hit with gamers and creative professionals alike.

What many people may not know, is the majority of gaming mice in the world are still patterned off the IntelliMouse 3.0. If you compare almost any modern gaming mouse you’ll see they have the same ergonomic DNA and form as the IntelliMouse. It’s a really significant contribution to the industry that we’re really proud of.”

Why has there been such a long break between IntelliMouse models and why is now the right time to bring it back?

“The timing of the release of the Classic IntelliMouse is really interesting. We’ve reached a point where tracking and switch technology and price has matured immensely. We saw this as an opportunity to improve on an icon by updating it with modern technology. We know how important the IntelliMouse range has been and wanted to take a moment to reflect on the history of it and do something special for our fans.”

What has changed since the 2003 design?

“We improved two really important factors, the tracking sensor and the tactility and feel of the buttons. What we know our fans will see and feel is that it’s the exact same shape and size of the IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 from 2003. However, underneath the hood it’s all brand-new technology, brand new mechanical engineering and brand-new structures so it’s a lot more rigid than the original. The build quality is really excellent.

We were really careful to keep the same Omron switches for the left and right click, and have added three Kailh switches for the middle wheel button and side buttons. We also made a huge improvement to the two side buttons. They now feel snappy and crisp and have just the right force and click to them.”

What would you say is the defining feature of the new Classic IntelliMouse?

“I would say it’s the shape and the form. The shape was originally sculptured by hand by some of the most experienced mouse designers in the world, which has proven to last the test of time. We felt we should honour this design in the new Classic IntelliMouse and focus on performance updates.”

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What’s next in terms of new mice from Microsoft?

“We were one of the original companies to introduce the scroll wheel, which changed how people navigate webpages and documents, and helped with aspects of gaming we now take for granted such as zooming and inventory management. Continuing to innovate is really key for us as we want to build products that make a meaningful difference. Take for instance the Precision mouse scroll wheel and the magnetic detent. From the outside, they might look like minor changes, but they really make a difference to the way you use the mouse.

It’s performance innovations like these and working closer with the community to understand the needs of our consumers that will help influence future Microsoft mice.

We have some exciting products in development and can’t wait to hear the response from fans.”

The Microsoft Classic IntelliMouse is available now through the Microsoft Store and select retailers for $39.99/£39.99/ €44.99.

A legend reborn: Microsoft brings back the iconic mouse, the Classic IntelliMouse

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Updated June 26, 2018 9:05 am

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New team assembled to unlock the innovation potential in healthcare data

Peter Lee, Joshua Mandel and Jim Weinstein
From left, Peter Lee, Joshua Mandel and Jim Weinstein of Microsoft Healthcare. Photo: Dan DeLong for Microsoft

It’s an exciting time to be working shoulder-to-shoulder with our healthcare partners and customers, who represent some of the brightest minds in this important industry. We have been approaching the complexities of the healthcare industry with a growth mindset, and for the past two years our team has worked across Microsoft to accelerate healthcare innovation through artificial intelligence and cloud computing, with our initiative Healthcare NExT (New Experiences and Technologies). We shared some updates earlier this year on our work in cloud architectures, empowering clinicians and care teams, and precision medicine, and I’ve been thrilled to see the progress and reaction across the industry.

Today we are building on that progress. I’m very pleased to welcome two prominent experts in the science, technology and practice of value-based healthcare to the team. Jim Weinstein and Josh Mandel will be joining Microsoft Healthcare – which integrates Healthcare NExT and its research-driven efforts – with an added focus of creating strategic partnerships, and driving the cross-company strategy for healthcare and life sciences.

Jim Weinstein, Vice President, Microsoft Healthcare, Head of Innovation and Health Equity

Jim Weinstein will work closely with organizations on the front lines of healthcare delivery as we aim to support health systems, empower clinicians and enable the systems of care as they move to the cloud. He will be my partner in developing the strategic vision for Microsoft Healthcare, and will provide leadership that is grounded in decades of health industry experience. A widely respected visionary, author, surgeon and leader in the future of healthcare delivery who has advised three administrations on healthcare policy, Jim most recently served as CEO and president of Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health system, and is the past director of the Dartmouth Institute, home of the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. Jim is also the co-founder and inaugural executive director of the national High Value Healthcare Collaborative, which brings together some of the nation’s top healthcare systems to share data, develop insights and advance the causes of better healthcare outcomes. He recently chaired the “Communities in Action, Pathways to Health Equity” report for the National Academy of Medicine. His book “Unraveled” looks at the broken healthcare system and how it might be repaired with patient-based clinical insights.

Joshua Mandel, Chief Architect, Microsoft Healthcare

Joshua Mandel will work closely with customers, partners and the open standards community to lay the groundwork for an open cloud architecture to unlock the value of healthcare for the entire health ecosystem. As a tireless evangelist for the importance of open standards, Josh will continue his work to help systems across the industry become more agile and interoperable. Josh’s impressive background as a physician and brilliant software architect has set him apart as a leader in the development of next-generation standards for healthcare data interoperability.  In his most recent role, Josh led the health IT ecosystem work at Verily (Google Life Sciences). He is a member of the research faculty at the Boston Children’s Hospital Computational Health Informatics Program where he served as lead architect for SMART Health IT, and is a visiting scientist at the Harvard Medical School Department of Biomedical Informatics. Josh earned his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his M.D. from Tufts University of Medicine.

Jim and Josh join us at an exciting time, as healthcare processes undergo a digital transformation. This transformation has created a wealth of healthcare data that has potential to help identify diseases earlier, create and improve treatments and improve the lives of patients across the globe. Unfortunately, even with advances in data protection and governance, healthcare data is not easily accessible by the researchers and doctors who need it to help us all realize the potential. And so, for a variety of regulatory, technological and political reasons, we see what is called the “health data funnel,” which holds back the case of scalable innovation in healthcare.

At Microsoft, we’re confident that many aspects of the IT foundations for healthcare will move from on-premise doctors’ offices and clinics to live in the cloud. We ask the questions: Can we take advantage of this huge sea change in healthcare to unlock the innovation potential in healthcare data? Can we work as a community to ensure that we don’t simply re-create the same data silos that we have today?

We think that together, we can solve these problems. We are taking concrete steps with an initial “blueprint” intended to standardize the process for the compliant, privacy-preserving movement of a patient’s personal health information to the cloud and the automated tracking of its exposure to machine learning and data science, for example to support external audit. This is a small first step, but progress toward an open architecture that ultimately will benefit doctors, nurses and clinicians in how they interact with patients, and also allow more time for patients to spend face-to-face with their care providers. It also opens up research opportunities for this data to be shared, and to be done under the same compliance and regulatory standards which protect your health data today; all with the goal of leading to advancements in medical science.

We have our work cut out for us but know that we have the right team in place. We’re looking forward to sharing more later this year about what we’re doing to help unlock the power of healthcare data and create opportunities for the entire health ecosystem.

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Part of the LGBTQ+ community? Here’s what being welcomed at work looks like

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s important to me to work at a place that accepts me for who I am. What’s the best way to figure that out, even before I apply?

Answer: When you choose a job, you’re choosing more than the actual work you’ll do. You’re becoming part of a whole culture: the environment around you, the coworkers and leaders, and the role the company plays in the broader world. Our workplace becomes a significant part of our lives. And how we feel there can influence our focus, our ideas, and our sense of well-being.

As Claudia del Hierro, a senior program manager at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, puts it, “You’re going to live that culture every single day.”

Whether you’re actively seeking a new job or casually curious about what other companies are like, how do you decipher if a workplace is somewhere all employees, including those who are LGBTQ+, feel supported? We spoke with a few employees who have sought that answer for themselves. Here are their tips and advice.

Investigate the company’s track record

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) releases an annual Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool that tracks corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBTQ+ people. Checking that index is a good place to start, del Hierro said.

“Is the company you want to work for rated? What’s its score? That alone tells you a lot about the culture. Some companies have jumped on the LGBTQ+ train for marketing or to gain consumers but don’t really live those values,” she said. “HRC digs into policies so you can assess more deeply.”

Don’t stop there, said Sera Fernando, an assistant Microsoft store manager in Santa Clara, California, who identifies as a trans female. Fernando already worked at Microsoft when she made the decision to transition. At the same time, a transgender friend of hers was also interested in the company and was asking her about its culture. Fernando set out to learn more about how the company approached transgender people, employees, and issues. She began to research both internally, where she found Microsoft’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group GLEAM, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft and includes the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum and their allies, and externally, where she found helpful news coverage.

“Read news stories. Enter all the search terms. See what comes up. Do the research,” said Fernando, now the community codirector of GLEAM.

See how the company shows up

Supporting and participating in local and national Pride events and parades does not guarantee a welcoming workplace year-round, but it’s a clue, said Dena Y. Lawrence, a pre-sales manager for Microsoft in Dublin.

“When you’re out at a Pride parade, see which companies are showing up. You can see from a public corporate perspective which ones have embraced LGBTQ+ equality.”

Once you know whether a company lends its support publicly to the LGBTQ+ community, look closer, Fernando adds. Does the company advocate for equity, at events and in the public sphere?

“Are all LGBTQ+ groups being represented—nonbinary, genderqueer, transgender, intersex? Are those stories being shown and told? Are there signs that the company is in tune with the message year-round? Are they just rainbow-fying everything, or are there deeper commitments? What is the senior leadership team doing and saying—what is its involvement? Is it involved in the initiatives? How is the company amplifying efforts?”

See how it recruits

Beyond celebratory events, look at marketing.

Pay attention to how and where a company recruits, said Lawrence, who has served on Microsoft’s GLEAM board and has created a talk on how to assess how progressive a company is.

“Has a company taken the time and initiative to find advertising space in LGBTQ+ specific magazines or digital channels?” If so, she said, it’s an indication of a commitment to make those employees feel welcome and supported and to ensure that the company is recruiting all types of employees, she said.

See what it offers

Look as closely as you can at a company’s policies and benefits. Is there equity for LGBTQ+ employees? Are there family benefits and medical benefits that support the needs of LGBTQ+ employees?

“Go into the policies. Ask Human Resources for links to the benefits. Look closely at the language around leave, parental leave—does the language refer only to male and female partners? Updating that language means the organization has already done a lot of work internally to transform,” Lawrence said.

“If there are antidiscrimination policies that call out sexual orientation and—the holy grail—gender identity, then they have the core ingredients for inclusion.”

Talk to employees

If you have friends or networking connections who can put you in contact with employees—especially those who are LGBTQ+—grab the chance to talk with them.

“They live the culture every day. What’s on paper might not be the reality. Sometimes the reality is even better; sometimes it’s not,” said del Hierro, who serves as GLEAM’s Latin American director.

“Do they have an employee resource group that’s active? Could you be visible in that space if you wanted to be? Find people who are thriving; see what that looks like,” said Fernando.

See how the company responds to you

Don’t hesitate to ask directly in an interview about how the company supports diversity and inclusion. Take note of how those questions are received.

“There are so many companies embracing diversity and inclusion—you don’t want to work for a company where you can’t be who you are, in this day and age,” Lawrence said.

And if a company won’t support and welcome you, del Hierro said, you probably don’t want to work there.

“I was the cofounder for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, and I started my college’s LGBTQ+ alumni chapter. It’s on my CV because it’s important to me and relevant to my experience. If someone won’t consider me because of that, then I would not want the job.”