Microsoft has developed a new style of laptop with a versatile screen that makes a unique transition into tablet mode, channeling the ethos of its high-end Surface Studio desktop computer for creative professionals.
The new Surface Laptop Studio was shown for the first time during Microsoft’s fall hardware event Wednesday morning.
It comes with a 14.4-inch display that shifts from a traditional laptop configuration into a “Stage” mode that covers the keyboard at a 45-degree angle, and then into a horizontal “Studio” mode, elevated slightly at the rear for ergonomic use with a Surface Slim Pen docked magnetically under the chassis of the device.
It uses what Microsoft calls a Dynamic Woven Hinge to transition smoothly between modes, continuing the company’s efforts to innovate in hinges to let devices adapt to different scenarios. Surface Laptop Studio will sell at a starting price of $1,600, with an Oct. 4 release date.
The event comes as Microsoft prepares to release Windows 11 on Oct. 5, refreshing the user interface of its PC operating system and adding new productivity features. Microsoft saw increased interest in desktop and laptop computers during the pandemic, and the company is hoping to sustain that momentum. Revenue from Microsoft’s Surface products fell 20% in the June quarter to $1.38 million.
Microsoft’s Surface computers, tablets and devices have traditionally been a way for the company to advance new form factors in the industry, providing a blueprint for other hardware makers to follow. Microsoft describes the Surface Laptop Studio as a new category, signaling that it hopes other computer makers will come up with similar devices.
The company also introduced Surface Duo 2, a new version of its dual-screen handheld Android device with 5G cellular connectivity and a “Glance Bar” that provides notifications on the outside hinge. Microsoft also upgraded the Surface Duo 2 camera, which was one of the criticisms of its predecessor.
Surface Duo 2 will start at $1,499, with an Oct. 20 release date.
Other surprises from Microsoft’s fall hardware event Wednesday included an Ocean Plastic Mouse made from a resin produced with 20% recycled ocean plastic, part of a larger focus on sustainability; and a Surface Adaptive Kit that uses tactile and visually distinct labels to improve accessibility.
— Augmented writing startup Textio hired Jackye Clayton as vice president of talent acquisition and DEI. She was most recently a diversity, equity and inclusion strategist at SeekOut, a Seattle recruiting startup.
With her background in talent and DEI, Clayton’s role will span across both Textio’s products and team.
“She will lead all related work at Textio, provide critical expertise to our customers, and be a leading voice in the products that we create for the broader ecosystem,” said Kieran Snyder, CEO of Textio.
Two other executives were promoted:
Sandy Matus is now VP of people. She joined Textio last year as director of people.
LeeRon Yahalomi is now VP of sales and customer success. She was most recently senior director of customer success and previously worked at DreamBox Learning.
— Renewable energy platform LevelTen Energy appointed Erin Boyd as VP of analytics. She was most recently head of commercial and customer data science at The AES Corporation and previously a senior manager at PG&E.
Boyd has her doctorate in economics and worked on international electrification projects England, Japan and Ethiopia. In her new role, she will be responsible for data, analytics and forecasting on LevelTen’s platform.
— Quantum computing researchers Sara Mouradian and Rahul Trivedi will be joining the University of Washington Electrical and Computer Engineering Department as assistant professors.
Mouradian is currently a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. She began her research in quantum computing during her senior year as an undergraduate at MIT and received her masters and doctorate there as well. She will start in March 2022.
Trivedi is a postdoctoral scholar at Max Planck-Harvard Research Center for Quantum Optics. He received his doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford and will start in January 2023.
The additions are part of a “cluster hiring initiative” across several UW departments to expand the educational institution’s quantum information science and technology (QIST) expertise.
— Bellevue, Wash.-based cloud services provider BitTitan appointed Paul Nguyen as vice president of product and engineering for Perspectium, the San Diego, Calif.-based company it acquired earlier this year. He will be based in BitTitan’s San Diego office.
Nguyen co-founded Perspectium and was most recently senior director of development. He was previously a senior software engineer at EMC.
— The Washington State Department of Health announced pediatrician Tao Kwan-Gett will be chief science officer starting Oct. 1. He succeeds epidemiologist Scott Lindquist who has been acting chief science officer since December.
Kwan-Gett was most recently a primary care pediatrician at Virginia Mason. He currently serves as the faculty lead for the Northwest Public Health Primary Care Leadership Institute, part of the University of Washington School of Public Health.
Construction work on several major tech company expansion projects, including those by Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook, slowed to a crawl today as the region largest carpenters’ union halted work over a wage dispute.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, 2,000 Northwest Carpenter Union members walked off the job and began picketing at four major job sites, including Microsoft expansions in Redmond and Sammamish; Google and Amazon projects in Bellevue Plaza, and Facebook’s Building X in Redmond.
Evelyn Shapiro, the union’s executive secretary-treasurer, said the affected sites were not randomly chosen. In the push for better wages and benefits, the union looked at companies “that are making billions,” she said.
Specifically, the union is striking against the contractor consortium, the Associated General Contractors, and not the tech companies themselves. Like the unions, the AGC negotiates the agreed-upon wages for the trades at union constructions sites throughout the area.
The strike began after the existing, three-year labor contract expired Tuesday night. The union is seeking a 20.4% wages and benefits increase over the next four years, along with larger employer contributions to health care, parking and pension, and stronger harassment and discrimination protections, among other items. Current pay is $46.92 hourly for carpenters; $47.17 for piledrivers; and $48.42 for millwrights.
“It’s enormously expensive for our union members to work in Bellevue and Seattle,” Shapiro said, adding that simply paying for parking near job sites can set an employee back $50 every day. “Our members carry heavy tools from site-to-site. We can’t just hop on mass transit.”
The strike likely will bring many of the large projects to a standstill as other labor unions often choose to not cross a picket line when one of the on-site trade unions strike. Shapiro said by the end of the day Thursday, thousands of workers will halt work on construction sites in the region.
Labor agreements prevent union carpenters from striking at many projects involving public money, including current work sites such as Climate Change Arena, the Port of Seattle, Sound Transit and Seattle Schools.
“I’m excited about the potential human health benefits and discoveries we’ll see by leveraging AI in the biotech and healthcare spaces,” said Cronin in an email to GeekWire.
Cronin was most recently a senior science communications advisor at s2s Public Relations and previously a product manager at NanoString Technologies. She has her doctorate in bioengineering from the University of Washington where she researched brain-computer interfaces.
—Seattle-based biotech firm Icosavax appointed two new executives and added two board members:
Elizabeth Bekiroglu as general counsel. She was most recently associate general counsel at Bothell, Wash.-based Seagen.
Thomas Russoas chief financial officer. He was most recently CFO at Assembly Biosciences and previously vice president of commercial finance at Gilead Sciences.
Former Blue Shield of California CFO Heidi Kunzas a board member.
Former UNICEF Executive Director Ann Venemanas a board member.
Spun out of the University of Washington, Icosavax has applied its vaccine development technology to COVID-19 and other viruses. The company went public in July.
— Pediatric neurosurgeon Samuel Browd is taking a partial leave of absence from the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital to expand his role as chief medical officer at surgical technology startup Proprio. He co-founded Proprio with Gabriel Jones and James Youngquist in 2016.
For the next year, the new hybrid arrangement will allow Browd to alternate weeks between his role as an attending neurosurgeon and Proprio, where he will focus on product development, clearing regulatory hurdles and soft launching the platform in surgery programs.
“I fundamentally believe we have the ability at Proprio to use our technology to make surgeons better, more efficient and reduce the cost of care,” Browd told GeekWire via email.
Browd previously co-founded high tech helmet maker Vicis. He has been a professor of neurological surgery at UW for 14 years and the director of UW Medicine’s Sports Institute since 2017.
Proprio’s high tech surgical tools utilize computer vision, AI and virtual reality to produce a real-time image for surgeons. The company emerged from stealth mode in 2019 and closed a $23 million Series A funding round last year.
— Former Ticketmaster Chief Information Officer Gui Karyo joined Dapper Labs as CIO. Growing along with the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) craze, the Vancouver, B.C.-based blockchain startup powers the popular NBA Top Shot and Cryptokitties digital collectibles. Karyo is based in Seattle.
Carr is currently the executive director of the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Virginia. He has a doctorate in management and master degrees in both business administration and journalism. He was previously a producer at ABC News and CNN.
The educational institute is based in Bellevue, Wash., and launched in 2017 through a partnership between UW, China’s Tsinghua University, and Microsoft.
— Longtime Microsoft executives John Gossman and John Kahan have retired. Both spent almost two decades at the Redmond, Wash., tech giant, joining in 2000 and 2003 respectively.
Gossman was an Azure distinguished engineer and vice president. He is a former Linux Foundation board member.
Kahan was chief data analytics officer and vice president. Prior to joining Microsoft he spent 18 years at IBM.
“While I’m proud of what Unearth has achieved, I’m excited at the opportunities for digital transformation made possible by recent innovations in energy and finance,” Miller said in a message to GeekWire.
Unearth Technologies map-based platform for field operations is used by construction, utilities, telecom, and government teams. The Seattle startup has raised $11.6 million to date.
— Smart glass company Crown Electrokinetics hired Mindy Hamlin as vice president of engineering. She spent more than two decades at HP, most recently as director of technology and operations.
— Former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Dave Reed is now a director of engineering at Facebook. Reed spent more than 26 years at Microsoft and was a distinguished engineer on the Xbox Live, AI Services and computer vision teams.
In a post on LinkedIn, Reed said the move is meant to challenge himself after making several moves internally, adding, “Microsoft’s technology breadth is massive and provided me the opportunity to work on many different products and technology.”
Microsoft confirmed that it has hired longtime Amazon Web Services leader Charlie Bell to lead a newly formed engineering organization to address cybersecurity and related issues, but said it has so far been unable to reach an agreement with Amazon over Bell’s non-compete contract with the company.
“We believe Charlie Bell’s new role can help advance cybersecurity for the country and the tech sector as a whole, and we are committed to continuing our constructive discussions with Amazon,” said Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of communications, in a statement Wednesday morning. “We’re sensitive to the importance of working through these issues together, as we’ve done when five recent Microsoft executives moved across town to work for Amazon.”
GeekWire has contacted Amazon for comment.
In a memo to employees, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Bell “will assume his job duties once a resolution is reached with his former employer.”
“Charlie is a respected technology leader with a proven track record of building world-class platforms,” Nadella wrote in the memo. “The next big challenge for our company and our industry is securing digital technology platforms, devices, and clouds in our customers’ heterogenous environments. This is a bold ambition we are going after and is what attracted Charlie to Microsoft.”
I’m thrilled to join Microsoft to take on one of the greatest challenges of our time, leading a newly formed engineering organization: Security, Compliance, Identity, and Management. As digital services have become an integral part of our lives, we’re outstripping our ability to provide security and safety. It’s constantly highlighted in the headlines we see every day: fraud, theft, ransomware attacks, public exposure of private data, and even attacks against physical infrastructure. This has been weighing on my mind and the best way I can think to describe it is “digital medievalism,” where organizations and individuals each depend on the walls of their castles and the strength of their citizens against bad actors who can simply retreat to their own castle with the spoils of an attack. We all want a world where safety is an invariant, something that is always true, and we can constantly prove we have. We all want digital civilization. I believe Microsoft is the only company in a position to deliver this and I couldn’t be more excited to work with this talented team to make the world safer for every person and organization on the planet.
Bell worked at Amazon for more than 23 years, including the past 15 years as a top executive in the company’s cloud unit, reporting to Andy Jassy, Amazon’s new CEO, in Jassy’s prior role as AWS CEO. As an AWS senior vice president, Bell’s role included broad oversight of AWS services, including product definition, pricing, software development and operations.
News of his departure from Amazon first emerged in August, followed by reports two weeks later that he had taken an unspecified role at Microsoft. Until now, however, Microsoft had not confirmed that it had hired Bell nor offered any details on the nature of his new role.
Bell had been considered a candidate to replace Jassy as CEO of AWS, but that role went to Adam Selipsky, the former CEO of Tableau Software in Seattle, who rejoined Amazon to succeed Jassy as the top AWS executive.
Non-compete agreements, which have been rendered virtually unenforceable in California, are still allowed in Washington state. However, under a state law passed in 2019, they can’t be applied to employees who make less than $100,000, and they can’t cover a period of more than 18 months, among other restrictions.
The disconnect between California and Washington state law on non-competes has been one of the factors contributing to disputes between Amazon and Google, for example, when executives left the Seattle-based company to join Google’s cloud division. Some people in the Seattle tech community assumed Microsoft and Amazon would be able to come to terms over Bell’s new role relatively easily, given the record of Microsoft execs going to Amazon, and the fact that both companies are subject to Washington state law.
Key executives who have moved from Microsoft to similar roles at Amazon in recent years include Ian Wilson, vice president of human resources for AWS; David Treadwell, senior vice president of e-commerce services for Amazon, and Shawn Bice, who left Microsoft in 2016 to become AWS vice president of databases before leaving to become president of products and technology for Splunk earlier this year.
One executive with past experience at both companies said it would amount to “mutually assured destruction,” referring to a common principle of nuclear deterrence, if Amazon were to aggressively oppose Bell’s new Microsoft role, given the likelihood that Microsoft would feel compelled to respond in kind the next time one of its top executives leaves for Amazon, which has been more common.
As of Wednesday morning, records show no lawsuit filed over the issue in King County Superior Court in Seattle, which is the typical venue for such disputes.
Microsoft has been working to make passwordless sign-in for Windows and Microsoft accounts a reality for years now, and today those efforts come to fruition: The Verge reports that starting today, users can completely remove their passwords from their Microsoft accounts and opt to rely on Microsoft Authenticator or some other form of verification to sign in on new devices. Microsoft added passwordless login support for work and school accounts back in March, but this is the first time the feature has been offered for regular, old individual Microsoft accounts.
Passwordless accounts improve security by taking passwords out of the equation entirely, making it impossible to get any kind of access to your full account information without access to whatever you use to verify your identity for two-factor authentication. Even if you protect your Microsoft account with two-factor authentication, an attacker who knows your Microsoft account password could still try that password on other sites to see if you’ve reused it anywhere. And some forms of two-factor authentication, particularly SMS-based 2FA, have security problems of their own.
The warning message you’ll see when you turn on the passwordless account feature. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)
Microsoft has offered passwordless authentication for Windows 10 and Microsoft accounts for a while now, and if you’re already taking advantage of those features, nothing about how you sign in to your devices has to change. You just need to visit the Microsoft Account site, go to the Security tab, select “Advanced security options,” and turn on the passwordless account feature to remove your password entirely.
Brad Smith, the Microsoft president who oversees the company’s government, legal and public affairs operations, has been named vice chair of the company, taking on an additional executive role as approved by the board of directors.
“This reflects the unique leadership role that Brad plays for the company, our board of directors and me, with governments and other external stakeholders around the world,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a news release Tuesday announcing the appointment. Smith will continue to report to Nadella, the company says.
Smith rose to prominence in Microsoft and the tech industry as the company’s longtime general counsel, leading the company out of its antitrust era. He has since shifted to an expanded role representing Microsoft on a wide range of policy and societal issues, including cybersecurity, government relations, the environment and social issues.
In a new edition of his book, Tools & Weapons, he warns that tightly controlled silos of information about cyberattacks persist among U.S. agencies, and calls for more transparency and cooperation on the issue among companies and government leaders.
Microsoft’s board also announced a new plan to buy back up to $60 billion of the company’s shares, and declared a quarterly dividend of 62 cents per share, up 11% from the prior quarter. The company says it will hold its annual meeting via webcast on Nov. 30.
But the peer-reviewed study, published last week in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, includes another notable finding that could also resonate beyond Microsoft’s virtual walls: The length of the average workweek inside the company increased by about 10% after the shift to remote work.
However, the researchers say that doesn’t necessarily mean employees are working more hours within the span of that longer workweek.
They explain, “The increase in workweek hours could be an indication that employees were less productive and required more time to complete their work, or that they replaced some of their commuting time with work time; however, as we are able to measure only the time between the first and last work activity in a day, it could also be that the same amount of working time is spread across a greater share of the calendar day due to breaks or interruptions for non-work activities.”
Here’s how they calculated workweek hours, according to the study: “The sum across every day in the workweek of the time between a person’s first sent email or IM, scheduled meeting or Microsoft Teams video/audio call, and the last sent email or IM, scheduled meeting or Microsoft Teams video/audio call. A day is part of the workweek if it is a ‘working day’ for a given employee based on their work calendar.”
The findings have drawn widespread attention and analysis as companies and workers grapple with the implications of remote work — extended by the COVID-19 Delta variant — and make future plans to return to the office or establish hybrid workplaces.
A giant study at Microsoft adds to the growing picture of the sudden shift to remote work: the problem is not with existing work & teams; it is the future of organizations. People stop creating new bonds & become more siloed. Bad for innovation & careers. https://t.co/pfHzqYo9Ubpic.twitter.com/JqfTbESn66
[T]he shift to remote work caused the formal business groups and informal communities within Microsoft to become less interconnected and more siloed.
Remote work caused the share of collaboration time employees spent with cross-group connections to drop by about 25% of the pre-pandemic level.
Furthermore, firm-wide remote work caused separate groups to become more intraconnected by adding more connections within themselves.
The shift to remote work also caused the organizational structure at Microsoft to become less dynamic; Microsoft employees added fewer new collaborators and shed fewer existing ones.
But this sentiment from the Nature Human Behaviour article is getting much of the scrutiny: “We expect that the effects we observe on workers’ collaboration and communication patterns will impact productivity and, in the long-term, innovation.”
In a detailed Twitter thread, Steven Sinofsky, a technology investor and advisor, and former Microsoft Windows president, cautioned against equating communication with collaboration, or drawing conclusions about the potential impact of the change in communication on productivity and innovation.
3/ I have no doubt that this research accurately captures the flow of information using digital tools around the company for over 60K people. That’s a huge amount of work and analysis. Kudos. The challenge from the outset is that it conflates that flow with “collaboration”.
Overall, the Microsoft researchers contend that it’s too early to fully assess the long-term impact of remote work, and companies attempting to set long-term policies now could face unintended consequences down the road.
In many cases, they write in the journal article, “firms are making decisions to adopt permanent remote work policies based only on short-term data.”
Andy Jassy will join us for an on-stage interview at the 10th annual GeekWire Summit in October in Seattle, making one of his first public appearances since succeeding Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as CEO of the Seattle-based tech giant.
The annual conference, bringing together business, tech and community leaders for a conversation about the future, will take place Oct. 4 and 5 in Seattle, with the option to attend virtually or in-person.
Neil King, computational biology pioneer and renowned vaccine researcher with the Institute for Protein Design.
Spencer Rascoff, former Zillow Group CEO, influential startup investor and founder, and co-founder of tech news site dot.LA.
See the rest of the lineup so far on the GeekWire Summit event page, including leading experts in cybersecurity and the environment. More speakers will be added as the event approaches.
Tickets are limited for this year’s GeekWire Summit in-person experience, which will be hosted at Block 41, one of downtown Seattle’s coolest venues.
Thanks to our presenting sponsor, Bank of America, for helping to make this year’s event available to a wider audience virtually, and making it possible for GeekWire to offer a limited number of free scholarships for virtual tickets. If interested, please contact our events team at email@example.com.