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Written by Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft starts testing a new news reading experience in Windows 10

Microsoft announced its latest Windows 10 preview build today and while that is a pretty routine affair these days, the company also used today’s announcement to also launch the beta version of a new news consumption experience that anybody on a Windows 10 device can try out today. The Microsoft News Bar aggregates news from the 4,500 publishers in the Microsoft News network and then displays those as a semi-persistent bar on any side of your screen.

Windows 10 has long featured the Microsoft News app, which is more of a fully-features news reading experience (though I admit I always forget it even exists). The idea behind the News Bar is to give you a news ticker that is either always visible or that you can hide away at will. In order to make sure you don’t forget it, you can choose to have it pop back up in either two or eight hours — or never, if you’re seriously tired of the news right now. Nobody would blame you.

Right now, this is a pretty barebones affair, without the ability to really personalize the news you see beyond the country you are in. What you can do is select some stocks you want to monitor and over time, Microsoft will add weather and sports options (hopefully with the ability to turn off sports news, because who cares, right?). It’d be nice to at least get some sense of what’s breaking news in the news bar, but as of now, there are no timestamps attached to the updates.

If you’ve been around long enough, you may remember Windows Active Desktop, PointCast and Wired’s (in)famous Push cover story. Somehow this Microsoft News Bar feels a bit reminiscent of that and it seems a bit old-school to have a moving ticker on your desktop in 2020. But if that’s your style, you can now give this new experience a try by downloading the application from the Microsoft Store.

Google Cloud makes it cheaper to run smaller workloads on Bigtable

Cloud Bigtable has long been Google Cloud’s fully-managed NoSQL’s database for massive, petabyte-sized analytical and operational workloads. At $0.65 per hour and node, it was never a cheap service to run, especially because Google Cloud enforced a minimum of three nodes per cluster for production workloads. Today, however, it is changing that and you can now run Bigtable production workloads on just a single node.

“We want Bigtable to be an excellent home for all of your key-value and wide-column use-cases, both large and small,” Google Cloud Bigtable product manager Sandy Ghai said in today’s announcement. “That’s true whether you’re a developer just getting started, or an established enterprise looking for a landing place for your self-managed HBase or Cassandra clusters.”

With this, Google Cloud is now also enabling the ability to use replication for higher availability for these small clusters, as well as the ability to easily switch a one-node development instance to a one-node production instance as needed. In addition, the service’s SLA now also covers all Bigtable instances, no matter their size.

It’s interesting to see Google Cloud make this push for bringing smaller workloads onto Bigtabe, especially given the organization’s current focus on large enterprise customers and their specific needs. But the company that only needs a single node today could easily be the one that needs massive clusters in the future and Bigtable’s minimums have always represented somewhat of a barrier to entry for smaller companies — and once a company places its bets on a given database service, it’s not likely to switch anytime time.

Firefox gets a refreshed address bar

Mozilla is launching version 75 of its Firefox browser today. As always, there are plenty of bug fixes and changes for developers who write web apps, but the marquee feature of this update is a refreshed address bar. Given how often you likely use the address bar — though these days it’s often more of a search bar than URL bar — that’s prime real estate in any browser and the kind of feature where users will quickly notice any changes.

Today’s update brings three major changes to the Firefox address bar. The one you’ll notice immediately is that when you click into the address bar it’ll open a list of your most visited site. If you have that site already open in a tab, that’ll get highlighted in the list and you can jump right to that tab with a shortcut (though that’s something I didn’t quite see in the preview releases yet). This list of most-visited sites is the same you see in Firefox’s new tab page and you can manage it from there, too.

When you start a search in the address bar, Firefox now also makes the autocompleted queries a bit easier to read. That’s a minor but welcome change.

With the redesign, the address bar is also getting a bit of a refreshed look and you’ll likely notice that it’s a bit larger, too. For the most part, though, it’s not a radical change.

As the Firefox team also announced today, Mozilla believes that it doesn’t need to make any changes to its 2020 release schedule for the time being, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. So while Google has decided to skip a version with its Chrome release schedule, you’re unlikely to see any changes to how Mozilla releases Firefox. But the team did take note of what today’s users are doing with their browser and has prioritized fixing issues with in-browser video conferencing systems, for example.

“Going forward, we will continue to examine all new features and planned changes with closer attention paid to backwards compatibility, and their potential for any user-facing issues,” the team writes today.