Google Cloud brings on 27-year SAP veteran as it doubles down on enterprise adoption

Thomas Kurian, the newly-minted CEO of Google Cloud, used the company’s Cloud Next conference last week to lay out his vision for the future of Google’s cloud computing platform. That vision involves, in part, a hiring spree to give businesses that want to work with Google more people to talk to and get help from. Unsurprisingly, Kurian is also looking to put his stamp on the executive team, too, and today announced that former SAP executive Robert Enslin is joining Google Cloud as its new President of Global Customer Operations.

Enslin’s hire is another clear signal that Kurian is focused on enterprise customers. Enslin, after all, is a veteran of the enterprise business, with 27 years at SAP, where he served on the company’s executive board until he announced his resignation from the company earlier this month. After leading various parts of SAP, including as president of its cloud product portfolio, president of SAP North America and CEO of SAP Japan, Enslin announced that he had “a few more aspirations to fulfill.” Those aspirations, we now know, include helping Google Cloud expand its lineup of enterprise customers.

“Rob brings great international experience to his role having worked in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States—this global perspective will be invaluable as we expand Google Cloud into established industries and growth markets around the world,” Kurian writes in today’s announcement.

For the last two years, Google Cloud already had a President of Global Customer Operations, though, in the form of Paul-Henri Ferrand, a former Dell exec who was brought on by Google Cloud’s former CEO Diane Greene . Kurian says that Ferrand “has decided to take on a new challenge within Google.”

 

Google Home’s Philips Hue integration can now wake you up gently

Maybe you love the sound of your alarm clock blaring in the morning, heralding a new day full of joy and adventure. More likely, though, you don’t. If you prefer a more gentle wake-up (and have invested in some smart home technology), here’s some good news: Google Home now lets you use your Philips Hue lights to wake you up by slowly changing the light in your room.

Philips first announced this integration at CES earlier this year, with a planned rollout in March. Looks like that took a little while longer, as Google and Philips gently brought this feature to life.

Just like you can use your Home to turn on “Gentle Wake,” which starts changing your lights 30 minutes before your wake-up time to mimic a sunrise, you also can go the opposite way and have the lights mimic sunset as you get ready to go to bed. You can either trigger these light changes through an alarm or with a command that starts them immediately.

While the price of white Hue bulbs has come down in recent years, colored hue lights remain rather pricey, with single bulbs going for around $40. If that doesn’t hold you back, though, the Gentle Sleep and Wake features are now available in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, Singapore and India in English only.

Google starts rolling out better AMP URLs

Publishers don’t always love Google’s AMP pages, but readers surely appreciate their speed, and while publishers are loath to give Google more power, virtually every major site now supports this format. One AMP quirk that publisher’s definitely never liked is about to go away, though. Starting today, when you use Google Search and click on an AMP link, the browser will display the publisher’s real URLs instead of an “http//google.com/amp” link.

This move has been in the making for well over a year. Last January, the company announced that it was embarking on a multi-month effort to load AMP pages from the Google AMP cache without displaying the Google URL.

At the core of this effort was the new Web Packaging standard, which uses signed exchanges with digital signatures to let the browser trust a document as if it belongs to a publisher’s origin. By default, a browser should reject scripts in a web page that try to access data that doesn’t come from the same origin. Publishers will have to do a bit of extra work, and publish both signed and un-signed versions of their stories.

 

Quite a few publishers already do this, given that Google started alerting publishers of this change in November 2018. For now, though, only Chrome supports the core features behind this service, but other browsers will likely add support soon, too.

For publishers, this is a pretty big deal, given that their domain name is a core part of their brand identity. Using their own URL also makes it easier to get analytics, and the standard grey bar that sits on top of AMP pages and shows the site you are on now isn’t necessary anymore because the name will be in the URL bar.

To launch this new feature, Google also partnered with Cloudflare, which launched its AMP Real URL feature today. It’ll take a bit before it will roll out to all users, who can then enable it with a single click. With this, the company will automatically sign every AMP page it sends to the Google AMP cache. For the time being, that makes Cloudflare the only CDN that supports this feature, though others will surely follow.

“AMP has been a great solution to improve the performance of the internet and we were eager to work with the AMP Project to help eliminate one of AMP’s biggest issues — that it wasn’t served from a publisher’s perspective,” said Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare. “As the only provider currently enabling this new solution, our global scale will allow publishers everywhere to benefit from a faster and more brand-aware mobile experience for their content.”

 

Google expands its container service with GKE Advanced

With its Kuberntes Engine (GKE), Google Cloud Google has long offered a managed service for running containers on its platform. Kubernetes users tend to have a variety of needs, but so far, Google only offered a single tier of GKE that wasn’t necessarily geared toward the high-end enterprise users the company is trying to woo. Today, however, the company announced a new advanced edition of GKE that introduces a number of new features and an enhanced financially backed SLA, additional security tools and new automation features. You can think of GKE Advanced as the enterprise version of GKE.

The new service will launch in the second quarter of the year and hasn’t yet announced pricing. The regular version of GKE is now called GKE Standard.

Google says the service builds upon the company’s own learnings from running a complex container infrastructure internally for years.

For enterprise customers, the financially backed SLA is surely a nice bonus. The promise here is 99.95% guaranteed availability for regional clusters.

Most users who opt for a managed Kubernetes environment do so because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing these clusters themselves. With GKE Standard, there’s still some work to be done with regard to scaling the clusters. Because of this, GKE Advanced includes a Vertical Pod Autoscaler that keeps on eye on resource utilization and adjusts it as necessary, as well as Node Auto Provisioning, an enhanced version of cluster autoscaling in GKE Standard.

In addition to these new GKE Advanced features, Google is also adding existing GKE security features like the GKE Sandbox and the ability to enforce that only signed and verified images are used in the container environment.

The Sandbox uses Google’s gVisor container sandbox runtime. With this, every sandbox gets its own user-space kernel, adding an additional layer of security. With Binary Authorization, GKE Advanced users can also ensure that all container images are signed by a trusted authority before they are put into production. Somebody could theoretically still smuggle malicious code into the containers, but this process, which enforces standard container release practices, for example, should ensure that only authorized containers can run in the environment.

GKE Advanced also includes support for GKE usage metering, which allows companies to keep tabs on who is using a GKE cluster and charge them according.

 

OpenStack Stein launches with improved Kubernetes support

The OpenStack project, which powers more than 75 public and thousands of private clouds, launched the 19th version of its software this week. You’d think that after 19 updates to the open-source infrastructure platform, there really isn’t all that much new the various project teams could add, given that we’re talking about a rather stable code base here. There are actually a few new features in this release, though, as well as all the usual tweaks and feature improvements you’d expect.

While the hype around OpenStack has died down, we’re still talking about a very active open-source project. On average, there were 155 commits per day during the Stein development cycle. As far as development activity goes, that keeps OpenStack on the same level as the Linux kernel and Chromium.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of that development activity focused on Kubernetes and the tools to manage these container clusters. With this release, the team behind the OpenStack Kubernetes installer brought the launch time for a cluster down from about 10 minutes to five, regardless of the number of nodes. To further enhance Kubernetes support, OpenStack Stein also includes updates to Neutron, the project’s networking service, which now makes it easier to create virtual networking ports in bulk as containers are spun up, and Ironic, the bare-metal provisioning service.

All of that is no surprise, given that according to the project’s latest survey, 61 percent of OpenStack deployments now use both Kubernetes and OpenStack in tandem.

The update also includes a number of new networking features that are mostly targeted at the many telecom users. Indeed, over the course of the last few years, telcos have emerged as some of the most active OpenStack users as these companies are looking to modernize their infrastructure as part of their 5G rollouts.

Besides the expected updates, though, there are also a few new and improved projects here that are worth noting.

“The trend from the last couple of releases has been on scale and stability, which is really focused on operations,” OpenStack Foundation executive director Jonathan Bryce told me. “The new projects — and really most of the new projects from the last year — have all been pretty oriented around real-world use cases.”

The first of these is Placement. “As people build a cloud and start to grow it and it becomes more broadly adopted within the organization, a lot of times, there are other requirements that come into play,” Bryce explained. “One of these things that was pretty simplistic at the beginning was how a request for a resource was actually placed on the underlying infrastructure in the data center.” But as users get more sophisticated, they often want to run specific workloads on machines with certain hardware requirements. These days, that’s often a specific GPU for a machine learning workload, for example. With Placement, that’s a bit easier now.

It’s worth noting that OpenStack had some of this functionality before. The team, however, decided to uncouple it from the existing compute service and turn it into a more generic service that could then also be used more easily beyond the compute stack, turning it more into a kind of resource inventory and tracking tool.

Then, there is also Blazer, a reservation service that offers OpenStack users something akin to AWS Reserved Instances. In a private cloud, the use case for a feature is a bit different, though. But as some of the private clouds got bigger, some users found that they needed to be able to guarantee resources to run some of their regular, overnight batch jobs or data analytics workloads, for example.

As far as resource management goes, it’s also worth highlighting Sahara, which now makes it easier to provision Hadoop clusters on OpenStack.

In previous releases, one of the focus areas for the project was to improve the update experience. OpenStack is obviously a very complex system, so bringing it up to the latest version is also a bit of a complex undertaking. These improvements are now paying off. “Nobody even knows we are running Stein right now,” Vexxhost CEO Mohammed Nasar, who made an early bet on OpenStack for his service, told me. “And I think that’s a good thing. You want to be least impactful, especially when you’re in such a core infrastructure level. […] That’s something the projects are starting to become more and more aware of but it’s also part of the OpenStack software in general becoming much more stable.”

As usual, this release launched only a few weeks before the OpenStack Foundation hosts its bi-annual Summit in Denver. Since the OpenStack Foundation has expanded its scope beyond the OpenStack project, though, this event also focuses on a broader range of topics around open-source infrastructure. It’ll be interesting to see how this will change the dynamics at the event.

With consumer G+ dead, Currents hopes to make waves in the enterprise

Google today announced that Google+ in G Suite, the last remaining remnants of what was once Google’s attempt to rival Facebook and Twitter, will now be called Currents. We don’t need to belabor the fact that Google+ was a flop and that its death was probably long overdue. We’ve done that. Now it’s time to look ahead and talk about what’s next for Currents. To do that, I sat down with David Thacker, the VP of Product Management for G Suite, at Google’s Cloud Next conference.

As Thacker told me, Google has shifted its resources to have the former Google+ team focus on Currents instead. But before we get to what that teams plans to do, let’s talk about the name first. Currents, after all, was also the name of the predecessor of Google Play Newsstand, the app that was the predecessor of the Google News app.

The official line is that “Currents” is meant to evoke the flow of information. Thacker also noted that the team did a lot of research around the name and that it had “very low recognition.” I guess that’s fair. It also allows Google to reuse an old trademark without having to jump through too many hoops. Since the Google+ name obviously now carries some baggage, changing the name makes sense anyway. “The enterprise version is distinct and separate now and it was causing confusion among our customers,” said Thacker.

“This allows us to do new things and move much faster in the enterprise,” Thacker explained. “To run a consumer social network at the scale of consumer G+ requires a lot of resources and efforts, as you can imagine. And that’s partially the reason we decided to sunset that product, as we just didn’t feel it was worth that investment given the user base on that. But it basically frees up that team to focus on the enterprise vision.”

Now, however, with consumer G+ gone, the company is going to invest in Currents. “We’re moving consumer resources into the enterprise,” he said.

The plan here clearly isn’t to just let Currents linger but to improve it for business users. And while Google has never publicly shared user numbers, Thacker argues that those businesses that do use it tend to use it expensively. The hope, though, surely, is to increase that number — whatever it may be — significantly over time. “If you look at our top G Suite customers, most of them use the product actively as a way to connect really broad organizations,” Thacker said.

Thacker also noted that this move now removes a lot of constraints since the team doesn’t have to think about consumer features anymore. “When Google+ was first designed, it was never designed for that [enterprise] use case, but organizations had the same need to break down silos and help spread ideas and knowledge in their company,” Thacker explained. “So while Google+ didn’t succeed as a consumer product, it will certainly live on in the enterprise.”

What will that future look like? As Thacker told me, the team started with revamping the posting workflow, which was heavily focused on image sharing, for example, which isn’t exactly all that important in a business context.

But there are other features the team is planning to launch, too, including better analytics. “Analytics is a really important part of it,” said Thacker. “When people are posting on Currents, whether it’s executives trying to engage their employee base, they want to see how that’s resonating. And so we built in some pretty rich analytics.”

The team also built a new set of administrative controls that help manage how organizations can control and manage their usage of Currents.

Going forward then, we may actually see a bit of innovation in Currents — something that was sorely lacking from Google+ while it was lingering in limbo. Google Cloud’s CEO Thomas Kurian told me that he wants to make collaboration one of his focus areas. Currents is an obvious fit there, and there are plenty of ways to integrate it with the rest of G Suite still.

The 6 most important announcements from Google Cloud Next 2019

Google is hosting its annual Cloud Next developer conference in San Francisco this week. While the event is still in full swing, with a mystery concert capping off most of the programming tonight, the flood of news has now subsided, so here is our list of the most important announcements from the event.

Anthos

What is it? Anthos is the new name of the Google Cloud Services Platform, Google’s managed service for allowing enterprises to run applications in their private data center and in Google’s cloud. Google decided to give the service a new name, Anthos, but also expanded support to AWS and Azure, its competitors’ cloud platforms. This will allow enterprises to use a single platform, running on Google’s cloud, to deploy and manage their applications on any cloud. Enterprises will get a single bill and have a single dashboard to manage their applications. All of this, unsurprisingly, is powered by containers and Kubernetes.

Why does it matter? It’s still highly unusual for the big cloud competitors to launch a product that allows users to run applications on other platforms. The money, after all, is in charging fees for compute time and storage allocations. Google argues that this is something its customers want and that it solves a real problem. Google, however, is also chasing its competitors and looking for ways to differentiate its approach from them. I don’t think we’ll see AWS and Azure react with similar tools, but if they do, it’s a good thing for their customers.

Open-source integrations into the Google Cloud Console

What is it? Google announced that it would deeply integrate the products of a number of open-source companies into its cloud and essentially make them first-party services. These partners are Confluent, DataStax, Elastic, InfluxData, MongoDB, Neo4j and Redis Labs, with others likely to follow over time.

Why does it matter? These integrations are a boon for Google Cloud customers who are likely already using some of these services. They’ll get a single bill and access to support from these companies, all while managing the services from a single console. The subtext here, though, is a bit more complicated and reveals Google’s approach to open source and puts it into contrast with AWS. Many of the companies that are participating here are highly critical of AWS’s treatment of open source and quite public about it. Google is working with them while the perception is that AWS simply uses the code and doesn’t give back.

Google’s AI Platform

What is it? Google sees its AI prowess as one of its main differentiators in its fight against AWS, Azure and Co. The company already offered a wide range of AI tools, ranging from developer tools and services for advanced data scientists to AutoML, a service that can automatically train models and doesn’t require a PhD. The new AI Platform offers an end-to-end solution for more advanced developers that allows them to go from ingesting data to training and testing their models, to putting them into production. The platform can also use pre-built models.

Why does it matter? AI (and machine learning) is the major focus for all big cloud providers, but the developer experience leaves lots of room for improvement. Having an end-to-end solution is obviously a major step forward here and opens up the promise of machine learning to a wider range of potential users.

Your Android phone is now a security key

What is it? Instead of using a physical security key to enable two-factor authentication, you’ll now be able to use any Android 7+ phone as a security key, too. You set it up in your Google Account and your phone will then use Bluetooth (but without the hassle of creating a Bluetooth connection) to provide your second factor. For now, this only works with Chrome, but Google hopes to turn this into a standard that other browsers and mobile operating system vendors will also support. Google also recommends you still use a regular key as a backup for that inevitable day when you lose your phone.

Why it matters? Two-factor authentication is inherently safer than just using a login and password. Systems that use SMS and push-notifications are still vulnerable to phishing attacks while security keys — and this new Android-based system uses the same standards as existing keys — prevent this by ensuring that you are on a legitimate site. This new system takes the hassle out of using a physical key and may just convince more people to use two-factor authentication.

Google Cloud Code

What is it? Cloud Code is a set of plugins and extensions for popular IDE’s like IntelliJ and VS Code. The general idea here is to provide developers with all of the necessary tools to build cloud-native applications — all without having to deal with any of the plumbing work and configuration that comes with that. Using Cloud Code, developers can simply write their applications like before, but then package them as cloud-native apps and ship them to a Kubernetes cluster for testing or production.

Why does it matter? Writing cloud-native apps is complicated and usually involves writing complex configuration files. Cloud Code ideally makes all of this so easy that it’ll be far easier for developers — and the companies that employ them — to make this move to a modern infrastructure.

Google Cloud aims at retailers

What is it? The news here is that Google is launching a vertical solution that’s squarely aimed at retailers. That doesn’t sound all that earth-shattering, does it? But Google Cloud plans to offer more of these specialized solutions over time.

Why does it matter? Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian told us that customers are asking for these kinds of integrated solutions that package some of the companies existing tools into integrated solutions that these enterprises can deploy. This is essentially the first time it is doing so (with maybe the exception of healthcare), but it’ll likely offer more of these over time and they could become a major factor in growing the platform’s user base.

Bonus

We also got a chance to sit down with Google Cloud’s new CEO Thomas Kurian to put some of the announcements into context and talk about his vision for Google Cloud going forward.

 

Google Cloud’s new CEO on gaining customers, startups, supporting open source and more

After Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud’s recently minted CEO, joined the company, he took hundreds of meetings to learn what the company’s prospective and current customers were looking for. The overarching theme of those conversations was always similar, he told me during an interview at Google’s Cloud Next conference: “Love the technology — amazed at it. [They] think that it’s the best of the best. But they want more people that can help them adopt it and improvements to how they do business with us.”

So that’s the first order of business at Google Cloud now. Kurian, who came to Google Cloud after 22 years at Oracle, said that the team is rolling out new contracts and plans to simplify pricing. Most importantly, though, Google will go on a hiring spree. “A number of customers told us ‘we just need more people from you to help us.’ So that’s what we’ll do,” Kurian said.

I asked Kurian whether he believes that his predecessors made a mistake by not doing all of this already. Always the diplomat, Kurian denied that (of course). “No, I think it’s just the natural evolution of every company. Growing up, understanding their business, seeing an opportunity,” he said. “When I look at it, isn’t it a great position to be in? When you have customers saying ‘please hire more people to help me’ rather than ‘please go away from me?’ ”

Enterprises want Google to figure out the enterprise, Kurian argues, because they want to use the company’s technology. “And so we’re trying to do that.”

No matter what he thinks about Diane Greene’s tenure at Google Cloud, though, Kurian undoubtedly has the opportunity to reshape the organization now. When I asked him about how his own philosophy is different from his predecessor, though, he argued that it’s all about listening to customers and giving them what they want. And what they want is more help, but also better collaboration tools, for example, as well as more industry-specific solutions.

Later on, though, he also noted that what Google Cloud will do going forward is to play to its strengths. “I think you will see us emphasizing our differentiators and strengthening the multi-cloud infrastructure,” he said, and highlighted today’s launch of Anthos as an example of what the company can do — and as a product that was developed in response to customer requests. “We’ve taken the area of security. We’ve taken the area of analytics. We’ve taken the area of AI — and we’ve invested a lot more in solutions there. And the reason is, that’s what customers want from us,” he added

It’s no secret that Google is definitely focusing on bringing more enterprises onto its platform. That’s not to say that Google Cloud doesn’t care about startups, though. “When we say we’re focused on enterprise, it doesn’t mean we’re stopping to focus on the small and medium companies — on the digital natives and the startups,” Kurian said. “Historically, the complaint has always been ‘Google doesn’t focus on enterprises, they focus on digital natives. […] The perception outside that Google doesn’t care about enterprises is not true. And the statement that we’re now going to focus exclusively on enterprises is also not true.”

Kurian argues that nine of the 10 largest media companies use Google Cloud, as well as seven of the 10 largest retailers and six of the top 10 enterprise companies. “Other cloud providers would have you believe that no one is using Google, which is not true,” he added.

Talking about other cloud providers, it’s also worth noting that Google is taking a very different approach to open source than some of its competitors, and especially AWS. That’s something that isn’t likely to change under Kurian’s leadership at Google Cloud. “The most important thing is that we believe that the platforms that win in the end are those that enable rather than destroy ecosystems. We really fundamentally believe that,” he told me. “Any platform that wins in the end is always about fostering rather than shutting down an ecosystem. If you look at open-source companies, we think they work hard to build technology and enable developers to use it.”

Kurian isn’t the kind of CEO who will directly attack his competitors in an interview, but he did come rather close to it in this context: “In order to sustain the company behind the open-source technology, they need a monetization vehicle. If the cloud provider attacks them and takes that away, then they are not viable and it deteriorates the open-source community.”

As for the future of Google Cloud, Kurian didn’t quite want to look at his crystal ball. Instead, he argued that as long as the company focuses on doing what its customers want — starting with hiring more employees to help those customers and making it easier to do business with Google — those customers will buy a lot more of their cloud technology from Google.

Here’s the first official preview of Microsoft’s Chromium-based Edge browser

Microsoft today launched the first official version of its Edge browser with the Chromium engine for Windows 10. You can now download the first developer and canary builds here. The canary builds will get daily updates and the developer builds will see weekly updates. Over time, you’ll also be able to opt in to the beta channel and, eventually, the stable channel.

The company first announced this project last December and the news obviously created quite a stir, given that Microsoft was abandoning its own browser engine development in favor of using an open-source engine — and one that is still very much under the control of Google. With that, we’re now down to two major browser engines: Google’s Chromium and Mozilla’s Gecko.

I used the most recent builds for the last week or so. Maybe the most remarkable thing about using Microsoft’s new Chromium-based Edge browser is how unremarkable it feels. It’s a browser and it (with the exceptions of a few bugs you’d expect to see in a first release) works just like you’d expect it to. That’s a good thing, in that if you’re a Windows user, you could easily use the new Edge as your default browser and would be just fine. On the other hand — at least at this stage of the project — there’s also very little that differentiates Edge with Chromium from Google’s own Chrome browser.

That will change over time, though, with more integrations into the Windows ecosystem. For now, this is very much a first preview and meant to give web and extensions developers a platform for testing their sites and tools.

There are a few points of integration with Microsoft’s other services available already, though. Right now, when you install the Edge preview builds, you get the option to choose your new tab layout. The choices are a very simple new tab layout that only presents a search bar and a few bookmarks and a variation with a pretty picture in the background, similar to what you’d see on Bing. There is, however, also another option that highlights recent news from Microsoft News, with the option to personalize what you see on that page.

Microsoft also says that it plans to improve tab management and other UI features as it looks at how it can differentiate its browser from the rest.

In this first preview, some of the syncing features are also already in place, but there are a few holes here. So while bookmarks sync, extensions, your browsing history, settings, open tabs, addresses and passwords do not. That’ll come in some of the next builds, though.

Right now, the only search engine that’s available is Bing. That, too, will obviously change in upcoming builds.

Microsoft tells me that it prioritized getting a full end-to-end browser code base to users and setting up the engineering systems that will allow it to both push regular updates outside of the Windows update cycle and to pull in telemetry data from its users.

Most of the bugs I encountered where minor. Netflix, though, regularly gave me trouble. While all other video services I tried worked just fine, the Netflix homepage often stuttered and became unresponsive for a few seconds.

That was the exception, though. In using the new Edge as my default browser for almost a week, I rarely ran into similar issues and a lot of things ‘just work’ already. You can read PDFs in the browser, just like you’d expect. Two-factor authentication with a Yubikey to get into Gmail works without an issue. Even complex web apps run quickly and without any issues. The extensions I regularly use, including LastPass, worked seamlessly, no matter whether I installed them from the Google store or Microsoft’s library.

I also ran a few benchmarks and unsurprisingly, Edge and the latest version of Chrome tend to score virtually the same results. It’s a bit too early in the development process to really focus on benchmarks, but the results are encouraging.

With this release, we’re also getting our first official look at using extensions in the new Edge. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft will offer its own extension store, but with the flip of a switch in the settings, you’ll also be able to install and use extensions from third-party marketplaces, meaning the Chrome Web Store. Extension developers who want to add their tools to the Microsoft marketplace can basically take their existing Chrome extensions and use those

Microsoft’s promise, of course, is that it will also bring the new Edge to Windows 7 and Windows 8, as well as the Mac. For now, though, this first version is only available on 64-bit versions of Windows 10. Those are in the works, but Microsoft says they simply aren’t quite as far along as the Windows 10 edition. This first release is also English-only, with localized versions coming soon, though.

While anybody can obviously download this release and give it a try, Microsoft stressed that if you’re not a tech enthusiast, it really isn’t for you. This first release is very much meant for a technical audience. In a few months, though, Microsoft will surely start launching more fully-featured beta versions and by that time, the browser will likely be ready for a wider audience. Still, though, if you want to give it a try, nobody is stopping you today, no matter your technical expertise.

The Google Assistant on Android gets more visual responses

About half a year ago, Google gave the Assistant on phones a major visual refresh. Today, the company is following up with a couple of small but welcome tweaks that’ll see the Assistant on Android provide more and better visual responses that are more aligned with what users already expect to see from other Google services.

That means when you ask for events now, for example, the response will look exactly like what you’d see if you tried the same query from your mobile browser. Until now, Google showed a somewhat pared-down version in the Assistant.

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Also — and this is going to be a bit of a controversial change — when the Assistant decides that the best answer is simply a list of websites (or when it falls back to those results because it simply doesn’t have any other answer), the Assistant used to show you a couple of boxes in a vertical layout that were not exactly user-friendly. Now, the Assistant will simply show the standard Google Search layout.

Seems like a good idea, so why would that be controversial? Together with the search results, Google will also show its usual Search ads. This marks the first time that Google is showing ads in the Assistant experience. To be fair, the Assistant will only show these kinds of results for a very small number of queries, but users will likely worry that Google will bring more ads to the rest of the Assistant.

Google tells me that advertisers can’t target their ads to Assistant users and won’t get any additional information about them.

The Assistant will now also show built-in mortgage calculators, color pickers, a tip calculator and a bubble level when you ask for those. Also, when you ask for a stock quote, you’ll now see a full interactive graph, not just the current price of the quote.

These new features are rolling out to Android phones in the U.S. now. As usual, it may take a bit before you see them pop up on your own phone.