Microsoft gives Windows 10 users 10 free, full music albums for the holidays

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Microsoft has a Groove-y gift for music fans rocking Windows 10 in the United States. The company has chosen ten albums from 2015 to offer free of charge via the Windows Store. The album selection is almost exclusively from Universal Music Group recording artists including James Bay, Selena Gomez, and Ellie Goulding.

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Each album is offered separately, which means if you want all 10 you’ll have to redeem the free offers one-by-one. Any albums you redeem in the Windows Store are immediately downloaded to your PC via the Windows 10 Groove app.

The album selection includes:

  • Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
  • James Bay, Chaos and The Calm
  • Big Sean, Dark Sky Paradise
  • Breaking Benjamin, Dark Before Dawn
  • Alessia Cara, Know It All
  • Selena Gomez, Revival
  • Ellie Goulding, Delirium
  • Jeezy, Church In These Streets
  • Logic, The Incredible True Story
  • Tame Impala, Currents

Microsoft says the offer is only available for a limited time, but didn’t specify when it will expire.

freegroove2The impact on you at home: Free music is always worth taking advantage of and is a great way to find new artists you haven’t heard before—although we can’t help noticing that this is clearly a way to get you to use the Groove app in Windows 10 more often than you otherwise might. Groove is a nice modern UI music player, but if it’s just not your preferred player you can find all your free downloaded music files in Music > Purchases.

Microsoft launches insider program for… Solitaire?!

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Microsoft’s Insider early-access program worked so well for Windows 10, that it brought it to Windows Mobile. And Office. And now, well, Solitaire.

It’s not quite the same thing, but Microsoft’s Casual Games Inner Circle program will allow fans of Solitaire, Mahjong, Jigsaw, and others to sign up and help contribute to the development of the new games. In a blog post, Microsoft promised that the new program will offer early access to “new builds,” as well as the chance to influence new features and collaborate on the new games themselves.

As part of the new program, Microsoft is offering the chance to vote on what game the company makes next: Microsoft Casino Collection, Microsoft Chess, Microsoft Ultimate Word Games, Microsoft Bubble, or Microsoft Hearts. To do so, visit the Microsoft Web page and scroll down to the bottom, where you’ll have a chance to vote for your top three choices. Voting will close Dec. 17, so you’ll have to act fast.

“The earlier in the development process we can pinpoint what our players want and don’t want, the higher chance we have to exceed their expectations,” Kevin Lambert, design director for the Microsoft Casual Games team, and Derek Dutilly, lead producer, wrote in the blog post.

Why this matters: Microsoft has developed a reputation for actively seeking out the feedback of its user base, one that has helped to engender goodwill and a feeling that this iteration isn’t necessarily the “M$” of old. It may seem a little silly to ask what longtime Solitaire fans think, but it’s not hard to believe that the userbase who plays Microsoft’s casual games are really engaged. No word yet on whether Microsoft will take its bizarre Solitaire-as-subscription model and apply it to other casual games, though.

Solitaire as a Windows tutorial

Not surprisingly, Microsoft has launched a Casual Games blog, where anyone can check up and see what Microsoft’s up to. Early posts introduced users to the team and the business.

One exception, however, is a fascinating blog post by Lambert which delves into the history of Solitaire, which launched with Windows 3.0. As Lambert explains, there was an ulterior motive for including it.

“How could Microsoft teach users who were primarily familiar with command-line input how to drag and drop files and folders?” Lambert wrote. “If you guessed Solitaire, you’re absolutely correct! What better way to teach users how to use a mouse than through the friendly and familiar vehicle of dragging and dropping playing cards similar to how you would on a real table? It was brilliant. And judging by the number of users who are still dragging and dropping files today using a mouse, you could say the plan worked quite well.”

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Solitaire in Windows 8, snapped to a column on the screen.

Microsoft continued its strategy for Windows 8, building in similarities between the Windows 8 home screen and the Solitaire layout, and redesigning the app so that it was playable in “Snap View,” even when resigned to a vertical column on one side of the screen. And for Windows 10, the team wanted to show off how the content will resize and “flow” across different form factors, much like the Continuum features in Windows 10. As the window shrinks, Solitaire will resize elements of the design to make it more accessible.

Microsoft will let you keep your free 15GB of OneDrive storage, if you claim it

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Microsoft has grudgingly agreed to let current OneDrive users keep their 15GB of free cloud storage and 15GB of free Camera Roll “bonus” storage, rather than dropping you to 5GB as previously stated, but only if you’re aware of the offer and don’t mind a bit of spam.

To take advantage of the offer, visit this Microsoft page. Microsoft representatives said the company does not have a supplementary explanatory blog post or statement to add at the present, but they did supply the webpage address, whose URL lists it as a  “preview” at the moment.

You’ve already navigated the first hurdle: since users have to manually opt in to the offer, OneDrive users who are unaware of the deal won’t be able to take advantage of it. And there’s a small catch: by selecting the offer, you agree “to receive promotional emails from OneDrive,” although Microsoft immediately says that you can unsubscribe as well—how to do that, however, isn’t exactly clear.

It appears that unchecking the “promotional email” box, then clicking the “Keep your free storage” button also appears to work. In response to a question from PCWorld, a Microsoft representative said that the wording is being changed to “make it more clear”.

Why this matters: Microsoft’s reputation has climbed of late, as it’s reached out and worked with customers on the development of Windows 10, Office, and even Solitaire. But the end of unlimited OneDrive storage was a real black eye for Microsoft’s outreach efforts, and even the latest offer feels a bit half-hearted. If you want your friends to be able to take advantage of the offer, you’ll need to share it with them.

What’s going on here?

Over 60,000 different users complained about Microsoft’s changes to its OneDrive policy, which also reneged on an earlier deal to supply Office 365 subscribers with unlimited OneDrive storage at a future date. But what users were really unhappy with was Microsoft’s decision to also reduce the amount of free storage from 15GB to 5GB per account, as well as discontinuing the 15GB camera roll storage bonus for mobile users who uploaded their mobile photos to OneDrive. Microsoft’s new offer reverses the latter decision.

Microsoft has apparently maintained the 1TB limit on user accounts, however. In November, Microsoft also said that it is also doing away with the 100GB and 200GB OneDrive paid plans priced at $1.99 and $3.99 per month respectively. Instead, it will roll out 50GB of storage for $1.99 per month in early 2016. Anyone needing more storage than that can get 1TB by signing up for Office 365 Personal for $6.99 per month.