You deserve a break, and Outlook’s updated Replies will see that you get one


You’re a nice person: devoted, hardworking. And every year you find yourself taking an hour or two from your vacation to stress about some petty meeting someone else should be taking. An updated Automatic Replies feature from Outlook promises to put you back on the beach.

Microsoft’s old “Out of Office” feature simply sent automated emails to friends and business contacts, reminding them you’d be lounging on the sands of Cancun the second week of July. Now, Outlook wipes your calendar clean: cancelling meetings you’ve already booked, declining new invitations, and showing your calendar as blocked (or filled up) for the duration. It’s Outlook acting as the devoted gatekeeper we all wish we had.

outlook automatic replies
You’ll have the option to completely free yourself from meetings if you so choose.

Once you enable what Microsoft calls Automatic Replies, Outlook will show you a list of scheduled meetings that take place during your vacation and, via a checkbox, allow you to send a polite email opting out of the meeting. A similar email will be sent if a new meeting invitation arrives. Outlook will also block out your schedule, showing you as unavailable.

Naturally, don’t expect this feature to be available to just every Outlook user. You’ll have to subscribe to Office 365, Microsoft’s recurring business subscription, if you want to professionally tell your work colleagues that you’ll be enjoying a few well-deserved days off. (In other words, this feature isn’t available if you use just the standalone version of Office 2016.) It is available, though, via The implication is that you should manage your respective work and personal calendars with two separate services.

There’s one hitch: Even if you subscribe to Office 365 and use the standalone Office apps, the only way to enable these additional features is to log in to your work or personal Outlook email via a browser. From either the Mail or Calendar view within Outlook, go up to the gear icon (Settings) in the upper right and click Automatic Replies. Microsoft said it may add these options within other applications, such as the Android or iOS versions of Outlook, in the future.

Why this matters: Part of the worry about going on vacation is that you “pay” for your time off, either with more work before or after your vacation. Microsoft may not be able to do anything about that, but as your holiday draws nearer, at least your colleagues will be reminded that someone else will need to pick up the slack.

Facebook’s Terragraph project aims to replace fiber with fast, low-cost Wi-Fi


Facebook’s plan to connect the world to the Internet is ambitious. It also has many arms. There’s Aquila, the solar-powered plane that will beam Internet to the ground. Then there’s Project ARIES, a plan to extend connectivity to rural areas cheaper and faster, so people who live close to cities will be able to access the Internet. But Facebook’s newest project is on the ground. It’s called Terragraph, a low-cost, high-speed wireless network that will replace fiber in big cities.

Facebook will pilot Terragraph in downtown San Jose later this year after a trial run at its Menlo Park campus. The company is placing cheap IPv6-only nodes with WiGig chips on lamp posts, utility poles, and small buildings that will broadcast Internet using unlicensed 60GHz spectrum. That spectrum doesn’t have very good range and is easily absorbed by water and oxygen, said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president of engineering, during the company’s F8 developers conference Wednesday keynote. But that’s perfect for Facebook, because the company can keep street-level Wi-Fi capacity high for next to nothing.

project aries facebook

Project ARIES will add more antennas to extend connectivity out to the more more than 90 percent of people around the world who live within 40 kilometers of a city. ARIES puts base stations with 96 antennas supporting 24 streams at 71 bits per second in urban areas to extend Internet out to rural areas.

Facebook’s goal is to increase connectivity speed by 10 times or reduce its cost by 10 times—ideally both. Aquila, ARIES, and Terragraph are its grand plans to do just that over the next decade. Parikh said the company doesn’t want to own Internet access, as it’s been accused of in its attempt to bring its Free Basics program to developing countries. Free Basics offers users access to specific essential apps for free, including Facebook (of course), health care apps, job search services, and more. But some claim that Free Basics violates net neutrality tenets, and it was recently banned in India.

facebook f8 connectivity

“It’s not our aim to build and deploy these networks by ourselves,” Parikh said. “We just want to advance the state of the art. We want to help accelerate how people get connected to the Internet. We have a long journey ahead. I’m excited we’ve taken the first couple of steps.”

Sling TV adds a multi-stream “beta” bundle with Fox channels and regional sports


Sling TV has answered subscribers’ cries for multiple stream support and regional sports. But as is often the case in the world of TV bundles, there’s a catch.

The new multi-stream plan costs $20 per month, and allows up to three simultaneous streams per account. However, the lineup of channels in this package is not quite the same as Sling’s single-stream plan, which also costs $20 per month.

For example, the multi-stream plan includes Fox on-demand, along with regional Fox Sports (plus YES Network in New York), FX, and National Geographic, none of which have ever been part of the single-stream plan. TruTV, UniMas, and Univision are also included, whereas they cost extra for single-stream subscribers.

In some markets, a live feed of Fox’s local station will also be available. For now, this applies to Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Gainesville, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Pa., Phoenix, San Francisco, Tampa, and Washington D.C.

Why would you stick with the single-stream plan, then? Because some its channels aren’t available if you’re on a multi-stream package, including ESPN, ESPN2, Disney Channel, and Freeform. Certain add-on packages are also unavailable to multi-stream subscribers, including Kids Extra and Sports Extra.

Technically, you could subscribe to both the single-stream and multi-stream packages, but then you’re paying $40 per month for a whole lot of overlap. At that point, you should probably consider Sony’s PlayStation Vue streaming service instead (if your hardware supports it), which starts at $30 per month for more than 55 channels (or $35 with both ESPN and Fox Sports), and supports up to five streams at a time.

For now, Sling is labeling the multi-stream plan as a “beta,” and is promising to add new channels, features, and functions over time. Sling has also posted a PDF file that compares the single- and multi-stream plans.

Why this matters: Sling TV’s new plan could cause some anguish among subscribers, especially sports fans who must now choose between ESPN and regional sports in their base package. But the plan also illustrates the minefield that streaming video rights can be, as some TV networks only want to play ball under certain conditions.