Windows Phone 7 A2DP

Last night, I was feeling a little frustrated with the Scala Rider not performing as I would have expected. With the lack of audio control via speech for Windows Phone 7 as per my post Windows Phone 7 Speech I was trying out the music playback on the Scala Rider by starting the music prior to putting on all my biker clobber. Unfortunatly, the VOX voice activation of the Scal Rider was detecting me grumbling and coughing under the helmet as speech and promplty pausing the music playback. The Scala Rider then waits for 30 seconds of silence before resuming the playback (this is in case there is a gap in conversation).

This isn’t a problem in theory, however when the Scala Rider is activated by VOX, it actually temporarily drops the Bluetooth connection to the phone. Be it the fault of the Scala or Windows Phone 7, I’m yet to determine, but it seems that if the VOX feature stays active for a short while, plus the 30 second wait timer, that the Bluetooth connection to the phone is actually lost.

Option 1 was to disable the VOX feature of the Scala whilst I’m riding solo and then remember to turn it back of when I have the wife with me pillion, but that kind of defeats the purpose of having an all singing all dancing product like this.

Option 2 was RTFM in case that turned up something useful on the topic.

I went with Option 2 for now and read the manual for the Scala Rider and discovered that it supports A2DP remote commands which means that through button presses on the Scala Rider, I can start and stop playback and also skip and replay tracks on the phone. I tried these out and it appears that Windows Phone 7 fully supports all of these operations.

I’m still to get to the bottom of my disconnect issue, but in the mean time, knowing that Windows Phone 7 supports these remote commands means that I can force the Scala Rider to reconnect to the phone and then start playback whilst riding.

Windows Phone 7 Speech

Windows Phone 7 has some really nice voice control and speech recognition features such as the ability to transcribe text messages and even reply to or write new messages to people in your contacts but to name one of the features. I’ve used the text messaging speech control on a couple of occasions in the car, but only really by fluke due to the fact that I had my phone connected to the car for playing music at the time.

You can read the official Microsoft page on speech control at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsphone/en-us/howto/wp7/get-started-speech.aspx.

I’ve never really been a big speech or voice control user, let alone a fan. I don’t spend a lot of time travelling in the car and typically, my phone is with me, on my person, so I use my hands as after all, that big touch screen on the HTC HD7 is made for them.

As a Christmas gift, I bought my wife and me a Scala Rider Q2 Multiset Pro (http://www.cardosystems.com/scala-rider/scala-rider-q2-multiset), which is a helmet mounted voice activated rider to pillion (and bike to bike) communication system, but it also triples as an FM Radio and a Bluetooth headset, allowing me to connect my phone and satnav device to it so that I can get handsfree Bluetooth calls or music whilst riding and get satnav directions through the helmet.

I fitted my Scala Rider unit to my helmet yesterday and thought I would have a play with some of the speech controls of my Windows Phone as I would be using some of them now via the helmet.

The call commands are pretty intuitive and what you would expect: Call is the opening command  followed by the name of the person and optionally which number to call them on. For example, call Richard Green Work would dial my work number. If you omit the work, home or mobile command, then the phone will prompt you for which number to dial if you have multiple numbers for a given contact.

The text command is pretty simple too: Text is the opening command followed by the name of the person. You will then be prompted to start speaking your message. Once you’re done, the phone will read back the transcript and if you’re happy with it, you can say Send, or you can say Try Again to start over if it misheard you. On the receiving side, when you receive an incoming text, the phone will announce that you have a new message and the name of the contact whom it is from and you are given the option to have it read out loud and then reply if you wish.

The application commands, again are simple and intuitive, and herein lies the problem. Saying Open followed by the name of an application of feature on the phone and it will do so, for example Open Zune will open the Music and Videos Hub (renamed from the Zune Hub pre-Mango update). You can say Open Music and Videos too, but why would you when you can just say Zune? This works for any application, including third-party ones, so I can say Open Sky News or Open Endomondo and the app will promptly open, however this is where it ends.

Once the Music and Videos Hub is open, there is no way to start playing music, play a particular artist, a playlist or anything.

I love my Windows Phone as anyone remotely close to me will tell you. The style of it, the ease of use and the way it gives me the data I want quickly and easy to read with those big blocks of bold colour, but most of all, my passion for all things Microsoft, but this is one area that flops.

What is the purpose of being able to open an application on the phone via speech if you then can’t control the application beyond that? I know that Microsoft can’t be expected or even be able to implement deep level interoperability for speech control for third party applications because Microsoft have no understanding of the function and purpose of the applications or code used to make those applications function (beyond the actual language used), but a deep rooted part of the operating system such as music, messaging and phone should be there out of the box.

Ignoring the new Siri functionality on the iPhone 4S which is different to what I’m covering here – Just the core platform controls, and an iPhone user can dictate to the phone to shuffle all music, play a particular album, artist or playlist which is what you need. Going back to my original statement, I’ve never been a big speech user, this one-up-manship for the iPhone didn’t phase me, however with my shift in needs, it does.

Now, in my circumstances, the phone is safely inside my backpack while I’m riding, so touching the phone to operate it isn’t even remotely viable. If I wanted to listen to music on the road, I would have to start the music playing before I get all my gloves and other gear on so that it’s already rolling before I’m rolling. If I want to stop the music for any reason, I need to take off, at a minimum, my gloves and backpack so that I can get into the bag to stop it. If I’m on the subject of music on Windows Phone, why is the music volume linked to the system volume? There should be separate control for the music and system volumes, as well as a separate control for the ringtone volume, however that’s a separate rant.

I still prefer my Windows Phone to any iPhone offering, because it does what I want, how I want it (except for this one occasion), however on this occasion, I do envy those owners. I’ve read multiple rumours about speech operation in Windows Phone 7 Tango update rumoured to be coming in 2012 which will bring the speech more inline with that seen in Siri, however for me, now, this can’t come soon enough.

Whats Missing in the Lync Client for Windows Phone 7

Microsoft Lync is one of those fantastic products that I yearn for. It cross cuts the entire communication eco-system and gives you fantastic integration across the Microsoft stack including SharePoint and the Office application suite, however much to my dismay we don’t use Lync in my place of work and instead use the mediocre Cisco CUCM. To this end, my only experiences with Lync in a real-world ‘anger’ situations are when participating in calls hosted by other companies using Lync, Microsoft themselves being the main player for me.

For a long time now, there has been speculation of a Lync Client for Windows Phone 7 being released and this week it finally hit the marketplace not only for Windows Phone 7, but also for Apple iOS devices, Android and Symbian.

The app looks great in the screenshots, showing the features on offer well, however one huge feature is missing for me. The ability to use the app as a Lync Attendee Client: See Lync offers two different clients. The full blown corporate use client and the Lync Attendee Client. If you use Lync in a corporate scenario you will have the full client, however if you are like me and only use Lync to participate in sessions hosted by others, you use the lighter Lync Attendee Client which doesn’t require credentials and is designed around guest access.

Sadly, the Lync Client app for the mobile handsets released this week is only suitable for full client use scenarios as told by the app guidance notes in the Windows Phone Marketplace:

IMPORTANT: Microsoft Lync 2010 for Windows Phone requires a Lync Server or Office365/Lync Online account and will not work without it. If you are unsure about your account status, please contact your IT department.

He being me, I decided to install the app and try it anyway, but sadly the prescribed guidance was correct. This was a sucker-punch to me, and I think it will limit somewhat the ability for people to use the Lync Client. My only hope is that a separate client is released which does give you the ability to participate in Lync sessions as a guest.

If you are lucky enough to use Lync in a full deployment, you can get the app for Windows Phone 7 from http://www.windowsphone.com/en-US/apps/9ce93e51-5b35-e011-854c-00237de2db9e.

What Does the Windows Live SkyDrive App Do For You?

Personally, not a lot in a nutshell.

This post comes off the back of the announcement today from Microsoft of the release of a Windows Live SkyDrive app for Windows Phone 7 and Apple iOS devices. You can read the post for yourself in full from http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_live/b/windowslive/archive/2011/12/13/introducing-skydrive-for-iphone-and-windows-phone.aspx.

For Windows Phone 7, I don’t see the application providing a whole lot that isn’t already available through the Pictures and Office Hubs integrated into Windows Phone. Sure, it does have a few new features that aren’t previously available like the ability to share links to your documents or pictures and gives you the ability to create new folders within your SkyDrive account, but that’s it for the new stuff.

iOS device users get more because they currently have zero SkyDrive integration, but that still doesn’t give you integration, just functionality. For iOS device users, you could say that it does actually give them a lot more than a nothing nutshell, but obviously what I write is focused on Microsoft technologies (in case you didn’t guess from all my previous posts).

For me what would be a serious leap in the usability and resourcefulness of Windows Live SkyDrive would be the consolidation of Windows Live Mesh (previously Windows Live Sync and Microsoft Live Mesh as two separate projects) and SkyDrive, or the release of a SkyDrive desktop client. DropBox and many other online file repository sites have desktop clients allowing you download, upload, sync and use all of your content across your desktops, laptops and mobile devices, however SkyDrive and Mesh are currently flawed.

Windows Live Mesh allows you to sync files to your desktop with a desktop client, and allows you to sync that content across multiple devices including the ability to sync between Windows PC and Mac, however it is limited to 5GB and although the application and the Windows Live Mesh web interface state that the storage is based on Windows Live SkyDrive, the folders and content are isolated and not interoperable.

Consolidating the storage pools in Windows Live Mesh and Windows Live SkyDrive would allow you to sync content between iOS devices, Mac, Windows PC and Windows Phone which would be utterly living the dream. All of this of course is overlooking the additional features of Windows Live Mesh already available today including the ability to sync Internet Explorer favourites and Office Outlook signatures, Office styles and templates and custom dictionaries.

Just imagine for one moment: The ability to sync all of your documents and pictures to all of your devices both desktop, portable and pocket, and have changes to those documents automatically replicated to all your other devices, have your standard email signature available on all your devices to provide you with a truly unified front when sending and responding to email communiqué, all whilst having your own shorthand, TLAs and words available in the dictionary saving you countless autocorrect issues on your mobile device?

Migrating Saved Games to Xbox 360 Cloud Saved Games

So you’ve been playing on your Xbox 360 for sometime and you’ve built up a collection of saved games, all stored locally on your consoles hard drive. You’ve heard about the new Cloud Saved Games feature in the new Xbox dashboard update and want to be able to transfer (move, migrate, whatever you want to call it) your existing saves there for anywhere access?

The process is fairly painless and easy to complete, however it would have been nice if it was automated as part of enabling the Cloud Saved Games service. There is a gotcha to be careful of, but once you take it into account it’s plain sailing.

First off, you need to enable the Cloud Saved Games feature. You can do this by following my previous post Enabling Xbox 360 Cloud Saved Games at http://richardjgreen.net/2011/12/08/enabling-xbox-360-cloud-saved-games/.

Once you have enabled the Cloud Saved Games feature, do the following:

  1. Navigate to the Settings tab and select System.
  2. From System, select Storage, and from Storage, select Hard Drive to see the locally saved content.
  3. Within Hard Drive, select Games and Apps.
  4. Highlight a game that you want to migrate to the Cloud Saved Games service, and Press Y (Game Options).
  5. From Game Options, select the Move option, whereby you will be presented with a list of available storage devices. Select Cloud Saved Games and your game saves will be migrated across.

The migration process will detect the files which are game saves and the files which are updates, DLC and other non-save content. Using Forza Motorsport 4 as an example, with the installed files, it uses 3.3GB of hard disk space, however with a 500MB limit on your Cloud Saved Games service, you will obviously not be able to store all of this online. Fortunately, because the save files are detected for you, only the 20-30MB save file is actually moved.

This does mean that if you roam onto a friend or another persons console without that game already installed (and you have taken your game disc with you to play on) you will have to install the content first, but being able to have you save follow you is what is important and useful here.

The gotcha I mentioned earlier is relating to multi-player consoles. In my household, the wife and the kids use the console too. In my case, Dance Central 2 has saves for four people within it. Select the Move option against the ensure Dance Central 2 container would migrate everyone’s save to my cloud and would also grant me ownership of those saves, preventing the others access to their own saves.

In these instances, you will need to do the following:

  1. Drill into the game itself by selecting it with the A button.
  2. Highlight your own personal save file (the save file will show the Gamertag of the player on the right beneath the file size) and select it with the A button.

You will now have an option to move the save to the Cloud Saved Games service and this will only move your own save without effecting those of other players. I’m hoping that a future update might resolve this gotcha and will allow it to detect the ownership of other saves and as such, only move your own personal files, but time will tell on this one.

Enabling Xbox 360 Cloud Saved Games

One of the new features included with the Xbox 360 Dashboard update this week is the ability to store your saved games in the new Cloud Saved Games service. The service is free to Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers and allows you up to 500MB of storage for your game saves.

Enabling the feature is simple and is done as follows:

  1. Login to your console using your Windows Live ID (Xbox LIVE Gamertag).
  2. Scroll to the Settings tab on the new dashboard, and select System Settings.
  3. Within System Settings, select Storage.
  4. From Storage, highlight Cloud Saved Saves and Press Y on the controller (Device Options).
  5. Select Enable Cloud Saved Games.

You’re done.

Unfortunately, this feature isn’t enabled by default for Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers, which I think that it should be, and I also think that as part of the dashboard update, you should be prompted upon first login if you want to migrate your saves to the Cloud, however it’s possible this may come in a later update?

With the shoe on the other foot however, I can see Microsoft’s dilemma. Storage isn’t free in the cloud (contrary to the belief of many). Disabling the feature by default and not automatically prompting people to use the service allows them to under provision storage reducing cost, because your local hard disk doesn’t cost Microsoft anything compared to Cloud storage.

Although the Cloud Saved Games feature has been advertised by people like Major Distortion and other people online, I think it’s been pretty under-played compared to the dashboard update itself, or the Xbox Companion App for Windows Phone 7 and iOS. It’s a shame, because the feature is really powerful and adds a new dimension to console, being able to ‘carry your saves around with you’.

App-V Hidden Drive Letter ADM File

In our environment, our users love their drive letters, and they do so to the Nth degree. As part of a change control process, myself and a colleague have scheduled the deployment of the App-V Client across our business estate to allow us to begin provding the users with user-centric real-time streamed applications to meet their business needs.

We today discovered the true nature of our Nth degree network drive letter because after some review, it became aparent that not a single letter (beyond the usual C, D, E for local disks) was free for company-wide use which caused us pain on the inside. We came to the conslucsion that people in our business very rarely use floppy disk drives anymore, and even less people (zero to my best guess) use a second floppy disk drive, which means that the B: drive would be available across the estate.

Using the Microsoft App-V ADM file for Group Policy (available for download from http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=25070), I re-configured our GPO to force the clients to use the B: drive instead of the App-V default Q: drive. I tested the configuration change on my own machine (ICT dogfooding for everyone), and also streamed a couple of applications to verify the drive letter change didn’t cause any issues, and I came to an idea. If the App-V virtual file system is inaccessible by the user because of the ACLs that App-V applies to it, and because the user has no reason to be meddling in the App-V virtual file system drive, why, display it to them?

I took a look at the Windows Explorer, Hide these specified drives in My Computer policy in the User Configuration portion of Group Policy however for reasons beyond me, Microsoft only gave you a very limited set of options in this policy (Hide A, Hide A and B, Hide A, B and C, or Hide All Drives). This policy was probably useful in the legacy days where you only wanted to restrict use of local floppy disk drives, however it’s not very useful in the 21st century.

The way around this, is to build your own custom ADM file to change the options for disabling the drive letters.

I have this evening created a custom ADM file for such a purpose, and in my example, the file is crafted to allow you to hide the B drive, or no drives, however you can add as many options to this file as you like.

How you configure the file to restrict particular drives is based on a binary value using a reverse alphabet table. Details for calculating this can be found on the Microsoft Support article Using Group Policy to Hide Specific Drives (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/231289). If you aren’t ocomfortable trying to do this in your head, you can simply copy and paste the table out of the article into Notepad and do your working in there.

Simply add the ADM file to an existing GPO and link it to an OU which contains users in AD, and you’re all set.

If you want to only restrict a single letter, then you can simply edit my file by modifying the label for, and the binary value for the BOnly item. The file is shared and free for you to download from my Windows Live SkyDrive account. I’m also happy to take comments or answer emails with questions about how to modify the file.

The Tiny and The Behemoth

Last week I was having a discussion with a colleague (@LupoLoopy) regarding Group Policy processing times and the ago old question of do you create a small handful of behemoth GPOs, or do you create lots of small targetted GPOs for specific purposes?

In this iteration of the debate, I was on the side of small and targetted and my colleague was on the side of the behemoth.

After the discussion, I did a bit of online digging, and turned up a post on the TechNet Magazine at Microsoft by Darren Mar-Elia, a Group Policy MVP. The outcome of the article is that, in his opinion, and based on research by using User Environment timers for monitoring the processing of Group Policy objects, small and targetted seems to be the best strategy.

When a GPO is updated with a change by an administrator, the client will have to process all of the settings within the GPO to determine which settings have changed and determine which settings it needs to apply, however in small and tightly targetted GPOs, there are much fewer settings per GPO which means even in a high churn Active Directory environment, fewer client-side settings need to be re-evaluated.

In largely static environments where there is a very low rate of churn, it could be entirely suitable to use fewer larger GPOs to apply larger configuration setts in bulk, however this will depend on the environment, and following the advice in the link below will allow you to determine the best scenario for your environment.

For anyone interested in reading the full article, you can see it at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/2008.01.gpperf.aspx.

Failure with Concessions

Today wasn’t the greatest day for me in one respect. Unfortunatly I flunked my 70-236 Configuring Exchange Server 2007 exam for the second time, and strangely, with months more Exchange experience under my belt (and I mean that because we’ve faced our share of issues and undertaken our share of mini-projects on infrastructure engineering since my last attempt), and with loads of preperation, I actually scored roughly 75 points lower than my first attempt.

I purchased a three exam pack through Prometric earlier in the year which expires December 31st 2011, so I’ve got to try and get two exams passed before the end of the year still, with MDOP being my next exam and still undecided on the third, but Exchange better look out, as once I’ve done my two remaining in the pack, I’ll be going back for my MCITP for Exchange Server 2007 and 2010.

The concession in all of this is a feeling of self-enlightenment. Tomorrow, my trusty laptop will be going back to the office from home so that I can re-deploy it with SCCM to install my yummy new SSD disk (I would clone the disk, but I have a feeling BitLocker might not accept that too kindly). To make sure I didn’t loose any data, I hooked up my VPN this evening and made sure that all of the data on my laptop was safe and sound on the file servers and work, and then I turned my attention to OneNote.

I’m an avid OneNote user, and will use it over written notes whenever I possibly can. Being a Windows Phone 7 user, I also enjoy the OneNote integration in the phone giving me super access to my personal notes. I quickly realised that through the course of migrating through various working practices at work, I had one notebook in my SharePoint 2010 MySite and another locally on the laptop, and then a third in the Windows Live SkyDrive cloud. I’ve just combined them all into my SharePoint 2010 MySite notebook and I feel great for it.

Unification for the win 🙂

Redirecting Windows Home Server 2011 Remote Web Access for Internal Clients

Windows Home Server 2011 features an impressive remote access site allowing you access to your digital media as well as remote access to your home computers. One of the components which allows all of this functionality to work is the Client Connector. This software element, installed on the client computers (which can be PCs or Macs for the record) enables the Home Server to backup your systems, along with enabling the features required on your system for the RemoteApp Remote Desktop Services connections to remote onto your PC from anywhere online.

In the Home Server Launchpad, the main user facing element of the Client Connector, there is a link for Remote Web Access which directly launches a browser session to the Windows Home Server 2011 Remote Web Access site, after you have configured your free homeserver.com domain with Microsoft and GoDaddy (this is configured using the Windows Home Server 2011 Dashboard).

In a normal home scenario with a router from your ISP or that you purchased elsewhere, clicking the Remote Web Access link will launch the Home Server Remote Web Access site using the homeserver.com domain you registered as the URL. In my not-so-normal home network, I use a Cisco PIX firewall as my edge device means I have a problem.

Unlike a router, the PIX cannot route packets back through the same interface where the packet was initially received.

This sentence from the Cisco PIX Frequently Asked Questions explains the problem in one. Clicking the Remote Web Access link launches the browser session to the correct URL, however because that URL resolves to the Internet IP associated with the outside interface on the PIX means the traffic flow is not permitted back through the firewall.

Being a Windows Systems Administrator, I like things on Windows, which means I prefer to run my infrastructure services like DNS and DHCP on the Home Server instead of allowing the router to do it. The DNS role in Windows Server 2008 R2 (the foundation for Windows Home Server 2011), and the DNS role in any Windows Server operating system for that matter allows you to create multiple zones for multiple domains to which the server will respond with DNS resolutions, and this is where the fix derives from.

The fix, or trick as the case may be, is to use DNS to reroute the client computer by resolving the homeserver.com domain name to the internal IP address of the Home Server, and away from the Internet side of the network, which ultimately will improve the performance of the Remote Web Access interface too.

On the Home Server, launch the DNS Manager console from Administrative Tools.

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In the console, right-click on Forward Lookup Zones, and select New Zone.

In the New Zone Wizard on the Zone Type panel, select the Primary Zone option,

On the Zone Name panel, enter the full domain name that you specified in the Domain Name Setup Wizard from the Home Server Dashboard (in this example, I’m using server.homeserver.com).

On the Zone File panel, you can leave the default option to Create a New DNS Zone File.

On the Dynamic Updates panel, leave the option set to Do Not allow Dynamic Updates. This will help to prevent any rogue clients on the network from poisoning the DNS zone and directing your clients to the wrong IP address.

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On the Completing the New Zone Wizard panel, verify that you can specified the homeserver.com domain correctly. and then select Finish to complete the wizard.

Back in the DNS Console, your new zone will be visible. In the new zone, right-click and select New Host (A or AAAA).

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In the New Host dialog, leave the Name field blank and in the IP Address field, specify the IP Address of your Home Server. This IP Address should either be statically assigned to the Home Server, or it should be configured as a DHCP Reservation on whatever device is running your DHCP Server on the network (although if the Home Server is your DHCP Server, then this should obviously be static).

Congratulations. Your internal clients will now be able to access the Home Server Remote the Web Access site, using the Client Connector user interface as Microsoft had intended, without a single packet touching the outside interface of your server.

If in your home network, you are using the router to perform DNS queries on your behalf, but your router prevents connections through the same interface that the connection was initiated as the PIX does, you could also implement this trick using the DNS HOSTS file, however this would need to be performed on a per client basis editing the HOSTS file. Using this example, the HOSTS file line item would be configured as follows:

192.168.1.100   server.homeserver.com   # Windows Home Server

Remember to flush your DNS cache on the clients using ipconfig /flushdns before testing your work regardless of whether you used the DNS or the HOSTS file methods to implement it.