Review: Q2 Internet Radio, colourful minimalism

This one is nearly brilliant. The Q2 Internet Radio is a cute 10cm cube which does just one thing: play internet radio.


This gadget is from the UK-based Armour Group, and the company has endeavoured to learn the lesson of Apple and to create a device that is attractive, usable, and avoids the distraction of myriad features that are rarely used.

The Q2 supports just four channels, selected by you. You change channel by turning the device, with the number on top indicating the current choice. Increase volume by tilting the cube back, decrease by tilting it forward, mute by turning it on end.

Round the back there is an on-off button, a USB port and a headphone socket; and that is about it for controls. The rechargeable battery gives around 14 hours playback time according to the manufacturer. An LED that is just about visible through the speaker grille shows the status: green for online, red for offline, flashing amber for low battery.

The Q2 comes in a smart box and is just asking to be given to someone, a gift that even technophobes will enjoy.


Setup is a matter of downloading and installing an application on your Windows or Mac (Linux not supported yet) and then connecting the Q2. The application has a bold and colourful drag-and-drop approach, and it is a matter of moments to select a wifi network, enter the security key, and then select stations or podcasts for the four available channels. Just in case you did not know, there are thousands of internet radio stations, though quality varies and I found that some channels did not actually play. Still, you will have no trouble finding four good ones.


Now, I have a few reservations about this device, but let me start with the good news. Operating the unit is genuinely easy, it looks good presuming you find a colour you like, and sound quality – though mono unless you use headphones – is remarkable considering the small size. Here’s why:

The Q2 Radio uses a custom designed full range 2.4” 4 ohm drive unit chosen for good sensitivity and matched to the 140 Hz tuned port enclosure.

Biquad DSP filters are used to voice the sound, giving a smooth listening response and added bass extension from the speaker system.

The amplifier is a high efficiency Class AB BTL type, optimised for battery operation, giving typically less than 0.1% THD under normal operating conditions. The use of a Class AB rather than Class D type amplifier results in both lower noise and distortion.

So far so good; but this device does have frustrations.

I am all in favour of minimalism, but wonder if this has been taken too far here. What if you or those who share your home want more than four channels? Changing the presets is a hassle. I also found that controlling the volume control by tilt is not really a great idea, since it is easy to over-shoot and have to tilt it the other way.

The Q2 feels well made, but I noticed that the rubberised surface picks up dust easily.

Now, there are a couple of things that Amour could do to improve the Q2. The first is to add Bluetooth with A2DP support, so that it could act as a remote powered speaker for a smartphone.

Second, the Q2 is crying out for an app that would let you control it from a smartphone. As it is, you have to connect it to a computer via USB to make any change to its settings. An app would be more elegant, and allow the Q2 to take real advantage of the thousands of internet radio stations available.

As it is, this is an expensive device for what it does. It is worth noting a some of the limitations that are inherent to its design. It needs to be in range of a wifi connection, so it is not suitable for travel, and most hotspots will not work because they require a login. It is not suitable for a bedside radio, since it has no clock or alarm. It does not support USB charging, so you need to use the supplied mains adaptor.

A few flaws then; but the Q2 is FUN and would make a delightful present. Yes, you can get more elsewhere for the same price; but value for money is not what this product is about.

Review: Eminent EM7195 HD media player

The EM7195 is an HD media player from the Dutch company Eminent.


But what is an HD Media Player? In this case, it is a box that connects to your TV and home network. It is a self-contained media center whose functions include:

  • Play and record free-to-view digital broadcasts and pause live TV
  • Play a wide range of video and audio media from an internal or external hard drive or over the network
  • View images from attached devices or from the card reader
  • Play YouTube videos or other internet media from sites including Flickr, Picassa and
  • Download files from internet newsgroups and BitTorrent sites

The EM7195 supports 1080p video output, hence the “HD” designation. It has a twin DVB-T tuner, so you can play one channel and record another simultaneously. This works with Freeview in the UK, but note that Freeview HD, which is gradually being rolled out, requires DVB-T2 so is not compatible with the EM7195.

Eminent says the EM7195 is based on the “next-generation RT1183DD+ processor.” I presume this is the RTD1183 which is not currently listed on the Realtek site though as this post observes it is referenced on the DivX site as being certified in May 2009, making “next-generation” a stretch, especially as players with the latest RTD1185 chipset are already appearing from other manufacturers.

Note that the review unit was supplied with a 3.5″ 1TB SATA internal hard drive; however this is optional though recommended. Currently a 1TB drive costs from around £45.00.

Unpacking and setting up

Opening the packaging reveals a black box along with a remote and a substantial collection of cables.


The unit feels well made and is backed by a five year warranty. It has a small fan but this is quiet and I did not find it audible in normal use. The hard drive is fitted by opening a flap in the side, and slots in without screws. Cables supplied include HDMI, optical SPDIF, USB 3.0 and SATA. There is also an internal antenna though unless you happen to have a particularly strong TV signal I doubt you would want to use it. Batteries for the backlit remote are included.

For the test I connected an external antenna. I connected the EM7195 to an HD TV with the HDMI cable. I connected a surround sound home theatre receiver with the optical cable. I also connected it to my network using a wired connection. If you want to use wifi, you need an optional USB wifi adapter. Eminent’s EM4576 is recommended; I do not know if other brands might also work. This is the back of the unit:


Note that it has one USB 3.0 port and two USB 2.0 ports on the back. There is also a card reader slot and a further USB 2.0 port on the side. The ethernet port is only 100Mb, presumably because of the older Realtek chipset.

In order to complete the setup, I went into setup to scan for TV channels. This was successful and enabled an EPG (Electronic Program Guide) from which I could browse channels and schedule recordings.

I also set up an UPNP server on my network, and ripped some DVDs, in order to test some of the other features. More on this below.

The software

Ah, the software. I am not sure exactly what the Eminent runs, but I would bet that it runs on Linux and that it was not developed entirely by Eminent. A clue is it includes a primitive web browser with a “web portal” menu option that directs you to a Chinese site. Overall the software is functional but rough and ready compared to what you may be used to from Apple, Sony or Microsoft.


The main screen is a menu with options for Movies, Music, Photo, TV, Internet, Document and Setup. There is an option to have the EM7195 start up with this menu, or go straight into TV mode. You can decorate the menu background by applying a theme, but the ones supplied soon gave me a headache so I reverted to plain black.

Navigating the menus is mostly straightforward, though it can be tedious. The EM7195 does not seem to do any indexing of the content, so you have to navigate to it. For example, if you go to Movies, you can choose HDD, then the folder or subfolder you want, then select the video file you want to play.

A strong point of the EM7195 is its support for a wide range of formats. Supported video formats include AVCHD, H.264, VC-1, MPEG 1-4, TS, ISO and MOV. Supported audio formats include AAC, PCM, DTS and Ogg Vorbis.

If you are on a Windows network, you can use SAMBA, a Linux utility that lets you use Windows networking protocols with Linux. This works both to and from the EM7195, so you can play files that are on shared network folders, and also use the EM7195 as a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive for your PCs. This is also useful if you want to copy a DVD you have ripped on a PC. That said, the fastest way to copy files is over USB 3.0, if you have a PC equipped with a USB 3.0 port.

Some of the menu options are perplexing. If you select DVD on the Movie menu, for example, the unit just declares “No loader,” presumably because there is no physical DVD drive present. The software is not fully documented by the supplied manual, though most of it is self-explanatory, especially if you are used to playing with Linux and media center software.

Eminent has announced a new user interface for its software which looks more attractive, though whether it is really easier and quicker to navigate is an open question. This will be made available as a free update.



The picture quality of digital TV is good but slightly over-saturated; I suspect this can be fixed by tweaking settings on the TV, or on the EM7195, or both. I scheduled a TV recording to the hard drive and this worked well.

I have a substantial collection of FLAC files, ripped from CD, which I normally play using a Squeezebox. I could play these by navigated to them over the network, but for easier access I downloaded Asset UPnP from the excellent illustrate site, and ran this on a PC to publish the FLAC collection. You can also use Windows Media Player as a UPnP server, but this does not work with FLAC.

I tried the EM7195’s Internet Media support, with mixed results. It has an application for playing YouTube videos. You can search YouTube, then select a result with the remote and click OK to play. However, not all videos would play, and those that did not play showed no error, just did nothing. Performance was fine on the the ones that did play OK.

I ripped some DVDs in various formats. The easiest approach is to create an ISO image from a DVD; these play fine on the EM7195. They tend to be large files, but with a 1TB drive there is plenty of room. One annoyance is that to get surround sound you have to set the audio output to RAW (pass-through), which means that the EM7195 volume control does not work. I then found that YouTube was silent and had to set the audio output back to LPCM.

I have some audio files in high-res formats, in other words more than the 16 bit / 44 Khz of standard CD. These played fine, but were downsampled to 16-bit, even when played directly from the EM7195 hard drive. I could get the EM7195 to output 16/48 but that was the maximum. I regard this as a minor point, but if you are an audio enthusiast who wants to play high res files at the maximum resolution, this is probably not the unit for you.

Ripping DVD and Blu-Ray discs

One of the attractions of the EM7195 is that you can potentially put all your DVDs in a box out of the way, and play them from the internal hard drive.

The complication is that to do this you have to rip them. DVD ripping software is a jungle, mainly because most commercial discs are encrypted, and although it is well know how to decrypt them, it may not be legal. Essentially you can choose from a plethora of open source tools which need to be combined in the right sequence and with the right arguments for you to get what you want; or more user-friendly software which is usually paid-for and from companies which do not admit to any geographical address or phone number on their websites; or software proclaimed as FREE on a myriad of sites which may or may not do what you want and might be accompanied by unwelcome malware guests.

That is a shame since ripping a DVD to a file is convenient not only for media centers like this one, but also for mobile devices like Apple’s iPad which do not include DVD drives.

Presuming you do find a way to rip your DVDs, they play fine on the EM7195 as long as the encryption has been removed. You can also play unprotected Blue-Ray ISO images, though the EM7195 does not support their Java menus.

Other features

The EM7195 also has built in BitTorrent software. I did not try this though I did have a look. You can manage torrent downloads through the remote and TV, or from a web user interface called Neighbor Web


There is a web browser as mentioned above, but I found it unusable. There is a slide show feature for photos.


I enjoyed using the Eminent 7195. Playing and recording digital TV is easy and convenient, and I liked being able to play DVD ISOs from the hard drive. SAMBA support is a great feature, ensuring that the 7195 plays nicely with a Windows network. Support for FLAC audio is also welcome. The unit seems well-made, has a generous set of ports, runs quietly, and is unobtrusive.

That said, if you want to do more than time-shifting digital TV this product is best suited to enthusiasts who can get to grips with ripping DVDs, cope with inconveniences like switching the SPDIF output between RAW and LPCM to get the best from different sources, and put up with the quirky software. I will be interested to see the updated firmware when it arrives; it might be worth waiting for this before buying.

Lack of Gigabit ethernet is a disappointment, as is the need for an add-on USB device for wifi support.

For UK users, it is a shame that there is no support for BBC iPlayer or the catch-up services from Channel 4 (4oD) and ITV (ITV Player). The EM7195 fails to take advantage from its internet connectivity. Yes there is BitTorrent support and access to YouTube and Flickr, but this could be much better. Social networking support is completely absent.

It seems to me that the future of media center boxes is in software that is not only highly usable, but also extensible with downloadable apps. I would also like to see a companion app for iPhone or Android, as this approach has more potential than a traditional infra-red remote.

The challenge for Eminent is to improve its software to make better use of the hardware.

Review: Jabra Wave Bluetooth headset and why you need A2DP

The Jabra Wave Bluetooth headset is a handy device that clips over one ear to give hands-free calling. The device comes with a small power adaptor, though it also charges through USB using the supplied cable. There are also a couple of microphone windshields and a spare ear gel.


The Wave has an on-off button, a volume control, a status display showing battery and Bluetooth connection information, and an answer-end button at the tip of the microphone boom.

I charged it up and established a connection with an Apple iPhone 4 with no issues. Call quality was good. I was also able to use voice control, by squeezing the answer-end button and holding until it gives a short beep. The results were dire – I never know who the iPhone will try to call when I say “Call <name>” – but I blame this on the iPhone rather than the Wave. Maybe I have the wrong kind of voice.

You can mute or unmute a call by pressing both volume up and down simultaneously. You can also do call on hold by pressing the answer-end button during a call, and then pressing it again to switch between calls, provided your phone supports this feature.

The Wave can be paired and connected to two devices simultaneously, handy if you have two phones in use.

There are a couple of things I like about the Wave. It has an unusual design, with the ear gel protruding sideways from the speaker, but it is actually easy to fit and comfortable, perhaps more so than the Plantronics  Voyager Pro which I reviewed recently.

Another plus is the position of the buttons. If you are wearing your headset, you have to find the buttons by feel. In the case of the Wave, the one button you will need constantly is answer-end, and sticking this on the end of the microphone boom makes it easy to find and use.

On the negative side, I do not feel the sound quality is quite the equal of the Voyager Pro. It is also annoying that if you play music on the iPhone, it comes out of the iPhone speaker, not the headset. The reason is that the Wave lacks support for the A2DP (Advances Audio Distribution Profile), the Bluetooth spec which supports high quality music audio.

Jabra says the Wave is particularly good at wind noise reduction. I was not able to test this, and have not personally found this a problem with Bluetooth headsets, but if you encounter this frequently the Wave could be worth a look.

The Wave is cheaper than the Voyager Pro+ (you need the + version for A2dP). Typical prices on are currently around £40.00 for the Wave and around £50 for the Voyager Pro+.

Still, if you do not care about listening to music you may prefer the Wave. It does the job nicely, and I do like its handy answer-end button.

Manufactuer’s specs:

  • Talk time 6 hours
  • Standby 8 days
  • Range 10 meters


Fixing a Nintendo DS Lite

Our Nintendo DS Lite developed a fault in the top screen. It would work occasionally, but then started going green and blotchy.

I checked the price on eBay – £12.00 for a new screen and a set of screwdrivers sounded worth a go.


Nintendo decided to use special tri-wing screws for the DS Lite. I am not sure why gadget manufacturers use special screws because it does not take long for the DIY community to get hold of suitable tools, but I guess it deters the most casual tinkerers. This is why three screwdrivers were included in my package. There were also several plastic tools for prising open the case though I did not use these.

I found numerous guides on YouTube and elsewhere, though they rarely tell you everything you need to know

The operation was harder than I thought it would be. I can take apart a DS Lite in seconds now, having done it a few times, but the first time took a while as I learned where to prise it apart and which bits are likely to ping out and get lost – the left and right bumper buttons, for example, have tiny springs that are likely to come loose.

Why was it difficult? Well, to get at the top screen you have to disassemble most of the DS Lite, including the bottom part. There is a cable running from the screen to the motherboard that has to be pushed through the hinge, which is tricky. There are also two cables (antenna and microphone connectors) that have to be threaded under a metal assembly on the motherboard, and which tend to get stuck when out of sight. You can see these in the photo above – they are the black and white cables towards the bottom.

Another fiddly task is that the speaker wires are soldered to the aforementioned cable that connects the top screen. This means you have to detach them from the old screen and solder them to tiny pads on the new cable.

I also had difficulty reassembling the top part of the case. It seems to go out of alignment easily, and in fact it is still not quite perfect.

The outcome? Good news and bad news. The top screen works fine. However, when I reassembled the bottom case the plastic power switch must have been slightly out of alignment, because it broke the small protrusion on the internal switch. This means the DS Lite can now only be operated with a pin. This is a common problem, but unfortunately I did not find one of the guides which mentions the issue until it was too late.

Well, I have ordered a new power switch for a further £1.00 including postage. However, apparently replacing the power switch is another tricky job because it is surface mounted. We’ll see.

Postscript: I am happy to report a successful power switch replacement. I am not sure if it is attached quite as strongly as before; but for now it is working fine.

Disappearing cloud APIs: a new legacy software problem in the making

Today Google announced that a number of its APIs are to be withdrawn:

This highlights an issue with platform as a service (PaaS). If you build an app on a set of cloud services provided by a third-party, there is a risk that those services will change or disappear so that your app no longer works.

Many of Google’s APIs are free, or free for all but the heaviest users, so you can argue that you get what you pay for. Developers are particularly frustrated by the disappearance of the Translate API, where Google says:

Due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse, the number of requests you may make per day will be limited and the API will be shut off completely on December 1, 2011.

Poor old Google with its “substantial economic burden”. Oddly though, some developers are willing to pay, but this is not going to be an option:

It would be much better if Google charges using Translate API than shutting it down. Now i will have to remove this functionality from my projects. Nicely done Google 🙁

says one developer. Further, Google’s rationale for withdrawing APIs is likely multi-faceted. If I write an app that calls a Google API in the background, there is no direct benefit to Google unless it makes a charge. From Google’s perspective it is better to supply a widget, that can be branded, or to get users logging onto its site so it can gather stats and display advertising.

Still, my main interest here is in the implications for cloud computing, particularly PaaS. I frequently see old apps running in businesses. In some cases the original developer is long gone and nobody understands the code, if they have it at all. These apps keep running though. In a PaaS world that will no longer be possible; they will stop working if the APIs they use disappear.

The other side of this coin is that responsible service providers have to keep old APIs supported in order not to break applications. I have an application which I wrote 5 years ago using Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3). It still works today. There must be thousands of other applications which also use it. Amazon is now stuck with that API, and I guess that unless some major security flaw is discovered it will continue to work for the foreseeable future.

Would you consider running PHP on Azure? Microsoft faces uphill battle to convince customers.

Yesterday Microsoft announced Windows Azure SDK for PHP version 3.0, an update to its open source SDK for PHP on Windows Azure. The SDK wraps Azure storage, diagnostics and management services with a PHP API.

Microsoft has been working for years on making IIS a good platform for PHP. FastCGI for IIS was introduced partly, I guess, with PHP in mind; and Microsoft runs a dedicated site for PHP on IIS. The Web Platform Installer installs a number of PHP applications including WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.

It is good to see Microsoft making an effort to support this important open source platform, and I am sure it has been welcomed by Microsoft-platform organisations who want to run WordPress, say, on their existing infrastructure.

Attracting PHP developers to Azure may be harder though. I asked Nick Hines, CTO for Innovation at Thoughtworks, a global IT consultancy and developer, what he thought of the idea.

I’d struggle to see any reason. Even if you had it in your datacentre, I certainly wouldn’t advise a client, unless there was some corporate mandate to the contrary, and especially if they wanted scale, to be running a Java or a PHP application on Windows.

Microsoft’s scaling and availability story around windows hasn’t had the penetration of the datacentre that Java and Linux has. If you look at some of the heavy users of all kinds of technology that we come across , such as some of the investment banks, what they’re tending to do is to build front and middle tier applications using C# and taking advantage of things like Silverlight to get the fancy front ends that they want, but the back end services and heavy lifting and number crunching predominantly is Java or some sort of Java variant running on Linux.

Hine also said that he had not realised running PHP on Azure was something Microsoft was promoting, and voiced his suspicion that PHP would be at a disadvantage to C# and .NET when it came to calling Azure APIs.

His remarks do not surprise me, and Microsoft will have to work hard to persuade a broad range of customers that Azure is as good a platform for PHP as Linux and Apache – even leaving aside the question of whether that is the case.

The new PHP SDK is on Codeplex and developed partly by a third-party, ReadDolmen, sponsored by Microsoft. While I understand why Microsoft is using a third-party, this kind of approach troubles me in that you have to ask, what will happen to the project if Microsoft stops sponsoring it? It is not an organic open source project driven by its users, and there are examples of similar exercises that have turned out to be more to do with PR than with real commitment.

I was trying to think of important open source projects from Microsoft and the best I could come up with is ASP.NET MVC. This is also made available on CodePlex, and is clearly a critical and popular project.

However the two are not really comparable. The SDK for PHP is licensed under the New BSD License; whereas ASP.NET MVC has the restrictive Microsoft Source License for ASP.NET Pre-Release Components (even though it is now RTM – Released to manufacturing). ASP.NET MVC 1.0 was licensed under the Microsoft Public License, but I do not know if this will eventually also be the case for ASP.NET MVC 3.0.

Further, ASP.NET MVC is developed by Microsoft itself, and has its own web site as part of the official ASP.NET site. Many users may not realise that the source is published.

My reasoning, then, is that if Microsoft really want to make PHP a first-class citizen on Azure, it should hire a crack PHP team and develop its own supporting libraries; as well as coming up with some solid evidence for its merits versus, say, Linux on Amazon EC2, that might persuade someone like Nick Hine that it is worth a look.

SharePoint Workspace 2010 – what a mess

For some time I have been meaning to post about SharePoint Workspace 2010. This application was introduced as part of Office 2010, though it is partly based on the older Office Groove software. Its purpose is to allow users to work with documents stored on SharePoint servers even when they are offline. I regard this as an important feature, and since I now store many of my own documents in SharePoint I was quick to install and use it.

I hate it. I am surprised that the Office team released software that is so unreliable, bewildering, overcomplicated, and hard to use even when working as designed. Given that it came out at a time when Microsoft had supposedly got the message about design and user experience, it really is surprisingly bad.

What is wrong with it? All I want to do is to work offline with my SharePoint documents; but the first annoyance is that SharePoint Workspace is designed to accommodate multiple different SharePoint servers. That is not a bad thing in itself, but it means that every time I want to get to my Workspace, I have to go through two steps. First, open the SharePoint workspace Launchbar:


Then double-click Home to open my actual Workspace:


The workspace is Explorer-like, but it is not Explorer. I think this is a mistake. Microsoft should have made this just another folder in Explorer, that works online and offline, and synchronises when connected. Like Dropbox, in fact. But it did not.

Still, I could cope with this if it worked well. Unfortunately it does not. Here was the first unpleasant message I encountered:


“You are storing 196 more documents than SharePoint Workspace supports,” it says. The phrasing is odd. If SharePoint Workspace does not support that number of documents, how come I am storing them?

If you are lucky enough to find it, this document attempts to explain. Here are the limits:

SharePoint Workspace cannot synchronize any files that are larger than 1 GB. Additionally, SharePoint Workspace will stop synchronizing any shared folder that exceeds the following limits: More than 5000 files or a set of files that exceeds 2 GB in total size.

I am way below this though. Why do I get the warning? Maybe because:

For optimal performance in a shared folder, keep the following in mind:

  • Avoid adding large files (>50 MB) to a shared folder.
  • Avoid adding large numbers of files (>100 files) at once.
  • Avoid storing large numbers of files (>500 files) in a shared folder.

Perhaps then I am within the absolute limit, but above the recommended limit for “optimal performance”. However, this article tells a slightly different story:

You can store approximately 500 documents in SharePoint Workspace. If you exceed this limit, a warning message appears on the Launchbar whenever you start up SharePoint Workspace to remind you that you need to free up space. You can ignore this message and continue to do all SharePoint Workspace activities, though with degraded performance.

If you attempt to create a new SharePoint workspace that would exceed 1800 documents across your SharePoint workspaces, a warning message appears to inform you that only document properties will be downloaded to the workspace.

What then are the limits? 5000 per folder? 500 per folder? 1800 overall? or 500 overall?

If it is 500 overall, that is rather small. What is worse though, SharePoint Workspace lacks any common-sense way to control synchronisation. For example, I would like a global setting that said: Synchronize all documents that changed in the last 90 days, plus others I individually specify.

No such luck. You can connect or disconnect entire libraries, otherwise you can manually set a document to download headers only by right-clicking and choosing Discard local copy. That’s it.

I am not done yet. I get other puzzling errors and messages from this thing, which rarely works as expected. In particular, it is rather bad at its primary function, synching offline changes. To demonstrate this, I decided to record exactly what happens when trying something simple like creating a SharePoint document when offline.

I open SharePoint Workspace when offline. I right-click in a folder and choose New Document. Word opens, which is good. I type my document and hit save. Word opens the Save dialog at the default My Documents location – not where I want it.

However, I can click at top left of the Save dialog where it says Workspaces.


Then I have to navigate back down to the location where I want it and click Save. Eventually I get this notification:


Great, I have managed to create and save a SharePoint document when offline. Except, if I look now in the location to which I have just saved it, it is empty:


However, it does appears in Word’s recent document list and I can open it from there.

Perhaps it will sort itself out when I reconnect. I reconnect. Oh no, here comes an unwelcome notification:


On investigation, I now find my document in another thing called Microsoft Office Upload Center, with a warning mark:


I click Upload all. Nothing happens. I drop down Actions and select Upload. Nothing happens. No error, no upload.

Oddly, if I open SharePoint Workspace, it says it is synchronized. I guess it means synchronized but with errors.

So what is the problem here? Sometimes the problem is that Word is still running. Even if the document is not actually open in Word, some file lock is  not released and it prevents the upload, though you do not get an error message that tells you what is wrong. Not this time though. I could not get it to sync.

I rebooted. Still no joy. I re-opened the document in Word by double-clicking and hit save. Something fixed itself.


I am so conditioned to this kind of rigmarole that I rarely try this now. I store the document locally and copy it to SharePoint when it is online, bypassing the Workspace.

Why do I bother with it? A couple of reasons. One is that the ability to get at your SharePoint documents offline, and to have a kind of additional backup, really is a huge feature, and I prefer one that works badly than to be completely without it. Second, I like to live with these things so that I can assess how well they work. Otherwise we are at the mercy of the press releases that state the existence of the feature but do not describe its limitations.

I hope Microsoft comes up with something better for Office 2012 (or vNext).

Windows Phone “Mango” shown, looks good but still no Adobe Flash

I attended the London press briefing for Windows Phone “Mango”, also known as Windows Phone 7.1. This will be on new phones in the Autumn, and will be a free update for all existing Windows Phone 7 devices.


Microsoft showed a bunch of new features, including Internet Explorer 9 – which, we were told, is built from the same code as the PC version – improved social media integration now including Twitter and LinkedIn as well as Facebook, Hotmail, Exchange, Messenger and Gmail; and multi-tasking support.

Hold down the back key for a moment, and all running apps appear in a tiled view. Just tap the one you want.

We also saw text-to-voice and voice-to-text demos. The presented spoke the reply to a text message, though admittedly he chose to do a one-word reply, and sent it successfully.

Microsoft also announced three new OEM partners, Acer Inc., Fujitsu Ltd. and ZTE Corp.

It looks good; but I did have a sense that Microsoft is ducking the hard questions. One of those concerns Adobe Flash support. At a separate developer briefing, I asked developer relations guy Brandon Watson about Adobe Flash support, observing that when Windows Phone was shown in detail pre-launch at the Mix 2009 conference in Las Vegas, it was clearly stated that Flash would be on the phone, and that Adobe was being allowed to build the Flash runtime in native code, but that it would not be included at launch.

“It does not run on the phone”, said Watson. Then he added, “It does not run on the phone.” Finally, he said, “It does not run on the phone.”

Silverlight does not run in the mobile browser either, so perhaps the problem is with mobile IE – clearly not all the code is included. Or maybe Adobe is hanging back; I asked Adobe about this at Mobile World Congress earlier this year and got an answer that was warmer but no more informative. Or maybe Microsoft is thinking, Apple does not need it, so we do not need it either.

It is a shame though, because there is a perception that Flash is one of the advantages of not going the Apple route.

On the developer side, the beta tools for Mango were released today. You can target either Windows Phone 7.0 or 7.1 with the tools, so if the beta tag does not put you off you can get going straight away. There is a ton of good stuff for developers, including the SQL Server CE local database, and the ability to mix XNA and Silverlight in a single app. We saw an app from British Airways that makes use of this to show a 3D view of an aircraft cabin when choosing a seat; I am not sure how much real value this adds but it demos nicely.

The new emulator includes accelerometer support, so you can simulate movement to test your app’s response.

There is also a profiler which shows your app’s performance in various views. Code that you wrote is highlighted in blue in the graphical view, so you can tell what you can optimise, as opposed to slow system calls that are outside your control.

The developer tools are great though, and having played with a number of mobile developer toolkits I would say that Microsoft’s is among the best and above average, though I would like to see an option for native code development. “We hear that a lot,” Watson told me.

The problem though: developers want a big market, and so far Windows Phone has not delivered it. It is almost invisible on the high street, and all the current operators and manufacturers have other phones that they are more concerned about. That will change when Nokia devices appear, but in an intensively competitive market (not forgetting HP WebOS and RIM Blackberry/QNX/PlayBook) it will not be easy for Microsoft to gain ground.

After the event I discussed this with some of the Microsoft folk. Maybe the company can better exploit the Xbox link, and sell the phone to that community. Maybe Nokia will save the day. Maybe when Microsoft comes out with a fully professional iteration of Windows Phone, tightly linked to Active Directory and group policy, and with additional developer features aimed at line of business apps, maybe then it will take off.

One positive thing I heard today was an anecdotal report that returns on Windows Phone 7 are among the lowest because users like the device so much.

The social features in Windows Phone are already good and will be better in Mango – though bear in mind that by the time Mango phones appear in the Autumn, Microsoft will likely have iPhone 5 and many tempting new Android devices to contend with.

Years ago it used to be said that Microsoft had average products (or worse) but excellent marketing. With Windows Phone, the product is good but either the marketing is lacking or the task is too great. Of course there is still time, and this industry is full of surprises, but it will take more than Mango to make Windows Phone fly.

Cracks appear in Microsoft’s bundled installers for Visual Studio 2010 as I try ADFS

I am trying out Microsoft Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), chasing the dream of single sign-on between on-premise Active Directory and the cloud.

Oddly, although ADFS has been around for a while, it feels more bleeding edge than it should. ADFS is critical to Microsoft’s cloud platform play, and it needs to build this stuff right into Windows Server and .NET rather than making it a downloadable add-on.

The big problem with installers, whether on Windows or elsewhere, is dependencies and versions. You get some variant of DLL Hell, when A requires the latest version of B, and C requires an old version of B, and you need both A and C installed. The issue on Windows has reduced over the years, partly because of more side-by-side installations where multiple versions co-exist, and partly because Microsoft has invested huge effort into its installers.

There are still issues though, and I ran into a few of them when trying ADFS. I have Visual Studio 2010 installed on Windows 7 64-bit, and it is up-to-date with Service Pack 1, released in April. However, after installing the Windows Identity Foundation (WIF) runtime and SDK, I got this error when attempting to start Visual Studio:


Only some of the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 products on this computer have been upgraded to Service Pack 1. None will work correctly until all have been upgraded.

I’m guessing that the WIF components have not been updated to take account of SP1 and broke something. Never mind, I found my Visual Studio SP1 .ISO (I avoid the web installs where possible), ran setup, and choose to reapply the service pack. It trundled along until it decided that it needed to run or query the Silverlight 4 SDK setup:


A dialog asked for silverlight_sdk.msi. I wasted some time over this. Why is the installer looking for silverlight_sdk.msi in a location that does not exist? I’d guess because the Silverlight SDK installer is wrapped as an executable that unpacked the MSI there, ran it and then deleted it. Indeed, I discovered that both the Silverlight 4 SDK and the Silverlight 4 Tools for Visual Studio are .EXE files that wrap zip archives. You can rename them with a .zip or .7z extension and extract them with the open source 7 Zip, but not for some reason with the ZIP extractor built into Windows. Then you can get hold of silverlight_sdk.msi.

I did this, but then discovered that silverlight_sdk.msi is also on the Visual Studio SP1 ISO. All I needed to do was to point the installer there, though it is odd that it cannot find the file of its own accord.

It also seems to me that this scenario should not occur. If the MSI for installation A might be needed later by installation B, it should not be put into a temporary location and then deleted.

The SPI repair continued, and I got a reprise of the same issue but with the Visual C++ runtimes. The following dialog appeared twice for x86, and twice for x64:


These files are also on the SP1 .ISO, so I pointed the installer there once again and setup continued.

Unfortunately something else was wrong. After a lengthy install, the SP1 installer started rollback without so much as a warning dialog, and then exited declaring that a fatal error had occurred. I looked at the logs

I rebooted, tried again, same result.

I was about to trawl the forums, but thought I should try running Visual Studio 2010 again, just in case. Everything was fine.


Logic tells me that the SP1 “rollback” was not quite a rollback, since it fixed the problem. Then again, bear in mind that it was rolling back the reapplication of the service pack which is different from the usual rollback scenario.

Visual Studio, .NET, myriad SDKs that each get updated at different times, developers who download and install these in an unpredictable order … it is not surprising that it goes wrong sometimes; in fact it is surprising that it does not go wrong more often. So I guess I should not beat up Microsoft too much about this. Even so this was an unwelcome reminder of a problem I have not seen much in the last few years, other then with beta installs which play by different rules.

BT selling Openzone wifi access by default through its customers broadband, some do not realise it

Yesterday I spent some time helping a small business sort out its new broadband and voice over IP system. They have signed up for BT business broadband and were supplied with a pre-configured BT Business Hub, a combined ADSL router, switch and wifi access point.

I was surprised to discover that the hub was preconfigured to share the wifi connection to the whole wide world, via BT’s Openzone service.

Openzone is not a free service, although many BT customers have unlimited access as part of their broadband package. Non-BT customers who want to use it have to pay BT for access minutes.

Why would anyone want to do that? Here is the reasoning BT offers in its FAQ:

Why would I want to enable the BT Openzone service on my hub?

With the growing need for people to work how, where and when they choose, Wi-Fi users provides a great opportunity for Wi-Fi access on the move.

Wi-Fi users requiring access on the move are constantly looking for new hotspot locations, as the UK’s Wi-Fi footprint continues to expand.

The BT Openzone service on the BT Business Hub can provide the same Wi-Fi access that ‘premium’ hotspots offer, but without the infrastructure costs. Businesses enabling this service on their hubs can raise the profile of their business in hotspot directories and generate a new revenue stream through voucher resale.

Well, anyone can resell Openzone access vouchers; it is not linked to the access you are offering so it is incorrect to call it a benefit. This is unlike BT FON, which is a similar facility for home broadband customers, but with the difference that if you offer hotspot access through your broadband, then you also get it free from others. The real benefit is that if BT has lots of customers who do this, you are more likely to get hotspot access yourself when out and about.

The benefit for BT is more obvious. More wifi hot spots, more revenue from Openzone customers.

Now, what about the downside? BT has a whole series of FAQ responses addressing understandable concerns like: does it impact security, what about someone visiting an illegal site, what about performance?

Despite BT’s reassurance, the security question is easy to answer. Opening your wifi access point to the general public cannot improve your security, but it could weaken it. The cautious should turn it off.

The key question though: are BT customers fully aware of what they have agreed to? I asked the business owner who had dealt with BT, and he had no idea that the general public was being allowed to ride the broadband access he had paid for, with any revenue going to BT.

Further, it is on by default, and BT admits it could impair performance:

If your broadband connection has reduced bandwidth (less than 1Mbps), your private broadband traffic may be overwhelmed. BT recommend that you disable the service via your BT Business Hub’s web interface to improve performance. For further information on how to do this, please see How can I turn my BT Openzone service on and off?


As the hub’s default setting is for the service to be enabled, you need to disable the service again if you perform a factory reset in the future.

While I have little doubt that the small print of the BT agreement permits this Openzone element, I still question the ethics of BT selling its broadband service, and then selling the same service again to the general public, without directly sharing any revenue with the first purchaser, and without a clear opt-in.