Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gmail push notification on iPhone and iPad

Google enabled push notification in Gmail for iPhones and iPads ages ago, but I've noticed not many people know about this and aren't sure how to set it up using the native mail client in iOS (yes, you don't need the Google Mail application)

The process is as follows (screenshots were taken on an iPhone but would be similar for an iPad);
  • Add a new mail account but choose 'Microsoft Exchange' (not Gmail)
  • Add your details as follows;
    • Email:
    • Domain: <leave blank>
    • Username:
    • Password: <yourpassword>
  • When you click Next, you might receive the following verification notice:
  • Click Continue, an additional field will become visible requiring a server name, use: and click Done to verify and complete the setup.

And that's it - confirm that Push is enabled for this account in Settings --> Mail, Contacts, Calendars --> Fetch New Data --> Advanced

Two things to note:
  • If you get any messages complaining about not being able to verify a certificate, click Accept to continue anyway
  • Push mail has more of an impact on battery life, if this is a problem you could always revert back to Fetching without needing to re-setup your mail account.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Gmail formatting in Internet Explorer 9

Experiencing the following Gmail formatting issue in Internet Explorer 9?

The problem is caused by IE9's compatibility mode feature, turning this off resolves the issue. You might not find the IE9 compatibility mode icon in the address bar though for some reason (in my case anyway) - here's a quick fix;
  • In IE9, while logged into your Gmail maibox, hit F12
  • Choose Browser Mode: IE9 on the bottom toolbar
  • Choose Internet Explorer 9
Voila - you should now be seeing your mailbox with the formatting corrected;

Monday, April 25, 2011

Windows app to view iPhone tracking data

There's quite a buzz at the moment following the discovery that up to a years worth of geo-location data is being captured and stored on your iPhone, and the fact that this cannot be disabled without jailbreaking your phone and installing a Cydia app (no, disabling Location Services doesn't help).

If you want to check this data out and don't have a Mac, take a look at the iPhoneTracker for Windows: This app reads the data from a recent iTunes backup and overlays it on a map for easy viewing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

MMS 2011 Opening Keynote

The opening keynote was pretty cool and as was expected, focused on the cloud. More specifically, it focused on the way Microsoft defines the cloud as a computing model rather than a computing location, the consumerization of IT as a service, and how to empower IT (and consumers) to embrace the cloud model. The cloud is broken up into two parts, the service consumer (the old application owner) and the service provider (the old application administrator) - System Center 2012 will bring the following to the private cloud model;

For the service consumer: System Center code-name 'Concero' which is a service-focused self-service experience which the service consumer (that's a lot of use of the word service) can use to manage their services without needing to know anything about the underlying technology. All they know is, they have a service made up of a bunch of components (applications, databases, etc), and they require resources for it to function. 'Concero' will allow service consumers to request more cloud capacity when required, and understand how services are performing.

For the service provider: System Center VMM 2012 which will allow a cloud fabric to be assembled regardless of the underlying infrastructure (VMware, XenServer or Hyper-V). This is a key point, the focus is moving past virtualizing the datacenter; it's no longer about the virtual machine, and no longer does the virtualization technology have to be a factor, the point is there are resources available and they can be added to a single cloud fabric for consumption. On the cloud fabric, any number of private clouds can be built, each containing services made up components such as applications, databases, etc. 

To give you an idea, the following scenario was demonstrated during the keynote:
  • the service consumer notices performance for a specific cloud service is no longer acceptable, and requests more cloud capacity through 'Concero'.
  • the service provider does not have any capacity on the current fabric and needs to provision additional resources. He procures additional hardware resources and connects it to the network.
  • the service provider (using VMM 2012), remotely provisions the new hardware resources (by remotely interfacing with IPMI, SMASH, or DCMI which is supported by HP iLO) with the standardized Server OS image and adds the new capacity to the current fabric.
  • the service consumer assigns the additional capacity to the cloud service.
This is a great scenario, and is looking pretty slick due to the way Microsoft is tightly integrating the System Center products to make this easy, and possible. Nice one MS.

Some other product announcements were made;
  • Opalis will be renamed System Center Orchestrator 2012 (I always felt Opalis was out of place, so finally a proper place in the System Center suite of products)
  • Virtual Machine Manager 2012 went Beta today
  • System Center Advisor announced (previously code-name 'Atlanta') and will be part of System Center 2012 - this will allow a top-down view to services, focused on recommended configuration based on insight contributed by Microsoft. 90000 Microsoft employees will provide input to this 'advice' which will allow the tool to make recommendations to configuration. An example was given, showing how a hotfix would be relevant (recommended) for a SQL server which is part of a service known to have issues with a SQL server without that hotfix. This product will be available to all existing software assurance customers.
Three key takeaways from the keynote (click to enlarge):

Monday, March 21, 2011

Microsoft Management Summit 2011 - Las Vegas, Nevada

I was fortunate enough to get a seat at Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas this year, it's my first time so I'm planning on using this opportunity to attend some in depth technical sessions, and meet some of the industry experts so I can put faces to the names. There are a lot of breakout sessions and hands-on labs to choose from, most focused on management technologies/solutions (as the event name suggests) from Microsoft and a range of partners - there's also quite a focus on cloud computing this year.

I arrived late on Saturday night (LV time), and was quite tired after my trip via Amsterdam. I almost missed my connecting flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas as clearing customs took a while and overbooking is a huge problem in the US - I was lucky and got one of the last seats on the flight. The weather wasn't great yesterday, mostly overcast, windy and lots of rain during the night. It suited me fine though as I spent the day trying to adjust to the change in time from SA, at 1pm (bedtime back home) I got really tired all of a sudden...I think they call it 'jetlag'?... :P 
Arrived in Amsterdam on KLM
Left Amsterdam on Delta
Monday morning and the weather is looking much better - I say 'looking' it's 8'C outside.

Registration opened for MMS attendees at 7:30am, and things looked pretty well organized. The queue at the registration counter was manageable and it took less than a minute to register. The first breakout sessions for the day only start at 1:30pm, so I have some time to kill...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

LinkedIn Social Connector for Outlook 2010 x64

I've been wanting to use the LinkedIn Social Connector for Outlook 2010 for quite a while now, but a x64 version was never available. Googling has never returned much around the x64 version either, just some speculation and complaints about it taking so long to release.

Until I stumbled upon this:

Happy times.

Monday, February 28, 2011

List of Standalone Installers

I'm annoyed by software installers which need to constantly download additional content from the internet in order to complete an installation. Besides taking forever to install, it requires you to be connected to the internet and doesn't make efficient use of internet bandwidth if you need to install on more than a few machines.

The following is a list of the most common standalone installers I could find, any other suggestions would be great;

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate (RC) Standalone Installer

The release candidate of Internet Explorer 9 was made available for download on 10 Feb, the final version is expected in April.

Here are the direct download links for the standalone (offline) installer (saves you having to re-download 30MB for each machine you want to upgrade):

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 is RTM

SP1 is RTM and will be available for download as follows;
  • TechNet/MSDN/VL subscribers - Feb 16, 2011
  • General availability (Download Center/Windows Update) - Feb 22, 2011
It would appear that an uninstall of SP1 Beta or RC is still required before installing RTM - there have been reports of users who are not able to remove SP1 RC due to the uninstall files being placed in a Temp folder during installation, any disk cleanup tasks post installation which might have removed these files will prevent uninstallation. I guess the only safe options would be System Restore back to a pre-RC restore point, or a complete rebuild. Hopefully you didn't deploy the RC to any production servers, the RC will expire on Nov 30, 2011.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Windows 7 Media Center, XBOX360 Extenders and MKV container formats

The Matroska Multimedia Container format (MKV) is a free and open-standard container format which allows any number of video, audio and subtitle tracks to be stored in a single file. Some would argue that MKV is the ONLY container format to use today, and with good reason since it supports advanced H.264 video compression standards used for High-Definition video, the latest standards in multi-channel audio, and it's supported by a multitude of portable media players and installable media solutions such as XBMC, Mythbuntu, etc.

Unfortunately Windows 7 does not include native support for the MKV container format, however playback of H.264 streams and multi-channel audio in other container formats is supported, but only through the new Media Foundation framework. Media Foundation was introduced in Windows Vista already as a replacement for DirectShow - DirectShow is still supported in Windows 7, however its use is discouraged. Windows 7's Media Foundation pipeline is what brings native support for H.264 to Windows 7 and makes use of DirectX Video Acceleration (DXVA) on supported graphics cards when available, all without requiring additional codecs to be installed.

The key to playing MKV content is to install a component which allows Windows 7 to 'open' (or more accurately 'split') the MKV container format to get to the H.264 and audio streams, and there are a number of simple ways to achieve this, the most common being installing Haali's Media Splitter ( or installing a codec pack such as Shark007's codec solution (

This all works perfectly when using Windows 7 Media Center in isolation, as your sole entertainment solution directly connected to your LCD/Plasma and amplifier, but these splitters and codec packs do nothing for MKV playback when including one or more XBOX360 Extenders into your solution for remote access to media from other locations around the home. Even though Microsoft included H.264 support for XBOX360's in 2007, the MKV container is not supported. Since there is no option to install a splitter on the XBOX360 to gain access to the H.264 stream, the only way to get MKV files to play on an Extender is to transcode the content to a format which is supported by the Extender before streaming, and once again there are a number or ways this can be achieved. The problem is that transcoding is intensive, reduces video and audio quality, increases load and heat output on the PC doing the encoding, and is thus not desirable to be doing on your Windows Media Center PC which is most likely tucked away in a tight spot with minimal ventilation and prone to overheating (well mine is anyway). This can be solved by offloading the transcoding onto another PC or dedicated machine, but that's not always an effective or viable solution. Wouldn't it be nice if the H.264 stream in the MKV container could be decoded natively by the XBOX360? Well it can, using the DivX Plus Codec Pack from DivX. (

The DivX Plus Codec Pack is free, and includes a MKV splitter for DirectShow and Media Foundation. When installed on a Windows 7 machine (Haali splitter and Shark007 codecs are not required in this scenario), it allows playback of the H.264 stream in MKV containers using the Media Foundation framework from both Media Center and connected XBOX360 Extenders, without requiring any transcoding. 

The problem (and actually the point of this post) is that the splitter included in the DivX Codec Pack pack does not include decoders for AC3 and DTS audio for licensing reasons - Microsoft only allows their Media Foundation AC3 decoder to be used with their own software. Unfortunately all filters currently available, such as AC3filter, are DirectShow-based. This means that while SD and HD video from MKV containers work perfectly on both Media Center and Extenders, audio channels are limited to stereo in most circumstances which makes this solution unworkable when needing to support MKVs on Extenders.

Just to prove this theory, I did a test of my own using a clean install of Windows 7 Ultimate x86 on a PC hooked up to a 5.1 amp using SPDIF, using the following test files;
  • MKV file with AC3 audio (5.1 audio track)
  • MKV file with DTS audio (5.1 audio track)
  • MPG file with AC3 audio (5.1 audio track)
  • AVI file with AC3 audio (5.1 audio track)
This was the result:-
1. With DivX Plus installed only;
  • MKV file with AC3 - Media Player: NO AUDIO / Media Center: NO AUDIO
  • MKV file with DTS - Media Player: NO AUDIO / Media Center: NO AUDIO
  • MPG file with AC3 - Media Player: 5.1 / Media Center: 5.1
  • AVI file with AC3 - Media Player: 5.1 / Media Center: 5.1
These results seem correct and to be expected since no third-party AC3 decoder was installed for MKV files, and supported containers output audio correctly in 5.1.

2. With DivX Plus AND AC3Filter 1.63b installed;
  • MKV file with AC3 - Media Player: 5.1 / Media Center: STEREO
  • MKV file with DTS - Media Player: 5.1 / Media Center: STEREO
  • MPG file with AC3 - Media Player: 5.1 / Media Center: 5.1
  • AVI file with AC3 - Media Player: STEREO / Media Center: STEREO
That's odd - Media Player seems to use the DirectShow-based AC3Filter correctly, but Media Center will only output stereo. Oddly, a standard AVI container with AC3 audio output 5.1 correctly before AC3Filter was installed, but also dropped to stereo after installation.

So there we have it, there doesn't seem to be any way to butter your bread on both sides at the moment; either you get full 5.1 audio in Windows Media Center and transcode to your extender, or get stereo in Windows Media Center and full MKV playback support on your extender without transcoding. Think I'll take the 5.1 audio option.