Monthly Archives: October 2010

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Useful Links: October 2010

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

  • How to move your Windows user profile to another drive – Using symbolic links to move profiles around (via Malcolm Bullock)
  • StarWind V2V Converter – Another V2V conversion tool (via @WorkingHardInIT)
  • VMDK to VHD Converter – Convert virtual hard drive images from VMWare’s VMDK format into the Microsoft VHD format using a sector by sector copy operation (via @WorkingHardInIT)
  • Windows Phone 7 Resources – Mike Ormond’s “mega list” of Windows Phone 7 resources
  • Books.Show – Attractive Windows eBook Reader (via Mike Taulty)
  • Bend – Attractive Windows Text Editor (via Mike Taulty). See also: http://lifehacker.com/5604526/bend-makes-for-better-more-attractive-text-editing-on-windows
Site notices

Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards 2010

It’s that time of year when Computer Weekly magazine runs its annual IT Blog Awards and, I’m delighted to say that markwilson.it has been shortlisted in the IT Professional (Male) category.  This category is for blogs that detail an individual perspective, not a company line, of life in the IT industry.

Looking back, I’ve produced less content this year than I have done previously – and some of it has been photography related, rather than IT but I’d like to think there’s still some useful and relevant information on this blog – and it would be great to have your vote.

For those viewing this site directly, there’s a badge on the right hand side of the page.  RSS subscribers won’t see that so this is the link to vote and you can vote for a number of blogs in various categories (as well as the best Twitter users – I didn’t enter that category) but you’ll find me in the IT Professional (Male) dropdown.

(And, for everyone who voted earlier in the week after I tweeted about this – thank you!)

Technology

Windows Phone 7 will fail if the channel is not ready

Windows Phone 7 is a great new operating system. With an innovative and fresh user experience, it could help to put Microsoft back into the mobility game… but they are coming from behind – a long way behind established competition from Apple (and more recently Google) so Microsoft needs every little bit of help it can get from it’s channel partners.

Today is Windows Phone 7 launch day in the UK. Except the channel is not ready.  And that means they’re selling competitive devices.  Not good for a company that’s trying to get its mobile mojo back…

I’m not a journalist, and I haven’t been briefed on Windows Phone 7 launch so I don’t know who the launch partners are but I have seen some of the comments on the web and elsewhere so, this lunchtime, I headed into London’s busiest shopping street to see what the various mobile carriers would sell me.  Remember, I’m a consumer – and I’m also right smack bang in the middle of the demographic that Microsoft wants to sell Windows Phone 7 to.  What I found was dissappointing.  Not so much a big bang launch as a fizzle.

I started out at Vodafone, where the duty manager was happy to give me advice.  He asked what I was looking for (bored of my iPhone, currently out of contract, looking for a personal smartphone, with ActiveSync support for connection to work e-mail) and, to be fair, he asked me if I’d be interested in a Windows Phone.  That was positive, as the Windows Phone merchandising in that store was almost non-existent (a small poster on the wall, and a small transfer on the window, right next to a bigger one advertising the iPhone).  Unfortunately, he didn’t have stock: there had been some mix up with the courier delivering HTC Trophies; and the LG Optimus was, apparently, delayed due to a software fault.  So I left the store empty-handed, although he did ask if I’d consider an Android device if I couldn’t get a Windows one.  Further along Oxford Street, a larger Vodafone store had stock of the HTC Trophy but, again, no real merchandising to indicate that a new device was in town (just a small A-frame outside), despite the entire store being wrapped in Smartphone advertising.

Next up was Carphone Warehouse, who suggested a Nokia N8, or Blackberry Torch might meet my needs.  When I asked about a Windows Phone they said it’s was not available yet, even when I told them that today was launch day and they told me it had been put back by a couple of weeks, before suggesting I try the HTC Desire (on Android).

At Orange, there was at least a big display for their exclusive Windows Phone – the HTC 7 Mozart, so I didn’t talk to any staff in store.

A few doors along at O2 there was nothing at all to indicate there were any smartphones available from Microsoft. Meanwhile they had a big queue (this is lunchtime in London), so I didn’t speak to any staff – but I didn’t buy a phone either.

It’s great to see Windows Phone available in the UK ahead of the US – it’s been a long time since we were first in the queue to get our hands on a device.  Except it seems the channel is not ready.  I wasn’t expecting an Apple-style queue around the block but, if I was a “normal” consumer instead of a geek, I would be sold something else and, if Microsoft can’t get its channel partners to sell their handsets, Windows Phone 7 will be a monumental fail.  I sincerely hope not – as I said at the head of this post, I think Windows Phone 7 is a great new operating system and it has stacks of potential.  I just hope that Microsoft can recover from this false start and ship serious volumes of handsets over the coming months.

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Office 365

Office 365 logoYesterday, Microsoft announced Office 365 - a rebranded and consolidated version of its existing Office Live Small Business, BPOS and Live@edu online services.  It seems ironic that this should come in the same week that the company announced the loss of Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie, the man whose Internet Services Disruption memo has, arguably, led to Microsoft’s reinvention as a software plus services company, embracing online services as a key part of its portfolio (even if the majority of its revenues still come from traditional models) but it is an acknowledgement that Microsoft is serious about cloud services.

Encompassing SharePoint, Exchange, Lync (formerly Office Communications Server) and Office (Web Apps and Professional client), Office 365 is certainly an interesting proposition for small businesses.  I use Google Apps (free) right now, but at $6 a month, Office 365 is almost free, and if that price really does includes a full copy of Office Professional (for as long as I’m a subscriber), it’s a steal.

Microsoft says that Office 365 is suitable for an independent professional, for a small business (up to 25 users) or for a larger enterprise. How can one product suit all needs?  The answer, is that it can’t.

Instead, what Microsoft has done is to package the Office 365 service for two distinct markets:

  • Office 365 for Small businesses and professionals is aimed at 1-25 users, with Exchange (including a 25GB mailbox), ActiveSync, SharePoint (single site collection), Office Web Apps, a public website, Online Access databases, Lync client, online meetings, desktop sharing, multiparty instant messaging and PC-PC calling, a 99.9% uptime guarantee, and self-help/community support.  All for $6, per user, per month.
  • Office 365 for Enterprises is aimed at larger organisations, and those where they need ActiveDirectory Sync, e-mail archiving (e.g. for legal compliance), Blackberry connectivity (Blackberry Enterprise Server), more than 50 users in the organisation, and 24×7 phone support.
    • Furthermore, the Enterprise plan is divided according to worker roles, so that Microsoft can provide different services for different groups of users (at different price points between $2 and $27 per user per month, list price – although volume discounts will be available).

So, what were the other highlights in yesterday’s announcement?

  • Microsoft is claiming that Office 2010 is the “fastest selling version of Office in history” [really?]
  • Microsoft’s existing online services serve millions of customers in 40 markets worldwide.
  • 167m messages are sent per day from Microsoft’s cloud services [I'd be interested to see the source/scope for this... Microsoft often includes everything right back to Hotmail in its interpretation of cloud services].
  • Office 2010 was designed for on-premise and cloud capabilities.
  • Office 365 is currently in a limited beta and will “ship” worldwide next year.
  • Office 365 always runs the latest version of Microsoft’s Office software (SharePoint, Exchange, Lyn, Office Web Apps and Office Professional Plus).
  • Microsoft sess software as 15% of overall IT spend.  By moving into online services they increase market share by picking up some of the infrastructure revenue; but claim cost savings of 10-50% for customers.
  • Partner opportunity is to expand reach and grow revenue by helping customers to use the software and not just deploying it.  Hybrid on-premise and cloud solutions could be an opportunity.

Office 365 is an interesting development.  As a customer, I think it’s very interesting and a more than credible alternative to Google Apps.  As a partner, I’m less convinced but that’s not a conversation for the public Internet.  Either way, it shows that Microsoft is serious about competing and the move to subscription-based services is starting to get moving.

Technology

After 3 months with my iPad, was it still a good purchase?

After several weeks of procrastination, I recently bought myself an iPad. After my initial scepticism, seeing others (like Jon Honeyball) using theirs convinced me that it would a good purchase, and I soon found out that I wasn’t alone in the world of Microsoft-focused iPad users – Mary Jo Foley bought one around the same time, as did ex-Microsoftie Sharon Richardson and I know at least one person at Microsoft who has joined the fold. As my third monthly bill for mobile broadband access is due soon, it’s prompted me to finish writing this post about my experiences as an iPad user…

So, after a few months’ use, how has it been? What have I found? Where does it excel? And what are the iPad’s failings? Most importantly, was this a worthwhile purchase, or just another gadget to add to the pile of redundant technology in a few months’ time?

Form factor

One of my original thoughts was that I’d find it the iPad too large to carry around. As it happens, that hasn’t been an issue – I’ve been an iPhone user for some time and had started to find the screen size a real limitation but, the iPad is just large enough to be useful but still small enough to be portable. Indeed, the rumoured 7″ iPad (and competing devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab) may be too small for people with fat fingers like mine, whilst I can type pretty well on the on-screen keyboard for the 10″ iPad (although I do also have an Apple Bluetooth keyboard to use if I prefer). As for portability, I’m always conscious that the iPad is an attractive item for a would-be thief, consequently I find myself using a “man bag” more than I used to… but I no longer need to carry a netbook, or a second laptop, for personal use when I’m at work.

Content creation

The next surprise was how I use the iPad – Jason Hiner thinks that the iPad is only good for reading/viewing and multitouch integration – I disagree!

Whilst I can Jason’s point, it’s actually turned out to be a far more useful device than that. Whereas my netbook was very much a content consumption device, I can create content on the iPad – it’s not suitable for everything but the nature of iOS applications means that there are scenarios when content creation is perfectly possible – indeed, I’m typing this post inside the WordPress app (and iA Writer is a perfect example of an app that’s designed to simplify writing on an iPad). Perhaps the biggest drawback when creating new content is the lack of multitasking, but more on that later…

Family friendly

Let’s face it, I’m a geek who loves his gadgets, but I seriously hadn’t expected the iPad to be such a hit with the family. My two young sons love the touchscreen (which seems to be a very natural experience for them, compared with a mouse) and casual gaming on the iPad is something we all enjoy (whether it’s Flight Control, Harbor Master, or an iPhone version of Battleships). Then, there’s the built-in Photos app which, even though it’s a bit limited (it would be nice if I could at least rate my images), has proven itself as a great tool for sharing pictures with friends and family after a day out – somehow, passing a tablet around and swiping back/forth seems very simple and surprisingly non-geek. Indeed, for my 5 year-old son, who’s just developing an interest in photography, being able to see what his pictures and videos look like on the screen has been a huge source of delight.

Ready for work?

I recently wrote a paper for Fujitsu on the impact of tablet computing on desktop managed service.  I’d love to link to it here but, for the time being at least, its an internal document; however I really do think that the iPad has potential as a business device.  There may be issues to overcome around security, but as enterprises look to deliver business IT services to a multitude of devices (possibly even consumer-owned devices) the iPad is a real contender.  For example, I can connect to a VDI or a hosted virtual server environment using one of a number of solutions (for example, Citrix Receiver, or even a simple RDP or SSH client) but the limiting factor is not the iPad, but the target Windows system’s unsuitability for touch (I’m writing another post on that subject but, trust me, even with Windows 7′s touch capabilities, the user interface elements are too small for use without a stylus – as Mark Sumimoto explains, the issue is Windows recording of touch as a single point, rather than a circular area).

What’s hot?

Here’s what I love about my iPad:

  • I turn it on, and I don’t have to wait for it to start up.
  • It runs iPhone applications as well as iPad ones (the best apps adjust to suit the device).
  • It can read the raw images that my camera produces.
  • Even though it lacks a file manager, applications like Dropbox can be used to fill the gap
  • It’s great for watching video (e.g. as a TV catchup device) although the lack of Flash support can be a hinderance and I’m still waiting for the BBC to launch an iPlayer app…
  • Battery life is excellent.  I recently sat through 8 hours of Microsoft presentations, whilst taking notes and tweeting (Wi-Fi, not 3G) and, at the end of the day, the iPad indicated it still had 55% battery left (I had the brightness turned down).
  • It’s a great eBook reader.  Sure, there are probably studies that show reading on an electronic display is not as good as eInk devices (like the Kindle) but, whether I use Apple iBooks or the Amazon Kindle app for iPad, the iPad is a great eBook reader and, when reading in bed, disturbs sleeping partners far less than a reading light.
  • It’s silent too.
  • It’s grabbed people’s imagination for what can be done with a tablet/slate PC, with many new ideas that would not be practical on a smartphone, or on an “ordinary” PC – digital magazines are just one example, whether it’s the model taken by Conde Nast/Wired, or Flipboard, or even BBC News.

What’s not?

My number one gripe is the lack of support for Adobe Flash (and, to a lesser degree, Microsoft Silverlight). I know Flash is a nuisance, and I would love to see a web of standards-compliant sites using HTML5 to deliver dynamic content, but I also live in the real world, and when sites like the BBC’s weather page don’t work properly on the iPad, it’s a bloody nuisance – and Apple’s puritanical stand against Adobe is not helping consumers.

Gripe number 2 is the lack of a USB port and/or an SD card slot. I bought Apple’s Camera Connection Kit for iPad but it seems a little strange for such a beautifully designed device to rely on what is essentially a dongle in order to connect to a camera or to flash media. With no power available from the iPad’s dock-USB connector, few (if any) peripherals can be used with the iPad – even if there was software available to exploit them. For example, there are times when it would be good to hook up a webcam, and my main camera uses CF cards so, without a working card reader, there is no choice but to (slowly) download images from the camera over a USB cable, draining the camera’s batteries in the process.

Multitasking is another missing feature – at a recent event I was trying to take notes at the same time as tweeting live updates and restarting each app every time I switched was more than a little tiresome. Printing is another missing feature – whether its a photo, or some details on a web page. Thankfully, both of these issues are expected to be resolved in the upcoming iOS 4.2 release, expected next month.

Something that a new operating system release can’t fix is application availability. Sure, the iPad can run iPhone apps, even scaled up to use the whole of the device’s screen, but, as I mentioned earlier, the best application experience comes from those apps that have been written to exploit the iPad or, even better, as iPad and iPhone apps that adjust their display according to the device (and its orientation). Whilst there are some excellent examples of iPad applications (for example, the WordPress app, or Twitter’s own iPad client), the simple fact is that there are not as many iPad apps available as there should be – developers are yet to get on board and, when they do, the prices are normally a little higher than for iPhone apps (probably more realistic, but the bar has already been set).

Finally, like many Apple products, it is beautiful to look at, but easily damaged; which means that my iPad spends its life wrapped in a case.  I have Apple’s case because, unlike many third party products that leave corners, etc. exposed, it seems to do a pretty good job at protecting the device; however, even that has some issues when I have to use the camera connection kit dongles on the dock connector.  The iPad is not an inexpensive device – it’s a shame that it’s so easily damaged.  Still, at least I can’t fit it in my pocket to get scratched by keys and coins like a phone!

In summary

Apple’s iPad has some compromises but it also has many benefits and I’ve yet to see any credible competition from another manufacturer. I’m sure we’ll see a new model next year and it will be interesting to see what Apple does with the next iPad (high resolution display? Front facing camera? SD/USB slots?) but, in the meantime, I’m getting plenty out of this first generation device. Apple may not have invented tablet PCs but they sure have found a way to make them popular.

Was it a good purchase? Certainly. As Mary Jo Foley wrote in a recent post about Microsoft’s potential answer(s) to the iPad:

“Would I still shell out for a Winpad? If it allowed me to seamlessly connect [...] and had true instant on/off and 10-hour battery life my answer would be yes. But I’m sure glad I didn’t wait a year or three just to get the true portability that I’ve wanted and needed for the past couple of years.”

I’d add another caveat to that – a Windows competitor to the iPad would also need a new interface (or a new operating system – like Windows Phone 7?). As for Android… well, let’s see, but that market is fragmenting quickly and whilst there may be some good ones too, there are some truly awful Android tablets out there.  One thing’s for sure though: for all its failings, iPad’s biggest competitor could well be the next iPad.

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How to take stunning pictures: Sports

Continuing the series of posts based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series, this one looks at sports photography (previous posts have covered portraiture, celebrations and landscapes).  Probably the most disappointing episode so far, Bob Martin was a little light on tips (indeed, he commented that they had only skimmed the surface of sports photography) but it’s worth publishing what he did come up with.

Channel 5′s website has some tips to go with each programme, but they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the fourth episode:

  • Watch the action – it’s really important to understand the sport that you will photograph. Look at it, think about it, and pick the moment that will give the most interesting photograph. Sports photography is about action – you mustn’t miss the key events.
  • Frame the action – pick your position based on how the light falls on the subject and what’s in the background. The picture must be well-composed and, if possible it should be quite graphic. A few inches either way makes the difference, so when choosing spot to shoot from, pick the one that really works.
  • Freeze the action – this is particularly important in sports photography and is all about shutter speeds. Head on may only need to be 1/640th but sideways wide angle may need 1/2000th second to capture all the details.
  • Light the action – use the light in the most dramatic way to give your shot impact – if you’re looking to shoot a silhouette, expose for the sky to stop the camera from trying to produce a neutral shot.
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24 hours with Greater Manchester Police, on Twitter (#gmp24)

Greater Manchester Police has been running a social media experiment today, broadcasting details of all emergency (999) calls via a number of Twitter accounts managed by support staff. Using the hash tag #gmp24, the official accounts were named @gmp24_1, @gmp24_2 and @gmp24_3. It’s a bold move – but also an excellent example of using social media to demonstrate the type of calls that Greater Manchester Police receives.

In a statement on the official GMP website, Chief Constable, Peter Fahy said:

“Policing is often seen in very simple terms, with cops chasing robbers and locking them up. However the reality is that this accounts for only part of the work they have to deal with.

A lot of what we do is dealing with social and health problems such as missing children, people with mental health problems and domestic abuse.

[...] There needs to be more focus on how the public sector as a whole is working together to tackle society’s issues and problems.

We see time and again the same families, the same areas and the same individuals causing the same problems and these people are causing a considerable drain to the public purse.”

A Manchester Evening News analysis of calls between 5am and noon, showed that a large number of calls received by the police are non-emergency, or “social work”.  For another view, see this Wordle showing a sample of 500 “emergency” calls.

Inevitably though, the spoof accounts opened up – two, in particular (@gmp24_0 and @gmp24_9) had some hilarious updates exploiting Police stereotypes, but also providing welcome amusement. Greater Manchester Police were less impressed, asking spoof account operators to change their avatars as use of the official Police crest was a copyright infringement… it seemed a little heavy handed at first but, on reflection it’s no different to any other organisation protecting its brand.

Another amusing event was that, despite using multiple accounts to avoid Twitter’s anti-spam measures, the official accounts found themselves in “Twitter Jail”, resulting in some more humorous exchanges as followers commented that jail (sic) is intended as a method of rehabilitation and creating new accounts is not the answer!

In all seriousness though, the event (which started at 5am today and will complete at 5am tomorrow) has exposed some of the inner workings of a busy urban Police service and, whilst critics may question this use of public funds to “play around with social media” at a time of public service cutbacks, there is another view: by exposing the types of calls received by 999 operators, it would be nice to think that Greater Manchester Police may actually save money in the medium-term through better public education (a standardised national number for non-emergency calls to the Police might save even more…).

Personally, I’m impressed by Greater Manchester Police’s remarkable openness and innovative use of social media – it might not save them from inevitable budget cuts, but it can do their image no harm either.

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How to take stunning pictures: Landscapes

I’ve written a couple of posts recently based on Channel 5 Broadcasting’s “How To Take Stunning Pictures” series. The first two episodes covered portraiture and celebrations – plenty for me to take on board there – but I found the landscapes episode was less useful. Even though it featured Charlie Waite, a photographer whose work I admire – I found it a bit of a let down, possibly because landscapes are a genre I’ve invested a lot of time in learning over the years (including attending two of Charlie’s talks) and so there was less for me to learn in this programme.

Even so, it’s worth publishing some tips – Channel 5′s website has some to go with each programme, but they don’t exactly match up to the advice in the programme itself so, here are the tips from the third episode:

  • Choose the right location and read the landscape: landscape photography needs to be well constructed and thought about. Think what is it about a scene that is emotionally enjoyable and enriching. Read the landscape: start at the top, at the sky, and follow down, asking what’s really worthwhile. Don’t think that the first place you’ve arrived and set up at is the best. Sometimes even a few inches to the right or left can make a radical difference to a photograph.
  • Take care in composition: consider the frame carefully – use compositional aids if necessary to see if the image that your are planning to make will work. Before even taking the camera out of the bag, consider: Is there an image to be made here? Do I like the shapes? Is the balance right? Is there enough geometry? How much sky can I have in? See where you want the crop to be – try and imagine your picture before you take it (I’m sure that Charlie would talk about one’s mind’s eye). Take your eye around the perimeter of the viewfinder. Think what to keep in, and what to keep out – “omit the redundant”. In the words of Charlie Waite, “The key to good photography is to settle down and to think bout what is going to appear in that viewfinder and not think that the camera is going to do all the work. As you look through the viewfinder, ask yourself if you can see the frame on the wall… previsualise to define the objective”.
  • Control the light to get the correct exposure: use a filter to produce an image that equates with what we see in the eye (there was no mention of what filter this would be in the programme, but typically this would be a grey grad to balance areas of high and low brightness). Often when we look at a landscape we can see beautiful subtle nuances in the sky and also detail in the land but when we take the image, camera sensors/film find that very difficult to reproduce.
  • Don’t just look for bright, sunny days – it’s possible to get great images on the cusp of bad weather leaving and good weather arriving when there are often some fantastic moments. If it’s really raining and the forecast is changeable, hang on and wait and you see dark clouds being replaced by bright skies in a very exciting moment on the transitional point. Look over your shoulder, see what kind of sky is coming, wait for it, and if it does arrive, think about whether it relates satisfactorily – just waiting a few minutes can really help.
  • Draw the viewer in: Think about how to invite the viewer into the image? For example, using a path as a lead in, beckons the viewer and encourages them to travel along the path. Landscape photography is about shape, harmony, balance and design – looking for the optimum moment when you press the shutter.

“I often think of that rare fulfilling joy when I am in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events.

Where the light, the colour, the shapes and the balance all interlock so beautifully that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it.”

[Charlie Waite]

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Setting up a custom URL shortening service using Bitly.Pro

If, like me, you’ve been reading the stories about Libya taking back control of certain .ly addresses, then you might be thinking “what about all those short URLs I’ve been sharing?”. For those who haven’t read the story, the Libyan authorities have been reclaiming addresses from sites whose content breaches Sharia law.  Bit.ly, the American-based link shortener that’s become very popular since the demise of tr.im doesn’t think it’s at risk, even though some of the content it signposts might offend those of a Muslim faith, because: it doesn’t actually host the content; and bit.ly addresses are also accessible using the slightly longer bitly.com URL (for example, bit.ly/markwilsonit resolves to the same address as bitly.com/markwilsonit).

Even so, I decided to implement my own custom domain for link shortening – one that I have control over.

I decided to stick with a top level domain from a country that’s not likely to take back the address and, even though Italy (.it) is a slight risk to me as I don’t live/work there, .it domains are officially available to anyone who resides within one of the European Union member states (and that includes the UK), giving me some legitimate claim to the domain at least. Unfortunately, I found that I couldn’t register any 2 or 3 character domains, but Matt Marlor suggested I go for mwil.it and, yesterday, I successfully registered that domain.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for a short domain name, DomainR is a website that will work through various permutations of your name/company name and flag those that are valid/available.

Grabbing the domain is only the first step though – I also needed a link shortening service. I could have implemented my own (indeed, I may still do so) but decided to use the Bitly.Pro service instead, thinking that I can still migrate the links at a later date, should that become necessary.

One of my friends, Alex Coles, asked why I selected the Bitly.Pro route rather than using a script like YoURLs and, aside from the fact that would be something else for me to manage on my webspace, the Bit.ly API is widely supported by many of the other services that I use – like TwitterFeed, and TweetDeck – reducing the effort involved in generating new short links.

At the time of writing, Bitly.Pro is still in beta but I completed the form to apply to join and, shortly afterwards, received an e-mail to say I was in. At that time I hadn’t registered my domain but, once that was done, it was a simple case of:

  • Creating a DNS A record (actually, I created two – one for * and one for @) on the short domain (mwil.it) to point to Bit.ly’s servers (168.143.174.97).
  • Adding a DNS CNAME record (3bae9d57b0bf.markwilson.co.uk. CNAME cname.bit.ly) to my tracking domain (markwilson.co.uk) to prove ownership (other options included uploading a file or adding some metadata to the site).
  • Waiting for DNS propagation (which didn’t take long for me but may have been up to 24 hours) and verifying the details in my Bitly.Pro account settings.

With these steps completed, I had everything in place to start generating short URLs using Bitly.Pro, but the was one more step for my client applications – TwitterFeed and TweetDeck both needed to be provided with an API key in order to use the Bit.ly API with my account (TweetDeck even gives the link to go and get the key). After entering those details, I sent a test tweet and was pleased to see it using the mwil.it domain, with no additional work required on my part.

So, what’s left to do? Well, I still don’t know why sites like the New York Times and TechCrunch get custom URLs when I link to them, even without an API key (I suspect for that I would need an Enterprise account) and it may still be prudent to keep an offline copy of my short-long URL mappings, just in case Bit.ly should ever cease to exist. There are also some client applications that don’t use my custom shortener (for example, Twitter’s own app for the iPad uses another Bit.ly domain, j.mp, and doesn’t appear to have any options to enter an API key) but at least my auto-posted tweets (i.e. links to my blog posts, etc.) now use a domain that’s under my control.

Technology

How Steve Ballmer told me what to do with my iPad!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Steve Ballmer speak to two audiences, first at Microsoft’s Partner Briefing on transitioning to the cloud (#pbbcloud) and then at the UK TechDays Special Event on the future of cloud development (#uktechdays).

I’m sorry I didn’t catch the name of the guy who asked Mr Ballmer a question about Windows tablets in the TechDays question and answer session, but I was certainly very interested to hear the Microsoft CEO’s reaction:

Question: “We haven’t had a Windows tablet come out yet [...] we do see the prototypes coming out all the time but I do remember you saying that it’s going to run full Windows 7. [...] are we going to have like a tablet version of Windows Phone 7 or a tablet of Windows Embedded 7 coming out? [...] To me, although [Windows 7] is touch enabled, I don’t think it’s great for a small 7″, 9″ device.”

Mr Ballmer’s response: “Yeah, what you’ll see over the course of the next year is us doing more and more work with our hardware partners creating hardware-software optimisations with Windows 7 and with Windows 7 Media Center [...] Media Center is big and, when people say ‘hey, we could optimise more for clients’ I think what they generally mean is ‘Big Buttons’.  Big Buttons that’s, I think, a codeword for Big Buttons and Media Center is Big Buttons not Little Buttons. I’m not trying to trivialise that – it’s a real issue.

We’re not going to do a revamp of Windows 7 over the course of the next year for that purpose.  Whether we should, or we shouldn’t, we’ve put all our energy around doing a great job on that and other issues in the next version of Windows so we will do optimisations to have devices that look really good, that run Windows, that are very good for touch applications which we will encourage people to write. We will do things that improve - it turns out that if we just optimise settings and the configuration of Windows it can be a lot more usable through touch, even on today’s systems – we’re doing that work with the OEMs. We’re doing work with the OEMs to make sure that they treat ink also as a first class citizen.  None of our competitors products actually do a very good [job]. I saw a poor guy in a speech I did out down the hall, he had one of our competitors’ devices and he was sitting there crouched over with this thing on his knees, bent and there’s no keyboard – and he was in torture using that poor non-Windows slate device [audience laughs].

And for some of you, [you] do the same but I think we can make life a little simpler for people, if we do the right job.  Can we do better by optimising – yep – guy’s got one at the back – you can bend over too, I’ll tell ya!  [audience laughs]

The truth of the matter is the laptop weighs less – you can set it on your lap, it doesn’t weigh anything at that point and then you can type.  I’m not trying to say there’s not a place for touch-optimised slate-based devices, obviously we have shown enthusiasm about that before but you’ll see some optimisations coming in the course of the next year and some of the devices that convert, that have a keyboard, that flip around – I think some of those will be also pretty useful for people in the course of the next year.”

[I've tried to get the text word-perfect here but I was at the back of the room and the audio recording was not fantastic... this is certainly what it sounds like to me].

The thing is, I was that “non-Windows slate device” user down the hall (and I was the guy at the back of the room when he said this) and the only reason I was in “torture” (which, of course, was a slight overdramatisation for comedy effect) was that I was squashed into a row of seats between two other guys and I was bending forward so that we weren’t sitting there with shoulders pressed together like sardines in a tin can.  I was also juggling a camera (on my Nokia phone), a voice recorder (on my iPhone) and taking notes/tweeting on the iPad whilst listening to Mr Ballmer.  Ironically, the reason I took my iPad to the event was that my Windows devices are so bad for portability (to be honest, so is my MacBook – this is not about Windows but about the device form factor).  My netbook has to be coaxed through the day with Wi-Fi switched off in order to get more than a few hours out of the battery; my 15″ laptop only goes 2-3 hours between charges (newer models may be better, but I can’t change laptops at the drop of a hat); meanwhile, I find the iPad easy enough to type on in landscape mode, it turns on/off instantly and, after 8 hours taking notes and tweeting yesterday, it still had an indicated battery charge of 55%.  If Microsoft produced a slate that did that, I would have been using it but they don’t and, based on what Ballmer had to say yesterday, it may be some time before they finally “get it” (I wrote last month about what I think Microsoft needs to do to keep Windows relevant in the mobile computing space).

As Mary Jo Foley wrote yesterday, this year’s Windows 7 slates won’t be under my Christmas tree.

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