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My Mac when I bought it 3+ years ago was running OSX Leopard. During that time it's withstood 2 upgrades, the first to OSX Snow Leopard, and more recently to OSX Lion and it's still been going strong.

Although during that period, I've bought a new iMac for my more power hungry computing, benefiting from a more powerful graphics card, more storage, RAM and a nice big display, my MacBook in reality still gets used the more often. 

Throughout the 3 years, it's been used every morning and evening commute, and every evening and weekend. The batter life is still standing up, but over the last 6 months or so I've noticed it start to slow down a little, and I've been running low on free disk space. 

To attempt to deal with this I've bought a utility called CleanMyMac (from MacPaw). It's actually a really good utility, freeing up 79GB of space at my last count, and although my Mac did seem to speed up for a while, and have some more free space, I couldn't help thinking that after removing absolutely everything that I didn't need I was left with only 42GB of free space on a 150GB disk. So I thought it's time for a wipe and re-install. As I'm an ASP.NET developer, my development takes place on Windows (which I normally run in a VM on my iMac), so I thought it a good opportunity to install Windows 7 using Boot Camp. I pulled my original OSX Leopard disks out of the cupboard, blew the dusk off and expected to have to install from them. The instructions said to boot with the option key held to boot from the DVD, only when I did this I noticed a 'Recovery HD' partition. It's worth pointing out at this point that I've dual-booted my MacBook with Windows 7 before, so it was somewhat a surprise to see this partition as it wasn't there in the past. 

Anyway, curiosity and all that, I had to boot from this new Recovery HD partition. And a good job I did... it turns out that OSX Lion (as it's a downloadable upgrade) creates the partition and puts the necessary software there to be able to restore your computer in the event of a failure etc. Neat. Unfortunately, it does require that I download the entire OS installation all over again. So about 4 hours later and I had a nice clean install of OSX Lion on my MacBook and it was running as fast as the day I bought it. 

Now to install Windows 7... went with a few hiccups installing the BootCamp software/drivers within Windows 7 after I'd done the initial install, but nothing I couldn't get around. 

I started this on Saturday, and by Sunday evening, I had pretty much all of the software that I own, in both Windows 7 and OSX re-installed on my computer. After installing some updated for Windows 7, I shut-down to boot into OSX when it comes back on with a BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! with the hard-drive light flashing in time with it. 

What could have happened to my Mac now? Unfortunately as it wouldn't boot, I couldn't jump on the internet to find the problem so easily. So, using an alternative device (in this case, my trusty Windows Phone 7 - had to get that in there!), I find that the problem is likely to be with some new RAM that I've installed... only I haven't installed any new RAM. I have been wanting to up the RAM in this thing from 2GB to 4GB (the max it'll take) for some time, but I got the new iMac instead of a cheap RAM upgrade. 

So anyway, for the first time since I got it, I took my MacBook apart. Battery cover off, battery out, hard disk out, bottom of the case off, and finally released both sticks of RAM. Both looked absolutely fine, so I tried putting one back in at a time and booting up... with 1 stick in, it powered on without the dreaded BEEP! I'd been hearing, so I put the second stick in, and tried again. BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! Argh! 

On the upside, the online posts in the Apple discussion forums were bang on, it was the RAM. Just so frustrated that it's encountered a problem without having had a jolt or anything of the sort. I've tried reseating it a number of times without any improvement. Oh well. 

After putting the MacBook back together, with only 1 stick of RAM in it, I've powered it up, and here I am now, writing from my ever so trusty MacBook. 

Pleasantly, my MacBook is still running faster than it was prior to be wiping it and reinstalling OSX Lion, so what's the point of upgrading you may be thinking. Well, as a web designer and web developer... a large portion of my work takes place in Adobe Fireworks, and Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. And running both of these separately tends to hog a fair amount of RAM. I don't think I'd have a pleasant experience running them with only 1GB though for the next few days while I wait for my RAM upgrade to arrive, I'll no doubt find out. 

I'm also quite pleased that the laptop has lasted me so long without any hardware problems. It comes with me everywhere, and I've never owned any other computer for so long. Usually I find that they don't perform as well as I expect, or encounter some sort of hardware problem. Even the best of laptops that I've owned (my Sony VAIO TR1MP) encountered a major hardware failure, and after waiting nearly 6 months for replacement parts from Sony, resulted in them giving me a full refund. I think the longest I've ever owned a computer (whether desktop or laptop) prior to this must have been 12 months, and I think that was a little Dell Studio computer that we used as our Windows Media Center powered home entertainment system - which to this day is still running fine (as far as I know) at my sister-in-law and her boyfriend's house as their primary PC. 

Anyone else had this particular problem? How long have you had the hardware on a computer that you're using a lot last you?
Posted: 08/01/2012 23:16:56 by Kurt Farrar | with 0 comments


Messenger problems

I've had a problem since I first setup my Windows Phone 7.5 that I couldn't get Messenger to connect, which also meant Facebook chat wouldn't work. Although I didn't have this feature, particularly built into the messages hub, on any of the other platforms I'd used, I still wanted to get it to work. 

Frustratingly, all of the help online from other people babbles on about "add your facebook account to your windows live account through live.com" - Yes, my account is already linked, but I can't sign into messenger, nevermind facebook. You shouldn't have to have a facebook account linked to sign into Windows Live Messenger.

Further more, I couldn't sign into Windows Live Web Messenger! Taking Windows Phone 7.5 out of the equation, this had to be an account problem, not a problem with the phone.

I posted onto the Windows Live Messenger support forums, but didn't get an answer. So after a few days now, was determined to fix this myself. Others had warned me that signing in with the same account that I use for Office 365 as my Windows Live account would cause problems, I hadn't done that... so that's that ruled out. 

I investigated my account and noticed that I had my Windows Live ID linked to another, that other ID could sign into Web Messenger fine, so I wondered if that may have been the problem. Some sort of hand-off thing, my account designating my linked account as the messenger account or something? So I removed the link between the accounts. Still no good. 

Eventually decided to see if I can sign in with the desktop client (I hadn't tried that so far as I normally don't use Windows Live Messenger). When I signed in, it said my account had been updated and needed further action, with a link to a webpage of further information. 

Basically, since we setup Office 365, the Lync Onine portion claimed my domain name. So any Windows Live Passports ending @mydigitalmedia.co.uk could no longer use Windows Live Messenger. The only option if I wanted a Windows Live account, retaining my links to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on, as well as the calendar and contacts that I've built up over the years... was to change my Windows Live ID... sounds easy enough right? Well, yes... it was easy to change the ID on my account... but it was when I came back to my Windows Phone 7.5 that the difficulty started. 

Windows Phone detected that my account had changed and that I needed to do something, but id didn't give me the option to modify the account. Not a problem I thought, I'll remove the account, and re-add it. Not so simple! Turns out, the only way to remove the primary Windows Live account is a complete factory reset. 

Yes, my e-mails, contacts and calendar are all in the cloud so lets do this. A couple of taps and a few seconds later and I'm back to a clean phone. A few seconds more and my accounts are back on, but throughout there's no option to restore apps that I had previously installed. I had to remember which apps I had installed. Fortunately, installing apps is quick and fairly painless. 

So a reboot and re-setup later (roughly 1/2 hour) I'm back up and running, AND I have Windows Live Messenger working AND Facebook Chat. I've made use of the Windows Live Messenger to have a chat with my dad who lives in the next town. Making me more accessible, and making it easier for me to engage with friends and family. 

I think that the mssenger feature is fantastic, but I think that Microsoft have to make it easier to change the Windows Live ID on the phone without requiring a factory reset. I would imagine the thinking behind this was that if someone buys apps against ID 'a' then removes that account and adds ID 'b' then user 'b' isn't necessarily licensed to use the apps that they've bought. What I don't get though is that each Windows Live ID has a unique ID behind the scenes which is independent of your e-mail address/username. Why can't the phone keep a handle on that instead, and allow, or even automatically update, the e-mail address/username on the phone?

I think Apple win points here from the end-user's perspective. Apple allow multiple Apple IDs to be used with each device, and it checks the licensing when there are updates available. You can only get the updates if you sign in with the account that you purchased the app with. Furthermore, Apple allow you to change your Apple ID's e-mail address, password and everything without any real problem. If you bought using user1@mydigitalmedia.co.uk but later changed it to user.1@mydigitalmedia.co.uk (not a new account, but a change to the e-mail/username on the same account) then it'll allow you to sign out with the old e-mail address, sign in with the new, and continue to receive the updates for the apps that you've previously bought. 

Don't get me wrong, I've had problems with Apple's IDs in the past, but not related to this, and I think that what theirs allows you to do in this instance is better. A little frustrating that I can't have both a Windows Live Messenger and Microsoft Lync user from the same domain at the same time (my scenario was kurt@mydigitalmedia.co.uk - Windows Live Messenger and kurt.farrar@mydigitalmedia.co.uk - Microsoft Lync). 

OK, I've posted this a little late, so there'll be another blog post later today to make up for it! :)
Posted: 17/12/2011 09:58:33 by Kurt Farrar | with 0 comments


OK, so I've been off work today (of a fashion) full of a cold. OK, so I ended up working pretty much my normal, but from the comfort and warmth of my bed. As my head is all bunged up, you'll have to forgive me if today's post isn't as long as the past few days.

E-mail conversations

Today I had the opportunity read/write some e-mails in a conversation in my inbox. By a conversation (if you don't already know) I mean a number of e-mails going back and forth grouped together. Anyone that uses GMail will be familiar with this format, and Microsoft have tried to replicated it in Outlook and Hotmail in the past, but it's never quite worked the same, or as well in those products. These examples however are where conversations are in use on the desktop/web browser. I've not seen any successful use of conversations on a mobile device, until now. 

The conversation view on Windows Phone 7.5 is just great. It shows the conversation as a header telling you, as a summary, how many e-mails are in the conversation and how many of them are unread. Tapping the header expands the conversation to show all messages in the conversation, from where you can tap a message to view it's contents. This is certainly missing from iOS and BBOS, and it was missing from Android early days (afterall they were missng a proper mobile e-mail client initially) but I don't now if this functionality exists on the Android platform now.

Games

I've had an opportunity to play on some trial games on Windows Phone 7.5 today. I was intrigued by the level of integration with XBox Live, and XBox. Even to the degree of being able to control your XBox from your phone (with the use of an app). I spent a bit of time configuring an avatar which I intended to look like me, though I found myself spending far too much time on the eyes, and still not being happy with them. The games themself perform very well given the graphics level that they're running.

I'm sure I'll cover these in a little more detail as I buy some full games over the next few days/weeks.
Posted: 15/12/2011 22:34:02 by Kurt Farrar | with 2 comments


History

Following the BIS issues this summer in the UK and the rest of the world we looked at how we could make ourselves a little bit more resilient. Afterall, losing access to mobile e-mail for a number of days had a significant impact on our business and the way we respond to our customers.

For those who don't know, the problems largely affected BlackBerry's BIS service (BlackBerry Internet Service) which provides internet access, BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) and push mail. Though it did have some impact on BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) service, this was largely limited to BBM messages that needed to be handed from BES users to BIS users. 

Anwyay, the technicalities over, we looked initially at moving our BlackBerry smartphones to BES to make them more resilient. At this point we found that Vodafone have been selling us some sort of substandard service. We've found (for a while) that pushed e-mails don't come through as quickly as they used to when BlackBerry smartphones first became mainstream. We didn't expect that switching to BES would restore our service level to the same as it used to be. E-mails come through immediately rather than up to 15 minutes later.

Anyway, you're by this point probably thinking that this blog post was supposed to be about Windows Phone 7.5. Bear with me, I'm getting there... I thought it worth explaining why we're looking at Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" at all.

We've previously used Apple iPhones, and although they're very responsive devices and have a number of apps available for them, the lack of a hardware keyboard means I waste far too much time correcting what I'm typing rather than just typing it. Switching from an iPhone 4 to a BlackBerry Torch 9800 would a good thing in this regards.

Having found that we've been provided with a bit of a duff service since we switched to a BlackBerry, I felt this was the icing on the cake following the summer outages and we started to look at alternative platforms.

The options

Following our move to BlackBerry, we found that things were FAR better with a hardware keyboard and a touch-screen combined, so this was a requirement of whatever we moved to.

What platforms were available in the market? We'll there iOS, Android and Windows Phone. I personally don't like Android... it feels too cheap, device makers aren't consistent enough, devices generally have poor battery life from what I've seen, and because the platform is so open, it's far too easy a target for malware creators, whether they already have, or are going to create viruses, spyware, trojans etc.

So that left us with Windows Phone 7 (7.5 the current version). Now to find one with a hardware keyboard.

We liked vertical slide of the BlackBerry Torch 9800, so that helped to limit the choice... to 1 handset.

Dell Venue Pro

I was surprised that there's only 1 device running Windows Phone 7.5 with a vertical slide keyboard, and it's like gold dust in the UK. Sure you can buy a brand-new sim free device direct from Dell, but if you want a pre-owned one, then they're really hard to get hold of. Whether this is a good sign, or not, we'll surely find out during the 30 days that I plan to run this series of blog posts for - seeing as that's how long I'm told I seem to keep a mobile phone for. 

First experience

This was actually a little more painful than I expected. The user interface is very intuitive, but I got stuck at the first hurdle adding my e-mail account, and downloading apps from the Marketplace. It just wouldn't happen. 

We run Office 365 for our enterprise e-mail, contacts, calendar and tasks etc. so it's nice to see that the phone has support for Office 365 out of the box, including task synchronisation (normally requires a third party app on other mobile platforms). So why wouldn't my account work?

A few minutes later, I tried adding my Windows Live account to the device, at this point I got a message saying that the date/time on the device is wrong and that it should be corrected before attempting to add the Windows Live account. Sure enough, the time was way out, obviously the result of a factory reset.

This seemingly was preventing the device from doing any sort of communication with server-side components, such as Marketplace and Office 365. 

Anyway, date/time sorted, I'm pleased to report that everything else has gone smoothly. 

I've run through the installation of pretty much every app that I'd actually made use of on my iPhone, and BlackBerry was only every running a small sub-set of those (given the limited nature of BlackBerry's AppWorld). Installation was a doddle. I've even installed a few apps that I didn't have before. 

At this point, I want to play with the device a little to understand it. There's a few features that I want to look at more. I've had a glimpse with what I've done with the device so far, but I want to see more such as:
  • Pinning people and groups to the start page
  • The people hubs and the way that they bring social networks into one place
  • Lync 2010 client (although it's not part of Windows Phone 7.5, it's in the marketplace so I want to play)
  • Microsoft Office
  • SharePoint integration
I'll hopefully cover these in a little more detail in tomorrow's post. So far my first impressions of this device and platform are very positive, perhaps a little more positive than I expected. 

Check back for another post tomorrow to see if I'm still as pleased.
Posted: 13/12/2011 19:33:07 by Kurt Farrar | with 0 comments


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MyDigitalMedia are a small business IT consultancy specialising in web design, and web development creating high quality bespoke web solutions, and establishing our client's brands online, without a hefty price tag. Based in Widnes, Cheshire we cover all surround areas including St. Helens, Liverpool, Warrington, and Runcorn and have a number of national clients from throughout North Wales, and as far as Plymouth. Thanks to the internet, and online conferencing, we're never too far away. View our portfolio to view examples or projects that we have undertaken to date.