PhotoSync For Windows Home Server – Beta1

Once again, I had an itch that only some software could solve – what I wanted didn’t exist, so I wrote it…

Since our new arrival, I’ve wanted an easy, reliable and automated¬†way to share photos with friends and family (and anyone else who wants to take a look at the cutest baby ever ūüôā ).

I could have just created a share on my home server and done it through IIS, but I really didn’t want to waste all the bandwidth on my cable modem, so I really needed an external server to host everything.¬† I usually use¬†Flickr for this, but with all the photos coming in, it was getting hard to upload them all manually.

Since I have started using Windows Home Server (WHS)¬†to store my home media and photos, I thought it would be really nice to have a way to automatically synchronize the photos on WHS “Photos” folder to my Flickr account.¬†Since WHS is still in beta, there is not a 3rd party application to do this – so I decided to write PhotoSync for WHS (probably also has something to do with my constant pursuit of learning cool new products and their SDKs).

 

Some general features & notes:

  • PhotoSync will monitor your WHS Photos folder (or any sub folder you select) and automatically upload the contents of that folder (and every sub folder) to your Flickr account.
  • Since you get to select the ‘base folder’ you can, for example, create a /Photos/Private and a /Photos/Public (or /Photos/Flickr)¬†folder in WHS and just point PhotoSync to the /Public folder – this makes sure your public photos go to Flicker and the private ones do not.
  • PhotoSync can be configured to automatically upload new photos on any scheduled basis (the minimum right now is every 15 minutes)
  • There is a WHS Console GUI Tab to configure everything, and check upload status information.

 

Installation:

  • Download the msi file (link below)
  • Follow the steps from the WHS help file to install an Add-In: (don’t worry, it looks like a lot of steps, but it is painless)
  • On a home computer, right-click the Windows¬†Home¬†Server task tray icon, and then click Shared Folders.
  • In Shared Folders, double-click the Software folder.
  • Double-click the Add-Ins folder.
  • Copy the .msi file to the Add-ins folder.
  • Close the Add-ins folder.
  • Right-click the Windows¬†Home¬†Server task tray icon, and then click Windows Home Server Console.
  • Type the Windows¬†Home¬†Server password, and then click Next.
  • Click Settings on the console.
  • On Windows¬†Home¬†Server Settings, click Add-ins.
  • Click the Available tab.
  • Click Install to install the Add-in.
  • Click OK on the Installation succeeded dialog box to restart the console.
  • Reconnect to the console. If your new Add-in includes a console tab, the new tab now appears on the console.
    • Once you have PhotoSync installed, you can go to the WHS Console Tab to configure it
    • The first time you run PhotoSync, you will need to configure it to “link” to your existing Flickr account:
      • You will be prompted with a brief instruction screen, read and hit continue
      • PhotoSync will launch the web browser to the Flickr Login screen, login as normal
      • You will be asked if it is ok to Link WHSApps PhotoSync to your account you need to verify this, and give it write permissions
      • Once you’ve done this Flickr will tell you it is Linked, and prompt you to close your browser.
      • Once you close the browser, you will see a button in PhotoSync that says “I have completed linking Flickr“, click it and you will see a message telling you it linked ok and is ready to go.
      • Note: Due to the strict security on IE7/Windows 2003 server, you may see a few alerts during the web browser step.¬† This is normal, just read them and respond accordingly

    Using PhotoSync:

    • Right now there are only two configurable options in PhotoSync (don’t worry, I’m already working on additional features!)
      • PhotoSync folder – this is the root folder PhotoSync will upload photos from.¬† It will include all sub-folders too
      • Sync Schedule – this allows you to configure how often PhotoSync will check for and upload new photos. If you enter anything here under 15 minutes, it will default to 15 minutes.
    • There is also some status information that tells how many photos total are in sync, last sync time, and how many photos were uploaded in the last sync.
    • That’s all there is too it – nice, simple, and reliable.¬† Simply copy your photos to your configured WHS folder, and PhotoSync does the rest!

     

    As I mentioned, I have several additional features planned for the app, but please share any suggestions or comments you have in the comments here, or send me a message.  I hope you enjoy PhotoSync!

    (Note: All the normal beta disclaimers apply here.  It seems stable and works great for me, but it could catch your PC on fire, or make your dog bark all night :-).  If you find any problems, please let me know)

    Download PhotoSync for WHS here (1.5 MB)

Shell Shortcuts in Windows Vista

This is more a personal reference than anything, but hopefully someone else will find it useful too.¬† In Vista you can navigate to many of the system folders, such as the “Send To” folder by typing shell:<Command Name> (eg shell:sendto) in the Start/Search(aka Run) text box (See screen shot).¬† This sure beats typing C:Users[UserID]AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsSendTo to do the same thing.

This tip works for many of the folders and other system screens / apps, the complete list is below.  Thanks to MVP Keith Miller for posting this in the vista.general newsgroup. UPDATE: Many of these also work fine under Windows XP.

AddNewProgramsFolder
Administrative Tools
AppData
AppUpdatesFolder
Cache
CD Burning
ChangeRemoveProgramsFolder
Common Administrative Tools
Common AppData
Common Desktop
Common Documents
Common Programs
Common Start Menu
Common Startup
Common Templates
CommonDownloads
CommonMusic
CommonPictures
CommonVideo
ConflictFolder
ConnectionsFolder
Contacts
ControlPanelFolder
Cookies
CredentialManager
CryptoKeys
CSCFolder
Default Gadgets
Desktop
Downloads
DpapiKeys
Favorites
Fonts
Gadgets
Games
GameTasks
History
InternetFolder
Links
Local AppData
LocalAppDataLow
LocalizedResourcesDir
MAPIFolder
My Music
My Pictures
My Video
MyComputerFolder
NetHood
NetworkPlacesFolder
OEM Links
Original Images
Personal
PhotoAlbums
Playlists
PrintersFolder
PrintHood
Profile
ProgramFiles
ProgramFilesCommon
ProgramFilesCommonX86
ProgramFilesX86
Programs
Public
PublicGameTasks
Quick Launch
Recent
RecycleBinFolder
ResourceDir
SampleMusic
SamplePictures
SamplePlaylists
SampleVideos
SavedGames
Searches
SendTo
Start Menu
Startup
SyncCenterFolder
SyncResultsFolder
SyncSetupFolder
System
SystemCertificates
SystemX86
Templates
TreePropertiesFolder
UserProfiles
UsersFilesFolder
Windows

Windows Vista Hates Networks?

I received a Roku media player for Christmas, and wanted to hook it up to stream some holiday music right away.  Pretty simple install on the hardware side, plug it into AC, plug in a pair of speakers, and configure it for WiFi (or hardwire to the LAN) Рtotal time <5 minutes Рvery nice.

I then remote desktoped into my main home PC, a Vista Ultimate box that lives upstairs in my office, to configure Media Player 11 for streaming to the Roku.¬† I was pleasantly surprised to see that Vista had already found the Roku device on the network, and was prompting me as to whether I would like to share media with it.¬† Wow – too easy – technology never works this well the first time!¬† I told Vista to stream to the Roku, and figured the hard part was over.¬† I then launched Media Player 11 to add songs and create playlists ( I generally use Media Monkey for managing and playing audio – I’ve had bad experiences in the past with Win Media Player screwing up my MP3 Tags).

I pointed Media Player to my NAS device, and told it to add all the tracks to the library.¬† With over 100Gigs of music and 30,000 tracks, I figured it would take a while so I’d check back later.¬† A few hours later all the songs were loaded, and seemed to play just fine in Media Player, so I created a few playlists.

I then scrolled through the menus on my Roku, and was easily able to locate the new playlists, but they all showed ‘0 Tracks’ – not good.¬† I then tried to scroll through artists, and saw that only the¬†sample songs shipping with Vista showed up.¬† Weird.¬† Several reboots and¬†Google searched later still no joy.¬† I’d now been ignoring holiday duties for at least an hour messing with this, so¬†I gave myself 15 more minutes to find a solution.¬†¬† Luckily I finally came across a forum thread (somewhere) that noted Vista would not stream music from network drives or shares – a few minutes later I found a registry hack to fix this (hope this helps save others the time I wasted):

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\MediaPlayer\Preferences\HME
right click HME and add new DWORD value
name it EnableRemoteContentSharing
make the Hex value a 1

What a mess.¬† I can certainly understand that this was done for security, DRM, or some other reason in Vista / Media Player 11, but not letting the user know this when they add network shares to the song library is just horrible.¬† Something as simple as “check out KB article 1234” would have been fine, but leaving users to search for a needle in a haystack to fix this deficiency is no good.

If Microsoft wants to own the ‘connected home’ and living room media center market like they do the desktop, they need to do some work in the UX (User Experience) department.¬† Some of my (non-techie) friends and guests ask “How would us normal people have ever figure that out?”¬†¬† And they were right, but I guess most ‘normal’ folks wouldn’t have a 1TB NAS device in their home…yet ūüôā

Oh, and yes, once I fixed Vista, the Roku Rocks!!

Remote Desktop Client Updated for Vista Use – Fast

Microsoft has released an update for the Remote Desktop Clientfor Windows XP SP2 and 2003 Server systems.  This update has several enhancements, including security, visual improvements, and resource redirection.

The most beneficial features for me are the ability to view my remote Vista machine at a high resolution (including multi-monitor) at 32bit color, and the speed improvements.  Using this new client, I was able to connect to my Vista desktop from my XP tablet over WiFi, and the experience was almost identical to being local on the Vista machine.  Much snappier and more usable than the default XP client.

I have not tried it over WAN yet, but I suspect the UX will be great there as well.

So, if you spend a lot of  any time using remote desktop connections to a Vista box, make sure to download this free update.

Announcing Ink Search Tool for Tablet PCs & UMPCs!!

[UPDATE: A newer version is now available.  More Info Here]

I’ve just completed a neat little Tablet PC utility that I have wanted for a long time.¬† The tool lets you write search terms on a small form, and instantly send the terms to a Google search¬†inside your default browser with one tap (or a gesture).¬† No more awkward¬†use of¬†the Tablet Input Panel (TIP) inside a web page!!

The tool uses the new InkAnalysis API, and so far I have been very impressed with the recognition accuracy.  Some of the beta testers have told me they are seeing better accuracy here than with TIP.

The recognition will automatically add the best result to the query, but you can also select close matches from the lower button bar.¬† For really difficult words, there is also a character correction screen for quick entry and correction.¬† I really think you’ll enjoy using this for your searches.

This is a beta version, so there may be a few grinding sounds every now and then, but I think most of them were worked out in the private beta.¬† Right now the tool just does Google searches (via the Custom Search engine – this is why you’ll see the URL as TabletPCTools.com), but I may expand this to other engines and desktop searches soon.

If you find any problems, have suggestions, feedback¬†or features you’d like to see, please get in touch.

The app does require the Microsoft .NET framework 2.0 to run.  You can get this from Windows Updates.

Download the Tablet Ink Search Tool Free Here!!

Main Screen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Correction:

 

 

 

Launch from the windows Quick Launch Bar:

Installing Vista RC2 on a Virtual Machine

Vista RC2 (build 5744)¬†poked it’s head out yesterday on the Microsoft Beta sites.¬† This build seems easier to install on a VMWare virtual machine than previous builds, and performance is very usable.

The only gotcha I had, and why I’m posting this, is that if I ran the install from a VMWare or Daemon Tools ISO CD emulator, the install needed a driver, which, of course, I did not have.¬† After messing with this for 20 minutes, I decided to just burn it to¬†a DVD and try installing from that.¬† Worked like a charm.¬† There may be some other ISO mounting tools out there that will work for this, but burning it to a DVD was the quickest solution for me.

Now off to try it on a M400 Tablet and the Q1 UMPC!

Microsoft Max, Part 2 – The Tablet PC (with video)

As I mentioned in my last post, I was installing Max on my X41 Tablet to check out the ink.

Some quick observations:

  • Max is EXTREMENLY slow on my X41, basically unusable.¬† I’ll have to investigate why.
  • Ink is only available in the photo edit mode, not in slideshows or RSS news feeds
  • Only white ink and an eraser are available

All in all, not a great Tablet experience, but I’m sure it will get better, and at least they have started down the Tablet PC / Ink path with the product.

I’ll need to try some other WPF apps on the X41 and see if they are all slow, or if these issues are limited to Max.¬† My guess is the weak video power (Intel 915 chipset) on the X41 is the culprit, and most next generation WPF apps may behave this way.¬† Not good :-(.

 

UPDATE: Here is a  better quality video

Oh, and here is a quick screen cap I did showing some of the functionality of Max, including Ink on the Tablet PC.

Microsoft MAX

There has been a lot of buzz this weekend about the new Microsoft Max (beta) product.¬† I hadn’t paid much attention to it for a while, but decided to grab the latest version and take a look for myself.¬† Like everyone else, my first impression is that MAX is beautiful!¬† This thing looks great!¬† Seeing something like this really excites me about the possibilities of future applications using Avalon¬† Windows Presentation Framework(WPF)¬† .NET 3.0.¬† I guess I need to dig out that WPF book I bought a while back, and see what a person with zero artistic abilites can do with it (Warning, it probably will not be pretty!)

For those of you who are not familiar with Max, it is primarily a photo application used for cataloging and sharing photos.  The most recent build has also added in a RSS reader that makes RSS feeds appear like a newspaper or magazine layout Рvery slick.  A photo app and RSS reader do not seem like congruent features in an application to me, but I am sure Microsoft will tie all this together somehow.

There have also been some posts speculating that Max¬†may be a NewsGator killer.¬† While I don’t agree completely with that, I do have some thoughts:

  • I think getting RSS readers into the ‘mainstream’ can only help everyone in the blogsphere – from content creators (bloggers), to advertisers, to software providers.
  • Yes, many users may eschew advanced readers like NewsGator in favor of Max, but these users would probably have never heard of RSS before Max, let alone¬†in the market for a RSS¬†software purchase
  • Some Max users¬†will get hooked on RSS, and¬†will find they need more power than what Max has to offer – Boom! – new RSS client customers!
  • Existing NewsGator folks (like me) will think Max looks great, enjoy the variety, and user experience, but will not convert to Max for many reasons (as of the current Beta – if you are on the MS Max product¬†team and reading this, consider them feature requests):
    • No synchronization between PCs.¬† If I read / delete¬†150 posts on a plane (or anywhere for that matter), I don’t want to have to delete them on my home and office desktop manually.¬† NewsGator handles this transparently.
    • While the Max UI is awesome, I believe in the long run it makes reading or quickly deleting posts more time consuming and cumbersome.¬† For speed, I like my single column in Outlook for quickly looking at posts, determining “Read or Delete?” and moving on.
    • Max does not provide the full post in it’s feed, just a quick teaser.¬† If you want to read the rest, it pops a browser window.¬† Reading blogs in a browser is just so 2004 ūüôā
  • At the end of the day, how many ‘average’ user will adopt RSS?¬† Every Windows PC for years has shipped with a News (NNTP) reader inside of Outlook Express.¬† How many folks outside your tech circle of friends know what a newsreader even is?
  • No import or export for OPML feeds, or any other settings for that matter.¬† I’m sure this will change in the final product, but it’s annoying for now.
  • And, no open API or SDK for Max.¬† I can think of 50 things I’d like to add to Max, with now way to do it.¬† Again, I’m sure this may change with the final product, but if Microsoft is serious about building an ecosystem around this product sooner is always better than later.

 

As I write this, Max is installing on my X-41 Tablet PC, I’ll be interested to see how the ink features work.¬† More soon.

Great Tablet PC Development Blog

Gavin Gear, a software engineer on the Tablet PC Team (SDK) has been writing some great articles on Tablet PC development, complete with code samples (C# mainly).  He started off with the basics, and is now starting to move into some advanced areas.

If you are a developer who wants a crash course in Tablet PC programming (or hire / manage such developers) be sure to check out Gavin’s blog¬†– you’ll be up and inking in no time.

Gavin also has an open invatation to answer any Tablet PC SDK questions you throw at him – very cool!

Gavin, keep up the great work!

Exclusive Microsoft Zune Details

Gizmodo has some exclusive information and a photo on the upcoming Microsoft Zune Media Player.  One interesting tid-bit is that the scroll wheel is not really a wheel, but just 4 buttons Рwonder how usable that will be?

Has anyone seen any details on a SDK for the Zune?