Category Archives: 15419

TheTekTonic Show

Last Sunday there was a seismic shift when my good friend Ben Lee and I recorded the zero-th episode of our new podcast, TheTekTonic Show. The idea is that it’ll be a semi-regular dose of tech chat, not covering the news as such, but more to do with trends. Since both of us are IT Pros working largely in the Microsoft stack, you can expect a bias towards discussion of Microsoft products and corporate IT, but we’re generally interested in all technology, and with all the BYOD, corporate IT and consumer tech are crossing over.


Our plan is to have guests on most episodes and we’re putting together a diverse list of interesting people from across the industry for future recordings. We’ve also got to get an mp3 version and RSS feed sorted out, but for now, here’s the recording of episode 0, where we discuss Microsoft’s new update strategy and Blackberry’s comeback. Please comment and give feedback, and if you think you’d like to be on the show in the future, let us know.


HTC Windows Phone 8X – Early Impressions

Last week I upgraded from a Nokia Lumia 800 running Windows Phone 7.5 to the HTC Windows Phone 8X running Windows Phone 8. I’m not going to write a full review of the hardware or the OS, but I am going to brain-dump some initial thoughts on them both. 


The Pros:


  • Great screen – increased resolution really helps.
  • Very responsive. Much better performance than Windows Phone 7. Could be the hardware or the OS, probably both.
  • Changes to the home screen are good – I’m very happy with the increased data density.
  • Camera is very decent (I don’t need it to be a DSLR replacement).
  • Audio is great. The speaker is loud and clear; Beats Audio makes my (Bose) headphones sound better than ever!
  • The phone looks and feels much slimmer than it actually is. It’s also light enough that it practically disappears in a jean pocket.
  • Screenshots! This is a big deal for those of us who want to document and write about Windows Phone.
  • You can move content between WP8 and a Windows RT tablet. That might not help many people, but you can’t transfer content directly to an iPhone from an iPad.
  • Kid’s Corner works very well (although I did experience a bug which made it still ask for my PIN to unlock the phone the first time I set it up).

The Cons are mostly to do with Windows Phone 8, rather than the 8X hardware, so I’ll get my one gripe with that out of the way first:


  • The case isn’t tight enough around the screen – there’s a thin gap at the top of the screen big enough to get dust and lint trapped. That’s going to constantly annoy me (although not a lot – it’s very much a 1st world problem).
  • Podcast support is a disaster. It might be fine in the USA, but given that there aren’t regional licensing issues with podcasts, it’s totally unacceptable to leave it so completely broken for everyone else!
  • Not all Windows Phone 7 apps are compatible (TuneIn Radio, for example). I don’t think that has been made clear.
  • Auto-updating of the lockscreen with Bing images doesn’t seem to be working for me (it does work with the HTC option of displaying the weather).
  • I’d like even more live tile sizes (2×1, for example).
  • Data Sense was much-touted, but isn’t there yet, and maybe it never will be on your carrier.

So basically the one thing that annoys me the most about Windows Phone 8 is the totally abysmal podcast support.  It wasn’t wonderful in Windows Phone 7 outside the USA, where you had to sync via Zune before you could subscribe to over-the-air updates on the device, and you could only browse the podcast directory in Zune if you used a registry hack. That said, even if the only thing we could do was enter the address of an RSS feed, that would be better than what we have today in WP8.


I’m sure there are lots of people who will buy one of these phones and never care about podcasts, but for me they’re really important – they’re how I stay current with tech and where I get new music. I usually listen to upwards for four a week while I’m commuting.


On Windows Phone 8, if you open up “music + videos” and then “podcasts”, you get a helpful message suggesting that you add some from the Store, except that there aren’t any podcasts in my Store!


Now, I fully understand why there are regional differences in marketplaces for music, video, books, even some apps. There are content distribution agreements that need to be signed with different regional organisations. That’s fine. It absolutely doesn’t apply to podcasts!


The podcast directory that Microsoft maintains for its US customers is just as valid for customers in the UK, India, Guatemala and everywhere else. I’m sure they’d say that they want to localise the experience so that it highlights podcasts in the right language or of greater local interest (football vs football, etc). Nobody wants to wait for that, especially since they could’ve done it in the last two years if they were going to. If the option is the US podcast store or nothing, then guess what – the most popular podcasts in the world are from the US and are consumed worldwide, so we’d rather have the ability to subscribe to them.


Maybe it’s just that on-demand digital media isn’t the future. Oh… hang on a minute…!

PowerShell v3 on the Get-Scripting Podcast

Last week I had the chance to chat with Jonathan Medd and Alan Renouf on Episode 31 of the Get-Scripting Podcast, which is now available to download. We had a great time recording and covered a lot of ground with PowerShell version 3, so it runs long, but I hope you’ll get as much out of listening to it as we did recording it!


During the recording, I mentioned some Quick Reference Guides, put together by the great guys at PowerShellMagazine.com, but hosted by Microsoft. Microsoft have added a couple more guides since I last looked, so you should definitely check them out.


We also discussed PowerShell at TechEd Europe 2012. All of the sessions are available on-demand, and I especially recommend that people familiar with PowerShell today should watch the recording of Advanced Automation Using Windows PowerShell 3.0 with Mir Rosenberg and Dan Harman.


Hope you enjoy the podcast – we’d love to hear your feedback!

NEBytes March: Bytecast out now, Automation event next week

Next Wednesday (16th March), NEBytes is putting on an Automation Extravaganza in Newcastle, with John Price delivering a session on developing home automation systems, then I’m going to talk about using PowerShell beyond the blue command window.


My session is going to cover a number of different scanarios for taking advantage of PowerShell in different hosts, from those provided by Microsoft to 3rd party solutions, including the web. I hope that some people who think they know what PowerShell is are going to get a bit of a surprise!


To register for the event, head over to Eventbrite.


As well as the in-person events, we’re continuing to produce the NEByes Bytecast, on a new monthly schedule (with some special Mega-Bytecasts coming in the future). Ben Lee and I sat down last Sunday to record Episode 9 and I think we made a good show, featuring discussion of Windows Phone 7 update problems, Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, SSD security, gaming and Apple’s new versions of OS X and the iPad. If those things tickle your fancy, pop over to the NEBytes site to grab the mp3 or subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

Podcast apps on Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone 7 has native support for audio and video podcasts, and frankly it would totally remove the need for 3rd party podcast client apps if it didn’t require new episodes to be downloaded via the Zune software on a PC and synched to the phone. Microsoft know that people want to be able to access podcasts over the air (it has been mentioned on the Windows Phone podcast that they are looking at it as a possible future development), but until they do something about it, there is a market for app developers to do something to alleviate the frustrations of avid podcast consumers.


These are three such examples of podcast apps. I’ve used all of them for enough time to be able to share my opinions of them. One slight disclaimer: if you’re reading this very long after I’ve written it, it’s entirely likely that the applications will have been updated and the functionality changed.


 


PODCASTS!



Free
(Marketplace link)


This was the first general podcast streaming app that I found on WP7 and it’s not terrible considering it’s a free app, but it’s not wonderful either.


It certainly looks quite nice and it has some positive features like the ability to save favourite podcasts from their directory, a recently played list and a featured podcast, helping you discover new shows. Sadly that’s where the good news ends.



The included podcast directory isn’t comprehensive – there were some shows that I searched for that just weren’t present and there’s no way to add an RSS feed for a show they don’t list. I couldn’t find a way to provide feedback to request additions to the directory either; searching the web didn’t find me a website for the app or developer (admittedly I didn’t search too hard, but I shouldn’t have had to). Of the podcasts that are in the directory, some of the descriptions are out of date, and some aren’t in a format that PODCASTS! supports, so can’t be played. Add to that a lack of decent playback controls (no fast forward or rewind) and no bookmarking of your playback position when you have to leave the app, and really it’s a good job that this is a free app.


 



Podceiver 



£1.99 / $1.99
(Marketplace link)


Although this app isn’t free, it offers significant advantages over PODCASTS! which led me to pay the money and use this as a replacement.


A lot of the things that are missing from PODCASTS! are present in Podceiver. You can fast forward and rewind by swiping left or right, and when you pause it remembers your position in the podcast and even integrates with the Music & Videos hub, so you can jump right back to the same place from there (just like you can with Zune content and YouTube). The directory in Podceiver had all of the podcasts that I found missing from PODCASTS! and allows you to add an RSS feed for any that aren’t in there. It also refines your directory search as you type, which is helpful. While PODCASTS! features a single podcast, Podceiver has a list of highlighted podcasts, so it’s even better for discovery.


Nothing is perfect, however, and I have experienced a couple of instances when the phone became totally unresponsive during playback. I’ve been using the app enough to be able to say that this is very rare, and it hasn’t happened enough for me to even tell if there was some kind of pattern of behaviour on my part that caused it. While the playback controls are workable, it would be nice to have fine scrubbing control. On the subject of the player aspect of the app, it doesn’t have a horizontal display mode for audio content (the screen just goes black when you turn it), and when vertical it doesn’t make great use of the screen real estate for audio (it could display the episode notes in the space reserved for video).


It would be great to be able to cache episodes while on wifi, but again this app just does streaming – more on that later. It would also be nice to have a recently player list in the app, since items may disappear from the History in the Music & Videos hub quickly if you’re consuming media in other ways on the device. I’m really nit-picking here, but it would be nice to be able to re-order your favourites, and I know that some people will be upset that there are still ads present in the paid version (although it doesn’t bother me personally).


Something that does stick in the throat a bit is that this app suffers from Microsoft’s dodgy practice of making up exchange rates for pricing outside the USA. $1 does not, and should not equate to £1. That said, I think that the £1.99 I paid for Podceiver is perfectly reasonable, but if you want to try it out without paying that, there is a free trial that is only limited in the number of podcasts you can save as favourites (3). For the foreseeable future, this app is pinned to my home screen. 


 


TWiT



Free
(Marketplace link


There are a few apps that just support specific podcasts; they’re all a bit too niche to bother mentioning here, with the exception of Dmitry Lyalin’s app for Leo Laporte’s TWiT Network. If you’re into tech and podcasts then there’s little chance you haven’t heard of This Week In Tech or one of the other shows under the TWiT banner (Windows Weekly and Tech News Today are the other shows that I keep up with most of the time).


The TWiT app was the first app I saw (from anyone other than a big player like YouTube) that featured really nice integration into the Music & Videos hub. In fact I still think that this app does a better job of that than Podceiver because it handily overlays the episode number on the thumbnail in the recently played History. The app also has a live tile which shows the two most recently released shows on the network.


There are a couple of things that this app does in terms of playback that are better than the others too. There’s a button to skip back 30 seconds, which I’ve found very useful. For those times when you’re distracted by the phone ringing, or when you just want to check if you heard what you think you heard, this is a great feature that I think should be present on all podcast and audiobook players. Add to that the fact that the timeline doubles as a scrubbing control and I think this is as good a 3rd party media player as you’ll find on WP7 today. I’d love to be able to use it for shows outside of the TWiT network (and I’ve already said as much to Dmitry in an email).


 


Unfortunately none of these applications have playback controls as good as the built-in Zune podcast setup, but that fails to meet all the requirements as a mobile podcast client because of this annoying need to sync with the Zune desktop software. This is a smartphone, for goodness sake – it shouldn’t need to talk to a computer to be able to download a media file from a feed, and don’t get me started on the lack of international access to the Zune podcast directory!


Sadly it appears that limitations placed on developers for Windows Phone 7 mean that we aren’t going to get better than streaming for podcasts for now (although it’s rumoured that there may be better API support as early as February which would allow applications to save content locally). Ideally I’d like to see Microsoft make over-the-air support for podcasts native to the OS, but I’m not holding my breath.


The other limitation of the platform as it stands today is that you can only stream podcasts while the app is running in the foreground (with the caveat that they will continue playing behind the lock screen). Just as people cried out for 3rd party background apps on the iPhone for things like Pandora, it’s also desperately needed here. At the moment you could argue that what these apps do isn’t a whole lot better than opening a podcast’s website in the browser and launching an episode from there (which is what I was doing with ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt Show, which wasn’t in the directory in PODCASTS!, but is present in Podceiver).


For now it seems that a podcast solution as neatly integrated and truly portable as Google’s Listen app on Android (which cleverly uses Google Reader as it’s back end database for feeds and tracking which episodes have been played), is a long way away.


p.s. When I wrote this, there was another dedicated podcast app in the marketplace called PodCaster which I ignored based on the reviews in the Marketplace. Some feed reader apps also claim to work as podcast clients, but I think that it’s sensible to keep your podcasts and other RSS feeds separate, not least because it would sometimes be nice to be able to listen and read at the same time, so you don’t want to tie the app up with one or the other. I don’t want to wrap this up without mentioning the NPR Listener app. It may be pretty basic, but it is a quick route to some excellent NPR audio content.