Google Keep, Google Reader and Trusting the Cloud


Today Google released a new note-taking and to-do application called Keep.  New Google tools are always interesting, but this one should particularly interest me as I’ve used OneNote, and to a lesser extent Evernote, for years now.  I’ve got a huge amount of notes and diagrams stashed away, and having it all in one place in a single app that lets me organise and search it is genuinely useful.

So why has Keep left me in two minds?  On the face of it Keep looks like a great little app, the video above shows roughly what it looks like and does – nice eh?  I use Google Apps for my mail and other stuff so it should be perfect…

And yet Google’s recent retirement of it’s Reader application has left me with questions.  Every year Google has a spring clean, announcing the closure of a few tools or apps with a few months notice.  The first big one was Google Wave, and last week they announced Reader was on its way out, but they are just two of many.  Each will have had enthusiastic users left out in the cold, Reader more than most I imagine.

The ease with which Google has turned off Reader does beg the question of whether investing time and information into Keep is going to be worth it.  Sure its free, but there are other free note-taking apps out there.  Evernote is the obvious one, they’re successful enough to rely on and its their core business – they’re probably not going to turn it off.

Maybe I’m stuck in the past, thinking back to the days when you had applications on dvd’s that will always work… but I also see the huge value of the dynamic development the cloud apps bring.  IMHO if the likes of Google are going to keep the trust they’ve earned from their customers they’ll need to start being more open about product lifecycles and support policies.

Enabling two-finger Right-click in Windows

If you use a MacBook for long and then go back to a PC laptop you’ll probably get quite annoyed by the fact that you can’t right-clicking by tapping with two fingers. At least I was. While the option seems to exist in the drivers for the commonly used Synanaptics touchpad, it doesn’t seem to work. That’s ok though as there’s a registry key that does!

All the normal warnings about registry editing apply, but simply open up the registry editor by going to Start > Run and typing Regedit in Windows 7, or in Windows 8 type Regedit at the start screen.

Once open navigate to:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Software > Synaptics > SynTP > TouchpadPS2

There, right click and select New, DWORD Value. Name the value ‘2FingerTapAction’. Once created, double click it and set the Value Data to ‘2’. If you want a three finger tap to be a middle-click, create another called ‘3FingerTapAction’ and set it to ‘4’.

Then log off and log on, and it should all work. Easy.

Microsoft User Experience Virtualization

Who dreams up these names eh?  Who knows… Well actually I do, usually it’s Microsoft.  User Experience Virtualisation is a new user state virtualisation tool that’s just gone into public beta.

Whatever OS you use, all of your personal settings and preferences are likely to be kept together separate from others so that each person that uses the computer can customise it to their liking.  These profiles hold details of the OS setup, application specific config and even documents.  In both Windows 7 and Mac OS X this all sits in the ‘Users’ folder.  That’s all well and good, but what if you use more than one computer?

These days the ability to make this profile information available across many (or any) computers is called User Virtualisation, or in MS’s parlance User State Virtualisation.  In my day it was just plain ol’ roaming profiles.  Whatever the name you give it, people have always liked being able to logon and use to any computer, and today companies are increasing looking to centralise their computing using technologies like VDI.   In doing this they might just issue people a different random computer every day, or have apps delivered from many different remote computers.  This capability then is as important as ever.

There a number of ways to do this of course, out the box Windows has ‘Roaming Profiles’, companies like AppSense will sell you dedicated solutions and both Citrix and VMWare provide tools in support of their desktop virtualisation tools.  It’s interesting to then that Microsoft is adding a new tool to their Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP) called suitably, Microsoft User Experience Virtualisation. 

Having taken a quick look at UEV, it seems to be a good step up from roaming profiles in terms of how and when the personal settings are applied, but it does seem to introduce a host of new management requirements. 

One of the big limitations of Roaming Profiles is that the sync only ever happens at logon and logoff.  It looks like EUV is much more flexible, applying application settings when applications start and close, and Windows settings on logon, when the computer is locked and when you connect to a remote computer. 

This should work well when users roam between computers or use applications presented from different systems (local, App-V, VDI, etc).  In theory you could also use it to restore settings following a computer rebuild.

The down side is that it achieves this by having specific ‘Settings Location Templates’ for each application you want UEV to process.  The template tells the agent which application to monitor, and what registry keys and files need to be saved and applied.  Whilst this does ensure that only the setting you want are processed, if you have lots of applications creating the templates could potentially be a lot of additional work – especially if you’ve already gone through the hassle of compatibility testing and packaging/sequencing your apps for Windows 7.   If you’re waiting for Windows 8 however it would be worth taking a look so you can incorporate this into application planning.

The beta of UEV is available now from the Connect site.

Apple Mac OSX Wi-Fi Diagnostic Tools

Like a colleague of mine, for the last few weeks I’ve had some random issues with my home Wi-Fi network dropping out.  It’ seems pretty random, though happens more in the evening – just when I’m likely to be using it.

It’s an odd problem, especially as its cause is normally invisible interference, the only symptom is the Wi-Fi not working.  I figured that that there must be some tools out there that could help identify the cause, hopefully visualising it in some way so I can see what’s happening. 

I’ve posted before about a Windows tool called inSSIDer that does a good job identifying other wireless networks around you.  Keeping an eye on this few a few days ruled out a competing Wi-Fi network, and to be honest I doubt another wireless work could kill my network as completely as I’ve been seeing – they’re designed to be tolerant of that sort of thing.

I also did quick search for Mac tools, there doesn’t seem to be much out there, but a few sources did point to a native tools included in Lion, Apples own Wi-Fi Diagnostics.  It’s not all that easy to find if you don’t know it’s there, but you’ll find it in the /System/Library/CoreServices/Wi-Fi Diagnostics folder.

In Finder click the Go menu and ‘Go To Folder…
Enter in /System/Library/CoreServices/Wi-Fi Diagnostics and you’ll find at the bottom

Start it up and you’ll be given four options:

Apple Mac OSX Snow Lion Wi-fi Diagnostics


The first, monitor performance give you a simple chart of both signal and noise strength over time – this is really very handy, it showed me that when my network drops out the amount of noise sky rockets way above the signal strength.


Apple Mac OSX Snow Lion Wi-fi Diagnostics


The second option shows a log of significant events that happen on your network, such as joining a different network or changing AP.  I didn’t bother with a screen shot as not much really happens in here and it’ll mostly be empty.

The third option allows you to do a full packet capture of the traffic on your network, the traffic to and from your computer or traffic on nearby networks.  These can be saved in the standard .pcap format and opened up in wireshark, but you can’t view them in real-time using the tool itself.

The last option shows a detailed log of what’s happening on the network, I don’t pretend to understand that much about what’s happening but I’d assume it’s useful into on the right hands!

Apple Mac OSX Snow Lion Wi-fi Diagnostics


So there you go, if you have a Mac there’s a handy little tool hidden away within it that could help troubleshoot Wi-Fi problems.  Now I just need to figure out what might cause three 30 second bursts of 2.4GHz interference over a three minute period and therefore stops me streaming movies to my Xbox!

DirectAccess and OCS / Lync Edge Services

It’s been a while since I posted anything about DirectAccess, and while this isn’t new info I thought it was worth sharing.

DirectAccess (DA) is a remote access technology included in Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2.  Unlike traditional VPN solutions it establishes a connection into a private network automatically, and transparently.  From the end users perspective once a connection to the internet is made, they can access both websites and any internal resources such as email or file shares.

It’s not all easy going however, as DirectAccess uses IPv6 there are some services which just don’t work well over a DirectAccess tunnel, for example Office Communications Server or Lync.  There are also services such as Outlook Web Access which are typically published to the internet anyway so are better accessed directly.

As DirectAccess gives the remote client access to both the internet directly, and internal services through the DA tunnel, its perfectly possible to access external and internal resources.  To configure this you can specify whether a given DNS name is resolved via the DNS server allocated from the ISP or via the DNS servers on the internal network. This is achieved using the Name Resolution Policy Table (NRPT) which is used to define which namespaces (domains) or DNS records should be resolved where.

Generally this is pretty easy, you use the table to direct your internal namespace down the DA tunnel.  Where you encounter exceptions such as OCS or Lync which may use the internal namespace but should be accessed externally, you can add specific DNS names to the NRPT as exceptions to the NRPT.

DirectAccess with Edge Services

So for example, you may have an internal namespace of with OCS installed.  You’ll probably have a ‘’ SIP address, and OCS will usually be accessed via the name both internally and externally.  If you add DirectAccess you would configure the NRPT to resolve * addresses via the internal DNS – and therefore access them on the internal namespace over DA – but with exceptions (see below) to ensure that the OCS DNS records are resolved externally and therefore via the internet.

You configure an NRPT exception by adding the relevant fully qualified DNS record, but without an associated DirectAccess DNS server address.  Without the server address the client will use the local ISP assigned DNS server to resolve the address.

As an example, for OCS you’d need to configure exceptions for the following:

Service records (SRV) for auto-config


<Your Access Edge>

<Your Web Conferencing Edge>

<Your AV Edge>

For more info on how the NRPT works, the MS Cable Guys did a pretty good write up here.