Blacknight–Can’t say enough good things about them!

About two weeks ago, I was having a chat with @deanvmc, and one of the things that we discussed was the setting up of a Hosted Exchange account for our email.  At the time, I had POP3 and IMAP account for my gep13.co.uk and aberdeendevelopers.co.uk domains, and I was quite happy with them, I had never considered using anything else. 

However, the conversation led me to investigate further, and I decided that I wanted a Hosted Exchange account for the gep13.co.uk.  This would allow me to easily hook it up to my Windows Phone 7, as well as provide Outlook Web Access, and all the associated goodies such as Calendars, Contacts, Tasks, etc.

After looking around for a bit I went back to the original company that Dean had mentioned, a company called Blacknight.  I decided their package a try, for a numbers of reasons:

  1. Reasonably well priced
  2. Geographically close (they are based in Ireland)
  3. Support for Exchange 2010
  4. 30 day money back guarantee is not satisfied

A couple emails to support later, as well as chatting to @blacknight on twitter, and my Hosted Exchange account was up and running.  I had access to Webmail, I was connected to it via my Windows Phone 7, and I was connected to it via Outlook on my desktop.  Things really did “just work”, and I really can’t recommend them enough!!

After a couple days, I was on the Blacknight website again, and I happened to look at their web hosting packages, and I was quite literally stunned!!  Hosting for 30 domains, and 30 of each kind of database, or that price?!?  I felt sure something must be wrong!!

So again, a couple emails to support to confirm a couple details, i.e. support for ASP.Net 4.0 and ASP.Net MVC 3, and I was sold!!  My current hosting package runs out in May, but I thought I would grab the hosting package just now, and get everything set up, especially since there are discounts available.

The Blacknight control panel is very intuitive to use, and has access to just about everything that you need to get your websites up and running.  I have to say that there were a couple things missing in the control panel compared to my old host, i.e. the ability to specify that the application pool is running under .Net 4.0, but with the speedy response that I have been getting from the support team, this really isn’t a problem.

I am happy to say that after a few initial small teething problems, my gep13.co.uk site is up and running (again, support were immense throughout this process, I won’t mention names as I don’t think I am “allowed” to, but they have all been very helpful!)

Now that gep13.co.uk is working, I will start the transition of the aberdeendevelopers.co.uk site on their servers as well, but I can’t see any reason why this again shouldn’t “just work”.

On top of the Exchange and Web Hosting, Blacknight also offer another interesting service called rss.me.  I have joined the Beta program for this, and this blog post will actually be the first one which should automatically be picked up by it and posted to my twiiter feed, so fingers crossed!

As the title of this blog post states, I really can’t say enough good things about Blacknight, and if you are in the market for a new web host I would highly encourage you to check them out!!  Keep up the good work guys!

Comprehensive list of applications/configurations for new PC

In the last 3 months, I have had to rebuild 3 separate PC’s, from scratch, i.e. re-format the hard drive, re-install OS, and put all applications back on again.  All of them have been development rigs, my home desktop, my personal laptop, and work development machine.

Each time I did this, I had to think about what applications I wanted to install, and what configuration changes I have to make to each application once installed.  What was missing is a comprehensive list of what to install, and what to configure, so this is where this blog post is going to come in.

It will serve as a reference to me when I need to re-install again.  My aim is to keep it up to date with any “new” applications I add to my systems.  The order in which the applications appear in their groups is typically the order in which I install them.

NOTE: Most Applications are freely available on the Internet, however, some are licensed directly to me, either through an MSDN Subscription, or applications which I have personally bought, so please ensure you have the necessary licenses to use any of the below applications.

Operating System

  • Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit Edition
    • Run Microsoft Update (multiple times) to ensure latest updates
    • This typically includes Windows Live Essentials

Security Applications

See related blog post.

Browsers (mainly used for debugging applications)

  • Chrome (default browser)
  • Internet Explorer 9
  • FireFox 4
    • FireBug
  • Opera

Applications

  • Office 2010
    • Outlook Connector for Hotmail – and set up connection of hotmail account
    • Outlook Connector for LinkedIn
    • Outlook Connector for Facebook
    • Outlook Connector for Windows Live Messenger
    • Connect to Exchange account for gep13.co.uk
  • Virtual Clone Drive
  • Jing (I used to use PrtScr, but an tending more towards Jing just now, haven’t yet bought the Pro Version, but I am thinking about it)
  • 7-zip
  • LogMeIn
  • Zune
  • iTunes
  • FileZilla
  • VLC
  • Paint.Net
  • WinMerge
  • kDiff
  • TextPad
  • Skype
  • UltraMon
  • AutoRuns
  • ProcessExplorer
  • ProcessMonitor
  • CDBurnerXP
  • WinDirStat
  • Windows XP Mode and Virtual PC
  • FoxIt – Acrobat Reader is just too slow
  • CutePDF Writer
  • Amazon Kindle App
  • LastPass
  • XMarks
  • ShellRunAs
  • Windows Live Essentials
  • FeedDemon
  • VMWare Player
  • VMWare Converter
  • FreeFileSync
  • DropBox
  • Image Resizer For Windows
  • Mouse Without Borders
  • Lync

Development Applications

  • Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate (Custom Install)
  • Web Platform Installer 3.0
    • ASP.Net MVC 3
    • SQL Server Express 2008 R2
    • Microsoft SQL Server Compact 4.0
    • IIS 7 Recommended Configuration
    • IIS 7.5 Express
    • Web Deployment Tool 2.0
    • Web Farm Framework
    • URL Rewrite 2.0
    • Silverlight 4 Tools for Visual Studio 2010
    • Visual Studio 2010 SP1
    • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 SP1 Tools for SQL Server Compact Edition
    • Microsoft WebMatrix
    • ASP.Net MVC 3 Language Packs
    • ASP.Net Web Pages
    • ASP.Net Web Pages Language Packs
    • Microsoft SQL Serve Compact 4.0 Tools
    • SQL Server 2008 R2 Management Studio Express
    • Windows PowerShell 2.0
    • Silverlight 4 Toolkit April 2010 Release
    • Web Deployment Tool 1.1
  • Expression Studio 4
  • StyleCop
  • Team Foundation Server Basic (only on my desktop machine)
  • Fiddler
  • Windows Phone Developer Tools
  • Microsoft SharedView
  • NUnit
  • Putty
  • MSBuild Community Tasks

Social Networking

  • MetroTwit (default application)
Video Streaming

Post Installation Configurations

  • Setup WinMerge and kDiff in Visual Studio
  • Turn on Visual Studio Line Numbers
  • Set up Windows Explorer
  • Set up Microsoft OneNote to talk to SkyDrive
  • Configure Virtual Clone Drive to remember last mounted iso across reboots
  • Do another Microsoft Update to ensure everything is up to date
  • Run full virus and spyware scan
  • Run full defrag using Auslogics
  • Set up backup to Synology Server

Is there anything obviously missing from the above?  I would be very interested to find out what other applications people are using, especially from a development stand point.

My first StyleCop presentation

On the 24th March 2011, I gave what I am considering to be my first “proper” community presentation at the Aberdeen Developers .Net User Group (#ADNUG).  When the user group first started, I also did a presentation entitled “Visual Studio 2010 – An Introduction”, but I regarded this as a demonstration of Visual Studio 2010, and the great tooling support that had been added to this release, rather than a full talk on a subject.

Enter “StyleCop – Breaking down the barriers to entry”

I have been a long time advocate of StyleCop, and I was responsible for helping set this up within the development team that I am currently working in.  In addition, I have been “toying” with the idea of getting into doing community speaking, and StyleCop seemed like a good entry point for this. 

This talk was very much inspired by the excellent talk that I saw by Guy Smith-Ferrier when I was at DDD9 in January.  However, I tried to take it a little bit further and explain the real world hurdles that stands in the way of a development team implementing StyleCop in their applications, drawing on the problems that I had personally faced in implementing StyleCop in my team.

On the night, I am happy to say that I think the talk went down really well, although there were a couple fumbles as I tried to remember the order that my slides were in, and the demo where I tried to debug a custom StyleCop rule using two instances of Visual Studio didn’t want to work Sad smile.  If you attended the talk, I would be very interested to hear any feedback that you have, good and bad.  This is the only way in which I can get better.

I am also happy to say that this was the first night where I was able to give away lots of swag to the User Group members, and this will continue for the foreseeable future, with hopefully more prizes being added as we go.

A big thanks has to go to Emma for the lend of her hat for drawing the names for the prizes!  I am going to have to sort out a proper way of doing this for the next meeting (but just in case, if you could bring your hat again, that would be great!!).  If anyone has any novel ideas about how we can auction off these prizes, then feel free to let me know.

The slides from my presentation can be found here, and the demo code that I used can be found here.  If you have any questions, then please feel free to get in touch!

A tool to synchronise Visual Studio 2010 Extensions

A while back on Twitter I was having a conversation with Paul Stack (@stack72), in which Paul suggested that there was a fundamental ability missing from the Visual Studio 2010 Extension Manager.  Namely, the ability to synchronise Extensions across multiple Visual Studio 2010 instances.  The upshot of this conversation was a blog post from Paul which you can see here.

Moving forward a month, I got another Tweet from Paul saying that he has solved this problem with the help of Latish Sehgal (@Latish) and his ExtensionSync Visual Studio 2010 Extension.  You can find Paul’s blog post about this here, and more information on Latish’s blog here.

As soon as I heard about this, I immediately set about getting this installed, and tested between Visual Studio 2010 on my work machine, and Visual Studio 2010 on my home machine.  I am happy to say that “it just worked!” 

The only difference in my setup, compared to the example in Latish’s video, I am using Live Mesh to do the sync’ing, rather than DropBox. However, as long as you can get the settings file “shared” between the two machines, there is no reason why you can’t get this working, even if that means emailing the file to your other machine.

With all that set up and running, I thought my work was done.  However, after another conversation with Paul, again via the medium of Twitter (I think I might be addicted to that now), I realised that I had missed a trick!!

This extension, not only provided me with the ability to synchronise my own extensions, but it also provided the ability to synchronise the extensions that are used within a team of developers.  At the minute, I am in the process of upgrading a Visual Studio 2008 solution into Visual Studio 2010, and once that is complete, I will be rolling out a base Visual Studio 2010 Virtual Machine for all the developers to use.  Out of the box, I can make sure that each Virtual Machine has the same extensions, but what if new ones come out that each developer should have?

Sure, I could send out an email to everyone to say, “get this extension installed”, but it would just be plain simpler if that happened automatically.  That way, I can ensure a consistent development environment across all the development machines. 

So, with this in mind, I set up a mapped drive on a common server that each Virtual Machine will be able to hit, and I configured ExtensionSync to use this mapped drive, and again “it just worked!”.

A big thanks to Latish for creating this Extension, and to Paul for the ideas!!

Visual Studio 2010 Compare and Merge Tool Configuration

Out of the box, Visual Studio offers up the ability to compare and merge files.  This ability is invaluable when you are trying to check something in, and there have been changes since you last checked in and you need to merge the changes, or you want to look at the differences in a file between check ins.

However, it has been my experience that the built in tools are just not that great, and there are better tools out there.  My tools of choice are kdiff and winmerge

The good news is that with a few simple steps, these tools can be added into the Visual Studio configuration so that the built in operations of comparing and merging use these tools, rather than the built in ones.

Note: I am assuming that you are using Visual Studio 2010 and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server as your Source Control Provider and Windows 7 64 Bit Edition.  If you are using anything other than this, the screenshots and the paths to executables may be different.

Follow these steps to configure this:

  • Install WinMerge
  • Install KDIff3
  • Open Visual Studio 2010
  • Select Tools | Options and in the tree, select “Source Control”
  • Change the "Current source control plug-in" DropDownList to be "Visual Studio Team Foundation Server"

    image

  • Select "Visual Studio Team Foundation Server" in the tree under "Source Control"
  • Click the "Configure User Tools…" button

    image

  • Click the "Add…" button

    image

  • For the "Extension" put ".*" (without the quotes)
  • For the "Operation" put "Compare"
  • For the "Command" put "C:\Program Files (x86)\WinMerge\WinMergeU.exe" (without the quotes)
  • For the "Arguments" put "/ub /dl %6 /dr %7 %1 %2" (without the quotes)
  • Hit "OK"

    image

  • Click the "Add…" button
  • For the "Extension" put ".*" (without the quotes)
  • For the "Operation" put "Merge"
  • For the "Command" put “C:\Program Files (x86)\KDiff3\kdiff3.exe" (without the quotes)
  • For the "Arguments" put "%3 –fname %8 %2 –fname %7 %1 –fname %6 -o %4" (without the quotes)
  • Hit "OK"

    image

  • Hit "OK"
  • Hit "OK"

WordPress Plugins used on blog

On this site, I am starting to use a large number of WordPress plugins.  These range from plugins for SMTP configuration to showing my Tweets.  To aid an aging brain, I am going to note these plugins here, and will update this post as I add/remove plugins from my blog.

Are there any others that you can recommend?

EDIT: Just found this article thanks to @blacknight:

http://webdesignfan.com/20-incredibly-useful-wordpress-plugins/

I’ve just registered for DDD Scotland, have you?

I have just secured my place at the upcoming DDD Scotland Event, which is taking place at the Glasgow Caledonian University on Saturday, 7th May 2011.  If you haven’t already done so, you can register for the event here.

There were some VERY interesting sessions proposed for the day long activities (5 tracks, with 5 sessions in each), which you can see here, but the final list of chosen sessions can be found here.  I have been reliably informed by @argibson that this list will make it onto the main DDD Scotland site once the final confirmations have been received from the speakers.  The hard part now is to decide what sessions I want to attend!!

Hot on the heels of DDD9, I am very much looking forward to attending DDD Scotland, and I would highly recommend everyone to attend.

In addition to the 5 main tracks, there are rumours circulating about a 6th, “alternative”, track in the planning stages, which I am very interested to hear more about.

Keep up the good work guys!!

Confirmed swag for ADNUG events

For the last few weeks, I have been getting in contact with various companies to try to drum up some support for the Aberdeen Developers .Net User Group.

I have been able to confirm some of the swag that we will now be able to give away at each of the Aberdeen Developers .Net User Group Meetings.  During each event, I will have great pleasure in giving away the following:

    For your chance to win one of the above, all you have to do is register and turn up for one of our User Group Meetings.

In addition, I have also been able to establish a User Group discount for the purchase of books through Manning Books:

http://www.manning.com/

I will give some more details out about this on the night, but this will ONLY be available to registered members of the site, so if you haven’t yet registered with us, then I strongly suggest that you do so, as we can get a 36% for all purchases.

And thanks again to all of our sponsors for their generosity and support of our .Net User Group!!

Synology Server DSM Upgrade

Yesterday I found out that there was a new version of the DSM (DiskStation Manager) for my Synology DS410 Server, so after downloading the correct version (I incorrectly downloaded the DSM for the DS1511+, if only I could afford one of those!!), I set about installing it.

I have always been a little bit worried about doing one of these upgrades.  I am using the Synology Server as the main location for basically all of my files, so if something were to go wrong during the upgrade I would be at a loss for a while until I put everything back together.

On the bright side, Synology are VERY good at what they do, and I am happy to report that the installation of DSM 3.1-1594 went off without any problems!

This update brings a redesign to the following packages to provide an easy-to-use experience:

  • Download Station 3
  • Audio Station 3
  • Photo Station
  • Surveillance Station

In addition, there is a brand new Mail Station 2 package to provide multiple SMTP Servers, and multiple email account fetching.  Recently, I have moved away from trying to host my own mail server, as I found it just too much work for little reward, however, I may have to re-think this given this new offering!

The best feature for me though would have to be the “Auto DSM Update”.  This will save a lot of hassle and concern, by allowing the Synology Server to maintain itself.

I am still VERY tempted to play with the Surveillance Station.  I don’t have a network camera just now, but I have just found out that you can use the DS Cam application on an iPhone/Android enabled phone, so I think the wife’s phone phone might be getting a work out soon!!