Mailbag: July 4, 2010

This week in the mailbag:

Save Money with a New TechNet Subscription Professional Promo
Programs I Leave Running in the Background
Xbox Live Gold Family Pack
iPhone 4 and iOS 4 Issues with Exchange Server
Reverting an iPhone 3G to Pre-iOS4

Have a question? I can't guarantee an answer, but I'll try. Drop me a note! (And let me know if you'd prefer not to have your name published.)

Save Money with a New TechNet Subscription Professional Promo

If you've been following along with my Windows 7 Tip of the Week series, you're familiar with the tremendous savings you can incur by purchasing a TechNet subscription. There are now two types of TechNet subscriptions, TechNet Subscription Standard and TechNet Subscription Professional (previously called TechNet Plus). The Professional version comes with more stuff--primarily enterprise software--but costs more. But Microsoft usually provides temporary coupon codes for the Professional subscrition which you can use to bring the price down quite a bit. And thanks to Gavin Brice, here's some information about a new coupon code:

Your April 9 Tip of the Week about TechNet Plus included a tip about a 25 percent discount. [As of] June 30, 2010 it appears the TechNet Plus (renamed TechNet Pro) discount has expired.

Happily, there is ANOTHER discount for the newly-renamed TechNet Pro (only), still 25 percent off, and it expires July 31, 2010.

At the TechNet subscription page select the PRO version and enter the promo code TNWNF. After clicking the 'Continue' button the $349 price drops to $261.75 + tax. See for yourself.

I know, it costs more than the Standard subscription, but a good deal for some. Includes double the E-Learning courses (12 instead of 6), 2 free Support Calls (plus discount on subsequent calls) and Enterprise software for them as might need/want it.

Great information, thanks. And no, I don't know of a similar code for TechNet Subscription Standard which, at just $199, is a tremendous bargain of course.

Programs I Leave Running in the Background

I have a page on this site called What I Use that lists the hardware and software I use on a regular basis, and because of the nature of my job, this changes from month-to-month, it can sometimes change pretty dramatically. Noting this and my section on performance tweaks in Windows 7 Secrets, Mark P. asks:

Out of curiosity, what is the list of TSR?s or system tray utilities/programs you normally load?

First, you should consider checking out the very useful utility Soluto, which Leo and I recommended as a software pick of the week in episode 162 of the Windows Weekly podcast. This will help you minimize the junk that runs at start time, and thus speed your PC's boot time and help optimize Windows' use of resources. I've used this on a number of PCs and it's always offered up some tremendous savings.

As for my own in-resident background processes that provide tray icons, I sort of consider these items in two ways, those that I leave visible, and those that I leave running but hide in the Windows 7 "hidden icons" pop-up provided by the notification area. The visible icons include the stock set of Windows 7 tray icons, Windows Live Sync (formerly Live Mesh) and Windows Home Server (which provides a network health alert when needed). The hidden icons include Wakoopa (which tracks which applications I use), AnyDVD (for DVD ripping and playback optimization), and Microsoft Security Essentials/Windows InTune Malware Protection.


Xbox Live Gold Family Pack

Todd C. asks:

Was wondering if you have details on the new Microsoft Family Pack for live memberships? Sounds like four accounts for $100. When will it be available? My home with two kids, that will be great.

According to Microsoft, the Xbox Live Gold Family Pack will ship in November and will offer up to four individual Xbox LIVE Gold memberships for $99.99 a year, which is the cost, currently, of two such subscriptions. As Microsoft notes:

Perfect for families, the Xbox LIVE Gold Family Pack will also offer access to additional conveniences and services including the new Family Center, accessible on the Xbox dashboard and Xbox.com for easier family management, access to activity monitoring reports, and the ability to purchase and give Microsoft Points to other Xbox LIVE Gold Family Pack members.

An Xbox LIVE Gold Family Pack includes:

  • Up to four individual Xbox LIVE Gold memberships for the price of two ? (US) $99.99.
  • Family Center ? a single, easy to use, destination for Family Settings and account management, accessible on the Xbox dashboard and on Xbox.com.
  • The primary account member has the ability to purchase and dispense Microsoft Points to other Xbox LIVE Gold Family Pack members.
  • Activity monitoring reports viewable on Xbox.com to help encourage discussions about safer more balanced gaming and entertainment habits.
  • Simplified billing that applies all purchase charges to the primary account holder?s billing account and the ability to authorize purchases, helping to manage the family?s entertainment budget.
  • Exclusive family content and discounts.

The industry-leading, built-in Xbox 360 Family Settings are also being taken to the next level this November. It's Microsoft's goal to provide parents and caregivers with tools and resources to manage their children's gaming and entertainment experiences, and these features are available to all Xbox LIVE members:

  • Family Programming that removes all mature games, movies, and content from the dashboard, based on ESRB, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings and the TV Parental Guidelines system . Family Programming is password protected, and easy to turn on and off for each member. (Compatible with international ratings systems.)
  • Title exceptions ? the ability to allow your family members to play specific games above the console?s designated ESRB rating if you deem appropriate. (Compatible with international ratings systems.)
  • Intelligent default settings for child, teen, and adult profiles. Xbox will automatically assign default privacy and activity settings for each member that can later be individually customized.
  • Family Settings are displayed prominently in the MyXbox channel. Current tools include the Family Timer, which allows you to control the amount of time - either daily or weekly - your children may use the console.

Anyone else see the problem with this? Right: It's not shipping until November. Come on, guys. Stop announcing stuff six months ahead of time. All this does it make the lack of a Family Pack--and decent parental controls--frustrating now. Why this can't ship before November is unclear to me. You have to think it's already been in the planning stages for months as it is.

iPhone 4 and iOS 4 Issues with Exchange Server

Apple's secrecy needs require the company to ineffectively test its hardware and software products before releasing them to the public and then ship updates later to address the inevitable problems. This has always been the case with Steve Jobs' Apple, and while it didn't get a lot of press in the past--Apple fanatics are keen to keep such things quiet--as the company's products have gotten more popular with the less protective general public, it's become an issue. With the release of the iPhone 4, things have come to a head. This device shipped with a major and embarassing antennae reception error, yellow spots on the screen, and Exchange connection issues. I can't help with the first two issues, since they're hardware defects. But Marko S. forwarded word about Microsoft's take on the Exchange connection issues:

Recently Apple released iOS 4 (the new name for the operating system that runs on iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads). Since its release there have been numerous reports (link, link, link) of a number of issues with new iPhone 4s (and older iPhone models running the updated software version) when using Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). I wanted to put up a quick posting about what issues users may be seeing and what we?re doing about it.

Issues:

1. Exchange administrators are seeing heavier than normal loads on their servers from users with iOS devices: We are in contact with Apple?s engineering team and are trying to help them fix this issue. In the meantime Apple has released a support article (link) which directs administrators who are experiencing this issue to push an iOS profile (link) that changes the timeout their Exchange ActiveSync connection uses to their users to four minutes which should be long enough for the vast majority of users.

2. Email, calendar, or contacts are not syncing: We believe this is the same issue as #1.

3. iPhone is not working with Google Apps over Exchange ActiveSync: Google licenses the server portion of Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft (link) but Google wrote their own software to implement the protocol. Google is responsible for making sure their implementation of Exchange ActiveSync runs correctly and in this case Google claims that they had a server issue (link).

We have been in contact with Apple about each of these issues (as well as some others that seem to not be directly related to EAS but are more email related in general). Apple has assured us that a fix is being worked on though they have not commented on a release timeline for the fix. We will be continuing to work with Apple to help resolve the current issues relating to iOS 4 using Exchange ActiveSync.

That bolded bit above is mine. Again, this is typical for Apple: Release a buggy product and then fix it after the fact. As I've noted on Windows Weekly, that kind of behavior is cute when you're the scrappy upstart. But Apple earns billions of dollars in revenues a quarter and has millions of customers. It's time to grow up and test your products properly before unleashing them on the public. Obviously.

Reverting an iPhone 3G to Pre-iOS4

I noted in last week's Mailbag that many readers have had unsatisfactory results running iOS 4 on a 2008-era iPhone 3G. Reading this, Gordon T. wrote in with:

You are not alone.

I unfortunately got landed with an iPhone 3G at work. I fought hard against it but was overruled.

I recently installed the iOS4 upgrade and my phone is now very sluggish just like yours and some apps simply won?t load at all.

There are no updates available for these apps (at least as of now).

I desperately want to revert to the older OS but can?t find any way to do so (no reference to it that I can find on Apple?s web site or anywhere else). If you find a means of doing so and can publish it you would be doing very many people a great favour.

I don?t know what apple were thinking of, but it is clear that this version on iOS4 is not suitable for the iPhone 3G and should never have been released for it.

For whatever it's worth, a few people also wrote in noting that they experience no performance issues on an iPhone 3G.

As for my own iPhone 3G, after spending a frustrating week with it during a cross-country drive, I resolved that something had to be done. To be clear, this phone was experiencing performance problems from about October of last year through January, when I replaced it with an iPhone 3GS as my contract came up. But after the 3GS was stolen, I had to revert to the 3G, and it's been just awful using it. If anything, iOS 4 made it even worse. I visited the AT&T Store and then the Apple Store this weekend and ended up getting a 2010-era iPhone 3GS (with 8 GB) for $300. It was pretty much my cheapest option (other than getting an inexpensive feature phone and then using that on my expensive monthly iPhone subscription), and given the problems, I was happy to pay it.

As for reverting from iOS 4 to iPhone OS 3.x, there are a number of resources out there, and you do not need to "jailbreak" the phone to make it work. What you need is a web site that offers older iPhone OS firmware versions. I cannot verify that this site is valid, but if you are at your wit's end and would like to give it a shot, check out the iPod, iPhone and iPad Firmware Download site. Search the list for your iPhone type, and grab the last pre-iOS 4 release (which appears to be 3.1.3 (7E18). Download it, and then load up iTunes and restore your iPhone 3G by holding down the SHIFT key on the keyboard; this will cause iTunes to pop-up an Open dialog box so you can specify the firmware you downloaded instead of the latest one available online. Be careful. Could this "brick" your phone? Maybe, and all the usual caveats apply about taking responsibility for doing this falls on your own shoulders, etc. etc.

That's the gist of it. But there must be a decent guide for this somewhere, one that caters to Windows users too. Does anyone know of such a thing? Please let me know so I can add it here.

Update: Numerous readers pointed me to a Lifehacker article called How To Downgrade From iOS 4 To iPhone 3.1.3 that explains how to do this properly. Thanks everyone!

Happy 4th of July! More next week...