Mailbag: August 29, 2010

This week in the mailbag:

Facebook and Windows Phone Integration
Does Games for Windows - LIVE Have a Future?
Swapping Homes and Computer Security
eBook Lending Libraries
Windows Phone 7 Common Connector?
Windows Home Server: Pull The Trigger Now, or Wait?

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.)

Facebook and Windows Phone Integration

Martin A. asks:

Anticipating the Windows Phone 7 release, I used the Windows Live Messenger Beta Refresh to connect my Facebook account to my Live ID, and I have a Facebook category in my Messenger contacts list, but it doesn't just list the friends from Facebook, but also pages I have liked, and pages of items like TV Shows I have listed as ones I like. Is this the same behaviour as on the phone, or does that distinguish between facebook groups, pages, and friends?

Facebook content can find its way onto Windows Phone in two ways, implicitly through the Windows Live Messenger Social/What's New feed, and explicitly via a Facebook account type.

Through Windows Live, you'll get updates from your Facebook contacts' updates in the People hub's What's New feed and their photo uploads in the Picture hub's What's New feed. (For a rough preview of what types of Facebook content are transmitted via Windows Live, check out the feed on the Windows Live Home page: You'll see it under the heading Messenger Social.)

If you explicitly add a Facebook account to Windows Phone, you'll get your Facebook contacts in the People hub contacts list as well.

Currently, that's the entire set of functionality you can get via Facebook.

Does Games for Windows - LIVE Have a Future?

Scott Y. asks:

Any thoughts on what will happen to Games for Windows - LIVE with the Windows Phone 7 launch? It looks like Microsoft is targeting Xbox 360 users with the Games hub but PC gamers are left in the cold. I understand that PC gamers have not had a great relationship with the product and wonder if the convergence of WP7 and Xbox means the days are numbered for the service.

They'll continue with Games for Windows Live. I think the expectation is that Windows Phone will actually have a positive impact on it because developers will be able to easily target all three Microsoft games platforms--Xbox, Windows Phone, Windows--using a single code base.


Swapping Homes and Computer Security

Par P. asks:

You've written about your homeswaps a few times now, but so far I can't remember you describing how you go about securing your computers while opening your house for complete strangers (and to us Europeans at that!). Of course, I assume you won't even let them near your Home Servers, your main workstation and so on, but are they allowed some kind of computer and/or internet access, do you leave your Xbox 360 for them to use and so on. I'm just curious about your perspective on this - close down everything, or allow at least a bit (guest user account or something like that)?

Obviously, there does need to be some level of trust here. I leave my primary PC available to them with with their own account, but I've removed all my data from the machine. My home server is physically accessible to them, but not electronically, as they don't have a logon. That was backed up before we left, and the backup is at my parents' house (they happen to live in the same town, which is handy). Because I don't really know these people, I did bring over a bin of electronics and PCs to my parents' home as well. I connected to the home server remotely every couple of days to backup photos and work-related documents, so at least I knew it was still there and working properly.

This year was at least the third time where the people we swapped with had their own Xbox 360. So we brought my son's hard drive to Europe so he could play their games on his account (and they can do vice versa); what doesn't work is the games: You can't bring a US-based Xbox 360 game title to Europe (or vice versa) because of content protection restrictions.

For us, this year also marked the second year in a row in which the house we stayed in in Europe was both well connected (from a broadband perspective) and well-stocked with technology; they had a gorgeous DLNA-compatible HDTV, an Xbox 360, a Popcorn Hour media player, and other technology that helped us and the kids make the transition. This isn't always the case of course.

eBook Lending Libraries

Leopoldo M. asks:

My wife got a Kindle. She rarely buys books unless they are the best of the best of which she has read. She is a big advocate for utilizing the library and believes why buy books when you can check them out for free? Anyway, my question: Is there a place where my wife can "check out" a book rather than purchase one? Of course I don't expect this to be free like the local library but maybe for a minimal monthly free to be able to "check out" a book before it expires on a certain due date?

Some libraries do allow eBook lending that is Kindle-compatible (mine does not). It would be worth checking with your local library to see if this is a possibility. My own wife feels similarly to yours, for whatever that's worth, and still does read physical books from the library. But she mostly uses her Kindle for the daily newspaper plus the occasional book.

To which Leopoldo responded with some truly useful information:

This cool site has a list of libraries that offer eBook lending by state: EBook Lending Libraries.

Windows Phone 7 Common Connector?

Shawn L. asks:

I know Windows phone 7 will use the Zune software. Will it use the Zune cable too? Or does it have its own electrical/data cable interface?

The reason I ask is the dearth of Zune accessories (speakers, docks, etc) that exist and whether the Windows Phone 7 may spark a resurgence in Zune compatible hardware.

Its probably time Microsoft and other manufacturers standardized on an "open" electrical interface so accessory manufacturers had a larger market to target. I presume apple won't be licensing their patented interface to others.

Microsoft isn't requiring a particular connector, so all Windows Phone device makers will use some form of USB, and not a Zune-type connector. But it won't be standardized across all Windows Phones. This is too bad in my opinion, because the wealth of Windows Phone models would have popularized this connector types in ways that the Zune devices never could.

Windows Home Server: Pull The Trigger Now, or Wait?

Mark D. asks a question I get fairly frequently, though my answer has now changed:

Should I wait for the new version of Windows Home Server or go with an (existing) HP MediaSmart Server?

I'd wait, given how close we are to the new version, and since upgrades will be impossible or prohibitively difficult.

Windows Home Server "Vail" is currently available in a near-final "beta refresh" version for evaluation purposes, and my expectation is that it will ship in time for the holidays. I've been a fan and proponent of HP's excellent Windows Home Server-based MediaSmart Servers, but for Vail I'll be going the "roll your own" route. My Vail server is a Dell OptiPlex 780 minitower with 4 GB of RAM and 8 TB of storage. On a related note, my Small Business Server "Aurora" machine is a similar (and older) Dell Optiplex 755 minitower with 8 GB of RAM and, currently, 2 TB of storage (though that will be changing based on need). I'm currently still using the previous version WHS on the HP hardware but will likely complete the switchover to the Vail beta refresh on the Dell soon.

More next week...