Ben Smith https://bensmith.uk/blog Kirby Tue, 21 Mar 2017 19:05:02 +0000 Outlook Web Access as a Mac app for Office365 (with unread message badge) https://bensmith.uk/blog/office365-owa-as-a-mac-app-with-fluid blog/office365-owa-as-a-mac-app-with-fluid Tue, 21 Mar 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Some businesses use Microsoft Office365, but block syncing desktop applications. This isn’t as painful as it once-was, but it buries my most-used tool in yet another browser tab and I miss a dedicated dock icon and unread count.

Fluid offers a way to wrap websites into stand-alone apps, but Office365 needs some additional configuration and a userscript to get a dock badge (you’ll need a $4.99 Fluid license for that). When you have Fluid installed and the license applied, start by creating a new Fluid app in the normal way.

create
Create a new Fluid app.

At this stage you need to enter:

  1. The Office365 Outlook URL: https://outlook.office.com.
  2. An app name. I use Outlook Web Access.
  3. The location for the app to be created. This defaults to Downloads, but must be changed to your Applications folder for the dock item to work.
  4. An icon. The default results in an icon on an ugly white background so I use this image (PNG with a transparent background works best).

Click Create and then Launch Now to open. The new Fluid app will launch and immediately open a web browser to authenticate. Abandon this login attempt and open Preferences from the app menu.

whitelist-3
Whitelist the URLs Office365 needs to function.

In Preferences click Show All and select Whitelist. In this screen use the - and + buttons to remove all existing entries and add:

  1. *.lync.com*
  2. *.office.com*
  3. *.office365.com*
  4. *.graph.microsoft.com*
  5. *.microsoftonline.com*
  6. *.windows.net*

Close the Fluid app and re-open. You should now be able to login entirely within the app. If you can’t see the notes at the end of this post.

userscripts
A userscript adds an unread message count to the dock icon.

When you have logged in and can use Outlook Web Access through the app, you can add an unread badge to the dock icon if you have a Fluid license:

  1. With the Fluid app open, open the Window menu and select Userscripts.
  2. Use the - and + buttons to remove the default Gmail and Facebook entries and add a new one, Outlook - Badge.
  3. In the Patterns box use the - and + buttons to remove the example and add two new items: https://login.microsoftonline.com/* and https://outlook.office.com/*.
  4. In the code section replace the example with this script by Robert Cambridge. Don’t use the patterns listed in the code comments - they’re now out of date.
  5. Close the window and the change should take immediate effect.

Notes:

  • MacOS keeps settings separate for each instance so you can repeat this process to create apps for multiple Office365 accounts.
  • If your organisation uses single sign-on to access Office365 you will need to add the additional domains in the Whitelist step. These may be visible as you login via a browser or you can select Allow browsing to any URL, but this will also cause any links in emails to open within the app.
  • It's not possible to complete a login if diverted to a web-browser - the Fluid app cannot see cookies generated this way.

]]>
Backing-up Apple Photos without relying (only) on iCloud https://bensmith.uk/blog/backup-apple-photos-without-icloud blog/backup-apple-photos-without-icloud Fri, 22 Apr 2016 00:00:00 +0000 As a family we are all-in on Apple Photos… Our images are ‘magically there’ on phones, tablets and laptops. We share photo streams with family and make albums of important events. And whilst we mostly use iCloud to sync images, it’s reassuring to know they are all backed-up ’in the cloud’ too.

But I don’t trust Apple’s copy to be my only copy - we talked about this in detail on this week’s 361 Podcast.

apple-photos-preferences

Until now that’s been simple to fix - I setup a ‘home’ Mac laptop to download every image at full-resolution and let Time Machine (to a Synology NAS with redundant drives) take care of the rest.

Since the birth of our son my wife and I take a lot of photos and - inevitably - the laptop ran out of space. An emergency clean-up helped, but it’s clear this will only be a short-term fix and the clogged disk slows-down other apps.

What I want is the ease of Apple Photos without leaving my files solely in Apple’s hands. Switching services is the nuclear option as the family has many years of familiarity with Apple - a change would be 'unpopular'.

I considered and dismissed several options:

  1. Archive less important images somewhere else to keep the Apple Photos library a manageable size. This is a short-term option but requires frequent manual curation. Also, it doesn’t prevent the library of images we do want to keep available from becoming too big in future. A definite no.
  2. Upgrade the home Mac's disk. I could fit a Terabyte disk to provide ‘enough’ photo and other-uses storage for the foreseeable future, but this is pricey if I want to maintain SSD speeds for other day-to-day use. Possible, but poor value for money.
  3. Add external storage to the home Mac. This is a cheaper and more flexible way to add storage - USB3 is fast enough to run a Photos library from now - although it would need to remain connected all the time. Quick and easy, but inconvenient and fragile.
  4. Use network storage to host the Photos library. Possible in theory, but too slow in practice - especially over WiFi. Not an option.

For now, I’ve gone with a 5th option: a dedicated Mac ‘server’ for backups.

For about £55 per month (at current exchange rates) I rent a Mac Mini (i7 processor, 1TB internal storage and 16GB RAM) with 4TB external storage in a Las Vegas datacenter from MacMiniColo - a recent promotion provided this 'more than I need' spec at a bargain price. It’s always on with data-centre quality power and networking and an engineer will replace it for me if it breaks.

I considered a similar approach with a virtual Windows server and iCloud for Windows. In theory this would offer a similar capability on a cheaper machine, but reports of unreliability of syncing and Photo Stream out me off for now. I may revisit it in future.

So far, this is working well:

  • Remote desktop access feels as fast as a local machine even over 4G from an iPad (Screens is an excellent app for this).
  • Storage is sufficient for all our Apple Photos need in the foreseeable future.
  • Time Machine takes frequent versioned backups.
  • Large imports / exports no longer take our home Mac out of use.
  • I don’t worry about accidental damage or (unfortunately frequent for us) power cuts at home.
  • I can install other backup services - I'm backing up our other important data direct from our home NAS and am also testing image sync to both Google Photos and Amazon Drive.

I’ve read posts from people doing similar things who go-on to run their websites and mail servers from the same device. I’ve decided against that for now and locked-down the services / ways to access as much as possible to keep my data secure. For now I sync only data I’d be happy to have in any other cloud service to keep the admin manageable.

]]>
Apple SVP confirms quitting apps won’t improve battery life → http://9to5mac.com/2016/03/10/should-you-quit-ios-apps-answer/ blog/apple-svp-confirms-quitting-apps-wont-improve-battery-life Fri, 11 Mar 2016 00:00:00 +0000 A definitive answer: You don’t need to manually close each background app in iOS.

]]>
361 Podcast: Mobile World Congress 2016 [S12E02] → http://361podcast.com/episodes/s12e02 blog/podcast-s12e02 Mon, 07 Mar 2016 00:00:00 +0000

This week the team review the mobile industry’s annual gathering in Barcelona: Mobile World Congress. Ewan is championing #MWCinaday again, but Rafe’s seen it all and gives us the low-down on hardware, virtual reality, 5G (yes, it’s a thing; no, you can’t have it yet) and the ‘internet of things’.

There is a brief (safe for work) discussion of bovine fertility and the phrase 'cow fitbit' is used once towards the end of this week's show. We apologise to those of a sensitive disposition or listeners that expected better than childish giggling (although it's been 12 seasons so you should know by now).

]]>
361 Podcast: Smartest home challenge: Conclusion [S11E11] → http://361podcast.com/episodes/s11e11 blog/podcast-s11e11 Fri, 04 Mar 2016 00:00:00 +0000 This season’s challenge was both a brilliant idea (it’s had really positive feedback from interested listeners) and wildly ambitious. We thought it would ‘simply’ be a case of choosing some products but the costs and integration complexity is still substantial. As one listener commented “shouldn’t it be called the ’switching lights on and off’ challenge’?”

The team make their final assessment of progress in their smartest home challenge. What worked, what didn’t and - more importantly - who won? The team consider 11 weeks of attempting to make their home ‘the smartest’ and can only agree on one thing… it was harder than we thought.

]]>
BBC Radio 4: Interviewed about an £18k roaming bill https://bensmith.uk/blog/bbc-you-and-yours-data-roaming blog/bbc-you-and-yours-data-roaming Fri, 26 Feb 2016 00:00:00 +0000 It was Mobile World Congress last week so all the ‘real’ mobile experts were in Barcelona queuing for a bus. BBC Radio - seeking a comment on data roaming - were forced to slum it with me. They had a chap ‘John’ with an £18,000 phone bill from Vodafone after a trip to Moldova.

I visited the BBC’s Milbank studios and did a live interview with the programme being broadcast from Salford. It’s rare that I’ve thought the 361 Podcast accommodation lavish…

bbc-studio
Ooooh the glamour…

Clearly the first question was how could this happen? John is a regular traveller and had arrived in Moldova to find his phone cut-off. He’d rung Vodafone twice (now the most complained about network - this was a stat I’d previously missed) and been stuck on hold for over an hour in total so gave-up, turned on data services and accidentally left it on for 12 hours.

Things to note about Moldova:

  • It’s outside the EU (land-locked between Romania and Ukraine) so roaming prices aren’t limited by regulation.
  • It’s also outside both Vodafone’s EuroTraveller (understandably) and WorldTraveller bundles so he couldn’t use his home allowance.
  • It has 4G but only 3G is available to Vodafone customers. However, this is still quick enough to download £18,000’s worth of data in a few hours.

So who - the host wanted to know - was wrong?

On balance - although John turned roaming on without understanding the cost and left it switched on - I said Vodafone:

  • They didn’t provide a reasonable standard of customer service to enable John to check or cap costs whilst overseas.
  • Although John had the standard roaming cost cap turned off, Vodafone extended him £18k credit without checking his ability to pay or verifying his use was genuine.
  • The roaming fee charged is unfair - even in Moldova £3 per megabyte is exploiting customers’ lack of alternate options and is not a fair mark-up on the costs. In fact, Vodafone’s CFO was recently reported as saying gross margin on roaming was 70%. Thats… er… ‘high’.

In previous cases the UK network’s argument has been that - in some cases - they only receive charges from overseas networks long after the event. However, this applies only to voice calls, which are connected directly. All data traffic flows out to the internet via the home network - this is how Vodafone were able to send John a notification (unseen at the time) as the bill passed £500.

Generally, if you are roaming outside the EU / USA (where pricing is more competitive) there are specialist products offering better value (although few I can find actually cover Moldova). However, Vodafone’s problem is the anxiety these stories cause will dissuade people from roaming at all.

My thanks to Sam Machin for the correction he provided on how roaming voice and data are billed differently.

]]>
361 Podcast: Unscripted… “What’s interesting you?” [S12E01] → http://361podcast.com/episodes/s12e01 blog/podcast-s12e01 Mon, 22 Feb 2016 00:00:00 +0000 361 is hardly ‘scripted’ at the best of times but this week Ewan suggested we ‘just talk’, abandoning our usual research and talking-points structure. This is much closer to the kind of chat we have before recording.

We’ve a new sponsor for Season 12 - Tengi - who are giving £1000 to a listener that signs-up to use their messaging app.

We’re back with season 12… Rafe definitely hasn’t had a spray-tan and at Ewan’s suggestion the team go off-script to discuss 3 things that caught their interest over the last week: Ewan’s new mobile gaming habit, Ben’s new bank and Rafe’s new news app.

This episode is sponsored by Tengi, the chat app that always shares 50% of its revenue with users through a weekly free prize draw. Download now for iPhone & Android.

]]>
361 Podcast: Smartphone hardware and mobile operators [S11E10] → http://361podcast.com/episodes/s11e10 blog/podcast-s11e10 Mon, 01 Feb 2016 00:00:00 +0000

It’s a show of 2 parts this week as the team consider 2 of our favourite gripes: hardware and mobile operators. Do hardware specs matter anymore and are faster / better / cheaper components making a significant impact on the mobile devices we buy? Also, what place do operators have in in the world now and have their aspirations of being more than ‘dumb pipes’ been achieved?

]]>
361 Podcast: Connected devices at CES 2016 [S11E09] → http://361podcast.com/episodes/s11e09 blog/podcast-s11e09 Mon, 25 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

With CES a now-distant memory (well, a few weeks ago) what better time for Rafe Blandford to get back in-front of a microphone to give us his highlights of the show? The team discuss the large number of ‘connected devices’ on show and the ways in which smartphone technology is now powering far more than phones.

]]>
361 Podcast: Our favourite apps [S11E08] → http://361podcast.com/episodes/s11e08 blog/podcast-s11e08 Sun, 17 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

This week the team share and review the apps and services they use and (mostly) recommend - from productivity to entertainment and across all (well, most) ecosystems. We also catch-up with our ‘smartest home’ challenge.

]]>