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while reading my december issue of msdn magazine, i came across an advertisement that certainly caught my attention.  it simply had a picture of a toe-tag and the url was: www.is-the-grid-dead.com.

looks like a component vendor about to announce something.  i honestly have no idea what it is, but they used good advertising to catch my eye among the other technical ads.

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i'm trying to hold off installing itunes just for podcatching.  i tried pwop catcher, but it looks like the project has gone dark for a bit and didn't have what i needed.

my friend turned me on to .  so far it is okay.  it still isn't itunes, but i'm going to give it a whirl.  i've configured it to dump the podcasts/videoblogs into my Music\Zune folder so it will sync when i tell it to.

that's all for now on zune for a bit (maybe :-) ).  i think i'll work on doing some development for some zune add-ins and see if it can woo me on the developer side.

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okay, so if you haven't downloaded it yet, why not?  visual studio tools for office 2005 second edition, aka visual studio tools for office 2007, aka vsto SE was released at devconnections earlier this month.  if you have a license to visual studio 2005 professional or a license to vsto 2005, then this is a free tool for you.

how do you get it? go here:

what is it?  it enables easy office development using visual studio.
but hasn't this been around? yes, kinda.  vsto 2005 has been there and really did make things easy.  vsto se adds support for office 2007 and makes things easier!

i seriously am loving office as a development platform these days.  i really think they've done a great job merging the office development com world with the managed code environment. 

i started looking into it when creating my sample, .  i currently am working on three other outlook add-ins right now that i'm going to finish, put up a screencast, and supply the source to once completed (so stay subscribed).  in the meantime, i wanted to point you to some great resources.  these are all readily available on the msdn site, but might not be elevated to a level of importance or may not be as discoverable as they should be.

right now, i've been enabling my add-ins via customizing the ribbon of microsoft office. (side note: we just announced some updates to licensing the office ui [royalty free] -- so if you are interested in leveraging the office ui experience in your applications, visit now.)

okay, on to geek stuff.  first, a fundamental important thing to understand when using the ribbon ui, is it's structure and how to customize it.  the simple method of doing this is providing an resource in your add-in that contains xml instructions on your custom ui.  this is a simple xml structure that looks something like this:

   1:  <customUI xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/office/2006/01/customui" onLoad="OnLoad">
   2:    <ribbon>
   3:      <tabs>
   4:        <tab idMso="TabReadMessage">
   5:          <group id="SnopesGroup"
   6:                 label="Snopes">
   7:            <button id="snopesButton"
   8:                    size="large"
   9:                    label="Snope-It!" 
  10:                    screentip="Search Snopes.com to check for validity" 
  11:                    onAction="OnSniff" 
  12:                    getImage="GetImage"/>
  13:          </group>
  14:        </tab>
  15:      </tabs>
  16:    </ribbon>
  17:  </customUI>

in editing in visual studio, we always love using intellisense...but the xml schema for customUI is not a part of the default intellisense.  alas, here's my first tip: use a schema file!  not only will it help you be correct, but also bring light to options you may not know about.  first, download customUI.xsd from a site. (this is supposed to be installed during the vsto install and added to the catalog, but i couldn't find it.)  i downloaded it from here: .  i then put it in %ProgramFiles%\Microsoft Visual Studio 8\Xml\Schemas.  now when you open an xml file in visual studio, go to the properties pane, click on schemas and choose customUI.xsd -- boom, intellisense for ribbon customization (for the most part -- no attribute enumeration).  there is a tool on openxmldeveloper.org called the , but to be honest, i really didn't see value in it -- i was expecting something "more" and it wasn't there -- but feel free to take a look.

once you have this you may notice the "idMso" attributes in the sample above.  what are these?  well, they are the office built-in control ids...and very helpful.  in some instances it will allow you to customize their use, but in most instances it will help you place your customization.  in the sample above, my add-in will reside in the Message tab of an item being read.  the idMso attributes are well documented in this document: .  install this document set and leverage it -- it will help you and be a valuable resource.

one caveat that i've just discovered is that you cannot add your add-in controls (i.e., a button) to an existing ribbon group.  for example if i wanted my SnopeIt to be in the Other Actions group, i couldn't.  apparently there is some thought out reasoning why not, but i don't necessarily agree with it (i mean, if mine is another action, it would make sense that to maintain usability i'd keep it there in the 'other actions' group).  just know that.  but you can control where your addin group is placed.  in your group, again using the intellisense will help you here, you will see an attribute called insertBeforeMso (and insertAfterMso) where you specify the control id of the group you want it before/after.  again, look at the list of control ids.

okay, and last tip for now...debugging.  by default your office client will not show errors in your ribbon customization -- not good if you don't see your customization and don't know why.  for example, in outlook 2007, go to tools, options, others (tab) advanced, and enable "show add-in user interface errors" -- if your addin won't load due to a violation/error in the ribbon customization, you'll see the reason here.  this has helped me.

that's it for now -- there are some great tutorials on getting started, and i'll document my add-ins (which are a little more useful [hopefully] than SnopeIt, but still fun).

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okay, i forgot in my last post to correct something that i've been misinformed about: colors.  i was under the impression that each color had a personality.  well now that i participated in a social yesterday, i know that not to be true.  the black zune in the social was preloaded with the same videos, music, pictures as our brown ones.  i stand corrected and apologies for any misleading.

okay, on to my video encoding.  i've been trying to find a good solution to getting dvd content onto the zune.  i was recommended to try three solutions: handbrake (now ported to windows), xilisoft, and cucusoft.  below are my personal findings on a laptop hardware (duo core, 2GB RAM).

: this is a free dvd ripping tool originally made for the mac, but now someone ported to windows.  it's GPL and free, but that doesn't mean better :-).  my friend who told me about it used it on his intel mac and said it was < 1hr and worked fine (and transfered to zune).  i tried it on my mac (non-intel) and it estimated 11 hours.  needless to say i didn't wait.  i used the windows version, and it was fast and worked.  the resulting file played in windows media player and media center, but when adding it to zune, the zune rejected it (with an odd message).  so handbrake is apparently using a encoding codec that isn't supported.

: this is a commercial dvd ripping software.  they have a program called dvd ripper platinum but also are marketing a dvd to zune program (which i think is just a skin, but good marketing tactic).  this program has the most options and the best user interface of the ones i tried.  it allowed tweaking of video/audio output and ripped direct to wmv (maybe not direct, but end result in wmv format).  my experience though was that it was slow and that the resulting video was 'choppy' (best way i can describe it) like every few seconds the video stuttered.  so for me, it wasn't usable.  another friend is having better results so we're still comparing.

: another commercial software package.  they also are using good marketing to brand their like products as zune converters.  the options and UI suck for cucusoft but it has produced the best results for me.  you have to mess with the aspect "ration" (yeah, not spelled correctly) a few times to get it right.  but it ripped in < 40 minutes for an average dvd and the audio was okay for my expectations.  what bothered me though is the advertised "dvd to zune" ripping.  when i added it to zune, it still went through a "converting" process which i don't understand -- it was MP4, but zune didn't like that direct format i guess.  and that process took a while...

needless to say i'm messing with xilisoft and cucusoft to get the best results and determine which is best for me.  i want to be able to say "rip dvd" and then sync with zune -- why is that so hard?

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okay, so i've been beating up on the zune a bit, but i still like it.  i have to say there are definitely areas where it doesn't win over ipod (i.e., size for recreational usage, etc.), but there are definitely bigger ways (and potential) that it does.

today i finally had a chance to play with the community features, when a colleage came over and asked if i wanted to 'join the social' (we had fun with that one when people asked what we were doing.  we were close to each other and while we didn't test the range, i think the 30ft estimate is a good one (may even be a bit broad).  we wanted to test a few scenarios and came up with some results.

first i sent an unprotected mp3 file that i had to his device -- only 1 song.  it took longer than expected.  when it showed up in his device it wasn't in the regular music area -- but rather the 'inbox' of the community.  and my mp3 file had suddenly been attributed with drm rights -- 3 plays within 3 days.  so that was the first test -- unprotected music.  it would appear that any content sent is always given that 3/3 drm rights applied to it -- even if it is unprotected.  you can't share video right now so we didn't even try.

next test -- he had some wma format unprotected -- sent to me -- same thing 3/3 drm applied.  he then is currently using the zunepass service (trial for now, but is $14.99 US/month for unlimited music downloads).  so he sent me an album.  nada.  zip.  nothing received.  and the message: something about rights.  wait a minute, we thought...this is zune music acquired through the zune marketplace.  we started researching and it looks like there is no clear communication about this.  the zune site indicates you can share music you purchase, and zunepass music is yours as long as you have the service.  it is vague about the "yours" part not being able to transfer.  we tried 3 albums from zunepass and none were able to transfer.  not good, i thought.  there also seems to be some speculation that the rights owners are able to determine what rights are applied to zunepass music.  that really doesn't make sense though.  if any media sent between devices always has the 3/3 drm rights, then were's the risk?  it doesn't look good that someone wanting the service cannot share in that social -- so zunepass members may not be welcome to the social.

the other thing we talked about was the lack of direct podcast/audiobook support.  sure you can rip to a format and put them on your device, but one thing i like(d) about the ipod was that when i turn it on i see: music, podcast, audiobooks.  on zune i see: music, videos, pictures.  my podcasts and audiobooks are buries under "music" (which they aren't) and then i have to be creative and do some tagging/playlisting so that they are easily discoverable.  the wmp-zune software should do this for me, in my opinion.  i suspect that is feedback being heard as well and hope there is an update.

the other thing we looked at was playlists.  i didn't notice it, but really the only playlisting going on is music.  you can create a playlist in wmp-zune for videos, but it isn't reflected on the zune.  your choices under videos on the zune are: all video, movies, music videos.  that's it.  nothing else.  that needs to be fixed to bring more continuity to the media experience.  i did manage to download videos of my friend hamid from axosoft talking with scoble -- they transfered beautifully and it was a good viewing experience.  i've never had a video portable player before, so this is my first and positive experience with that scenario.  one thing i did wish is an 'easel' accessorie so that when it is sitting on my desk i can manipulate the device for best viewing.  another colleage heard me and sure enough it is in the works: .  cool.

we then waxed philosophically about what we liked and didn't.  to me it still could've/should've been a better v1 entry.  but it was pointed out that the beauty of this is that the hardware is there -- it has the wireless, it has the hard-drive, it has the fm tuner.  so it isn't unrealistic to think that new features are simply to update without buying a new device.  in fact, they should be!  the biggest proof will be if microsoft actually does that.  my fear is that the device becomes like a cell phone -- want new features? upgrade device.  if the zune has all it needs to do great new features, we should be expecting firmware upgrades to support them.  that's one thing i don't like about apple.  my wife's nano should be able to support video from a hardware standpoint, but i'm sure if she wanted it she'd have to upgrade to nano v.next that would have it.  zune could win big here if we saw updates frequently of really cool new features.  one feature that we talked about was a community stream...so you could say hey, listen to this and just broadcast so we listen at the same time.  and video too -- imagine on a plane with 2 zunes...i click play and we are both watching a movie.  nice.  what'ya say microsoft?

i'm still struggling with dvd ripping.  i was turned on to handbrake.  i tried it and it ripped a movie to mp4 format.  i can play it in media center, i can play it in windows media player...try to add it to wmp-zune: nada...error.  try to add directly to zune device - nope: error about file not existing.  this sucks -- it is mp4 format (something zune says it supports) and plays on other areas, but not in zune.  argh.  i'm re-ripping using a different codec hoping that will be the problem.