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Creating an HTML Application to Convert Text Files to Audio Files

I'd like to take a brief departure from my normal collage of web-related and server-management examples and share a rather eclectic code sample.

Here's the scenario: I am presently working on another college degree, and I was recently taking a class which required a great deal of reading.  These assignments were all in digital form: I was using PDF or Kindle-based versions of the textbooks, and the remaining reading consisted of online articles. However, I am also an avid bicyclist, and the voluminous amount of reading was preventing me from going on some of my normal weekly rides. This gave me an idea: if I could convert the digital text to audio, I could bring my assignments with me on my longer rides and have my MP3 player read my assignments to me as I pedaled my way around the Arizona deserts.

I had experimented with Microsoft's built-in text-to-speech features some years ago, so I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to revisit some of those APIs and write a full application to do the conversions for me. That being said, I could have written this application by using C# (which is my preferred language), but I decided to create an HTML Application for two reasons: 1) it is easier for me to share HTMLA applications in a blog, and 2) I keep this application in my OneDrive, so it's easier for me to modify the source code on systems where I don't have Visual Studio installed.

With that in mind, here is the resulting script which will convert a Text File to a Wave (*.WAV) File.

Using the HTML Application

As with most of my HTML Applications, the user interface is pretty simple to use; when you double click the HTA file, it will present you with the following user interface:

Clicking the Browse button will obviously allow you to browse to a text file, clicking the Close button will close the application, and clicking the Write File button will create a Wave file that is in the same path as the source text file. For example, if you have a text file at "C:\Text\Test.txt", the script will create a Wave file at "C:\Text\Test.txt.wav".

That being said, there are a few options which you can set:

  • Depending on your version of Windows and which languages you have installed, you will be presented with a list of available voices in the first drop-down menu; the following example is from a Windows 8 computer:
  • The second drop-down menu allows you to vary the playback speed; sometimes I prefer the playback speed to be slighter faster than normal:
  • The third drop-down menu allows you to alter the volume of the resulting Wave file:

Note: You can modify the script to alter the values that are used in the playback speed and volume drop-down menus, but the list of voices is obtained dynamically from your operating system.

Creating the HTML Application

To create this HTML Application, save the following HTMLA code as "Text to Wave File.hta" to your computer, and then double-click its icon to run the application. (Note that in a few places I added code comments which contain the MSDN URL for the APIs that I am using for this sample.)

<html>
<head>
<title>Text-to-Speech Writer</title>
<HTA:APPLICATION
  APPLICATIONNAME="Text-to-Speech Writer"
  ID="TextToSpeech"
  VERSION="1.0"
  BORDER="dialog"
  BORDERSTYLE="static"
  INNERBORDER="no"
  CAPTION="yes"
  SYSMENU="no"
  MAXIMIZEBUTTON="no"
  MINIMIZEBUTTON="no"
  SCROLL="no"
  SCROLLFLAT="yes"
  SINGLEINSTANCE="yes"
  CONTEXTMENU="no"
  SELECTION="no"/>
</head>

<script language="VBScript">

Option Explicit

Dim blnCancelBubble

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' OnLoad event handler for the application.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub Window_OnLoad
  blnCancelBubble = False
  ' Set up the UI dimensions.
  Const intDialogWidth = 550
  Const intDialogHeight = 125
  ' Specify the window position and size.
  Self.resizeTo intDialogWidth,intDialogHeight
  Self.moveTo (Screen.AvailWidth - intDialogWidth) / 2,_
    (Screen.AvailHeight - intDialogHeight) / 2
  ' Load the list of text-to-speech voices into the drop-down menu.
  ' See the notes in WriteFile() for more information.
  Dim objSAPI, objVoice, objSelect, objOption
  Set objSAPI = CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice")
  For Each objVoice In objSAPI.GetVoices("","")
    Set objSelect = Document.getElementById("optVoices")
    Set objOption = Document.createElement("option")
    objOption.text = objVoice.GetDescription() 
    objSelect.Add objOption
  Next
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' Click handler for the Write button.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub btnWrite_OnClick()
  ' Test for a file name.
  If Len(txtFile.Value) > 0 Then
    ' Test if we need to cancel bubbling of events.
    If blnCancelBubble = False Then
        ' Write the input file.
        Call WriteFile(txtFile.Value)
      End If
    End If
    ' Specify whether to bubble events.
    blnCancelBubble = IIf(blnCancelBubble=True,False,True)
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' Change handler for the input box.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub txtFile_OnChange()
  ' Enable the Write button.
  btnWrite.Disabled = False
  ' Enable event bubbling.
  blnCancelBubble = False
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' Click handler for the Close button.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub btnClose_OnClick()
  ' Test if we need to cancel bubbling of events.
  If blnCancelBubble = False Then
    ' Prompt the user to exit.
    If MsgBox("Are you sure you wish to exit?", _
      vbYesNo+vbDefaultButton2+vbQuestion+vbSystemModal, _
      TextToSpeech.applicationName)=vbYes Then
      ' Enable event bubbling.
      blnCancelBubble = True
      ' Close the application.
      Window.close
    End If
  End If
  ' Specify whether to bubble events.
     blnCancelBubble = IIf(blnCancelBubble=True,False,True)
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' This is an ultra-lame workaround for the lack
' of a DoEvents() feature in HTA applications.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub DoEvents()
  On Error Resume Next
  ' Create a shell object.
  Dim objShell : Set objShell = CreateObject("Wscript.Shell")
  ' Call out to the shell and essentially do nothing.
  objShell.Run "ver", 0, True
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' This is an ultra-lame workaround for the lack
' of an IIf() function in vbscript applications.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Function IIf(tx,ty,tz)
  If (tx) Then IIf = ty Else IIf = tz
End Function

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' Main text-to-speech function
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub WriteFile(strInputFileName)
  On Error Resume Next
  Dim objFSO
  Dim objFile
  Dim objSAPI
  Dim objFileStream
  Dim strOldTitle
  Dim strOutputFilename
  Const strProcessing = "Creating WAV file... "
  
  ' Define the audio format as 44.1kHz / 16-bit audio.
  ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms720595.aspx
  Const SAFT44kHz16BitStereo = 35
  ' Allow text to be read as well as written.
  ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms720858.aspx
  Const SSFMCreateForWrite = 3
  
  ' Define the output WAV filename.
  strOutputFilename = strInputFileName & ".wav"

  ' Create a file system object and open the input file.
  Set objFSO = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
  Set objFile = objFSO.OpenTextFile(strInputFileName, 1)
  
  ' Disable the form fields.
  optVoices.Disabled = True
  optRate.Disabled = True
  optVolume.Disabled = True
  txtFile.Disabled = True
  btnWrite.Disabled = True
  btnClose.Value = "Cancel"

  ' Test for an error.
  If Err.Number <> 0 Then
      MsgBox "Error: " & Err.Number & vbCrLf & Err.Description
  Else
    ' Store the original dialog title.
    strOldTitle = Document.title
    ' Display a status message.
    Document.title = strProcessing & Time()
    ' Pause briefly to let the screen refresh and capture events.
    Call DoEvents()
    ' Create a text-to-speech object.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms720149.aspx
    Set objSAPI = CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice")
    ' Create a SAPI file stream object.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms722561.aspx
    Set objFileStream = CreateObject("SAPI.SpFileStream")
    ' Specify the stream format.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms720998.aspx
    objFileStream.Format.Type = SAFT44kHz16BitStereo
    ' Open the output file stream.
    objFileStream.Open strOutputFilename, SSFMCreateForWrite
    ' Specify the output file stream.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723597.aspx
    Set objSAPI.AudioOutputStream = objFileStream
    
    ' Specify the speaking rate.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723606.aspx
    objSAPI.Rate = optRate.Options(optRate.SelectedIndex).Value
    ' Specify the speaking volume.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723615.aspx
    objSAPI.Volume = optVolume.Options(optVolume.SelectedIndex).Value
    ' Specify the voice to use.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723601.aspx
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723614.aspx
    Set objSAPI.Voice = objSAPI.GetVoices("","").Item(optVoices.SelectedIndex)
    
    ' Loop through the lines in the input file.
    Do While Not objFile.AtEndOfStream
      ' Test if we need to cancel bubbling of events.
      If blnCancelBubble = True Then
        Exit Do
      Else
        ' Display a status message.
        Document.title = strProcessing & Time()
        ' Pause briefly to let the screen refresh and capture events.
        Call DoEvents()
        ' Speak one line from the input file.
        ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723609.aspx
        objSAPI.Speak objFile.ReadLine
      End If
    Loop
    ' Close the output file stream.
    objFileStream.Close
  End If

  ' Close the input file.
  objFile.Close

  ' Destroy all objects.
  Set objFileStream = Nothing
  Set objSAPI = Nothing
  Set objFile = Nothing
  Set objFSO = Nothing
  
  ' Reset the original dialog title.
  Document.title = strOldTitle

  ' Notify the user that the file has been written.
  MsgBox "Finished!", vbInformation, strOldTitle
  
  ' Re-enable the form fields.
  btnClose.Value = "Close"
  optVoices.Disabled = False
  optRate.Disabled = False
  optVolume.Disabled = False
  txtFile.Disabled = False
  btnWrite.Disabled = False

End Sub

</script>

<body bgcolor="white" id="HtmlBody">
<div id="FormControls">
  <table>
    <tr>
      <td align="left">
        <input type="file"
        style="width:250px;height:22px"
        name="txtFile"
        id="txtFile"
        onchange="txtFile_OnChange">
      </td>
      <td align="left">
        <input type="button"
        style="width:125px;height:22px"
        name="btnWrite"
        id="btnWrite"
        value="Write File"
        disabled
        onclick="btnWrite_OnClick">
      </td>
      <td align="right">
        <input type="button"
        style="width:125px;height:22px"
        name="btnClose"
        id="btnClose"
        value="Close"
        onclick="btnClose_OnClick">
      </td>
    </tr>
    <tr>
      <td align="left">
        <select name="optVoices"
          style="width:250px;height:22px">
        </select>
      </td>
      <td align="left">
        <select name="optRate"
          style="width:125px;height:22px">
          <option value="-2">Slowest</option>
          <option value="-1">Slower</option>
          <option value="0" selected>Normal Speed</option>
          <option value="1">Faster</option>
          <option value="2">Fastest</option>
        </select>
      </td>
      <td align="right">
        <select name="optVolume"
          style="width:125px;height:22px">
          <option value="25">25% Volume</option>
          <option value="50">50% Volume</option>
          <option value="75">75% Volume</option>
          <option value="100" selected>Full Volume</option>
        </select>
      </td>
    </tr>
  </table>
</div>
</body>
</html>

Note that I intentionally chose to have this HTML Application convert the text to audio one line at a time; this slows the down the conversion process, but it allows the conversion to be cancelled if necessary. (My original version of this script would convert an entire text file at one time; since there was no way to cancel the operation, the script appeared to hang when converting larger text files.)

Additional Notes

Once you have created a Wave (*.WAV) file, you can optionally convert it to an MP3 file for use in an MP3 player or mobile phone. (Most devices should playback Wave files, but MP3 files are considerably smaller and more portable.) There are a variety of Wave-to-MP3 converters out there, but I prefer to use the LAME encoder, which is an open-source code project that is available on SourceForge. Once you have the LAME encoder project compiled, (or you have located and downloaded a pre-compiled version), you can use LAME.EXE from a command prompt to convert your Wave files into MP3 files.

That being said, I prefer to automate as much as possible, so I have written a batch file which converts all of the Wave files in a directory to MP3 files and renames the source Wave files with a "*.old" filename extension:

@echo off

for /f "usebackq delims=|" %%a in (`dir /b *.wav`) do (
  for %%b in (^"%%a^") do (
    if not exist "%%~db%%~pb%%~nb.mp3" (
      lame.exe -b 128 -m j "%%a" "%%~nb.mp3"
    )
    if exist "%%~db%%~pb%%~nb.mp3" (
      move "%%a" "%%a.old"
    )
  )
)

Note that the above batch file was written for text-to-speech use, and as such it defines a bit rate of 128kbps, which would be pretty low for music files. If you want to repurpose this batch file for higher bitrates, modify the value of the "-b" parameter for the LAME.EXE command.

That wraps it up for today's post.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/

Posted: May 27 2015, 08:18 by Bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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How to create an HTML Application to configure your IIS SMTP Username and Password settings

Like many IIS administrators, I usually install the local SMTP service on my IIS servers when I am setting up a new server from scratch. When I install the SMTP service, I configure it so that it only listens on the IP address of 127.0.0.1, so it can only send emails which originate on the server itself. What's more, I configure the SMTP service to relay all emails to a downstream SMTP service which can send emails out to the Internet. By configuring these options, I can write my ASP.NET, PHP, and Classic ASP applications so that they use the local SMTP service for all email-related functionality, which acts as a sort of message server for my applications. This system works great, and I have used this particular setup since the days of IIS 4.0. (Which was released in late 1997, as you may recall.)

That being said, in the interests of security, sometime ago I started using a downstream SMTP service which requires user credentials, (that way no one could use the downstream server anonymously). As an additional security step, I use an account which requires that the credentials are changed every 30 days or so. This is always a good security practice for a myriad of obvious reasons, but this meant that I needed to update the SMTP username/password settings in my IIS configuration settings every 30 days.

With that in mind, many years ago I wrote a simple VBScript application which I would use to update those credentials. At first I would simply enter the credentials directly into the script, then I would run it to update IIS, and then I would strip the credentials from the script. Needless to say, this was pretty low-tech - even considering that this was 17 or 18 years ago. I eventually updated the script so that it would use VBScript Input Boxes to prompt me for the credentials, so I no longer needed to store the credentials in the script itself. (Sometime after that I rewrote the script so that it would read the existing values from the IIS settings and pre-populate the input boxes.)

Jumping ahead a couple of years, I decided to rewrite the script as an HTML Application, which offered me considerably more options from a user interface perspective. That script has been serving me faithfully for some time now, so I thought that it would make a good blog subject.

Using the HTML Application

Using the application is pretty straight-forward; when you double click the HTA file, it will present you with the following user interface:

The script will read any existing credentials from your IIS settings and use those to pre-populate the interface. If no existing credentials are found, it will pre-populate the interface with the username of the currently-logged-on user.

Clicking Update will update your IIS settings, clicking Reset will reset the values back to the last saved version, and clicking Close will obviously close the application, but only after it has checked if you have any unsaved changes.

Creating the HTML Application

To create this HTML Application, save the following HTMLA code as "Reset SMTP Password.hta" to your computer, and then double-click its icon to run the application.

<html>
<head>
<title>Reset SMTP Password</title>
<HTA:APPLICATION
  APPLICATIONNAME="Reset SMTP Password"
  ID="ResetSmtpPassword"
  VERSION="1.0"
  BORDER="dialog"
  BORDERSTYLE="static"
  INNERBORDER="no"
  CAPTION="yes"
  SYSMENU="no"
  MAXIMIZEBUTTON="no"
  MINIMIZEBUTTON="no"
  SCROLL="no"
  SCROLLFLAT="yes"
  SINGLEINSTANCE="yes"
  CONTEXTMENU="no"
  SELECTION="no"/>
<style>
<!--
body,input
{
font-family:calibri,arial;
font-size:9pt;
color: #000;
background-color: #fff;
}
table,td,th
{
border:none;
}
--> </style> </head> <script language="VBScript"> Option Explicit ' Define the global variables. Dim objWMIService, objIIsSmtpServer Dim strRouteUserName, strRoutePassword Dim blnCancelBubble, blnPendingUpdates ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Initialization method for the application. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub Window_OnLoad ' Define the local variables. Dim objNetwork ' Set up the UI dimensions. Const intDialogWidth = 280 Const intDialogHeight = 220 ' Specify the window position and size. Self.resizeTo intDialogWidth,intDialogHeight Self.moveTo (Screen.AvailWidth - intDialogWidth) / 2, _ (Screen.AvailHeight - intDialogHeight) / 2 ' Enable events. blnCancelBubble = False blnPendingUpdates = False ' Set up some base objects for the local computer and default SMTP instance. ' Note that these settings can be customized for a different computer or SMTP instance. Set objWMIService = GetObject("winmgmts:{impersonationLevel=impersonate}!\\.\root\cimv2") Set objIIsSmtpServer = GetObject("IIS://localhost/SmtpSvc/1") ' Retrieve the current username/password from the SMTP settings. strRouteUserName = objIIsSmtpServer.RouteUserName strRoutePassword = objIIsSmtpServer.RoutePassword ' Verify that a username was retrieved; otherwise, use the logged-on user. If Len(strRouteUserName)=0 Then Set objNetwork = CreateObject("WScript.Network") strRouteUserName = IIf(Len(objNetwork.UserDomain)>0, _ objNetwork.UserDomain & "\","") & objNetwork.UserName Set objNetwork = Nothing blnPendingUpdates = True End If ' Store the username/password values in the UI. txtUsername.value = strRouteUserName txtPassword.value = strRoutePassword End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Implement the missing IIf() function. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Function IIf(tx,ty,tz) If (tx) Then IIf = ty Else IIf = tz End Function ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Click handler for the Close button. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub btnClose_OnClick() ' Test if we need to cancel bubbling of events. If blnCancelBubble = False Then ' Check if there are pending updates. If blnPendingUpdates = False Then ' If not, then close the application. Window.close ' Prompt the user to exit. ElseIf MsgBox("You have not saved your changes." & vbCrLf & _ "Are you sure you wish to exit?", _ vbYesNo+vbDefaultButton2+vbQuestion+vbSystemModal, _ ResetSmtpPassword.applicationName)=vbYes Then ' Enable event bubbling. blnCancelBubble = True ' Close the application. Window.close End If End If ' Specify whether to bubble events. blnCancelBubble = IIf(blnCancelBubble=True,False,True) End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Change handler for text boxes. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub Textbox_OnChange() ' Flag the application as having updates pending. blnPendingUpdates = True End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Focus handler for text boxes. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub Textbox_OnFocus(objTextbox) ' Select the text in the textbox. objTextbox.Select End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Click handler for the Reset button. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub btnReset_OnClick() ' Reset the username/password values in the UI. txtUsername.value = strRouteUserName txtPassword.value = strRoutePassword blnPendingUpdates = False End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Click handler for the Update button. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub btnUpdate_OnClick() ' Catch bubbled events. If blnCancelBubble = True Then blnCancelBubble = False Exit Sub End If ' Verify valid data. If Len(txtUsername.value)=0 Or Len(txtPassword.value)=0 Then ' Inform the user that they made a mistake. MsgBox "An invalid username or password was entered.", _ vbCritical + vbOKOnly, ResetSmtpPassword.applicationName ' Cancel event bubbling. blnCancelBubble = True Else ' Store the username/password values for the SMTP server. objIIsSmtpServer.RouteUserName = txtUsername.value objIIsSmtpServer.RoutePassword = txtPassword.value objIIsSmtpServer.SetInfo ' Save the username/password values. strRouteUserName = txtUsername.value strRoutePassword = txtPassword.value ' Flag the application as having no updates pending. blnPendingUpdates = False ' Cancel event bubbling. blnCancelBubble = True End If End Sub </script> <body bgcolor="white" id="HtmlBody"> <div id="FormControls"> <table> <tr><td>Please enter your SMTP credentials:</td></tr> <tr> <td align="left"> <input type="text" style="width:250px;height:22px" name="txtUsername" id="txtUsername" onchange="Textbox_OnChange()" onfocus="Textbox_OnFocus(txtUsername)" /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td align="left"> <input type="password" style="width:250px;height:22px" name="txtPassword" id="txtPassword" onchange="Textbox_OnChange()" onfocus="Textbox_OnFocus(txtPassword)" /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td align="right"> <input type="button" style="width:125px;height:22px" name="btnUpdate" id="btnUpdate" value="Update" onclick="btnUpdate_OnClick()" /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td align="right"> <input type="button" style="width:125px;height:22px" name="btnReset" id="btnReset" value="Reset" onclick="btnReset_OnClick()" /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td align="right"> <input type="button" style="width:125px;height:22px" name="btnClose" id="btnClose" value="Close" onclick="btnClose_OnClick()" /> </td> </tr> </table> </div> </body> </html>

That's all that there is to it, although you might want to restart your SMTP service after you have made these changes.

Additional Notes

On a related topic, I get asked from time to time why I like to use HTML Applications (HTMLA) for some of my scripting examples, and the answer is quite simple: it is very easy to create powerful scripts in a very short amount of time which have sophisticated user interfaces and no compilation requirements.

I use Adersoft's HtaEdit as my IDE for HTMLA, which allows me to do normal development tasks like configuring project options, setting breakpoints, and stepping through my code.


Note: Click the image above to open it full-size in a separate window.

That being said, I have been experimenting with creating user interfaces in PowerShell, and it looks like it has some real promise for creating great UIs, too. But for now I only use PowerShell to create command line scripts, I use HTMLA to create cool UIs for administrative scripts, and I use C# to create "real" applications.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: May 22 2015, 09:11 by Bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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Using the Ceton Echo with Windows Media Center

I don't usually post reviews, but I thought that this subject was worth mentioning in case anyone else is having problems with Windows Media Center (WMC) and Linksys Media Center Extenders (MCEs).

Here’s the situation, I used to have a pair of Linksys MCEs that I used with my WMC computer; a DMA2100 and a DMA2200. (Although when I bought an Xbox 360 a few years ago, I configured it as an extender, and I gave the DMA2100 to my dad to use with his WMC computer.)

DMA2100 DMA2200
Linksys DMA2100 Linksys DMA2200

That being said, the Linksys MCEs never worked perfectly for me. They worked fine with DVR-MS, WTV, and WMV files, but for some reason they never worked well with MP4 files – which included my entire library of personal DVDs that I painstakingly ripped and stored in a Media Library on a NAS unit. However, I should mention that MP4 files played just fine on the WMC computer itself, just not on the Linksys MCEs.

I realize that all of the file types which I listed are just wrappers around the underlying media, so I was always perplexed as to why an MP4 file would never work with the fast-forward, skip, rewind, or pause buttons on my Linksys MCEs even though a WMV file would. What’s more, most MP4 files would play for about a minute, then the playback would freeze/skip/etc. for a little bit, and then it would usually stabilize for the rest of the video. (Although sometimes the video would never come back and I had to stop the video or reset the MCE.)

I should point out that all of my devices are hard-wired to gigabit networking hardware, so throughput should never have been a problem. (In fact, running the networking tests from the Linksys MCEs always showed bandwidth off the scale.) I eventually decided that the DMA2200 would have to be limited to just playing back recorded TV, which made it a rather bad return on investment.

For the past few years I had thought that the problem was simply some sort of compatibility issue with Windows Media Center and MP4 files when using an MCE, but I never had any problems with my Xbox 360 when using it as an MCE. In fact, the Xbox works so well that I have disconnected my WMC computer from my TV and now I exclusively use the Xbox to control my WMC.

Xbox-360
Xbox 360

Seeing as how the Xbox was working so well, it finally dawned on me that the problem had to be something internal to the Linksys MCEs. With that in mind, I started shopping around for a second Xbox 360 to replace my remaining Linksys MCE, but first I decided to read some of the Ceton Echo reviews on Amazon.

Several of the reviewers specifically mentioned my exact scenario; they were using Linksys MCEs and they were having problems with the video freezing/skipping, and the Echo resolved the problem. With that in mind, I decided to give the Echo a try.

Ceton-Echo
Ceton Echo

My Ceton Echo arrived a few days ago, and it was a breeze to set up. The footprint is much smaller than either the Linksys DMA2100 or DMA2200, and it's obviously a lot smaller than an Xbox 360. Another nice feature was that the Echo accepted commands from my existing Linksys remote; this was great for me because I had already configured my Linksys remote to control my TV, so I didn't have to change anything else in my setup if I didn't want to.

All of that being said, the most-important benefit after replacing my Linksys MCEs with the Ceton Echo is – no more skipping or freezing when playing MP4 files, and I can use the skip-forward, skip-backward, and pause buttons on the remote when I am viewing MP4 files. One small downside is that the fast-forward and reverse buttons do not seem to work with MP4 files, but I can live with that.

So in closing, if you're using a Linksys Media Center Extender and you're having issues with it, you might want to seriously consider replacing it with a Ceton Echo.

Posted: Apr 09 2015, 12:59 by bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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Command-Line Utility to Create BlogEngine.NET Password Hashes

I ran into an interesting predicament the other day, and I thought that both the situation and my solution were worth sharing. Here's the scenario: I host websites for several family members and friends, and one of my family member's uses BlogEngine.NET for her blog. (As you may have seen in my previous blogs, I'm a big fan of BlogEngine.NET.) In any event, she forgot her password, so I logged into the admin section of her website, only to discover that there was no way for me to reset her password – I could only reset my password. Since it's my webserver, I have access to the physical files, so I decided to write a simple utility that can create the requisite SHA256/BASE64 password hashes that BlogEngine.NET uses, and then I can manually update the Users.xml file with new password hashes as I create them.

With that in mind, here is the code for the command-line utility:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Security.Cryptography;
using System.Text;
using System.Threading.Tasks;

namespace BlogEnginePasswordHash
{
  class Program
  {
    static void Main(string[] args)
    {
      // Verify that a single argument was passed to the application...
      if (args.Length != 1)
      {
        // ...if not, reply with generic help message.
        Console.WriteLine("\nUSAGE: BlogEnginePasswordHash <password>\n");
      }
      // ...otherwise...
      else
      {
        // Retrieve a sequence of bytes for the password argument.
        var passwordBytes = Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(args[0]);
        // Retrieve a SHA256 object.
        using (HashAlgorithm sha256 = new SHA256Managed())
        {
          // Hash the password.
          sha256.TransformFinalBlock(passwordBytes, 0, passwordBytes.Length);
          // Convert the hashed password to a Base64 string.
          string passwordHash = Convert.ToBase64String(sha256.Hash);
          // Display the password and it's hash.
          Console.WriteLine("\nPassword: {0}\nHash: {1}\n", args[0], passwordHash);
        }
      }
    }
  }
}

That code snippet should be pretty self-explanatory; the application takes a single argument, which is the password to hash. Once you enter a password and hit enter, the password and it's respective hash will be displayed.

Here are a few examples:

C:\>BlogEnginePasswordHash.exe "This is my password"

Password: This is my password
Hash: 6tV+IGzvN4gaQ0vmCWNHSQ0UQ0WgW4+ThJuhpXR6Z3c=

C:\>BlogEnginePasswordHash.exe Password1

Password: Password1
Hash: GVE/3J2k+3KkoF62aRdUjTyQ/5TVQZ4fI2PuqJ3+4d0=

C:\>BlogEnginePasswordHash.exe Password2

Password: Password2
Hash: G+AiJ1Cq84iauVtdWTuhLk/xBGR0cC1rR3n0tScwWyM=

C:\>

Once you have created password hashes, you can paste those into the Users.xml file for your website:

<Users>
  <User>
    <UserName>Alice</UserName>
    <Password>GVE/3J2k+3KkoF62aRdUjTyQ/5TVQZ4fI2PuqJ3+4d0=</Password>
    <Email>alice@fabrikam.com</Email>
    <LastLoginTime>2015-01-31 01:52:00</LastLoginTime>
  </User>
  <User>
    <UserName>Bob</UserName>
    <Password>G+AiJ1Cq84iauVtdWTuhLk/xBGR0cC1rR3n0tScwWyM=</Password>
    <Email>bob@fabrikam.com</Email>
    <LastLoginTime>2015-01-31 01:53:00</LastLoginTime>
  </User>
</Users>

That's all there is to do. Pretty simple stuff.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/

Posted: Jan 30 2015, 19:36 by Bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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Nineteen Years at Microsoft

Microsoft has an interesting unofficial tradition for employees on their anniversary with the company: we are supposed to bring in one pound of M&M's for each year that we have been with Microsoft.

That being said, when I reached my 10-year anniversary with the company, I decided that 10 pounds or more of M&M's were way too many, and a recent trip to the Cayman Islands provided me with a much better alternative: Caribbean Rum Cakes.

Tortuga_Rum_Cakes

For each subsequent anniversary, I would bring in a rum cake for each year since my date of hire, and these proved to be a big hit with my coworkers. So much so that when I changed teams, I had coworkers ask me if they could still drop by and have rum cake on my anniversary.

However, this past year I began working remotely, so I did not order any rum cakes that year. That was kind of sad for me, because I usually looked forward to my annual tradition. With that in mind, I hadn't really paid attention as my anniversary was approaching this year.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised this morning when I entered my office and discovered that my loving spouse had ordered several rum cakes just for me to celebrate the day…

I have a pretty cool spouse. ;-]

Posted: Dec 18 2014, 11:07 by Bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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FTP Clients - Part 16: NetDrive

For the next installments in my series about FTP clients, I will be taking a look at two FTP redirectors at the same time. In this specific blog post, I will focus on NetDrive (from Bdrive Inc.), whereas my previous post looked at WebDrive (from South River Technologies).

At the time of this blog's writing, NetDrive is a for-retail FTP client and redirector which is available from the following URL:

http://www.netdrive.net/

For this blog post I will be using NetDrive version 2.3.2.

NetDrive 2.3 Overview

NetDrive is different from many of the other FTP clients that I have reviewed because it is an Internet protocol redirector, meaning that it allows you to map drive letters to a variety of Internet repositories. When you install and open NetDrive, you are presented with the list of supported Internet protocols and repositories which you can use for mapping drives:

As you can see from the illustration above, NetDrive's list of support technologies is quite extensive: DropBox, Box.net, Google Drive, OneDrive, Amazon S3, Openstack Swift, FTP, SFTP, and WebDAV.

When you add a drive or configure the settings for one of the default drives, you are presented with a dialog box where you can enter the settings for the drive connection; note that there are very few settings for FTP connections:

As you add drives, the NetDrive user interface will display the drives and their current connection status:

As an added touch, NetDrive customizes its drive icons in Windows Explorer, so you can easily see the type of mapped drive for each connection:

I would love to take an in-depth look at all of the supported protocols in this review, but this series is about FTP clients, so I'll move on to the FTP-specific features that I normally review.

Using NetDrive 2.3 with FTP over SSL (FTPS)

NetDrive 2.3 has built-in support for FTP over SSL (FTPS), although it only appears to support Explicit FTPS - and it does so in a confusing way. When you are editing the settings for an FTP drive connection, you need to check the box for SSL/TLS in order to enable FTPS. Unfortunately, when you do so, the dialog box will change the port to 990, which is the port number for Implicit FTPS; however, in my testing I could not get Implicit FTPS to work:

With the above information in mind, I needed to manually change the port number back to 21 in order to use Explicit FTPS with NetDrive:

Using NetDrive 2.3 with True FTP Hosts

True FTP hosts are not supported natively by NetDrive 2.3, and there are no settings which allow you to customize the login environment in order to work around this situation.

Using NetDrive 2.3 with Virtual FTP Hosts

NetDrive 2.3's login settings allow you to specify the virtual host name as part of the user credentials by using syntax like "ftp.example.com|username" or "ftp.example.com\username", so you can use virtual FTP hosts with NetDrive 2.3.

Scorecard for NetDrive 2.3

This concludes my quick look at a few of the FTP features that are available with NetDrive 2.3, and here are the scorecard results:

Client
Name
Directory
Browsing
Explicit
FTPS
Implicit
FTPS
Virtual
Hosts
True
HOSTs
Site
Manager
Extensibility
NetDrive 2.3.2 N/A Y N1 Y N2 Y N/A
Notes:
  1. Despite several attempts, I could not get NetDrive to work with Implicit FTPS.
  2. I could find no way to customize an FTP connection in order to enable true FTP hostnames.

That wraps things up for today's review of NetDrive 2.3. Your key take-aways should be: NetDrive has some nice features, and it supports a wide variety of protocols with a similar user experience; that being said, NetDrive has very few settings for drive connections, so its capabilities are somewhat limited.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: Nov 29 2014, 19:42 by Bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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FTP Clients - Part 15: WebDrive

For the next installments in my series about FTP clients, I will be taking a look at two FTP redirectors at the same time. In this specific blog post, I will focus on WebDrive (from South River Technologies), whereas my next post will look at NetDrive (from Bdrive Inc.).

At the time of this blog's writing, WebDrive is a for-retail FTP client and redirector which is available from the following URL:

http://www.webdrive.com/

For this blog post I will be using WebDrive version 12.10.4082.

WebDrive 12 Overview

Before I continue, I would like to begin with some background information: because of my ongoing blog series about FTP clients, one question that I have often been asked is, "Which FTP client do you use?" Usually I have to answer, "That depends." I know that my answer sounds non-committal, but to be honest - I have yet to find an FTP client that does everything that I want, although a few FTP clients have had enough features for me to use them quite often. And with that in mind, I need to point out that I purchased my first license for WebDrive over 12 years ago, and over the years I have periodically renewed my license for later versions. So to partially answer my earlier question - WebDrive is one of the FTP clients that I have used a lot.

That being said, WebDrive is different from many of the other FTP clients that I have reviewed because it is an Internet protocol redirector, meaning that it allows you to map drive letters to a variety of Internet-based repositories. (I'll discuss those various protocols and repositories shortly.)

When you install and open WebDrive, you are presented with a fairly empty user interface:

If you click the App Settings icon, you will be presented with a dialog box that offers dozens of customizable options:

When you click the New icon, you will be presented with a Site Wizard which lists the supported Internet protocols and repositories which you can use for mapping drives:

As you can see from the illustration above, WebDrive's list of support technologies is quite extensive: WebDAV, Secure WebDAV, FTP, Secure FTP, Google Drive, Amazon S3, SFTP, Dropbox, and FrontPage Server Extensions.

When you choose to create an FTP connection, WebDrive launches its Site Wizard, and the initial dialog box is pretty self-explanatory:

However, when you click the Advanced Settings button, you are presented once again with dozens of customizable settings for this specific connection:

As you continue to add sites with WebDrive, their connection types and current statuses are displayed in the user interface:

However, when you view your drives in Windows Explorer, even though network drives which are mapped through WebDrive are displayed with a different icon, you cannot tell the protocol type for mapped drives; this is one of the few times where NetDrive supported a feature that I really missed in WebDrive. (See my next blog entry for more information.)

WebDrive 12 supports command-line scripting, so if you find the features of the built-in Windows FTP client are somewhat limited, you can investigate scripting WebDrive:

WebDrive Command Line Parameters

I would love to take an in-depth look at all of the supported protocols in this review, but this series is about FTP clients, so I'll move on to the FTP-specific features that I normally review.

Using WebDrive 12 with FTP over SSL (FTPS)

WebDrive 12 has built-in support for FTP over SSL (FTPS), and it supports both Explicit and Implicit FTPS. To specify which type of encryption to use for FTPS, you need to choose the appropriate option from the Security Type drop-down menu in the FTP Settings for a site:

Using WebDrive 12 with True FTP Hosts

True FTP hosts are not supported natively by WebDrive 12, and there are no settings that I could find which would allow me to customize the login environment in order to work around this situation.

Using WebDrive 12 with Virtual FTP Hosts

WebDrive 12's login settings allow you to specify the virtual host name as part of the user credentials by using syntax like "ftp.example.com|username" or "ftp.example.com\username", so you can use virtual FTP hosts with WebDrive 12.

Scorecard for WebDrive 12

This concludes my quick look at a few of the FTP features that are available with WebDrive 12, and here are the scorecard results:

Client
Name
Directory
Browsing
Explicit
FTPS
Implicit
FTPS
Virtual
Hosts
True
HOSTs
Site
Manager
Extensibility
WebDrive 12.10.4082 N/A Y Y Y N1 Y N/A
Notes:
  1. True FTP hosts are not supported natively, and I could find no way to customize an FTP connection in order to enable true FTP hostnames.

That wraps things up for today's review of WebDrive 12. Your key take-aways should be: WebDrive is a powerful redirector with support for a wide variety of protocols. What's more, the WebDrive application and each individual connection contain dozens of options which allow you to customize the environment in hundreds of ways. As is the case with many of my reviews, I have barely presented a fraction of the capabilities that are available in WebDrive 12; you might want to try it out and experiment with all of its possibilities.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/

Posted: Nov 29 2014, 19:39 by Bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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Interesting Verbiage Choices in Technology Journalism

I often find technology journalism interesting not because of what is actually said, but because of how it is said. Everyone throughout the technology world has their own opinions and biases, but some people are incapable of separating their personal feelings from the facts when writing about competing technologies.

Here is a perfect example of what I mean - a coworker recently shared the following article with me, and pay special attention to the title:

The iPad Air 2 is the second fastest tablet currently available
http://www.mobileburn.com/23674/news/the-ipad-air-2-is-the-second-fastest-tablet-currently-available

Hmm. "The iPad Air 2 is the second fastest tablet currently available?" If so, then what's the fastest? You certainly wouldn't know by glancing at the article's title.

The article continues in typical Apple-fanboy style by continuously lauding the iPad's accolades as the 2nd-best device throughout the piece, with only a single reference to the clear winner: "... Apple's iPad is the second fastest tablet on the market, only trailing behind Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, a slate that has full PC innards." That statement doesn't actually hold water with the chart that the author includes, which shows that the Surface 3 is far and away the best tablet in terms of overall performance.

surface-versus-ipad-versus-the-world

That being said, I seriously question what the article's author meant when he referred to the Surface 3 as "a slate that has full PC innards." Does having PC innards disqualify the Surface 3 for some reason? If the iPad had come out on top of this performance comparison, I am sure that the article's author would have pointed out that the Surface 3's "PC innards" were somehow responsible.

I mentioned to someone yesterday that the article in question reminds me of days long ago when the USSR would announce that "Comrade So-and-so won a Silver Medal in the Olympics," while never mentioning who took home the Gold. This article's author chooses his verbiage in a similar manner, so it's not hard to see where his allegiances are.

Personally, I would title this article "Why the Surface 3 kicks your Apple iPoop to the curb."

;-)

Posted: Oct 23 2014, 16:21 by bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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Using the WebDAV Redirector with OneDrive Part 2 - Two-Step Verification

This blog is Part 2 of a series about mapping a drive letter to your OneDrive account. In Part 1 of this series, I showed you how to map a drive letter to your OneDrive account when you are using standard security, and in this blog I will show you how to map a drive letter to your OneDrive account after you have enabled two-step verification for your account security. The process is largely similar, with the notable exception that you need to generate an application password which you will use when you are mapping the drive letter with the WebDAV Redirector.

A quick note about two-step verification: enabling this security feature adds an additional requirement so that you will need to use a secondary method to verify your identity when you are logging in. (For example, you can use a phone app, text message, or second email account.) However, you cannot use a secondary login method when you are using the WebDAV Redirector, so you will need to create an application password. (Note: More information about two-step verification for your Microsoft is available in the Two-step verification: FAQ.)

Step 1 - Log Into Your OneDrive Account

The first thing that you need to do is to browse to https://onedrive.live.com/ and sign in with your Windows account.

Step 2 - Determine Your OneDrive Customer ID

Once you have logged in to your OneDrive account, hover your mouse over the Files link on the left part of your browser window – this will show your customer number in the status bar on the bottom of your browser window. If you have the status bar disabled, you can right-click the Files link and click Copy Shortcut in the pop-up menu. (Note: Those instructions are for Internet Explorer, but the method should be similar in Chrome or Firefox.)

Your Customer ID is the value that is specified after the "cid=" in the URL; for example: "https://onedrive.live.com/?cid=426f62526f636b73". You will need this value when you map a drive letter.

Step 3 - Generate an Application Password

To map a WebDAV drive to your OneDrive account after you have enabled two-step account verification, you will need to generate an application password which you will use when you enter your credentials. (Note: More information about two-step verification can be found in the App passwords and two-step verification article.)

To generate an application password, you first need to log into your Microsoft account settings at https://account.live.com/:

Once you have logged in, click on Security & password and then Create a new app password:

When the app password page is displayed, copy the password for later:

Step 4 - Map the Drive Letter

Your next step is to map the drive letter, and there are a few ways to do this. I have documented several methods in my Using the WebDAV Redirector article on the IIS.net website, but I will show a few ways in this blog.

Method #1 - Using the Windows User Interface and Wizards

On most of my systems I have the Network and This PC or My Computer icons on my desktop, which makes it easy to simply right-click one of those icons and select Map network drive:

An alternate method on Windows 8 is to open This PC and Map network drive will be listed as an icon on the Windows Explorer ribbon:

Once the Map Network Drive Wizard appears, enter "https://d.docs.live.net/" followed by your Customer ID from Step 2. For example: "https://d.docs.live.net/426f62526f636b73/"

When the Windows Security dialog box appears, enter your email address that you used to log into your OneDrive account in Step 1 and the application password that you created in Step 3.

Once the mapping has been completed, you will be able to view your OneDrive files in Windows Explorer via the mapped drive:

Method #2 - Using the Windows Command Line

You can also map a WebDAV drive letter to your OneDrive account from a command line. The general syntax is listed below:

 
C:\>net use * https://d.docs.live.net/xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx/ /user:"user@example.com" "password"

 

For example:

C:\>net use * https://d.docs.live.net/426f62526f636b73/ /user:"bob@contoso.com" "426f62526f636b73"

C:\>dir
 Volume in drive Z has no label.
 Volume Serial Number is 0000-0000

 Directory of Z:\

09/02/2014 10:38 PM <DIR> Applications
09/27/2014 08:43 AM <DIR> Blog Photos
09/29/2014 10:50 PM <DIR> Documents
08/17/2014 03:44 AM <DIR> Pictures
09/22/2014 05:58 PM <DIR> Public
09/29/2014 10:43 AM <DIR> SkyDrive camera roll

C:\>

That wraps it up for Part 2 of this blog series - I hope this helps!

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: Sep 29 2014, 18:21 by Bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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Using the WebDAV Redirector with OneDrive Part 1 - Standard Security

If you have read some of my previous blog posts and IIS.NET articles about WebDAV, you will see that I often use the WebDAV Redirector that is built-in to Windows in order to connect to various WebDAV websites. This allows me to access my files via a mapped drive letter, which also enables me to use WebDAV with applications that do not have native WebDAV support. (Like Visual Studio.) I'm also a big fan of OneDrive, but sometimes I'm on a legacy system where I don't have OneDrive installed. With that in mind, I thought that I would put together a quick blog series to show you how to map a drive letter to your OneDrive files.

In Part 1 of this series, I will show you how to map a drive letter to your OneDrive account by using standard security. In Part 2 of this series, I will show you how to map a drive letter to your OneDrive account after you have enabled two-step verification for your account security.

Step 1 - Log Into Your OneDrive Account

The first thing that you need to do is to browse to https://onedrive.live.com/ and sign in with your Windows account.

Step 2 - Determine Your OneDrive Customer ID

Once you have logged in to your OneDrive account, hover your mouse over the Files link on the left part of your browser window – this will show your customer number in the status bar on the bottom of your browser window. If you have the status bar disabled, you can right-click the Files link and click Copy Shortcut in the pop-up menu. (Note: Those instructions are for Internet Explorer, but the method should be similar in Chrome or Firefox.)

Your Customer ID is the value that is specified after the "cid=" in the URL; for example: "https://onedrive.live.com/?cid=426f62526f636b73". You will need this value when you map a drive letter.

Step 3 - Map the Drive Letter

Your next step is to map the drive letter, and there are a few ways to do this. I have documented several methods in my Using the WebDAV Redirector article on the IIS.net website, but I will show a few ways in this blog.

Method #1 - Using the Windows User Interface and Wizards

On most of my systems I have the Network and This PC or My Computer icons on my desktop, which makes it easy to simply right-click one of those icons and select Map network drive:

An alternate method on Windows 8 is to open This PC and Map network drive will be listed as an icon on the Windows Explorer ribbon:

Once the Map Network Drive Wizard appears, enter "https://d.docs.live.net/" followed by your Customer ID from Step 2. For example: "https://d.docs.live.net/426f62526f636b73/"

When the Windows Security dialog box appears, enter the email address and password that you used to log into your OneDrive account in Step 1.

Once the mapping has been completed, you will be able to view your OneDrive files in Windows Explorer via the mapped drive:

Method #2 - Using the Windows Command Line

You can also map a WebDAV drive letter to your OneDrive account from a command line. The general syntax is listed below:

 
C:\>net use * https://d.docs.live.net/xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx/ /user:"user@example.com" "password"

 

For example:

C:\>net use * https://d.docs.live.net/426f62526f636b73/ /user:"bob@contoso.com" "P@ssw0rd"

C:\>dir
 Volume in drive Z has no label.
 Volume Serial Number is 0000-0000

 Directory of Z:\

09/02/2014 10:38 PM <DIR> Applications
09/27/2014 08:43 AM <DIR> Blog Photos
09/29/2014 10:50 PM <DIR> Documents
08/17/2014 03:44 AM <DIR> Pictures
09/22/2014 05:58 PM <DIR> Public
09/29/2014 10:43 AM <DIR> SkyDrive camera roll

C:\>

That wraps it up for Part 1 of this blog series. In Part 2, I will show how to map a WebDAV drive to your OneDrive account after you have enabled two-step verification for your account security.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: Sep 29 2014, 18:18 by Bob | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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