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Just a quick note to wish my readers and users a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays (whichever applies to you!).
Wishing you all the best!
Offline messages in Messenger have always been stored on Hotmail (now Outlook.com), and with the e-mail count and notifications for Outlook.com in Messenger being removed recently, it was no surprise when the reports that offline messaging was no longer working. I can sadly confirm that to be the case.
However, it’s more complicated than simply being gone. Your offline messages can be triggered to be sent to you in Messenger… by using Skype.
If you want to try this yourself, link your Messenger Microsoft account to a Skype ID. Then with Messenger signed in already, log into Skype using your normal Skype username (you could use your Microsoft account as well, but you don’t have to). As soon as Skype logs in, your offline message will magically appear in Messenger. Note this requires Messenger 2012, it does not seem to work on 2009.
Additionally, you can also see your offline messages by using Outlook.com’s web messaging feature by signing in with your Microsoft account (note that it does not need to be a Live/Hotmail address to work).
This month’s Update Tuesday brought an early Christmas gift to those who want to use Messenger 2011 or 2012 on Windows 8.1.
Prior to this update being available, when you tried to sign in, you would receive error code 80090004. After the fix is installed, you will be able to sign in as normal.
The update is contained in the 8.1 December’s rollup update (KB2903939), which contains 18 fixes including KB2906900 (Error “0x80090004 (NTE_BAD_LEN)” occurs when you try to sign in to Windows Live Messenger).
Although I quickly managed to write some code to automatically check, download and install the update on machines that need it, it will be a few days before I think it’s ready. In the meantime, I have withdrawn the version of Messenger Reviver which blocked Messenger 2011/2012 installations on 8.1 and you will just need to manually update Windows 8.1 if Windows isn’t updated automatically.
A special thanks to user Chooky who was the first to notice the update!
Last week, Microsoft announced (yet another) rebrand of Hotmail to Outlook.com. It has received plenty of favourable reviews and praise but one feature is extremely annoying – and that is, like the Windows 8 Metro Windows 8-style UI Messaging application, it automatically logs you into Messenger and connected services (Facebook Chat) when you sign in, with no ability to log off instant messaging except for setting your status to “invisible”. (Side note: Windows 8 Messaging now thankfully has a global off switch added into its settings since the Release Preview.)
I’m sure there are people who don’t mind this – perhaps they don’t use instant messaging or they keep webmail open all the time anyway (in fact you get a small bonus feature if you do). I personally use the actual Outlook desktop application and only use webmail when I’m away from my own PC, so I’m not too keen to be speaking of people when I’m just trying to quickly access my email from other locations.
So I looked for a way to disable this from happening and after rummaging through the options unsuccessfully, some searches to see if anyone else had already figured it out, I started looking through the code, and found the key:
geo.messenger.services.live.com geo.gateway.messenger.live.com (changed December 2012).
So to disable Outlook.com’s Messaging feature, all one has to do is block this host and the easiest way to do this is to add it to your hosts file. If you’re not sure how to do this or want to save time, I’ve made a quick tool for Windows users below which you can easily run to automatically add (or remove) blocking this host. To make this change yourself manually, you find yourself on a machine without administrator rights, or you use another operating system, see Other Options below.
Using the tool
To start, download the Disable Outlook.com Messaging tool, open the zip file, and run the application inside. You’ll be prompted for administrator rights so the tool can make modifications to your hosts file, and then you’ll receive a message indicating the change has been made. Please note you’ll need to restart your browser to see the change.
To remove the entry in the hosts file, run the tool again, the messenger entry will be removed and you’ll receive a message notifying you as such.
If required, you can use the /q command line parameter to avoid seeing the notification messages that the change has been added or removed.
After the change
Once the hosts file entry has been added, when you click Messaging in Outlook.com, you will see an attempt to sign in but it never will be successful. With the new Messaging pane added in 2014, you will also need to collapse the Messaging pane by clicking on it:
If you wish to add the entry to the hosts file yourself and use Windows, press the Start button (if you use Windows XP, click the Run option) and type:
then press Ctrl-Shift-Enter to start Notepad with administrator rights. Once Notepad starts, add the following line:
Then close Notepad and save. Now just restart your browser to see the change.
If you’re on a Windows machine without the ability to get administrator rights, such as a work setup or library and there is an available version of Internet Explorer available, commenter qiang reminded me that you can use the Restricted Sites zone to block specific hosts like this one. To do so, after starting Internet Explorer, press the Alt key on the keyboard to bring up the menu bar, choose Tools, then Internet Options, then the Security tab, choose Restricted sites and finally press the Sites button. In the ‘Add this website to the zone:’ box, type geo.gateway.messenger.live.com and choose Add. Then click Close, and OK in the remaining open options windows. If outlook.com is already open, sign out outlook.com and sign back in to see the change.
If you’re using another operating system, the How-To Geek has tutorials for both Ubuntu Linux and OS X (the Windows one is missing the fact you need to start Notepad in Administrator mode if you’re following this guide).
Additionally, you could use firewall software to block outgoing connects to this hosts. Unfortunately the built-in Windows firewall only supports IP addresses and since these can change, it isn’t too useful for the purposes of blocking this.
As modifying the hosts file requires administrator rights, this probably won’t be successful on machines you might use when you’re out and about. Of course, the best solution would be for Microsoft to add this feature into Outlook.com itself and in fact, the web messenger in Hotmail initially didn’t allow you to log out either but the feature was added later on. I certainly have no idea why is was deemed unimportant to be included in the current release of Outlook.com and it seems many of you agree with me.
Updates to this article:
Mar 30/2012: There have been multiple changes to Metro Messenger this past month and the below no longer is sufficient to stop Messenger from signing in. However, these changes seem to have finally added MPOP support (that is, allow you to use Metro Messenger and the normal Messenger client at the same time) and so it’s not nearly maddening as it was initially. I may go back and review this in the coming month.
Mar 2/2012: After redoing my investigation, I figured out that I had missed another connection. It seems to also connect to 188.8.131.52 (otherwise known as beta.xmpp.messenger.live.com) to start the Messenger connection process. Blocking this stopped the below mentioned signout problem. I’ve tweaked the command lines above to reflect this and changed the name of the rule. Based on this information it seems the new client uses XMPP, but that will be the topic for a later article.
Mar 1/2012: Messing around more this evening with Windows 8 has caused my “classic” Messenger client to sign out a few times, even though the built-in Messenger client still claims it can’t connect. I will investigate more shortly to see why that is, although the above still should provide some satisfaction, but probably isn’t a perfect solution just yet.
It’s only been out for a few hours now, but the built-in Messenger client in Windows 8 Consumer Preview is causing me severe mental anguish. I’ll withhold my opinions of the client till later, but it seems to want to constantly connect and there does not appear to be any immediate way to turn this “feature” off. Furthermore, I don’t really want to use this client for Messenger purposes.
So after being rapidly compelled to find out what it is trying to connect to, I think I’ve sorted out a (temporary) solution to disable this built-in Messenger client using the Windows Firewall.
To do so, open an elevated Command Prompt by moving the mouse to left-hand corner until the Start box appears, then right-click and choose Command Prompt (Admin).
Confirm the operation, and then copy one of the following application lines into the clipboard:
For 32-bit Windows 8:
netsh advfirewall firewall add rule name="MetroMessengerXMPP" action="block" dir="out" program="c:\program files\windowsapps\microsoft.windowscommunicationsapps_16.2.3237.215_x86__8wekyb3d8bbwe\LiveComm.exe" remoteip="184.108.40.206,220.127.116.11/24"
For 64-bit Windows 8:
netsh advfirewall firewall add rule name="MetroMessengerXMPP" action="block" dir="out" program="c:\program files\windowsapps\microsoft.windowscommunicationsapps_16.2.3237.215_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe\LiveComm.exe" remoteip="18.104.22.168,22.214.171.124/24"
Then right-click in the Command Prompt area, choose Paste and press Enter.
You can close the Command Prompt now. Messenger should no longer be able to sign in any more, but the rest of the Windows 8 features should continue to work (including Mail). This works by restricting the LiveComm.exe process from communicating with the Messenger servers at the 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52/24 blocks of IP addresses. Hopefully they won’t decide to change the addressing scheme any time soon.
Note: As I’ve only had a few hours to test this, there may be unforeseen connection problems or it may even stop working later on. You can remove or edit this firewall rule by using the Advanced Firewall configuration (run “wf.msc”).
Back in the days of Windows XP, those using Remote Assistance regularly tended to prefer establishing Remote Assistance sessions using the built-in Windows Messenger client. These days, Easy Connect (added in Windows 7/Server 2008 R2) tends to be the preferred method.
But one major problem with using Easy Connect is within a domain joined computer, it informs you that Easy Connect is not available and does little to tell you why.
As the rather uninformative documentation will inform you, Easy Connect makes use of Microsoft’s “Peer Name Resolution Protocol” (PNRP). You can read more about the inner workings of PNRP, but the key is its use of IPv6 to function. As most of us do not have IPv6 support from our service providers, Windows makes use of Microsoft’s Teredo technology to tunnel you to IPv6 addresses.
So it is Teredo, which Windows automatically turns off in a domain environment that needs to be configured for Easy Connect to work.
Checking Teredo’s present status
You can check if Teredo is enabled by using netsh on the command line:
netsh int teredo show state
By default, Teredo is set in the “client” type. In a domain (managed) environment, you will receive “client is in a managed network” under the Error category when showing the Teredo state.
Enabling Teredo in a domain for Easy Connect
To enable Teredo in a managed domain environment, you’ll need to set the client type to “enterpriseclient”. To do this, depending on your scenario, you can use the netsh command on a single computer or the domain’s group policies to enable multiple machines.
Open an elevated command prompt and type:
netsh int teredo set state type=enterpriseclient
Note that this is a per-machine change, so anyone logging into the computer will get Teredo access.
Using group policy
In Group Policy Management (or related tool), Edit the GPO which affects the machines (ie. Default Domain Policy), navigate to Computer Configuration, Policies, Administrative Templates, Network, TCPIP Settings, IPv6 Transition Technologies and set the Teredo State setting to Enterprise Client.
As soon as the machines get this policy change (or use gpupdate /force on the clients), the setting will immediately work without a Windows restart.
Verifying Teredo is operational
You can again do the netsh int teredo show state command again to check that Teredo is now enabled and operational. If you used Group Policy to enable the setting, you’ll see (Group Policy) tagged after the Type field:
You can also test Teredo by pinging an IPv6 resource like Google:
Checking Easy Connect
To verify Easy Connect is now working, launch Remote Assistance (msra.exe), choose Invite someone you trust to help you, choose the Use Easy Connect option and after its network check, you should receive an invitation code.
A word about Windows Server 2008 R2
There may be instances where you wish to use Easy Connect on a computer using Windows Server 2008 R2. To enable this, you’ll need to go into the Server Manager and install both the Peer Name Resolution Protocol and Remote Assistance. After this is complete, you can enable Teredo as above.
If the Peer Name Resolution Protocol service is set to Disabled or not installed, the Easy Connect option will be grayed out in the Remote Assistance window. The service can be set to Manual (which is the default) as it will be automatically started by Remote Assistance when you go to use it.
Since Teredo can be easily toggled on a whim using netsh, those who prefer not to have Teredo enabled full-time can very easily write a script to automatically enable it prior to starting a remote session and then disable it afterwards.
A small disclaimer: be aware that there are many networking issues which can prevent Easy Connect (more specifically PNRP or Teredo) from working properly, especially problems involving routers, virtualization software or VPNs. Additionally, some or all of the public Teredo tunneling servers may not be available to you. This article does not address any of those difficulties and the Teredo state setting solely enables Teredo to work when Windows believes it is in a domain environment.
Earlier this week my friend David pointed me in the direction of Intel’s AppUp software, as they are running a deal where you get Angry Birds Rio and Chicken Invaders 4 (Ultimate Omelette Christmas) for free when you make your account. I, for one, enjoy a quick, fun (and free) game and Intel seemed trustworthy enough, so I went ahead and installed it.
First and foremost it feels like it takes forever to even get inside the software. On my (Intel) SSD and 10Mbit connection it takes about 20 seconds to completely go through the startup procedure involving some weird progress bars, a logo which comes, goes, comes back, and a random Intel copyright message which shows up to signify the end of the process. Compared to the instant-ness of the Android Market or even iTunes in a virtual machine, this is hardly an ideal initial impression. Additionally, it’s consistently this slow too, not just the first time.
Once you get running you’ll find yourself in a framed window, with the usual custom user web-like interface and standard “app store” features. Design-wise everything seems typical, except in the default non-maximized state, elements in the interface seemed a bit crunched together despite ample space available on the screen. The maximized state was much better, so I suspect it was designed to operate in the larger size.
The downloads happen in small little boxes with tiny progress bars and even though both Angry Birds and Chicken Invaders used the Windows Installer, neither seemed to fully communicate with the AppUp software which simply scrolled “Installing” back and forth with a marquee progress bar awaiting the end of the install. Not a huge problem, but this lack of detail makes it seem like the applications aren’t integrated with AppUp and are on their own. An impression we’ll soon see is incorrect.
With the install complete, I went into Chicken Invaders and amused myself for a little while. The graphics were cute, the music was well done and the gameplay fairly fun. Clearly someone put some love into the game, but having gotten stuck on Chapter 4, I put it away and moved on to something else.
The next day brought Windows Updates, which led to the inevitable reboot and once that was finished, I noticed a new icon had appeared in my notification area. I’m sure it will not come of any surprise to you who the new icon invader belonged to.
AppUp had added two new entries, “Intel AppUp(SM) center” (which is an invisible background process I’ll come back to shortly) and “Intel AppUp(SM) center_Nagware”. I’ll give Intel full credit here, telling me their unnecessary notification area process is “nagware” truly assisted in making sure it doesn’t run again on my machine.
I unchecked both, logged out of Windows and logged back in.
Then I thought, “wouldn’t it be fun to shoot some chicken invaders after all that?” Unfortunately Intel didn’t think similarity and was not pleased that I had the audacity to disable their startup process.
So I headed over to the Start menu and clicked on the Intel AppUp center shortcut. After the increasing annoying 20-second startup delay, I closed it and started Task Manager. Sure enough, a process belonging to Intel named ismagent.exe was running.
With all this determined, I tried to run Chicken Invaders again. It worked just fine this time and with Christmas music playing, I made fried chicken of the chicken invaders again.
In reflection, having been at the mercy of Intel software before, the quality shown here doesn’t surprise me much. Don’t get me wrong, the people at Intel are absolutely amazing at consistently bringing out hardware engineering marvels, but when it comes to software, well, they just don’t seem to get it.
And sure Microsoft can be poor with some of their choices at times (especially dealing with the installation of Windows Live products for example), but they’ve never deliberately broken themselves because you removed one of their applications from startup… especially when said startup process doesn’t even seem to be required to be running all the time. Surely if their background Services Manager is needed when starting one of these applications, why not just start it up in the background automatically? This really isn’t rocket computer science.
When I built Skype Call Button, one of the key components threw me into the realm of registry hackery and because of that, I knew it could be easily broken by other software. So to combat the problem, I have the software do a check on all my modifications when the software next starts, and if something has changed the configuration, it prompts to fix itself. Sure, it’s not perfect and probably could be expanded even more, but I thought it best that I try to help the user as much as possible.
So if I can do it, you would think one of the top technology companies in the world could too. That said, I figured I should take a quick glance at how this software is architected.
The main folder here is fairly uneventful. Explorer reports 124 files, 14 folders, totaling up to 53.2 MB of disk space. Of interest is the uninstall.exe, which I remember was created during the initial installation when the setup declared it was “creating uninstaller”. Since their “apps” use the Windows Installer, I think it’s fairly ridiculous that they felt they had to engineer their own installer and uninstaller.
In the main \bin folder, you’ll find 13 executables and 53 DLLs including a few well known favourites, such as cURL, gSOAP, OpenSSL, Qt (including WebKit), and SQLite. This isn’t bad thing in of itself, but the requirements for AppUp say it requires the .NET Framework. Yet, they don’t seem to have used the framework at all as they have used third-party open source libraries instead, and have completely over-engineered what appears to be relatively simple software.
I’ve used my share of these app stores in the past, and although some have been fairly disappointing (for example, the Games for Windows Marketplace didn’t have any search capability until it was recently absorbed into the Xbox website), this one ranks pretty low among them.
I’m not even entirely sure why Intel feels the need to be in this market; surely most of their software partners can provide a better offering?
I’ll be leaving both Intel processes off my startup. If I feel the need to shoot chickens again, I will happily just start their background process myself.
Some of you may recall that a month ago, I was having problems syncing with OneNote and SkyDrive. Despite hours of checking through the various libraries and layers of software that might have been broken, I didn’t seem to get anywhere.
That said, there’s another odd problem I’ve observed over the past month where Outlook would pop up a “MailTips could not be retrieved” message whenever I composed email.
As I’m the only person on my Exchange server and so the feature didn’t do anything for me, I just assumed Exchange 2010 SP2 had broken something (also released and installed at the beginning of December).
But it showed up today and I figured I would deal with it.
I’m no stranger to these problems as previous Exchange/Outlook versions were far less forgiving, so my first step was to check if it could actually get to Exchange Web Services and the offline address book on my domain. I popped in the URLs in IE and they worked. Then I moved on to the Autodiscover configuration. Again, putting the URL in IE, punching in my credentials, resulted in everything checking out.
Thankfully Outlook has its own Autodiscover test feature, which outputted an error of 0x8007273D or The attempted operation is not supported for the type of object referenced.
This rang the alarm bells in my head immediately. This was just another version of the weird “sorry, I can’t do that Jonathan” message. A search only found one post talking about this error code with Autodiscover and no real solution. So although connectivity was fine in the browser, there was some connectivity or protocol problem between these few applications and the outside network.
Unfortunately debugging the traffic itself is near to impossible in this case, since both programs are closed source and one can’t just load up Wireshark to poke into HTTPS traffic. But I had a hunch that I wouldn’t need to go through all that, instead I loaded up the incredibly useful Windows SysInternals autoruns tool and starting going through the network related tabs.
And sure enough, conveniently highlighted in red (due to no digital certificate) was my problem – WideCap. Although I’ve been using “sockscap”-like software to proxy or tunnel my connection (when needed) for quite some time, I had only seen WideCap referenced somewhere very recently and tried it out… and forgotten about it.
So, heading over to the Programs applet, the final piece fell into place.
…installed on December 4th. Just a week before I noticed the OneNote problem.
So I uninstalled it, rebooted the system and loaded up OneNote. The web sync now magically worked. I started Outlook, did the Autodiscover test and it succeeded. MailTips were once again working in a new email reply. All was working again.
In my original post you may have noted that there was a thread with several people with the same problem. Although I’m not at all suggesting they’ve all installed WideCap, but I do suspect they’ve installed some other software which has lovingly inserted a winsock provider or something similar into their installation.
Back on the Messenger newsgroups, the top issue was signing into the Messenger service and if IE was working, thus proving the SSL parts of Windows were functioning, the problem usually was third-party software (almost always “internet security” related applications). In fact since Messenger was unaffected by this problem and it’s usually the first to break, it didn’t occur to me to check for this possibility a month ago.
So, another case is closed, my cloud is happy again and I’m pleased.
For over six years now I’ve had a MSN Direct watch on my wrist. I was originally given the Suunto n3 at a MVP event (which subsequently caused much grief trying to activate it) and later on was upgraded to a n3i.
At the time, smart phones and their attached data plans were still in their infancy and were quite expensive. So MSN Direct, being only ~$80/year and only a once-a-year expense seemed reasonable. You got different watch faces, weather, news, your calendar, Messenger integration, movie info, and other information all right there on your wrist, without any synchronization or fuss. As long as you kept it charged and stayed in North America, it just worked.
Or did work until a few hours from now when they pull the plug.
Admittedly those of us who actually used MSN Direct have been surprised that it’s lasted this long. I suspect it’s only stayed up for contractual reasons with the various vendors involved, as well as not being all that expensive to maintain. MSN Direct uses “DirectBand”, a Microsoft technology which injects data into the subcarrier of an FM radio station. So beyond the initial installation and probably a regular payment to the related media conglomerate, it probably didn’t cost anything to be running (web costs, support, notwithstanding).
One annoying factor about the watches is that like old-school PDAs, when they run out of power, all data contents are lost. This wasn’t a huge deal before as they’d just re-download all their data from the network, but now without the network, a power outage would drop all the downloaded fancy watch faces and any other information stored inside permanently.
This known, about four months ago I opened up my watch, took big high resolution DSLR pictures of the battery and noted down all the part numbers on a quest for a battery replacement. The battery had lasted at least five years, so I figured a new one would do the same if treated well. My web searches on the various part numbers yielded no results. So hoping they could assist with alternatives, I sent my information and pictures to a variety of battery vendors online (including one I’d dealt with before for batteries for my old Microsoft Cordless Phone).
I got two replies – one was shorter than a Steve Jobs email, “We cannot provide.” The other was a little more gracious but it was clear all they did was copy/paste my part number into their search box (as if I hadn’t done that myself). None of the others bothered to reply.
So, I gave up on that as a single forget-to-charge would drop the contents of the watch and eventually I’d be back in the position I’m in now anyway.
The “killer feature” of MSN Direct for me was the calendar and the reminders. Basically, you installed a small Outlook add-on and as you added calendar events, they would be sent to the MSN Direct servers and out to your watch automatically. If the calendar event had a reminder, the watch would beep at you at the appropriate time and your calendar event would be displayed.
However, my phone (with some minor exceptions) can handle this task relatively well now so that feature has been become less and less important. With that set aside, I’ve also been looking at “normal” watches too. I have to say I haven’t found anything yet that has stood out to me and the only one I’ve really liked was the GIEZ GS1300B-1, brought to my attention by my not-related-but-still-have-the-same-last-name contact Julian Kay. Unfortunately it’s a little too out of my league right now though.
So, I’m not really sure what I’ll do. For now, I’ll probably just hunt around in my drawer for some older watches I used to wear and go from there. Which is probably what most MSN Direct users did quite some time ago.
RIP MSN Direct.
One of the big touted features of Office 2010 is the integration with SkyDrive. I have not used such features intensely but they have worked generally as advertised… up till now.
I’m working on a web project presently and I opened up OneNote last night to check a few points in my notes. The last time I used OneNote, I had observed that my web notebook hadn’t synched but dismissed it as it was just a generic error. It was still doing the same thing now so I decided to investigate.
After not really noticing any way to immediately figure out what was going on, I figured I’d try just closing the notebook and opening it back up again.
OneNote couldn’t find any web notebooks or they are already open.
Oh really? Ah, Missing a notebook? Why yes I am. Okay I’ll follow instructions and “check Windows Live SkyDrive”.
Well it seems to be there. Let’s “Open in OneNote”…
OneNote has encountered a problem and cannot complete this operation. What problem is that? Which part of the operation?
Needless to say, after many hours of sifting through Process Monitor, removing cookies, going through the COM components being called, renaming registry keys, killing off OneNote’s configuration information, removing OneNote, repairing Office and a few reboots to be sure, it still doesn’t work.
Of course is no surprise to me, I’m not the only one. The workarounds and ideas to check there didn’t help at all in my case but as this is a fairly generic “I can’t do that” error, that is to be expected.
I popped open my laptop that hadn’t had OneNote started since installing Windows Developer Preview [Windows 8] on it, chose the initial option to use web-based notebooks, and two clicks later was staring at my fully synched and available SkyDrive notebook. So it’s not the SkyDrive service directly.
I certainly could spend more time trying to isolate the problem (and that might happen later on), but for now I’m giving up. Thankfully I haven’t lost any data as it’s all still sitting on SkyDrive, but if you were a heavy user of OneNote/SkyDrive integration (ie. on multiple PCs, the web and phone), this would certainly be a deal breaker.
UPDATE 1/8/2012 – I’ve fixed it! You can see the details on my entry, “The cloud has been made happy again“.