iPlayer desktop released

The BBC has launched a new version of their iPlayer. Previously only really available for Windows (though we could watch using a flash video player in-browser), it uses Adobe Air, which is cross-platform. This brings the iPlayer to Mac and Linux, finally!

The iPlayer desktop; currently still in labs, but now available to the public, can be run on any platform that is supported by Adobe Air, which is most. Adobe Air has been revolutionising application development of late, bringing innovative programs to Mac, Linux and Windows users without having to create three completely separate distributions. My favourite other application that can be found on all of my computers, Windows, Linux and Mac is the Analytics Reporting Suite for Google Analytics, is a great example of how Air really is making cross-platform programming a reality.

Bringing iPlayer content to more platforms will guarantee the BBC a bigger audience. Their rivals are nowhere near as advanced as they have been forced to become by the BBC Trust. Channel 4 and Sky are still stuck with Kontiki and ITV have their in-browser flash player which you have to be online to watch. Hopefully the new Adobe Air based ‘iPlayer desktop’ will coerce the BBC into seeing their Kontiki based player for the memory-hogging, cpu-munching bohemoth that it is and drop it completely.

Innovation is what has driven the BBC for the past 6 decades and the release of the iPlayer desktop is the proof that there really is somebody in the organisation that is still thinking ahead; still thinking that they don’t have to be limited to a bought-in ready made package that is limited in so many ways (not just that it is Windows only).

So, Linux, Mac and Windows users (yes, you can join in too!) rejoice at the release of the iPlayer desktop. Download it. Show your support. We have whinged and moaned and campaigned for this for long enough, now that we have it, use it! Windows users download it too, embrace Adobe Air and kick Kontiki to the curb, your processor will thank you for it.

Download iPlayer desktop
Opt-in to iPlayer labs

iPlayer-desktop-1 iplayer-desktop-2

Server move and oddities

Windows Server SystemYou may have noticed some very odd things going on around the site over the past week or so. This is because I have moved this website from a Linux box, which has been very good to me over the past 4 years, to the dedicated Windows server that I got up and running a few weeks ago for Pineapple Boudoir.

This posed a few problems, the least of these being that WordPress runs on MySQL and we’re currently using SQL Server 2005. The two can (and do) run in perfect harmony, but obviously security is paramount and also we needed to make sure that there were enough resources available to run two database servers, so a few hours was spent making sure that the MySQL server was configured to be as tightly locked up as possible and running optimally.

Then there were permissioning problems. I run quite a few different plugins for WordPress, a few of them integral to the site, like the Google Reader feed that you can see on the right hand side. These use API’s to pull from their respective providers, the data then gets written (somewhere) so that it can be included in the sidebar. The problem was that each of these different plugins was writing the data to somewhere different and the way that I have set up the accounts on the server is so that the ability to write data to a folder is given on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that random scripts and plugins cannot write to any folder that they wish whenever they wish, thus maintaining a high level of accountability.

But, I’m glad to announce that hintofsarcasm is now functioning to its full potential and having tried all ways that I can to break it I have managed to iron out all the bugs that I have come across.

Let me know if you find anything though.

Case study: Pineapple Boudoir [Infrastructure]


Pineapple Boudoir is a startup that sells lingerie, candles, sex toys and other products, aimed largely at women.

The first challenge was to design an infrastructure to support the web-application and cart.
Having previous experience with Windows and the .NET environment we decided to follow this route, based on Windows Server 2003 with IIS 6.0 and Microsoft SQL Server 2005. At launch we are running SQL and IIS on this single server, although we intend to run SQL on a separate server in the near future, as growth should warrant.

The server is a Dell PowerEdge with 2Gb RAM and an Intel Itanium processor. It’s racked at BlueSquare 2 in Maidenhead, Berkshire, a brand new facility that went live in May 2007 with a 20GBit resilient Ethernet ring. The server also sits behind a Cisco hardware firewall.

A shopping cart application was next on the list to be found, or else designed bespoke.
A small open-source project called nopCommerce came to our attention. It ticked all of the boxes and the support is very good, as the project is still small enough to receive personal responses from the developer.
The cart software is written in C# with ASP.NET 3.5. It uses DAL (Data Access Layers) and modules for payment gateway integration, including Paypal, Moneybookers and Authorize.net.
It has an impressive back-end which can handle products with multiple variants, some of which are required, like size or colour and some of which are optional items which go with the product, such as batteries.

With knowledge of C# and ASP.NET this cart is extremely easy to customise and modify, either to add custom code to change how the page displays, like the Lightbox effect on the product pages, or to change what functions are performed in the background, like showing ‘featured products’ on the homepage.

Pineapple Boudoir launched on December 1st 2008.

Other stuff from Microsoft’s ‘Technologies to change your business’ event

Apart from the Windows Cloud stuff there were some other speakers and demos that interested me, including a neat use of Silverlight at the Hard Rock Café website which you may have seen before as it has been bounded around as the pièce de résistance of Silverlight 2 since about March this year.

When you click that link you are presented with the Hard Rock Café memorabilia website, in the middle you will see an image that can be ‘Deep Zoomed’ into and each different node (item) can be interacted with separately. The resolution on the pictures of the items is amazing and the detail to which you can zoom in to is awe-inspiring. I have just spent a few minutes reading a contract drawn up for a Beatles performance in 1965, the text is so clear and takes no time at all to load, according to the speaker (whose name I forget, sorry) image optimisation has been a big part of the development of ‘Deep Zoom’ in Silverlight 2 in an attempt to deliver the best quality content to the widest range of users, narrowband and broadband of all speeds. This is definitely something that I can applaude as when I find myself on the road and using my 3G data stick I still want to view high resolution pictures in order to send them on or post them to the web but find myself hanging around, usually having to start again more than once after passing through tunnels, for what seems like an age for rich content to load, which is more than mildly frustrating.

The hot topic of the day however was Hyper-V and OS virtualisation.
All but two Windows Server 2008 editions come with Hyper-V services built in. If you don’t know what Hyper-V is, let me try explain it as quickly as possible so that we can move on;

You have one server. Hyper-V can then split this server into two (or more) ”virtual” servers which means two servers running on one piece of hardware. To anyone but the sysadmins they respond and look as two completely seperate pieces of kit, but they aren’t. (Something VMWare has actually been doing for years)

The whole point of all this is that, if it suits your business model, you could potentially chop your server and datacentre spend into tiny little pieces and make huge savings. Servers these days are so powerful and often only a small percentage of that power is utilised, so one could easily gobble up three others and still have power (CPU, RAM, etc.) to spare in an emergency.
For example, if you had four file servers each running pretty steadily at 10% utilisation, why buy 4 pieces of kit that are only going to be using 40 out of 400% when you could buy one piece of kit that would use 40 out of 100% and do the same job? It’s the choice between paying £10,000 for 1 server or £40,000 for 4, in the end they’ll both be doing the same job. The green freaks amongst you too will be happy, because only 1/4 the power is being consumed.

OK. Maybe that’s a little simplistic, but you get the gist of what I’m trying to say, right?
Of course, it ends up introducing other problems such as single point failure, but even if you ran it as a high-availability cluster then you’d still be saving 75% on your hardware bill by only buying 2 servers instead of 8.

Also, by happy coincidence, Microsoft Hyper-V Server (notice no ‘Windows’ as there is no GUI) was released yesterday, October 1st as a free download and is free to use by anybody. It doesn’t support clustering, it doesn’t have a GUI, it doesn’t support high-availability clustering, in fact, it doesn’t support very much, but, it would be great in a development or testing environment.

During these times of recession and depression and smaller purses Hyper-V may have just come at the exact right time for Microsoft to maximise profit. Way to go Steve.

Windows Cloud @ Technologies to change your business

Steve Ballmer

I travelled across to London yesterday to attend the Microsoft Technet event, ‘Technologies to change your business’, the keynote speaker was Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO.

He came on stage at around 13:15 and proceeded to do his usual thing, he’s a great public speaker and very knowledgeable about the company that he is running and what they are doing now and what is coming from them in the future. He must have to read hundreds of updates daily from the R&D labs just to keep up with it all.

During the proceedings, between talking about virtualisation and Windows Mobile he mentioned something, for what I think was the first time, about a new operating system that was going to be announced in 4 weeks, which is going to be called Microsoft Windows Cloud, or as he put it, ‘something better than that’ by the time the announcement comes out.

Tied with the announcement today of Amazon’s intent to run Windows Server on their EC2 service it looks like Microsoft may be entering the supercomputer OS market for the first time, is this where ‘Windows Cloud’ comes in? This was all brought up in the Q&A including the the need to have datacentres across the globe if the service really did take off, Steve B did say that partners would need to be sought to provide the datacentres as Microsoft building and running them all would not be viable, which is probably true.

We wait to here further information about ‘Windows Cloud’, I’m just glad that I was there, in the second row, to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.