Hijacking Vista Special Folders on Start Menu

Ok, this wasn’t obvious, so it’s worth sharing.  What I want to do is to create a new sub-menu in the black area of Vista’s start menu, where you normally have a folder for your username, then “Documents”, “Pictures”, “Music”, etc.  I want a brand new folder where I can stick whatever shortcuts I want.

Here’s a picture of the final result.  Note the “famThings” folder, which is the custom folder that I wanted.  Also note that I was able to stick a file out here, as well as a sub-folder.

Hijacked Start Menu

As far as I can tell, there is no way to add a whole new slot for a sub-menu here, other than the default built-in menus that are part of Windows.  You can turn them on or off by tweaking the Start Menu properties, but I didn’t see a way to create a new one.  Perhaps there’s a registry hack to do this, but a quick Google search didn’t turn anything up.

So what I did instead was to hijack one of the pre-canned special folders and use it as the folder that I wanted.  I chose “Favorites”, because I use Firefox and my favorites are not stored here anyway.

Here’s how you do it:

  • If the Favorites folder doesn’t already show up here, turn it on:
    • Right-click start menu globe, select Properties
    • Go to Start Menu tab
    • Click Customize
    • Find entry “Favorites menu” and make sure that it’s checked
  • In Windows Explorer, navigate to C:UsersmynameFavorites and delete all the junk in there (assuming you don’t use Internet Explorer and store your regular favorites here).
  • Place whatever files you like in this folder, including files, sub-folders, or shortcuts
  • Now rename the Favorites folder to whatever you like
  • Log out and back in, or just restart the Explorer (e.g. by killing the explorer.exe process from Task Manager and then restarting)

Voila!  Now you have your very own custom menu at the top level of the Start Menu.

But Wait, That’s Not Enough

Here’s a little addendum, after the fact.  When I originally tried everything I described above, it worked—for a short time.  But then at some point, the directory name reverted back to “Favorites”.  What’s going on?

What’s happening here is that your Favorites folder is a “special folder”, in that it contains a little hidden file called desktop.ini that specifies some of the behavior of this folder in Windows Explorer.  Below is the original contents of desktop.ini :


This little file tells Windows Explorer a few tidbits about how the folder should be displayed, including its name and the icon used.  This overrides the actual folder name and the default folder icon normally displayed for folders.

So to achieve what we want, actually renaming the folder, we could just delete desktop.ini.  Alternatively, we could keep the file and just change the value of the LocalizedResourceName attribute to be what we want.  The other benefit of keeping this file is that you can change the actual icon displayed at the top of the Start Menu when you select the folder.

For example, let’s say that I have an icon file showing a cute little potted plant and I want that to be the icon associated with my famThings folder.  I could change desktop.ini to read:


Then I copy the Plant.ico file into the famThings (formerly Favorites) folder and set it to hidden.  (So that it doesn’t show up in the Start Menu).

Now you get what you want—a properly named special folder whose name won’t change.  And, at no extra charge, a custom icon for the folder.  Note that the special icon now shows up not just on the Start Menu, but as the folder icon anywhere in Windows Explorer:

Custom Icon

Silverlight, Day 1 – Installing Everything

Silverlight is the new framework for delivering rich client functionality in a web browsers.  It’s an important architecture to consider when thinking about creating a new application–along with WPF (classic thick client) and ASP.NET/AJAX (thinner client).  The three framework choices–WPF, Silverlight, and ASP.NET/AJAX–live on different spots on the thick-to-thin client continuum.  Each is a valid choice as a framework for creating an application, depending on the customer or the needs.  Which one you choose depends on what the customer goals are.  It’s also possible to craft a solution that is a mix of one or more technologies–e.g. Silverlight controls as part of a broader ASP.NET site.

Given what I think is Silverlight’s importance in the Microsoft ecosystem, I think that it’s important for all Microsoft (or .NET) developers to be at least a little familiar with the platform.  So here’s a step-by-step recipe for getting a Silerlight development environment set up on your machine.  I’ve been setting up a new VM over the past few days that will be my “virgin” Silverlight development box.  There’s a lot to be said for just starting fresh and installing exactly what you need—no more, no less.

This has been written about at length at the silverlight.net site–how to get started with Silverlight.  But I thought it worth doing a post that walks through the exact steps required.

Virtual Machines and the Windows 7 Taskbar

As always, creating a new VM makes me feel all fresh, clean and wonderful.  I’m using VMware 6.5.1, which I really love.  I created a 32-bit bit VM and installed the Windows 7 beta that was just released last week (build 7000).  I can’t say enough good stuff about Windows 7, from what I’ve seen so far.  The performance is incredibly snappy, even in the VM, with 1GB of virtual memory.  The boot time is lightning fast.  And, with a little tweaking, I’m now really enjoying the new taskbar (the “superbar”).  I’m not remotely a Vista hater (I’ve been running it on all my home machines forever), so I wouldn’t call Window 7 “the Windows that Vista should have been”.  Vista has been great for me.  But Win 7 takes Vista and just pushes it a bit further, improving various things.

Just as a quick side note, here is the tweak that I made to the taskbar behavior, after hearing Paul Thurrott talk about this on Windows Weekly.  As Paul said, this should really be the default behavior.

Here’s how the taskbar looks out of the box.

Default Taskbar

Each button on the taskbar (in this case) represents a running application, which may contain one or more instances/windows.  What’s confusing about this is that you need to first click on an icon to get a popup of the individual windows.  Paul recommends, and I very much prefer, changing the default look and feel so that taskbar buttons are not grouped.

Here’s where you set the option, under Taskbar properties:

Change Taskbar

Notice that the default Button grouping setting is “Always group”.  If you change it to “Group when taskbar is full” or “Never group”, the taskbar then looks like this:

Better Taskbar

This is much nicer, because: a) you can click on individual windows, if more than one instance of an app is running and b) the text that is displayed makes it much easier to find what you’re looking for.

(Note: These screen grabs are actually from the M3 build distributed at PDC in Oct, 2008.  In the Jan, 2009 beta, you won’t see the Quick Launch icons).

Ok, enough fauning over Windows 7.  Let’s move on to installing all the Silverlight bits.

The Plan

The silverlight.net site has a nice Getting Started post listing the bits that you need to install, to get Silverlight fully functional.  [Note: Throughout this post, and from now on in my life, whenever I say “Silverlight”, I always mean “Silverlight 2”].  Here’s what the list looks like:

Getting Started with Silverlight

I’ll work through this entire list, to get everything installed.

Oh by the way, I’m assuming that you’ve already installed Visual Studio 2008 SP1, which also includes the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1.

Visual Studio 2008 SP1

Installing Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio 2008 SP1

To start with, we download and install Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio 2008 SP1.  This is version 9.0.30729.146, released on 10/30/2008.  The download is 72.7MB.

Download the Silverlight_Tools.exe file and launch it.


Soak up the EULA:

License Agreement

At this point, the install may tell you that there are processes running that you need to shut down:

Incompatible Processes

After closing Firefox, I click the Refresh button and now get a clean bill of health:

No Incompatible Processes

The install then starts:

Install Progress

And we’re done.

Silverlight Install Complete

At this point, you’ve installed:

  • Silverlight 2 developer runtime  (2.0.31005.0)
  • Silverlight 2 SDK  (2.0.31005.0)
  • KB956453 for Visual Studio 2008 SP1
  • Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio 2008 SP1

You can find an installation log file at:  C:\Users\myname\AppData\Local\Temp\Silverlight%20Tools%20RTW_20090108_121446406.html .  It also contains hyperlinks to the textual MSI log files for the different products installed.

Silverlight 2 DataGrid Update

Next, you’ll want to download and install the Silverlight 2 DataGrid December 2008 Release, released on 12/19/2008.  This release apparently fixes a number of bugs with the DataGrid.

Expanding on the instructions on the download page, here are the steps:

  1. Close all instances of Visual Studio 2008
  2. Run SL2DataGridDec08.exe to extract the files
    Extract Files
  3. Delete all cached toolbox items by removing all files beginning with “toolbox” from C:\Users\UserName\AppData\Local\Microsoft\VisualStudio\9.0.
    Delete Toolbox Files
  4. Replace the following assemblies with the ones in this package:

    • %ProgramFiles%\Microsoft SDKs\Silverlight\v2.0\Libraries\Client\System.Windows.Controls.Data.dll
    • %ProgramFiles%\Microsoft SDKs\Silverlight\v2.0\Libraries\Client\System.Windows.Controls.Data.Design.dll

Installing Expression Blend 2

Next on the agenda is downloading and installing Expression Blend 2—the tool used for designing Silverlight and WPF GUIs.  Expression Blend 2 supports Silverlight 1.0.  SP1 for Expression Blend 2 (see below) adds support for Silverlight 2.0.

I’m installing a full version that I get through the Empower ISV program.  The link above will take you to a page where you can download a 30-day trial version.  You can purchase the full version from Amazon for roughly $479, or upgrade from Expression Blend 1 for $95.

This is version 2.0.1523.0.

Wow, snazzy install screen—exactly what you’d expect for a design-focused tool.

Installing Expression Blend

By the way, the Expression family consists of the following different tools:

  • Expression Web ($245) – for designing web sites  (think Front Page replacement)
  • Expression Blend ($479) – for creating WPF and Silverlight user interfaces
  • Expression Design – graphical design tool (partner tool for Blend, adding some add’l drawing capabilities)
  • Expression Media ($186) –  for organizing your media (assets)
  • Expression Encoder ($190) – for producing webcasts and publishing via Silverlight

You can get the whole lot—Expression Studio 2—for $666.  [Odd number to use for a retail price].

Decide where to install Blend:

Install Location

And off we go..

Blend Install Starts

Blend 2 is now installed.  But wait!  If you’re running on a VMware VM, don’t try running it yet.  It appears that the Expression products don’t run properly in VMs if 3D graphics acceleration is enabled.  Shut down your VM and disable 3D graphics acceleration (go to Settings, select your Display, look for the “3D graphics” section and uncheck “Accelerate 3D graphics (DirectX 9.0c).  Expression Blend was locking up my VM, but when I disabled 3D graphics acceleration, everything started working fine.

Install Expression Blend 2 Service Pack 1

Next you’ll want to install the service pack for Expression Blend 2 that adds support for Silverlight 2.  You can find it here: Expression Blend 2 Service Pack 1.

Note that this service pack replaces the Expression Blend 2.5 June 2008 Preview (which existed to support beta Silverlight 2 functionality).  So you don’t need Blend 2.5.

The service pack is small (18MB), and downloads and installs quickly.  The listed version is 2.1.1760.0.  So perhaps we can think of what we end up with as Blend 2.1, rather than Blend 2 or Blend 2.5.

Blend 2 Service Pack 1

Install Deep Zoom Composer  (optional)

Next on the Getting Started list is to install Deep Zoom Composer.  Deep Zoom is a technology built on top of Silverlight that allows you to publish a very high resolution image on a web site and allow zooming way into the image.  This is done by pre-processing the image to generate many different chunks of the image at many different resolutions.  You then publish all of these files to your server and visitors to your site can then zoom in and out of the original high-res image.

For an example of Deep Zoom in action, take a look at this collage of photos of my Dad.  I started with 191 different images and, after running everything through Deep Zoom Composer, ended up with 18,433 unique images on my server, taking up about 1.5GB of space.  The end result is pretty cool.  There’s another excellent example of Deep Zoom in action at the Hard Rock Memorabilia web site.

This step is optional because you’ll only want/need the Deep Zoom Composer if you intend to author some Deep Zoom images.  You can find the download for Deep Zoom Composer here: Deep Zoom Composer.  This is also small (4MB).  It’s listed as version

For completeness, here’s the install sequence (which is pretty brainless):


Note–when selecting an install location, I also set it up so that Everyone on the machine can run it.  That’s just my preference.


Confirm that you’re ready to start the install:


And we’re done.  Note the mention of checking for updates to the .NET Framework.  If you’ve followed all of the steps above, there should be no framework updates.


Install the Silverlight Toolkit

Finally, you’ll want to install the latest version of the Silverlight Toolkit.  This is a collection of Silverlight controls (announced/released during the PDC in Oct 2008) and other goodies that the team has made available on codeplex.  The components have different levels of quality, depending on where in the release cycle they are.  But this is all stuff that is intended to eventually find its way into the mainline Silverlight product/release.  For more information on what’s in the Silverlight Toolkit, see Shawn Burke’s blog post.

You can download the Silverlight Toolkit here: download Silverlight Toolkit.  The current version was released on 9 Dec 2008.

The toolkit will come down as a .zip file.  There’s nothing really to install.  The idea is to unzip everything to a location of your choice and then just add references from your projects to the appropriate assemblies.

If you want to just play around with the controls, there’s a nice sample project included in the distribution, at \Samples\Controls.Samples.html — just open up the HTML page and you’ll be able to see and interact with the various controls.

Here’s a quick overview of how you make use of these controls from your Silverlight project.  Assume that we’ve already unzipped everything to \My Documents\Silverlight Toolkit.  Now fire up a new Silverlight project.  Once you’ve loaded the project, you’ll want to add the various controls to your toolbox, as follows:

Right-click in the Toolbox and select Choose Items.

Choose Items

In the dialog that comes up, go to the Silverlight tab and then click Browse.  Locate one of the assemblies from the Silverlight Toolkit and click the Open button.  The controls from that assembly will now show up in the dialog.  (And, if checked, in your Toolbox):

Silverlight Components

For example, notice that we now have the AutoCompleteBox in our toolbox:


Wrapping Up

That’s really all there is to it.  Once you’ve followed all of these steps, you have all of the Silverlight bits and are now ready to create great Silverlight applications!

Windows 7 Install Screenshots

I thought I’d do my part to flood the web with screenshots from the M3 preview of Windows 7 that was distributed at last week’s Professional Development Conference in LA.

The obvious place to start in Win 7 is with the installation process.  I’ll put up more posts later with screenshots of various bits and pieces in Windows 7.  But this first post will just contain: every damn Windows 7 installation screen.

Ok, admittedly, looking through install screens is about as exciting as watching bacon fat congeal.  But really—there are people out there who will eat this stuff up.  So it’s for them that I’ve suffered an endless series of screen captures.  Enjoy.

The Environment

I installed my copy of Windows 7 to a VMWare virtual machine.  The only “gotcha” was that VMWare creates a SCSCI virtual hard drive by default—which Windows 7 failed to recognize.  Simple fix—just delete the default hard drive and create an IDE drive in VMWare.

The Screens

Ok, here we go.

You just get shivers as you start to install a new Microsoft OS for the first time, don’t you?


Then we switch from a DOS-looking progress bar to a cute Windows-looking progress bar:


Next we get the first Windows 7 install screen.  This is the spot to insert the angelic music.


After picking an install language, you get to the main install kick-off window:


I once met a guy who actually read these EULAs.  Can you believe it?


This next dialog is just as confusing in Windows 7 as it was in Vista.


In my first try, I went with the Upgrade option, which only got me this next confusing empty dialog.  Nice.


Restarting everything and instead choosing Custom gets us where we want to go:


If you click on the link that reads “Drive options (advanced)”, you’ll see some options for managing hard disk partitions:


Finally, the actual installation begins.


At some point, near the end of the installation, Windows boots for the first time.  It lives!


This was an interesting detail during the boot process:


All of the services apparently start firing up, as the boot process continues.  (Hallelujah)!


And for some reason, we’re allowed to go back and look at this status dialog one more time.


And then back to the main boot screen.  (Are you starting to feel as if you were really there)?


Oh, this is a nice little touch.  No screen flickers or anything, but nice to know that it’s “checking” my video performance.  (Whatever that means).


Now Windows is more or less running and we start doing some of the final configuration stuff.  First, we specify a default username.  This will be the Administrator user account.  Seeing a PC name of “PC” also makes me think of John Hodgman and the Mac switcher ads.


And I enter my password:


And (of course) the product activation key.  Wouldn’t it be cool if every key had a barcode and I could use a barcode scanner at this point?  (My key did not have a barcode).


I also get to set my time and time zone.


This is an interesting one.  Right out of the gate, I’m asked to specify whether my network is public or not.  Like Vista, this dictates some default security settings.


I picked Home network and Windows 7 did some remaining network configuration work.


Ok, here’s one of the first really new things to show up.  A “homegroup” is basically a relabeled “workgroup”—something short of a domain.  I’m wondering if I’d chosen Work location in the earlier screen, if I’d now be joining a domain.


Finally, we are “welcomed” to Windows 7.


We’re so close, I can taste it.


And voila!  The Windows 7 installation is complete and we’re sitting at the desktop screen.  Note that I don’t have that cool new taskbar in the build that was handed out at PDC.  More on that next time—the new taskbar is actually in the build and Rafael Rivera has found a hack to unlock it.


Session – Windows 7: Unlocking the GPU with Direct3D

PDC 2008, Day #4, Session #3, 1 hr 15 mins

Allison Klein

I jumped off the Azure track (starting to be a bit repetitive) and next went to a session focused on Direct3D.

Despite the title, this session really had nothing to do with Windows 7, other than the fact that it talked a  lot about Direct3D 11, which will be included in Windows 7 and available for Windows Vista.

Direct3D 10

Direct3D 10 is the currently shipping version, and supported by most (all?) modern video cards, as well as integrated graphics chips.  I’m not entirely sure, but I think that Direct3D 10 shipped out-of-the-box with Windows Vista.  It is also available for Windows XP.

Allison spent about half of the talk going through things that are different in Direct3D 10, as compared with Direct3D 9.

I’m not inclined to rehash all of the details.  (I’ll include a link to Allison’s slide deck when it is available).

The main takeaway was that it’s very much worth programming to the v10 API, as opposed to the v9 API.  Some of the reasons for this include:

  • Much more consistent behavior, across devices
  • Cleaner API
  • Elimination of large CAPS (device capability) matrix, for a more consistent experience across devices
  • Built-in driver that allows D3D10 to talk to D3D9 hardware
  • Addition of WARP 10 software rasterizer, to support devices that don’t support WDDM directly.  This is actually quite a bit faster than earlier software-only implementations

Direct3D 11

In the second half of her talk, Allison talked about the advances coming in Direct3D 11.  She mentioned that D3D11 will ship with Windows 7 and also be available for Windows Vista.

Again, the details are probably more appropriate for a game developer.  (See the slide deck).  But the high level points are:

  • Direct3D 11 is a strict superset of 10—there are no changes to existing 10 features
  • Better support for character authoring, for denser meshes and more detailed characters
  • Addition of tessellation to the rendering pipeline, for better performance and quality
  • Much more scalable multi-threading support.
    • Much more flexibility in what can be distributed across threads
  • Dynamically linking in custom shaders
  • Introduction of object-oriented features (interfaces/classes) to HLSL
  • New block compression
  • Direct3D11 will be available in the Nov 2008 SDK


Finally, Allison touched briefly on some future directions that the Direct3D is thinking about.

The main topic that she talked about here was in potentially using the GPU to perform highly parallel general purpose compute intensive tasks.  The developer would use HLSL to write a “compute shader”, which would then get sent to the GPU to do the work.  As an example, she talked about using this mechanism for post-processing of an image.

Keynote #2 – Ozzie, Sinofsky, Guthrie, Treadwell

PDC 2008, Day #2, Keynote #2, 2 hrs

Ray Ozzie, Steven Sinofsky, Scott Guthrie, David Treadwell

Wow.  In contrast to yesterday’s keynote, where Windows Azure was launched, today’s keynote was the kind of edge-of-your-seat collection of product announcements that explain why people shell out $1,000+ to come to PDC.  The keynote was a 2-hr extravaganza of non-stop announcements and demos.

In short, we got a good dose of Windows 7, as well as new tools in .NET 3.5 SP1, Visual Studio 2008 SP1 and the future release of Visual Studio 2010.  Oh yeah—and an intro to Office 14, with online web-based versions of all of your favorite Office apps.

Not to mention a new Paint applet with a ribbon interface.  Really.

Ray Ozzie Opening

The keynote started once again today with Ray Ozzie, reminding us of what was announced yesterday—the Azure Services Platform.

Ray pointed out that while yesterday focused on the back-end, today’s keynote would focus on the front-end: new features and technologies from a user’s perspective.

He pointed out that the desktop-based PC and the internet are still two completely separate world.  The PC is where we sit when running high-performance close-to-the-metal applications.  And the web is how we access the rest of the world, finding and accessing other people and information.

Ray also talked about the phone being the third main device where people spend their time.  It’s always with us, so can respond to our spontaneous need for information.

The goal for Microsoft, of course, is that applications try to span all three of these devices—the desktop PC, the web, and the phone.  The apps that can do this, says Ozzie, will deliver the greatest value.

It’s no surprise either that Ray mentioned Microsoft development tools as providing the best platform for developing these apps that will span the desktop/web/phone silos.

Finally, Ray positioned Windows 7 as being the best platform for users, since we straddle these three worlds.

Steven Sinofsky

Next up was Steven Sinofsky,Senior VP for Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group at Microsoft. Steven’s part of the keynote was to introduce Windows 7.  Here are a couple of tidbits:

  • Windows 7 now in pre-beta
  • Today’s pre-beta represents “M3”—a feature-complete milestone on the way to Beta and eventual RTM.  (The progression is M1/M2/M3/M4/Beta)
  • The beta will come out early in 2009
  • Release still targeted at 3-yrs after the RTM of Vista, putting it at November of 2009
  • Server 2008 R2 is also in pre-beta, sharing its kernel with Windows 7

Steven mentioned three warm-fuzzies that Windows 7 would focus on:

  • Focus on the personal experience
  • Focus on connecting devices
  • Focus on bringing functionality to developers

Julie Larson-Green — Windows 7 Demo

Next up was Julie Larson-Green, Corporate VP, Windows Experience.  She took a spin through Windows 7 and showed off a number of the new features and capabilities.

New taskbar

  • Combines Alt-Tab for task switching, current taskbar, and current quick launch
  • Taskbar includes icons for running apps, as well as non-running (icons to launch apps)
  • Can even switch between IE tabs from the taskbar, or close tabs
  • Can close apps directly from the taskbar
  • Can access app’s MRU lists from the taskbar (recent files)
  • Can drag/dock windows on desktop, so that they quickly take exactly half available real estate

Windows Explorer

  • New Libraries section
    • A library is a virtual folder, providing access to one or more physical folders
    • Improved search within a library, i.e. across a subset of folders

Home networking

  • Automatic networking configuration when you plug a machine in, connecting to new “Homegroup”
  • Automatic configuration of shared resources, like printers
  • Can search across entire Homegroup (don’t need to know what machine a file lives on)


  • New lightweight media player
  • Media center libraries now shared & integrated with Windows Explorer
  • Right-click on media and select device to play on, e.g. home stereo


  • New Device Stage window, summarizing all the operations you can perform with a connected device (e.g. mobile device)
  • Configure the mobile device directly from this view


  • Can now exist on your desktop even without the sidebar being present


  • Can share desktop themes with other users
  • User has full control of what icons appear in system tray
  • New Action Center view is central place for reporting on PC’s performance and health characteristics

Multi-touch capabilities

  • Even apps that are not touch-aware can leverage basic gestures (e.g. scrolling/zooming).  Standard mouse behaviors are automatically mapped to equivalent gestures
  • Internet Explorer has been made touch-aware, for additional functionality:
    • On-screen keyboard
    • Navigate to hyperlink by touching it
    • Back/Forward with flick gesture

Applet updates

  • Wordpad gets Ribbon UI
  • MS Paint gets Ribbon UI
  • New calculator applet with separate Scientific / Programmer / Statistics modes

Sinofsky Redux

Sinofsky returned to touch on a few more points for Windows 7:

  • Connecting to Live Services
  • Vista “lessons learned”
  • How developers will view Windows 7

Steve talked briefly about how Windows 7 will more seamlessly allow users to connect to “Live Essentials”, extending their desktop experience to the cloud.  It’s not completely clear what this means.  He mentioned the user choosing their own non-Microsoft services to connect to.  I’m guessing that this is about some of the Windows 7 UI bits being extensible and able to incorporate data from Microsoft Live services.  Third party services could presumably also provide content to Windows 7, assuming that they implemented whatever APIs are required.

The next segment was a fun one—Vista “lessons learned”.  Steve made a funny reference to all of the feedback that Microsoft has gotten on Vista, including a particular TV commercial.  It was meant as a clever joke, but Steve didn’t get that many laughs—likely because it was just too painfully true.

Here are the main lessons learned with Vista.  (I’ve changed the verb tense slightly, so that we can read this as more of a confession).

  • The ecosystem wasn’t ready for us.
    • Ecosystem required lots of work to get to the point where Vista would run on everything
    • 95% of all PCs running today are indeed able to run Vista
    • Windows 7 is based on the same kernel, so we won’t run into this problem again
  • We didn’t adhere to standards
    • He’s talking about IE7 here
    • IE8 addresses that, with full CSS standards compliance
    • They’ve even released their compliance test results to the public
    • Win 7 ships with IE8, so we’re fully standards-compliant, out of the box
  • We broke application compatibility
    • With UAC, applications were forced to support running as a standard user
    • It was painful
    • We had good intentions and Vista is now more secure
    • But we realize that UAC is still horribly annoying
    • Most software now supports running as a standard user
  • We delivered features, rather than solutions to typical user scenarios
    • E.g. Most typical users have no hope of properly setting up a home network
    • Microsoft failed to deliver the “last mile” of required functionality
    • Much better in Windows 7, with things like automatic network configuration

The read-between-the-lines takeaway is we won’t make these same mistakes with Windows 7.  That’s a clever message.  The truth is that these shortcomings have basically already been addressed in Vista SP1.  So because Windows 7 is essentially just the next minor rev of Vista, it inherits the same solutions.

But there is one shortcoming with Vista that Sinofsky failed to mention—branding.  Vista is still called “Vista” and the damage is already done.  There are users out there who will never upgrade to Vista, no matter what marketing messages we throw at them.  For these users, we have Windows 7—a shiny new brand to slap on top of Vista, which is in fact a stable platform.

This is a completely reasonable tactic.  Vista basically works great—the only remaining problem is the perception of its having not hit the mark.  And Microsoft’s goal is to create the perception that Windows 7 is everything that Vista was not.

Enough ranting.  On to Sinofsky’s list of things that Windows 7 provides for Windows developers:

  • The ribbon UI
    • The new Office ribbon UI element has proved itself in the various Office apps.  So it’s time to offer it up to developers as a standard control
    • The ribbon UI will also gradually migrate to other Windows/Microsoft applications
    • In Windows 7, we now get the ribbon in Wordpad and Paint.  (I’m also suspecting that they are now WPF applications)

  • Jump lists
    • These are new context menus built into the taskbar that applications can hook into
    • E.g. For “most recently used” file lists
  • Libraries
    • Apps can make use of new Libraries concept, loading files from libraries rather than folders
  • Multi-touch, Ink, Speech
    • Apps can leverage new input mechanisms
    • These mechanisms just augment the user experience
    • New/unique hardware allows for some amazing experiences
  • DirectX family
    • API around powerful graphics hardware
    • Windows 7 extends the DirectX APIs

Next, Steven moved on to talk about basic fundamentals that have been improved in Windows 7:


  • Memory — kernel has smaller memory footprint
  • Disk I/O — reduced registry reads and use of indexer
  • Power  — DVD playback cheaper, ditto for timers


  • Speed  — quicker boot time, device-ready time
  • Responsiveness  — worked hard to ensure Start Menu always very responsive
  • Scale  — can scale out to 256 processors

Yes, you read that correctly—256 processors!  Hints of things to come over the next few years on the hardware side.  Imagine how slow your single-threaded app will appear to run when running on a 256-core machine!

Sinofsky at this point ratcheted up and went into a sort of but wait, there’s more mode that would put Ron Popeil to shame.  Here are some other nuggets of goodness in Windows 7:

  • Bitlocker encryption for memory sticks
    • No more worries when you lose these
  • Natively mount/managed Virtual Hard Drives
    • Create VHDs from within Windows
    • Boot from VHDs
  • DPI
    • Easier to set DPI and work with it
    • Easier to manage multiple monitors
  • Accessibility
    • Built-in magnifier with key shortcuts
  • Connecting to an external projector in Alt-Tab fashion
    • Could possibly be the single most important reason for upgrading to Win 7
  • Remote Desktop can now access multiple monitors
  • Can move Taskbar all over the place
  • Can customize the shutdown button  (cheers)
  • Action Center allows turning off annoying messages from various subsystems
  • New slider that allows user to tweak the “annoying-ness” of UAC (more cheers)

As a final note, Sinofsky mentioned that as developers, we had damn well all be developing for 64-bit platforms.  Windows 7 is likely to ship a good percentage of new boxes on x64.  (His language wasn’t this strong, but that was the message).

Scott Guthrie

As wilted as we all were with the flurry of Windows 7 takeaways, we were only about half done.  Scott Guthrie, VP, Developer Division at Microsoft, came on stage to talk about development tools.

He started by pointing out that you can target Windows 7 features from both managed (.NET) and native (Win32) applications.  Even C++/MFC are being updated to support some of the new features in Windows 7.

Scott talked briefly about the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1, which has already released:

  • Streamlined setup experience
  • Improved startup times for managed apps  (up to 40% improvement to cold startup times)
  • Graphics improvements, better performance
  • DirectX interop
  • More controls
  • 3.5 SP1 built into Windows 7

Scott then demoed taking an existing WPF application and adding support for Windows 7 features:

  • He added a ribbon at the top of the app
  • Add JumpList support for MRU lists in the Windows taskbar
  • Added Multi-touch support

Scott announced a new WPF toolkit being released this week that includes:

  • DatePicker, DataGrid, Calendar controls
  • Visual State Manager support (like Silverlight 2)
  • Ribbon control  (CTP for now)

Scott talked about some of the basics coming in .NET 4 (coming sometime in 2009?):

  • Different versions of .NET CLR running SxS in the same process
  • Easier managed/native interop
  • Support for dynamic languages
  • Extensibility Component Model (MEF)

At this point, Scott also starts dabbling in the but wait, there’s more world, as he demoed Visual Studio 2010:

  • Much better design-time support for WPF
  • Visual Studio itself now rewritten in WPF
  • Multi-monitor support
  • More re-factoring support
  • Better support for Test Driven Development workflow
  • Can easily create plugins using MEF

Whew.  Now he got to the truly sexy part—probably the section of the keynote that got the biggest reaction out of the developer crowd.  Scott showed off a little “third party” Visual Studio plug-in that pretty-formatted XML comments (e.g. function headers) as little graphical WPF widgets.  Even better, the function headers, now graphically styled, also contained hot links right into a local bug database.  Big cheers.

Sean’s prediction—this will lead to a new ecosystem for Visual Studio plugins and interfaces to other tools.

Another important takeaway—MEF, the new extensibility framework, isn’t just for Visual Studio.  You can also use MEF to extend your own applications, creating your own framework.

Tesco.com Demo of Rich WPF Client Application

Here we got our obligatory partner demo, as a guy from Tesco.com showed off their snazzy application that allowed users to order groceries.  Lots of 2D and 3D graphical effects—one of the more compelling WPF apps that I’ve seen demoed.

Scott Redux

Scott came back out to talk a bit about new and future offerings on the web development side of things.

Here are some of the ASP.NET improvements that were delivered with .NET 3.5 SP1:

  • Dynamic Data
  • REST support
  • MVC (Model-View-Controller framework)
  • AJAX / jQuery  (with jQuery intellisense in Visual Studio 2008)

ASP.NET 4 will include:

  • Web Forms improvements
  • MVC improvements
  • AJAX improvements
  • Richer CSS support
  • Distributed caching

Additionally, Visual Studio 2010 will include better support for web development:

  • Code-focused improvements  (??)
  • Better JavaScript / AJAX tooling
  • Design View CSS2 support
  • Improved publishing and deployment

Scott then switched gears to talk about new and future offerings for Silverlight.

Silverlight 2 was just RTM’d two weeks ago.  Additionally, Scott presented two very interesting statistics:

  • Silverlight 1 is now present on 25% of all Internet-connected machines
  • Silverlight 2 has been downloaded to 100 million machines

IIS will inherit the adaptive (smooth) media streaming that was developed for the NBC Olympics web site.  This is available today.

A new Silverlight toolkit is being released today, including:

  • Charting controls, TreeView, DockPanel, WrapPanel, ViewBox, Expander, NumericUpDown, AutoComplete et al
  • Source code will also be made available

Visual Studio 2010 will ship with a Silverlight 2 designer, based on the existing WPF designer.

We should also expect a major release of Silverlight next year, including things like:

  • H264 media support
  • Running Silverlight applications outside of the browser
  • Richer graphics support
  • Richer data-binding support

Whew.  Take a breath..

David Treadwell – Live Services

While we were all still reeling from Scott Gu’s segment, David Treadweall, Corporate VP, Live Platform Services at Microsoft, came out to talk about Live Services.

The Live Services offerings are basically a set of services that allow applications to interface with the various Windows Live properties.

The key components of Live Services are:

  • Identity – Live ID and federated identity
  • Directory – access to social graph through a Contacts API
  • Communication & Presence – add Live Messenger support directly to your web site
  • Search & Geo-spatial – including mashups on your web sites

The Live Services are all made available via standards-based protocols.  This means that you can invoke them from not only the .NET development world, but also from other development stacks.

David talked a lot about Live Mesh, a key component of Live Services:

  • Allows applications to bridge Users / Devices / Applications
  • Data synchronization is a core concept

Applications access the various Live Services through a new Live Framework:

  • Set of APIs that allow apps to get at Live Services
  • Akin to CLR in desktop environment
  • Live Framework available from PC / Web / Phone applications
  • Open protocol, based on REST, callable from anything

Ori Amiga Demo

Ori Amiga came out to do a quick demonstration of how to “Meshify” an existing application.

The basic idea of Mesh is that it allows applications to synchronize data across all of a user’s devices.  But importantly, this means—for users who have already signed up for Live Mesh.

Live Mesh supports storing the user’s data “in the cloud”, in addition to on the various devices.  But this isn’t required.  Applications could use Mesh merely as a transport mechanism between instances of the app on various devices.

Takeshi Numoto – The Closer

Finally, Takeshi Numoto, GM, Office Client at Microsoft, came out to talk about Office 14.

Office 14 will deliver Office Web Applications—lightweight versions of the various Office applications that run in a browser.  Presumably they can also store all of their data in the cloud.

Takeshi then did a demo that focused a bit more on the collaboration features of Office 14 than on the ability to run apps in the browser.  (Running in the browser just works and the GUI looks just like the rich desktop-based GUI).

Takeshi showed off some pretty impressive features and use cases:

  • Two users editing the same document at the same time, both able to write to it
  • As users change pieces of the document, little graphical widget shows up on the other user’s screen, showing what piece the first user is currently changing.  All updated automatically, in real-time
  • Changes are pushed out immediately to other users who are viewing/editing the same document
  • This works in Word, Excel, and OneNote  (at least these apps were demoed)
  • Can publish data out to data stores in Live Services

Ray’s Wrapup

Ray Ozzie came back out to wrap everything up.  He pointed out that everything we’d seen today was real.  He also pointed out that some of these technologies were more “nascent” than others.  In other words—no complaints if some bits don’t work perfectly.  It seemed an odd note to end on.

Microsoft PDC Starts

Ok, yes, everyone seems to be at PDC and those who aren’t are getting sick of all of the hype. But hey—PDC only comes along every few years, so we have to take advantage of it when it does!

Things are starting to come alive here at the convention center in LA.  I stopped by yesterday to pick up my badge and “swag bag”, but didn’t attend any of the pre-conference sessions.

Swag bag: I didn’t see any signs yesterday directing me to where I might get my swag, but I started watching the geeks wandering by who DID have bags and followed the geek-trail backwards.

I was a little disappointed not to get the external USB drive in the swag bag that we’ve heard about.  Instead, I score a silly mug, geeky t-shirt, conference booklet and a crapload of 3rd party adverts.

But then I noticed that I had a second ticket for picking stuff, and it mentioned being valid only after Tuesday at 1PM.  Ahh, got it.  The USB drive is going to contain the Windows 7 alpha, as well as probably copies of all of the session slides.  So Microsoft doesn’t want the alpha or session info “in the wild” until it is officially “released” at the keynotes.

Speaking of keynotes, today’s will feature Ray Ozzie and Bob Muglia and starts in about an hour.  Two hours of Ozzie goodness.  Tomorrow, we have another 2-hr keynote with Ray Ozzie, Steven Sinofsky, Scott Guthrie and David Treadwell.

So far, it’s clear that Windows 7 will be prominently featured at PDC.  Posters and market splashes are everywhere.  You’ll do fine if you just mentally subsitute “Vista 6.1” whenever you read the marketing-derived “7”.

Also promising to make a big splash here at PDC–Live Mesh and cloud computing.  More to come..

There will be five session slots today, starting at 11:00 AM and running through 6:30 PM.  I plan to blog rough notes from the sessions that I attend, if I have time.

Oh, by the way–LA is supposed to hit a high of 86 degF today, and sunny.  (Well, in LA, “sunny” really means “mostly smoggy”).  Thinking fondly of my fellow Twin Citians and the first snow flurries of the season.