Windows 8 sideloading and Embarcadero’s Metropolis fake-WinRT framework

Embarcardero’s John Ray Thomas and Jason Vokes spoke to me about the company’s forthcoming RAD Studio XE3 development tool and in particular the new Metropolis framework which creates apps that have the appearance of a Windows 8 “Modern UI” (formerly known as Metro) but which are really desktop applications. Metropolis works with both the Delphi/C++ Builder VCL (Visual Component Library) and also with the newer FireMonkey user interface library.

“It’s a pretty large effort for us to get our compilers and runtime over to WinRT – which we intend to do”, said Thomas. In the meantime though, he argues that “Metro is just a style” and that developers will welcome the ability to “get their desktop apps over but participate in the Metro look and feel.”

End-users, explains Thomas, will not care about the WinRT or Win32 technology, but only notice that some apps have the new style and some do not. “We took the VCL and FireMonkey frameworks and used the styling engines that we introduced in XE2 to allow them to modify the forms to take on the look of those controls, as well as adding features like Windows 8 gesture support, improving the touch handling, and also taking on some of the standard templates like the grid and split views.”

Metropolis also support Live Tiles with update of dynamic content, and even enables apps to show up in the Windows 8 App Bar (which most desktop application do not support). This is done by means of a small WinRT app that is installed with the Metropolis application, and which communicates with it over a REST API – there being no built-in inter-process communication between desktop and WinRT apps. The WinRT app is a kind of proxy that lets the user launch or close the desktop Metropolis app. However access to Windows 8 contracts is not supported. “I think we’re hitting on the key elements that end users are going to expect when they’re working with WinRT applications,” says Thomas.

There is also the issue of how to deploy Metropolis apps. They will not be accepted by the Windows Store (other than perhaps as links to a vendor’s site as with other desktop apps), so how will software vendors get them onto a user’s machine? Getting the Win32 part installed is easy using standard Windows setup tools, but what about the WinRT component, if it is used? The procedure for installing a WinRT app without using the Store is called sideloading; and Microsoft intends that it only happens either for development and testing, or for enterprises deploying line of business applications.

“Sideloading requires a digital certificate and using a Powershell script that we provide to do the deployment,” says Thomas. “They can make that part of their standard desktop installer.”

Clever stuff; but will it work? I did some of my own testing. The most detailed technical article on WinRT app deployment is this one, which describes the  add-appxpackage PowerShell command which I presume Embarcadero is using. Using a Windows 8 Professional machine which does not have a developer licence installed, I was able to install my own WinRT app by trusting the certificate generated by Visual Studio as part of the Appx package, and after setting the key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Appx\AllowAllTrustedApps = 1

However, although the app installed it did not run.


The reason is this:

The computer does not have to be joined to a domain or have an activated sideloading product key before you install provisioned LOB apps. However, the apps will not run until the computer meets this sideloading requirement.

The key statement here concerns the activated sideloading product key. What is this? There is also a reference to it by Microsoft’s Antoine Leblond here:

To enable sideloading of a Metro style app onto a [non domain-joined] PC:

  • Set Group Policy for “Allow all trusted apps to install”. If you cannot use Group Policy, then you can set this through the following setting: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Appx\AllowAllTrustedApps = 1
  • Verify that the app is signed by a CA that is trusted on the target machines
  • Activate a special product key by using a script on the target machine to enable sideloading. We’ll go into more detail about how the IT admin will acquire the product keys in an upcoming blog post. The product key only needs to be install and activated once on the PC.

The word script is linked to the reference for slmgr.vbs which is used for installing and activating Windows product keys, so although Microsoft has yet to reveal everything about these special product keys, it does sound like something which only makes sense in an enterprise context. A third-party vendor cannot mess with slmgr.vbs, which implies that sideloading will not always work.

Here is a developer who has run into exactly this problem. He wants to be able to deploy “a Win32 app that has a sideloaded WinRT component”. Microsoft’s Tim Heuer says:

I’m pretty sure you’re going to need enterprise SKUs

Maybe Embarcadero has found some setting that makes it work; but even if they have, what if Microsoft made some change to WinRT in the name of security that closes off these loopholes? Or stops the Metropolis REST communication from working?

“Our testing shows that there are switches that can enable that mode and you can set your PowerShell script to do these things,” says Thomas about the latter issue. “We’re going to be working around some of the limitations or additional constraints that Microsoft may put on their environment. We’re going to have to be active in understanding the changes, in talking to Microsoft about it, and updating it as necessary to make it continue to work in their sandboxed environment. It is their environment after all.”

Might there be security risks for the user in opening up holes to make Metropolis apps work? “I don’t think so,” says Thomas. “The WinRT side of it is really just four functions. The fact that they may allow the WinRT app to do this communication I don’t think opens up any kind of security hole.”

Despite Thomas’s reassurance, it seems to me risky to depend on a feature that runs counter to the way the operating system is intended to work.

That said, you can use Metropolis without the WinRT component, though you lose Live Tile support; and in fact such apps will run on older versions of Windows such as XP and Windows 7 as well; though you would have thought that they would make more sense for tablet users who are likely to be running Windows 8 anyway.

Update: this link suggests you could get around the sideloading problem by checking for a development license in a script and renewing if necessary. Make all your users have development licenses though? That does not sound good to me.

Developing for the Windows Runtime: a few more notes from the field

I have been poking around in the code for my Windows Runtime reader, which is based on this MSDN sample. The list of posts looks like this:


Not bad, but that block showing the date of each post is based on Windows Team Blog page, which is nothing to do with me. What would it take to modify the design?

The problem with sample code is that when you copy and paste you do not really know how the code works, and sometimes issues are hidden. The MSDN article, while it does a good job explaining most parts of the app, does not explain how the date block is put together. A few observations then from my efforts to modify this.

Most of the code for this date block is in the ResourceDictionary element in App.xaml, which means it can easily be reused on multiple pages. The code is a ControlTemplate element, which means it defines a custom control. This is then referenced within a DataTemplate element on the pages where it appears. The DataTemplate defines how the bound data appears in the list.

Reading a block of XAML and trying to visualise how it will render is not much easier than viewing a photo in a binary editor. However, you cannot view App.xaml in a visual designer, since it is not a visual page. The only solution I could think of was to copy the ControlTemplate out of App.xaml into a page where I could see the design, tweaking it, and then copying it back.

I started a new project in Blend, and copied the Canvas code from the DateBlockTemplate, and replaced the data bound values with hard-coded examples. So far so good: I could now tweak the design.


My design skills are rubbish so I ended up with a simpler layout. In my adaption, the month and day appear on one line, as in “Aug 26”.

This led me to another problem. In the sample, the month and day are bound as separate fields, for example:

<Binding Path="PubDate" Converter="{StaticResource dateConverter}" ConverterParameter="month"  />

How could I concatenate the two bindings to appear in one TextBlock? In Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) you can do this with the MultiBinding class, but this did not seem to work in WinRT XAML. Rather than go further down that route, I decided to amend the DateConverter class which is also part of the sample, to add a conversion that returns both the month and the day.

DateConverter.cs users the new DateTimeFormatter class.  The documentation explains that this takes a “format template string” but does not offer a reference for constructing formats. I experimented and ended up with:

DateTimeFormatter dateFormatter = new DateTimeFormatter("{month.abbreviated(3)} {day.integer(2)}");

which turns out to work.

Now my list of posts looks like this:


Not as stylish as before, but at least it is different.

The Windows Runtime App Certification Kit: not too good detecting crashes and hangs

Now that I have a lovely App I thought I should check out whether it is ready to fly.

I therefore ran the App Certification Kit that installs with Visual Studio 2012.


The tool asks you to select an installed app and then exercises it. I saw my app open, though I did not see it get beyond the first screen.


Eventually – bad news:


However, there is only one thing wrong with it:


Yes, the version installed is the debug build. I can fix this simply by rebuilding in release configuration.

What does the Kit test? Here is the list:

  • Crashes and hangs test
  • App manifest compliance test
  • Windows security features test
  • Supported API test
  • Performance test
  • App manifest resources test
  • Debug configuration test
  • File encoding
  • Direct3D feature level support
  • App Capabilities test
  • Windows Runtime metadata validation

That sounds most impressive and makes a great list for you to show to your customer.

I am sceptical though. If the app was not exercised beyond the opening screen, might it not be a bit buggy after all?

I inserted the following line of code into the the Click event handler for reading a blog:

int iCrash = 1 / string.Empty.Length;

I then rebuilt the app in release mode and ran the App Certification Test. Great news!


and specifically:


Thanks though to my umm, bug-unfix, the app crashes whenever I click to read a blog.

I mention this not to poke fun at the App Certification Kit, but to observe that it does not do a good job of automatically detecting crashes and hangs.

The implication is that the human testers are the ones who will do this before an app is admitted to the store. I think they would find my obvious bug; but how much time will they have to test every feature of an app?

Developing a Windows Runtime app: some observations

What would it take to create a Windows 8 Modern UI content reader for this site? Just for fun, I built a simple one; or rather, I slightly adapted Microsoft’s Metro style blog reader tutorial.

The app only has four screens (or pages) but despite its simplicity I found the tutorial somewhat fiddly. Getting the data from the WordPress RSS feed is simple, thanks to the Windows.Web.Syndication namespace which is part of .NET Framework 4.5. Most of the work is in the user interface, which means switching between XAML and C#. Of course as a developer I would rather work in C#.

Further, the Visual Studio editor for C# is better than the editor for XAML. In C# I can easily navigate the code using Go to Definition, Find all References, and so on.  In XAML it takes longer to find things like referenced styles and resources. Plus XAML is XML, which I find harder to read than an elegant language like C#. Even commenting out a line is more hassle in XML.

I did not like the colours used by the tutorial for the list of posts in SplitePage.xaml. It took me a while to work out what to change. Was the colour defined in a resource, or in a template, or in a style, or directly coded as an attribute of the relevant TextBlock object?

Of course you can open the XAML in Blend if you prefer, the designer-oriented tool that comes with Visual Studio 2012. Blend is more complex than the Visual Studio XAML editor, but may be better once you have figured out how it works.

The amount of work involved in making your app well-behaved is proportionately larger if your app is essentially very simple. You have to deal with different layouts for different screen sizes and orientation, as well as the small Snapped layout. You also have to consider what happens if your app is suspended and resumed.

The above means that despite the apparent simplicity of a Modern UI interface, with its chunky buttons, there is more to consider than with, say, a Windows Forms application whose window is never rotated and over which you have full control.

Still, I was pleased with my app which has reasonable functionality based on a small amount of work.

Visual Studio 2012 is impressive, though I did experience some screen corruption after switching back and forth between the Metro and Visual Studio environments for debugging. Restarting Visual Studio fixes it. Using the simulator seems more robust in this respect.


The App Bar

One thing though. If you squint at the above screenshot, you will see that I have put a Read button to the right of the post title. Clicking or tapping this opens the post in a embedded web browser view that is nearly full-screen. However, this Read button is not included in the tutorial, which says:

On the split page, we must provide a way for the user to go to the detail view of the blog post. We could put a button somewhere on the page, but that would distract from the core app experience, which is reading. Instead, we put the button in an app bar that’s hidden until the user needs it.

This may in fact be an excuse to include an App Bar in the tutorial; but I disagree with it. With the App Bar, the user has to right-click or swipe down to display the App Bar, and then click or tap the View Web Page button.


That is two actions rather than one. Is it really better than having a small button in the UI?

It seems to me that tucking things into the App Bar is fine in cases where there is real merit in an immersive experience, such as in the web browser, but less compelling when you already have a screen with a back button and a scrollable list. I was also concerned that users might not realise they needed to display the App Bar in order to use the app properly.

Let the design debate continue.


Microsoft’s Modern UI continues a trend which began with Windows Presentation Foundation (the first incarnation of XAML), which is to make a platform richer for UI designers and more challenging for developers who lack design skills. Nothing wrong with that; but if you remember how easy it was to snap together an app in Visual Basic 3.0, you may feel that something has been lost.

I guess that recognition of that fact was one of the motivations behind Visual Studio LightSwitch, in which you define the data and business rules, but the screens are generated for you. LightSwitch has complexities of its own though.

Can you trust Windows 8 Storage Spaces?

I have been watching a few Storage Spaces threads on Microsoft’s support forums with interest. Storage Spaces is a new way to manage disk storage in Windows 8 and Server 2012. It lets you create a pool from two or more drives, create virtual drives on them with an option for RAID-like resilience, and add or remove physical drives as needed when drives fail or more storage is needed.


A great feature, and particularly since it comes from the server team you would expect it to be solid. Nobody can afford to use storage that is unreliable.

Look at this thread though, based on Windows 8 Enterprise Evaluation which should be the RTM code:

I had three empty discs which I used for it: 320 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB. The manager told me that the maximum capacity for this setup would be ~2 TB.

I then proceeded to fill the space up, resulting in a horrible write speed of ~20 MB/sec. Okay, that can be accepted, it is a software solution, after all.

Here’s the kicker, though: Upon reaching ~0.9 TB, the storage space vanished! Yes, vanished.

After invoking the Storage Space Manager, I discovered that the space was deemed “full” and that I was to add another disc. I also took a look at the volumes itself. Hmmh. The 320 GB disc was 100% filled, the 1 TB was at 32% and the 2 TB at 16%. And what are 32% of 1 TB and 16% of 2 TB? Why, 320 GB!

So, instead of creating a Parity storage space, it simply downsized every hard disc to the lowest denominator, i.e. 320 GB.

Which means that there are two massive problems here:

  1. It’s lying about the remaining capacity (which is confusing in itself: The manager talks about the storage space having a 2 TB capacity, but directly above it talks about a 3.01 pool capacity?)
  2. It also gives no warning when the real capacity is reached and the pool is deemed “full”. It simply takes the pool offline (instead of, say, reverting to a “read-only” mode with a warning) and you have to bring it online manually. Not fun.

and later, from another user:

Today while I copied data over to it, it once again reached “full” status and turned itself “offline” – but this time it won’t come back “online” – it changes right back to “offline” as soon as I try to bring it online…  So essentially I cannot access any of the data on the drive anymore.

or this (which likely refers to the RP) – the article to which it comments is worth a read too.

I’ve run into a major problem with storage spaces. My storage space is full. Having a full storage space puts it into an error state, and it goes offline. You can click “Bring online” but it immediately goes offline again.

So, I can’t free space on it, because I can’t get it online to delete stuff. And, more importantly, I can’t get anything off of it because it won’t stay online.

It seems my only option is to add three drives, as I had it set to parity. The only problem? I don’t have three more drives to add.

Even bugs in in the RP worry me. Storage is so fundamental that I would expect a feature like this to be 100% solid early in the release cycle, or pulled.

Update: It now seems to me that Storage Spaces is working as designed (phew!) though it is understandable that users are confused. See the new post here.

Third-party compilers locked out of Windows Runtime development

Embarcadero’s chief scientist Allen Bauer has posted about the problems facing tool vendors who want want to support Microsoft’s Windows Runtime (WinRT) platform with their own compilers, which he calls “Windows 8’s ‘dirty little secret.’”

The issue is that in order to enforce security and isolation in WinRT apps, Microsoft prohibits certain API calls. Even if you find a way to use them, applications that use these calls will not be accepted into the Windows Store, which in effect means no public distribution.

We are very keen on supporting WinRT with native Delphi & C++ code. Right now, the issues surrounding the WinRT space center around the fact that many OS-supplied APIs which are required by anyone implementing their own language RTL are actually off-limits unless you’re the VC++ RTL DLL. You know, little things like RtlUnwind for exception processing and VirtualAlloc (et. al.) for memory management… Any calls to those APIs from your application will automatically disqualify your application from being an "official" WinRT application capable of delivering through the MS app store.

Right now the VC++ RTL DLL is given special dispensation since that is the library that makes the calls to those forbidden APIs and not directly from the user’s app. We’re currently rattling some cages at MS to find out how or if they’re going to allow third-party tools to target WinRT. Until we can get past that, targeting WinRT isn’t actually possible from a deliverable product sense. We are able to build WinRT applications with Delphi that work with a developer certificate, however they all fail the application qualification checks because of the aforementioned (an other) APIs.

Bauer adds that there are other restrictions that make it hard to create an alternative toolchain:

For instance, you cannot merely open any file, access the registry, and even use the loopback ( adaptor. LoadLibrary cannot be used to load any arbitrary DLL; you must call LoadPackageLibrary and only on a DLL that is present in the digitally signed appx package. WinRT is a seriously locked down sandbox or "walled-garden" with some extremely high walls.

Embarcadero’s answer has been to create a framework that makes desktop apps look and behave somewhat like WinRT apps. I posted about these fake metro apps here. Even Live Tiles are supported. However, these apps cannot be distributed via the Store either, but only through a desktop setup. In addition, they lack the security of true WinRT, and access to the Contracts system for safe exchange of data.

The company does have a .NET tool in the works, called Prism, that will build WinRT apps.

Who is the villain here? Embarcadero’s concern is understandable, since it is locked out of creating a native code compiler for WinRT. On the other hand, to what extent can Microsoft relax the restrictions without blowing a hole in the WinRT security story. There are parallels with the complaints from Google and Mozilla that they cannot compete equally with IE10 in the Modern UI environment.

Thanks to .NET support, Microsoft does have a measure support for alternative languages; it is the Common Language Runtime after all. What would be better though would be to support LLVM, as Apple does on iOS, though this is not likely to be on Microsoft’s roadmap.

Thanks to Eric Grange for pointing me to this post.

Reactions to Windows 8

However this thing turns out, the reactions as Windows 8 rolls out are a great sideshow. The first steps with Windows 8 are demanding for users familiar with older versions as some things are different and some things worse than before. Some things are better, too, but getting over that initial hump can be a problem. I am starting to collect some of the reactions that caught my interest, and will update this post with further links as I find them.


This distinctly non-PC blast from Igor Ljubuncic is based on the Consumer Preview but I quote it because it does a good job of presenting the “no way never” perspective:

Would you sacrifice your entire user base in a rich and profitable tier for the sake of a feeble chance that you might hold a small share of a new market segment that has significantly lower profit margins? Sounds like stupidity to me. … Windows 8 Consumer Preview is a technological, ideological and functional failure. It’s hard to see how no one lost their job over this.

Here is Tim Edwards in a piece with a number of inaccuracies – but remember, first impressions are still first impressions, even if some of the assumptions one makes turn out to be wrong:

Windows 8 is the worst computing experience I’ve ever had. As a desktop operating system, it’s annoying, frustrating, irritating, and baffling to use.

First impressions from Krishnan Subramanian

This is a great user interface and the underlying platform changes are pretty good. However, this interface is not suitable for desktop (Laptop) experience. … with all the “steep learning curve” factor and the fact that many enterprises just upgraded to Windows 7 makes me wonder if Windows 8 will be a flop show in the enterprise space even with their $40 pricing strategy

Windows 8 a Cognitive burden says a usability expert

Windows 8 is optimized for content consumption rather than content production and multitasking. Whereas content consumption can easily be done on other media (tablets and phones), production and multitasking are still best suited for PCs. Windows 8 appears to ignore that.

Mary Branscombe who knows Windows 8 as well as anyone outside Microsoft has a thorough review concluding:

Keep an open mind, spend some time getting used to the charm bar and the Start screen. Once you do, we defy you not to be impressed by Windows 8.

Another from the long-time-watcher Windows camp (but not always pro-Microsoft; he was the one who proclaimed Longhorn “a train wreck”) is Paul Thurrott who says:

For all the whining, hand-wringing, and ivory tower opining over Microsoft’s decision to wed an awesome new mobile platform with its superior desktop OS, few of these critics ever paused for a moment to consider an awesome possibility: This time, more really is more.

Balanced read but not convinced by the system: Preston Gralla on Computerworld:

With Windows 8, Microsoft is making a bet that it can please both tablet users and traditional computer users with a single OS. That bet didn’t pay off for me. On a tablet I find it an excellent operating system. On a traditional computer, it doesn’t work nearly so well.

Yes, it’s that bad says Woody Leonhard in a curious piece which exaggerates the difficulty of using Windows 8:

While Windows 8 inherits many of the advantages of Windows 7 — the manageability, the security (plus integrated antivirus), and the broad compatibility with existing hardware and software — it takes an axe to usability. The lagging, limited, often hamstrung Metro apps don’t help.

Nik Rawlinson on CNET UK says Windows 8 is worth the upgrade but …

The OS represents a serious attempt to unify computing across PCs and tablets in a cohesive way. It’s impressively quick, apps are presented in an original manner that avoids the repetitiveness of Android and iOS, and it hooks in well to your life on the Internet.

While the learning curve may be steep, there are more than enough similarities between Windows 7 and 8 to ease the transition. It’s well worth the upgrade, but it’s not yet the ultimate operating system Microsoft wants it to be.

A balanced piece from Avram Pltch at

If you’re a Windows 7 user and you don’t have a touch-screen device, you can safely skip this upgrade for now and wait to see how this new ecosystem of apps matures. However, if you’re buying a new laptop or tablet, Windows 8 provides a compelling experience that’s worth the learning curve.

PC Pro has divided its conclusions into Windows 8 for desktops and laptops, and Windows 8 for touchscreens and tablets. As you might expect, it is more favourable towards the latter. On desktops:

Windows 8 has relatively little to offer those who do their computing on a desktop or laptop PC. This isn’t a terrible thing – Windows 7 wasn’t exactly broken to begin with – but it means that upgrading to Windows 8 is far from essential.

but on tablets:

Microsoft has delivered a compelling – and in many ways, much more powerful – alternative to iOS and Android. It’s not perfect, and much depends on the quality of forthcoming apps and hardware, but if the goal of Windows 8 is to rejuvenate its appeal across the whole spectrum of touch-enabled devices, then we believe it’s succeeded.

My comment: the point of Windows 8 is to bring desktop and tablet OS together so is this the right way to appraise it?

Jon Honeyball lost patience with Windows 8 which he says is a car crash (one up from a train wreck?):

Any existing user will be tearing their hair out at this nonsense: the flipping backwards and forwards between Metro and the desktop, the lack of a Start button, the way all that history has been hidden away. Ask a user to find Control Panel and see the laptop being thrown into a nearby bin.

Embarcadero previews Metropolis in RAD Studio XE3: fake Metro apps?

Embarcadero has released a video (embedded at the foot of this post) previewing RAD Studio XE3, the next version of the application development suite which includes Delphi and C++ Builder.

Two big new features are Metropolis applications and an new HTML5 Builder tool which looks like a next-generation PHP Builder.

Metropolis – a neat name until Microsoft back-pedalled on the Metro designation for Windows Runtime apps – appears to be a framework for apps that look like Windows Runtime apps but in reality are not. At least, that is my presumption for “VCL Metropolis applications”. The VCL (Visual Component Library) is a Delphi framework (usable also in C++ Builder) which is tied to Windows and GDI, the old-style Windows graphics API, along with many other Win32 APIs. GDI does not work in the Windows Runtime.


No matter, all we need is full-screen apps, touch input, and a don’t-call-it-Metro look and feel, and presto, Windows Runtime apps in all but name. They might even run on Windows 7.


A glimpse at the controls.


Except that there will be significant differences between Metropolis and Windows Runtime. No support for Contracts, for example, the Windows Runtime mechanism for inter-app communication; no delivery from the Windows Store; no support for Windows RT.

The big issue though is this: why would you want a desktop app to look like a Windows Runtime app? And will not users be mightily confused?

The video then goes on to talk about converting existing apps with a “Convert to Metropolis UI” menu option. It turns out though that you can also create FireMonkey Metropolis apps, and the Convert to Metropolis UI option is shown with a FireMonkey app, not a VCL app. Since the FireMonkey framework is designed for cross-platform and uses custom drawing for all its controls, potentially a FireMonkey app could be a real Windows Runtime app, though I get the impression it probably is not.


I do think Embarcadero needs absolute clarity here, which is notably lacking in this preview. There is no point in pretending that a Win32 app is a Windows Runtime app when it is not. I have asked for further information.

HTML5 Builder

There is also a quick look at HTML5 Builder.


This tool targets server-side development with PHP, as well as apps for web,iOS,Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone. My guess is that there is PhoneGap/Cordova under the covers. I also saw some jQuery in the demo.


Here is a look at the CSS3 colour picker.


Update: looks like Embarcadero found a way to fake Live Tiles as well:

Metropolis applications are really traditional "desktop" applications styled to look like the Metro UI.
The TLiveTemplate component spawns a new process in the WinRT space which is is an actual WinRT LiveTile application. The LiveTile communicates with the Metropolis "desktop" backend via HTTP/REST to start/stop the application or update the LiveTile.

The screenshots are drawn from this video, or you can watch it on the Embarcadero site here.

For more info from attendees of the RAD Studio XE3 world tour see also:

Amazon Glacier: archiving on demand at low prices

Amazon has announced a new product in its Amazon Web Services cloud suite. Amazon Glacier is designed for archiving. According to the service description, you get redundant storage over “multiple facilities and on multiple devices within each facility” with regular data integrity checks, giving annual durability which Amazon works out somehow as 99.999999999%.

Storage pricing is $0.011 per GB / month. So keeping a cloud-based copy of that 1TB drive you just bought is $11.00 per month or $132 per year. Not a bad price considering the redundancy and off-site problem that it solves, as long as you can live with sub-contracting the task.

For comparison, Amazon S3, which is designed for day to day storage, costs  $0.125 per GB for the first 1TB, falling to $0.055 per GB for 5000 TB or more, or $0.037 per GB for what Amazon calls “reduced redundancy storage”. Glacier is less than one third of the price.

Note that Glacier is not suitable if you need to get at the data quickly:

You can download data directly from the service using the service’s REST API. When you make a request to retrieve data from Glacier, you initiate a retrieval job. Once the retrieval job completes, your data will be available to download for 24 hours. Retrieval jobs typically complete within 3-5 hours.

In other words, you cannot retrieve data directly. You have to ask for it to be made available first. Glacier is not a cheap alternative to S3, other than for archiving.

There are additional charges for retrieving data beyond 1GB per month, $0.12 per GB falling to $0.050 per GB for over 350 TB, or less for very large retrievals. It is well known that beyond a certain amount, it is quicker and cheaper to send data on the back of a truck than over the internet.

Installing Kodak All-in-One Printer driver on Windows 8

I have been busy upgrading computers to Windows 8 now that the RTM is available. So far so good, though I ran into a problem with a printer which, oddly, worked fine in the Windows 8 Release Preview.

The printer is a Kodak All-on-one. Kodak has a universal installer for all its all-in-one printers. When I ran this, I got a message that .NET Framework 2.0 was needed and would be updated.


It would then try to install .NET 2.0, but fail.

Easy, I thought, just install .NET first. In Windows 8, you do this through Control Panel – Programs – Turn Windows features on or off.


I installed .NET Framework 3.5, which includes 2.0, and re-tried the Kodak printer install. Same message, same error.

I also tried running the installer in compatibility mode for Windows 7 and Windows XP. No go.

Time for some serious troubleshooting. I presumed that if I could figure out what the installer was looking for when it failed to detect .NET Framework 2.0, I could fix it.

First, I checked the official instructions for detecting .NET in an installer. This was already correct.

Next, I downloaded Process Monitor to see if I could spot the registry query or file search the installer was making. I noticed that aio_install.exe, the Kodak installer, unpacks a setup into a temporary location and runs from there. I copied the extracted files and ran the setup. Using Process Monitor, I discovered a registry query to HKCU\Software\Kodak\BootStrapInstallStatus and the REG_DWORD key InstallStatusKeyForDotnet. This was currently set to 1. In a spirit of experimentation I changed the 1 to a zero.


Next I re-ran setup. It worked perfectly.


I still do not know why that registry key was set, but I am not inclined to pursue it further. Possibly if .NET Framework 2.0 is already installed before you run the Kodak installer for the first time, the problem does not arise.

If you encounter this problem though, I suspect the following two steps will be sufficient:

1. Install .NET Framework 3.5 using Control Panel.

2. If installing the printer driver fails, check for the registry key HKCU\Software\Kodak\BootStrapInstallStatus\InstallStatusKeyForDotnet and set it to 0.