Category Archives: windows 7

What is an operating system for? A friend’s Windows 11 rant shows disconnect between vendors and users

What is an operating system? The traditional definition is something like, the system software that manages computer hardware and provides services for applications.

This definition does not describe what you get though when you install an “operating system” such as macOS, Windows, Android or ChromeOS – or more likely, receive hardware with it pre-installed. What you get is an operating system (OS) plus a ton of stuff that can only be described as applications. In practice, the reach of what we call an operating system has extended over the years. Even in the early days, an OS would come with utilities, including a command line, a command line editor, perhaps a C compiler, file management tools and so on. Then there was a change when pre-installed graphical user interfaces arrived. Windows came with Notepad, Calculator, Write and Paint.

What is a commercial operating system today? We can add to the traditional definition at least the following:

  • A vehicle for advertising
  • A means of lock-in
  • A vehicle for data collection

On Windows, advertising is everything from the pre-installed trials, to the nagging to upgrade OneDrive, to the mysterious appearance of Candy Crush on the Start menu.

The lock-in comes via the ecosystem. Apple is worse than Windows for this in that more of its applications work only on Apple operating systems. On Windows though Microsoft hardly has to bother since a huge legacy of Windows-only applications keeps users from changing, especially in business.

Data collection is via near-enforced login and telemetry. An Apple ID is not required for macOS but it is strongly encouraged and necessary for the App Store. A Microsoft or Entra ID account is not required to use Windows, but the setup points you strongly in that direction.

Is any of this good for the user? A friend is disappointed with Windows 11 – mainly because it is less familiar than Windows 10. His central points are that Microsoft makes irritating changes that disrespect the learning users have invested in Windows, and has left behind the notion of the operating system as a blank canvas waiting for applications to make it useful.

Personally I put up with Windows 11; it is not that different, though there are a few things that I particularly dislike:

  • The taskbar icons in the centre. I routinely move them to the left. Settings – Personalisation – Taskbar – Taskbar behaviors – Taskbar alignment, no registry editing required. This single change makes Windows 11 feel much more familiar, and it is better since left-aligned icons are easier to target.
  • The Start menu. This was great in Windows 95 and improved up until Windows 7. Windows 8 replaced it for … reasons. Windows 10 reinvented it but badly. I have trained myself always to click All apps as a second step after clicking Start. Click on a letter for the letter menu, select a letter, start the app. It works reliably, unlike Search which is a usability disaster when what you want is to start an application.
  • The File Explorer. You right click a file, and instead of a single menu of options, there are three sets of options, one in a row of icons, one in a mysterious subset of options, and one under Show more options. A poor user interface for a common task.

There are other things, of course. I always turn off the distracting Widgets on the taskbar. I always show as many of the “additional System tray icons” as I can, with the exception of consumer Teams. I always open Edge, reflect on the cheap ugly mess that is the default home page, and set about disabling it.

These annoyances are mainly design errors by Microsoft rather than an a direct consequence of the changing role of the operating system; yet they would be impossible without that change.

Imagine for a moment if Windows were optimised for installing and running applications. Oddly, Windows 8 (which most hated for more or less the same reasons my friend cites for disliking Windows 11) did have that vision. Install from the Store, with clean setup and easy removal. Run full-screen with no distractions. Before you say it, yes there were issues, the UI was not good enough, the apps were not there, we missed multiple overlapping windows, and more. There was a good concept in there though.

The future of WPF for developers who need to support Windows 7

If you talk to Microsoft about what is new for Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), a framework for Windows desktop applications, the answer tends to revolve around the Windows UI Library (WinUI), user interface controls for the Universal Windows Platform and therefore Windows 10, which you can use with WPF. That is no use if you need to compile applications that work on Windows 7. Is WPF on Windows 7 in effect frozen?

Not quite. First, note that WPF (and Windows Forms) was updated for .NET Framework 4.8, with High DPI enhancements and bug fixes. The complete list of fixes is here. So there have been recent updates.

Microsoft says though that .NET Framework 4.8 is the “last major version” of .NET Framework. This suggests that WPF on .NET Framework will not change much in future. WPF is open source; but the open source project targets .NET Core, the cross-platform version of .NET. In addition, there are a few features in WPF for .NET Framework that will never be ported, including XBAPs (XAML Browser Applications) – probably not something you care about.

The good news though is that .NET Core does run on Windows 7 (currently SP1 is required). You can see the progress of WPF on .NET Core here. It is not yet done and there are a few things that will never be supported. But when this is production-ready, it is likely that the open source WPF will run on Windows 7 and thus benefit from any updates and fixes made to the code.

From what I have learned here at Build, Microsoft’s developer conference, it is that .NET Core work that is currently top of mind for the WPF team. This means that WPF on Windows 7 does have a future – provided that .NET Core continues to support Windows 7. This proviso is important, since it is the decision of a different team. At some point there will be a version of .NET Core that does not support Windows 7, and that will be the moment when WPF cannot really progress on that operating system.

There may also be a special case. Presuming Edge Chromium runs on Windows 7, WPF may get a new Edge-based WebView control that runs on Windows 7.

Summary: WPF (and Windows Forms) on .NET Framework is not going to change much in future. If you can transition to using these frameworks on .NET Core though, there is more hope of improvements, though there is no magic that will make Windows 10 features available on Windows 7.

ComponentOne’s TouchToolkit for Windows Forms: another approach to the Windows tablet problem

Software component vendor ComponentOne has released Studio Enterprise 2013 v2.5, the latest in its suite of components, with support for Windows 8.1 and Visual Studio 2013.

The piece that caught my eye is the TouchToolkit for Windows Forms.


Here’s the problem. The Windows desktop is poor with touch control, which is why Microsoft created Windows 8 with its alternate, touch-friendly Windows Runtime platform. However users are resistant to the changed user interface, and it does not help with existing desktop apps.

Developers are also faced with a question of simple mathematics. Develop a Windows 8 Store app, get a market of x. Develop a Windows desktop app, get a market of many times x, since Windows 8 can run desktop apps, but Windows 7 cannot run Store apps.

Embarcadero approached this problem with a framework called Metropolis, for Delphi and RAD Studio. It builds apps that mimic the Windows Runtime look and feel, but which are actually desktop apps. Of course they do not run on Windows RT, the ARM version. It is a confusing solution in my opinion, leading users into what Martin Fowler calls the Uncanny Valley, where stuff works almost but not quite how you expect.

I prefer the thinking behind the TouchToolkit. Take your existing Windows Forms apps, or write a new one, using these controls to make them more touch-friendly. They will never be as well suited to touch control as a Store app, but they might be good enough, and of course will run on Windows 7 and earlier versions.

The controls include a magnifier, support for zoom gestures, and a touch event provider that adds gesture support to any control.

Windows Forms, we all know, is not as good as WPF if you want an application that scales nicely and supports modern design. On the other hand, Windows Forms is pragmatic and easy to use framework that remains popular for line of business apps.

Windows XP Mode hassles for Windows 8 upgraders

One of the reasons for the success of Windows 7 was the provision Microsoft made for customers stuck with applications that only run on Windows XP. Windows XP Mode is a free add-on for Windows 7 Professional that runs Windows XP. It can also hide the XP desktop and run individual applications in their own window, though this is cosmetic and merely hides the desktop. Windows XP Mode uses Virtual PC as its virtualisation platform.

What would expect to happen if you upgraded Windows 7 with XP Mode to Windows 8? Without having researched it, my expectation was that Windows XP Mode would migrate smoothly to Hyper-V in Windows 8.

Not so. Here is the official word:

With the end of extended support for Windows XP in April 2014, Microsoft has decided not to develop Windows XP Mode for Windows 8.  If you’re a Windows 7 customer who uses Windows XP Mode and are planning a move to Windows 8, this article may be helpful to you.  
When you upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8, Windows XP Mode is installed on your machine, however Windows Virtual PC is not present anymore. This issue occurs because Windows Virtual PC is not supported on Windows 8. To retrieve data from the Windows XP Mode virtual machine, perform the steps listed in the More Information section.

If you were relying on XP Mode to run some old but essential application, this is definitely worth knowing. Microsoft’s guidance on retrieving the data is unlikely to be much use, since the reason you use XP Mode is to run applications rather than to store data. Some users are not impressed:

This is SHOCKING.  I was using Win 7 Pro and had a fully configured (hours of work) XP Virtual Machine with my complete web development environment in it.  It didn’t even occur to me that it wouldn’t work on Windows 8.  I’ve only just discovered now when I tried to access it to do some updates!

I MUST recover this virtual PC.

Why did the Upgrade Advisor not mention this!?!?  I carefully resolved all the issues highlighted there before moving on.

Of course it is desirable to move off Windows XP completely, even in XP Mode, but the rationale is that it is better to be on a recent and supported version of Windows and to run XP in a virtual environment, than to run Windows XP itself.

Another oddity is that you can run Windows XP on Hyper-V in Windows 8. However you cannot get XP Mode to work unless you perform a repair install that changes the way it is licensed. Yes, it is licensing rather than technical reasons that blocks the XP Mode upgrade:

Note: The Windows XP Mode virtual hard disk will not work on Windows 8 as Windows 8 does not provide the Windows XP Mode license. The Windows XP Mode license is a benefit provided on Windows 7 only.

Users have discovered workarounds. Aside from the repair install mentioned above, you can also use Oracle Virtual Box and trick XP Mode into thinking that it is running on Windows 7 and Virtual PC. You can also run a virtual instance of Windows 7 and run XP Mode within that.

Embarcadero launches C++ Builder XE3: first built on Clang

Embarcadero has released C++ Builder XE3, the first version built on the open source clang front end for the LLVM compiler. This has enabled the product to support many new features, including extensive C++ 11 support and a 64-bit compiler.


While it is a shame that the old Borland C/C++ Compiler is no more, it makes sense for Embarcadero to bring its VCL (Visual Component Library) and FireMonkey framework to Clang rather than continuing to work on its own compiler.

The other big change is cross-platform support. Through FireMonkey, C++ Builder XE3 supports Windows (including Windows 8) and Mac OS X, with iOS and Android promised for 2013.

Although Windows 8 is supported on the desktop, there is no official support for the Windows Runtime (Windows Store apps). Instead, Embarcadero has a curious application framework called Metropolis which fakes the Windows 8 style but with desktop applications, as if the Windows 8 world were not already sufficiently confusing.

The big question is how compatible VCL applications created for earlier versions of C++ Builder are with the XE3 release. With a new compiler and major changes to the VCL in order to support the new compiler, you might expect some issues.

“That’s what we’ve been spending all of our time on,” Embarcadero VP Michael Swindell told me. “This is fully compatible with all our previous C++ dialects. We’ve completely re-engineered the C++ front end but it’s engineered to be compatible with C++ Builder applications and Borland C++ applications.”

I would rather hear that from developers though, rather than from Embarcadero.

Although C++ Builder is a cross-platform compiler, it only runs on Windows. A common scenario is to run in Windows emulation on a Mac, using VMware Fusion or Parallels.

Similar changes are on the way for Delphi, which uses the same VCL and FireMonkey frameworks but with the Delphi language based on Object Pascal.

Note that the new Clang-based compiler is 64-bit only. You are meant to continue using the old Borland compiler for 32-bit, making it hard to maintain a single code base for both.

aQuantive may be Microsoft’s biggest acquisition failure. Have there been good ones? A look back.

Today’s news that Microsoft  is writing off $6.2 billion from the useless acquisition of aQuantive in August 2007 gives me pause for thought.

How bad is this company at acquisitions? Particularly those under CEO Steve Ballmer’s watch. He became CEO in January 2000.


Microsoft acquired Danger in February 2008 for $500M. Small relative to the aQuantive acquisition, but how much further money did the company burn transforming Danger from an excellent cloud and mobile company to the group that came up with Kin, the phone withdrawn from the market after just two months on sale? Not to mention the downtime and threatened loss of data suffered by Danger’s online service under Microsoft’s stewardship.

Microsoft attempted to buy Yahoo for $44.6bn in 2008. Yahoo’s executives declined, a move that was (very) bad for Yahoo shareholders but quite possibly right in a business sense; it would not have been a good fit.

Microsoft acquired Groove Networks complete with Notes inventor Ray Ozzie in March 2005. I put this in the disaster category. Groove went nowhere at Microsoft. Ozzie became Chief Software Architect and talked of internet vision but did not deliver. The wretched SharePoint Workspace is apparently based on Groove.

What about the good ones? My view is that Microsoft paid too much for Skype at $8.5 billion but at least it acquired a large number of users and has some chance of enhancing its mobile offerings with Skype integration.

Microsoft acquired Bungie in 2000 and given the success of Halo (without which, maybe, the whole Xbox project might have faltered) we have to count that a success, even though Bungie was spun off back to independence in 2007.

Other notables include Great Plains in December 2000 (now morphed into Dynamics ERP); Connectix in February 2003 which got Microsoft started in virtualization; and Opalis in December 2009 whose software now plays a key role in Microsoft’s System Center 2012 private cloud software.

Winternals in July 2006 was a great acquisition. Microsoft acquired some indispensable Windows troubleshooting tools, and also Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogwell, able people who I suspect contributed to the transformation of Windows Vista into Windows 7, and in the case of Russinovich, to the technology in Windows Azure which now seems reborn as an excellent cloud platform.

You can see all Microsoft’s completed acquisitions here.

(If the company would like to acquire for a few billion I am willing to talk.)

The application that would not uninstall

I install a ton of pre-release and test software so it is not surprising that I sometimes run into Windows Installer issues. Here is an entertaining error though. It is unlikely, I guess, that you will hit this problem; but I present it as an illustration of what can go wrong, as we move into the era of locked-down operating systems and easy app installs. Though even these are not perfect. Notice how the operating system fights me all the way.

Years ago I installed Microsoft’s Office Labs Ribbon Hero, a tutorial add-on for Office. At the time I was running Windows Vista. Since then I have done an in-place upgrade to Windows 7. I tried to remove it today through Control Panel and got this message:


After presenting this information setup closed and the application was not uninstalled.

So … the application does not support Windows 7 and therefore you cannot remove it. Clever, and I found this a tricky problem to get around.

I took a look at the Windows installer files which you can find in %SYSTEMROOT%\Installer. All the msi files have random names. However, you can right-click the column heading area and choose More, then check Subject in the list. Click OK, and now the application to which each msi relates appears.


Now you can click the column heading to sort by subject and find the problem msi.


I copied the msi to my desktop.

For the next step you need the Orca tool from the Windows Installer SDK. If Orca is installed, you can right-click the MSI and choose Edit with Orca.


I then selected LaunchCondition and deleted the launch condition that required Windows XP.


Hmm, something odd here as it should pass INSTALLED? Still, save, right-click the msi, choose Uninstall. You still hit the error. Why? Somehow, Windows works out that you are uninstalling a product for which an msi exists in the official location and uses that one instead. You have to copy your modified msi to the correct location. Open an administrator command prompt:


Now right-click the msi and choose Uninstall.

It worked. Phew.

OEMs are still breaking Windows: can Microsoft fix this with Windows 8?

Mark Russinovich works for Microsoft and has deep knowledge of Windows internals; he created the original Sysinternals tools which are invaluable for troubleshooting.

His account of troubleshooting a new PC purchased by a member of his family is both amusing and depressing, though I admire his honesty:

My mom recently purchased a new PC, so as a result, I spent a frustrating hour removing the piles of crapware the OEM had loaded onto it (now I would recommend getting a Microsoft Signature PC, which are crapware-free). I say frustrating because of the time it took and because even otherwise simple applications were implemented as monstrosities with complex and lengthy uninstall procedures. Even the OEM’s warranty and help files were full-blown installations. Making matters worse, several of the craplets failed to uninstall successfully, either throwing error messages or leaving behind stray fragments that forced me to hunt them down and execute precision strikes.

I admire his honesty. What he is describing, remember, is his company’s core product, following its mutilation by one of the companies Microsoft calls “partners”.

Russinovich adds:

As my cleaning was drawing to a close, I noticed that the antimalware the OEM had put on the PC had a 1-year license, after which she’d have to pay to continue service. With excellent free antimalware solutions on the market, there’s no reason for any consumer to pay for antimalware, so I promptly uninstalled it (which of course was a multistep process that took over 20 minutes and yielded several errors). I then headed to the Internet to download what I – not surprisingly given my affiliation – consider the best free antimalware solution, Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE).

Right. I do the same. However, the MSE install failed, probably thanks to a broken transfer application used to migrate files and settings from an old PC, and it took him hours of work to identify the problem and complete the install.

What interests me here is not so much the specific problems, but Microsoft’s big problem: that buying a new Windows PC is so often a terrible user experience. Not always: business PCs tend to be cleaner, and some OEMs are better than others. Nevertheless, although I have had Microsoft folk tell me a number of times that its partners were getting the message, that to compete with Apple they need to deliver a better experience, the problem has not been cracked.

There is something about the ecosystem which ensures that users get a bad product. It goes like this I guess: customers are price-sensitive, and to get the price required OEM vendors have to take the money from malware companies and others desperate to drive users towards their products. Yet in doing so they perpetuate the situation where you you have to buy Apple, or be a computer professional, in order to get a clean install. That describes a broken ecosystem.

Microsoft’s Signature PCs are another option, but they are only available from Microsoft stores.

The next interesting question is whether Microsoft can fix this with Windows 8. It may want to follow the example of Windows Phone 7, which is carefully locked down so that OEMs and operators can add their own apps, but their ability to customise the operating system is limited, protecting the user experience. It is hard to see how Microsoft can achieve the same with the x86 version of Windows 8, since this remains an open platform, though it may be possible to insulate the Metro side from too much tinkering. Windows 8 on ARM, on the other hand, may well follow the Windows Phone pattern.

Why there are no tablets running Windows Phone 7

Once again people are asking why Microsoft has not allowed OEMs to build tablets running Windows Phone 7. Matthew Baxter-Reynolds says it is to do with income from OEM licenses:

Now, Microsoft charges OEMs far less for Windows Phone licenses (about $15 per unit) than for full-on Windows licenses (on average, working out to about $56 per unit) …  But for Ballmer and the team, this is the bad news scenario. Only $15 per licence? And even less in profit? Compared to $37 in profit? It’s a money-loser, people.

While I agree that Microsoft has a problem with its business model in the new world of mobile devices, I do not follow this reasoning. There is nothing to stop Microsoft charging more for Windows Phone OS on tablets than on phones if it could get away with it. Nor is it necessarily true that Microsoft will succeed in charging as much for Windows 8 on tablets as it does for Windows 8 on PCs. In fact, that is unlikely to be be true; they will be cheaper, especially on ARM.

If it is not this then, that still leaves the question of why Microsoft has not licensed the Windows Phone 7 OS for tablets.

Microsoft has undoubtedly fumbled tablet computing and this was a costly mistake. Nevertheless, it is a company capable of strategic thinking. I think it goes something like this, in no particular order.

First, I reckon Microsoft is thinking beyond the initial OEM license income for its profits from Windows 8 tablets. It is all about the apps – 30% of the income from every app sold on the locked-down ARM edition of Windows 8. Apps tend to be cheap, and there is cost in running the store, but there is potential for ongoing income that will exceed the initial license sale. Especially if, like Apple, Microsoft insists on a cut of subscription income, in-app advertising income, and so on.

Second, Microsoft is also betting on cloud computing. Windows Phone 7 is marketed mainly as a consumer device, but Microsoft is going to play the “this is the device for professionals” card at some point. You can bet that Windows 8 tablets, and their successors, will be promoted as the ideal client for Office 365, as well as for on-premise Exchange, SharePoint and Lync. Sell a tablet, buy a customer for Office 365. Lock customers into Office 365, and sell them other cloud applications and services. Plenty of opportunity for profit.

Third, my guess is that the Windows team at Microsoft does not consider the Windows Phone 7 OS good enough to be the foundation of its future mobile platform. They respect it enough to borrow its Metro design language, along with many aspects of the development model, but in the end Sinofsky and his team were not willing to hand over the future of Windows on devices to Windows CE and Silverlight.

What we are getting with the forthcoming Windows Runtime is a more deeply thought-through new platform in which .NET, native C++ code, and HTML 5 are equally well supported, and in which developers are forced to use asynchronous APIs that keep the user interface responsive. It will be a better app platform than the current Windows Phone OS; in fact, I fully expect Windows Runtime to migrate to the phone in some future version.

If Microsoft had allowed Windows Phone 7 onto tablets, it would have the difficult task of explaining to its customers how Windows 8 tablets differ from Windows Phone OS tablets as well as from those old Windows tablets from Bill Gates days.

Therefore Microsoft took the decision to wait until Windows 8 was ready. That was a bold decision, and it may be too late, but the reasoning is plausible.


Building Windows – when Microsoft shows its hand

I’m in Anaheim, California on the eve of Microsoft’s BUILD conference. I have heard the phrase “wait until BUILD” so many times from Microsoft over the last few months that it has given this conference a special flavour. After Wednesday, the company will have to think of another way to avoid awkward questions like what is happening to Silverlight.

This is the latest chapter in the progression of Windows, server client and mobile. In particular, I will be trying to understand Microsoft’s software development platform. Whatever it looks like, it will be diverse, and include native code, HTML and JavaScript, .NET code including Silverlight, and perhaps some new hybrid. What will be the pros and cons of each approach, how do developers create apps that span desktop, tablet and mobile, and how will the delivery model change in the app store era?

Interesting questions; but the other theme is about how effectively Microsoft will compete versus its competition as the importance of desktop Windows shrinks. Cloud, mobile and tablet are the themes here, and after many mis-steps time is running out.

Not much to add except “watch this space” over the next few days; though I would be interested in any specific comments or questions on Microsoft’s strategy.