ResEdit doesn't work with the Windows SDK 8.0 and above (use 7.1 or below)

ResEdit is a nice resource file editor for Windows programs. Regrettably, it has some issues with the latest versions of the Windows SDK (8.0 and 8.1) – it’s possible to create a resource script (.rc) file, but you won’t be able to open it again later. Even if %PROGRAMFILES(x86)%Windows Kits8.1Include is set as include path, symbols like VOS_NT_WINDOWS32 (defined in verrsrc.h) won’t be resolved and you’ll get ‘undeclared identifier’ errors if your resource script contains them.

Use an earlier version of the Windows SDK (like 7.1) and ResEdit has no problem reading the header files.

For reference, I’m successfully using the following include paths:
%PROGRAMFILES(x86)%Microsoft SDKsWindowsv7.1AInclude
%PROGRAMFILES(x86)%Microsoft Visual Studio 12.0VCinclude

It’s not just me experiencing this issue:
ResEdit started to be Annoying‘ (January 2012)
Resedit Problem‘ (June 2014)

Enabling the compatibility property sheet for (almost) all programs in Windows 8/8.1

Windows 8 and 8.1 hide the compatibility property sheet for certain programs (namely programs included with Windows, like Notepad, and those on a whitelist of programs known to run correctly on Windows 8/8.1 – defined in %WinDir%apppatchpcamain.sdb). In some cases, one can still run the ‘troubleshoot compatibility’ wizard by right-clicking on the file, which just presents compatibility settings in a novice-friendly, poweruser-unfriendly way.

The compatibility property sheet and context menu are defined in acppage.dll. By patching this DLL, we can enable the compatibility property sheet for (almost) all programs, including programs like Notepad and those whitelisted in pcamain.sdb.

Patching Windows system DLL files is probably a bad idea, and I take no responsibility if your computer explodes after you take the following steps.

I’ll write a tool to automate this process at some point, but for now, here are the manual steps if you’re feeling adventurous:

  1. Make a backup of acppage.dll from %WinDir%System32
  2. Take ownership of acppage.dll in %WinDir%System32:
  3. Grant administrator users full control over acppage.dll:
  4. Using your favourite hex editor (I like XVI32), overwrite the two bytes at the relevant address to 0x31 0xC0:

    • Windows 8.1 64-bit: 5A92 (the original bytes should be 0x8B 0xC7)
    • Windows 8.1 32-bit: 4B26 (the original bytes should be 0x8B 0xC6)
    • Windows 8 64-bit: 4DBB (the original bytes should be 0x8B 0xC3)
    • Windows 8 32-bit: 3D44 (the original bytes should be 0x8B 0xC6)

    Warning: If the existing bytes don’t match with what I’ve written above, don’t overwrite them! The addresses change with patches to Windows. The above addresses were current as of 2013-09-04.

  5. Restart explorer.exe

Voilà – the compatibility property sheet will appear for most programs now (I’ve noticed that it doesn’t show up for File Explorer):

Screenshot of Notepad.exe and the Compatibility property sheet

How does this actually work?

These two bytes are in the CLayerUIPropPage::Initialize function – this basically does a bunch of checks to determine whether the property sheet should be displayed or not. The original code (0x8B …) sets the return value (the EAX register) to the result of these checks – a non-zero result means the sheet won’t be displayed. We modify the function to always return 0 by using the instruction xor eax, eax (0x31 0xC0).

Windows 8.1 Impressions

Windows 8.1 is done, though Microsoft is apparently worried enough about driver and application support that not even loyal MSDN and TechNet subscribers will get it until October 17 this year. To no-one’s surprise, the RTM ISOs were promptly leaked, which leaves us in the odd situation where the only way to test your programs against the latest version of Windows is to download disc images from shady websites.

My impressions of Windows 8.1 don’t differ much from what I wrote earlier this year when it was still ‘Windows Blue’: no-one who hates Windows 8 is going to be swayed by Windows 8.1, but if you love Windows 8, you’ll probably love Windows 8.1.

For all that’s been written about the return of the Start Button, there are very few concessions towards desktop users in Windows 8.1. Including ‘boot to desktop’ and ‘use desktop background on Start Screen’ as options makes the overall user experience slightly less jarring, but it’s really nothing to get excited about. I highly recommend StartIsBack to restore the Windows Vista/7-style Start Menu. Start Menu programs abound (what does that tell you?), but StartIsBack really feels like it’s part of Windows, not a third-party program.

The biggest change that Windows 8.1 brings to the desktop is improved high DPI support – Windows now supports per-monitor DPI, and no longer requires users to log off in order to change their DPI settings. I’m sceptical about how many applications will bother supporting this functionality, but it’s a nice feature to have.

Given that Windows 8.1 doesn’t offer much to desktop users like me, I might as well write about annoyances introduced with this version.

New annoyances

  • Microsoft has made it hard to create a local account when installing Windows (as opposed to using a Microsoft account to sign in). Windows 8 strongly encouraged you to use a Microsoft account, but Windows 8.1 is worse – the only methods I’ve found to avoid this are to disable network connections or to type in a bogus email address – only then will Windows offer to create a local user account.
  • SkyDrive is now integrated with Windows, but apparently only if you sign in with a Microsoft account (see above). I guess I won’t be using the desktop SkyDrive client anymore.
  • Libraries are hidden by default, and even when they’re turned on, the navigation pane in File Explorer is polluted with shortcuts to the ‘Desktop’, ‘Documents’, ‘Downloads’, ‘Music’, ‘Pictures’ and ‘Videos’ folders (not libraries), as is the main ‘This PC’ (formerly ‘Computer’ – who decided changing that was a good idea?).
  • Unlike some, I don’t hate the default background images (though I question the choice of the orange default image), but the JPEG compression is horrendous. I’m shocked that Microsoft included such low-quality images in Windows.

None of these are show-stoppers, but coupled with the fact that Windows 8.1 offers almost nothing new for desktop users, it’s hard to get excited about this update.

Theme Colours in Windows ‘Blue’

As I noted in my earlier post, the method for selecting theme (‘accent’) colours in Windows ‘Blue’ build 9364 has changed from Windows 8 RTM. I’m not going to bother looking too closely at the updates to the functions in UxTheme.dll this early in the development process, but I did notice two new registry values in the key HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerAccent: ‘AccentColor’ and ‘StartColor’. These are DWORD values that store the accent colour and background colour, respectively. The format is 0xAABBGGRR. The old ‘ColorSet_Version3’ value from Windows 8 is gone for obvious reasons. ‘AccentId_v8.00’ from Windows 8 is now ‘MotionAccentId_v1.00’, but it seems to serve the same purpose – indicating which background image is selected.

Windows ‘Blue’ Build 9364 Observations

Update (2013-04-21): the thin borders are all gone in build 9374.

It looks like Microsoft isn’t changing tack with the next release of Windows – the recently leaked build 9364 of Windows ‘Blue’ contains a bunch of worthwhile changes to the Modern/Metro/Immersive environment, but the desktop seems to be basically untouched from Windows 8. If you hated Windows 8, you’ll probably hate Windows ‘Blue’. If you’re ambivalent, like me, about Windows 8, you’ll probably feel the same way about Windows ‘Blue’. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who loves Windows 8 outright, but that person will love Windows ‘Blue’.

Screenshot of Windows 'Blue' Clock

The only UI changes on the desktop that I’ve spotted so far are related to window borders – the borders of the clock and action centre pop-up windows are now 1 pixel wide (and the windows are set 16 pixels from the edge of the screen/taskbar). The volume control retains the Windows 7/8 look (fat borders, 8 pixel margin). Continuing on the theme of window borders, certain windows have thin (~3 pixel) borders, as shown below. I’m not sure what window styles cause this effect, but the same thing happened in pre-release Windows 8.

Screenshot of Windows 'Blue' Window Borders


On the Modern-Desktop integration front, bringing up the ‘Share Charm’ now has options for sharing a screenshot of the desktop (though I can’t get this to work) and for opening SkyDrive. That’s about it.

The method of selecting theme accent and background colours has changed significantly, and it seems like that post I wrote about the GetImmersiveColor* functions will be obsolete soon. It’s now possible to select basically any colour combination (see below), which makes it quite easy to get unreadable text. Too much choice can be a bad thing, and I prefer the Windows 8 approach of a limited set of colour combinations that have been tested thoroughly to make sure all text is readable.

Screenshot of Windows 'Blue' Personalisation


It will be interesting to see how quickly this version is pushed out the door. I’m quite surprised to see the version number bumped up to 6.3 (Windows 8 is 6.2), which could indicate that this will be a bigger release than many had assumed. It would be nice if the desktop got a bit more attention, but I’m not holding out hope. In this early build of Windows ‘Blue’, none of my pet issues are solved (ClearType missing from text drawn on opaque surfaces for no reason, unnecessary Modern UI encroaching on the desktop for network settings and ‘open with’ dialogs, etc., no Windows Update notifications on the desktop, Modern UI scrollbars in desktop IE, and so on and so forth).

WPF ToolTip Drop Shadows in Windows 8

The standard ToolTip control template for the Windows 8 theme in WPF (‘Aero2’) has no drop shadow, whether or not the HasDropShadow property is set. The background colour and margins are also slightly off compared to the native style.

The following template produces a result that’s closer to the real thing:

You’ll need to add a reference to PresentationFramework.Aero in your project (note the ‘themes’ namespace used in the control template).

Screenshot of Windows 8 Tooltips

The top image shows a standard Windows 8 tooltip, the middle shows the default tooltip appearance for WPF applications running in Windows 8, and the bottom shows a WPF tooltip using the above template. Note that the Win32 and WPF drop shadows are slightly different in appearance. Additionally, the WPF shadow fades in and out with the tooltip, while the Win32 shadow just pops in and out.

Now, you’ll only want to use this template when the user is running Windows 8, and if the user changes themes you’ll no longer have tooltips that match the native style.

Image Background Remover Tool

View source on GitHub.

Inspired by Window Clippings, my preferred screenshot tool (which unfortunately crashes a lot under Windows 8 RTM), I wrote a small program for making image backgrounds transparent.

Screenshot of Background Remover

It comes with a command-line interface and a basic GUI (pictured above). The GUI supports dragging-and-dropping images, and you can switch the black and white images by right-clicking on either. The source code is included, along with a sample set of images.

The command-line syntax is: BackgroundRemover.exe imageout imageblack imagewhite

Thanks are owed to Ian Griffiths for the equations used to calculate transparency.

478,473 bytes; SHA-1: 002CF9C89B918951BBC7DECB9F9C1A8D53008E1F

Windows Update Notification Tool for Windows 8

I was apparently part of the 5.82% of Windows 7 users who preferred to be notified about updates rather than have them installed automatically. Annoyingly, Windows 8 no longer displays the familiar balloon tip and notify icon when new updates are available, instead placing a notice on the lock screen (which I almost never have occasion to see on my desktop). I found this frustrating enough that I decided to write a small unmanaged program to mimic the basic functionality of the old notify icon. It also supports automatic installation of specified updates (identified by their Knowledge Base ID – I use this to install Windows Defender definition updates). You can find out more and download the tool here:

Windows Update Notification Tool

Pixel-perfect Multi-DPI Images in WPF (Part 2)

View source on GitHub.

See also: Part 1 and Part 3.

In Part 1 of this series, I explored the issue of displaying pixel-perfect bitmap images in the Windows Presentation Foundation. In this article, I’ll describe a method of displaying different images depending on the system DPI setting using a custom Markup Extension and multi-image TIFF files.

Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) files may contain multiple images, and WPF contains support for this format out of the box. You can use the TiffBitmapEncoder class to combine multiple images into one TIFF – I made a tool called PNGToMultiDPITIFF that does just this, but I’ll leave that to Part 3.

To pick the best-matching image from a multi-frame TIFF, I created two Markup Extensions – one for creating an ImageSource, and one for setting the image’s BitmapScalingMode. If the TIFF contains an exact match for the current DPI, the BitmapScalingMode can be set to NearestNeighbour (as there should be no scaling). If not, it will be set to ‘Unspecified’ (which means ‘Linear’ in WPF 4 or newer) so it looks better.

1,229 bytes; SHA-1: BB0B8867C48ECEADD7655E792DAA780A30299747

You can download the code for the Markup Extensions above.

As discussed in the previous post, remember to set UseLayoutRounding and SnapToDevicePixels to true on your Windows.

Code Discussion

The code for the markup extension is quite simple. To get the image frames, we use the TiffBitmapDecoder class:

We loop through the frames to see if any match the system DPI. If there is no exact match, the first frame with a DPI above the system DPI is selected. If there is no such frame, we just pick the frame with the highest DPI.

The code for choosing the BitmapScalingMode is similar – instead of returning an image, we return ‘NearestNeighbour’ if there is an exact DPI match or ‘Unspecified’ otherwise. If you want to use a different BitmapScalingMode fallback, you can specify an optional second paramater in MultiDPIImageScalingMode:


  • Images set with the markup extension will not be visible in the WPF designer (Visual Studio or Blend). I’d welcome any suggestions on how to fix this.
  • Avoid using PNGOUT or PNGGauntlet on PNG images before putting them into multi-frame TIFF files. The Windows TIFF decoder has some issues with compressed PNGs.

Pixel-perfect Multi-DPI Images in WPF (Part 1)

View source on GitHub.

See also: Part 2 and Part 3.

I’ve written previously about DPI-awareness in the Windows Presentation Foundation and how to specify measurements in pixels rather than Device Independent Units (DIUs). Something else to consider is image scaling – unlike the Windows Ribbon control or WinRT, WPF has no in-built mechanism for displaying different images according to the system’s DPI setting. This is a nuisance.

To illustrate the problem, I created 5 images. Left-to-right, the image DPIs (vertical and horizontal) are: 72, 96, 120, 144 and 192. The image dimensions are: 32x32px, 32x32px, 40x40px, 48x48px and 64x64px. I purposely used single-pixel-wide lines to make any stretching obvious.

Original Images

Read on to see what WPF does with these images.

Continue reading “Pixel-perfect Multi-DPI Images in WPF (Part 1)”