16 Feb 2017 @ 5:16 PM 

I’ve adjusted the program to add more options:

  • Font settings can be customized
  • Left-clicking on the Notification Icon will now show the network menu
  • The tooltip will now display connected networks
  • implemented a new “Windows 10 Style” Menu Renderer. This is the default when installed on Windows 10, and will by default use the Windows 10 Accent Color as well. (No blur behind). It’s not precise and is more a stylistic imitation but it fits better with Win10 than the other Renderers (IMO)

As usual the latest source can always be found On github. And The Installer for 1.1 can be found Here.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 16 Feb 2017 @ 05:17 PM

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 29 Jan 2017 @ 6:11 PM 

I wrote previously about manners in which the SimpleWifi library can be utilized to enumerate available wireless connections and disconnect or connect to them. As my entire reason for writing BCNetMenu, however, was for VPN connections- not for wireless connections- it was necessary to figure out that piece of the puzzle as well.

The approach I discovered may not be entirely forward compatible, however it appears to be functional going back through many versions of Windows, so it ought to keep working. I wasn’t able to find a more official, “sanctioned” method. Thje basic idea is to effectively read the configuration information directly. The Configuration information for VPN connections can be found in the file “%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Network\Connections\Pbk\rasphone.pbk”. I suspect it may also be in the corresponding Common Application Data folder, found set in the %PROGRAMDATA% environment variable.

Retrieving the VPN names is fairly straight forward; effectively, we just want to find the section names. We can use a straight String parse of each line, but we can also use a Regular Expression with a group to define the actual name. Matches to:

is sufficient to find all the appropriate sections, and retrieve the names via the matches. However, the name is not quite enough; we need to cross-reference this information with information available via the NetworkInterface class; then we can use appropriate properties to return a particular data object representing the VPN connection:

is a direct link to the code in question as it appears in the BCNetMenu project. I’ve been pleased with the programs performance over the past month or so in replacing the default Windows network foldout to which I have less positive affinity.

But enumerating connections is one thing- connecting or disconnecting is another. After some searching I ended up finding only one method that was suitable for my use case, as other methods either required manual password input or to have BCNetMenu manage passwords, which I felt was outside the scope of what I wanted to do. Instead, the program will basically just run rasphone.exe with the appropriate VPN name; while this will show a dialog, the saved login information is pre-populated, so, at least for my intended use, I’ve found it sufficient to improve upon the default Windows 10 VPN Foldout.

For the same of comparison, here is the “before” image:

The default Windows 10 Network Foldout

This is an entirely usable foldout- or, it appears that way. However, clicking a connection takes one to the Control Panel. For example, here is the WIndow that appears when I click the connected “Mainframe” option:

From a UI design perspective this boggles my mind. There is zero indication that I clicked “Mainframe” at all. Why are these options listed separately and clickable individually if they all lead to the same place? Clicking a connected VPN connection should disconnect it; clicking a disconnected VPN connection should connect it. The way it has been altered in Windows 10 defies good UI design as far as I’m concerned.

Not that I’m any expert on good UI design; I just know what is easy to use for myself and when a “feature” or alteration causes one to occasionally mumble to themselves angrily or laugh about how silly the feature is even months after it’s introduction it probably wasn’t for the best. As far as getting the desired behaviour, I had two alternatives; the one that I originally used was a registry adjustment which would set the foldout to use the Windows 8 implementation. This worked for some time, however I found that, since the dialog hadn’t had adjustments for Windows 10, some features didn’t work properly; I found in some cases it wouldn’t respond to clicks or refused to connect to a wireless network, but the network control panel functioned as intended. In order to bring back my own desired behaviour, I created BCNetMenu, which appears like this:

BCNetMenu displaying available VPN connections.

It’s not the fanciest thing in the world; it’s not intended to blow anybody’s mind with an amazing glass-like appearance or transparent Window blur or anything like that. It’s a relatively basic pop-up menu that just lists available connections. Clicking a connected one disconnects. Clicking a disconnected one connects.

As it should be, if you ask me!

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 05 Feb 2017 @ 10:27 PM

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 08 Jan 2017 @ 12:10 PM 

When I wrote BCNetMenu, it was primarily for replacing Windows 10’s built in network foldout for VPN connections. However since that Network foldout also managed Wireless connections, I decided to add that in as well.

When you have a need that would be filled by a library, it’s always a good idea to look through results on NuGet and see what there is. As with most requirements there are many options when it comes to reading Access Point information. In my case, I settled on SimpleWifi

The Consumer code for SimpleWifi is, well, Simple, which is one of the reasons I opted for it. It provides the information needed and was quite easy to use. Here is an example static that provides an enumerator method that retrieves Access Points:

I found there was an odd issue with this approach. it seemed as if AP info would “trickle” in over time; the second time I opened the menu there would be more access points. I don’t know why that was, but I added a bit of extra code with the intent of providing a larger set of “seed” networks when the menu is opened for the first time. It seems like the act of inspecting Access Points causes more to be actually added. At any rate this is the logic I added to the start of the GetWirelessConnections() logic:

This appeared to rectify my problems, and the Menu that used this method was properly showing available wireless networks appropriately.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 08 Jan 2017 @ 12:10 PM

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 17 Dec 2016 @ 7:20 PM 

I’ve complained before about Windows 10’s rather odd VPN and even wireless connection interface, in that it has excessive levels of redirection. I went ahead and wrote a small program that appears as a notification icon which attempts to make it a bit more straightforward. It’s not fancy, but it seems to get the job done.

I’ve put it up on github, it can be found here.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 17 Dec 2016 @ 07:20 PM

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 09 Nov 2016 @ 8:30 AM 

I’ve previously written about making adjustments to the Windows Master Volume control programmatically. I alluded to the addition of possible other features such as being able to view the volume levels of other applications. I’ve gone ahead and made those changes.

The first thing to reiterate is that this makes use of a low-level .NET Wrapper for the Windows Core Audio API. This can be found here.

The first thing I decided to define was an object to represent a single Applications Volume Session info/properties. In addition, it will be provided a reference to the IAudioSessionControl interface representing that application’s Audio session, so it can be directly manipulated by adjusting the properties of the class.

Next, we need to declare a COM import, the Multimedia Device enumerator. Specifically, we need to import the class, as the Vannatech Library only provides interfaces, which we cannot instantiate:

Now that we have a starting point, we can create an enumerator method that retrieves all active audio sessions as “ApplicationVolumeInformation” instances:

A github repository with a more… complete… implementation of a working Console program can be found here.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 11 Nov 2016 @ 12:29 PM

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 27 Oct 2016 @ 12:39 PM 

This is part of a series of posts covering new C# 6 features. Currently there are posts covering the following:
String Interpolation
Expression-bodied Members
Improved Overload resolution
The Null Conditional operator
Auto-Property Initializers

Yet another new feature introduced into C# 6 are a feature called Dictionary Initializers. These are another “syntax sugar” feature that shortens code and makes it more readable- or, arguably, less readable if you aren’t familiar with the feature.

Let’s say we have a Dictionary of countries, indexed by an abbreviation. We might create it like so:

This is the standard approach to initializing dictionaries as used in previous versions, at least, when you want to initialize them at compile time. C#6 adds “dictionary initializers” which attempt to simplify this:

Here we see what is effectively a series of assignments to the standard this[] operator. It’s usually called a Dictionary Initializer, but realistically it can be used to initialize any class that has a indexed property like this. For example, it can be used to construct “sparse” lists which have many empty entries without a bunch of commas:

The “Dictionary Initializer” which seems more aptly referred to as the Indexing initializer, is a very useful and delicious syntax sugar that can help make code easier to understand and read.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 27 Oct 2016 @ 12:40 PM

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 08 Oct 2016 @ 4:38 PM 

One of the old standby’s of software development is manipulating bits within bytes. While it used to be that this was necessary- when you only have 8K of RAM, you have to make the most of it, which often meant packing information. Nowadays, it’s not quite as necessary, since there is so much more RAM on a typical system and it’s generally not worth the loss of performance that would come from packing unpacking bits for the tiny memory savings that would be afforded.

There are, of course, exceptions. Sometimes, trying to use conventional data types together with functions or other operations that work with compact data representations (For example, generating a Product Key) can be as awkward as Hitler at a Bar Mitzvah. In those cases, it can be quite useful to be able to pack several Boolean true/false values into a single byte. But in order to do so, we need to do some bit bashing.

Bit Bashing

“Bit Bashing” is the rather crude term for Bit manipulation, which is effectively what it says on the tin- the manipulation of the bits making up the bytes. Even the oldest Microcomputer CPUs- the Intel 4004, for example- worked with more than one bit at a time, in the case of the 4004, it worked with 4-bits at a time. The original IBM PC worked with a full byte. This means that operations work at a higher level even then the bit, so it takes some trickery to work at that level.

The core concepts are easy- you can use bitwise operators on a byte in order to set or retrieve individual bits of the byte.

Setting a Bit

Setting a bit is a different operation depending on whether the bit is being cleared or set (0 or 1). If the bit is being set, one can do so by using a bitwise “or” operation with a shifted value based on the desired bit to change:

Straightforward- create a byte based on the specified bit index (0 through 7) the bitwise or that against the original to force that bit to be set in the result.

The converse is similar, though a teensy bit more complicate. to forcibly set a bit to 0, we need to perform a bitwise “and” operation not against the shifted value, but against the bitwise complement of the shifted value:

Retrieving a bit

Retrieving a bit is as simple as seeing if the bitwise and between the value and the shifted byte is non-zero:

Being able to encode and decode bits from a byte can be a useful capability for certain tasks even if it’s necessity due to memory constraints may have long since passed.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 08 Oct 2016 @ 04:38 PM

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 17 Sep 2016 @ 3:42 PM 

Previously I wrote about implementing a Alpha-blended form with VB.NET. In that implementation, I had an abstract class derive from Form and then the actual forms derive from that. This causes issues with using the Form in the designer.

In order to workaround that issue I’ve redone parts of the implementation a bit to get it working as it’s own separate class. Rather than rely on the CreateParams() to adjust the GWL_EXSTYLE when the form is initially created, it merely uses SetWindowLong() to change it at runtime. Otherwise, the core of what it does is largely the same- just refactored into a package that doesn’t break the designer.

It should be noted, however, that adding controls to the form will not function as intended, though- this is inherent in the Alpha Blending feature, as it effectively just draws the bitmap. This is why it works well for Splash Screens. Controls will still respond to events and clicks however they will be invisible; making them visible would require drawing them onto the Bitmap and then setting it as the new Layered Window bitmap each time controls change.

Here is the changed code:

In usage it is no more complex than before, really:

The end result is largely the same:

alpha_example

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 15 Oct 2016 @ 01:51 PM

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 03 Aug 2016 @ 4:37 PM 

I wrote previously, where I found that the Group Policy added to the insider build of Windows 10 did not have any observable effect.

This is merely a quick note as I re-tested on the recently released Anniversary Update, and with the group policy set in addition to the new “longPathAware” manifest setting, Functions like CreateDirectoryW do in fact allow access to long path names beyond MAX_PATH without the special prefix. Basically, the group policy is now active.

Of course, with the standard .NET File API, This has no effect, as the .NET File API does it’s own checks that restrict the path length.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 03 Aug 2016 @ 04:37 PM

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 27 May 2016 @ 8:04 PM 

Edit: 06/17/2016: I’ve gotten a few comments that for some reason mention “Long Path Tool”. I’m not clear why that is the case. Any posts mentioning Long Path tool as an “Alternative” or because you were “encountering the same problem” will be treated as spam. In the meantime, I’ll continue to use the Search Program I wrote almost a decade ago in Visual Basic 6 to delete files that are beyond the MAX_PATH limit (it uses my BCFile library which has the ability to support long path names).

 

Starting in Windows 10 Build 14352, a new Group Policy has appeared, “Enable NTFS Long Paths”. This setting is found under Administrative Templates\System\File System\NTFS:
NTFS Long Paths gpedit setting

This setting relates to the somewhat ubiquitous 260 character path limit. But what exact is the limit, how did it come about, and how has it persisted to this day in such a way that, as the setting itself requires, programs need to explicitly declare that they can handle them?

First, the initial origin. This limitation actually dates to MS-DOS, and originates with Interrupt 21h with 47h in the high byte of the accumulator register. This function was defined as “returns the path description without the drive letter and the initial backslash”. the 256 byte path excluded the drive letter and backslash (as noted) and didn’t use a null terminator. Adding the path and appropriate null terminator brings the maximum buffersize for a full directory path specification to 260 bytes.

Windows 3.1, and Windows 3.x more or less stuck with these same limitations, being mostly built over top of MS-DOS. With the introduction of the Unicode API, it was decided that Windows ought to allow for longer paths, particularly as File Systems such as NTFS were being developed that did away with many of those DOS-Derived limitations. So with those NT functions, the Unicode version of file functions could accept a \\?\ prefix at the front of the path string. This specified to the function to enable support for longer path names, up to the NTFS maximum of 32768. The requirement for \\?\ was added to allow older programs that weren’t compatible to continue to function; since they would not send the \\?\ prefix, they would continue to work as before.

However, as it happened, it turned out that this hasn’t been a particularly good solution. It wasn’t well popularized that File API calls should include such prefixes, and furthermore Microsoft’s own, built-in software didn’t even use it properly. Programs such as Windows Explorer don’t send the prefix string; and the .NET File API doesn’t support Unicode long path names either.

To demonstrate this difference, I’ve constructed a crude example in C#. It builds a long path that is 500+ characters long, then attempts to create it using the .NET API, and then using CreateDirectoryW:

This gives output similar to the following. Note that this is the case on earlier Windows versions as well, going back to XP:

What happened? the .NET Function failed when it saw the path would be too long and gave up. CreateDirectoryW however was able to create the full path length. I was able to verify it’s length because neither Command Prompt nor Windows Explorer are able to enter it. Interestingly, on Windows 10, this is the case regardless of if the Group Policy is Enabled or not.

Now, my current suspicion is that the feature will enable the functionality of \\?\ from those unicode functions without \\?\ being specified. In this case, this likely means that the internal .NET functions will still not function with longer path names, as the .NET File API is currently stopping it from going any further; it is checking the path length and going “Nope, won’t work, I give up” and throwing an exception. If my assertion is correct, however, it means that CreateDirectoryW will work as it does now if I remove the \\?\ prefix text if I add the appropriate manifest declaration to the program.

Which, naturally, led me to the next question- what exactly needs to be added to the manifest? First, I dumped the manifest from explorer.exe, hoping it perhaps declared support (which I was skeptical of given that I wasn’t able to browse the folders that were created as part of the test code). The Windows 10 Explorer.exe from build 14352 current has the following information from SysInternals sigcheck:

Well, no clues there. Dang. I tried paving my own roadway here, but can’t identify what xml namespace the app manifest would refer to nor the actual setting; I tried <longPaths> “ntfsLongPaths” and a few other permutations; however it may be the case that the xml namespace has not been published and this feature simply hasn’t been documented. The group policy setting may even be a placeholder in this build, given built-in Windows applications currently possess no support for it’s manifested capabilities. (Note that with the setting enabled, without a manifest, using CreateDirectoryW without the prefix results in an error once it goes beyond 260 characters).

This is a topic I will certainly revisit once more information on how we can utilize this feature comes to light. However, as it is, it doesn’t seem terribly useful. The big use here will be if Windows’ built-in software is written to support the policy setting. At any rate, I intend to update this posting when new information is available about this feature and how it can be used by developers. as well as it’s effect on the software.

Update 1:

Windows 10 does NOT display a correct error message when deleting a folder created in the manner above; When I attempted to delete the folder created above that is longer than MAX_PATH, I receive the following error dialog:

Incorrect Error

It claims that the source file names are larger than is supported by the file system. There are a few issues with that sort of error. I’m not copying files, so there is no “Source” or “Destination”; more importantly, the file system is NTFS and the fact that it currently contains the files I’m trying to delete seems to be presentable as evidence that the file system does, in fact, fully support the file path length.

These are the sorts of misleading error messages that have plagued Windows because of this MAX_PATH limitation for decades. Whether  this group policy- which isn’t enabled by default to begin with- is some sort of lead-in to a wider solution to this problem and to solve misleading and straight-up incorrect error messages like the above will be interesting to see.

Update 2

Allegedly, the setting in the manifest is “longPathAware”. However, I’ve yet to identify different behaviour when adding such a node to a manifest. The example program above is unable to use CreateDirectoryW and construct the 600+ Character path; it still requires the special prefix string. I’m looking through “Strings” output to verify that longPathAware is likely the manifest name.

I’ve found a RtlIsLongPathAwareProcessByManifest function as well as a direct reference to the string longPathAware which seems to indicate that is the correct manifest element. I found it references the schema http://schemas.microsoft.com/SMI/2016/WindowsSettings, which I wasn’t using. However adding that xmlns didn’t seem to work. So The manifest element is correct and the xmlns seems to be correct but I cannot make the feature do anything.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 08 Oct 2016 @ 05:03 AM

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