Windows 8 Secrets: Internet Explorer 10 will Ship with Adobe Flash

With tech enthusiast web sites from around the world starting to leak Windows 8 Release Preview screenshots, your intrepid “Windows 8 Secrets” co-authors offer a bit of color commentary about what you’re seeing and how these features will really work. In this new co-post analyzing these leaks, we look briefly at a potential shocker: Internet Explorer 10 is going to bundle Adobe Flash technology. Pre-order Windows 8 Secrets today on Amazon.com and save!

Two years ago, Microsoft declared that the future of video on the web would be powered by HTML 5. Today, however, a lot of web video content is still delivered via Adobe Flash technology. So, in a somewhat surprising move, Microsoft is integrating Flash directly into Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 and doing so in a way that does not undermine the safety and reliability of the Metro environment.

This news comes courtesy of a forum post on WinUnleaked.tk (free registration required).

Figure 1: IE10 with Flash.

Figure 2: IE10 without Flash.

Before this, the general assumption was that Microsoft would pursue only web-standard technologies in IE 10. But with the Metro version of IE 10 not offering users the ability to extend the capabilities of the browser with add-ons, the software giant realized this may be too restrictive for consumers. So how could it meet the needs of consumers by providing Flash in a way that didn’t subvert Metro?

Interestingly, they were able to do so without contradicting any of the earlier statements the company made about web standards and Flash in IE. Consider the following statement by Microsoft Corporate Vice President Dean Hachamovitch, made over two years ago:

Today, video on the web is predominantly Flash-based. While video may be available in other formats, the ease of accessing video using just a browser on a particular web site without using Flash is a challenge for typical consumers. Flash does have some issues, particularly around reliability, security, and performance. We work closely with engineers at Adobe, sharing information about the issues we know of in ongoing technical discussions. Despite these issues, Flash remains an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web.

As Mr. Hachamovitch noted, Microsoft does work closely with Adobe, closely enough that Adobe actually provided Microsoft with source code access to Flash, allowing them to seamlessly integrate the technology into IE 10. Thus, Microsoft did not need to make an exception to its no-add-on policy for Internet Explorer Metro. By making Flash a part of IE 10, it can ensure the code meets its own standards for reliability, compatibility, security, and, probably most important, performance.

Remember, Hachamovitch noted that Flash was an important part of delivering a good consumer experience on today’s web. So, Microsoft has extended the Internet Explorer Compatibility View list to include rules for popular Flash-based web sites that are known to meet certain criteria. That is, Flash is supported for only those popular but legacy web sites that need it. This feature is not broadly available for all sites.

This move, while initially surprising, is entirely in keeping with Microsoft’s long-standing commitments to backwards compatibility.

Have you seen any other Windows 8 leaks you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line and let us know!

– Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott

Windows 8 Secrets: News App

With tech enthusiast web sites from around the world starting to leak Windows 8 Release Preview screenshots, your intrepid “Windows 8 Secrets” co-authors offer a bit of color commentary about what you’re seeing and how these features will really work. In the second co-post analyzing these leaks, we look briefly at the new Metro-style News app. Don't forget to pre-order Windows 8 Secrets today on Amazon.com and save!

We’ve known for some time now that the Windows 8 Release Preview would include some additional Metro-style apps when compared to the Consumer Preview. And the one we’ve known about the longest is News, a new Metro-style app for, well, news. Thanks to a leak by a Chinese tech web site, we now know what this News app is going to look like.

Put simply, News looks an awful lot like the Finance app, which debuted in the Consumer Preview. It features a nice-looking, horizontally scrolling and media-rich user interface with large photos and an attractive layout.

You can customize News via an application bar, which features access to the app’s different sections, including Bing Daily (the default), My News, Trends, and Sources (which lets you pick between the many information sources used by the app).

Have you seen any other Windows 8 leaks you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line and let us know!

– Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott

PS: Microsoft just signed off on the Windows 8 Release Preview build!

Windows 8 Secrets: Add Features to Windows 8

With tech enthusiast web sites from around the world starting to leak Windows 8 Release Preview screenshots, your intrepid “Windows 8 Secrets” co-authors offer a bit of color commentary about what you’re seeing and how these features will really work. This is the first in a series of co-posts by "Windows 8 Secrets" co-authors Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott analyzing these leaks. Don't forget to pre-order Windows 8 Secrets today on Amazon.com and save!

You may recall that Microsoft revealed a few weeks back that it was replacing the Windows Anytime Upgrade feature with a new control panel in Windows 8 called Add Features to Windows 8. Since then, many have wondered how this interface would work and what it would look like. Thanks to a leak by a Chinese tech web site, we now know.

Add Features to Windows 8 can be accessed through the System Properties window, as revealed by MyFiles.com, or via Start Search:

After a UAC prompt, it runs as a classic desktop control panel, offering the chance to buy a product key online or enter a previously-purchased product key. Available options will no doubt later include the Windows 8 Pro Pack, for users of Windows 8 Core, as well as the Windows 8 Media Center Pack, as described in Microsoft’s blog post of May 3. (Paul wrote about this bad decision in Windows 8, DVD Playback, Media Center, And You.) But for now, we’re simply provided with placeholders.

Very interesting.

Have you seen any other Windows 8 leaks you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line and let us know!

– Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott

Windows 8 Secrets: The WinX Menu and its hashing algorithm

Last week, a reader – “Windows Fan” – tipped me off to an article on Vishal Guptas blog indicating how to customize the new WinX menu in Windows 8. (You know, the menu that appears when you right-click the lower-left Start tip.) Not happy with hacking core system files and peeling back file system security, I dug a little deeper to understand what's going on and came up with a simpler solution.

So let's start at the top. The WinX menu is a simple context menu that appears when you right-click the Start tip that appears when you squish the mouse into the lower-left corner of the screen. The purpose of the menu is not to act as a Start Menu replacement but rather as a springboard to perform advanced system functions that are slightly out of reach. For example, if you’re trying to kill a runaway system process, you will probably need quick access to Task Manager, an elevated Command Prompt, and perhaps Programs and Features to uninstall the culprit app. Launching those applications in succession via the Start Screen would be a pain in the rump.

The entries on the menu are driven by shortcut (.lnk) files present in each Group folder located at %LocalAppData%\Microsoft\Windows\WinX. But you can’t manipulate the shortcuts within or add new ones. That’s because at first invocation (e.g. a fresh boot), the menu scans for and only adds approved shortcuts. Why? Again, Microsoft doesn’t want this becoming another Start Menu or, worse, an icon landfill for installers a la Quick Launch back in Windows Vista.

But an argument could be made for that small sliver of folks who genuinely want to lightly extend the menu, perhaps with utilities such as Process Monitor and DebugView. So let’s talk about what makes an approved shortcut.

An approved shortcut – a moniker I made up – is a .lnk file that has the appropriate markings to indicate to Windows “Hey, I’m special.” The marking is a simple 4-byte hash of several pieces of information. From the .lnk itself, two points are collected:

  • The link’s target application path/file (e.g. C:\Games\Minecraft.exe)
  • The link’s target application arguments (e.g. –windowed)

The third ingredient is simply a hard-coded chunk of text, or a salt if you will, to keep things interesting. That string is, literally, “Do not prehash links.  This should only be done by the user.”

With these three strings in hand, Windows then glues them together, lowercases everything, and runs them through the HashData function. But you’re probably wondering at this point, what does it compare to?

Let’s shift our focus to .lnk files. We know them as shortcuts to things. But they’re officially called Shell Links and can store a lot of information on other data objects in Windows. More specifically, they support storing a structure of data called a PropertyStoreDataBlock that acts as a container for arbitrary string or numeric key/value pairs. Yep, the “WinX hash” is stored in here. If you’re curious, the key can be defined as such:

DEFINE_PROPERTYKEY(PKEY_WINX_HASH, 0xFB8D2D7B, 0x90D1, 0x4E34, 0xBF, 0x60, 0x6E, 0xAC, 0x09, 0x92, 0x2B, 0xBF, 0x02);

So to tie it all together, Windows – the Shell specifically – iterates through the .lnk files in each GroupN folder; opens them up; pulls out and concatenates the target path, args, and an arbitrary string; then finally hashes the result. This hash is then compared with the one stored in the .lnk to determine if it’s approved. Rinse and repeat.

If you’re interested in stuffing items into that menu, I wrote a tool to mark your shortcuts as approved. (The source code is on Github, if you're interested.)

NOTE: The WinX menu doesn’t seem to handle architecture-dependent environment string expansion very well, so shortcuts to %ProgramFiles% may not work (e.g. Internet Explorer 64-bit). I suspect this is a WONTFIX given it’s not designed to work with your own shortcuts.

Update: I replaced the executable with a VS2010 compiled copy, sorry. The previous one would not execute on Windows 8 machines w/o Visual Studio 11 installed. (We don't have a VC11 runtime redist. kit yet.)

LoadLibrary failed with error 126, redux

Error: LoadLibrary failed with error 126: The specified module could not be found.

So I was on Skype with Paul Paliath this evening and he was having a tough time with Adobe Photoshop on Windows 8. I inquired for details and he read off the error he was seeing. "Error: LoadLibrary failed with error 126: The specified module could not be found."

Sound familiar? Yep. I had the same problem last week with Minecraft. The error isn't specific to Minecraft or Photoshop. It's simply a quirk with the latest AMD preview drivers and all OpenGL applications. If you, too, are having this issue download my simple .reg file and you'll be error free.