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Thursday, 24 October 2013

Visual Studio 2013 and the arrogance of Microsoft

I have just installed the recently released Microsoft Visual Studio 2013 and the most striking thing about it seems to be the sheer arrogance of Microsoft and contempt for its customers.

It needs Windows 7 or greater to install which is fair enough - even  though my corporate desktop is still Windows XP (not for long as it goes out of support in April 2014).

No, the ridiculous thing is that VS 2013 requires you to install IE 10 before it can be installed. That's right - you have to upgrade your browser to IE10 before you can install the IDE!

This is a complete dealbreaker for many corporate environments.

Fortunately here's a workaround windows command script. VS2013 seems to work just fine with ie8 so it seems to be a marketing driven decision only.


REG ADD "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Internet Explorer" /v Version /t REG_SZ /d "9.10.9200.16384" /f 
REG ADD "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Internet Explorer" /v svcVersion /t REG_SZ /d "10.0.9200.16384" /f 
REG ADD "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer" /v Version /t REG_SZ /d "9.10.9200.16384" /f 
REG ADD "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer" /v svcVersion /t REG_SZ /d "10.0.9200.16384" /f 

REG DELETE "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Internet Explorer" /v svcVersion 
REG DELETE "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer" /v svcVersion 
REG ADD "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Internet Explorer" /v Version /t REG_SZ /d "8.0.7601.17514" /f 
REG ADD "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer" /v Version /t REG_SZ /d "8.0.7601.17514" /f 


 The other act of corporate arrogance is that they have deprecated non-unicode MFC applications, with the lame excuse that the 64 Mb MFC MBCS libraries would bloat their 5.7 Gb distribution of VS2013. You can still build MBCS applications but the libraries need to be downloaded separately from here.

Porting a legacy app from mbcs to Unicode is a non-trivial task... especially if there is direct pointer manipulation that assumes 8 bit chars sprinkled through the code base. This would be a whole lot of pain for zero gain.

Friday, 18 October 2013

More than I ever wanted to know about Win32 calling conventions...

Just spent the last day trying to debug a weird bug - one of those works in Debug builds but crashes in Release builds issues in a C++ MFC application. After tweaking some compiler settings I discovered it wouldn't crash if I disabled optimizations in release mode, but rather than doing that I thought I would dig down to find the root cause.
After much setting of breakpoints and attaching the debugger I found it was crashing in a call to CString::Format() - but only subsequent to a call to a function in 3rd party DLL that was used for encryption. The origins of this DLL were long ago lost in the mists of time so unfortunately there was no documentation.
The function was called by dynamically loading the DLL and calling ::GetProcAddress() to obtain the function pointer, which had the following signature:

typedef long ( __stdcall* LPFNDLLENCRYPT)(const char *, const char *, char *);

is used to call most of the Win32 apis. This calling convention can generate smaller code, as the called function performs the stack cleanup code.

__cdecl calling convention relies on the caller to cleanup the stack frame, and since functions are typically called from more than one place in the code, the additional stack cleanup code bloats the code.

On a hunch, I changed the function signature to:

typedef long ( __cdecl* LPFNDLLENCRYPT)(const char *, const char *, char *);

and lo and behold - it fixed the bug!

It seems the DLL was using __cdecl calling convention and expected the caller to cleanup the stack frame, but since the function pointer incorrectly declared it as __stdcall the compiler was not generating the stack cleanup code. This left the stack in a corrupted state which caused the next call to the CString::Format function in the MFC DLL to fail. Presumably the Debug build was more resilient with respect to stack corruption.

Here's a really useful article on calling conventions on CodeProject which explains calling conventions in more detail than you would ever want to know.... unless your debugging weird bugs due to calling conventions!

I love C++!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

MS Compiler Bloat and broken MSBuild 4.0

Windows XP goes out of support next year so my work is finally upgrading to windows 7. This has provided the impetus to port our VS6.0 project to VS2010 as VS6.0 will not install on Windows 7. The port was fairly uneventful, just a few minor fixes because C++ wasn't standardized back in 98 when VS6.0 was released, so the code would not compile without a few tweaks.

The project is fairly large and takes 30 mins to build via Atlassian Bamboo build server. Imagine my dismay when I found the VS2010 version of the project took 90 mins!!! 15 years of compiler progress and they have managed to slow it down to one third of the speed!

So, I thought.... MSBuild has support for parallel builds - lets give that a crack! Unfortunately, it failed to build. After wasting a day I found this.
Apparently MSBuild 4.0 has a bug where it doesn't respect the project dependencies, so it gets the build order wrong.
Anyway, if you are using Bamboo with VS2010, use the DEVENV.EXE task for building projects, not MSBuild - it's broken!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

bye bye vodafail

This month I inadvertently went over my data quota on my Vodafone service and copped a bill for $210. The culprit was my 3 yo son watching Thomas videos on YouTube.

I bought a data booster pack -2Gb for $30 dollars - that's $15 per gig, but it was too late, they had already charged me at a rate of $250 per Gb!

Since I am no longer under contract I'm free to leave for a player like Boost, which is offering unlimited calls and SMS with 3Gb of data - which is twice the data allowance of my Vodafone plan for only $5 per month more, and no chance of running up an excess data bill. I called customer support, thinking they would try their best to keep a happy customer, since they have been bleeding customers since the vodafail network debacle , but no... all they did was try to upsell me on plans. I even told them I was thinking of porting out...

Anyway, the port from Vodafone to Boost took less than an hour. Bye bye vodafail!

Friday, 9 August 2013

raspberry pi prototyping kit from adafruit arrived today

I already have a project in mind - an internet connected security door buzzer so I can open the front door to my apartment block with my iphone. Stay tuned for construction details

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Making Music on an iPad

Here's a little childrens song I wrote and recorded on my iPad using GarageBand - really lo-fi, just using the internal microphone and the virtual instruments available in GarageBand for iPad. I did the final mixdown on my macbook. It's a song about breakfast!