Aaron Stebner's WebLog

Thoughts about setup and deployment issues, WiX, XNA, the .NET Framework and Visual Studio

July, 2004

  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Orca install package


    Stephane Rodriguez posted an interesting comment that I hadn't thought of - it isn't the easiest thing in the world to download Orca.  You have to go through the Platform SDK web-based installer tool and also install a bunch of pieces of the core SDK to get orca.msi which lets you install Orca.  I have a copy of it that I downloaded and posted at http://cid-27e6a35d1a492af7.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/Blog%5E_Tools/orca.zip for easier access.  I hope this makes things easier for you as you debug your setup packages.

    <update date="4/9/2010"> Fixed broken link to orca.zip. </update>


  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Installing Microsoft Loopback Adapter


    Hey all, one of the feedback forms from the hands-on lab I presented about remote debugging indicated that you'd like to hear more information about how to use the Microsoft Loopback Adapter that I used to mimic a LAN connection within the local machine to connect the development OS to the virtual machine.  Here are the steps I used to setup the loopback adapter.  I am going to see about creating a more formal tip article for this and post it somewhere on MSDN's embedded site also.  Please send me any feedback about whether or not this set of steps ends up working for you.....

    Installing Microsoft Loopback Adapter

    • Go to the Add Hardware control panel
    • Click Next on the first wizard screen
    • When asked if the hardware is connected, select Yes and click Next
    • In the list of installed hardware, scroll to the bottom and select Add a new hardware device and click Next
    • Choose the option titled Install the hardware that I manually select from a list (Advanced) and click Next
    • In the list of common hardware types, select Network adapters and click Next
    • In the list of manufacturers, select Microsoft.  Then in the list of network adapters, select Microsoft Loopback Adapter and click Next
    • Click Next one more time to install the Microsoft Loopback Adapter and then press Finish

    Now that you have installed the Microsoft Loopback Adapter, you need to configure an IP address for it.

    Configuring Microsoft Loopback Adapter

    • Go to the Network Connections control panel
    • Locate the LAN or High-Speed Internet connection that has a Device name of Microsoft Loopback Adapter, right-click on it and choose Properties
    • Select the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) item and click Properties
    • Select the option to Use the following IP address and enter for the IP address.  This will cause a subnet mask of to appear
    • Click OK to accept the changes and Close to exit the Properties dialog

    Now you can disable your current LAN connection and enable your Microsoft Loopback Adapter connection by right-clicking on each connection in the Network Connections control panel and choosing Enable or Disable.


  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Cool list of MSI setup tricks


    While searching for orca.msi earlier today to try to determine whether or not it is available outside of the Platform SDK, I stumbled upon a really cool list of MSI tips, tricks and tools.  There is one tool in there that rates the complexity of an MSI, I'm going to have to run that against the Visual Studio MSI when I have some time tomorrow, I'm really curious to know what that will come back as.  I would think it has to be more complex than the Office setup package  :-)


    As a side note - I've gotten a couple of mails from internal folks about posting orca.msi and I'm not quite sure if it is intended to be posted outside of the Platform SDK so I may have to take it down.  I can't think of a reason why we wouldn't make such a critical MSI debugging tool harder to obtain than it needs to be so hopefully I can convince the right people that we should be making it available for direct download.  But we'll see.....


  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Thoughts on setup repackaging and reverse engineering


    While I was on the Visual Studio and .NET Framework setup team, a colleague and I took a trip to visit 2 universities - MIT and USC - to validate the plans and designs we were working on to add support to our setup UI to generate transforms for Active Directory deployment for the Whidbey version.  During this trip, I was struck by the level of MSI knowledge that the system administrators at both of these schools possess, and also by how willing they were to reverse engineer setups to do any/all of the following:

    • Convert a non-MSI setup to an MSI so that it can be deployed via Active Directory, using tools such as FileMon and RegMon
    • Remove specific custom actions, files, registry keys, etc from an MSI
    • Use transforms to make changes to the installation behavior of an MSI

    The universities that we visited and many others that I've talked to who are in charge of software deployment simply need to roll out standard OS images with specific applications, and too few app developers understand the implications of their setup development decisions on things like admin deployment.

    Then, when I joined the Windows Embedded team, I found a common theme among embedded customers - they need to install drivers and applications onto their embedded images, but they do not ship components that can be used by Target Designer and the embedded tools.  This leaves the following options

    • Using the setup package to install on an embedded image after deploying the OS (which has drawbacks like increased footprint and additional troubleshooting required for identifying missing dependencies needed by the setup package, etc)
    • Reverse engineering the setup package and creating a component that can be imported into the embedded database using the same set of tools as the university admins above

    It really struck me to think about the similarities in the problem spaces between the 2 teams that I have worked on at Microsoft.  It also got me thinking because I have been working with and studying setup technologies for the 5 years I've been working at Microsoft, and over that time I've learned to think the way a setup developer thinks so that I can take apart a setup and figure out what it does.  However, despite all of this experience, I still haven't seen any 2 setups that behave in exactly the same way.

    I have come up with some tricks that can be useful to take apart a setup and figure out what it does, debug issues, and reassemble it in new ways.  I'll list out some of the MSI-specific tips and tricks I've seen and used, and then some more general ideas:

    Reverse Engineering MSI-based Setups

    • The biggest key to working with MSIs is to understand how Windows Installer works - what a component is, how Windows Installer does reference counting, what the data in key tables in the MSI are used for
    • Simple MSI setups are relatively easy to reverse engineer, assuming they only install files listed in the File table and write registry keys/values listed in the Registry table
    • As soon as you start introducing custom actions, type libraries, self registration, etc then the job becomes more difficult.  If it wasn't for these types of “black box“ actions, our team could produce an msi2sld tool similar to the inf2sld tool that ships with the Windows Embedded toos.  This tool could still be useful as a starting point for creating embedded components - I'll have to look into this some more
    • You can create an administrative share by running msiexec /a <msi name> to create a file layout that includes all of the files that the MSI will install - this can be useful when the files to be installed are consumed into the MSI via CAB/MSM files, and also when creating an embedded component where you need to create a file repository
    • Orca is an invaluable tool - you can change/remove launch conditions, custom actions, registry values, component conditions, and on and on.  I generally only use Orca to look at the contents of an MSI though, I would recommend not changing a shipping setup - you never know what unintended side effects you may cause, and the worst possible thing would be if you make a change that ends up preventing future MSP's from applying to your machine.
    • Rather than using Orca to change existing setups, I suggest creating transforms.  All you have to do is make a copy of the MSI you want to modify, keep one in the original form, modify the other with Orca, then use a transform creation tool to analyze the differences between the 2 MSIs and create an MST

    Random Tricks for Packaging and Reverse Engineering

    • Running a setup package with the /? switch (or -? or -h or -help) will usually show a set of command line parameters supported by the setup.  This is often useful to unpack a self-extracting EXE package to get to the files that will be installed or to get to the INF file for a driver to use inf2sld
    • Look for an INI file or DAT file in a self-extracting setup package or sitting next to a setup.exe - these often contain settings that are used during setup.  Sometimes they will contain data or variables that are self-explanatory or contain comments (versions of Office are especially good at this), and these values can often be changed to update the behavior of a setup
    • Get to know other setup technologies - Wise and InstallShield both make MSI package creation tools, and have specific UI, packaging strategies and behaviors that are slightly different and unique; OCM and INF-based setups are used for installing drivers and some other components that ship as part of the OS on some platforms; IExpress is used for creating self-extracting EXE packages; SFXCab is a next-generation update to IExpress that is used for newer hotfixes created for Windows that are shipped on Windows Update

    It seems like I have more tricks that I've used but I can't seem to remember them all right now.  I'm getting tired tonight, but I think tomorrow I'll take Visual Studio and .NET Framework setup packages and walk through some of the inner workings and show how I use some of the above tricks.

    I have no idea if anyone but me is really interested in the theories and technologies behind setup creation, but if you made it this far and have comments/suggestions/questions/etc please send me an email or post a comment.  Thanks!

  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    How to directly download Visual Studio Express packages


    I've seen numerous issues and comments related to using the customized download manager to control downloads of the Visual Studio Express SKUs and their prerequisites and optional addins such as SQL and MSDN.  Here are a couple of options that you can use to directly download the packages and then run from your local machine to install the beta bits:

    1. Use the links provided for the individual packages at http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/productfeedback/viewFeedback.aspx?feedbackid=f472b36e-2c26-483a-bc73-0dd643d6aae2 to save each package to your local machine
    2. Run the download manager package from the web download site, and let it extract to your %temp% directory.  While it is still running, go to %temp% and find a folder named SIT*.TMP (where * is a randomly generated alphanumeric sequence), and open the file baseline.dat in notepad or another text editor.  Then for each package that you need to download, find the bracketed section for the “gencomp“ and then find the URL item.  If you open a browser window and type http://go.microsoft.com/ and then add in the value of the URL item, it will take you to the package download directly

    If you want, you can also assemble the equivalent of a CD layout on your local hard drive.  To do this, use these steps:

    1. Create a folder on your local machine to store the CD layout (for example - expressbeta)
    2. Create a subfolder named WCU
    3. Under WCU create folders named dotnetframework, MSDNExpress, SSE, and jsharpredistcore (if you are installing a SKU that requires the J# redist package)
    4. Download the initial express package from the site and run it
    5. While the package is still running, go to %temp% and copy the contents of SIT*.TMP to the root of the expressbeta folder you created in step 1 above
    6. Locate and download the .NET Framework and place it in the dotnetframework folder
    7. Locate and download the J# redist and place it in the jsharpredistcore folder
    8. Locate the main express SKU and place it in the expressbeta folder.  Note that this package will be named the same as the initial 2 meg download that you get to by clicking the link on the download site (vcssetup.exe for C# express for example) - this is kind of a tricky/misleading naming scheme that will hopefully be updated for the next release
    9. Locate and download MSDN Express if you want to install it and place it in the MSDNExpress folder
    10. Locate and download SQL Express if you want to install it and place it in the SSE folder
    11. After doing all of this, cancel out of the setpu that you launched in step 4 above and then run setup.exe from the expressbeta folder you created

    If anyone tries this and hits any problems please email me or drop me a comment and I'll help wherever I can.  Thanks!

    <update date="11/16/2005"> Updated the URL to be http://go.microsoft.com instead of http://www.microsoft.com </update>


  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Visual Studio Whidbey Express SKU manual install instructions


    Hey all, it looks like the Visual Studio setup team has heard all of the feedback because they have posted manual installation instructions for the Express SKUs.  Here is a compilation of all of the useful links:

    Manual Install Instructions

    Direct Download Links

    If you are on a very slow connection or have a pay-by-the-megabyte connection or something like that, you can use this link to order CDs - http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/vs2005/get/order/.  You will only be charged the cost of manufacturing the CDs and shipping them to you.

    The setup team would like to ask you to please try the downloader application before linking to the packages directly because this is a beta and they are looking for all of the feedback and bug reports they can get for this new feature.  Please report any issues you find while installing or using the products at the product feedback site - http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/productfeedback

    If you download the packages, you can use the instructions I posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/astebner/archive/2004/07/05/173639.aspx to create an installable layout and optionally burn it to a CD.  These steps will give you the same layout of files as the CDs that you can order from the link above.

    Let me know if you have any comments or questions, hope this helps....


  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Exclusion list to use with InCtrl5 for creating embedded components for applications


    Hey all,

    My colleague Alaks Sevugan created a pretty comprehensive list of file and registry exclusions that can be used with the InCtrl5 tool to eliminate noise when trying to convert an application installer to an XP Embedded component.  Click on the link below to download it and try it out....



  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Download Visual Studio Whidbey Express Versions Now!!


    My former group (Visual Studio and .NET Framework) has signed off on the beta1 bits for the new 8.0/2.0 versions, codenamed Whidbey.  One of the last big setup projects I worked on was the download logic for the Express SKUs - these are replacements for the “standard” versions of Visual Basic, C#, J#, C++, along with an additional SKU named Visual Web Developer (think of VID 6.0 with all the cool stuff that goes with ASP.NET and without all of the annoyances of VID).

    The coolest thing of all is that you can use the downloader to get yourself a free copy of any of the 5 beta express SKUs and you don't even officially have to be a part of the Visual Studio beta program.  Just go to the site at http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/express/ and choose the version(s) you want, and off you go.

    I'd be really curious to hear what you think about the experience of downloading and installing Visual Studio directly from the web, so if you try it, drop me a comment.  If you're not a part of the Whidbey beta program and you have any bugs to report and/or suggestions for ways to make the experience better I will fill out a bug report for you so your voice will be heard by the Visual Studio team.....


  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    XP Embedded and Native Remote Debugging


    The second part of Mike Hall's “Going Virtual” article about using Virtual PC to setup an XP Embedded image and perform remote debugging using Visual Studio .NET 2003 has been posted on the Get Embedded site, take a look by clicking here.

    For those of you who attended Embedded DevCon this past week in San Diego, some of this will look familiar - I helped Mike figure out some of the Visual Studio debugging details, especially the nuances needed to get things working on XP SP2 with the new firewall features, and I presented some of these techniques in my remote debugging talk on Thursday the 1st.

    I'm going to work with Mike to publish a similar article describing how to configure machines for managed remote debugging using the techniques described in my debugging talk.  The steps required for that are more involved but can prove to be very useful when readying your apps for an embedded device.  So stay tuned for that.....


  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Notes from DevCon Ask the Experts v2.0


    Earlier, I posted some random thoughts and notes that I took at the first XP Embedded Ask the Experts session at last week's DevCon (see the post at http://blogs.msdn.com/astebner/archive/2004/06/30/170582.aspx).  I also want to post some stuff that I wrote down from the 2nd Ask the Experts session (last Thursday at lunch).  I'm sorry it has taken me this long to post this stuff.....I'm going to be working with my team in the next couple of weeks to come up with plans to address all the great feedback and ideas we heard last week at DevCon and I'm really excited to get moving on some of this stuff....

    • Is it possible to restrict/disable plug-n-play detection and the “found a new device“ dialog after the device is up and running?  PnP is something I haven't done extensive testing with since I joined this group so I want to do some research into this.  I am guessing that this has been answered on the newsgroups but I need to go find out....
    • What is the version of MSXML that Target Designer requires?  I did a quick search of our tools MSI and didn't find any references to MSXML, so it appears that Target Designer should work correctly with the version that ships with golden XP.  I don't know if that is actually true though - so this is another item for me to do some quick research on
    • In pre-SP2 runtime images, there is about a 30 second lag before Internet Connection Firewall (ICF) is up and running, which gives a window of time for virus infection.  This is addressed in XPSP2 with the new Windows Firewall functionality, but what are the options for closing this in SP1 runtimes?
    • We need to discuss strategies for creating components from applications in more detail - this item gets into the topic that I've been thinking a lot about both in the embedded space and in general - application repackaging.  I'm still working on a discussion of this topic and I'm sorry it is taking me so long to publish, but it keeps getting longer and longer and I want to find ways to break it up but also cover all the stuff on my mind in this area
    • The need for source control and integrated build process engineering for XPE was emphasized again today, and I'm really excited to dig into this area in more detail.  This hits one of my other areas of research lately - creating cleaner, repeatable build processes for our products.  The original designs for Target Designer seem to have only been targeting users who want to build runtimes in the GUI, and that doesn't lead to readily repeatable processes for companies that want to build lots of different images or maintain source control over their SLD/SLX files and create something like daily builds for their runtimes, figure out what changes from revision to revision of an SLD/SLX, etc.  Stay tuned for more ideas in my blog and hopefully some how-to white papers on the MSDN embedded site soon.....


    I'll keep everyone posted on progress in these areas as we make it.....thanks again to everyone who attended DevCon and provided us with your valuable input into what we're doing well and more importantly where we're not doing so well.....

  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Jon Fincher's Blog


    It took me way too long to do this, but I've now got a link to Jon Fincher's blog on my site.  He is a Program Manager that works on XP Embedded along with myself and others, he's been in the group for a very long time and has a ton of experience, tips and tricks to offer.  Plus he's got a very good sense of humor so his posts are more fun to read than mine are!

    He gave some really cool demos and presentations at Embedded DevCon about the new features that will be coming up when XP Embedded SP2 is released later this year.  I encourage all of you to take a look at his blog when you have a chance.....

  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    Updating the registry in pre-FBA images without rebuilding


    A lot of you probably know this already, but I wanted to list these steps for the record.  If you are debugging an application issue or just want to make a quick change to your image and redeploy it without needing to open Target Designer and rebuilding your image, you can do the following:

    1. Run regedit.exe on your development machine
    2. Click on HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE in the registry tree, go to the File menu and choose Load Hive...
    3. Browse to \Windows\System32\Config\ in the location where you built your XP Embedded image
    4. Load one of the hives named *.SAV - this is because the FBA process copies the hives with *.SAV extensions over the same hives without the *.SAV extensions before performing any other actions, so if you want registry changes to take effect during FBA you have to change the *.SAV hive
    5. When prompted for a hive name, enter a name that does not clash with an existing registry hive on your development machine
    6. Make any desired changes to the registry in the Regedit UI
    7. Click on the hive name that you provided in step 6 above, go to the File menu and choose Unload Hive...

    After following these steps, you can deploy your image and any registry changes you made will take effect in your embedded OS.  Hope this helps.....


  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    DUAScriptGen v1.0.0004 has been released


    There is a new version of DUAScriptGen now available at http://www.winisp.net/scrat/DUAScriptGen/DUAScriptGen.zip

    It contains the following fixes:

    • Fixed bug where file entries were incorrectly written to the DUS file if the user specifies a full path including drive letter
    • Fixed bug where binary data was being written to the DUS file as hex but duagent.exe expects it as decimals
    • Added ability to parse folder tokens in registry values (%10% represents \Windows\ for example), previously this only worked for file paths
    • Added some menu items to the File menu that were previously only accessible via buttons on the main form
    • Added version stamp information in the DUS files that are created by DUAScriptGen to identify what version of the tool created the file

    As always, please let Mike Hall and/or me know if you see any bugs or have any feature suggestions.  Thanks!

  • Aaron Stebner's WebLog

    XP Embedded and Native Remote Debugging - minlogon update!


    A couple of folks who attended the session and/or the hands-on lab I presented at Embedded DevCon last week regarding remote debugging had specific questions about whether or not the strategies I presented would work on a minlogon image.

    I followed the steps in Mike Hall's debugging tip sheet at http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnembedded/html/embedded06072004.asp?frame=true using a minlogon image and found that native remote debugging worked fine for me on this configuration.

    So I encourage those of you who are interested to try it out and send me email or post feedback here if you run into any issues or have any questions.


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