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Heard on Hanselminutes

Interview with Web developer and technologist Scott Hanselman

Hanselminutes is a weekly 30-minute podcast with Web developer and technologist Scott Hanselman hosted by Carl Franklin. What follows is a transcript from show number 12 entitled "Top 10 Utilities You Didn't Know You Had." You can listen online at www.hanselminutes.com.

Carl Franklin: So, what are we talking about today?
Scott Hanselman: Well, this is the top 10 little-known Windows utilities/features that you may already have in the tradition of having really long top 10 list names.

CF: All right. This ought to be great.
SH: So, we are going to go in increasing order -this is not in arbitrary order - I'm putting the ones I think are cooler towards the end so that way you are on the hook to stay around and find out what's going on.

CF: Okay, great.
SH: So the obvious and simple first one is, or number 10 rather, is dragging while alt tabbing, or dragging to the task bar. A lot of people don't realize that when you start to drag you pick up a file or you pick up a folder. You can drag with one hand so you have picked up. I am dragging right now. I am not letting go of my left mouse button. I can actually alt tab. So, I can pick a file up off my desktop alt tab go over to Outlook or over to an e-mail or go over to Word and then drop the file directly on the drop spot.

CF: Very cool, I didn't know that.
SH: Seems like a simple thing but I watch a lot of people moving their Windows around trying to get things prepared to drag.

CF: That's right.
SH: You have already got all this stuff in your task list. You can just alt tab and drag and then...

CF: I know that if you have a window in the foreground and you drag a file from a window that's in the background it will stay in the background so you can drag onto it.
SH: Yeah. You can also...

CF: I didn't know you could alt tab.
SH: Yeah, and you could also drag down to the task bar. Don't drop, because you can't drop things in the task bar. Drag to the task bar, hold, and then as you hover over the things in the task bar it will jump to the front and you can go back up and drop directly onto it.

CF: Wow! I didn't know.
SH: I use that all the time.

CF: I didn't know that.
SH: I did not know that that is some wacky - wacky wild stuff like. I understand you can drag to the task bar. Yeah, very cool stuff number 10.

CF: Cool.
SH: Hey, number 9 is a little perplexing and actually number 9 wasn't on the list and then I was at Mike Gunderloy's site at larkware.com - very cool site - and he had a link to someone called iColorFolder - this is a folder coloring tool at shrinkster.com/dpf. It's a whole utility dedicated to the ability to change your folders' icons.

CF: Wow!
SH: Pause for effect. But this is already built into the shell. You can right-click on any folder you like. I am right-clicking on a folder on my desktop right now, hit properties, click on the fifth tab that says 'customize' and there is a section that says Folder Icons. You can change your folders now. I do this now. A lot of people see my really colorful desktop; I like to have different photos or different colors that mean different things. If you've just got a whole desktop full of manila-colored folders, yellow-colored folders, it doesn't really tell you anything. There is like 32 times - 32 pixels - completely wasted that could be giving you some information. So, I was not quite sure and then I realized when I read the FAQ about this particular utility - it said - and if we don't stay resident in memory we have a very low footprint. And I realized, well, they were just writing to the same file that the Windows shell writes to the desktop.ini file. When you make a change like this there is a hidden file called desktop.ini that refers to the icon of your particular folder. So, this may be a shiny utility and wonderful - I don't use it because it's built into Explorer. So, folder coloring is a really a great way to get a productivity gain and actually I'll probably blog about this and put up a bunch of my colored-folders icon so people can jump on the color-folder wagon that Mac users have been holding over us for the last several years.

CF: Yeah! Excellent.
SH: Cool. Number 8. You remember Subst?

CF: Yeah, what is that?
SH: Subst is substitute like substitute drive. You take Subst...

CF: Oh, yeah that's right. That was the DOS command, right?
SH: Yeah, it's a DOS command that's still around.

CF: Yeah.
SH: And Subst lets you say, "I want to this make path a drive." So, you could, like, say Subst t: c\temp and then suddenly the 'T' drive would become your temp drive.

CF: Oh, it's all coming back to me.
SH: Oh, yes. What happened to Subst I just don't know.

CF: I don't know.
SH: The thing about Subst that's cool is that if you bring up an Explorer window and you have got the .NET Framework on your machine, if you go to c\windows\assembly, you are going to see the GAC, right? You will see the global assembly cash. And what you are going to see is a lie, okay? That's not really a directory. If you'll look at your columns, you are seeing a lie there, you are seeing assembly name version public key token.

CF: It's a shell extension.
SH: It's a shell extension, exactly. If you'll go out to your command line and you type, say, "Subst G: C:\windows\assembly"and then instead of visiting C:\windows\assembly visit the 'G' drive - that newly created 'G' drive - you'll see what's really in the GAC - the underneath of the GAC - they won't know enough to give you the lie.

CF: Very cool.
SH: So what's cool about this is that sometimes you need to debug stuff that's in the GAC. You have already added into the GAC but you are doing some development, so you need to add your PDBs right your Program Debug files and they have to be in the GAC along with the actual files so you can debug them. So, if you Subst a drive to the GAC, you can then sneak in there, see the real directory structure, find your files, put your PDBs next to them, and you can debug items that are already in the GAC.

CF: Very, very cool, it's a great use of that technology.
SH: Totally. Generally I don't like Subst. I know a lot of people use it for their build drives. They are like everyone has to built on the 'Z' drive and then one guy might have cdevfoo and the other guy has got cprojectsfoo. They all Subst their drives to it as a way of finding common ground. Instead of using Subst, I'd like to use Junction Points or what's also called Linkd. Junction Points are something you already have built-in. This is something that NTFS always supported except there was never a utility to get to it. The Windows NT4 resource kit and the Windows 2000 resource kit included a command-line utility called Linkd, but the best one is a thing called Junction that you can get from SysInternals. Everyone loves SysInternals.

CF: Right.
SH: And then a while back my buddy Travis Illig made an icon that would show up in Explorer, so that these Junction Points - these folders that point to other folders - would have a little chain indicating that they were Junction. But he talked to a guy named Hermann Schinagl - I am a good German with the last name Hanselman but I don't know how to pronounce this gentleman's name. Schinagl, I am not sure. Hermann created a great thing at shrinkster.com/dpg and actually incorporated Travis's suggestions and created what he calls the Hard Link Shell extension. This is a utility that lets you actually right-drag from one folder to another and then when you right-drag and let go he will pop up an option to say make a Junction here. So this allows you to write your build files, your batch files, your Microsoft builds, all of your different builds, relative paths. So, like, for example, we have got an SDK that we use and everyone has got it installed somewhere different so with our builds I'd like to make a folder called "SDK" and the person who is doing the build - no matter where they have got the SDK installed - they just make a pointer to it, a Junction to it.

CF: Yes.
SH: This is something that's built into the file system.

CF: Very cool.
SH: Yeah, it is, which actually brings me smoothly into number 6, which is...

CF: Oh, hold on, before we get there, before we get there, I want to ask you, you have done some Shellextension programming yourself, right?
SH: I have, yeah.

More Stories By Carl Franklin

Carl Franklin has been a figurehead in the VB community since the very early days when he wrote for Visual Basic Programmers Journal. He authored the Q&A column of that magazine as well as many feature articles for VBPJ and other magazines. He has authored two books for John Wiley & Sons on sockets programming in VB, and in 1994 he helped create the very first web site for VB developers, Carl & Gary's VB Home Page. He now teaches hands-on VB .NET classes for his company, Franklins.Net. He has taught developers from Citigroup, Aetna, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Foxwoods Casino, UTC, Hubbell, Microsoft, Mohegan Sun Casino, Northeast Utilities, to name a few. Carl is co-host of a weekly talk show on his website for .NET programmers called .NET Rocks! Carl is MSDN Regional Director for Connecticut.

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