FIXED: iCloud Photo Stream stops syncing on Windows

I’ve had this happen a few times now, not sure what causes it, but iCloud Photo Stream occasionally stops syncing on Windows 7 for me.

The way I have fixed it is to reset iCloud  by:

  1. stopping the Photo Stream process ApplePhotoStreams.exe using Windows Task Manager
  2. renaming the %APPDATA%Apple ComputerMediaStream directory (i.e. C:UsersusernameAppDataRoamingApple ComputerMediaStream)
  3. log out and back in again
  4. restart iCloud (Start, type iCloud, press Enter) and re-enable Photo Stream.

Judging by this thread on the Apple Forums uninstalling and re-installing iCloud also seems to do the trick, but of you’re reasonably computer savvy, my method may be a little bit quicker.

With any luck, the next version of iCloud will fix this issue.

Using Windows 7’s “XP Mode” to run IE 6, IE 7 and IE8 side-by-side

Windows 7’s XP Mode is essentially a Windows XP virtual machine that runs in the new Windows 7 version of Virtual PC. This new edition of Virtual PC includes cool features such as seamless windows. The main reason I’m interested in this is to run older versions of Internet Explorer for testing purposes. IE8’s compatibility mode does a pretty good job of emulating IE7 but there are differences, so I investigated how to get “real” IE7 running under Windows 7’s XP Mode, without losing IE6.

Out of the box, the Virtual PC image is Windows XP SP3 with IE6. The trick to getting IE6 to appear as a seamless window like this is to launch the Virtual Windows XP virtual machine and in the VM, create a shortcut in the “All Users” Start Menu or desktop:


After a short delay, the shortcut will be duplicated into the Windows 7 host’s start menu:


When you launch this shortcut in Windows 7, the main Virtual PC window will close and the application will be launched and projected onto your desktop.

Creating a VM for IE7

You can’t install IE7 side-by-side with IE6 on the same machine, so to run IE7 at the same time as IE6 we will need to create a new VM. Unfortunately, if you run the VirtualWindowsXP.msi setup again you’ll get a message saying “Setup has detected that Virtual Windows XP is already installed”:


The workaround is to create a new instance of the VM manually using the supplied VHD as the base disk image. To do this do the following:

Open the Virtual Machines folder from the Start Menu and click Create virtual machine:


Specify a name and location for the virtual machine:


For memory I specified 256MB, which should me more than enough for just running IE7:


Here’s the important bit. Choose “Create a virtual hard disk using advanced options”


…and then choose a Differencing disk. This is the same way that the default Virtual Windows XP VM is set up:


If you want, you can change the default name and location (I didn’t bother):

For the parent virtual hard disk choose the original Virtual Windows XP virtual disk, which on my machine was at C:Program FilesVirtual Windows XPVirtual Windows XP.vhd:


Now start the new Virtual PC you just created from the Virtual Machines folder and complete Windows Setup as appropriate, choosing a computer name unique for your network and an Administrator password:


When that’s done:

  • Enable Integration Features from the Tools menu of the Virtual PC window
    • For credentials enter Administrator and the password you entered during setup.
    • I chose to Remember my credentials for convenience
  • download and install IE7 in the VM,

When IE7 has installed and rebooted, create a shortcut to IE7 in the “All Users” start menu which, after a short delay, will create a corresponding shortcut in the Windows 7 start menu of the host.


So here’s the end result, IE6, IE7 and IE8 all running on Windows 7:


Ahhh, 3 generations, all together – don’t they look adorable?

Unzipping/extracting MSI files

If, like me, you are constantly wanting to just extract the files from a Windows Installer MSI file quickly, then this is for you.

My ZIP utility of choice 7-Zip appears to support extracting MSI files but in fact extracts all the various weird and wonderful binary streams in the MSI rather than simply just the actual files. Thankfully I stumbled across a Windows Installer switch today after typing msiexec /? that does the job perfectly: the /a “administrative install” switch, e.g.:

msiexec /a foo.msi /qb TARGETDIR="C:TEMPFoo"

So, what I’ve done is packaged this up as a little registry tweak that conveniently lets you do this by simply right clicking a file like so:


Copy and paste the following into a *.reg file and double-click it:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareClassesMsi.PackageshellExtract MSIcommand]
@="msiexec.exe /a "%1" /qb TARGETDIR="%1 Extracted""

Hope that helps!

Fixing “Provider: Unspecified error” when querying LDAP with the ADsDSOObject OLEDB Provider

As part of our logon script we have a Windows Script Host script that was failing with “Provider: Unspecified error” (mmn, helpful) but only on some Windows XP machines.

The offending line of code looked like this:

rs = con.Execute("<LDAP://DC=example,DC=com>; (sAMAccountName="+ username +"); ADsPath; subTree")

After some trial and error the fix was this (see if you can spot the difference):

rs = con.Execute("<LDAP://DC=example,DC=com>;(sAMAccountName="+ username +");ADsPath;subTree")

Can you see what it is? No spaces after the semicolons!

Alternatively the SQL-like syntax also seems to be a bit more forgiving:

rs = con.Execute("SELECT ADsPath FROM 'LDAP://DC=example,DC=com' WHERE sAMAccountName='"+ username +"'")

It appears that with some later version of ADSI ADsDSOObject (or to give it its full title, the “OLE DB Provider for Microsoft Directory Services”) the query syntax strictness has been relaxed. In any case “Unspecifed error” appears to mean “Syntax error” in this case.

Getting a machine’s NetBIOS domain name in C#

I tried to find some mechanism to get the current machine’s NetBIOS domain name (the machine domain, not user domain), but couldn’t find anything in the usual places (e.g. System.Environment). If you want the fancy-schmancy Active Directory DNS domain then you can use Domain.GetComputerDomain().Name from System.DirectoryServices.ActiveDirectory, or another one that I stumbled across in Reflector was IPGlobalProperties.GetIPGlobalProperties().DomainName that lives in System.Net.NetworkInformation. But a simple way of getting the old-skool NetBIOS/LanManager-style machine domain name proved elusive.

Some googling suggested that WMI would provide the answer but I find WMI a little heavyweight, and not always reliable. The information is also probably in the registry somewhere, although I couldn’t find it after a cursory scan. The proper, supported way it would appear is to use the Network Management API. So my solution entailed P/Invoking to netapi32.dll.

If you’re after the same information I hope you find the code below useful. Once you’ve incorporated this in your project, just call the GetMachineNetBiosDomain method. It will return the machine’s Workgroup name if the machine is not domain-joined.

UPDATE: Now works on 64-bit thanks to update sent by Rp Brongers.

using System;
using System.Runtime.InteropServices;
using System.ComponentModel;

class NetUtil
    [DllImport(&quot;netapi32.dll&quot;, CharSet = CharSet.Auto)]
    static extern int NetWkstaGetInfo(string server,
        int level,
        out IntPtr info);

    static extern int NetApiBufferFree(IntPtr pBuf);

    [StructLayout(LayoutKind.Sequential, CharSet = CharSet.Auto)]
    class WKSTA_INFO_100
        public int wki100_platform_id;
        public string wki100_computername;
        public string wki100_langroup;
        public int wki100_ver_major;
        public int wki100_ver_minor;

    public static string GetMachineNetBiosDomain()
        IntPtr pBuffer = IntPtr.Zero;

        WKSTA_INFO_100 info;
        int retval = NetWkstaGetInfo(null, 100, out pBuffer);
        if (retval != 0)
            throw new Win32Exception(retval);

        info = (WKSTA_INFO_100)Marshal.PtrToStructure(pBuffer, typeof(WKSTA_INFO_100));
        string domainName = info.wki100_langroup;
        return domainName;

Identifying the unidentified problem with Windows Firewall

Recently Windows Vista has been refusing to show the Windows Firewall Settings dialog box and instead showing the ever so informative message: “Windows Firewall: Due to an unidentified problem, Windows cannot display Windows Firewall settings”.


No clues. Nothing in the Event Log. Nothing. Brilliant.

Well I had a brain wave this morning about what might be causing it. Thankfully it turned out to be right. I remembered that on our Windows Domain we have a few Group Policy settings that apply to Windows Firewall.


In this case the culprit was the “Define program exceptions” that had a few old entries for AVG 7.5 Network Edition. As we’d upgraded to AVG 8.0 recently the program paths were no longer valid, nor really necessary. So I removed them entirely and set the policy back to Not configured. To verify it worked I ran gpupdate /target:computer /force at a command prompt on my workstation and voila: the Windows Firewall Settings dialog box would now appear once more.


Group Policy for Windows Firewall is stored on client machines in the the Registry at:


So if you’re not on a domain and there are registry entries in this location that have been set for some reason, then adjusting them will have the same effect as changing the Group Policy. If you are on a domain then getting the Group Policy fixed is obviously the right approach.

Hope that helps you – leave a comment if it does.

Solved: “Cannot read from the source file or disk”

I’ve finally solved a problem that’s been bugging me for years. One of our file shares ended up with several undelete-able files. Attempting to delete them results in “Error Deleting File or Folder – Cannot delete file: Cannot read from the source file or disk“.

Note: Windows 7’s version of this message is something like:

Could not find this item: This is no longer located in C:Blah. Verify the item’s location and try again.

Even going to the file’s properties to check permissions presented a very blank properties dialog. And a CHKDSK didn’t sort thing out either.

It turns out the problem was: the filename ended with a dot, e.g. it was something like “C:TempStuffSales Agreement.“. As far as Windows is concerned this is an invalid file name: so although it gets reported in a directory listing, the standard Windows APIs for manipulating files subsequently deny its existence.

So how did this file get created in the first place? The answer: a Mac. The file was on a file share which had been accessed by a Mac user. Macs tend to write all sorts of metadata to extra “._DSStore” files and suchlike and had left this file behind.

So if Windows doesn’t appear to allow these file names, how did they get to be created? Well, it turns out that NTFS allows all sort of file name/path weirdness that Windows, or specifically the Win32 API, doesn’t allow. For example, NTFS actually allows file paths up to 32K but Windows restricts file paths to no more than 260 characters (MAX_PATH). I suppose this is all for DOS/Windows 9x backwards compatibility. As these files were being accessed over a file share I guess the usual Win32 checks are bypassed.

But thankfully you can get Win32 to ignore these checks by prefixing your file paths with \?, (ie. C:TempSomeFile.txt becomes \?C:TempSomeFile.txt) which I discovered after reading this blog post about long paths in .NET.

So at a command prompt (Start > All Programs > Accessories > Command Prompt) I was able to delete the file using:

del "\?C:TempStuffSales Agreement."

Note: On Windows 7 it seems you can just use wildcards without the \? trick to delete the offending files: e.g.
del c:tempsomefil*

If it’s a folder/directory you’re trying to delete use the rd or rmdir command, e.g.:

rd /s "\?C:Documents and SettingsUserDesktopAnnoying Folder."

Tip: as you’re typing the file/directory name use the TAB key to auto-complete the name (press TAB repeatedly to cycle through possible names).


Of course the corollary of all of this is that you could really annoy somebody by doing this:


echo Hi > "\?%USERPROFILE%DesktopAnnoying file you can't delete."

But you wouldn’t do that would you?

If this post helped you and you feel so inclined, feel free to buy me a beer 🙂PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online.

Shortcut to Switch User in Windows Vista

At home, our PC running Vista is rarely rebooted and is either in a low power state sleeping or being used by either me or my wife. One thing we’ve taken great advantage since the XP days is Fast User Switching which allows someone else to log in to their desktop whilst yours is kept running in the background. My wife and I had got quite used to doing a quick WinKey+L (as you do) before relinquishing control of the PC to one another. In Windows XP WinKey+L is does a “lock workstation” which in non-domain machines takes you back to the Windows logon screen. Unfortunately on Vista it takes you to a “workstation locked” screen, so you then have another mouse click on the Switch User button (followed by monitor re-syncing itself – why does it do this? All users run at the same screen resolution) to take you to the users screen. Of course there is a “Switch User” command tucked away in the little menu next to the lock button on the start menu – but a quick keystroke is what we’re after here.

So – I go off searching for a shortcut key that does a “switch user” rather than “lock workstation”. After a 20 minutes fruitless Googling for some special key combination, I sat back, thought about it logically and came up with this solution:

  1. Create a shortcut on your desktop to TSDISCON (* see below) and call it something like “Switch User”
  2. Go the shortcut Properties page and assign a shortcut key. Note that unfortunately you can’t use the Windows Key in your shortcut – so I went for CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + L
  3. Right click Start button and choose “Open All Users” and move the shortcut into the Programs folder (confirming the UAC prompt as you go).
  4. Log out, and back in again. This is necessary because Explorer hasn’t noticed there’s now a shortcut with a new shortcut key it should be taking notice of.

And that did it. CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + L isn’t quite a neat as WinKey+L but it’s a hell of a lot better than poking around in the Start Menu.

* What is TSDISCON you ask? It’s the Terminal Services Disconnect command. Fast User Switching is all made possible by the core Terminal Services technologies which introduced the concept of multiple Window Stations or “sessions” running concurrently on the one machine. It was of course originally designed to support multiple users connecting concurrently to these sessions over the network using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), but Windows XP took advantage of the multi-session architecture to enable Fast User Switching. (The RDP stuff is still there but hobbled to only allow one user to connect at a a time.)

UPDATE: If you don’t have tsdiscon.exe on your system for some reason (maybe it’s only available in Business/Ultimate or something) then you can use the following C# code (compiled into a Windows EXE using C:WindowsMicrosoft.NETFrameworkv2.0.50727csc.exe if you don’t have Visual Studio) to do the same thing. Tsdiscon.exe is just a wrapper around WTSDisconnectSession. I used Dependency Walker (aka depends.exe) to find out what was being used:

UPDATE 2: For your convenience: I’ve compiled the below and packaged it into a ZIP along with the source for download here.

using System;
using System.Runtime.InteropServices;
using System.ComponentModel;

class Program
  [DllImport(&quot;wtsapi32.dll&quot;, SetLastError = true)]
  static extern bool WTSDisconnectSession(IntPtr hServer, int sessionId, bool bWait);

  const int WTS_CURRENT_SESSION = -1;
  static readonly IntPtr WTS_CURRENT_SERVER_HANDLE = IntPtr.Zero;

  static void Main(string[] args)
    if (!WTSDisconnectSession(WTS_CURRENT_SERVER_HANDLE,
         WTS_CURRENT_SESSION, false))
      throw new Win32Exception();

Fixing Vista folder annoyances

I found this gem in Dan Maharry’s RSS feed as part of his bookmarks. It’s a few registry edits to stop Windows Explorer auto-selecting a different folder view based on its content, e.g. normally if a folder happens to have a GIF or JPEG in it, Explorer will “helpfully” switch to thumbnail view.

Keith Miller posted a registry tweaks in the TechNet forums which I’ve rolled up here (mostly for for my own convenience) into a single batch file which also restarts Explorer:


set BASE_KEY=HKCUSoftwareClassesLocal SettingsSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsShell

:: Delete cached folder views
reg delete "%BASE_KEY%Bags" /f
reg delete "%BASE_KEY%BagMRU" /f 

:: Set default folder template
reg add "%BASE_KEY%BagsAllFoldersShell" /v FolderType /d NotSpecified

:: Restart Explorer
taskkill /f /im explorer.exe
start explorer.exe

If you don’t know what a batch file is or how to use it then you shouldn’t be using this :-p. Likewise, it works for me but your mileage may vary…