VOGONS


First post, by HannibalAnthrope

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[PLEASE READ FIRST! Disclaimer: I am not recommending nor endorsing anyone do any of this, especially for production/work computers! I do use my modified Win7 for work, but please be aware that I have over three decades as a software engineer. So PLEASE be careful if you try anything especially if you don't have a solid background with Windows. And next, I am NOT an expert - at anything! I'm just showing what things I was able to do and what I was able to coerce Win7 into. Because many people in the past have told me that they wished they could go back to Win7 but it wouldn't work on their computer. Also do NOT consider anything I say as undisputed fact! Last but not least, about Windows Updates and security/viruses/malware/etc and my disabling the service and not using automatic updates, ever, on any computer or OS. First, with Windows I've had far too many updates break things even with Win7 and constantly with Win10. I prefer to install updates manually if I feel I need one. Second, with my years in this profession I've conditioned myself to not just blindly click links or open emails and I don't download much of anything and never without using a secure/sandbox VM. As you can imagine, I don't ever run anti-virus and anti-malware software. But that's ME and I'm not suggesting it for anyone else! But it certainly is possible to be secure without needing to run those apps.
Whew! I think that covers it. My intention here is NOT to promote risky computing and NOT to help someone create a disaster for themselves!]

I just wanted to share information about how I created a very minimal install of Win7 (I use Win7 Ultimate 64bit).
I won't ramble on with the details of WHY I took 3 months off work to do it, beyond saying that Windows10 drove me insane and overcome with anger! 🤣 Full disclosure: I am a software engineer and make my living writing software for Windows primarily but also Linux and other *nix. So for a machine I use to work does the things that Windows10 was doing, it's more than just annoying.

Last edited by HannibalAnthrope on 2020-05-14, 09:47. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 1 of 10, by HannibalAnthrope

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Ok here's what I'll cover. Did I miss anything?

Why did I do it?
To replace all my Win10 installs with Win7, for personal and work.

What were my goals?
Remove everything from a standard Win7 install that I possibly could and still have it work well and be stable.
Install & Run Win7 on relatively new HP laptops as well as other recent hardware.
Customize the UI that is exactly what I need for work and looks exactly the way I want.
Replace as many MS apps as possible with alternatives that are more functional.
Keep it exactly the way it was on day one.

Hardware I am using this on:
I use HP laptops, primarily HP Envy w/ Intel Core i7 CPU (quad core) and 16gb of ram with 128gb SSD boot and 1tb internal SATA drive.
I don't use wifi so I had to add a USB network card by ASIX (gigabit). Audio is by Conexant, and the chip reader is a RealTek chipset.
I have a 42" LCD and surprisingly Win7 does a great job with dual monitors! Even with the sound through hdmi. (and for anyone interested
I use a great utility that let's me direct sound to both outputs at the same time, not something easy to do with Win7)
I have 4 ext hard drives connected via USB to my main workstation, 6-8tb.
The reason I gave these details is because making sure you can get drivers for your hardware is a pretty key item!

Steps I took to strip down Win7 and customize it:
1: Find/Build Drivers for my hardware
2: Install Win7 Ultimate 64bit from USB drive
3: Disable Services that run automatically by default
4: Move the MS bootmgr off secondary hard drive to primary
5: Check task manager to review what's running
6: Remove standard MS apps & features installed by default
7: Customizing the UI
8: Install alternatives to standard MS apps
9: Periodically monitor event viewer, task manager, autostart, task scheduler
10: Periodically run registry cleaner

Reply 2 of 10, by HannibalAnthrope

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Ok here is my first attempt at a guide for others to use. Please let me know if I've made errors, and all feedback/suggestions/criticism is appreciated.
I will be adding posts with specific step-by-step stuff and detail as requested. And I'm happy to answer questions and help anyone trying to do something here.

1: This might be the most time consuming step, and most frustrating. IF you are using relatively new hardware.
If you're targeting older hardware it will likely be easy.
What I found daunting (ok, outright angering) was that manufacturers stopped providing Win7 drivers. In fact my HP didn't provide ANY. I found out later this was part of the MS contract but that's another story.
HOWEVER, I was able to get 100% driver coverage it just took some googling and luck. One solution that amused me was that many drivers that the manufacturer installer app refused to install (always with snarky messages) actually DID run perfectly! First, I had to bypass the installer and install the drivers manually. Second many times a couple small changes are necessary in an .inf file for the driver. The change relates to the versions of Windows it will target. Once I figured out what to do, it was easy. And in Explorer if you right click a driver .inf file you can pick "Install" and thus you bypass the manufacturers installer exe.
Another solution I had to do only once was determine what chip was being used on the component (I forget now which one!) and because a LOT of hardware from various manufacturers will use the same or compatible chips you can get away (sometimes) with using a driver that isn't specifically from your manufacturer. I wasn't so lucky with that, however, once I knew the chip I did find open source code for the driver and was able (easily) to compile the driver and use it. So open source to the rescue. I will add that compiling source code is what I do for a living so it was an option, it might not be for most people. Although just compiling doesn't require knowing how to write code and usually it's pretty simple.
After all these things I went into Device Manager and there were no exclamations or errors. I tested each component and then slept for a week as I spent 3 straight days doing this 😀

2: Installing Win7 sounds like it should be dead simple. But if you don't have a CD/DVD drive it gets a little complicated because no Win7 distribution or media contained drivers for USB3.0 (to my knowledge). So I had to create the installation media from my original CD. And this was also a bit complex, because adding a driver and making it load during the installer boot process... well MS didn't plan for it 🙁 I will give a more detailed post on this if anyone wants/needs it, but basically you create an .iso of your Win7 install CD and then use the MS utility DISM.exe to modify the image by adding a driver. The DISM utility is actually pretty nice and easy to use. After adding the driver you tell DISM to write out the image, then burn it to a USB stick and bam! It's now bootable via USB and Win7 will install. Another part of the install that bugged the shiat out of me was that Win7 will attempt to create SEVERAL partitions on your drive regardless of whether you want/need them. They're not large but neither is my boot drive. So I had to dance a little to get around that and just create one partition to install on. I'll have to look up the steps I took but they're on the internet all over. In case you aren't aware, if you install onto an SSD drive Win7 will either CREATE or USE AN EXISTING partition on ANOTHER drive that isn't SSD if one exists. And if you have data on it? Tough shit, Win7 will just create a directory "boot" and install the MS bootmgr in the boot sector of that drive and THAT is really the drive which boots - NOT your "C"(primary) drive! If that secondary drive fails or you wipe it out, you're screwed and have to jump through hoops to create a different bootmgr.

3: Immediately after the initial install the first thing I did was disable the windows update services completely. I installed service pack 1 which I had previously downloaded. I reviewed MANY of the available updates for Win7 and found NOT ONE of them that would benefit me. You may want to check for yourself and install them using the Updater in Control Panel before disabling the service. Then I proceeded to disable MANY other services that are unnecessary, after first researching them via googling to make sure. Sometimes anyway. I had to find out the hard way which services would trigger Windows to popup nasty messages about having incompatible hardware and threatending to crash. Very intimidating to anyone who isn't technical. And another one that triggers Windows to deactivate and tell me I was using an illegal copy. 🤣 So I learned the hard way and the easy solution was to just turn those services back on. Being a programmer, I replaced them with my own which faked the functions of the original but nothing more purely out of defiance not because I can prove the services are harmful. I'm going to include a list from one of my machines of all my services both disabled and enabled. Like EVERYTHING I am presenting, each person needs to determine for themselves which things they want to rip out and which they want to leave as is. But I will give comments about what the service (or app) is and what I think it does from my research and why I think it was or was not worth keeping. My own personal goal was to disable and remove everything I possibly could and this list reflects this. Note that you cannot simple "STOP" a service but must also "DISABLE" it or else it will restart itself either immediately or at next boot. To do this use Administrative Tools -> Services, pick the service, right click.

4: Next I adjust some system defaults which might not apply if you're not using a laptop. All my workstations are laptops but plugged in.
A: If you have a multi-core CPU this one is important too because I learned that Win7 "parks" CPUs when it feels like it. I've read a LOT about this one, because some argue that it doesn't affect actual speed that's noticeable to the user. Others say the opposite. My take on this was to not care, but just ask WHY park them? (parking means to reduce the power to varying degrees) Answer: To save battery power. Except I don't use batteries all my machines are plugged in. So I found a great utility app, free too, extremely well written, called QuickCPU. It allowed me to disable that parking shiat, and also allows me to monitor CPU temperature and do a few other geeky things.
B: Also I disabled hibernation because I never use it and it's 16gb of diskspace on C: wasted. It's pretty simple to do just run cmd.exe (command prompt) and type "powercfg.exe /hibernate off" and that's it!
C: Another issue for me was the power settings, some annoying, some I found offensive. For example, Win7 will also turn off your USB ports if it thinks you won't be needing them! Just like parking CPUs and for the same reason, and with the same arguments on the net. The default power settings for Win7 on a laptop are just ridiculous. So on Control Panel -> Power I always use "advanced settings" and adjust EVERY setting or at least inspect it. The USB thing of course, but also, powering down hard drives - it's not a good idea. The most wear&tear you can put on a hard drive is the power cycling of it. Best to leave it on all the time if the machine is used most of the time.

5: Next I decided to move the MS bootmgr off my secondary drive so that if it failed I wouldn't lost a lot of customizing work (I expected it not to work). It wasn't that difficult, but I'm going to hold off posting instructions unless people ask for them because this is the greatest risk that might result in your machine not booting anymore. And I don't want that. Plus it might be different for other hardware. I can and will help you do this if you want, here though I just want to say it's possible and I did it.

6: After rebooting I began periodically reviewing processes running in Task Manager to make sure I knew EXACTLY what tasks were running and when I wasn't sure I goggled it to make sure about what it was. I did find some things over the months that were autostarting at Windows boot or were apps installed that I didn't want. This is a good habit, always know what's running.

7: Next I removed every MS app and Windows feature that I felt was unnecessary. First using Add/Remove Programs (I have to research what apps were installed but I will report on that) and next using "Windows Features" on that same control panel applet (top left). Here I basically uninstalled EVERY "feature" it had auto-installed including and especially Internet Explorer.

8: At this point I had a very lightweight and fully operational Win7 running perfectly, and lightning quick! But next came the most enjoyable task and which I spent probably way too much time on - customizing the UI (and eventually replacing most of it). By this I mean really customizing pretty much every aspect of the appearance. The way a "window" looks, titlebar color, font, the min/max/close buttons, the border, the SHAPE (I prefer square corners not 2 square and 2 rounded 🤣). The taskbar, start menu, file/folder icons. Pretty much nothing I didn't touch and it's all fairly simple to do and does NOT require a programmer. I myself did go a little crazy and eventually did create my own Explorer file/manager, start menu, and taskbar. But that's not something the average person wants or needs. But I'm saying it just to say those parts of the UI can ALSO be replaced or customized. Essentially pretty much every aspect of the Win7 UI can be altered to suit your tastes and there are a lot of apps to accomplish it. NOW, word of caution here: Lots of "free" apps out there that customize parts of the UI are less than professionally developed and can break your system badly. This is because some modifications are achieved by actually modifying Windows system files (dlls). So I hope it will help that I share my experience because I tested every app I could find and very few passed my test. The ones I'm going to list are ones I can say run 100% perfectly for me and my Win7 systems are all 100% stable and never crash. I can't guarantee you'll have the same results, but I think my list is safer than blind luck 😉
First app I always install is ClassicShell which is free and open source. I believe the author retired and the project is OpenShell now, but still open source. I only run the original as the problems that OpenShell deals with are Win10 related. [NOTE: It was reported that the current build of OpenShell has a very harmful bug, so it might be safer to stick with the original ClassicShell] This app allows you to customize GREATLY the Start Menu, Start Button, Taskbar, and Windows Explorer. Highly recommended.
And second for me is "Windows Style Builder"(formerly Vista Style Builder). This is the heart of my customizations because it exposes to you EVERY element of the UI appearance and you can modify items, test it, and save it to an external file. So testing each element you want to change is simple. I used it to alter window titlebars, colors, fonts, min/max/close buttons, borders and corners. This is a massively powerful tool and well written. It's available freely although I donate now and then because it's so valuable to me. And the author responds to support questions and is a very nice person!
If you just want to change your start button(orb) or replace system icons, another utility I've used a lot is by "Door2Windows" and has a bundle of awesome well-written mini-applets to achieve those things and much more. It's the most complete "tweaker" I've found. And that also is available freely, or donating/purchasing - for, when I bought mine, $5. Yep. $5. But you can get it freely. Great support there too.
And of course, Win7 doesn't allow you to install or use what are called "unsigned themes" which is pretty much anything you do to create your own custom theme. You can copy/modify existing themes if you want or create your own. I don't personally do this because I don't need to, all my changes are covered with the above. But if you DO want to use other themes you'll need a utility that runs as a service and forces Windows to allow it. I use the one I think is the best called "UxStyle"(theme patcher) and it's free.
I can give more details about each thing I did as requested so feel free to ask. But anyone who has ever seen my main workstation has asked me what OS I was using because it looks NOTHING like any version of Windows!

9: And of course many of the MS standard apps that come with Windows are less than acceptable so next I set about replacing several of them starting with Windows Explorer and Notepad. Oh and Internet Explorer. Note that you can only remove IE8 (using Windows Features) and NOT IE6 because Win7 won't run after that's removed. I know because I learned the hard way to leave it alone. For a simple Notepad replacement I use Notepad++ which is free, open source and very common and very stable. For Windows Explorer, unfortunately I never did find an open-source or free app that passed my tests. And I can't stand Windows Explorer. Things like multiple tabs and a handful of other features I cannot live without. If you do want a replacement app I found two that were decent and both have free versions and premium versions. One is Xyplorer the other is Directory Opus. Both have a TON of great features. I use the latter when I need to because it's more customizable and stable. And has some pretty advanced features like renaming many files at once, well too many to list. Very nice app and actively being enhanced, lots of updates. Xyplorer to my knowledge is no longer being developed but I'm not sure it needs to be.

The next steps are things I did and still do frequently, to make sure there's nothing causing Windows to get bogged down and bloated. I find that installing a new app often causes things to get autostarted or scheduled updaters to run, stuff like that, which offends me greatly. So I do these things to make my LEAN and MEAN Win7 stay that way. In over a year, it's running as good as day one.

10: By this point I have rebooted dozens of times and I start periodically doing a few things that help keep Windows lean and not get bloated
A: I check the event viewer (Admin Tools) to make SURE there wasn't something causing errors, which can slow Windows or cause instability.
B: And task manager, to make sure there are no processes running I don't know about.
C: Also a good thing to monitor is what things are being automatically executed when Windows boots! And also what tasks are in the scheduler and run without you knowing. I found some surprises. I use a free app called CCleaner to check both of those things, and to make SURE that only the things I know about are autostarted. You can also use the Windows app "regedit" which will bring you into the registry editor. I'll hold off with details because it can also break your system. But if anyone wants to know where the magic key is I will post it.
D: And another thing that can cause Windows to bog down over time is the registry being bloated with entries from apps you remove, or many other causes. It's a good idea to keep an eye on it. I use CCleaner for that as well, it allows me to backup the registry in case of a problem and then it scans it and reports problems. VERY helpful! This one can't be done manually with regedit. But there are TONS of free utils that do it.
E: I also check C:\Users\Me for files/folders that don't need to exist. Perhaps something uninstalled. Usually just an app doing something I don't like. Under AppData the Local folder usually has lots of stuff. This keeps my C: very lean as well.

Tips for keeping it lean and running as fast as possible.
I never install anything on C: I always use a different drive.
I don't defragment my drives, out of paranoia, but also I don't make a lot of changes to them. I keep my data on a network drive and that's what changes most. But I suppose defragging your drives now and then could help performance. Oh and my boot drives are always SSD so fragmentation isn't a real issue.
I always disable or otherwise neuter all automatic updates that any app wants to do. Many reasons for this, mostly I'm just ornery about my computer doing things I didn't ask it to especially where the internet is involved.

Things I do NOT recommend doing.
Install apps to try out. Uninstallers are notoriously horrible and leave stuff all over the place. I use a VirtualBox VM to try things out, and ONLY install things I know I'm going to keep forever on my machine.
Install those "make your PC 80000% faster!" apps. Most don't work, many kill your system entirely. I have found no reason to use them. The NT kernel used in Win7 is actually one of the best builds of it and it works incredibly well. I run at least 1 other OS using a VBox VM constantly, as well as MANY heavy apps for writing code. And a couple browser windows. It's never crashed. Not once.
Leave Windows Update service enabled or run it manually and install every update without knowing exactly what it does and determine that you need it. This is again, JUST ME.

Last edited by HannibalAnthrope on 2020-05-14, 09:56. Edited 2 times in total.

Reply 3 of 10, by HannibalAnthrope

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Here are all the services on my workstation whether disabled or enabled, running or not.

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Disabled Services
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Enabled Services that run Automatically
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Enabled Services that run Manually
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Enabled Services that are not running
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Fair use/fair dealing exception

Reply 4 of 10, by xjas

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Thanks for the LONG post! I haven't read through the whole thing yet - just skimmed it - but it looks like there's some really good info on here. Sadly these types of things are getting harder and harder to search for as the signal-to-noise ratio on the internet goes down & the "fast upgrade cycle" most people get forced into means no one has time to actually learn the software they have to use.

One thing to note, since you mentioned OpenShell - it has a massive (potentially system bricking) bug in the current version, and the devs have given no indication they even know what the problem is, let alone have fixed the thing. At least a few people have run into this so far; not just me. I'd recommend avoiding the crap out of it until this is specifically addressed; stick with ClassicShell if it doesn't have it.

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Reply 5 of 10, by SquallStrife

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Lots of useful tidbits in there, though I can't endorse running an EoL operating system and actively avoiding updates for anything serious.

Also your last point, WinSxS has nothing to do with Windows Update.

Side-by-side

Which you should know if you're a software developer! 😜

In any case, good effort writing everything up! As I said, there are a lot of useful bits and pieces in there.

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Reply 6 of 10, by HannibalAnthrope

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SquallStrife wrote on 2020-05-14, 08:04:
Lots of useful tidbits in there, though I can't endorse running an EoL operating system and actively avoiding updates for anythi […]
Show full quote

Lots of useful tidbits in there, though I can't endorse running an EoL operating system and actively avoiding updates for anything serious.

Also your last point, WinSxS has nothing to do with Windows Update.

Side-by-side

Which you should know if you're a software developer! 😜

In any case, good effort writing everything up! As I said, there are a lot of useful bits and pieces in there.

All good points! I will clarify my post a bit... I don't necessarily endorse or recommend that anyone else do what I've done. Especially not for a production machine, or if they don't have a solid background (ie; know what they're doing!). I've mentioned here that I've been a software engineer for 35yrs and despite not knowing what exactly is stored in my winsxs folder 😉 I do have a pretty solid background and I'm hoping people take that into consideration before trying any of this! As this is a mostly gaming site, I'd hope they know I'm not proposing this for production. I will clarify that though. As for me, I've never used automatic updates but that doesn't mean I don't install some manually as I think are valuable. I have several Windows servers and many Linux machines and I handle them the same way. I've never had a virus or malware or security issue, but again, I've got a lot of experience watching my clients do all the wrong things so I am pretty careful about what I do and what I don't do. And as for the MS EOLing WIn7 that's really not an issue for someone who doesn't want the latest version of Windows or latest patches (so, me). EOL is just a term, take updates out of the picture and what does it mean?

As for WinSXS... I'm not trying to argue the point, sincerely. But below is just one page I found on Microsoft.com, it must be the mention of "updates" that confused me. In truth I don't care enough to find out for sure 😉 but I will change my post and not mention what is or isn't there. I laughed hard about your next comment and plan to steal it to use on my colleagues! But NO, developers/programmers do NOT necessarily know SHIAT about system or server administration for the system they develop on! 🤣 Including me! I generally have little tolerance and less interest in Windows, and only slightly more for Linux! But it's all relative. And I think I compare ok to most programmers, certainly the ones I know! 🤣 Still a funny comment though mate! And thanks for the kind words!

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WinSXS info from Microsoft.com
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Reply 7 of 10, by SquallStrife

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I guess by virtue of "it installs stuff" then yeah, SxS and Updates are related-ish, but that's not the main purpose of the WinSxS folder, if you know what I mean.

I'm a developer on Windows too, and knowing how SxS works has been invaluable to solving weird crashes and DLL related errors that occur on some systems and not others. So while you're right, not all developers know much about the underlying OS, I'm saying they should learn!! 😉

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Reply 8 of 10, by HannibalAnthrope

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xjas wrote on 2020-05-14, 07:29:

Thanks for the LONG post! I haven't read through the whole thing yet - just skimmed it - but it looks like there's some really good info on here. Sadly these types of things are getting harder and harder to search for as the signal-to-noise ratio on the internet goes down & the "fast upgrade cycle" most people get forced into means no one has time to actually learn the software they have to use.

One thing to note, since you mentioned OpenShell - it has a massive (potentially system bricking) bug in the current version, and the devs have given no indication they even know what the problem is, let alone have fixed the thing. At least a few people have run into this so far; not just me. I'd recommend avoiding the crap out of it until this is specifically addressed; stick with ClassicShell if it doesn't have it.

Thanks for the information! I've modified my guide to point that out and advise sticking with ClassicShell. I honestly don't know what, if any, benefits OpenShell offers for Win7. I believe it's mostly Win10 compatibility which was a huge issue when updates frequently broke apps and introduced changes to the win32 api. A lot of companies/developers I know told me personally about some of the stuff they've had to do to keep their app going for Win10, and it's a horror story. Not sure about now though.

And ps: yeah no kidding with trying to find accurate information these days. Not only because there's a lot of INCORRECT information by people creating pages based solely on OTHER sites pages just to get clicks. But in the past year Google searches are just so manipulated by people just trying to fool people into clicking. Results LOOK like they have an answer and you go there and it's nothing but a search page. Or worse, a digest of a load of forum posts. I've resorted to using a white list myself and I don't go to sites I'm not sure about. This was one of the reasons that I use CefSharp (Chromium) with a UI that I created, so I can have that white list!

Reply 9 of 10, by HannibalAnthrope

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SquallStrife wrote on 2020-05-14, 10:00:

I guess by virtue of "it installs stuff" then yeah, SxS and Updates are related-ish, but that's not the main purpose of the WinSxS folder, if you know what I mean.

I'm a developer on Windows too, and knowing how SxS works has been invaluable to solving weird crashes and DLL related errors that occur on some systems and not others. So while you're right, not all developers know much about the underlying OS, I'm saying they should learn!! 😉

No denying that for sure! I realized how little I knew about Windows when I started creating a file manager and taskbar for my own use and had to learn just a wee bit about the win32 api not to mention some deeper stuff about dotnet than I knew before! It's been a long running issue for me when hiring and managing programmers especially since we were building software for all kinds of *nix and Windows too. I couldn't get guys to be motivated to learn some system level stuff. I had sysadmins who were great, but couldn't write code. And coders who were great but couldn't manage a system! And until tonight I thought I was a coder who could! 🤣 Fortunately I'm in my twilight and working off my last client project, and I never do sysadmin work for clients!

As for WinSXS do you purge it manually and if so can you share your method?

And ps: is that DLL-Hell you are referencing? 😉 I wrote all kinds of VB apps long before dotnet. Now I'm surprised I didn't set myself on fire dealing with that!

Reply 10 of 10, by SquallStrife

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HannibalAnthrope wrote on 2020-05-14, 10:24:

As for WinSXS do you purge it manually and if so can you share your method?

I honestly don't bother.

Manually purging it is a bad idea, as many "files" in C:\windows and c:\windows\system32 are actually hard-links to specific versions of the file in the WinSxS folder. (Its a surprise to many that Windows and NTFS has the concept of hardlinks and symlinks, just like *nix!)

A quick google tells me that Windows 8 onwards contains scripts and tools for removing orphaned/unused versions of files from the WinSxS folder, but they're not present in Win7.

Supposedly a minor KB update late in Win7's life added those tools, but I couldn't tell you which one.

HannibalAnthrope wrote on 2020-05-14, 10:24:

And ps: is that DLL-Hell you are referencing? 😉 I wrote all kinds of VB apps long before dotnet. Now I'm surprised I didn't set myself on fire dealing with that!

More or less, but nowdays it's very nuanced and harder to debug.

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