The perils of hacking Windows

One of my favorite new blogs is Hacking Windows 7 Media Center, where proprietor Michael Healy has been serving up a steady diet of tasty tweaks for Media Center fans like me who are testing the feature in Windows 7.

But I have to disagree, vigorously, with yesterday’s post explaining how to change the default blue theme to an edgy black (the original instructions were posted to the Australian Media Center Community site). Yes, the new look is sleek and very cool. See for yourself:


What’s the problem? Well, in order to make this change, you have to change permissions on areplace a crucial DLL file, ehres.dll. And that means downloading a hacked file from an unknown, untrusted source.

That’s problematic for two reasons: First, you have no idea what changes were made to the contents of that DLL. I doubt that it contains any hostile code, but do you want to find out the hard way? Second, and more important, this trick defeats the whole point of beta testing, which is to discover bugs and incompatibilities in code that is still under development. If you start tampering with system files, you add another variable and render any bug reports suspect.

By the way, the same caveats hold true for the instructions over at MissingRemote on how to enable concurrent Remote Desktop sessions in Windows 7. In that case, the hack involves replacing the DLL that handles Terminal Server duties with one that’s been hacked to remove the one-session limitation. I won’t be installing it here.

7 thoughts on “The perils of hacking Windows

  1. True enough. Replacing a DLL just to change your color scheme is way overkill.

    But the Remote Desktop example you gave is a classic example of the SKU geniuses at product planning running amok. Is anyone really going to stop buying Terminal Server CALs if they bumped up the concurrent sessions limit in Windows client from 1 to 2? “Let me fix something over RDP while my wife is using the console session” is a perfectly valid use case, and not so different from the one that justifies 2 concurrent sessions for Windows Server.

    There are precious few Windows enthusiasts left these days. I hope the SKUs for 7 will be better thought out, and treat Windows enthusiasts as the best free publicity that money can’t buy. (Either that, or price Ultimate more attractively and actually put some effort into Ultimate Extras.)

  2. Thanks for reading! While this particular hack was provided more in the way of demonstrating what may potentially be possible upon retail release your certainly correct about the potential effect on bug reporting. With a public beta release I’m certain Microsoft would expect some level of tampering even if not on the system dll level. Users of any OS would be well advised to take great consideration prior to installing modified system files of any sort.

    It’s worth noting that while I have employed this particular hack on my personal “beater” machine, I avoided installing it on my actual media center setup. This despite being willing to install Windows 7 beta on that machine in the first place :). Both arguments made are certainly valid ones but can generally be said of making any unsupported modifications to pre-release (or even post release!) software, especially an operating system.

  3. Thank you for the HW7-MC referral. I love reading about hacks even if I choose not to—or cannot—deploy them. I look forward to buying Windows 7, having completely missed the Vista boat. (?bloat)

    Last year, I completely hosed my system while upgrading to SP3, but forgetting to roll back my system which had been “Xpized”.

    For those who don’t know, XPize is a free third-party installer that replaces many original Windows files. The resulting system themes were wonderful to look at but a nightmare when upgrading. (XPize may be compatible by this time, but I lost interest after my problems.)

    I learned my lesson. …Sort of. I installed a couple of Microsoft themes for Windows XP described here:

    That web site has many useful tips. Another tip for XP tells how to remove the annoying context menu entry (in Windows Explorer) installed by ATI Catalyst drivers. That tip may bite me in the ass when I upgrade my video driver (which I usually avoid like the plague).

  4. Is ‘areplace’ a typo or something about a dll I don’t know about?

    “Well, in order to make this change, you have to change permissions on areplace a crucial DLL file, ehres.dll.”

  5. Message to Microsoft: 2 fantastic ideas at (and so many other places…):
    – make the MC background configurable
    – allow for 2 simultaneous sessions on all Windows 7 editions

    There, 2 simple things may go a looong way towards making customers happy. It’s that simple MS, just listen to what your customers are saying and do it 🙂

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