What’s New in ACT 5.5

The new ACT is here! The new ACT is here!

I’m always on the forefront of breaking news, eh? We shipped ACT 5.5, erm, 11 days ago. (What can I say, it’s been a busy 11 days.) I know a little while back I blogged about whether or not you can wait for it, but now you don’t have to. Nice.

So, I figured I’d talk about a few things that makes this a very worthwhile download. But before I do, I figured you should understand the size of the team that managed to pull this off. The dev team, if I am not mistaken, averaged just slightly over 1 person. The test team averaged less than 1 person. The PM team averaged over 1 person. The documentation team averaged a fraction of a person. Clearly, some trade-offs are required with this kind of a team, and hopefully we made the right ones. (My #1 request remains adding integration points so you can extend the product and/or integrate it with the rest of your infrastructure, but that’s big stuff that a tiny team isn’t likely to pull off. I keep hoping.) That being said, here’s what I like about what’s new:

DCP Tagging

This is one of the most requested features in ACT (other than integration points), and you can use this in a number of ways.

If you are planning to deploy Windows by role (in my experience the best way to do it), you can have your DCPs that you deploy to members of each role tagged. Now, when you want to see what software is used by people in each role, you simply pull up everything with this tag. You just can’t do that with 5.0. The closest you’d come is to collect the first role first, categorize them, then the second role, categorize the uncategorized ones, and so forth. But, if you change deployment order, you’re hosed; you depend on apps being fixed from earlier roles, because you can’t determine the overlap.

If you have multiple organizations that you serve, but you don’t want to manage separate databases (perhaps a loosely aligned collection of business units?) you can now consolidate but still pry things apart as you need to.

Identifying the remainder of scenarios is left as an exercise to the reader – this one is really something you can invent all kinds of uses for.

SUA Works with Application Verifier 4.0

Remember the post where I had to link to old versions of Application Verifier? No more! Now you can use the up-to-date version! And, of course, that also means you can use SUA on Windows 7 now (since AppVerifier 3.x doesn’t work so well on it).

SUA kinda-sorta works on Windows 7 x64

OK, 64-bit isn’t officially supported for ACT anywhere. But SUA flat out didn’t work. I don’t know about Windows Vista (I never tried it) but definitely not on Windows 7. The reason? AppVerifier had a little bug (they’re fixing it, but they weren’t going to be done in time for ACT 5.5 and we didn’t want to delay it) where the COM interfaces weren’t working correctly from 32-bit processes. And SUA happened to be calling them from 32-bit processes. So, we brainstormed some alternate solutions, but because you have to call 32-bit AppVerifier to get 32-bit logs, the avenue we finally pursued was using the command line interface to AppVerifier instead of the COM interface. So, things mostly work for testing 32-bit apps on x64 versions of Windows 7 (to my knowledge) – I have not tried it against 64-bit apps, because I’ve never needed that in real life. This is not a guarantee that ACT will work for you on 64-bit, that using it on x64 won’t cause permanent sterility, yada yada. But hey, there were some last-minute heroics on the part of the team to at least give best effort here, and they blew me away. The team may be small, but that doesn’t mean they’re not awesome.

CompatAdmin has more shim docs in the help, and it now shows you help … ALL the time!

This was my pet peeve bug. I guess that’s because the tiny contribution I make was affected by it. You see, I write up the shim documentation, and then hand it off to my favorite technical writer, Liz, who converts them into product-ese. And yes, we have more in ACT 5.5. (What can I say – I have the most boring hobby in the world. Writing documentation.)

But, if you use 5.0, you’ll notice a little something funny. Select a shim in the system shim database (which is where all the shims are). Notice that little sentence. Is it helpful? Maybe, but probably not. What do you do next? Well, hopefully you look it up in the help. Try it. Guess what? The help –> about functionality is disabled! This bug was open forever, so I used the oldest trick in the book. I debugged it myself. That gets stuff fixed WAY faster. Here’s what I found:

0:000> kP
ChildEBP RetAddr 
000be9d4 00134dac USER32!EnableMenuItem(
                          struct HMENU__ * hMenu = 0x075b08ad, 
                          unsigned int uIDEnableItem = 0, 
                          unsigned int uEnable = 0x401)

Look that up in MSDN, and you’ll find that the code was disabling the first item of EVERY menu, when it intended to just disable the first item in the first menu. And help was unfortunate enough to be the first menu item. Fixed. Now, you can always get to the help!


You don’t have to see reports for operating systems you aren’t migrating to.

When we supported one type of migration, piece of cake. It’s all we’d show. But we got to the point of having so many flavors, it was just confusing. So, now you can pick the ones you care about. Subtle, but a nice touch.

Those are the highlights. Have a look. Yes, we do support some additional deprecation detection (Windows Mail), but in my experience that’s an extremely low-impact deprecation for the enterprise. And there are a number of other bug fixes. Not a bad showing for a tool developed by 3.141592653589793238462
254091715364367892590360011330530548820466521384146951941511609 people.

Comments (2)

  1. JasonG says:

    I saw this and wondered when you’d toot your horn ;)

    You may believe (and I agree) that documentation writing is boring. But so important it is!  My g/f might even disagree, though documentation is not her favorite (creative) writing style.

    Actually, sometimes I like writing documentation because I’m a perfectionist.  While I’m typing away, I’ll be thinking, "hehe, this will be perfect and if any user f**ks up I can just say ‘RTFM!’"


  2. MartinN says:

    Hi Chris, I am a bit late, but I want to share a comment a customer gave me after/during an ACF-workshop regarding the ACT 5.5. I showed the whole toolkit to the customer and explained the different parts, made handon labs with him and showed sample data first, later the reallife date from the customers enviroment. He was very impressed and after I showed him that he can also prepare for security updates, he was even more impressed. Then he asked me "How much does this toolkit cost?". :)

    He was very happy that the ACT is a free toolkit and will integrate it into their processes and use it to prepare for the Windows 7 rollout and use it afterwards on a regular basis to check the "windows readyness".

    I was also impressed. Within four days we collected the whole software inventory, analyzed it and seperated the most commonly used software with issues. For more than 90% we found a solution! The customer was very impressed and knows now where to start and focus on. The 3.141592653589793238462






    254091715364367892590360011330530548820466521384146951941511609 people working on ACT did a great job, thank you!

    (And some feature suggestions are allready on their way via MS Connect)