When a stopgap solution becomes an undocumented feature some people rely on

someone wants to know why you cannot run a separate 32-bit instance of Explorer on 64-bit Windows. This used to work in Windows Vista, but stopped working in Windows 7.

The ability to run a 32-bit instance of Explorer on 64-bit Windows was a feature in Windows Vista as a temporary solution in order to get Explorer to show both 64-bit and 32-bit Control Panel icons. In Windows Vista, there was a separate Control Panel inside Control Panel called "View 32-bit Control Panel Icons". This ran a separate copy of 32-bit Explorer so it could load the 32-bit Control Panel icons and let you use them.

However, this was only a temporary solution.

In Windows 7, the work was done to integrate the 32-bit Control Panel icons into the main Control Panel, so you didn't have the 32-bit Control Panel icons hanging out in some sort of 32-bit ghetto. In addition to making the Control Panel much prettier, it also made things much easier for users, since they didn't have to go digging into two Control Panels to find the icon they wanted.

Once that work was done, a standalone 32-bit copy of Explorer was no longer needed, and the code to support that configuration could be removed.

If you were relying on that feature, well, you're out of luck. But earlier this year, I explained how you can work around it and get access to your 32-bit shell extensions.

Comments (16)
  1. Mark says:

    So Microsoft merged two control panels in Windows 7 then added another new control panel in Windows 8. I suppose we should be grateful Microsoft doesn’t have us rummaging around all three.

    1. Don Reba says:

      In a closed system, control panel entropy can never decrease.

      1. Kevin says:

        This is a straightforward corollary of Le Chatelier’s Principle for complex systems.


    2. Neil says:

      But the problem with the new settings is that you can only have one settings pane open at once. Worse, if you right-click Start, Apps and Features, it destroys the settings pane’s history, so you can’t even go back to where you were.

      1. Someone says:

        “the problem with the new settings” => “the problem with the Windows 10 ‘PC settings'”

        Yes, I also find it a major flaw in the new design.

        But I hope all this “modern UI” will sometimes go away. It is just unacceptable when even the “modern” calculator app is slow to start and first shows you only some white rectangle before it draws its window content for the first time. (It also suffers from the white-on-white design, so it just gives a bad user experience.) If even such a tiny app had major problems with the GUI peformance and the visual representation, there is no future this “modern UI” approach.

  2. Myria says:

    32-bit shell extensions are still needed, because things like file open dialogs in 32-bit programs still use them. A prime example is Visual Studio, so TortoiseGit and TortoiseSVN both install 32-bit shell extensions.

  3. So, in Windows Vista, 32-bit Control Panel applets weren’t shown directly in the main Control Panel window and needed a 32-bit window.

    But why?

    1. Because you can’t load 32-bit DLLs into a 64-bit process.

      1. And yet, I am sure a 64-bit window can display icons for 32-bit apps without needing to load 32-bit DLLs into 64-bit processes. That’s what Windows 7 is doing, right?

        But never mind. I now believe my question was redundant. The whole Windows Vista is a big “why?” for which there is no answer. (Well, except maybe: Eichenwald, Kurt (August 2012). “Microsoft’s Lost Decade”. Vanity Fair. Condé Nast.)

        1. Yuhong Bao says:

          Look up the CplApplet function to see how they are done.

          1. Are you referring to this?


            Well, this is the original reason for which I asked “why?” Imagine you are designing a whole operating system from the ground app, introducing such radically different concept such as task flow layout. Well, ditch the old hampering format too. For the panels that don’t adhere to task flow layout, just launch them with rundll32.exe, or better yet, control32.exe

          2. Yup, that’s what we do. Control panel items that follow the old pattern are launched in a 32-bit helper process. But you still have to have 32-bit code to discover the icons in the first place: The old-style control panel interface lets an item decide at run time whether it has an icons, and if so, which ones. Some control panel items, for example, show an icon only if the corresponding hardware is installed, and the kind of icon depends on the kind of hardware.

          3. Yuhong Bao says:

            Particularly the CPL_INQUIRE and CPL_NEWINQUIRE messages.

        2. Max says:

          Icons usually aren’t stored in DLLs, so programs like Explorer don’t need to load DLLs in order to display icons. Control Panel applets (as well as the Control Panel itself) work a little differently. You’re comparing apples to oranges.

  4. Ivan K says:

    Interesting and personal revelation about Windows Vista for you. I guess that justifies this whole blog thing then, for you.

  5. MacIn173 says:

    I’m wondering, why Explorer in OS’s after the Windows XP stopped supporting custom columns. These were handy for working with SVN, for example – you could have “status” and “author” columns and sort by these.

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