Even after Microsoft abandoned the stupid idea of the Windows 8 start screen and gave us back the start menu in Windows 10 there is still a lot to desire. Of course you can replace the the start menu with a tool like Open Shell (formerly known as Classic Shell) which improves it quite a lot. Or you use a separate launcher like the Portable Apps Launcher.

I have switched to Open Shell but I also use JumpFolder to create my own, multiple “Start Menus” using the jump list that every icon on the taskbar has had since Windows 7.

Basic usage means that you put the JumpFolder.exe into any directory on your disk, add subdirectories containing shortcuts to the programs you want to start, pin JumpFolder.exe to the Windows taskbar and start it once. After that the jump list of this icon will show you all those shortcuts:

(In case you are curious: These shortcuts start Civilization, the original DOs game from 1991, 7 Kingdoms, a Windows game from 1997) and Todolist by Abstract Spoon. I can definitely recommend the games but the todo list is not my favourite, but hey, it’s free.)

Note that even though the JumpFolder homepage states that it requires Windows 7, it also works for later Windows versions, including Windows 10.

But the number of entries in the jump list is limited (by default to 10 entries which can be increased, but even then, vertical space on a monitor is limited) and it would be nice to have more than one. But there can only be one JumpFolder.exe icon on the taskbar. So, what can be done? Simple: Create a shortcut to JumpFolder.exe itself and pin that shortcut to the taskbar.

OK, here are the steps:

1. Create a new directory.
2. Put the JumpFolder.exe file into it
3. Create a shortcut to that executable in the same folder and give it a unique name, e.g. “MyJumpFolder1”
4. Optionally, assign an icon to this shortcut.
5. Pin this shortcut to the taskbar
6. Create subdirectories for categories (e.g. “games” and “tools” and put shortcuts into these subdirectories.
7. Start the shortcut on the taskbar. It will now parse the subdirectories and create a jump list from them.
8. Voila: You have a unique “start menu”. Now rinse and repeat for each additional “start menu” you want.

Of course the shortcuts can be for anything, e.g. open a folder or start a program passing it parameters. This way you can create a “start menu” for your music, by putting several shortcuts to your music player into the subdirectories passing it e.g. the directory containing the music files it should play. Eg. for VLC it would look like this:

c:\path\to\VLC.exe "c:\path\to\Peter Fox"

(The parameter is the directory containing mp3s with music from Peter Fox’ album Stadtaffe“.)

My current music “start menu” looks like this:

The same principle can also be used to create entries with jump lists in the start menu, but personally I find that a lot less useful.

I stumbled upon JumpFolder a few years ago when I was considering writing such a program myself. I’ve even got the source code from back then. But it didn’t keep my interest after I discovered that such a program already exists.

The following code looks innocuous but slows down a program significantly:

type
TJCHListSortCompare = function(Item1, Item2: Integer): Integer of object;
TCheckListBoxWithHints = class(TCheckListBox)
private
procedure QuickSort(L, R: Integer; SCompare: TJCHListSortCompare);

// [...]
procedure TCheckListBoxWithHints.QuickSort(L, R: Integer; SCompare: TJCHListSortCompare);
var
I, J, P: Integer;
tmpObj: TObject;
tmpStr: string;
tmpChecked: Boolean;
begin
repeat
I := L;
J := R;
P := (L + R) shr 1;
repeat
while SCompare(I, P) < 0 do Inc(I);
while SCompare(J, P) > 0 do Dec(J);
if I <= J then
begin
// exchange I and J
tmpStr           := Items[I];
tmpObj           := Items.Objects[I];
tmpChecked       := Self.Checked[I];

Items[I]         := Items[J];
Items.Objects[I] := Items.Objects[J];
Self.Checked[I]  := Self.Checked[J];

Items[J]         := tmpStr;
Items.Objects[J] := tmpObj;
Self.Checked[J]  := tmpChecked;
if P = I then
P := J
else if P = J then
P := I;

Inc(I);
Dec(J);
end;
until I > J;
if L < J then QuickSort(L, J, SCompare);
L := I;
until I >= R;
end;


Yes it’s Quicksort and it sorts strings in a TCheckListBox’s Items property, swapping not only the strings but also the objects and the Checked values.

Now, run this with, lets say 100 entries. That shouldn’t be any problem for Quicksort, should it? But it takes about 2 seconds on my computer which is muuuuuuch longer than I expected. The same code running on a simple TStringList takes less than 1/10 of a second. Why is that?

It’s because accessing the strings and changing them each results in a Windows message to be sent, handled and checked.

TCheckListBox inherits its Items property from TCustomListBox which declares it as:

    property Items: TStrings read FItems write SetItems;


Still looks innocuous? Now, let’s see how it is actually instantiated:

  FItems := TListBoxStrings.Create;
TListBoxStrings(FItems).ListBox := Self;


So, what is TListBoxStrings? It’s a class that descends from TStrings and provides access to the strings stored in a TCustomListBox using Windows messages. E.g.:

function TListBoxStrings.Get(Index: Integer): string;
var
Len: Integer;
begin
// [...]
begin
Len := SendMessage(ListBox.Handle, LB_GETTEXTLEN, Index, 0);
if Len = LB_ERR then Error(SListIndexError, Index);
SetLength(Result, Len);
if Len <> 0 then
begin
Len := SendMessage(ListBox.Handle, LB_GETTEXT, Index, Longint(PChar(Result)));
SetLength(Result, Len);
end;
end;
end;


To get a string, it sends two messages to the Listbox’s handle and interprets its results.

Or:

procedure TListBoxStrings.Put(Index: Integer; const S: string);
var
I: Integer;
TempData: Longint;
begin
I := ListBox.ItemIndex;
TempData := ListBox.InternalGetItemData(Index);
ListBox.InternalSetItemData(Index, 0);
Delete(Index);
InsertObject(Index, S, nil);
ListBox.InternalSetItemData(Index, TempData);
ListBox.ItemIndex := I;
end;


In order to set a string to a new value, it first deletes it and then inserts it again.

Want to guess what Delete() does? It sends a message to the listbox’s handle. And what does InsertObject do? It sends a message to the listbox’s handle.

While all this is an ingenious way to provide simple access to the strings normally only available using the mentioned messages, it’s far from efficient when you do a lot of comparisons and some swapping, which is exactly what a sorting algorithm does.

So, what can be done?

First, don’t work on the Items property directly but take a copy of it. Also, don’t swap the Checked property values (which also use messages) directly but take a copy of these too (in particular since some of the Compare functions passed to the sorting code also test the Checked property). Then sort the copy and assign it back to the listbox’s Items and Checked properties:

var
cnt: Integer;
tmpList: TStringList;
ChkArr: TBoolArray;
i: Integer;
//[...]
tmpList := TStringList.Create;
try
SetLength(ChkArr, cnt);
for i := 0 to cnt - 1 do
ChkArr[i] := Checked[i];
QuickSort(tmpList, ChkArr, 0, cnt - 1, Compare);
Items.BeginUpdate;
try
Items := tmpList;
for i := 0 to cnt - 1 do
Checked[i] := ChkArr[i];
finally
Items.EndUpdate;
end;
finally
tmpList.Free;
end;


This code is from the GExperts Project Option Sets expert. This is one of the experts I had never used before and was shocked that, when I opened the dialog, it took several seconds before anything was shown. The reason turned out that the sorting described above was executed not only once but even twice in the FormShow event. After the changes I outlined above and reducing it to sort only once, it was down to less than half a second. That still felt like eternity, but was a significant improvement.

After I added some more tweaks, e.g. use a lookup list into an array of several hundred entries rather than linear search to find a particular string, the dialog now opens nearly instantly (on my computer).

If you want to discuss this article, you can do so in the corresponding post in the international Delphi Praxis forum.

I never understood the benefit of writing the ExplicitLeft / Top / Width / Height properties for TControl and descendants, which were added in Delphi 2007, to the dfm files. They store the control’s position and size before its Align property was set to something like alClient or alRight, so they can be restored later. That’s useful if you change these by accident or double click on the Align property to go through the possible values, but as soon as you save the form, you don’t really need them any more. Even worse, they seem to change often with no apparent reason and therefore clutter a dfm file’s diff with changes that nobody is interested in.

That’s probably why Andreas Hausladen added the option “Do not store the Explicit* properties into the DFM” (under “Form Designer”) to his DDevExtensions plugin. I have enabled that option since I found it. Unfortunately Andreas has not yet released a Delphi 10.4 version of DDevExtensions (and his other useful tools) because there is no Community Edition of Delphi 10.4 yet and he no longer has access to the latest Delphi versions (From what I read in the forums he chose not to accept a free license from Embarcadero, probably due to some strings attached to that offer.) Whatever the reason: Having those annoying properties back has irked me for a while now.

Achim Kalwa has written a plugin that removes them, but I didn’t want to install an additional plugin just for this functionality.

So I eventually came around adding it to GExperts. It’s a bit hidden because it does have a menu entry, only a configuration dialog:

In addition it’s not active by default so it won’t conflict with DDevExtensions if that’s also active.

So, if you want to use this new expert, you will have to explicitly activate it. It also allows you to selectively write some of the ExplicitXxx properties anyway, but I doubt that anybody will ever use that.

There is no GExperts release with this Expert yet. If you don’t want to wait, you’ll have to compile your own DLL.

If you want to discuss this article, go to the related post in the international DelphiPraxis forum.

Tired of answering the same questions over and over again, I have just added a GExperts frequently asked questions page. There is also a link to that page in the menu.

Somebody just asked me whether there is a simple way to migrate GExperts settings from Delphi XE7 to a new version.

The short answer is: No, but some experts (or rather: some functionality, because not everything is wrapped into an expert) have an ex- and import function.

I also started to write a general ex- and import function for GExperts but never finished it. Real life tends to intrude on open source programming. 😉

The long answer would be: Yes, you can do that by copying the registry entries and configuration files:

• Export the GExperts registry key to a file
• Edit that file to match the new Delphi version
• Import the edited file into the registry.

The GExperts registry key is located under the registry key of the corresponding Delphi version. For XE7 that would be

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Embarcadero\BDS\15.0\GExperts-1.3

The exported file will contain many sections in the form

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Embarcadero\BDS\15.0\GExperts-1.3]

"Font Size"=dword:0000000a
"Font Name"="Tahoma"
"Font Base"=dword:00000000
"Edit Display Text"="±"
"Show Hex"="0"
"Zoom Font Size"=dword:00000020
"Show Hint"="1"
"Left"=dword:000002a9
"Top"=dword:0000016b
"Width"=dword:0000022e
"Height"=dword:000001b2
"TotalCallCount"=dword:00000000


Here you will have to change the BDS version (15.0) to the version of your new Delphi.

In addition there are multiple entries that refer to the Delphi installation directory, e.g.:

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Embarcadero\BDS\15.0\GExperts-1.3\Grep\DirectoryList]
"Count"=dword:00000003
"GrepDir0"="C:\\Delphi\\DelphiXE7\\Source\\VCL"
"GrepDir1"="C:\\Delphi\\DelphiXE7\\Source\\rtl"
"GrepDir2"="C:\\Delphi\\DelphiXE7\\Source\\fmx"


or

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Embarcadero\BDS\15.0\GExperts-1.3\Misc]
"VCLPath"="C:\\Delphi\\DelphiXE7\\Source\\VCL\\"
"HelpFile"="D:\\source\\_sourceforge\\gexperts\\editorexpert\\GExperts.chm"
"EditorExpertsEnabled"="1"
"EditorEnhancementsEnabled"="0"
"EnableCustomFont"="0"


You will have to change all these and if you get them wrong, GExperts might not work after you have imported them.

In addition, some of the experts store additional configuration files in the ConfigPath (which is configured in the last section shown above). You will also have to copy these files.

But not all is lost:
You probably know which experts you regularly use and are worth migrating the settings, so delete everything but these settings, edit them and the triple check them. That’s easier and less error prone than summarily editing all of them. Then only import the settings for these experts. Again: Don’t forget the files the experts might have stored in the configuration directory.

Joining in on the black Friday craze I am hereby offering a 90% discount on GExperts. Valid indefinitely. You only need to compile it yourself.

(Sorry, could not resist. 😉 )

Tired of all those programs which install lots of additional stuff I have been using more and more so called “Portable Apps”. “Portable” in this context means: You can put them anywhere, even on a portable storage device and start them from there. These Programs are still Windows only. And of course nobody prevents you from putting them in a folder on the system harddisk, usually c:\PortableApps. All files these programs need are inside this one folder, so in order to move or copy them, you simply move/copy that folder.

There is a dedicated launcher and updater for these types of programs at portableapps.com, which is written in Delphi btw. and the source code is available.

One thing that has irked me all the time is that these programs don’t show up in the Windows start menu, unless I add them manually, which I usually don’t. Today I had enough and wrote PortableAppsToStartMenu, a tool which given a PortableApps directory collects all the executables stored there and creates shortcuts in the Windows Start Menu for them. They will be visible in the PortableApps folder there. Apparently there was no such tool so far.

This is what the program looks like:

Some feature highlights:

• You can drag the PortableApps directory on the entry field to set it.
• The entry field has autocompletion for directories.
• There are options to
• Hide the Portable Apps Platform tools
• Hide apps hidden in the launcher
• Hide the “Portable” part of the executable name
• It’s also possible to select the apps manually, but that’s rather cumbersome.

And these are the entries it has added to my start menu:

The entries are also available through the Start Menu’s usual search/filter functionality:

The program itself is of course a portable app, but not available from portableapps.com but only from OSDN. The program is written in in Delphi 10.2 and the source code is also available there.

If you want to discuss this article, go to the related post in the international DelphiPraxis forum.

I have been using WordPress for this blog for several years and always thought my setup was reasonably secure. Turns out that there is something called the WordPress REST API which allows to get quite a lot information about the installation without any security at all. E.g. https://blog.dummzeuch.de/wp-json/wp/v2/users used to show a list of all my registered users (all three of them: me, myself and I). But that’s only by coincidence because I have disabled comments. There are similar lists for all articles, all pages and – most worrying – all media contents. So, if I had ever used the upload feature of my blog to share a file with somebody else, it would have been possible for anybody who knew about this REST API to find the file name and access that file.

I read about this security or at least privacy hole in the current issue of the German c’t magazine (I am subscribed to the dead tree edition). And today I plugged it. For this particular problem, there is a simple fix: Install the Disable WP REST API plugin. It changes the API to only work when a user is logged in. Others get the error:

{"code":"rest_login_required","message":"REST API restricted to authenticated users.","data":{"status":401}}


In case you are worried: The WordPress Android App still works even if that plugin is installed.

And since I am always curious I tried some other blogs and found quite a few for which this API was open.

I also changed the WordPress login page to require basic authentication as described here (in German). Yes, that means two logins are required now, but that’s not much of an inconvenience since I am the only user.

If you want to discuss this article, go to the related post in the international DelphiPraxis forum.

Guess what? The new GExperts release is here.

There are lots of bug fixes and a few new features in the new version.

The major new feature is the Filter Exceptions expert. Please be warned that there was a bug when developing for non-Windows targets. It might have been fixed, but I can’t test it and nobody else bothered to volunteer to test it. So there you go: Now you will be a tester, if you like it or not. If you encounter this problem, please file a bug report!

There is also a small improvement in PE Information tool (I won’t call it an expert any more because it’s now a stand alone executable that GExperts only calls.)

Also, the installer is now based on InnoSetup 5.6.1 which was the last version compatible with Windows XP. So, installing GExperts on Windows XP (VMs) should work again.

I hope this time the installers won’t be wrongly detected as malware by virus scanners. Sorry about that.

Please note that GExperts for Delphi 10.4 requires Update 1!

If you want to discuss this article, you can do so in the corresponding post in the international Delphi Praxis forum.

Many open source projects have moved from the former top dog SlashdotSourceForge to GitHub and in the process usually converted from Subversion to git. This also includes quite a few Delphi libraries like project Jedi (JCL/JVCL), SynEdit or Indy.

I am not really comfortable with git, it just feels too complex for most projects and the GUI tools I have tried are clunky compared to TortoiseSVN. I see some advantages, but so far I’m not convinced. So, I have stayed with SVN and used that to access GitHub repositories through their git-svn bridge. This works fine, most of the time, unless you want to rename a file, which apparently is not possible for whatever reason.

Now, contributing to such projects is another challenge. You need to create something called “pull requests“, which basically is a way of creating patches that are centrally managed by GitHub together with a discussion area for them. It took me a while to get my head around the process but I think I got it now. So here are the steps:

1. Get a GitHub account. There is no way around that.
2. Fork the repository of the project to which you want to contribute.
3. Create a branch in that forked repository. You need a separate branch for each pull request you want to create! (That was the main stumbling block for me, I just didn’t realize this. It’s probably documented somewhere but I overlooked it.)
4. Check out that branch.
5. Make your changes in that branch
6. Commit those changes and push them to GitHub
7. On GitHub, create a pull request

There are many sites that give you these steps sometimes with examples on how to do them, but always using git. Here is, how to do it without a git client, but using svn + the aforementioned git-svn bridge.

GitHub shows a url for each repository that can be accessed via git or svn. It looks like this:

https://github.com/[account]/[project].git


Remember that this url contains the the whole repository, so in order to check out only the trunk (master branch) or a branch, you need to add /trunk or /branches/[branchname] to it.

Creating a branch can be done either with svn in the usual way or with the web UI on GitHub. I prefer the latter which is done by typing a non-existing name for a branch and pressing enter.

For the following steps lets assume we created a branch called “pullrequesttest”.

Using the svn client of your choice (mine is TortoiseSVN), check out the sources of the branch we just created. The url would be:

https://github.com/[account]/[project].git/branches/pullrequesttest


Just make your changes and commit them the usual way. Subversion does not distinguish between a commit and a push to the server as git does.

The branch now contains the changes you want to submit to the project.

On GitHub, select that branch and you will see a message about your changes an a button “Compare & pull request”.

Click that button, add a comment and submit the pull request. It should show up on the original project’s page. Somebody with the rights to it can now approve and merge these changes. They can also be discussed there. Maybe some further improvements are necessary to get them accepted. For that you simply make changes to the code you have checked out and commit them to the same branch. They will automatically become part of the pull request (Remember that I said you need a separate branch for each pull request? That’s why.).

Now suppose there are other, unrelated changes you would like to submit? Start with creating a new branch, based on master, check out the code, make the changes commit them and create a new pull request for the new branch.

Just remember to never make any changes to the trunk (=master branch). That one is meant to have the same content as the original repository and the base for each branch to be used for a pull request.

I’m sure this description is more complicated that it needs to be. My main idea in writing this article is to get a starting point for creating pull requests without having to use git. If you can think of improvements, please discuss them in Delphi Praxis. Note that this is not meant to become a discussion about the merits of git vs. Subversion. We don’t need another one of these.