32 Bit Explorer on Vista 64

There’s a pretty big problem with shell extensions when you try to run 64 bit Windows – they either come in 64 or 32 bit varieties, and each “group” of extensions will only be loaded into a corresponding host application. In other words, Windows Explorer runs as a 64 bit executable by default and it only loads shell extensions for 64 bit. Many alternative file manager tools only come in 32 bit versions so far, and they will only load 32 bit extensions.

Some extensions come in both 32 bit and 64 bit versions, and it should be possible to install them both. I’ve seen some extensions do this automatically and then it works fine – but some other vendors distribute both versions of their products with exactly the same file naming, so you can only install either one of them. The whole thing seems a bit stupid to me… I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to create a 64 bit shell extension that includes the 32 bit extensions in the 64 shell. Yes, I know I can’t load the extensions directly, but I could run a separate 32 bit executable that loads them and passes over all relevant information to the 64 extension – and the other way round of course. This could work both ways actually, also enabling 64 bit extensions to be available in 32 bit hosts. Of course that’s quite a bit of information that has to be transferred very carefully, mapped correctly and so on… just the sort the thing that Microsoft could have done in Windows, probably not the sort of thing I’m going to take on myself over the next weekend.

Now, for most applications I’ve been able to use Explorer for 64 bit extensions and Altap Salamander, which I use anyway, for the 32 bit ones. But I encountered a worse kind of problem the other day, when I was trying to Anapod (brilliant iPod tool, btw - can’t begin to describe how much better than iTunes it is). Anapod comes only in a 32 bit version so far. It installed just fine and then it ran the tray application and connected to my iPod. Great. Problem was, the context menu entry I normally used to bring up Anapod Explorer and access the contents of my iPod wasn’t working – some weird error message.

After a little while, I figured out what was going on. Normally, Anapod installs a top level shell extension, which displays an icon for the iPod in the main “Computer” window in Explorer. Said context menu entry simply goes and brings up an Explorer window in the right location. Because the extension that was installed was 32 bit, my 64 bit Explorer couldn’t open a window in that location.

Hm. Of course there was also no other way to get to that location from the 64 bit Explorer. I thought for a bit and then remembered that there’s a 32 bit version of Explorer also installed on the system. By default the path to it is C:\Windows\SysWOW64\explorer.exe. I tried running it, but I still couldn’t access the Anapod shell extension.

After a while I found that Task Manager listed the second running Explorer instance as 64 bit – why? I don’t really know. The funny thing is that if you watch Task Manager closely while running that version of Explorer, you’ll see that for a very short time it actually shows the 32 marker, but then this goes away and it’s 64 bit again. I don’t have an idea why that happens – I’ve only been using 64 bit Windows for a few weeks and I don’t know anything at all about its execution model.

The solution I finally found (my apologies - I don’t remember where I found it and I didn’t store a bookmark) involves a way to run a 32 bit Explorer instance on 64 bit Windows, but it’s certainly not intuitive. To make it work, you need to create a shortcut to Explorer (I’m actually still using the SysWOW64 one, but I believe the standard one should work equally well) somewhere and then change it’s properties. Set the Target of the shortcut to this: C:\Windows\SysWOW64\explorer.exe /separate, ::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}.

Great, isn’t it?

Again, I don’t really understand this at all, just passing it on 😉 This solution works just fine with Anapod. I still can’t use the context menu entry to bring up the Explorer window, but with the tray tool running and the iPod connected, I just open a 32 bit instance of Explorer and browse into the iPod from there.

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