“Creative” solutions from developers to avoid the satellite dll in Visual Studio add-ins

It always fascinates me how “creative” we the developers can be solving problems that shouldn’t exist in the first place. For example, Microsoft has been too much creative in the last decade providing multiple tricky ways to solve the lack of transparency support in the original bitmap format. And now I am seeing in several places an approach that developers of add-ins are using to avoid the satellite DLLs to provide custom pictures. The first place where I saw it was in the very MSDN documentation about displaying a custom icon on the add-in button, in the Community Content section by Miguel Ferreira.

The basic idea is to give up the picture of the command, and to modify the picture of the CommandBarButton created from the command through its Picture and Mask properties. The implementation gets more complicated because those properties have the COM IPictureDisp type and therefore conversions from managed System.Drawing.Bitmap are required, and another creative technique is used to get the mask from a picture pixel by pixel rather than providing it directly (which would force to create two bitmaps per button).

I flagged that community content as “bug” because it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem, that is, providing a picture for the command, not just for its buttons. The picture of a command is something totally visible to the user when she clicks the “Tools”, “Customize” menu, “Commands” tab, “Add-Ins” section. While it may seem not very important a lacking command picture there, it happens that with that window open VS enters in a special mode that allows the user to drag the command on a toolbar to create a button, and the button would get the picture of the command.

I saw this approach too yesterday in this post of Roy Osherove.

Fortunately these hacks won’t be necessary in VS 2010, which will get rid of satellite DLLs for add-ins “officially”.