RISC World

VirtualAcorn Tech Support

More from Aaron's tech support notebook

There is one major subject to look at firstly this issue and it's one that had me stumped for a short while.

A few weeks ago we suddenly started having a spate of PCs all with the same problem. VirtualAcorn would install OK, then it would unlock correctly and display the licence panel. However as soon as the user accepted the licence agreement VirtualAcorn would crash with a silly error message. Any subsequent attempt to load VirtualAcorn would cause the same error. What on earth was going on?

To compound my confusion this happened to a number of machines, in different parts of the world, used by different people and all from different manufacturers. Yet all displayed the same problem. To make things even more confusing the same problem didn't effect any machines sold by RISC OS dealers, only already existing machines owned by customers, or brand new machines supplied by PC box shifters. So what on earth was going on?

I tried all the usual things, are the display drivers up to date? Is DirectX completing its diagnostics correctly? But to no avail. As an aside for those of you who are wondering how you can check DirectX it's very easy. Simply go to the Start menu and click on it. Now click on the Run option. Type DxDiag (short for DirectXDiagnostics) into the writable icon and press return. This will launch the DirectX diagnostics tool which will tell you the version of DirectX installed on the PC and will perform a number of checks to try and find any problems.

Anyway I got users to re-install their display drivers, but it didn't help at all. I carefully studied the specs of the machines but couldn't find any linking factor that would explain the problem. In the end I asked ne of the customers who had a problem to install VirtualAcorn on a different machine, where it performed faultlessly. So I could rule out the problem being caused by a set of faulty CDs.

Reluctantly I had to say to the customers that the fault wasn't with VirtualAcorn, but was with their machines. This got the response I would expect "Well it runs everything else". Yes, but it doesn't run our software, so something must be wrong with your computer. "Well it runs everything else!" OK, but it doesn't run VirtualAcorn and we know VirtualAcorn works on thousands of machines so your machine must have a fault. I don't know what the fault is but I will keep digging and see if I can find the problem.

At this point I ought to say that diagnosing a fault remotely can be very difficult. With a machine in front of you it's quite easy as you can see exactly what isn't, or is, happening. Doing it via a user who may not be fully computer literate can cause problems. It sounds cynical but after years of doing tech support I never take anything a customer says at face value when it comes to a problem, I simply can't. I have to double check everything that is said at least twice just to make sure. To illustrate the point here is a real world example from a few weeks ago:

"Hello, my VirtualAcorn has stopped working."

OK, what happens when you double click on VirtualAcorn?


When you say nothing what actually happens on screen?

"Nothing.....I just get a black screen."

Right, so something does happen, Windows is running then you double click on VA and the screen goes black.


OK, what's your CD serial number?

"Where's that?"

Printed on the CD (thinks - that's why it's called a CD serial number)

"I'll go and find it....(long pause). It's blah blah blah."

OK, now is the screen just black?

"Yes. It's been fine before and now it's suddenly gone wrong. I haven't done anything to..."

OK, now is there any writing on the black screen?


Right so it isn't just a black screen, what does the writing say?

"Loads of things, it says RISC OS 4.02..."

OK, what's the final thing it says?

""File &.!Boot not found!"

OK, so it's not finding your boot sequence, have you changed anything?

"No, well was making some changes to !Boot"

Right, so you changed !Boot and now it isn't booting.

"Well it's been fine up to now and I haven't changed anything."

Well you said you had changed !Boot, so can you type DESKTOP and press return.

"That's fixed it, the banners come up says...oh...the screen's too big and my programs aren't..."

Yes that's because it hasn't booted. Click on HardDisc4.

"Where's that?"

On the iconbar somewhere bottom left.

"It says that machine startup hasn't..."

Ok, cancel the error message and find !Boot in the Window.

"It's not there!"

OK read me the contents of the window starting top left.


So you renamed !Boot?

"Yes, I was going to copy over the !Boot from my RiscPC the my wife called me for dinner..."

OK, rename !Boot2 as !Boot and then quit VirtualAcorn.

"(long pause) how do I quit VirtualAcorn?"

Go to the RISC OS cube bottom right, click MENU and click on Shutdown.

"OK, it's gone."

Right now re-load VirtualAcorn.

"What from the CD?"

No, re-load VirtualAcorn, not re-install VirtualAcorn. Double click on the VirtualAcorn icon on your Windows backdrop.

"(pause) it's working again!"

Right, the problem was caused because you renamed !Boot so that RISC OS couldn't find it. Also you shouldn't copy !Boot from a real machine to a VirtualAcorn as they are slightly different.

"Oh right, I didn't see that in the manual"

It's not in the manual, but if you rename a file the computer won't be able to find it again.

"Perhaps you should add it?"

Certainly sir, we will look at this next time we change the manual (thinks - and when we add the section reminding users to breathe in and out whilst sitting in front of the computer).

So there you have it. The above is pretty much verbatim from a real phone call, so you can see why I can't take things at face value. Still back to the problem with the PC's that gave silly error messages. I did a reasonable amount of digging but still got no further, I did, however, become more and more convinced the fault was with the PC's owned by the customers, and not with VirtualAcorn.

Anyway a couple of days later the problem reared it's ugly head on a RISCCube from R-Comp. The machine was a brand new one, still at R-Comp's premises and it had exactly the same problem, Ah! So can we diagnose the fault from this machine? The answer was yes. Since Andrew at R-Comp had assembled the machine himself from scratch and had installed Windows we could quickly tell what had, and hadn't, been done from the build sheet. In this instance some of the drivers had yet to be installed, Andrew spotted that one of the missing drivers was for the sound card, could this be the problem? Indeed it was, once the sound drivers were installed the problem was solved!

So back to the customers. One had started a thread on the newsgroups asking for help with the problem and it was a simple matter to post explaining the problem and the solution. In the end all the machine were fixed. In one case the PC didn't even have a sound card, and as soon as one was added VirtualAcorn started working. As for the other PC's installing the sound drivers, which were missing, solved the problem.

This whole saga does leave me with one worrying question, how can PC manufacturers can ship machines with some of the drivers missing? I can't help wondering what other Windows components could be missing from new PC's supplied by some companies.