RISC World

VirtualAcorn Tech Support

More from Aaron's tech support notebook

The great printer mystery

We have had an interesting problem recently. One customer, who has had a VRPC for ages, suddenly discovered that they couldn't print. Naturally they performed the usual tests and then contacted us. I made a number of suggestions, none of which made any difference. The symptoms stayed the same. Windows would print perfectly but when printing from RISC OS, although the correct number of sheets went through the printer, everything was blank. This had me stumped. The customer assured me that they hadn't made any changes to either RISC OS or Windows and that the problem had just started one day.

I tried all the normal tests. Printing from different applications, setting up a new Printer Definition file, but all to no-avail. I made sure the customer had switched the printer off at the wall, in case it had got it's knickers in a twist. Yet this made no difference. It's fairly unusual that I get totally stumped but this one had me completely beat. I asked the customer to send me the printer output (the Printout file) to see if it was blank. After some confusion I got what I needed, but it seemed to be OK. In the end I was reduced to suggesting that they installed a new VRPC somewhere else on the computers hard disc to see if that printed. I don't know what the result of this would have been as the other morning I got a phone call from the customer saying the problem was fixed. So how had they fixed it? Well the only change had been that instead of switching the printer off at the wall when it wasn't needed they had left it switched on all night. Now it printed perfectly from VirtualAcorn.

I've never heard of this one before (and I've been doing tech support for more years than I care to think about). How can just leaving a printer running solve the problem? My first thought was that it was a buffer issue, but the customer had switched the printer off and left it off overnight several times to make sure its memory was clear. So I am still non the wiser. If anyone does have any suggestions about what can cause a printer to produce blank pages, then suddenly print correctly after it's been left on overnight I would be delighted if you could let me know.

Say no to Norton...

I've noticed an increasing number of VirtualAcorn users are now running Norton Anti-Virus. This is probably because so many machines come bundled with a "free" trial that lasts for a couple of months. Once the trial is up you then get nagged into paying money for the "full" version. For many people it's easier just to hand over the card details, but should you? No.

Norton is a particular bug bear of mine. I'm not concerned about the expense, but what does concern me is the amount of system resources and CPU time it hogs. Even on a modern machine it's not unusual to see 30% of the CPU time being gobbled up by Norton (and to a lesser extent MacAfee). This has a knock on effect on everything else that's being run on the computer. I've had plenty of examples of customers with VRPCs that aren't responsive enough. If the machine has Norton installed then 95% of the time killing Norton off will speed up VRPC no end. Since Norton is slow, expensive and frankly rather nasty I strongly recommend uninstalling the version that came with your computer and installing AVG Free Edition. It catches just as many virus's, is updated almost every day, won't cost a bean and is small, light and above all fast.

Here is one final note. Norton can be an absolute swine to properly get rid of. I am sure that this is purely co-incidental with the fact that it's pretty soon going to be asking for money. When you do come to un-install it do a Google search for "Norton Removal Tool". Just using the normal Windows uninstall can sometimes not be good enough, so Symantic have produced a special program to remove all of Norton. Each version of Norton needs its own tool so make sure you download the one appropriate for your version.

VRPC for Intel Macs

By the time you read this we hope to have to first version of VirtualRPC-AdjustSA suitable for Intel powered Apple Macs available for customers. You may recall that we launched a version for PowerPC (G4 and G5) Macs at the Wakefield show in May. Since then we have been collating the user feedback, and of course bug reports, to see what issues needed to be addressed. We've been very pleased with the feedback that we have had (with one totally un-helpful exception) and we are fairly hopeful that the few problems that have been reported will have been resolved.

We are still classing this release as a Beta version, not because of any inherent problem, but simply because we don't have enough different models of macs to test with. Graeme and I have been chucking stuff backwards and forwards for several months now as we deal with the reports. I thought we had solved everything in early August, but my iMac showed up an odd display fault with RISC OS menus. This took some time to fix, but we are now pretty confident that most problems have been ironed out. So how does it perform?

On the PowerPC machines it's similar to the previous beta. The PowerPC architecture gives roughly the same performance as a Windows machines with a Pentium 4 (clock speed for clock speed). So my 1.8GHz iMac is about the same as my 1.7 GHz P4. The newer Intel based Macs are a different kettle of fish. Apple have a reputation for producing good hardware and the newer Intel Macs back this up one hundred percent. In our rough tests the Intel Macs seem to be giving better performance than a Windows machine with the same processor. Since VRPC is already very quick on Windows the new Mac version is really nice to use.

A notice will shortly be going out to beta testers shortly advising them of the new version.

Windows Vista - updated article

With more and more users moving over to Vista we have updated the Vista article in the VirtualAcorn knowledge base. This article is based, in part, on what's been published in RISCWorld but goes into more detail and covers a couple of other Vista niggles that have shown up. If you are running a VirtualRPC on Vista, or are thinking that you might end up with a Vista machine (because you can't buy an XP machine) then I recommend taking a look at the article. It could save some hair pulling.


In common with a lot of people I have a Skype account. However I don't use it for phone calls. Instead Graeme and I use the instant messenger part. We both find this very useful. Firstly you have an easy to use type and send messenger, which of course is free. We don't have to worry about where the other person is. A quick look in the phone book will show one of us if the other is unavailable. The one thing we do both find invaluable is that you can send each other attachments without the usual delays of e-mail. If you have a copy of Skype I recommend investigating the instant messenger part.

Holidays and e-mails

I intend taking a proper break for the last two weeks of September. Although I have already taken two whole weeks off this year, both times we have had visitors. Although it's always nice to have people come to stay, it can be a bit inconvenient, especially when you are supposed to be taking a rest (on doctor's orders) and instead get dragged round a number of "attractions". So if anyone wants to come and stay in the later half of September they they will get a polite "sod off".

It also seems, from a garbled message left on out answerphone whilst I was unavailable in August, that some people were still having problems contacting us and that one person's e-mails weren't getting through. The chap concerned (who helpfully didn't leave any contact details in his answerphone message) complained that he had sent four e-mails that were being "ignored". Sorry, but we are not "ignoring" them. Everything that has arrived has been replied to. He was doubly annoyed that we were on "holiday" as this was most "inconvenient" as he was "just about to go abroad on holiday for two weeks...". Hmm.

I keep repeating it. We do not "ignore" e-mails. If we get the e-mail it gets answered. If you send us an e-mail and don't get an answer then firstly check your Spam filters - we may be posting from an AOL address. Secondly re-send (preferably from another address) to see if you get a response. If this fails then ring up, if you get an answerphone (because we are at the bank, post office etc.) then for heavens sake leave a message with a name and phone number. Huffing down the phone and then hanging up will not get a response.

A final funny

As a final funny I've just had a phone call from a customer who needed an unlock code. He gave me the CD serial number and the product ID number. I then read out the unlock code, which he dutifully wrote down. Then he tried to type the code in. It wouldn't work. That's not to say that the code didn't work but that he couldn't type the code into the window. The caret was there but nothing happened when he typed. Luckily I have seen this problem before and after a quick test was able to diagnose the problem. Simply put, his keyboard wasn't connected. And the quick test? Checking to see if the Caps Lock light come on. It takes all sorts...