PC Survival and Maintenance Part 5 of 4...
We said that Part 4 of this series would be the last - so here's Part 5... The clue is in the title; we've recently had more, generally excellent, feedback from a number of you (many thanks again) and feel it would be to advantage to give a resume of that and the follow-on dialogue in this extra part.
Some of the discussion went decidedly off-topic but, nevertheless, we'll include it as it may be of more general interest to you.
ARM-power Vs emulation
Yet again we had a forceful input from one of the vehemently anti-Microsoft brigade who, this time, took exception to the "damage" we are doing to the prospects of ARM-powered solutions by supporting VirtualRPC.
We feel this view is simply unsustainable. The current ARM-powered machines are excellent in their own right, but so also is the emulation option. We're simply addressing the pros and cons of the latter in the hope of assisting potential buyers to make up their minds whether or not to go down this route if - for whatever reason - other options including ARM-power do not meet their needs.
Plus of course we know of many fans of RISC OS who already own an Iyonix but who also have access to one or more PCs and have either installed VirtualRPC or are thinking of doing so.
What we feel is especially sad are those reports of people becoming disillusioned with RISC OS running under ARM-power and leaving the 'community' altogether, perhaps without even considering VirtualRPC as a splendid and highly economic method of running RISC OS and A N Other operating system on the same machine and thereby enjoying the best of both worlds.
The bottom line is that, for every copy of VirtualRPC sold for a PC or a Mac, and whether or not stand-alone or as well as an ARM-powered machine, that's another copy of RISC OS in the bag, perhaps with extra application software and/or site licenses. All this, in turn, encourages and supports further development, so do fill your boots.
While we've said we're not overly impressed with the effectiveness of the commercial, anti-malware solutions you may find pre-installed on a new PC - typically McAfee or Norton Symantec - a number of you also pointed out that they're very resource-heavy and, when doing full system scans (for example), can seriously affect other operations. Reportedly this is a particular problem if you're running VirtualRPC, so that's another good reason to give RISC OS a rest while doing the occasional, full anti-malware scan.
However, as no-one seems to have a good word for either McAfee or Norton, maybe now's the time to firm up on our suggestion to remove them altogether (if pre-installed) and, instead, go for a selection of the freeware titles we've discussed in earlier parts, none of which seem to be in any way resource-hoggers.
Full system scans
That naturally leads to follow-on discussion on how frequently full scans for viruses, spyware, etc might best be performed. There seems to be complete agreement that these should be done under manual control (i.e. only when you wish to do them, not automatically at pre-set intervals), and at far longer intervals than the applications will do them if left in their default configuration (= daily auto-scans). However, just how long these "far longer intervals" might be has led to quite extensive threads. Of course there is no set answer; the chosen frequency is entirely up to the user and how comfortable he or she is with it. Every couple of weeks right up to six-monthly have been mentioned.
For various reasons, we'd previously tended to play safe and undertake full scans for malware at least every month. However, with a total lack of any "Found" reports over the last year or more, we've now extended that to some three-monthly intervals.
Signature updates (auto Vs manual)
But what about the daily checks for 'signature' updates? Should these be left to run automatically, being the post-installation default condition for each anti-malware title? Or should we disable the automatic checks and do them manually, when it suits us? Again, this is entirely up to the user to decide, and toggling between the two states takes only a few moments anyway, so try-it-and-see is quite painless.
We find that manual checks are so easy to do, and can be done so quickly (typically 15-45 secs in total to check the anti-virus and anti-spyware applications), that we're quite happy to do them 'by hand', at least daily and sometimes more.
Others say they simply don't like the idea of switching off the automatics and leave them enabled, accepting the slight risk of auto-update downloads interacting adversely with something you're doing under RISC OS.
So to summarise, letting the anti-malware software self-trigger signature updates is fine - provided you're aware of the slight possibility of interactions with your personal RISC OS activity. Alternatively, manual updates are also fine - provided you remember to do them!
The compromise which a number of people go for is to configure the software to do an automatic update check after booting up Windows, but before starting up VirtualRPC, and then maybe to do a manual check later in the day.
This seems to be eminently sensible as, with AVG Free anti-virus for example, the main signature update often comes in mid- to late-morning, sometimes with a smaller one later in the day. .
Pre-installed anti-malware (freeware)
Two respondents felt that despite everything we'd said in earlier parts about how straightforward and quick all this was, they both still felt it nevertheless seemed like an unwelcome and onerous task to have to spend some time selecting, obtaining, installing and configuring a 'suite' of anti-malware software titles for a PC, when all they want to do is to switch on and go direct to using RISC OS under VirtualRPC. Fair enough!
However, one went on to remark: "Maybe someone should offer a Windows machine which has all the relevant items pre-installed and set up." Good idea.
We've checked with known RISC OS retailers who supply PCs with VirtualRPC and find that R-Comp Interactive have been doing exactly what our respondent thoughtfully suggests, with their full range of laptop and 'shoebox' variants all coming with VirtualRPC plus a suite of anti-malware (and other) freeware titles pre-installed. So a tour round their website on http://www.rcomp.co.uk is clearly well worthwhile to see if any of their products might suit you.
Whatever your requirements, this is just a part of their sales service as each machine is fully checked out, with the anti-malware titles (which include AVG Free anti-virus) not only installed but also configured and 'tweaked' to ensure minimal interaction with VirtualRPC. As far as we can tell, R-Comp are the only firm offering this all-inclusive service, but do check the position with your chosen suppliers.
They also include full, printed documentation for the installed software, supplementing the Help files. However, if you obtain your own PC and wish to have a copy of this extra documentation, it is available separately at nominal cost.
R-Comp are at pains to point out that, although not currently mentioned on their website, they will gladly build a tower/desktop system - to exactly the same high standards - if that is preferable to a 'shoebox' machine. Indeed, they offer cheap towers as a way in for anyone on an ultra-tight budget, although high-spec machines are also available on request, so it might be worth discussing your needs with them.
Disc drive defragmentation
In Part 3, we went along part-way with the knockers who criticise the way in which Windows allows files to be defragmented over a hard disc surface and that this can be a time-consuming pastime to resolve. But when put into its proper perspective, it is nowhere near as bad as they would have us believe.
However, a recent article by Bimal Jangra in Archive mag suggested an alternative application - Diskeeper from http://www.diskeepereurope.com - which is much more flexible and efficient than the defragmenter built into Windows (which is in itself a greatly cut-down version of Diskeeper).
We found that, although the initial defragmentation was time-consuming (with not much saving on the Windows built-in utility), thereafter it very quickly clears any defragmentation, as it occurs. This takes typically only a couple of minutes per day and can be configured as an automatic event, in the background and which appears to have no adverse effect on other application activities, including RISC OS.
Although a commercial solution (currently £28.56 for home users), this seems to be good value and, as we'll discuss shortly, may be the only pure-Windows software you will ever wish to buy.
Two people raised the perceived problems with the myriad Temporary Internet Files, i.e. all the guff which you unavoidably pick up if using a browser (common to Internet Explorer or any of the freeware alternatives - or for that matter a RISC OS browser).
It's not at all unusual for these files to start expanding significantly over time and we shouldn't forget that their contents may well include personal information such as passwords - and are a dead giveaway as to where you've been and what you've looked at.
So this is a reminder that the neat CCleaner utility which we described in Part 1 will take care of all this for you, and in a very user-friendly way, deleting all manner of unwanted Windows browser stuff (including those pesky Index/dat files which defy most attempts at deleting manually) and repeatedly overwriting the deleted files with utter scribble so that even proprietary file recovery software won't be able to track where you've been.
But don't forget that you can also selectively save any cookies you might wish to retain, before deleting all the rest. You know it makes sense.
The reliability of Windows was questioned but most examples given concerned some application software titles and not the underlying operating system. So if your need is or would be simply to run RISC OS applications, much of the stated or implied criticism is irrelevant.
There are also indications that the reported problems may well be largely self-inflicted through the cardinal sins of not following the user-guides and the greatly improved Windows help files. As ever, RTFM is important. In our experience, the general level of reliability of Windows and its application software is not significantly different from that of RISC OS; in other words, very good. However, if a problem has just sprung up for no apparent reason (and which a simple re-boot doesn't clear) then we do strongly recommend that, in the first instance, you try to fix things using the invaluable System Restore feature which we discussed in Part 2.
We find that stepping back just one restore point will invariably clear an unexpected snag although, on very rare occasions, a further step back has proved necessary, but never more than two. Each restore involves restarting the machine so, typically, will take some 3-5 mins to perform in total. But if it clears the hiccup, that can of course save many hours of head-scratching, fiddling and faffing.
Just one reminder: having (hopefully) cleared the problem by going backwards, usually by a day or three, the anti-malware software signatures will most likely then be out of date, so don't forget to run an update check on each one.
The perennial problem of moving documents between RISC OS and Windows (and back), with particular reference to filetype compatibility, triggered a deal of useful discussion, so a brief resume here might also be useful.
Getting your masterpiece out of RISC OS in a form which can be of use to the outside world, e.g. for commercial printing, has always been problematical, generally because you can never be sure it will be 100% OK when it leaves you. But with RISC OS and Windows running under the same bonnet, 'quality assurance' has probably never been easier as you can quickly move the document into a suitable Windows programme and thoroughly check it for outside-world compatibility before getting it away.
Using "a suitable Windows program" could be as straightforward as exporting your document from, say, Easi/TechWriter and checking it in Microsoft's Word. Similarly, the popular Portable Document Format (PDF) is well supported under RISC OS by both commercial and open-source/freeware solutions, and the resultant files can be checked under Windows using Adobe's PDF reader http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html).
Freeware for Windows
Don't be concerned about the added expense if you don't already have a suitable application such as MS Word installed on the PC. Indeed, we suggested that Diskeeper may be the only Windows commercial software you will ever wish to buy. That's because there's a huge selection of Windows freeware - as of course there is for RISC OS - but it is no criticism of the latter that in many cases, some very substantial applications are available for Windows, entirely free of charge. The open-source concept has caught on and most areas are now well covered.
Perhaps the best example of this is the composite, OpenOffice suite of programs which, in essence, is a freebie set of highly competent applications including a database, drawing programme, maths/formulae processor, presentation designer, spreadsheet and word processor, and which would cost the earth if you were to pay for the commercial equivalent(s). They're fully compatible alternatives, so if you're into RISC OS to Windows document exchange, don't buy Excel, Powerpoint, Word, etc, etc; install OpenOffice instead.
But where do you get all these freebies from? Apart from the respected http://www.filehippo.com site which we've mentioned before; there's also a very large selection on http://www.giveawayoftheday.com which, in addition to their freeware library, also has a daily commercial title on offer - for free! The only considerations are that you need to install the particular title on the same day and that there's no support or subsequent upgrade path. Some titles are a bit naff, but equally there are some real nuggets in the giveaway offers, particularly covering those areas where RISC OS doesn't go, so a daily visit is well worthwhile.
There are two seemingly 'free' areas to be aware of however. Firstly, "Free download" means just that; you can freely download their program - but you'll then need to buy it to use it. How silly... Secondly, beware 'scareware'. Typically, this will offer you something like a "Free scan" of your Windows Registry, then scare you silly by reporting literally hundreds of 'issues'. It then offers to fix them for you - but only if you buy their program of course... Avoid.
(Like many people, we find that occasionally running the Registry option in CCleaner does a perfectly adequate job of cleaning out the crud.)
RISC OS ports
Although the wide choice of Windows freeware will very likely satisfy most requirements, if the economic combination of a PC with VirtualRPC leaves part of your budget unused, we do suggest and recommend you also consider buying and installing the Windows ports of the excellent RISC OS applications such as Fireworkz and Ovation Pro, as these can hugely enhance the 'Best of Both Worlds' experience we previously mentioned.
This is a significant topic in itself, so if you wish to see an article on this theme, do let us have your further feedback. Enjoy.