VirtualAcorn Tech Support
More from Aaron's tech support notebook
The Vista Game...
There's been some interesting news about Windows Vista recently. Although it's not directly VirtualAcorn related I thought it was worth a couple of paragraphs. It seems that Microsoft have finally started to realise that they might have made a large error with Vista. Firstly Bill Gates was giving a talk a few weeks ago and just "happened to mention" that Microsoft will be trying to bring forward the release date of Windows 7 (Vista is the 6th generation of Windows). Sales of Vista on new machines are acceptable (to Microsoft) as a lot of people have little choice, if you buy a new computer from most of the big retailers it will come with Windows Vista. However sales of upgrade or stand alone versions have been very poor. So poor indeed that Microsoft have recently announced price cuts for some versions. This is the first time I can ever recall this happening, except near the end of a products life span.
Something else interesting has happened. Microsoft used to sell a product called VirtualPC. This provided a closed PC environment for people to test applications/code etc without any risk to the main machine. It also allowed you to run an alternative version of Windows inside your PC. So you could have Windows 98 running in a window under Windows XP, for example. What was interesting was that Microsoft stopped selling it at some point and late last year made it available for free. Why? Well, the reason seems to be so that people could carry on using their software under Vista. I have lots of stuff I want to run, but most of it doesn't work under Vista. So I downloaded VirtualPC. It's really very good, as you would expect from a company with the resources of Microsoft. What was even more interesting was that you could also download a cut down version of XP, to run inside VirtualPC, free of charge. What does that say about Microsoft faith in Vista?
On a similar subject I have been using Vista on my main laptop for a year now. I got used to the fact I couldn't run some of my favourite software, but oh well, I can still run it on one of the main desktop machines. Anyway recently Vista started grabbing lots of upgrades. Then it all went wrong. Firstly the wireless network packed up and just wouldn't re-start. Then the audio failed. This wasn't very helpful as it was on the Thursday night before Wakefield. I managed to bodge everything together to keep the machine running for the show but it had to be fixed.
On Sunday I started again. I decided to make a very important update to the laptop. I now have an OS that works on the wireless, with a reported signal strength of excellent, rather than poor under the original Vista install. I've managed to get lots of my old programs to work again. The audio now works correctly with all the special effects that never worked before, for example the quite effective 3D pseudo surround sound. The machine runs quicker, the hard drive is less full and everything just works as it should. I've also discovered that the battery life is increased by around 25%, even when running on full power "Presentation" mode. Games run better and faster, in fact the machine is now a joy to use.
So what was this magic upgrade to Vista that made all these improvements? Simple, I've upgraded the machine from Vista to XP. After all that seems to be Microsoft's approach. If Vista doesn't work then slap on a free copy of VirtualPC running XP. I've just gone one logical step further. If you have a copy of Vista I suggest you do the same.
I've had a few problem reports with MessengerPro over the years. As I don't use it myself we have always passed any support related to using MessengerPro on VirtualRPC to R-Comp. After all it's their application. However I recently had several VirtualRPC users with what appears to be the same problem. They could receive e-mails fine, but when they came to send e-mails with attachments VirtualRPC locked up and had to be quit from the Windows Task Manager.
Now this isn't very nice and is a little worrying for the user. It could be quite disastrous of they happened to have some unsaved work open at the time it happened. Now I know that VirtualRPC isn't at fault. Indeed MessengerPro has had reported issues running on lots of hardware. One customer independently reported a similar problem when running on an Iyonix and I've heard stories of MessengerPro corrupting harddiscs on the A9. Why it does this I don't know and I was also at a loss to explain why it wouldn't send attachments from VirtualRPC. Luckily a solution has been discovered.
I am sure you all know Paul Beverley, who edited Archive magazine for 20 years. Well he recently ran into this problem and provided the solution. It seems that MessengerPro gets its knickers in a twist when your !Scrap folder is on a HostFS drive. If you move !Scrap to an ADFS harddisc image file under VirtualRPC then it behaves quite correctly. So how does one make the required changes to VirtualRPC?
The easiest approach for those that don't like fiddling with !Boot sequences, is to set up the ADFS harddisc image drive and copy over the RISC OS !Boot sequence. Now this sounds rather daunting, but it's very easy. All one has to do is:
Although the above does look like a long list it will only take 5 minutes at most. For those that are happy messing with their Boot sequences there is another way of achieving the same. The first few steps are the same. Only once you have the IDEDisc4 icon on the iconbar you don't run the !BootADFS application. Instead:
The second method is probably that most sensible for most semi experienced users. It has the benefit of keeping most of the Boot sequence on the faster HostFS drive and only moving !Scrap over. It also means that if you ever need to recover anything out of !Scrap it's dead easy to find.
Now we come to the nub of the matter, why is this necessary? To be honest I simply don't have a clue, however given the other problem reports I have seem I am inclined to suspect that MessengerPro really wants to do things inside !Scrap that can only be done properly on ADFS. If you do run into this problem then the above methods will both solve it. For myself, I will carry on doing what I've been doing since 1994, using Windows for my e-mail.
Installing Sibelius without a floppy disc drive
This follows on from the MessengerPro section rather neatly. In order for Sibelius (a music composition application) to run on VirtualRPC you need to be booting from ADFS, rather than HostFS. So before undertaking the following your must set up VirtualRPC as per the first set of instructions in the MessengerPro section of this article (or indeed as per the relevant Appendix in the VirtualAcorn User Guide).
So anyway, here is the problem. The user concerned had a disc image of Sibelius (I am not sure how this had been created) and needed to install Sibelius on VRPC. The problem was that their machine didn't have a floppy disc drive and that the Sibelius installer wouldn't run from the 2nd floppy (the one that normally is set up to read disc images).
This is the workaround that we eventually came up with...
You can make ADFS:0 the "virtual" (image) floppy drive quite easily. In order to do this you first need to quit VRPC and then make a backup of your VRPC models folder. Then you will need to edit the particular model file you are running when installing Sibelius (for example the ARM710 one). The models files will be in:
You need to load the particular model.cfg file into NotePad. Double click on the file and it should load into NotePad. If not tell Windows you want to open the file using a program chosen from a list and then choose NotePad. You will see that the model file is human readable. Find the [RealFloppy] section and delete it (not just the one line the entire paragraph). Now save the model file and load VRPC.
ADFS drive 0 will now be referenced to your floppy image. The user was now able to install Sibelius from the floppy disc image file. There are a couple of potential gotchas with Sibelius though. Firstly as I said earlier you must be booting RISC OS from the ADFS harddisc image file, otherwise Sibelius simply won't work. Secondly you need to install Sibelius itself to the ADFS drive (I understand you can subsequently copy it over to HostFS, but you have to keep booting from ADFS). Thirdly before making the floppy disc image you need to ensure that the real floppy disc has a copy of Sibelius that it can install. The Sibelius copy protection moves the software from floppy to harddisc when it's installed. It then moves it back again when you un-install. So you might find that your Sibelius master floppy disc doesn't actually have a copy of Sibelius on it!
As a quick follow up to this I was talking to another VirtualAcorn user at Wakefield and they had obtained a copy of Sibelius without the copy protection, which solves all the problems. I don't know where they got this from but if you have a RISC OS version of Sibelius and the floppy disc is knackered it might be worth giving The DataStore in Bromley a call...
Well that's your lot for this issue. I haven't the faintest idea what I will be covering next time, but if you have an interesting hint or tip to get round an issue you have had with VirtualRPC please do let me know.