RISC World

VirtualAcorn Tech Support

More from Aaron's tech support notebook

I really wasn't sure how to start this article. My normal approach, when they're hasn't been much new in the way of tech support problems, is to regale you with stories about some of my customers. However up until half an hour ago I simply didn't have one. Luckily, if that's the word, I've just had a phone call that could well be a new first place contender for most pointless tech support call ever. The customer concerned had "bought a disc at a show", but couldn't remember what "the disc" was. It was definitely an Acorn Emulator, but I kept prompting him with product names to no avail. Anyway when he ran "this disc" it said he needed "something else" to run whatever it was "on the disc". I asked him what the "something else" was, but he couldn't remember. I asked him what version of Windows he was using. "Oh, now you are asking..." he replied. Indeed I am. He didn't know. How old was the computer? He wasn't sure. OK, what was the "something else"? He couldn't remember. This went on for some minutes before he finally admitted that "it doesn't matter, I can't remember what it was years ago...". Luckily my phone has a 'silence' button. Well it used to say 'silence', but I have now replaced the legend with the single word 'Scream'.

Anyway not having solved the "something else" problem the customer still wanted to place an order for a VirtualAcorn. Which one? He doesn't know. Righto, what does he want to do with it? He's not sure. Was he sure he really wanted to order one? Yes. In that case I suggested the cheapest product and he agreed. I suspect that I shall regret this particular sale. Thinking about it I should have tried to sell him the most expensive one, that way at least we might be making enough money to cover the huge amount of work that I know this particular chap is going to cause. Maybe I should forget to process the order. After all at the current rate of knots it will take him several years to realise that he hasn't been charged and that the VirtualRPC never arrived...

Tech Support in Principle

Many things in life revolve around an 80/20 rule and tech support is no different. I hear from the vast majority (lets say 80%) of my customers only once in about 18 months, when they need a new unlock code. For the rest of the time they are quote happily using their VirtualRPCs without any significant problems or any need to contact me. Now, given that I have roughly 4000 registered users this means that roughly 3200 of them are getting on with things without any need to contact me. This leaves another 800 of them that do need to contact me for some reason in an 18 month period. Since we are working on percentages it's reasonable, and indeed born out by my logs, that 80% of these have problems that are fairly easy to diagnose and then go away happy that things are fixed.

So 80% of the 20% of users who contact me are now happy. However the remaining 20%, of the 80% (still with me), making a total of around 160, have significant problems. So what the hell are they doing? Well I have been asking and as near as I can tell they are doing exactly the same as everyone else. There is no 'magic' factor that separates this 160 from the other 3840 users, apart from the fact that things just "...seem to go wrong...". These are the people who, for example, "need to" regularly re-install Windows. Why? I've never been able to get a good answer. I suspect that the problems they have are caused by a basic failure to understand what a computer is and how it works, and in a couple of spectacular cases what to do with it.

Anyway if we continue with our 80/20 rule we get down to a hardcore of 32 people who's tech support requirement is extreme. This figure is pretty close to reality, I can even name half of them off the top of my head. What I would like to be able to do is find out exactly why they are having such amazing difficulties.

Why? There are two reasons. Firstly, and rather obviously, I want to offer a good service and to resolve queries efficiently. I don't want people to get frustrated and annoyed. I want them to be happy with their purchase, as the vast majority are. I want to help them to enjoy using the product and to enjoy RISC OS and computers in general. I've spent ages analysing the information which has the benefit that I can now spot a 'problem twit' from a file off, but that doesn't help me understand the underlying reason they are having difficulties. Which brings me to the other reason for wanting to solve the puzzle about why these particular users have so many problems? If I can find the common denominator then I could make a fortune selling the information to all the other poor buggers sitting behind tech support keyboards with clumps of hair in both hands.

Bac' on the Mac

The first update to the release version of VirtualRPC for the Mac should be available for download from the VirtualAcorn website by the time you read this. This is an improved Internet plugin that offers support for LanMan and LanMan98. We were surprised that people wanted to use these on VirtualRPC, especially given that you can have much the same functionality with a HostFS mount, but fair enough. We also have a couple of users who are having problems with Messenger and we hope that this new plugin will also resolve these. If you are suing VirtualRPC for the Mac then head over to the VirtualAcorn downloads section of the website and see if I ave have found time to get the new plugin uploaded.

On the subject of VirtualRPC for the Mac we still have around 40 users who have yet to upgrade their versions to the release copy. If you haven't done so yet then please do it asap. We are no longer offering support or unlock codes for any of the beta versions so you will need to upgrade your CD sooner or later. To upgrade return the CD (just the CD) in an envelope to us and we will post you a new CD with the release version.

VirtualAcorn forums

I feel that I ought to mention that the VirtualAcorn Forums have had a major overhaul. They've been running on phpbb version 2 for some time and have become a target for unwanted spammers. Recently the number of 'bogus' registrations reached 30 a day. Whilst they didn't manage to do any harm it was taking up a significant amount of time checking all of the registrations and removing the 'fake' ones. Plus we ran the risk of accidentally blocking a real user, which happened to one poor chap. Anyway with the launch of phpbb Version 3 I decided it was time to upgrade the system. The new forum has lots of improved features (from the users perspective) and lots of new features for dealing with spammers and spam bots (which is great from my perspective).

As a result of the update I am asking all registered users to please check in and ensure that their accounts have solved the migration intact. Note that until you have signed in the forum will not be able to tell you which messages are new since you last took a look. This confused at least one user until I explained that as this is a new forum system it needs to build up a record of people's visits.


That's all I can think of for this time. If you have any problems with a VirtualAcorn then please do get in touch, even if you are one of the 32 people who's names I can remember...