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RISC World

Best of Both Worlds Part 3

T.O.M.S. deal with feedback rom the previous articles.

We've had a deal of useful and interesting feedback from you in recent weeks, not only from the two 'Best of Both Worlds?' articles, but also the five preceding 'PC Survival & Maintenance' offerings which go back a year or more. The topics do interleave to some extent however, so perhaps we can pick up all your points in this review (and with many thanks for your inputs).

Viruses and other nasties

No, this perennial won't go away, nor can we realistically expect it to. Maybe it's inevitable that ARM-powered users will continue to view any prospect of running RISC OS under Windows and VirtualRPC and the perceived "problems" that might bring with trepidation.

We won't labour this topic except to make the very happy point that, at the time of writing, VirtualRPC is coming up to its fifth birthday! The total number of users now comes to many thousands and, save for those with the Mac version, the bulk will be running under Windows. And yet, as far as we know, there have been ZERO reports of anyone suffering from the effects of any Windows malware.

This must be telling us something, so please don't entertain paranoia over a problem which in practice simply doesn't exist to anything like the extent put about by the doom-and-gloom mongers.

Choice of anti-malware programmes

In the earlier articles, we discussed the suggested choice, installation and working configuration for a small range of anti-malware programmes; namely AVG Free for virus protection, Microsoft Defender plus maybe one other title to protect against spyware, plus CCleaner to keep your browsing history and footprints nice and clean. All of these area available for free folks.

A recent and valuable bonus is that, with AVG Free (currently at v8.0), the authors Grisoft have combined both their anti-virus and anti-spyware programmes into the one package. So download, installation, configuring and usage is now much-simplified.

Unfortunately, we've had two identical reports of users hitting problems with AVG Free programme upgrades (not to be confused with the near-daily virus 'signature' updates). As we understand it, the upgrade installation fails with a report of a 'bin[ary] file not found' and, as the freebie version comes without technical support, this is a stopper.

However, apparently the problem can be cleared by uninstalling AVG Free and then installing a fresh download, bringing the signatures up to date and configuring the programme, but a correspondent felt this wasn't on and asked whether there was an alternative title we could recommend.

In that case, we suggest Avast! (currently v4.8 Home Edition) which reportedly is very effective and friendly, although we find it a tad easier to use if you disable the fancy skins. To do that, select Program Settings and UNtick the 'Enable skins for Simple User Interface' box. Virus signature file updates come in typically at least once a day, so they do seem to be well on top of the perceived problem. As with AVG Free, running a full virus scan, say on a monthly basis or longer, routinely returns 'Nothing found', and the all-important peace of mind is retained.

So Avast! looks like a suitable alternative if AVG Free doesn't do it for you, but note that it protects only from viruses, so you're recommended to install an anti-spyware programme (or two) as well. There's quite a choice, all of which are reportedly adequate in tests. As always, these programmes are free and conveniently available for download from, for example, http://www.filehippo.com.

Windows programme updates

On the same topic of updates to Windows programmes occasionally causing problems, we had a couple of reports of an upgrade to the PhraseExpress utility we suggested way back actually having the gall to interfere with VirtualRPC... Apparently v4 works OK but the v5.x upgrade somehow conflicts with the two Enter keys on the main and numeric keyboards so that the action takes up to 3 secs to occur, with repeats slowed to every 2 secs or so. Not surprisingly, the authors know nothing of VirtualRPC and have not offered a cause or a solution to this stopper.

Not to worry, there are similar programmes available, and we've been assessing Comfort Keys which does a very similar job; indeed we've come to prefer it over Phrase Express as it has far more features, some of which are extremely handy. (In very general terms, think of it as similar to Keystroke; a bit tricky to get used to but, with a modicum of application, an invaluable productivity tool.) Comfort Keys Lite is available for $ 19.95 from the authors on http://www.comfort-software.com and which, at that price, we feel is excellent value.

PDF readers

We pushed the value of using the portable document format (PDF) for getting your documents out of RISC OS, either for export in 'industry-standard' format or for the convenience of ultra-fast printing under Windows, and suggested Adobe's Acrobat as a readily-available PDF reader.

However, a number of grumblers convinced us that Acrobat is simply huge (33.5MB!), rather unwieldy and probably OTT for your purposes. So we've been looking at a 'lite' alternative (2.56MB) Foxit PDF Reader (v2.3) which is available for free from http://www.foxitsoftware.com/PDF/rd_intro.php and seems to do everything we're likely to need. The feature list is impressive, so do give it a try.

Using the 'Exchange' directory

The use of the common 'Exchange' directory for ease of moving objects between RISC OS and Windows and back, which we discussed in 'Best of Both Worlds?' parts 1 and 2, continues to trigger interesting discussion.

A point we hadn't mentioned is that, contrary to what some doubters think, Windows does generally support drag-and-drop as we know it, sometimes in ways which are even an improvement on the standard RISC OS feature.

So for example, very often you might finish up with a file which has been, say, scanned or downloaded from the net under Windows and which, for convenience, has initially been saved onto the Windows desktop. Moving it to RISC OS is then simply a matter of drag-and-dropping its icon over the 'Exchange' icon and the object will be moved (note: not copied) from the Windows desktop into the Exchange directory. Nip across to VirtualRPC, double-click on the related Exchange directory in RISC OS and there's the transported file. Magic!

Going in the opposite direction hasn't been quite so convenient as, under RISC OS, you can't simply drag-and-drop the object over the Exchange directory icon (however you mechanise it) as the object won't then be copied; it's necessary first to double-click on the Exchange directory to open its viewer and then drag the object into it.

However, Paul Vigay has recently released an extension to his already-excellent NeXTBar which allows us to drop the Exchange directory into an empty pigeon hole, and which now becomes what Paul logically calls a 'button directory'. When the Button Options window opens, tick the 'Auto-save in directory' box (and 'then open' if desired) and click on Update to store the configuration.

Now we can drag-and-drop any file or directory etc over the RISC OS 'Exchange' directory icon and it will be copied into it, without first having to open the directory viewer (an overwrite warning is displayed where applicable). Similarly, a Save box dragged-and-dropped over the Exchange directory from an open application will save the application file into it (but note the 'Known Bug' warning in the Basic Usage->Saving Application Data page of the Help file).

So in effect, the handling method using NeXTBar is now identical, whether you're moving something from Windows to RISC OS, or vice versa, both in a very simple and extremely user-friendly manner. NeXTBar is shareware (£12.00 to register) and the feature is contained within v1.22, available for download from "http://www.vigay.com/software/nextbar.html.

Stop press: NeXTBar v1.23 has just been released which adds a further Edit option, called 'Create dated sub-dir'. If this box is ticked, when you drag-and-drop an object over the button directory, it automatically generates a daily-date sub-directory (if not already created) and saves the object into it. The date format can be set to suit your preference. At the Windows end, the sub-directory/ies appear as normal Windows sub-folders within the 'Exchange' directory. So in this respect, the new feature is very similar to TempDir except that (we think) there is no auto-delete option. Some will prefer this sub-directory feature; some prefer a simple, single, catch-all directory. The value of NeXTBar is that it gives you the user a convenient choice.

Bigger and better thumbnails

The discussion about providing a very much-improved 'thumbnails' display on the Windows desktop for, say, digital camera images (saved as JPEGs), which might be buried deep within the bowels of the RISC OS 'HardDisc4', went down very well with some while others simply said "Why not store them under Windows?" The last point is of course perfectly valid, but it's maybe for other graphics filetypes which you might wish to store on the RISC OS HardDisc4 where the same routine, using Google's Picasa, comes into its own. For example, we use Studio 24 Pro under RISC OS whose native filetype is TIFF but not being compressed can lead to huge files (30MB or more is not unusual) and which take forever to be thumbnailed on the fly under RISC OS using, say, PhotoFiler or Select's built-in feature.

However, these files, stored on HardDisc4 for preference, can very readily be located by Picasa running under Windows and, with TIFF being a standard Windows filetype, excellent thumbnails are quickly generated and, subsequently, are immediately available for viewing.

As we mentioned in Part 2, providing high-quality thumbnails for RISC OS-specific filetypes such as sprites, drawfiles and Artworks graphics can also be mechanised using Picasa under Windows, but this is slightly more involved. If you're interested, please provide an email address and we'll send a copy of the necessary procedures.

Using ye olde software

For us, a very important advantage of VirtualRPC is the ability to be able to use seriously-dated and unsupported RISC OS software which cannot be run by Iyonix, even with the help of Aemulor. Indeed, the residual list of titles which we've been unable to run under VirtualRPC is remarkably short, although it has nevertheless included one or two which we'd dearly like to use.

However, the situation recently improved still further by the employment of an extremely simple workaround which now allows us to use virtually all our software catalogue; indeed, everything works under VirtualRPC variants using RISC OS v4.02, but a very few titles won't run under RISC OS v4.39.

The underlying hiccup with some geriatric titles (and we're talking 15-20 years old here!) is that they were released before 32K and 16M colour displays became available to RISC OS, and of course before 'deep sprites' were thought of. So not surprisingly, any attempt to run them causes a big sulk.

The workaround is trivial; simply select a 256-colour screen mode before running the olde software you wish to use, and in our experience there's then a good chance it will run OK. Display resolution doesn't matter; everything still works fine up to 20481536 pixels. But try to avoid deep sprites; they probably won't display correctly, if at all.

However, for example, we find that drawfiles containing deep sprites can still be loaded, and the draw elements can still be manipulated. All that happens is that a deep sprite is not displayed (apart from its bounding box) but, on grouping draw elements and the sprite, or saving the modified drawfile, the sprite is correctly grouped and saved, without complaint or corruption. Nice one.

Happy birthday VirtualRPC

In other words, for us, using VirtualRPC just gets better. And better. To think that, 5 and a quarter years ago, we were on the verge of making a decision to dump RISC OS altogether, and it was only a happy hint from David Holden that "something of interest was about to be released" which prompted us to hang on for a month or so.

VirtualRPC duly arrived, within the month or so, all thoughts of dumping RISC OS were immediately dropped and, since then, our overall productivity through the ability to use RISC OS, or Windows or more likely a combination of the two has hugely improved, as has our daily pleasure in using this 'best of both worlds' combination.

So sincere thanks to David Holden for the initial hint and especially to Virtual Acorn for a truly splendid piece of kit and finally Happy Birthday to VirtualRPC! Many of 'em.

T.O.M.S.

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