VirtualAcorn Technical support:
Windows 'cleanup' utilities
Every couple of months or so we have a customer report some kind of problem with VirtualRPC directly after they have used a disk cleanup utility. The most common cleaner that seems to cause problems is called CCleaner. I suspect that there's no particular flaw in CCleaner it's just more well known. Cleanup utilities cause problems because they haven't a clue about RISC OS or RISC OS filetypes. So if the cleaner decides that this strange collection of files called '!Boot,feb' (remember the cleaner is looking at the file names inside HardDisc4 as seen from Windows) are just rubbish or are all duplicates then they get deleted. Once the files are deleted they are usually gone for good.
So every time you allow a disc cleaner to rummage through your VirtualRPC installation you could be playing Russian roulette with your files. Speaking personally I wouldn't risk it.
Never download a file cleaner (or anything else) from a popup advert
Here's a simple piece of advice. Never ever under any circumstances download anything thats linked to a pop up window. Just close the pop up window. If it won't close press CTRL, ALT and DELETE, select the Task Manager and manually kill the popup window. Although some reputable companies such as McAfee will sometimes try and use 'sponsored' popups you always run the risk that the download attached to the popup has been tampered with and carries a hidden malware payload.
There are too many cases of people blithely downloading a 'Super Mega Hyper Maximum File Cleaner' when a pop up appears. Look at all those five star reviews they say to themselves whilst humming happily. So they click on it. Before you can say 'gullible idiot' the 'Super Mega Hyper Maximum File Cleaner' is installed and is merrily encoding all their files ready for a ransom demand. Of course that isn't obvious, but the 'Super Mega Hyper Maximum File Cleaner' is also ripping through the browser history grabbing all those saved passwords and plain text cookies. Oh look, there's the information for on-line banking, yes the login, the password. Phew the 'Super Mega Hyper Maximum File Cleaner' certainly cleans out any bank accounts fast.
You may think I exaggerate, but I don't. There really are malware loaded bombs being downloaded by trusting idiots every day. If idiots didn't download them criminals wouldn't waste their time making them.
There is one simple piece of advice about using 'cleanup' applications. Take a backup first. If you don't keep a backup of your VirtualAcorn read this article on backups now. Having read the article set up a backup regime and make sure that you have taken a full backup before you do anything else.
Most disc cleaners will have an option that allows you to exclude certain named folders from the . If the cleaner you are using doesn't have such an option then use a different cleaner. Whilst any cleaner could in theory accidentally delete important files being careful will reduce the risk to all but zero.
For many years we have used various cleanup tools develop by Eusing Software. At the time of writing the latest general purpose tool is Eusing System Cleaner 4.7. This tool is a lot safer than many as it doesn't go rooting through the whole hard disc looking for files it 'thinks' are duplicates. So far none of the Eusing products have ever caused any problems on our machines. All of the Eusing products are freeware but do ask for a small fee if you've found the application useful. As the fee helps fund development it's well worth it. It's also worth having a rummage around the Eusing website as they do offer some very useful utilities which are well written and compact.
We also get asked about recommending a backup application. You can get some amazing all singing all dancing backup 'suites' that will keep copies of your Windows installations, music, inside leg and more besides but this article is specific to VirtualAcorn products. We recommend the application we use for our own VirtualRPC backups, Karen's Replicator.
Karen's replicator isn't really designed to backup your Windows installation or your account information it just copies files, quickly, quietly in the background to a timetable you set. You can set it to mirror changes, so that if you delete a RISC OS file the backup of that file will also be deleted. We have Karen's Replicator on each machine and each machine also has an external backup drive. The backup is set to run daily at 4:00pm and typically takes only 5 minutes. As it runs in the background using minimal resources you won't even feel it if you are running RISC OS in full screen.
The only 'problem' with Karen's Replicator is that there won't be any future development as the developer, Karen Kenworthy, sadly died in 2011. Karen's replicator does work on Windows 8 and Windows 10 but make sure you have installed VirtualAcorn following our latest instructions.
Fixing problems after a 'cleanup'
Assuming the 'cleaner' you downloaded and used was genuine but still damaged your VirtualRPC installation you will still need to recover from the damage.
Most of the time a 'cleaner' will leave VirtualRPC alone. However the more agressive the settings in the 'cleaner' the more likely it is that some of your RISC OS files will be deleted. If you keep regular backups then you should have copies of all (or most) of your files. The process for restoring from the backup will be different depending on the backup system you use and that's not something we can offer any advice on as there are so many different backup applications.
If you have lost your personal files and you don't have any backups then the files are probably gone for good. I say 'probably' because in theory a file recovery application might be able to find chunks of the data still on the hard disc but you will need to know the names of the files that were lost, how big they are and a fairly good idea of the content. There are some very expensive commercial disc recovery services but your best bet would be to speak to your nearest independent high street computer shop as some do offer recovery services.
If RISC OS won't boot and you don't have a backup of the !Boot folder the only real option is to re-install VirtualRPC over the top of your current installation but read all of this article first. Whatever you do don't try and uninstall VirtualRPC before re-installing as you will lose more files. Just install directly over the top of the current installation.
Before re-installing make sure that you have a copy of your unlock code as you will need it. If you've lost it, never wrote it down or just can't find it you can recover it using these instructions. Just make sure you recover your unlock code before you re-install VirtualRPC because the record of it will be overwritten during the re-installation.
After you have re-installed VirtualRPC you will need to unlock it. Unless there has been some hardware change the unlock code you have should work. If not follow the instructions in the VirtualAcorn registration window to request a replacement code. Don't install the optional software packs or any other components unless its essential.
Virtual RPC should now be starting OK and RISC OS should boot into the desktop. You will need to reset the screen resolution, the pinboard will have been lost and a host of other settings will probably need changing. Once you have VirtualRPC configured how you want you should immediately take a backup. Even copying the VirtualAcorn install to a writeable DVD (not a CDR) will save time and frustration in the future. Now set up a regular backup regime and in case you didn't read it the first time I linked to it here's the article on backups again.
As a final caution never run a disk cleanup utility on a drive that stores a backup of VirtualRPC as you run the risk of losing important information and you won't know until it's too late. A backup is there to make recovering from a failure easier and quicker. Backups can be deleted by the user if no longer needed but allowing a Windows utility free reign to delete anything it likes from a backup is not something we would recommend. If you are running out of space on a backup drive you don't need disc cleanup, you need a bigger drive.
Just in case someone wonders I am happy to say that we (3QD Developments Ltd) or I (Aaron Timbrell) have no commercial relationship with Eusing Software, Major Geeks or with Karen's replicator. We haven't been paid to provide a recommendation for their products nor do we receive any payment for any clicks on the links provided in this article. Our recommendation of their products is simply based upon our experience.