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Dinosaur software made StrongARM-safe

By Jon Robinson. Published: 8th Mar 2008, 15:48:57 | Permalink | Printable

Educational and graphical programs back from the digital dead

Screenshot from Microsoft Dinosaurs
IMS reader... Click for full size

Instructions for updating the IMS Microsoft Dinosaurs reader to work on a StrongARM RiscPC, under RISC OS 3.7 or 4.39, are now available from riscos.org. The instructions also explain how to get the Microsoft Ancient Lands reader working on StrongARM computers.

The Dinosaurs reader was one of a series developed by IMS in the mid-1990s, to allow some of the educational CDs produced by Dorling Kindersley and Microsoft to be used on the Acorn platform. However, most of these readers were never updated to work on the StrongARM processor, which went on sale a couple of years after the software was first published.

The basic problem with these readers is that they were compressed in order to get the whole program, with all its associated resources, to fit onto a single, double-density disc.

On StrongARM processors, the reader's built-in decompression mechanism failed to work properly, but with supplies of the original CDs drying up, IMS never got around to releasing new StrongARM-compatible versions of most of its readers. So nobody, with anything newer than a pre-SA RiscPC, has been able to read most of these titles on their favourite platform for many years.

Unlike earlier processors, the StrongARM has separate program and data caches. As a consequence, the decompression mechanism wrongly expands the program into the data cache and then carries on executing the compressed version in the program cache - until it falls over and crashes.

The solution is to extract expanded versions of the main program file, the 'RunImage', and any other executables, and use these in the application instead. Now, at least two of these readers can be enjoyed by people with the next generation of Acorn machines.

A few copies of the Dinosaurs and Ancient Lands CDs, with their IMS readers, should still be available from CJE or Liquid Silicon.

Screenshot from Aspex Software's VRMLEyes
VRMLEyes... Click for full-size

An updated version of the VRML model viewer, developed by Aspex Software, has also been released, and can be downloaded from riscos.org. A selection of 3D models that work with it is also available from here. After they have been downloaded, set the file type to VRML. VRML is a standard file format used for 3D models.

The viewer is still only 26-bit compatible, but it works better with RISC OS 4.39 than the previous version did, and as with the IMS readers, there may be a version of Aemulor that allows it to run reliably on the Iyonix or the A9.

Many thanks are due to Nick Sanham of Aspex Software, for allowing this new version of VRMLEyes to be made freely available.

• Do these 26-bit programs work with Aemulor on Iyonix or A9home machines? Drop us an email to let us know or post a comment below.

Update at 16:26 8/3/2008
VRMLEyes works with Aemulor 2.32 on a RISC OS 5.13-powered Iyonix, fitted with 512M of RAM.


What is VRML?

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screenshot of VRMLeyes running on Aemulor Pro displaying a downloaded image here:


Iyonix, RO5.13 and Aemulor Pro 2.32

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis on 8/3/08 8:32PM
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My copy of M-S Dinosaurs iMS reader is dated Oct 1996, and already runs on Kinetic RO4.32 albeit raher hesitantly, or jerkily- more so then I remember the 'cartoony' films, have pauses of a second or so quite frequently, I haven't re-tried my other IMS titles yet....


 is a RISC OS UserMcSpoons on 9/3/08 7:18AM
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There is a 32bit version of !VMRLeyes which runs on the Iyonix, although it is a bit unstable, and chokes on a few of my VRML files which I think used to work with the 26bit one. Unfortunately I can't remember at the moment who sent it to me.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 10/3/08 9:13AM
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It's possible that some people may be able to get these programs working without the need for any tinkering.

I'm not quite sure why it should work on the Kinetic, but on my 4.39 StrongARM RiscPC the original mid-90s version of Dinosaurs just hung the machine, and the original version of VRMLEyes took about 60 seconds to load, during which time the machine just freezes, so most people would assume it's crashed and hit the one/off button.

This version loads in about 2 seconds. But the IMS reader for another of these CDs, The Way Things Work, still doesn't run properly, even after its runimage has been expanded!

If Dinosaurs and Ancient Lands work on your machine, leave well alone. If not, following the instructions should get them going again.

VRMLEyes has a BASIC runimage which should work on any version of RISC OS, but it also has a support file called DaCode which I think is 26 bit assembler. If David has a copy of this application that works on the Iyo/A9, without the need for Aemulor, then somebody must have made the support module 32-bit compatible. If you'll send me a copy, I'm sure Paul Vigay will be happy to make it available for download from riscos.org.

The reason I had a go at these programs was that I was trying to get some more software working for the handful of schools that are still using RISC OS. I have been trying to provide technical support to a couple of them for about two years.

If anybody knows of any more schools, here or overseas, which are still using Acorn machines, please let me know. They may not wish to draw attention to themselves on the internet, so could you contact me by email. My address is


I'm also looking for a working copy of the Aegis Geographical Information System, a copy of the DaVinci 3D modeller and the high quality clipart collections that used to be available from Archimedes World.

If anybody has copies of these, which they would be willing to donate for educational purposes, or sell at a reasonable price, I'll be able to find a good home for them.

Jon Robinson

 is a RISC OS UserJon on 11/3/08 11:58AM
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Well running the code block from the supposed 32bit version through ARMalyser, relveals whoever sent it to me hadn't ported it just extracted the BASIC !RunImage from the AIF wrapper. The code is still the orginal, full of 26bit flag preserving code, so no wonder it falls over.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 11/3/08 11:38PM
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As the original author of the Dinosaurs and Ancient Lands readers I can say that there were definitely SA compatible versions of both of them, however it's probable that v1.00 wasn't. Presumably McSpoons has the later one so it works. They were never re-built to be 32bit, though.

The reason the instructions say you need to keep the original !Runimage is because it embeds the registered name in it... with the expanded one it won't be able to check that you've registered.

I'm not sure why you're getting jerky video, because the cinepak decompressor was pretty simplistic (it's not doing any heavy processing) and as far as I remember it worked on anything from an A3010 up. The only problem that I saw that was similar was due to CDFS not being very good at caching reads - I think the only reader we had a problem with at the time was Kiyeko but we included a cut-down version of CDFast to solve it. Maybe you're getting a similar problem with the Kinetic card?

And finally, the problem with TWTW. The DK readers (eg PB Bear, TWTW) were a different codebase from the MS Home (Dino etc) ones and I didn't really have much involvement with them. What I would say is I expect there are some SA compatible ones around but again these would be later versions (not 1.00).

 is a RISC OS Userpaulc on 12/3/08 9:59AM
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To Paul Corke

Hi, Paul. I'm really glad that you commented on this article. I tried to contact you, when I was first thinking about having a go at these readers, but was told that you'd long since departed the Acorn scene, and nobody even knew where you were any more.

The last thing I was expecting was for you to post something on Drobe in reply to this article!

I didn't realise that StrongARM-compatible versions of most of these readers HAD actually been produced. I bought mine in 2003, and they certainly weren't. I know a few were towards the end, but I read in an old Archimedes World article that IMS had withdrawn the readers from sale in 1998 because they couldn't get the CDs any more.

The problem is most people who bought them will have the old pre-SA versions, and if any later versions are still available, you can't buy them without also buying the CD for about £45, which most people aren't going to do. This method is easy to follow and will at least get some of those old copies working again.

If you still have the source code for these readers, would you consider recompiling them and releasing 32-bit versions?

You can find the CDs nearly every week on Ebay, so that is no longer the problem it used to be. You might only sell a few dozen copies a year, but as anybody knows who has looked at them, these CDs are fascinating titles, especially for children, and the readers work faultlessly once you can get them going.

A 32-bit version would allow those people with newer machines to enjoy them as well.

Best wishes Jon Robinson

 is a RISC OS UserJon on 13/3/08 5:30PM
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