Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Successful Installation of Microsoft Chat on Ubuntu Linux via Wine 3.0

Dear friends,

It works!
I created this project several years ago with the hopes that it might be of some sort of help to developers interested in reverse engineering and cloning Microsoft Chat for Linux or other creative applications. This was particularly because the application would not – until now – function on wine, the compatibility layer for running Windows software on Linux and MacOS.

Roughly 15 years ago – under the handle Supernatural, then Super, then Reg, I had the privilege of contributing to the Comic Chat community various Star Trek themed variations of Jim Woodring's (as always, absolutely amazing) original artwork, as well as discovering a technique for enabling the playback of MP3 files in Comic Chat by means of a hex editor to modify the executable. Today I am grateful to be the first to publicly document the fully functional installation of the Microsoft Chat application in Comics Mode on a Linux system via the latest version of wine.

Unlike previous versions of wine, Comics Mode is now fully functional. Speech bubbles now display not only legibly but perfectly, and extremely large black frames no longer obscure the frame. Furthermore, the well documented failure of the space bar key to function has long been resolvable thanks to additional steps documented below.

The following instructions have been tested on Ubuntu 14.04. Similar steps should yield a successful result on other systems.

First, make sure you are using wine 3.0 by running wine --version. If you do not have wine installed on your system, or are running an older version, simply follow these instructions to install the latest version of wine.

After the update I still had a ~/.wine configuration folder which I had been using with other versions, and I wanted as clean of an install as possible. Seeing as I was not attached to anything in this folder, I deleted it.

To create a new ~/.wine folder with a "Win32" prefix, allowing me to run 32 bit applications on my 64 bit Linux system, I ran the following:

WINEARCH=win32 WINEPREFIX=~/.wine winecfg 

It may not be necessary, but what I did next was set the Windows version for Wine to mimic as Windows XP. The default is Windows 7, and you can change it under the "Applications" tab of the wine configuration menu. This can be accessed by running winecfg. As you will see, you can alternatively decide to do this on a per application basis.

Before installing Comic Chat, you will also want to install and run winetricks. Instead of relying on an outdated Ubuntu package, I ran the following to get the latest version

wget htps://raw.githubusercontent.com/Winetricks/winetricks/master/src/winetricks
chmod +x winetricks
mv winetricks /usr/local/bin/

Run winetricks, which will launch a simple GUI. Choose "Select the default wineprefix" and look for an option to "Install a Windows DLL or component." Scroll through the options and selected riched20 – installing this will resolve a known issue when running Microsoft Chat on Wine in which the space bar does not function when typing messages.

I would also suggest going through the same steps to install ie6; note it may not be necessary, but Microsoft Chat was originally bundled with IE and was never designed to be on a system without it. You may opt to install MS Chat without installing IE first, I was merely being preemptive. This is a little trickier than installing riched20, but simply follow the instructions and wintricks makes it pretty easy.

Finally go ahead and download the Microsoft Chat installation program from Mermaid Elizabeth's website. Running wine mschat25.exe did yield some errors for me on the back end, but the installation was successful.

Ultimately, after the GUI exited I was left with a hanging process and had to run CTRL+C to regain control of the terminal. Nonetheless, the "Microsoft Chat" directory was created under "Program Files." Now simply change directory to the folder where CChat.exe is installed and run it.

cd ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Microsoft\ Chat/
wine CChat.exe

Alternatively, you should also be able to run

wine start "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Chat\CChat.exe"

You can now connect to an active server and switch to Comics Mode. Note of course that the default server will not work seeing as Microsoft has not run IRC servers in almost 20 years.

You will likely encounter problems or even a crash if you attempt to run Microsoft Chat on the wrong type of IRC Server. You should consult Mermaid Elizabeth's documentation on available servers and channels dedicated to Comic Chat users, but I believe you will find that the only running and active room on that list is the #Crypt on the www.crypthome.com server.

Not only does Comics Mode work correctly, but I am even able to download other users' custom Comic Chat Characters (AVB file extensions) just as one would expect on a Windows system. In fact, every feature of the application seems to be working and I have maintained several hours of connectivity and usage today without issues. Rules/automations have also been tested, as well as sounds, though the directory for the latter must be manually set in the bottom field of the Settings tab in the Options window.

Once again, for general assistance in using Comic Chat, consult Mermaid Elizabeth's excellent and resourceful website. For assistance specifically in getting Comic Chat to work on Linux, feel free to look for me in the #Crypt or leave a comment.

Anyway, I pray the next time nostalgia bites us this hard in the ass, it actually involves something from real life. Happy chatting, networked nerds!