• FS9 To FSX Migration

    FS9 to FSX Migration Tool

    By Andrew Herd (6 August 2007)

    We live in that interesting time between the old version of Flight Simulator passing its sell-by date and the new version coming of age, a right of passage marked by the release of updates for all the must-have FS addons. Right now, hardly any of these have been patched or re-written for FSX, so vast numbers of simmers are splitting their time between FS2004 and FSX, all of them asking the question: 'Why can't I just port my FS2004 planes over to FSX?'

    I have been through this process many times and each new release has seen me attempting to copy old favorites over, with varying degrees of success. In general, each FS release is an incremental development on the last, but Microsoft have a knack of introducing just enough new features to make sure that core addons for the old version don't work that well in the new one - but it doesn't stop us trying anyway.

    FSD's Pilatus Porter for FS2000 was a prime example of this - a fantastic piece of freeware that had some clever code buried in it which meant that the addon only half-worked in FS2002 and we ended up having to wait for it to be recoded, a process which took so long that it was only completed just as FS2004 turned up. The one fly in the ointment was that so much time had passed and so much work had gone into the project that when it did finally appear, it was as payware, but it was well worth the money. Another good example of an addon everyone would have liked to have ported over from one version to the next is the sadly missed DreamFleet 737, but that and the FSD Porter are another story.

    Fortunately for us, the changeover from FS2004 to FSX is going to be a smoother one as far as addon planes are concerned, because the fixed wing flight model doesn't seem to have changed much, if at all and it appears that addons which obey all the rules should work just as well in FSX as they did in FS2004. In theory, it should be possible to transfer any plane over as long as the developers have abided by Microsoft's guidelines, the catch being that you can't tell whether a developer has followed the rules until you have copied all of an addon's files over to the new version of FS and found whether they work or not. Copying addons from one version of FS to another isn't always a straight forward process, particularly with addons that have automated installation routines, or with ones that use custom gauge files; and to add a little spice to the issue, FSX uses a totally different folder structure for storing planes to the one used by its predecessor.

     

    The aim of FS9toFSX is to provide an easy way of copying planes which are installed in FS2004 into FSX - which should give it a very broad market, since many simmers will currently have both versions of Flight Simulator installed on their hard disks. As I hinted above, it isn't that difficult to copy planes from one version of FS to another, but the catch is that even if you know what you are doing, it can be a tedious process, because unless you can read aircraft .mdl files, or are prepared to indulge in a lot of trial and error, it can be tricky finding all the gauges and files that are required to make some addons work properly. So even I find the idea of a tool that pupports to do all this automatically attractive - not least because there are a lot of FS2004 addons that I would like to use in FSX, but can't be bothered to spend any time or effort on sorting out the problems of moving them over.

    Let's take a look at the app itself. Installation is very simple and it uses hardly any disk space. When FS9toFSX is started, you are presented with a background bitmap showing the default Lear climbing out over a lush island scenery, which looks like a great place to be, especially given the torrential rain I can hear drumming on the roof as I type. At the top of the screen is a five item menu, the list including 'file', 'migration', 'import', 'help' and 'FSBase', the latter heading serving to confirm which version of FS you have set as the source for migration of addons. According to the developer, it is possible to migrate some FS2002 and even FS2000 addon planes to FSX, but given that there was a substantial change in the way the flight models worked between FS2002 and FS2004, I wonder how many users will want to take advantage of this. The file menu lets you set FS9toFSX up so that it knows which folders to use, the migration menu takes you to a new window which allows you to select which planes you want to migrate, and import lets you access planes in non-standard or saved locations.

    There is no help file as such, so you must glean what you can from the few paragraphs of text which pop up as you mouse over items on the help menu, but to be honest, the FS9toFSX isn't so complicated that you will need much hand holding if you know what you are doing - the trouble is that if you don't know what you are doing, the documents are so scant as to leave you totally in the dark. A pdf manual would be an improvement, particularly if it included details of some of the problems inexperienced users are likely to come across migrating planes across to FSX from older versions of Flight Simulator.

     

    Every time the FS9toFSX migrate window is opened, the app scans the ...\Flight Simulator 9\Aircraft folder in the source version, which in my case was FS2004. The length of time this scan takes depends on how many aircraft and liveries you have installed and it took a loooong while on my system because the scan picked up every single AI traffic paint I had installed. The AI package I use is MyTraffic, which has the most phenomenal number of liveries, so an option to exclude/include AI planes would have been welcome and wouldn't be difficult, given that there are only four popular AI packages around, all of which identify their planes at folder level.

    Apart from fairly unobtrusive messages in the top bar, FS9toFSX interface doesn't exactly attract your attention to the fact that the scan is taking place, which wouldn't be a problem were it not for the fact that while the scan is in progress, a bug in the application sometimes results in random plane selections being made. If you have enough aircraft installed, as you will if you have MyTraffic on your hard disk, some of these selections will be off screen and you won't be able to see them until the planes have been copied over. A further issue is that FS9toFSX isn't smart enough to be able to detect empty aircraft folders on the disk, so if you have uninstalled any planes in the dim and distant past using automatic routines that don't uninstall the folders, the planes concerned will still appear to be present when you run FS9toFSX.

    Another desirable enhancement would therefore be some kind of info box that popped up and told you the basic information - similar to the stuff you get on the aircraft selection screen in FSX - about the plane you are about to select in FS9toFSX. My reason for wanting this is that it can be damned hard working out what you are looking at when all you have to work with is a bland list of folder names; with a lot of addons installed, the migration process can be reduced to complete guesswork, as with the exception of the AI traffic people, developers rarely oblige by making their installation folder names meaningful.

    However, on the positive side, once FS9toFSX has built up a list of source folders by doing a full scan, the list updates more or less instantaneously from there on in and migrating planes across is - assuming the app can do it - a breeze. The first plane I migrated was the FS2004 Curtiss Jenny, which transferred without any problems, apart from the minor inconvenience of the lack of an identifying picture in the FSX aircraft selection window. I carried on and migrated most of the FS2004 'classics' as I have always enjoyed using them and they work well in FSX. One feature the migration window could do with is a scroll bar, because once the list of planes reaches the bottom of the screen, the only way to see the lowest entries is to use the mouse wheel or the page up/page dn keys.

    A potential gotcha is the way FS9toFSX always copies files over to the FSX ...\Microsoft Flight Simulator X\SimObjects\Airplanes folder. Normally, this is fine, but problems arise with third party planes whose installation relies on them being in a different folder. I experimented with a few, including the RealAir Citabria, but the result was almost always the same, with the visual models importing, but with missing panels or gauges. This is understandable, given that rampant piracy makes commercial developers are keen to protect their assets and they go to some trouble to ensure that their software isn't easy to copy - if it was, they would hardly make any money at all and the addon market, which means you and I - would be poorer for it. The developer of FS9toFSX does point out that your mileage may vary on transfers of commercial addons and more sophisticated freeware and they are correct.

    In line with the minimalist nature of the application, the only sign that an aircraft migration is in progress is fleeting messages in the top bar, but these overwrite each other. If errors do occur, a log of these is written to the right hand screen; this isn't much help beyond telling you that the migration didn't work and it would be useful to have an option at this point to undo the migration. The trouble with this approach is that if for any reason a migration fails completely, for example due to an empty FS2004 aircraft folder being selected, it is hard to tell that anything has gone wrong and FS9toFSX would benefit from some interface redesign to make it clearer to the user what is happening at any given moment. I came across a few bugs in the app during the time I used it, but there seemed no particular pattern to them and they always cleared if I shut FS9toFSX down and restarted it.

    FS9toFSX's chief limitation is that it can't be relied on to transfer more sophisticated freeware and payware, which will lessen its attraction for experienced FS users; on the other hand, if you have large amounts of fairly simple FS2004 freeware, or want to transfer the FS2004 default planes to FSX and can't figure out how, FS9toFSX is a cost-effective and quick way of getting what you want done without breaking into a sweat.

    Andrew Herd
    [email protected]

    Learn More Here


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