Goodbye 1st Page 2000; Hello WeBuilder 2005

Screenshot of WeBuilder 2005
Screenshot of the excellent WeBuilder 2005 — my new HTML editor of choice. I like my HTML comments to stand out in bright yellow!

I’ve gone and done it. After almost six years of faithful service to Evrsoft’s 1st Page 2000 I’ve finally said goodbye to my HTML editor of choice and said hello to a new one: Blumentals’ WeBuilder 2005.

Having checked out the beta release of Evrsoft’s First Page 2006 I’m now quite convinced that it is not going to be the product that I had hoped it might be, and so I’ve been looking around for a replacement. I found it today in WeBuilder 2006.

I stumbled upon it quite by accident this afternoon. As I was clearing up my desk I discovered the latest .net magazine cover CD which had an intriguing product on it called Rapid CSS 2005 by Blumentals. So I checked out their website and discovered that not only did Rapid CSS 2005 look like a very useful application, so did HTMLPad 2005. And even better: both applications were combined along with Javascript and PHP editing functions in an application called WeBuilder 2005. So that’s the one I opted for.

WeBuilder 2005 appears to me to be the update that should be First Page 2006. Here’s what I like, so far:

  • it loads really quickly
  • it supports the latest web technologies (XHTML 1.0, XHTML 1.1, CSS2, PHP, Javascript) with customizable colour syntax highlighting and autocomplete coding
  • it has an attractive, highly customizable user interface (reminiscent in places of the Microsoft Office look)
  • The Code Inspector sidebar gives both an overview of your code, but with CSS files also offers a rapid way to edit and build your CSS files.

There’s a whole lot more but you know, what I really want is a fast-loading, highly customizable text editor that offers me a load of useful tools that don’t get in the way of my coding. And I think I’ve found that in WeBuilder 2005. I think we’re going to enjoy long nights of coding from now on.

Tip: always use the latest drivers

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum
Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum

It just goes to show that you should always keep your device drivers up to date! That was my task this lunchtime.

Having installed the drivers that came with my Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum everything appeared to be working fine. Listening to music in WinAmp everything sounded lovely: responsive, crystal clear and other phrases that you might read in a Hi-Fi magazine.

Battlefield 2 was another matter. BF2 is the only game so far that has been developed specifically with the X-Fi soundcard in mind:

Digital Illusions, Electronic Arts and Creative Labs worked closely together for six months to optimise Battlefield 2’s audio engine for Sound Blaster X-Fi. The Digital Illusions coders were among the very first engineers outside of Creative Labs to get access to Xtreme Fidelity technology, well before details of the new sound card were even released to the press…

Battlefield 2 benefits from super-accurate sound placement, stunning audio quality, and powerful audio acceleration when you have a Sound Blaster X-Fi in your system.

I fired up BF2, clicked on the Options page and selected Creative X-Fi as my audio renderer (the other options were ‘software’ or ‘hardware’) clicked Apply and I was dumped rather unceremoniously back on my Windows desktop. A couple more attempts resulted in exactly the same response. After a quick search online for a solution, I headed over to the Creative Support website and downloaded the latest drivers and installed them.

For those who aren’t quite sure what device drivers are here’s what the ever-wonderful Wikipedia says:

A device driver, often called a driver for short, is a computer program that enables another program, typically, an operating system (OS) (e.g., Windows, Linux, FreeBSD) to interact with a hardware device. A driver is essentially an instruction manual that provides the operating system with the information on how to control and communicate with a particular piece of hardware. In layman’s terms, a driver is an important, vital piece to a program application; the main ingredients of the system.

So, it should be fairly obvious then, if your device drivers are out of date then you can’t expect everything to work as well as it should.

What I do wish, however, is that Creative improved the information on its website about its latest drivers and applications. It’s not the most intuitive of layouts for those of us who simply want to download the latest files and update our systems. While the ATi Radeon support site presents one file (the latest one) the Creative site has a list of umpteen files. Do I download both driver updates, 0003 and 0004? Or are the updates from 0003 also contained in 0004? Who knows, because it doesn’t make this clear! Rant over.

I downloaded 0004 file in the hope that it did contain the 0003 updates too. Installed. Rebooted, so that Windows could load these newly updated files as it started up, and ran BF2 again.

I can happily report that this time BF2 was willing to accept the X-Fi settings and that the sound quality is incredible. Sitting at my desk, with my 6.1 surround sound speakers about me it feels as though I’m emersed in the game environment. I can hear computer generated characters moving about behind me. The sound of my character’s feet walking or running on gravel sounds remarkably different to when my character is walking on grass, or tarmac.

BF2 is a game that makes me nervous anyway, it’s an all-action FPS with alot going on. Now there is so much more information from the sound that it makes the game so more immediate and intuitive.

I’m still not very good at it, however.

I now sound great!

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi breakout box installed on my PC
The Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi breakout box now installed on my PC.

Following Morning Prayer, earlier this morning, I installed my new Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum soundcard and it sounds GREAT!

I thought it was about time, as I’d had this piece of £100 kit sitting in its box beside my prayer desk for the best part of three weeks. What’s the point of having a great gift if you’re not going to use it? (I’m sure there’s a sermon in there somewhere!)

From previous experience of opening up one of my machines, replacing hardware and installing new drivers I was a little nervous. But this whole experience was a dream. The hardware was installed: PCI card slotted snuggly into the vacating slot left by my old Audigy2 and connected by a cable to the ‘break-out’ box which slid neatly into a vacant 5.25″ drive bay. I booted up and installed the software, which caused my ZoneAlarm Pro firewall to offer me more pop-ups than a jack-in-the-box convention. But it all installed fine, and on rebooting I now have an amazing sounding system. It’s quite remarkable just how much clearer the audio now sounds. Just wait until I try it out in Games mode with Battlefield 2, which has been optimized for the X-Fi hardware.

One great thing was that when it came to setting up my speakers configuration it offered 6.1 (6 = front and back: left, right and centre speakers; 1 = subwoofer bass speaker) which is what I have, and not just the 5.1 and 7.1 offered by my previous Audigy2 setup.

The only odd thing was during product registration. Once I’d told the ‘registration wizard’ that I lived in the UK it asked for which city and region I lived in. I live in Edinburgh, and technically, my region is The City of Edinburgh, which replaced Lothian Council in 1996 when Lothian region was split into West Lothian, City of Edinburgh, Midlothian and East Lothian.

A lot of software and websites still only offer ‘Lothian’ offer ‘Midlothian’ as the closest options for Edinburgh’s region. But not the Creative registration wizard. It offers: Midlothian/Edinburghshire:

Screenshot of the X-Fi registration screen

Edinburghshire?! What kind of made-up-nonsense is that?! I’ve just emailed Creative to inform them. You can’t accuse me of not being helpful!

The answers appeared obvious to me

On the left the Prima Official Star Wars Battlefront II Game Guide, on the right Simple Solution Cat Stain and Odor Remover.

After I took five boxes of rubbish to the recycling centre at our local Tesco, I popped next door to Pets at Home and PC World for a couple of essentials. In both places I was asked questions the answers to which appeared obvious to me.

Pets at Home

I handed over a bottle of Simple Solution Cat Stain and Odor Remover to the woman at the cash desk.

Me: This is great stuff!

Woman: “Really? What do you use it for, … cats?”

Me: [Pausing to stop myself saying something sarcastic.] “Yes. Cats.”

She’s now got me wondering, what other things can I use it for? Does she have recipes?

PC World

The only reason that I got any good at Star Wars Battlefront was because of the Prima Official Game Guide. So I reckoned that the appropriate guide for Star Wars Battlefront II might be similarly useful. So I popped next door (from Pets at Home) to PC World.

At the front of the queue I handed over the book to the woman at the till. She took it and scanned it.

Woman: Is this for home use?

Me: [Pausing to stop myself saying something sarcastic.] Yes. Home use.

How do much I wish that I could have said, “No. No, this is for the first Scottish Episcopal Church All-Clergy Star Wars Battlefront II Online Gaming Expo next month”! It could have been a taxable expense if there was such an event.

We need more user-friendly backup options

Don’t try this at home: the interior of a hard disk drive.

An interesting article on The Register a few days ago about Dell‘s plans in the US to offer customers “the option of adding an automatic back-up system to their new PC when they buy one of three models from its Dimension range.”

The article goes on to explain that

for an extra $99 it will install a second, 80GB hard drive in new Dimension E310, E510 and XPS 400 models. The drive will be configured to continuously back up the main drive, protecting personal data against the dreaded hard drive crash.

I presume that this is simply a RAID 1 setup, which is something that more and more modern PCs are capable of — mine is, for example and it’s a couple of years old — although Dell have called this “DataSafe”.

RAID 1 is an arrangement where two hard disks are set up to save exactly the same data on both drives; one is a mirror of the other. The obviousl advantage there is that should one drive fail or get corrupted then (hopefully) all your data will be safely stored on the mirrored drive.

I find it quite incredible that it has taken an OEM computer company up until now to realise that people’s data is so often so important to them that some kind of simple, user-friendly backup method should be an essential part of a new setup, particularly when more and more people are having to use PCs, many (most?) of whom don’t know too much about them.

A lot of new PCs come with ‘restore’ partitions, that is a separated area of the hard drive that contains data to completely restore the main hard drive (C:) to the state that it was in when it was delivered to your door. But the problem with this is that it will also wipe all your personal data.

A lot of new PCs come with this ‘restore’ partitions instead of a genuine Windows XP CD-ROM, which can also lead to other problems, like when you’re trying to install some piece of hardware that requires a few files from the XP installation CD. I was delighted when my current PC arrived from NetHighStreet with a Windows XP Professional CD.

There are more and more people using PCs nowadays. Many of whom haven’t the faintest clue about how their PC is setup (which is fair enough), what all the buttons do, and why certain features are arranged the way they are. All they want to do is switch it on, check their email, write their documents, watch a DVD or two, and maybe play some games. It can’t be that difficult to design a user-friendly backup system now … can it?!