Excite Truck (Wii)

Excite Truck is one of Wii's big launch titles, one of several racers to hit shelves on launch day. The others are GT Pro Series, Need for Speed: Carbon, and Monster 4x4. GT Pro and NfS both strive for realism; Excite Truck and Monster both go for a more cartoony style.

Excite Truck throws realism right out the window, in fact, going for more of a Burnout-style high-flying, big-smashing, star-collecting racer. Like burnout, nearly everything you do earns you from one to five stars - drifts, air, tree runs (almost, but not quite, hitting trees), truck smashes (hitting your competitors), and so on. While you get a bonus for placing well in the race, what actually determines your success in single-player, or the winner in multi-player, is your star count.

The races take place in various fictional locations in various real countries. The single-player game is organized into 4 ranks (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum), each with 4-5 races. Each race, your number of stars grants you a rating of D to S, D being worst, A being second best, and S being best. If you complete all races in a rank with a B or better, you gain access to the next rank. If you complete all races in all ranks with an S rating, you gain access to the "Super Excite" difficulty. At seemingly random intervals you gain new vehicles, and if you get enough wins or enough S ratings with a particular vehicle, you gain a new paint job for that vehicle.

There are 19 tracks and 10 trucks in total, all of them available for single- and multi-player. There is also a tutorial mode which does a good job of walking you through all of the various tricks you can perform in order to get the most stars possible.

The single-player game is fun, but brief. I would have liked to see more tracks, more ranks, and more vehicles. But, all in all, it's definitely a good racer if you liked the Burnout series and are looking for a first racer to try on the Wii platform. The controls are solid, as is the gameplay - the only thing really lacking is in depth and in multiplayer.

Multiplayer is limited to two human players. That's it. No CPU opponents, no 3 or 4 player races. Just you and one opponent, trying to get the most stars. If you win 1st place, you don't get the 50-star bonus you'd get in singleplayer; you get a 15-star bonus, plus one star per second until your opponent crosses the finish line. This can get very frustrating when racing a less-skilled player, because you'll find they win the majority of the time. I'm serious. You'll be racing through the whole level, hitting every jump and every ring, doing air spins like there's no tomorrow, you beat them soundly, there's even a scare at the end that they might be disqualified completely for being 30 seconds behind you. Then they cross the finish with 2 seconds to go, after recovering from the 90th crash into a tree, and - what's this? They've won.

Why? Well, if you examine the scores at the end, a beginning player will tend to get a lot of drifts, because they're overcompensating their steering. This leads into getting a lot of tree runs, because they're often flailing wildly off the track. Then, of course, they hit a tree - and every crash earns you another star. Some balancing of this system is sorely needed.

Multiplayer is still a blast, however, and I've played in groups of half a dozen all waiting patiently to play the winner. It's highly addictive, and it's a lot of fun. I'm not dissappointed at all by the title - I'm just anxiously awaiting an ET2 with more tracks, more trucks, a more balanced point system, and a drastically improved multiplayer - at the very least, 2-4 player multiplayer, with the game filling out the 6-racer lineup with CPU opponents. I don't even need online play, but it would certainly be a nice touch.

The game's soundtrack is a tiring generic rock lineup, reminiscent of the SNES' Rock 'n' Roll Racing (another great game, BTW, and one I hope to see on VC soon). Luckily, if you've got an SD card, you can fill it up with MP3s, pop it in the Wii, and replace the soundtrack with those. I'm really hoping more games add a similar feature, and wishing Nintendo would go ahead and add a Music Channel to the Wii allowing you to play music from an SD card, MP3 CD, or standard audio CD, with visualisations. Doesn't seem like too much to ask.

All in all, Excite Truck is a solid title, particularly for anyone looking for a Burnout-esque racer on Wii.


Wii, by Nintendo

Nintendo's latest console has finally arrived, and it's a doozy. It's low on horsepower, sparse on features, and desperately lacking in online capability. However, it's full of innovation, and the game lineup is solid.

When you first hook up the Wii, you've got the unit itself, the Sensor Bar, a power cable, and an RCA A/V cable. The sensor bar can be placed at the top or bottom of the screen, but must be level with the floor and centered horizontally to the TV screen. Useless trivia: the Sensor Bar is not a sensor, it is in fact the origin of the IR pulse. The sensor is in the Wii Remote, granting the device various rewards.

Then you've got the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The Wii Remote is a heck of a gadget: motion and tilt sensing, bluetooth wireless, a speaker, an IR sensor, and a rumble pack. You can connect up to four at once for four-player action, and each one has a set of lights indicating which player it is. The nunchuk attaches to the Wii Remote via cable, and has its own motion and tilt sensor, an analog stick, and a couple of buttons (but sadly, no rumble.) Both devices fit comfortably in my (fairly large) hands, and have been just as comfortable to everyone I've handed them to. I'd also like to note that playing without your hands tied together is far more comfortable than any controller I've ever used, and a very welcome change.

The next wireless function is in the internet connection. When you start up the Wii, your settings panel allows you to set up the wireless connection to receive firmware updates, game updates, Mii's (more on them later), and to download content from the Wii Shopping Channel.

The settings also provide for switching between 480i and 480p, 4:3 and 16:9 widescreen, and Mono/Stereo/Surround sound, settings which affect all Wii games used with the unit. You can also set the sensor bar position (above or below the TV), and adjust the "Sensor Bar Sensitivity" - I put this in quotes because you are actually, of course, adjusting the sensitivity of the IR sensor in the Wii Remotes. This isn't like the sensitivity in your mouse settings - it's the raw IR sensitivity of the camera. You can reduce the sensitivity to try to eliminate the effects of high glare, or increase the sensitivity to account for a greater-than-normal playing distance.

The system also includes the Wii Message Board, which is a bit of a mixed bag. I was hoping for something vaguely resembling Xbox Live's Achievements to but fit in there somewhere, but alas. It's basically just a log of how much you play your games (sometimes an unwelcome one), and a way to leave messages for other users of that Wii. You can also send messages to other Wii units via the internet connection, though I have yet to get this to work.

Then there's the Mii channel. Herein you can make a vaguely anime-esque 3D caricature of yourself and others; you can also share these with other Wii users, and use them as avitars when playing Wii Sports and (theoretically) other, future games. While this is a neat feature, I'd like to see it expanded in future updates with more options and a wider range of customizability. You can also copy your Mii to your Wii Remote, take it to another unit, and use your Mii on that unit with that remote. An interesting feature, but only slightly, since only Wii Sports currently makes any use of Mii's.

Weather, News, and Web channels are in the works, but have not been released yet. Current announcements put all 3 being released by the end of January.

Speaking of things that haven't been released yet, let's talk about online for a moment. There isn't any. You can download old games and play them by virtual console, but there's no online multiplayer until next year, there's no games making use of WiiConnect24 (which lets the Wii stay connected to the internet even in standby mode) until Elebits comes out "during the launch window". I'm very disappointed. And it doesn't end there. The unit doesn't support DVD or CD playback either, though a revision has been announced for Japan only for 2007 to add DVD playback.

The graphics are... so-so. I've seen the 360 in hi-def, and while it's impressive, I'm not one to see games as being all about the visuals. I got the Wii for the controller, and I'm happy with the tradeoff. But be prepared, because the games aren't exactly gorgeous. Most fit their theme well, and games like Zelda: Twilight Princess are graphically impressive, just not on the scale of the 360 or PS3. So, if you're looking for grandiose graphics, move on; if you're looking for something new, I highly recommend the Nintendo Wii, for any one, any age, girls and boys alike. It's a great system for solo and even better for multiplayer (as long as you're all in the same room together.)

All in all, I'm very happy with mine.

My Wii Launch Experience

Let me start this flashback with a note on what happens after this tale: it was all completely worth it.

Friday, November 17th: myself, CJ and Amy all went to Wal-mart to see if they'd be offering a midnight launch. A notice posted in the electronics section confirmed a Wii launch at 12:01am on Sunday the 19th. They hadn't gotten many inquiries about it, and most of the employees didn't even know what Wii is. Good sign. We decide to start calling them on Saturday around 6pm, and actually go down there at 10pm to wait in line, just to be sure that everybody got one.

Saturday, November 18th: It's around 5pm, I'm walking my laundry down to my apartment complex' laundry room, and CJ passes by in his car. He's on his way to Wal-mart to check out the situation, because they aren't picking up the phone. At 5:30pm, I get a call saying there's already a line over a dozen people long, camped out in Wal-mart in folding chairs. Me and Amy pack up and leave, picking up Tim on our way in. We arrive at Wal-mart 15th, 16th and 17th in line for "about 20 units".

The line continues to grow, with at least half a dozen people coming every hour. There are laptops, portable DVD players, iPods, and DS's everywhere. We can't get an employee to give an official unit count. We passed the time chatting, playing cards, and roaming the store. Luckily they had a McD's in the store or we might've starved to death.

At 10:00pm, they finally gave us an official unit count: 21 units. Some of the nearly 30 people in line were very disappointed. By 11:00pm everybody had an official ticket marking their place in line, and were free to roam as long as everybody was back by midnight. At 12:01, the sales started; the only people that didn't buy Zelda with their unit were buying it as a gift or eBay fodder. Wii's are shipped in boxes of 3, games appear to be shipped in cases of 20 or 24. I was number 16 in line, and they were already out of controllers by the time I got up there; I still got my hands on a Wii, Zelda, Red Steel, and Excite Truck. The 21st person in line was told that there were only actually 20 units - odd, since a hard count showed 21 units, and they come in boxes of 3... I'm guessing one was a display unit, and they failed to deduct that unit during the hard count. Anyway, one customer was HIGHLY disappointed, and I can't blame them.

So, myself, Amy, CJ and Tim all left with Wii in hand. We returned to CJ's apartment (biggest TV), hooked it up, popped in Wii sports, and proceeded to play Wii Sports and Excite Truck for the next six hours. No kidding, I woke up the next morning with tennis elbow.

The next day I finally hooked up my own unit, updated it (a nearly 30 minute process, with as overloaded as the servers were on launch day), configured it, made a few Miis, and then picked up CJ to head to Best Buy. Before we get to that, I'd like to point out that the Wii interface is fantstic, really intuitive, and overall I was very impressed with the unit, before ever inserting a game disc. There are some disappointing qualities, and so far, almost all surround online functionalities. I'll get into more detail in a later posting - back to the tale.

At BB, I picked up a Wavebird, and several GCN games (they're all new to me, since I never had a GCN): Super Mario Strikers, Mario Kart Double Dash, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Pikmin 2 and Animal Crossing for Amy. No spare controllers at BB either.

Went home, packed up, and made my way to Asheville for my own personal Wii Tour. In Asheville my mom got her hands on it for a few hours, and loved it - so far so good for the "all audiences" idea, although my mom is something of a gamer (her current addiction is Burnout Revenge, one of my old faves.) From Asheville we went on to Roanoke, VA to spend some time with Amy's family. Once again, the Wii was hooked up and passed around, with Amy's entire family getting in on the action. Everybody got hooked on Excite Truck up there, while my mom had preferred Wii Sports. We also found one store with Wiimotes in stock, so I picked up 3, plus a second Wavebird, a GCN memory card, and Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. Me and Amy's brother rocked out on Tony Hawk, and Amy made her way through Animal Crossing and Pikmin whenever she could get the Wii to herself for a few minutes.

On the way back we stopped again in Asheville for some more Wii party action, before finally returning home Monday afternoon. We picked up our insane kittens (who haven't stopped crying and purring and snuggling since we got home), and hooked the Wii back up.

I purchased my Wii, with Zelda, around 12:30am on Sunday, 11/19. At 5:30pm on Monday, 11/27, I finally started Zelda. Sad, isn't it? I had only had a chance to play multiplayer games the entire week, and if I could play single player, I didn't have a long enough block of time to really sit down and dig into Zelda; and I knew I wouldn't be happy with starting it and having to stop before I had at least finished tutorial town. So, I finally get tLoZ:TP booted up, Link and Epona get suited up, and I commenced the jigglin.

If all the hours of play over the past week hadn't made the 7 hours in the middle of a Wal-mart while my laundry mildewed worthwhile, Zelda would have. It's beautiful, the controls are fantastic, and the story is as epic as ever. I'm only in the 2nd of 10 dungeons, but I can already say, this is a truly fantastic game. While I was gone, CJ got himself nearly to the end after over 40 hours of play, and is thoroughly impressed. I haven't even finished it yet, but I still can't wait for the next Wii RPG to come out - I think the platform poses HUGE potential for RPG fans in general, and JRPG fans (of which I am one) in particular. But, I guess only time will tell.

I now nearly have Excite Truck beat, and I'm halfway through Tony Hawk. Stay tuned for end-game reviews of all these titles and more.


So much to tell...

Wow. I've been out of town for a week, and there is much to tell. Saturday I arrived at my local 24-hour walmart at 6pm to wait in line for my Wii; the last people to recieve units arrived at 6:30pm. By 1:30am I was at home and playing Wii sports frantically with friends until past 6am. I also picked up Zelda TP, Red Steel, Excite Truck and Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, as well as a handful of GameCube games (hey, I never had a GCN, so they're all new to me!)

Monday we left for Asheville, Tuesday we left Asheville for Roanoke for Thanksgiving, Saturday we returned to Asheville, and yesterday we finally arrived back home, safe and sound, Wii in tow. The holiday was dreadful, but the Wii is, in a word, awesome. I've said several times it's the coolest invention ever in video games, and I stand by that.

Stay tuned for my take on the Wii, Wii Sports, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Red Steel, Excite Truck, and Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam!


Brace yourselves...

Seriously. Brace yourself. Make sure you're seated comfortably and securely. Put down anything liable to spill. Steele yourself. You're about to witness the funniest thing on the entire Internet. Like so many things, it's funny because it's absolutely, horrifyingly real.

Ready? Are you sure? Okay... but don't say I didn't warn you.

Prepare to be Seasoned On Impact.


Amazon: Wii demand far outnumbers supply

I just received a letter from Amazon.com:

The Nintendo Wii will be available for purchase on Amazon.com on 11/19, Sunday morning (PST). We will be limiting purchases to one per household and we anticipate that we will sell through our inventory very quickly as we've received 100 times more Wii email sign-ups than consoles we'll have available for sale (i.e., for every Nintendo Wii we'll have for sale, over 100 people have signed up to be notified).

We expect to receive periodic shipments of the Wii from Nintendo throughout the holidays and we will post availability updates on the product detail page as well as in the customer discussions on the Nintendo Wii product page:


So, I guess with over a million units in the US at launch, that's still not nearly enough... I'm starting to wonder if I'll really be able to get my hands on one on Sunday. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!


Timothy McSweeny's Open Letters

Through the glory of Hyperlinks, a question about the FCC led me to Timothy McSweeny's archive of Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond. These are downright hilarious, and well worth the time to read. To cherry-pick a few favorites:
But don't stop there... heck, read them all.

Sun Opens Java

Ars Technica is reporting that Sun has finally made good on their promise to open up Java for the masses. This is good news for everyone - in fact, the only one whose benefit stands in question would be Sun. While I'm confidant that they will turn this to their advantage, it certainly assuages fears that trouble for Sun might mean trouble for Java - realistic fears when Sun's financials look shakier and shakier with each passing quarter. Now, if Sun goes down, they won't take Java with them.

What's prevented Java being open-sourced before (according to Sun's PR department) wasn't an issue of profitability for Java products - after all, the JVM/JRE and JDK are free, and all of their paid products are not being open sourced - it was an issue of branching. Sun was afraid that if they opened up the Java source, we'd see forks which would eventually diverge, bringing about compatibility issues; it's bad enough having to make sure that a user has the JVM/JRE installed and that they have an adequately recent version, without having to worry about which JVM they're using out of an array of options which may not all support the same features.

Personally, I think that's a rather silly fear - they need to revamp Java's dependency handling anyway, so why not take the opportunity to do so now? Instead of an application saying "I need this version of the JDK or newer", say "I need to use this library, and this one, and this one" and make sure those are available. This resolves both the issue of determining what your minimum JRE requirement need be, and the issue of diverging forks supporting different featuresets.

All in all, as a Java developer, I can't see this as anything but a Good Thing(tm).


Freedom of the Press (to cover up information)

By way of Slashdot I discovered this post about Extremely odd behavior from the Washington Post re: the President's Rumsfeld lie. I highly recommend you take a look - the article is extremely extensive, so I won't go in depth on it here - just read the article.

"Learn to say 'I don't know.' If used when appropriate, it will be often."

Appropriately, About.com is running a toplist of Rummy quotes. There are some real gems in there, too:

"I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know."

"I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty."

"Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said."

"Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war."

Oh, just go read them all.


Wii Spotting

Just got Best Buy's holiday mailer, and I was pleased to find Wii prominently placed within. More than prominently. Across two pages, you find the PS3, PSP, Wii, and DS Lite, all equally displayed. However, the previous two pages show a detail pic of Wii on one side, and a family playing Wii Sports on the other. Above the action shot, there's the text "We pledge to help you find the right games and system for any age." That's Wii alright!

US is a broadband laggard, according to FCC commissioner

Ars Technica just posted an article regarding broadband availability in the US. To quote the article:

It seems like everybody agrees on an essential point: access to "quality," reasonably priced broadband is crucial in this day and age. Unfortunately, we're not even close in the US. Yes, the nation's two largest telecoms are at this moment rolling out new fiber optic networks. Better yet, consumers in areas served by Verizon's new FiOS network are seeing the benefits of increased competition: some cable providers in those areas are bumping speeds up to 15Mbps/1.5Mbps. However, fiber deployments are slow and selective, leaving most Americans out in the cold.

We may be looking at a radically different landscape in five years, with WiMAX, BPL, cable, DSL, and municipal WiFi networks offering consumers a host of equally-good choices. That rosy outcome is by no means guaranteed—there's much that has to be done in the interim to make it a reality.

I couldn't agree more. Look at Japan: basic broadband is 24 - 40Mbps, and runs the equivalent of around $20 per month. Alternately, where FttC is available, customers can get 50 - 100Mbps, for $30 - $45 per month. Right now, I pay $65 per month for 6Mbps service through Comcast, including the 15 channels I'm required to sign up for. Technically, I don't have to sign up for those 15 channels; however, the price for service to those without any TV services goes up such that it ends up being about a dollar cheaper to add the TV stations - and besides, my girlfriend watches TV, so I suppose that's fine. Also, that 6M service can burst over 12M when I've got the network to myself; it can also go down for hours at a time when it rains, or slow down to sub-200k speeds during peak times. And it's $65 a month.

DSL in my area isn't exactly better; they just rolled out 6M service, and are moving toward 12M and eventually 24M (via two lines). However, that 6M service is not available without phone service; for 6M service and a phone line (which I won't use other than for DSL), the price comes to $65, before taxes, surcharges, fees, installation, equipment, and so on.

Basically, Americans sit around thinking we're the kings of the Interweb, but, lo and behold, we're barely even on the list. We're no higher than 15th place in terms of broadband penetration, and 21st place when you factor in cost, speed and availability. And to think, we pioneered this thing.

What's the big holdup? Well, Japan managed what they've accomplished through government sponsorship of their telco, NTT DoCoMo. NTT serves every Japanese person with telephone service; it is a regulated monopoly. NTT offers phone, broadband, wireless, and TV. They also have the advantage of shorter distances; DSL offers better speeds the closer you are to your CO, allowing the more densely-packed Japan to offer higher speeds to more people. It also means a fiber rollout requires fewer miles of fiber to be laid down.

America could accomplish the same thing, but it won't - it's just too socialist for us. We'd rather foster competition: some local municipalities are offering broadband wireless, and some power companies are starting to talk about maybe eventually rolling out broadband over power lines (BPL). Both of these are great options; however, the wireless technology just isn't there yet, and there are still spectrum hurdles to be overcome. BPL is a great prospect, with the capability of huge speeds at low cost; however, it's a long way off, and the cost to the consumer is entirely decided by the provider. If the broadband market hasn't changed much by the time these offerings arrive, the providers may see little incentive to end the price gouging - it's more profitable to join in.

The Revenge of the Updated Chronos Update

So, about a week after my successful mobo upgrade, CJ starts reporting narcolepsy in his bawx, which is still running my PSU. So, after all that, it turns out the issue was with the PSU to begin with. Figures.

So, I've got a shiny new Rosewill 600W modular PSU (120mm single fan) sitting next to me, which I will probably install this evening.

Aside from that, I'm trying to OC this thing a little bit, since my new board is a far better overclocker than my old Chaintech; things aren't going so smoothly, though. I'm currently at 225MHz FSB, 4x HT, 9x CPU, 1:1 DRAM, giving me 900MHz HT, 2GHz CPU (up from 1.8), and DDR-450. However, Prime95 now dies if I leave it running long enough. Theoretically I should easily be able to hit 2.2GHz with this chip, but if I step it up from 225 x9 to 230 x9, I get sporadic no-boot, no-POST, which I find perplexing. I'm not having any heat issues; it runs idle at 45C and load under 50C. I'm thinking it may be drive strength; I'm going to try bumping VCore to see what happens.

I've also upclocked my shiny new X1900 XT from the stock 600/720(1440) to 650/775(1550), which isn't bad at all, and actually gives a noticable performance bump - nothing huge, but not bad considering it doesn't cost a penny.

The ceiling on the CPU concerns me, though. I'm not planning on a CPU upgrade until I do a full system upgrade, certainly not before this time next year. So I'd like to get all I can out of the current unit. Hopefully another couple hundred mA will get me the clock I want without burning out the CPU.

Wish me luck...


Sleepless Nights in Neverwinter

Finally picked up Neverwinter Nights 2 yesterday. After much anticipation, ever-changing release dates, and stocking issues at Ye Olde Beste Buye, I finally brought home the (unfortunately) CD-ROM edition.

Initially I had some problems - after install, I could update and launch the toolset, but if I tried to launch the game, I'd get an Unable to authenticate disc error.

Atari's support site doesn't list NWN2, and in order to contact them, you first have to select your game - I sent them a message under NWN, but it told me that it'd be 7 - 10 days for a response. I double-checked the readme, and it says you can send your error logs to SecuROM; I sent them an email after business hours, and got a response the next afternoon. They recommended a DVD drive firmware update (the only thing I hadn't tried at that point), which has resolved the problem solidly. However, there are numorous people on the forums for whom even this did not resolve the issue - hopefully this gets fixed in a patch later.

All in all, it's a really nice game, with very good quality graphics. They're smoother than the graphics of Oblivion, but more cartoonish where Oblivion makes some vague stab at realism. All in all, it's a solid update to the original NWN. However, it's important to note that it's a complete rewrite, no code spared, so the entire UI has changed.

The UI more customizable than before, but feels a little clunky. The new targeting system has some bizarre qualities, and I found it confusing for a while that you can attack something without targeting it, and target an enemy while doing nothing to it. I also much preferred the old context ring menus from NWN1 to the new delayed-reaction drop-down menus of NWN2. I know, I know, more than half prefer the new blah blah blah.... how much more than half? If it's a small margin, you should sit down with your testers and come up with a way to improve the system, or you offer it as an option to players.

As far as gameplay goes, the engine is a solid representation of D&D 3.5, including prestige classes. Note that it stops at level 20; no epic classes yet, though I'd put money on epic levels coming out in an expansion pack, as they did in NWN1. Mounts are NOT present either; if I remember right, this was announced to come in an expansion pack, though I can't think of the source off the top of my head.

I haven't yet completed the original campaign, however, I will say some about it. The story is pretty good; however, as most western RPG's do, it goes for breadth rather than depth. You have total control over your character, the star of the show, and their actions and decisions; thus, they've spent more resources on increasing your options than they have on developing a deep and engrossing storyline. Take Oblivion as a more extreme example - nearly a "sandbox" game, it sacrifices depth of the main plotline to offer a greater array of options and side quests. Compare this to a Zelda or Final Fantasy title, where they provide you with a character, and a fairly limited set of options, but a much more in-depth and engrossing storyine.

As there aren't many NWN2 servers out there right now, I'm holding off on reviewing online features. Online play was my favorite part of NWN1, with the capability to create a complete world from scratch and run a persistent world being a significant draw for me. So I have high hopes for NWN2 in the same areas, but only time will tell.


Review: Eventum

Eventum is an open-source web-based issue management and tracking system from MySQL AB. It runs on PHP with a MySQL backend (of course), and offers a rich featureset and easy installation - in theory.

Eventum is a little bit picky about it's installation environment. Attempting to install Eventum on a default installation of Apache (with MySQL libraries installed) results in some bad luck. When you load the installer, you'll get a long list of files that Apache doesn't have the permission to write to. Then, it'll tell you you're missing the GD2 library, and that you need to turn on the deprecated allow_call_time_pass_reference in php.ini.

Under Windows, installing GD2 means uncommenting one line in php.ini. Under Linux, it means gathering libjpeg, libpng, and libttf, and gd2, compiling all of them, then reconfiguring and recompiling PHP itself. Easy for some, but hey, I'm not a comand-line ninja. That stuff takes me a while.

Once you've done your bowing and scraping, the installation is rather straightforward - fill in the fields, click the button, it installs itself, but doesn't log you in or tell you the default account - you have to go back to the INSTALL file to get the default admin account, and use this to create your own account and other accounts. Then you're ready to get started.

Initial Setup
Once you've got it installed, you have to create your project. This seems simple enough until you try to create a ticket, only to discover that new projects have no default priority codes or issue types - an odd choice.

The interface leaves much to be desired, even for a developer's tool. In terms of usability, it isn't very intuitive in general, and navigation can be complex and confusing. The entire interface could sorely use a severe overhaul - something I may take on if I decide to continue using it.

Eventum is very feature-rich, which is a bad thing in my situation. I chose it for its quick install, not for the features; I just need issue management, not timekeeping, which seems to play a large part in Eventum. I also don't need all the pie charts and graphs that made GD2 necessary in the first place.

As far as it's core featureset is concerned, it is an effective issue manager, though some features are clunky. For example, the notes on issues are difficult to get to; as a developer, I want to be able to open an issue and immediately see the note history so I can see where progress is being made and what the current status is, beyond the "implementation" status code.

It should really also open to the My Assignments page if you have assignments, rather than the Stats page. It also sorely needs a preference to let you change the default rows per page on the issue lists to something other than 5 (yes, the default is 5, and each row actually only takes up one line on the page. I'm not sure what they were thinking.)

I'm stuck with Eventum for the time being as I don't have time to find, install and migrate to an alternative. I chose Eventum as a quick-fix. Once I have time to apply to the issue of issue management, I may switch to another solution, or try to fix Eventum. I'll burn that bridge when I get to it - who knows, maybe it'll have grown on my by then. Or maybe I'll finally make that issue management system I keep putting off...


Review: FireFox 2.0

After the Great Chronos Crash of '06, I was forced to reinstall, well, everything. That's mostly a bad thing, but it did encourage me to upgrade everything I use to the latest and greatest, including Mozilla's FireFox browser (my browser of choice.) So, behold the silver lining to my grey cloud: my review of FireFox 2.0.

The first thing anyone notices about a new version of a program is , of course, the interface. FireFox 2.0 sports a somewhat updated interface, particularly in the toolbar and tab bar.

The new toolbar I'm really not happy with. I like the search suggestions that have been added to the search box; other than that, I hate what they've done with the toolbar. The addition of a Go button is fine for computer novices - which I am not, yet there is no option to remove the button to free up screen real estate. Likewise, there is an equivalent Search button added to the search box - again, fine for users who don't know about hitting enter, but I want an option to remove the thing, because I don't need, use, or want it. The updated icons are ugly, particularly the home icon. Using FireFox 1.5 I left the default skin in place; now I've switched to one of the freely-available custom skins (GrayModern2, if you're wondering). I'm sorry, brown is just a really unappealing colour for a toolbar button.

The new tab bar I do like; it integrates many of the features that I previously had to add myself using extensions, like the close box now available on every tab, and the use of fixed-width tabs. I would have liked to see a close box remain fixed at one side of the tab bar; I often find myself closing a series of tabs one after the other, so the ability to just click several times in one spot to close several tabs in a row is a big plus. It's now more obvious which tab is the active tab, which is nice. They've also added a tab menu button to the far-right side of the tab bar, which gives you a list of the currently open tabs; this feature is almost useful, but deeply hampered by the fact that you can't right-click items in this menu to get the context menu you'd get by right-clicking the tab (e.g., close tab, close other tabs, etc.). They have added Undo Close Tab to the context menu, thank god - a feature I use regularly, being one who often makes mistakes.

The preferences have been updated slightly; I noticed that they removed the option to change your screen resolution in DPI - a mixed bag, since it didn't work before, but such a feature would be extremely handy if it worked, since I run at high resolution with DPI turned up for improved readability.

The extensions and theme managers have been integrated into a single "add-ons" manager - not a big deal, but a positive change nonetheless.

New Features
The new version isn't particularly big on new features, but there are a few. The new search bar has support for search suggestions, such as those available on Google, which, I have to say, I didn't really like at first. However, after leaving it on for a couple of days, it's really started to grow on me as a handy time-saver. Plus, your search history shows up ahead of the suggestions, leaving that feature unencumbered by the new addition.

It also features a long-time wish of mine, inline spell check. That means you have a spell checker like that of a word processor when you're using web form fields (such as the one I'm entering this post into.) Not much to explain, but incredibly handy. It underlines misspelled words as you type, and you can right-click to auto-correct, add to dictionary, etc.

There's a new feed reader as well, but I'm not a big RSS user. I may just have to give RSS another try with the newer clients available (including FireFox's built-in options) and post a followup here.

They say it's more stable and performs better, but it's really hard to say, as it's always been really stable and performed really well. I will say that this version seems to be bogged down less by having multiple extensions installed than 1.5 did, but that may also be partly due to the fact that all the plugin developers had to release new versions for compatibility with 2.0, so they may have released some improvements of their own along with the update.

All in all, I'd say it's certainly worth the upgrade (especially being free), but nothing ground-breaking here. I'm looking forward to FireFox 3.0 which seems to have passed the Acid2 test in development builds. Finally!