The world is now full of simply wonderful PC
software, especially in design and drawing where Microsoft has
never really bothered to drive and park its steamroller. So
coupled to the recent leaps forward in CPU and memory that have
taken all away hardware barriers, the stuff out there is
increasingly mind-boggling. The drawing and design products from
Xara are simply terrific in terms of features and capabilities for
the price, and in a world of picture editors and drawing programs,
Xara products are Bentleys amongst the Fiestas and Mondeos.
The new Xara Webstyle 3.0 has an mildly
idiosyncratic user interface (Kai Kruse has set the standard for
completely weird interfaces long since) and is basically one big
“wizard” designed to shield talently-challenged designers from
the brutality of the process of knocking out the bits of websites
that are not entered directly through the keyboard. So I produced
an irritating animated gif banner ad in about 30 seconds using the
wizard template. It has numerous templates and tools to simplify
production of navigation and tool bars with DHTML. Integration
with Dreamweaver and FrontPage is now featured.
Even if you fancy yourself as an adept
Adobephile, I would lay money that a brief dalliance with Webstyle
would bring out the pragmatic in you, and you would save as much
as 90% of the time otherwise spent creating from first principles.
Although you would never admit it, of course.
The original Xara was the first design
program I noticed that managed to blend bitmap and vector, and the
latest edition (Xara X) isn’t actually much changed, which is
more a testament to the completeness of the original concept than
a reflection of any lack of progress. It also really flies, since
the developers cut their teeth on very minimalist hardware “way
back when”. I hope to take a long look in a future issue.
A look at the gallery on the www.xara.com
web site will assure you that talented users can produce plenty of
socks-blowing-off material. It’s a bargain at $149 (so as not to
scare our American cousins), and the website also contains all
manner of tutorial and promotional movies, so go and take a look
and be impressed …and proud to be British. One has to wonder
what Xara might have done had its developers – the former
Computer Concepts – had not wasted so much time on the BBC
micro, but got straight to the point with the IBM platform.
On the subject of simplifying the creation of
exotic web page functions, the UK shareware specialist Thompson
Partnership sent me a copy of WebQuiz2002 recently, and it’s a
bit of a gem as anyone who has ever tried to wrangle an html-based
Q/A session will probably concur. Intriguingly, this is an Italian
software product – the first I have ever (knowingly) tried.
The product creates HTML questionnaires,
quizzes and tests that you can immediately answer on-screen or
publish to the Internet. By using an easy wizard, you can enter
the questions, define the options and then set the final
evaluation. It supports four question types (multiple choice,
multiple answer, true / false, fill-in-the-blank) and you can
choose several ready-to-use templates.
It’s wizard driven and very nearly
foolproof albeit a teensy bit quirky in places. Nevertheless,
it’s the best way I’ve sent to lash up any sort of online
inquisition, and includes a range of simple and obvious options.