PS Consultants - ideas & solutions
Xara Latest

Sep  2002

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 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. 

Web Quiz

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.