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Three software releases of note

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Been a busy week for software releases of interest to me; even more pleasing, all three of the items here are available for both Windows and Mac.


First up, and most exciting to me personally: The long-awaited game Spore won't be out 'til September, but the Spore Creature Creator has been released for Windows and Mac. There's a somewhat limited free trial version (which is the version I've played with); for $10, you can get the full unlimited version. (Well, okay, you can order the boxed unlimited version, or download the Windows unlimited version. The Mac unlimited-version download isn't ready yet, but apparently will be soon.)

It won't run on my early-model MacBook, but it does run pretty well on my iMac. Totally charming, with lots of lovely little touches. Example: at any point during the creation process you can do a "test drive," letting your creature walk around, evince emotions (by clicking the "Sad" button, for example), and even spawn cute baby creatures.

After you've created your creature, you can upload it (quickly and easily) to Sporepedia, which already (only a couple days after release) has over 400,000 creatures. Though apparently the Creature Creator uploads multiple versions of the creatures over time, so there are many copies (as the Cylons say) of a lot of the creatures. Still fun to browse, and I gather you can download creatures from Sporepedia, though I haven't tried that.

So it's a nice slick preview of the huge time sink that's going to be Spore in a few months.


Next: Firefox version 3 was released on Tuesday, with an attempt to set a world record for number of software downloads in 24 hours. Of course, Guinness didn't list such a record until now, so any number they achieved would be a record; still, they were aiming for a bunch of downloads. Despite some early server problems (which in many news venues became the whole story, annoyingly), they ended up having over 8 million downloads in the first 24 hours. (And about 12 million in the first 48 hours, according to the current numbers on the download counter.)

Which, y'know, nice for them, but wouldn't necessarily all that big a deal for the rest of us. Except that FF3 is really nice.

I've avoided using previous versions of FF on my home Mac for three reasons (with apologies to any of you who may have worked on FF or its predecessors):

  • In my experience, it was very slow to launch (and somewhat slow to use in general).
  • It didn't look like a Mac app; much of the GUI, especially the buttons in rendered pages, looked square and clunky to my Mac-trained eye, because FF was designed to have the same look and feel across platforms.
  • I love Safari and saw no need to change.

The first two issues were addressed, mostly, by a third-party optimized-for-Mac version called Bon Echo, which has been my primary browser at work (where I needed some FF plugins, and where our web apps aren't always compatible with Safari) for the past couple years. Bon Echo was a good compromise, and I'm immensely grateful to the guy who's been doing those Mac-optimized builds. And in fact, he's continuing to do Mac-optimized builds, under the new name Minefield. (He always uses the name that the previous beta version of Firefox used, because he can't use the name Firefox, for trademark reasons.)

(Someone is bound to mention Camino along about now. I like Camino a lot, but (a) it doesn't do FF plugins, and (b) I don't like it quite as much as Safari. So at work I switched from Camino to Bon Echo when I started needing plugins.)

But Minefield is no longer quite as necessary as it was, because FF3 addresses the first two issues above. It looks like a lovely sleek Mac-native browser, and it no longer feels slow. Very nice work. (It appears that Minefield is even faster than FF3 on the Mac, though, so there's still reasons to use it.)

I'll still be using Safari at home, but it's no longer the obvious choice (for me) that it was until now.


The other software release that caught my attention this week was Odysseus 0.9 beta. I have a long post in progress about Odysseus and Mail.app and Eudora; for now, suffice it to say that Odysseus has come a long way in the past eight months, but they've still got a ways to go. Despite their odd continued claims that they'll be releasing 1.0 by the end of June (eleven days from now), I would guess it'll be more like August. At any rate, the 0.9 beta is not ready for use as your main mail software (as the IDS folks explicitly note), but if you want to get a sense of what it might turn into, this might be a good release to take a look at. Available for both Mac and Windows.

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You should be able to get Spore Creature Creator to run on your Macbook by hacking an XML file in the installer as described here; they suggest using developer tools but a text editor is fine.

It doesn't run great on my Air -- once you get to the "paint" stage of building, the fancy textures take quite a while to render -- but it runs okay.


Oh, and there were retail copies on the shelves here on Friday, so I expect they're at every Gamestop, Fry's and Best Buy, too.


Aha! Thanks -- I had read various forum threads that said that the Creature Creator could be hacked for Minis but not for first-gen MacBooks. That thread that you pointed to explains that that used to be true, but the installer has now been changed, and will now work on first-gen MacBooks. I may give it a try. (But I may just stick with using it on the iMac, which works well.)

And it didn't even occur to me to check store shelves for the Creature Creator--thanks for that, too. (I've been thinking of the SCC as this cute little side-project toy; I hadn't realized they were giving it a full commercial/retail release.) I may stop by the Apple Store to see if it's available there.


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