Monthly Archives: November 2006

FinalBuilder 5 & Automated Build Studio 2.2

A few review notes, comparing two popular automated build tools, FinalBuilder 5.0 and Automated Build Studio 2.2. These are just notes I’m making as I try and port an old WANT script (like ANT, but more focused on Delphi). I’m still trying to decide which one I like better and these notes are to help me, and possibly you, decide.

The Points:

  • 1 means “nice feature” or “that’s nicely implemented”.
  • 2 means “rocking feature” or “that was implemented well”.
  • 3 means “killer feature” or “this is how software is supposed to be done.”

One of the first things I wanted to do was create a group of actions for checking out the latest code. I quickly found it in ABS’s “Standard” category while I had to resort to using the Filter box in FB to finally find it under “Flow Control”. While it may be a flow control action I never would have looked there so, ABS 1.

The Subversion Checkout action in FB is non-intuitive. It asks for a Source and Destination. Do those parameters make sense to anyone that has actually used svn? ABS kicks it’s butt all over the place on this, asking for what you would expect: URL and Work folder. ABS 2.

FB has a cool variable picker that shows you all the built-in variables as soon as you type a %. This is great except that a) you have to know that variables start with % and b) you can’t use the mouse to click on a variable to select it. ABS has a button you can click to show a list of all variables available. While this may be a little more cumbersome if you know exactly what you’re looking for it is much more helpful. ABS 1.

Both products fail to show you what the actual value of the built-in variables are though. For example I’m trying to specify a project file for a HTML Help Compiler project and I know I want it relative to my build file but do I specify a backslash after %FBPROJECTDIR% or not? Same with ABS. No points to either.

I had to specify the path the the HTML Help Compiler in FB while ABS just seems to know. ABS 1.

When you run scripts in FB you can stay in the “Design View”, with a progress bar appearing next to each action as it processes. This is nice for when you’re building/debugging your scripts. ABS takes you automatically to it’s Log and Summary screen instead. While you still get a step-by-step breakdown of what it’s doing it takes you out of the context of your script. You can prevent ABS from automatically switching and it’ll show you what step it’s currently on but if something fails you can’t tell from Macro pane which operation failed. FB 1.

Both products have a detailed report of the last build status but ABS seems to want to always compare it against the last successful macro run. I’m just starting with these products but I fail to see the use. Personally it just takes up space and the good news is you can remove it. While I can configure ABS to be more to my liking I always feel you’ve gone back a step in usability anytime the user has to reconfigure the UI. FB 1.

Both failed to pick up the user override variables in BDS 2006. If you have RemObjects installed you probably also have an Everwood and RemObjects SDK user override environment variables that are used inside your library path like this $(Everwood)Bin, etc. Both ABS and DB choked on this and I’m still waiting for a resolution. RemObjects is a pretty popular library for Delphi so I doubt I’m the first to hit this. On the plus side, FB did leave me with a much better error message of “Error expanding variables in Library Path : Variable : Everwood - does not exist!” instead of ABS’s “Fatal: F1026 File not found: ‘uROClasses.dcu’”. I’m giving FB 1 for the better message. If either of the products had successfully compiled while the other failed that would have been an instant 3 points but sadly they both dropped the ball.

I’m still reviewing the products so this page will be updated after I make it past compiling my project.

Digital Dark Ages

We are still in the digital dark ages, at least as far as media goes. Let’s explore just how ugly it is currently:

1. DRM (Digital Rights Management)

DRM is supposed to be about managing the rights of digital assets yet it really has nothing to do with “rights” and everything to do with market lock. Since no two DRM systems are interchangeable this means you’re not just paying for the music, you’re also paying for the device. Imagine buying a CD that only works in a Kenwood stereo and having to buy it again if you wanted to play it at home in your Toshiba CD player? If I buy a track at iTunes then I can’t play it on my Zune. Even if I buy a track from the Zune Marketplace then I still can’t play it on my Sonos. If I really wanted to play it all three places I’d have to buy it three times.

You, as a consumer, have NO digital rights.

Until you can buy music from any source, be it iTunes, Zune Marketplace, Yahoo! Music, or any of a handful of others and play it back on any device, we will still be in the digital dark ages.

2. Digital Asset Prices

I can buy a new album on iTunes for $9.99. I don’t get anything special for the $9.99 nor do I even get to pick the music quality BUT I do have the added bonus of only being able to play it back on my iPod (sarcasm folks).

On the other hand I can buy the same album on CD at BestBuy for $9.99 or cheaper if I use one of their ubiquitous %10 coupons and now I have the CD, the case and some cool/dorky booklet. I can rip that CD at any quality I want and play it on almost anything made in the last 5 years.

The only thing I can gather from this is that the record companies still view digital as a threat and they really don’t want you buying digital anything. They’ve allowed you to buy their content online only as a stopgap measure but they want you in the mall buying music. Either they have some kind of Faustian deal with CD manufactories or they truly don’t understand this new fangled digital age.

Funny thing is that I’d be willing to pay either $9.99 for non-DRM’d music or $4.99 for music with DRM. What I’m NOT willing to do is pay more money for online music when I get less than what I can get at the local music store. Until digital asset prices reflect the quality of goods that the consumer receives we’ll still be in the dark ages.

3. Albums

Notice how albums are still generally 8 to 12 tracks long? Notice how they still fit neatly on a CD? How some new ones still have the concept of an A and B side, a hold-over from the tape cassette days? Every once in awhile you’ll see an artist try something different but for the most part digital is still on the fringe, even with the massive market that the iPod, and all it represents, holds.

Where are the $2.99 mini-albums, each with 2 or 3 tracks? I’m not talking a single with some cutting room floor tracks thrown on but a whole new way of expressing a concept. Imagine three mini-albums, labeled, “The Good”, “The Bad”, “The Ugly” with the tracks on each reflecting a specific theme? What about jam bands releasing their live show audio on some Marketplace service, with a discount to ticket holders? How about a cancer drive where instead of a wrist band you get an unheard or remixed track that you can then share?

Of course the only way these ideas could actually work would be an industry-wide accepted DRM solution that actually valued the consumer’s rights as much as the artist’s and was supported by a pricing structure that didn’t gouge consumers. Which leads us back to the simple fact that we’re still in the dark ages.

Is There Any Hope?

The biggest road-block to a lot of progress is the current DRM/Device lock model, not DRM itself. There will always be people that want to get something for nothing and DRM is supposed to help prevent that but it should never be at such a huge expense to the consumer.

The only hope is that consumers do what they’ve always done in a capitalistic society, vote with their dollars. These are some of the ways I “vote”:

  • Avoid buying music from any online service that limits what you can reasonably do with your media.
  • Before pulling the trigger on that iTunes or Zune Marketplace purchase look for the actual physical CD. I bet you can find it online used for cheaper than $9.99 or even new at your local BestBuy. Buy it, rip it and resell it if you like.
  • Support sites like While you can’t pick the quality you CAN do whatever you want with the music. It’s straight MP3 format with no DRM so it’ll play on your iPod, Zune, Creative Zen, music-enabled phone, Media Center, Sonos, MP3-enabled car stereo and you can burn it to a CD as many times and as many ways as you like.
  • I would say check out the Russian site,, but now that VISA and MasterCard have been pressured to drop support it’s pretty much dead in the water. Check out GoMusic instead.

I’m sure there are other creative ways but those work for me. I’ll gladly accept, and pay for, DRM the day it works across all my devices seamlessly without loss of quality and I’m charged a fair price. Until then… it’s the dark ages.

Old Zune, New Zune

So, after being unable to get my pre-loaded content back I did what tech support would never suggest… I returned it. I said goodbye black Zune, thanks for playing, I don’t need your inflexibility. Of course what will replace my old black Zune? How about… a new black Zune!

That’s right, I went to Target that same night and found they were running a promotion where you receive a $25 gift card when you buy a Zune AND sales tax in Louisville is much less than in Broomfield so in the end I got it for almost $30 cheaper.

After all my complaining why did I buy it again when I was free from it’s clutches? Here are a few reasons:

1. The hardware is rock solid. Just from a hardware side of things it really is a pretty unit. I love the rat rod feel of it, the large screen, how my fingers don’t gum up the finish, the sound quality and screen animations.

2. Software is software. 9/10 of my complaints are about the software and I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing some major updates to it before Christmas comes around. They’ll work through a lot of issues to make sure Christmas morning all the little Zunesters are rocking out instead of pulling their hair out.

3. Credible Bug Reports. If I don’t actually own a Zune how can I make suggestions for improvements or file bug reports? Unless I actually own one and am invested in it’s success it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be as passionate about helping improving it.

4. Microsoft. As a company they really want the Zune to succeed and you can tell they are fully committed to this product. After watching the 360 grow up into a desirable consumer product I have hopes that while Microsoft may make mistakes they are smart enough to do course corrections.

5. Software is easier to update. At the end of the day Microsoft is still a software company. I hope this means we’ll see more improvements via software and firmware than via next generation hardware units, a la Apple.

So, all in all I am pleased with my Zune. When I point out issues it’s always with the intention of trying to help a product be better than to trash it.

Zune Software Preloaded with Issues

See how I played on the fact that it comes with “preloaded content” but instead I’m sarcastically saying “preloaded issues”. Yeah, I know, powerful stuff (see, even more sarcasm).

You could probably also call these “bugs”, maybe “poor planning” or if you don’t really care then you may downgrade them to “annoyances”.

Preloaded Content

#1 - Preloaded music doesn’t show album art in software.

This software is supposed to be my one home for all music needs and yet it can’t show me the album art of it’s own preloaded music? That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

#2 - Preloaded playlist doesn’t show up under “playlists” in software.

There is a “Zune Gems” playlist that comes preloaded on the Zune but you’d never know it just by looking at the software. Open your Zune software, click on “playlists” and it’ll only show you the ones you’ve imported. What? Where is my Zune Gems list?

#3 - You can’t copy the preloaded content off of the Zune.

Like some of the preloaded videos or music but don’t want to delete them forever? Too bad, either you leave them on the Zune or you delete them, no chance of getting them back. You can copy the pictures and few are pretty cool but most people will want those tracks and videos.

Finding Album Info

#4 - The “Find album information” dialog has this lovely bit of wonderfully worded text:

“Is This Your CD Tracks?”

I can’t even think of a good accent where that sounds like proper English. New York? Southern? Indian? How about we change that to: “Are these your CD tracks” instead of just adding an “S” to the end of “Is This Your CD Track”.

#5 - “Find album information” dialog can’t make up it’s mind

I have only tracks 2, 6, 7 and 13 off of Lady Sovereign’s “Public Warning” CD because I have almost all the other tracks from her previous albums because I was listening to her months ago, way before The Express started using her songs in their stores (whew, my indie cred has been defended). What I don’t have is the album art so I hit “Find Album Info” and it finds it but decides that it’s going to change the track numbers to 1, 2, 3, 4. Why? I just told it that it found the right album so shouldn’t it look at the album’s track numbers and use those instead?

#6 - “Find album information” is all or nothing

This is a continuation of #5. When it shows you the new track names/numbers you should be able to edit the new information. Maybe you liked how you named your tracks and you just wanted album art? Maybe you don’t like how the track uses brackets instead of parenthesis to wrap the “XXX Remix”. It either does everything or nothing.

#7 - Limited Ripped File Name Formats

How do you rip your files? My current format is:

ArtistAlbum1 - Track.mp3

Yet forget about getting that format in the Zune Software. Want to use a dash as your separator? Sure you can change it but then you *only* get a dash so its “01-Track”. What to change the folder structure it creates? Too bad. I think they decided that no one would actually use the Zune software to rip music so they invested almost no time into it.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more as time goes on…

Zune Annoyances

I just bought a Zune. Most everything that the reviews have mentioned is true: quick, sexy UI, nice tactile feel to the case, screen is crisp, software is easy to setup, music sounds good. Of course like all the good there is the bad and here are a few things that have raised my temperature by a few degrees:

#1 - Can’t Play Music Directly from the Zune

Perhaps I’m missing something and I’m happy to be proven wrong but you can’t seem to play music directly off the Zune. I fully expected to be able to browse my Zune, select a track and hit the big, lovely Play button. Nope. Nada. This inability to play music directly from my Zune is such an annoyance I may actually take the thing back.

#2 - Sync Destroys Preloaded Content

I was so excited to buy a Zune I bought one during lunch and plugged it in directly at work to charge it and since I have a small music collection at work and it happily sync’d. Next I come home and it tells me that I can either make my home computer a “Guest” or I can make it my new main sync PC. Obviously my home computer should be the main computer so I picked that option and then watched as it formatted the Zune and sync’d it, thereby destroying all the preloaded content.

I actually liked the preloaded content and because my only options were to either connect as a Guest or format I had no way to preserve select items. Again, if there isn’t a good way to get the content back I’m returning it.

#3 - Sync Assumes You’re Stupid

I have over 90GB of ripped music, the Zune holds 30GB, yet upon first install it happily indexes all my music and says it’s “Synchronizing”. Well Gee, ain’t that special, what do you think it’s synching? Do I get to pick? Do I get to tell it that I really don’t need all those old hip hop albums from the 80′s? Maybe I don’t really want every trance album I’ve ever owned on the thing? Nope, it just seems to chug away without asking for any of your feedback.

You can delete the unwanted items from your Zune and then next time it sync’s it won’t grab those items but what a wasteful, tedious process.

Is The Love Gone?

Even with these issues I like the Zune: it’s hardware, software and the idea. I like the concept of it integrating with the 360 ecosystem, I like the possibilities it holds. Of course I’ll never buy a single track from the Marketplace because I also own a Sonos music system and I don’t buy music that I can’t play on the equipment I own but I understand the evil of having an iTunes/Zune Marketplace concept. I’ll continue to support and even the Russians to get my music without DRM.

What I don’t like is that they seem to have forgotten about the initial, out-of-box experience. They’ve forgotten about the many users that swap between their personal laptop, their home computer and their work computer. They’ve tried to make a simple solution but in the process have assumed a simple user.

I can only hope a patch/update fixes these issues. If tech support can’t help me I’m going to return mine and wait for these issues to be fixed.