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Joined: 29 Mar 2005
Posts: 18
Location: Dillsburg, PA

PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2006 2:39 PM Reply with quoteBack to top

We recently submitted our software, Mapwing Creator Pro (MCP), to About This Particular Macintosh for review. One of their staff, Lee Bennett, reviewed our software here. I have a couple of comments about his review, but I would encourage you to read the review first for perspective.

First, I would like to state that I am impressed with the review. It is very apparent (both from the review and the linked tour) that Mr. Bennett used the software and read the documentation. His review is well written and flows nicely. I do not have any specific comments until Bennett writes his personal views on the software.

There has been a lot of discussion about connecting points with MCP, both at Redbug and by Mr. Bennett. We originally had a tool that allowed dragging between points on the map, just as is suggested in the review. This solution worked, but it was extremely limited in application. The software had to guess which views should be connected together. While this may seem like a simple choice on the surface, we quickly found that more customization was needed for complex tours. If all of the points in a tour were laid out in a grid pattern, a tool like this would work. However, points are rarely in a grid pattern which necessitated a method for creating connections from view to view, not from point to point.

Bennett made several comments about importing images into MCP, specifically the view ratio and image dimensions. The purpose behind including two view ratios, 4:3 and 3:2 is simple: most consumer digital cameras produce images at a 4:3 ratio and most professional cameras use 3:2. MCP was designed so a user could simply take pictures with his camera and drop them into the program without modification. As our documentation suggests, the user should only have to make a decision about which ratio to use once. This decision will be based on what ratio his camera produces.

All photos are always represented in landscape mode in MCP. If the user desires a portrait picture, he has to manually pad the portrait with an image editing program like Photoshop or MCP will stretch the image to fit the set view ratio and resolution. A simple solution to the portrait orientated picture problem is not to take any pictures in portrait mode; however, we have seen a need for easier incorporation of portrait pictures into Mapwing tours and are currently working on possible solutions.

Bennett also made a comment about creating hotspots that completely cover a view, thereby rendering navigation impossible. Yes, this “problem” exists. We tried to give the user as much control over creating his tours as we could. Sometimes, as in the example of hotspot creation, this caused a potential way of creating a tour that was apparently unusable or undesirable. However, there could be a reason the user wanted to do this.

We decided early on in the development process that our software was not going to exercise any more control over the user's actions than was completely necessary. Does this mean the user has to use a little common sense? Yes. Is this a problem? I submit that it is not- DVD authors can create an infinite loop between tracks, thereby apparently destroying the flow of the disk. Why does the standard not prevent such an action? Probably for the same reason we used- because there is no reason why it should.

As for the specific bugs that Bennett references in his review, we are not aware of any of them at this time. This is not to say that the bugs do not exist. We will test our software extensively to see if we can reproduce them, and if so, we will work on fixing them. Bugs are a part of any software project and I would be remiss to say that our software is bug free. We try very hard to make sure the software released to the public is as bug free as we can make it. If our users do find bugs, we have an integrated, on-line area for reporting and discussing the issues.

We did think about an integrated tour editing system that was contained in a single window. The four window layout was chosen instead for flexibility and approximates the difference between Apple's iMovie and Final Cut Pro. On one side is a simple application that has a single window that gets the job done. On the other side is a professional app that offers complete customizability and flexibility. The choice is, as Bennett remarks, up to personal preference.

In his conclusion, Bennett remarks about an integrated tool for configuring the files required to host a Mapwing tour on your web site. Again, this seeming lack of a feature is tied to user flexibility. While it would be possible to cookie cutter a basic instance of Mapwing Flash Viewer for each tour created (the user would still need to enter in his specific server information), the page would not be easily customizable. Most users like to integrate additions to their web sites with the look and feel they have created for the site. This may be a position, color scheme, or overall size. It can be irritating to “hand-edit” the configuration files, but once one is created it can be used as a template for future tours. Every effort was made to ensure the process of loading a Mapwing tour to a web site was as streamlined as possible.

Throughout his review, Bennett has had an undercurrent negative tone about the price of Mapwing Creator Pro. While commenting on the price of a piece of software is certainly an acceptable thing for a reviewer to do, I do not think Bennett’s comments on price are supported with any real evidence in his review. He has several examples of features that he would like to see in the software and a couple of unconfirmed bugs. I did not see any support for his linking of MCP to a “$30-40 piece of shareware”. Perhaps he was confusing the simplicity of MCP with cheapness, I’m not sure. We tried to make the process of creating and sharing virtual reality tours with Mapwing as easy and painless as possible. The road to finding the current solution was long and difficult, and while not perfect, I think the end result is well worth the effort.

I would challenge Mr. Bennett to find another solution that offers something close to the same features with a similar price point. I do not think he will be successful because we looked extensively when we were deciding on our price. He mentions Apple’s QuickTime VR Authoring Studio which costs about $400, only runs in OS 8 or 9, and does not create linked point tours easily. Many other VR suites retail for more than Mapwing and do not have anywhere near the same features. In today’s business world, time is more than equal to money. Mapwing Creator Pro may cost over what the average home user is willing to spend, but we believe the amount of time and effort the user saves more than justifies the cost. Also, unlike many other companies, we stand by our products and offer free unrestricted technical support to our customers. Where else can you find a virtual reality tour creation product that is easy to use, has good support, and is flexible enough to meet your needs?

That wraps up my comments about Mr. Bennett’s review. Again, I thank him for his comments and suggestions. We appreciate hearing from our users because it helps us make our software better. For example, we just released new versions of our Mapwing software today. You can download a free demo of Mapwing Creator Pro, check it out for yourself, and even enter our new tour contest. As always, I welcome any feedback.

Interested in creating your own virtual tours? Check out Mapwing - Mac software to build Flash virtual tours.
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