Real-world appdb

Holly Bostick motub at
Sun Feb 6 18:16:34 CST 2005

If I may interrupt and split off the various theoretical discussions
about recoding the appdb, I'd like to report my experiences actually
using the appdb as it is today. I wanted to use the appdb in order to
(attempt to) solve some installation problems with several applications
(two games, two applications).

My impressions as a user predisposed to feeling that the appdb is an
extremely useful capability, currently (severely) underutilized, were as

I started with the last program I had tried to install, the expansion 
pack for Icewind Dale, called "Heart of Winter". It's been some time 
since I've even accessed the appdb, much less tried to use it to solve a 
problem with a listed program, so I had a fairly fresh eye for how it 
looks, how accessible the information I needed was, and how noticeable 
useful information that I didn't know I needed was (or was not).

I had forgotten the precise URL directly to the appdb, so I had to
start from the main site, which brings me to my first useability
complaint: too long a trail to get to the app I'm looking for.

I had to go through 4 links just to get to the main application page.
First, the sidebar link from the main site to the appdb front page. This 
front page is useless to me (and imo, fairly useless overall), since the
majority of the "Gold" and "Silver' apps so prominently listed I already
do/would use the native alternatives for in the case of winzip, p7zip, 
Paint (Paint??! it's barely useful under Windows!), SimCity, IE, Excel, 
ACDSee, Money, Frontpage/Dreamweaver, and Ant Movie Catalog. Others I do 
not use at all, either because I have no use for them, in the case of 
Powerpoint, Access and Visio, or because they are "special interest 
programs" as in the case of Warcraft and Age of Empires (I play games, 
but not those).

Having a lovely page with big 'ol screenshots is very nice and all, but
given that the chance of a random individual user coming to use the
appdb actually needs to know about those particular programs (as opposed
to one or more of the thousands of others they may be attempting to run)
is relatively small, I would think that the "Top 25" links would be more
useful there (and less space-consuming, since I have to scroll the
current page to see if there might be a useful link at the bottom of
it), along with another, more prominent "Browse Categories" link than
this page as it stands.

So, after following the first link to a page I cannot use, I must then
link to "Browse apps" to get a category listing (Games), and then to the
sub-category page (if present, which in this case it was; Role-Playing),
and then to the application itself to see the results for Icewind Dale ( ). I am now quite tired,
having trudged through all these links when I was already tired; after
all, the only reason I'm at the appdb at all is because I have tried to
install an application and failed, which is stressful-- especially since 
I, like many users, have retried the process several times before 
looking to the appdb for help. And yes, I could have used the search 
box, but that would be *typing* :-) when I was mousing. Yes, it's my 
worst leftover habit from my years of Windows use; I tend to mouse and 
not type. But I'm far from alone in this, so it's a fair comment.

My first impressions on arrival (since I was looking at the page with 
"fresh eyes"):

1.1) The current design of the individual application page is readable 
and easy on the eyes.

1.2) The "Description" area is well-placed and sized, but the 
information contained therein is generally pointless and should be a 
"Summary" instead. Most of the descriptions I read told me what the 
application is and does as if I was making a buying decision. However, I 
believe that in most cases (certainly my case), users are already 
familiar with the capabilities of the program itself (since they already 
have it), thus telling users what a program they already have actually 
does is a waste of space.

What I would have found more useful on what is essentially the
"overview" page is some indication as to whether the problems with the 
application that I am consulting the app database about are known, and 
whether they are solveable (so I'd know whether to continue with the 
appdb or if I need to immediately begin searching elsewhere for 
solutions). A nice bulletted list (or a couple of them) would do just 
fine: "Installs: Yes, no, with modification (the last being a link to 
the comment explaining the needed modifications); "Runs: Yes, no, with 
modifications (as above); "Known Problems: Bulleted list (with links), 

If such a summary was provided on the main application page, I would not
mind so much having to go to yet another page (fifth link, now) in order
to find specific details on possible issues with the particular 
*version* of the program I'm trying to install/run.

1.3) The screenshot on the application overview page is some reward,
however; at least I have proof that the application can be made to work,
even if I cannot get it to, and its placement is eye-catching so that I
am sure to be a bit heartened by seeing it.

1.4) The big "Become a super maintainer" link/button is nice, and
encourages me to become one (via guilt; because I'm attempting to look
up programs I very commonly install under Wine whenever I install a new
distribution, I feel I might be familiar enough with the issues 
surrounding them  that I should contribute something back) but I do not 
become a maintainer because:

1.4a) I couldn't log in via that login button anyway; I had to use the 
side menu link and then go back to the page I was on. Fortunately the 
"send a new password" link on the login page that the "Log in to become 
a maintainer" button takes you to didn't seem to work either, so I was 
able to look up my original password in a password maintenance progam
(PCMagazine's 6-year-old Password Prompter) that I run via Wine (which
is why I hadn't so much bothered to stop what I was doing and look it up
in the first place) and use my real login in the side menu link instead;

1.4b) more importantly, I do not know what the responsibilities of a
"maintainer" are-- much less a "super maintainer". There is no link on
that page as to what this means (not even a little question mark with a
tooltip popup), and no indication as to whether actually clicking the
button will go to an "intermediate" page which explains what it is, or
just sets your login as the maintainer for this app (since I have 
specifically had to log in in order to enable this button in the first 
place, it's not an unreasonable assumption that that might occur).

Since I didn't know what would happen, and didn't know if I wanted to or
was capable of fulfilling what might be a committment (how much do I
need to know about the program? How much do I need to know about
programming? Do I need to have a version of Windows available to know
how the program runs there, so I can compare it to how it runs under
Wine?), I did not click the button, so the apps will remain unmaintained 
for the time being (or they won't be maintained by me, anyway).

Weirdly enough, going to the version page for the application offers me
the opportunity to be a "regular" maintainer-- so, what, that means I
would be a maintainer for that specific version, whereas "super 
maintainer" means that I'd be maintainer for all versions, like some 
kind of 'team leader'? I'm not sure that either makes sense to me as a 
user, nor that it is a logical setup generally, at least for games, 
which usually should not be run at lower versions if a patch (which 
increases the version while repairing errors) is available. So there is 
in some ways no reason to maintain version "1.0" when no one should 
actually be *running* version 1.0 other than immediately after install, 
and then only for the 5 seconds before the user has installed one or 
more patches (after which they will be running a higher version). There 
are certainly some games that would require that several patch 
levels/versions be maintained; I know of at least one (Settlers 3) that 
only works (for my boyfriend under Windows 2000) with a lower patch than 
the "latest" patch, and SiN (a game which I run under Wine despite a 
native version being available, because I already have two copies of the 
Windows version) is also very touchy about patches, so it certainly can 
happen that multiple patch levels of a game might need to be separately 
maintained. I would think that the game's maintainer would know if 
his/her particular charge needed special circumstances though, and since 
this is not a common situation (you usually want all users to be running 
the latest patch, and this is usually a good idea), having it as a 
general organizational strategy, at least in the games category, seems 
to be unnecessary work.

1.5) Comments are not being counted properly on the main overview page;
Icewind Dale actually has two comments on the version page (version 1.0,
which again is not the "real" version as there are two expansion packs,
both of which contain patches that increase the version number, and
these patches are also available separately, so no one should be using
"vanilla" 1.0), but the main page says that the number of comments are 0.

1.6) I hope that one of the responsibilities of the maintainer or super
maintainer is to control comments in some way. I completely understand
that users of the appdb who are having problems with any given app *have
no other place to state their issue with the specific program in an
organized and somewhat reliably maintained fashion* (as wine has no
forums, and certainly no forums linked to the specific app). However,
comments like

"hmm... when exporting registry, the reg file is all messed up. It has
weird symbols in it. Any idea what I'm doing wrong?"

have no place in the appdb. On the other hand, if I was the maintainer,
I would want to know that a user of the app that I maintained was
evidencing this problem (assuming that the issue commented on is
specific to the app, which in this case it probably is not), and help
the user solve it so that I could update the procedure to install and
run the app.

I'd really like to see forums or at least some kind of PM system so that
the users of the applications could reliably communicate with the
maintainer for the benefit of both parties. I see that Planescape:
Torment (another game I have running under Wine, without issue; ) has a maintainer,
but his name is not a mailto: link, so I can't contact him (afaik) to 
advise him of any new information I may have discovered short of posting 
a comment myself... which is fine if it's new information (assuming that 
my comment fits into the organizational structure of the db so that 
following users can find it easily), but if it's an app-specific issue 
that I want his help with, it's a waste of space (insofar as such a 
comment provides no real information to other users searching the 
database except a confirmation of the issue), and the appdb as it is 
gives no assurance that the maintainer will see the comment anyway.

Comments should also require the specification of the Wine version, the
distribution under which it is used, and the type of install
(self-compiled from source, distribution repository package, or Wine
distribution package; I have visions of a radio button) to be attached
to the comment, as new users often don't know to include this
information, but it's pretty hard to answer many questions without
having this information (so one has to ask, which wastes time and space).

A Wine FAQ at the forefront of the appdb, or even linked to each
application's overview page might be nice, too, for more general issues
like the above comment-- an explanation of basic procedures such as
exporting/importing registry entries, what common errors mean, like the
"Warning: The specified Windows directory L"C:\\Windows" is not
accessible" error and what to do about it, why not to get all freaked
out by seeing "fixme"s, and simple statements like the fact that some 
programs will run fine with wine /path/to/app.exe, but some will fail 
that way with very scary looking errors, but will run fine if one first 
cds to /path/to/ and then runs wine app.exe. This kind of thing is often
something new Wine users don't know, but is a very simple way to
eliminate possible vectors of error before going to any mailing list or
forum with problems, and may eliminate the need for a user to ask for
help at all (as the program works when started in the alternate manner).

Somebody's going to say I should write a FAQ myself and submit it as a
patch, aren't they? Yes, OK, but let me finish this mail first ;-) .

1.7) Descriptions are really not very useful, for several reasons. Still 
focusing on Icewind Dale (since that's the page I have open in the
appdb atm), here's the Description for the version page:

CD Release. Runs from a modified Baulders Gate engine. Notes from that
game would help here as well."

But there's no link to said notes, nor are the relevant notes copied
from that page and posted as an addendum, so even though this particular 
description does contain some useful information (for once), it's not 
even a lead, but only a suggestion of a lead. Big help.

1.8) (or, "On the road again") Off to the Baldur's Gate page, then... 
Back button to the subcategory (Games=>Role-Playing; thank heavens 
they're the same type), follow a new link to the Baldur's Gate page... 
I'm ranging far afield now, but in this case, that's OK. I have BG as 
well, but haven't installed it yet, so it's useful for me to look at the 
page anyway. Luckily. Because if I didn't have BG, I would now be 
traveling to the page of a completely different application in which I 
had no interest, with no assurance that what I find there will be of any 
use to me. In that case, I'd probaly be pretty bloody pissed off by now, 
given that I would have spent a fair amount of time trailing around the 
appdb without being so much as a single step closer to solving my actual 
problem with the original application, or even having it confirmed as a 
known problem, or receiving a clue that implied "user error", or 
anything whatsoever that would give me a troubleshooting or solution 
trail. if you'd like to 
come with me.

1.9) (or, "Helpful help?") Well, there are helpful notes there on the BG 
page, or rather, actual solutions to potential problems that I might 
have were I installing BG, which I remind you that I am not. Mind you, 
I, a simple user, don't know if the solutions posted for Baldur's Gate 
are problems that also exist under Icewind Dale -- well, actually, I 
personally do know, because I have run IWD and IWD2 under Wine in the 
past, and am currently running Planescape: Torment, (which btw runs 
great under 20050111 without any modification to Wine dlls, one 
appdb-documented change to the game's configuration file, and one small, 
optional [AppDefault] in Wine's config). All 5 of these games (IWD, 
IWD2, BG, BG2, and Planescape) are made by Black Isle, use more or less 
the same engine, and evidence similar problems to each other. But this 
does not mean that "your average user" would have any experience with 
multiple Black Isle games and thus know their technical similarities and 

The solutions on the Baldur's Gate page are general enough to be worth 
trying if IWD did not run at all, or ran poorly. However, this is not my 
problem; IWD installs perfectly and seems to run quite well (except for 
one minor but annoying issue related to Managed or Desktop settings that 
I haven't yet idenitified how to fix, since the way I fixed the same 
issue for Planescape doesn't seem to work here). Thus, none of the 
listed issues for Baldur's Gate is related to my actual problem with 
Icewind Dale, the specific application I have trailed all over the appdb 
trying to fix-- and the foremost reason is that my problem is not with 
IWD itself, but with installing the the expansion pack, "Heart of 
Winter", and

1.10) *this application is not listed in the appdb*, either as a version 
of IWD (since installing the expansion does require IWD, and does patch 
the original to a higher version), or as a separate program.

Also not listed are the Baldur's Gate expansion, "Tales of the Sword
Coast", and the Baldur's Gate 2 expansion "Throne of Bhaal", so I hope I
have no trouble installing those expansion packs when I get around to
it. However, given that I am already unable to install the expansion
pack for IWD, and since I know that IWD and Baldur's Gate are strongly
related, I'm expecting the worst-- and since the appdb is unable to help
me with IWD: Heart of Winter (nothing said about the official, free,
downloadable final expansion, Trials of the Luremaster, which is also
not in the database), if I hit trouble, I already know where I *won't*
find any help.

Fine, I'm stopped cold with this issue, let's stop quickly by the
Icewind Dale 2 page ( )
and see if there's help for me there; the issue being that it won't
begin the install. InstallShield fails to extract/open with a regular
Windows-type dialog saying either that some dll in the /tmp/{long
CLSID-looking-string-of-numbers} folder can't be opened, or that
IKernel.exe can't be run. Actually the same issue I'm having when trying 
to install IWD:HoW, which doesn't surprise me very much, as I would 
guess that the Installshield for IWD:HoW and IWD2 are more closely 
related to each other than the one for the original IWD. Since the 
issues seem similar, maybe there's a fix for both apps on the IWD2 page.

2.1) Only one version (the original version, although there is a 2.01
patch), but whatever; according to the description, I am supposed to be
able to install this, as long as I have an insanely old version of Wine
(the original description was penned by someone installing under
20020904!), which I don't.

2.2) Two comments listed on the overview page, only one comment in 

2.3) I'll try the workaround listed in the description, but since the
version of Wine used is so distant from what I actually have, and the
error which the workaround is fixing may or may not be the same one I'm
having (it's impossible to tell), and furthermore may not even be needed
anymore given the improvements in Wine in the meantime, I don't have 
much hope that it will work. But it's the only lead I have, as far as 
the appdb is concerned. Given that my second-best source of 
information--Transgaming's games database and forums-- has been blown 
away and replaced with a new games database (for which little or no data 
for most individual games has yet been entered), I don't have many other 
options than the appdb, since sites like Frank's Corner only cover a 
very limited selection of apps/games, and the various IWD sites on the 
Web don't cover Linux).

If the workaround doesn't work, I will probably dig up my backup of my
last installed and updated Win98-- which I cleverly saved all the
system files from before blowing it away, for just such an eventuality--
and "taint" my Wine installation by copying over the "real"
InstallShield files to the fake windows Common Files. This will probably
work-- it has in the past-- but I was really hoping to run 'pure' Wine
this time around. It has so been improving by leaps and bounds lately.

Let's see if things are any better in the Applications section. My issue
here is that I need to burn some CloneCD images. K3b claims they are
unuseable, and ccd2iso did not create recognizeable isos from them. It
remains unclear whether this is because the images themselves are no
good, or because there is a problem with ccd2iso, which several users
claimed was the case on the project site's bug tracker ( ). So I want
to install either CloneCD (preferred), or Nero (version 6 or above,
which I *think* will also recognize the images, I have version 5.* as
well, but I don't *think* it will solve my problem to install it, as I'm
not sure when Nero's recognition of *.ccd images became reliable, but I
believe it was with version 6, if in fact it is reliable at all), to see
if the error is in the images themselves, or burn them if the problem is
with K3b.

I do not have any real interest in installing these programs on their
own account, although if I kept one, I would keep CloneCD for the
specific use of handling .ccd images, on the rare occasion that I need
to deal with them. I would prefer not to install Nero at all, and
certainly not to keep it, as it's too much overhead for the only use I
have for it (for my normal requirements, K3b is perfectly adequate). The
only reason Nero is under consideration at all is that I may not be able
to install or use CloneCD and Nero is the only other application that I
know that might reliably recognize and burn the images if they are in
fact not flawed.

I have already tried to install both programs; CloneCD installed without
problems, but would not run, starting the debugger immediately with an
error in the 32-bit code-- I would like to find out why, and if there is
a solution. I then tried to install Nero 6.3, but clicking either the
Nero 6-only setup button or the "install suite" button on the autorun
dialog blinked and returned me to the autorun dialog-- I'd like a
solution, if I cannot get CloneCD to run (which I don't think I can).

This is a real issue I am attempting to solve, and my goals are clear. I
am now going to the appdb to see if it will help me.

3.1) Gotta search for CloneCD, as I have no idea what category it would 
be in. Utilities=>File System, it turns out. Guess that makes sense, no 
idea if it's "intuitive".

3.2) Version: not the version I have, but any port in a storm... 
Comments field says there's one comment. Also not a hopeful sign, but 
the appdb has been wrong about the comments before, and anyway, any port....

3.3) ..what the..???!!! There is no comment! Is the description being
counted as a comment? In any case, there is absolutely no information
whatsoever for this application (I don't call "Description:
Program for burning CD Especially to make clones of original CD\'s"
information), and there are Zarro bugs found in Bugzilla (of course; I'm 
not even certain if Bugzilla is even linked to and indexed with the 
appdb in that way yet).

OK, this is a dead end. Guess I'd better try to fix Nero, so it's off to .

4.1) Hey, the first app I've looked at in this db with a "native
alternative" link. Nice, but I'm not reading the description anyway (I
know what Nero Burning ROM is and does), so I almost missed it. I think 
that the link should be underneath the link to the Nero URL, above the 
screenshot (one extra field, thus; "Native Alternative  <link to K3b>").

I'd be much more likely to see it then (if I didn't know about K3b already).

4.2) Versions: all versions that an 'ordinary' user might have are 
represented, good; no comments counted for any of them, bad (if true). 
Following the link to 6.x.

4.3) Nope, there are in fact no comments. And the description field is
exactly the same, except without the native alternative link. What is
the point of that? It's Nero version 6, one can reasonably assume that
the program has not suddenly changed from the CD-burning application
described on the overview page to a word processor, so why not at least
put the changelog here.... oh, right, because we're not trying to sell 
Nero, which would be the only reason to put Nero's changelog in this 
field. It becomes much clearer now why the "Description" field is 
useless, and should be replaced by a "Summary" of whether this version 
of this application works in any way under Wine, and then the comments 
could/should contain solutions to the specific common problems a user 
might encounter when trying to install or run this (version of the) 
program. As it is, there's nothing for me here; let's see if version 5.x 
is any better.

4.4) huh, 7 comments, when none are counted on the overview page.

4.5) Two comments look like they might be helpful if I have problems
attempting to install an earlier version of Nero (which I may have no
choice but to attempt, since the appdb has no assistance for my
preferred version of Nero, or my preferred application, CloneCD).

4.6) The most useful snippet on this page is the mention of Frank's 
Corner (without a link, but I know where it is), where I would next go 
to see if I can find some adequate instructions/help/guidance for one or 
both of these programs (not to mention IWD and IWD2).

In actual fact, what I will probably do is transfer the CloneCD images
to my boyfriends Windows PC, install CloneCD there, and burn them that
way. It's a pain, but ultimately faster and easier than trying to find
any organized assistance on these programs via the appdb. Which is just 
a bloody shame, imho.

Anyway, I'm terribly sorry this was so long, but it seemed past time to 
offer some input on actual useability issues in the midst of all
this discussion. The appdb does "work" as it is (I can navigate it, read 
the entries, etc); I assume that it will "work" when/if adjusted, both 
in terms of code, and with the addition of active maintainers. But it is 
barely of any *use* whatsoever as it is, and it's not clear to me 
whether the proposed redesign and/or increasing numbers of active 
maintainers will improve the db's practical functionality for users, for 
whom I feel this complex and difficult to maintain database should be a 
primary resource, from which they can both receive and offer assistance 
in an organized fashion. Or have I misunderstood the function of the 
appdb entirely?


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