A salmagundi for CD and DVD creation

Every now and then we have days when things digital just get us torqued. Days when applications bomb, files get corrupted, the network clogs up and software does something that is just simply irritating.

Such was our day today. After encountering one dumb problem after another, we installed Fireman CD/DVD Burner 3.0, and this otherwise very useful tool irritated us immensely because of a number of poorly-thought-out basic details.

Published by Honestech (aka Honest Technology), Fireman is a mélange -- a salmagundi if you will -- of CD and DVD creation and management tools, but to begin, you are required to enter a 25-character key to unlock the installation. You are then are presented with a fairly large dialog box titled "Please register your product key."

Should you press the "register now" button instead of the "cancel" button (in which case you will be prompted to choose to be bugged again in one to 7 days), you will be taken to Honestech's Web site, where you have to enter the 25-character key all over again.

This is a ridiculous way to do things -- we just entered that data, for heaven's sake! The key should be passed in the URL that takes you to Honestech's Web site to pre-populate the registration form. Even more ridiculous is that filling out the form is kind of tricky because the fairly large dialog box insists on staying on top of all other Windows so you have to move it out of the way!

When you complete the form, you get an eight-character product-registration key and you can copy the key from the Web page. But you can't paste the copied key into the fields on the page that the company somewhat redundantly calls the Register Product Registration Key, because this page wants you to enter the key in two four-digit fields.

When the program starts, Fireman goes to Honestech's Web site to see if there are any updates available. If there are, you get a dialog box that asks, "Would you like to see what has been updated?" If you check the box that reads "Do not display this message again" a field will appear that requires you to select a delay of one to seven days, after which you will be asked again. Someone apparently didn't see the illogic in that. If you click "Yes," you are taken to the Web site, where you have to find your product updates on a page that lists the updates for every product the company offers. Again, it knows what product we have, so why not take us to a page specifically for that software?

Could anything else be annoying here? Yep. When you finally get Fireman running, you'll find a user interface that makes an attempt to be different by providing a sort of graphical shelf with an icon for each group of functions. This would be fine, but not only does this make the user interface unnecessarily large, it also can't be navigated using just the keyboard!

Anyway, despite all of that foolishness, this is a pretty good product and effectively creates CD or DVD disks of data, audio, pictures or video, as well as backup and restore data. It also manages media (erases rerecordable disks and displays disk information), creates and burns disk images, and displays photos and DVDs.

Fireman lets you select regions of audio and video to include, set transitions, add titles and effects, and define and edit menus. There's even support for creating and printing disk labels.

A curious oversight in the user interface design is the lack of drag-and-drop support when adding files, something that is incredibly useful because it speeds up the development process remarkably.

Performance is good, and the in-program help and documentation also are good. Fireman comes with a manual, but it is just a copy of the in-program help printed on dead trees, and is not really all that useful.

So, is Fireman a good deal? While we'd like to see things like the irritating registration and updating processes getting cleaned up, the bottom line is that at only $20, we'd say Fireman CD/DVD Burner 3.0 is not a bad value at all.

Next week, more CD/DVD tools. Burn your comments to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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