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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Home Planet Version 3.3RC1 Now Available

The first release candidate of version 3.3 of Home Planet (this link goes to the page describing the current 3.1/3.2 release) is now available for downloading and testing by “bleeding edge” early adopters from the following links, all Zipped archives containing long file names and multiple directories, which must be extracted with the requisite options using a utility which understands these refinements.

The difference between the “Lite” and “Full” editions and the content of the “Upgrade” package, along with instructions for installing each of them, are given in the main Home Planet page. The only changes between version 3.1 and 3.3 are that you must unpack the 3.3 archives with a Zip utility which understands long file names, such as Info-ZIP (which is free), and that the executable program is now named HomePlanet.exe, not HPLANET.EXE.

The major visible change in this edition is that the NASA Visible Earth imagery, which previously required that you install an update package, is now fully integrated into the release; the Lite edition contains an image database of 768×384 pixels and the Full edition databases of 8192×4096 and 2048×1024 pixels. The NOAA topographic map remains available, in two resolutions in the Full edition, but the ancient, small, and fuzzy “Gaudy” map has been removed, as the NASA imagery completely obsoletes it.

Version 3.3 saves its settings in the registry instead of a HPLANET.INI file, allowing separate settings to be maintained by each user on a shared machine. A number of other minor bugs and irritations have been corrected, including the far too frequent recalculation of the sky image on fast machines and the terrain and scenery changing in the Horizon window every time the sky image was updated.

This release was built with Microsoft Visual Studio .net (Visual C 7.0), and a good deal of crufty code dating from the days of 16-bit Windows has been cleaned up. The structure of the development directory and build process is now sufficiently rational that for the first time since Home Planet was originally released in 1994, I'm making source code generally available (the source download link is in the list above). You should be able to download and unpack this, load the “HomePlanet.sln” file into Visual Studio, select everything for a Batch Build, and build the whole thing. The source code is, as usual, utterly unsupported: you are entirely on your own.

I have made minor updates to the help file to describe the new map window images and incorporate recent entries in the development log, but it's pretty much unchanged from the 3.1 version. The associated database files for satellites, asteroids, comets, and the like have not been updated at all and consequently are hopelessly out of date, but they are included only for demonstration purposes; users should download current orbital elements and catalogues from the sources listed in the help file.

I consider Home Planet “legacy software”—something I wrote before I wised up and abandoned Windows software development. So, while I'm interested in bug reports (crashes, wrong results not due to out-of-date orbital elements, etc.), I have no interest whatsoever in “would be nice” suggestions for improvements. The entire motivation of the 3.3 release is to save people the trouble of installing 3.1 and then the 3.2 update (and me their E-mail when they are puzzled by this process), and to make the source code available in a reasonably tractable form so that anybody foolish enough to undertake further development of this period piece or use it as a “code mine” for the development of other applications will have access to what they need to do so.

Posted at August 10, 2006 22:54