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Axialis AX Icons 4.5; Dream Station

AX Icons 4.5 from Axialis software is an excellent icon editor for those of an artistic bent. However, the main reason I downloaded it was to change the 'open folder' icon used by Windows Explorer, to make it more visible (you can see the new version in the left hand pane of Explorer in the window beneath AX Icons).AX Icons 4.5 from Axialis software is an excellent icon editor for those of an artistic bent. However, the main reason I downloaded it was to change the 'open folder' icon used by Windows Explorer, to make it more visible (you can see the new version in the left hand pane of Explorer in the window beneath AX Icons).

This month Martin Walker explores a number of interesting new releases, improves the ergonomics of his desktop, and prepares downloadable demos for the SOS web site.

Have you ever fancied creating your own icons to use on the desktop? The artistically inclined among you may be interested in beautifying your screen, but the main reason I investigated icons this month was to overcome an annoying facet of Windows Explorer. If you use the view that gives you nested folders in the left‑hand pane, along with the contents of the open folder in the right, it's easy to lose your place amongst the folders, largely because the 'open folder' icon still looks fairly similar to the 'closed folder' icon when displayed at its typical small size. When I finish looking at the files pane it often takes me several seconds to spot the currently accessed folder.

Although it's possible to alter system icons by editing the Registry, it's always preferable to find a less accident‑prone way than this, as a corrupted Registry can seriously damage the health of your PC. So I was very pleased while browsing the net to come across Axialis Software (, who market a variety of shareware utilities including AX Icons 4.5. This is a fully featured shareware icon editor, with a wide variety of drawing tools, that can create icons in various sizes from 16 by 16 pixels through to 72 by 72 pixels. Along with a comprehensive list of other functions, there is a Customise Windows section where you can replace the standard and desktop icons used by the system, which was just what I needed.

Since you can also use the utility to open program files and extract or modify their icons, you can even create your own customised versions for any application, to change what appears on the desktop. I replaced the standard open folder icon with a green one that I also came across while browsing the net, although you could choose any icon at your disposal. Now, finally, I can instantly see which folder is currently open! The demo version of AC Icons 4.5 will work for 30 days, but the full version is excellent value at only $14 (about £9).

On‑Line Demo Doctor

Dream Station is a new MIDI software synth/sequencer obviously based on tracker technology, but it certainly looks comprehensive.Dream Station is a new MIDI software synth/sequencer obviously based on tracker technology, but it certainly looks comprehensive.

In order to provide various new on‑line services for our readers, SOS have appointed me as demomaster ( in charge of preparing audio files for the" target="_blank web site, and our regular Demo Doctor feature is the first to benefit. In future, not only our resident specialist John Harris will be able to hear the demos that our readers send in — everyone will be able to hear a featured track from each of his main reviews by clicking on the appropriate link in the on‑line version of the magazine. Go to September's" target="mainframe online.

The tracks will be available in two formats. The best sound quality will be from the 128kbps MP3 file (this is not quite 'CD‑quality', but not that far off) and will enable listeners to get far more from John's comments and advice in conjunction with his Demo Doctor text. However, you won't manage to stream this file in real time unless you have an ISDN line, and it is primarily intended to be downloaded first. For a quick taster of the track, we will also provide a RealAudio version that should be streamable in real time by anyone with a 28.8kbps or faster modem. Though the sound quality is fairly rough, the RealAudio streaming will at least allow you to hear what sort of music it is before committing yourself to a possibly lengthy download for the MP3 version. Download times for this will depend on the speed of your modem, and also vary depending on how busy the net is at the time.

By the way, a quick tip: if you don't have an ISDN connection, but want to listen to the start of the MP3 version without downloading the whole thing, start streaming the file anyway (it will sound full of hiccups and false starts) but press the Stop button on your player. The download will carry on, and once it gets a little way ahead you can press the Play button again to hear what has arrived so far. You won't get to hear the entire snippet in real time until the full download has finished, but you may prefer to hear the start of the MP3 version rather than the entire RealAudio version due to its increased quality.

The Strange Case Of The Disappearing Plug‑Ins

Having previously commented on the fact that the dongle used by Waves plug‑ins has never caused me any problems, both my Native Power Packs (I and II) mysteriously disappeared this month. Every time I tried to launch any plug‑in from these packs in either Wavelab or Sound Forge, my drive whirred briefly but nothing appeared on screen. I don't really have any major problems with Windows 98 either, so rather than re‑installing Windows (which some people seem to do whenever anything goes wrong!) I began to suspect the scanner that I recently bought.

Scanners really need to have the EPP (Enhanced Parallel Port) protocol enabled (you can check the current setting in your BIOS), and any other devices previously plugged into the same port should be re‑connected to the through port on the scanner, so that the scanner is the closest device to your PC. However, although my string of dongles was now on the far side of the scanner, I had no initial problems running their associated software applications, whether the scanner was switched on or not.

Although I could have re‑installed these plug‑ins to cure the problem, I remembered that exactly the same thing had happened once before, so I persevered in looking for the cause. The truth emerged when I looked on the Waves 2.6 installer CD, where I found a file named 'Known bug.txt' that explained the problem — an older version of the file Msvcrt.dll. You can copy the newer version that Waves include on their CD into the Wavelab folder to cure the problm, but I restarted my PC in DOS mode and copied the file directly into the c:\Windows\System folder. This makes sure that the newest file was used by every application. I then rebooted, whereupon all my plug‑ins reappeared, and the dongles were exonerated.

Going Exploring

As part of the research for this month's PC Musician feature on Windows 98, I installed the very latest Windows 98 Second Edition over the top of my existing Windows 98 installation. This worked with no problems, so I now hopefully have the very latest versions of every Microsoft system file. One of the main new features is the inclusion of the latest version of Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer 5.0, although this is also available as a free download via the Internet, and has even appeared on various cover‑mounted magazine CD‑ROMs over the last couple of months. Despite this, I hadn't personally bothered to install it (thinking 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'). However, having done so as part of Windows 98 SE, I'm now impressed enough to report my findings to those in a similar situation.

The most important new feature as far as I am concerned is the ability to save entire web pages, complete with graphics and any sounds used, as a single entity. You do this using the normal 'Save As' option, which now has options for 'Web Page, complete', 'Web Page, html only' and 'Web Archive', as well as 'Text File'. The first of these saves the entire contents of any page (even those including frames); to do so, it modifies the relative links contained in the source code of the page to point to the graphic files in their new location as part of the new combined file. The Web Archive option saves the page in Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension HTML (MHTML) format with an MHT file extension, so that it can be sent and received using certain email programs such as Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Outlook, and Microsoft Outlook Express.

Although there have been various utilities available in the past that performed the similar function of being able to store an entire web page, having it incorporated within the browser makes things far easier. At long last, if you find a page with interesting information, and want to save it for later, you don't need to jump through any hoops to do so, or find later that although the text has been preserved, all the diagrams have disappeared for ever. It will certainly make my life easier.

Other improvements include sorting of the History section using the new View option, so that you can now see which pages you've visited by date, by site, by order visited today, or even most visited order. You can also carry out a search, which should prove useful when you half‑remember the name of a web site but still can't spot it in your list. The search facility not only looks through the History contents, but also your Favorites (sic) and the current Temporary Internet files folder. Useful stuff!

For those into streaming audio, there is a new Windows Radio Toolbar, while the new Edit button on the main toolbar launches your choice of HTML editor. If you've got IE 5.0 sitting idly on a CD‑ROM somewhere, and regularly download web pages for further study, I should dig it out and install it now.

New Releases

Not to be outdone by Ahead Software's Nero CD‑burning program reviewed in last month's column, Adaptec have just announced version 4 of their well known Easy CD Creator application. New features include TakeTwo (an image‑based hard‑disk backup system), and the ability to create Audio CDs direct from MP3 files. TakeTwo goes one step further than the similar feature in Nero by supporting file compression and unused sector skipping to keep the total file sizes (and therefore burn times) down. Both applications allow backups to span several CDs if they are bigger than 650Mb. Audio CDs can also have various treatments, including de‑noising, courtesy of algorithms licensed from Arboretum. Easy CD Creator 4 Deluxe will be available by 'early autumn 1999', and have a typical street price of £49.

Audio Simulation (a German/Hungarian joint venture) have released Dream Station, a software synth featuring 96 oscillators and 32 filters arranged as 32 voices, and including a step time sequencer (which can be disabled if you prefer to use your own MIDI sequencer). It uses both subtractive and FM synthesis, and includes hard sync, ring modulation, and distortion. Audio Simulation say that their 'crispy, clean sound' beats all other currently available software synthesizers — a bold claim indeed. It certainly looks nice (see screenshot), but the sequencer betrays its tracker origins. A downloadable demo is available from‑, and the introductory price is $129 (about £80).

PC Snippets

  • Intel have started yet another price war with AMD by cutting 10 to 15 percent off current Pentium III prices. A new 600MHz Pentium III will also be released in August, and by the time you read this, further price cuts of their slower processors may have been made as a result.
  • PC makers finally seem to be cottoning on to the desirability of fashion in technology, and this autumn should see an array of new case designs not only in various colours (prompted by the success of the iMac) but also in other materials such as chrome or aluminium. This may even benefit the PC musician in another way, since acoustic noise levels may fall as a result.
  • ASIO 2.0 support is now also available for Frontier Design's Dakota soundcard to provide sample‑accurate transfers — it's good to see that Steinberg's new technology, introduced in Cubase 3.7 for Windows, is being taken up so rapidly by soundcard manufacturers. Dakota owners should point their browsers at