Version 8.17 of Austin Meyer's timeless flight simulator X-Plane adds a much awaited and much desired feature: a smart installer. No longer will X-Plane owners need to painstakingly merge files from the new X-Plane version to their existing version; the entire process is done automatically by Meyer's new installer program.
X-Plane, like an old Volkwagen Beetle, is very easy to tinker with, and the vast majority of owners do so, meaning that their copies of X-Plane (just like their Beetles) can become very different from those rolling off of the factory line. Planes can be added or tweaked, scenery can be modified, sounds or visuals can be improved, navigation data can be updated ... the list goes on. In days past, users needed to keep track of what files they had worked in, and be careful not to overwrite them with newer versions whenever X-Plane was updated (which is quite frequently).
Now, with version 8.17's new installer, this manual labor is no more. The program compares every file in one's X-Plane installation with its copy and determines what has been changed. The user is prompted as to the course of action he or she would like to take for each file. In addition, the installer will only download the files that have actually changed in an X-Plane update, meaning that users will no longer need to download the entire 255MB program just to get an 0.01 update that changes 2 or 3 files. Version 8.17's installer will merge correctly for all versions of X-Plane back to 8.15, but no further in time.
The installer is a double edged sword, however. IMG had a chance to try it out, and the lasting impression we were left with was its sluggishness. The program was a CPU hog like no other. Even simple tasks like browsing through Finder windows or working in TextEdit were brought to a crawl during the install. Furthermore, download speed was on the very low end as well, well below modem speeds. With any luck fixes for these problems will appear soon. For now, installs are best performed overnight, in our opinion.
Version 8.17 offers very little in the way of new functionality for X-Plane. The highlight of this latest update is the installer, not the program itself. X-Plane is a very modular and easily extensible general aviation simulator from Laminar Research. It allows its players to take to the sky (or to space, or to Mars) in a seemingly endless number of aircraft, from Cessnas to 747's to F-16's, even space shuttles, rockets, and X-15's. It comes with a full suite of tools for creating and modifying aircraft and scenery.