Director 8

Director 8 (D8) has been released less than a year after Director 7 (D7) defined a quantum leap in the evolution of the leading multimedia-authoring tool. D8 doesn't make the giant leap made by D7, but offers some productivity benefits that will certainly please the serious developer. However, there's not much you can do with Director 8 that you couldn't do with the previous version. Director is now, first and foremost, an Internet-content creation tool, with Web-based download of Shockwave movies the primary means of delivery. Of course, this doesn't mean that Director can't be used for CD-ROM development, or multimedia presentations, as before. But it's the Web – and its changing nature as a maturing medium – that's driving Macromedia's development of Director. The Shockwave Studio comes with Director 8, Fireworks 3, Shockwave Multiuser 2, Shockwave Player 8, and the sound-editing application, Peak LE. Fireworks 3 has already been reviewed here (see Macworld December 1999), so I'll concentrate on the other components. First, Director itself. Almost every aspect of the interface has undergone change, which makes it a more unified application, easier to learn, and more in line with other Macromedia apps.The major change in usability comes with the addition of the Property Inspector – a tabbed palette that shows, sees, and sets the properties of a sprite, cast member, script and movie – doing away with the floating dialogue boxes that beset previous incarnations. Learning the Lingo
Common properties of multiple sprites can be set simultaneously. Property Inspector allows for toggling between a dialogue view – that uses check boxes and other user-friendly devices to set the properties – and a list view, that displays properties by Lingo names, with numerical values. Experienced users will find this feature a great time-saver. Either mode provides a more coherent way of understanding and modifying a movie. Developers accustomed to the old way of working will still find many of the old dialogue boxes and menu options, easing the transition between old and new. The Cast window has also received much-needed refinement. While the old-style thumbnail view is still present, you can also toggle to a list view, displaying cast-member names, media types, creation dates, and comments as columns in a table. Clicking on the column head sorts the table. Given that Director now supports up to 32,000 cast members, and about ten different media types, better asset-management was long overdue. Some of the most useful interface enhancements come in the Stage, the area of the screen where the movie is shown. Also welcome in D8 are grids and guides, that will be familiar to FreeHand or Fireworks users. The align feature now allows you to distribute a group of sprites evenly onscreen. You can now also scale the stage, to zoom-in for extra precision, or zoom-out to save screen space. This feature, along with the Cast List option, and the Property Inspector, makes Director 8 less of a two-screen sprawler than previous versions. Director 7 added Javascript-style dot syntax to Lingo for serious coders, and D8 continues this development of Lingo as a fully-fledged programming language. It allows scripts to be saved and edited in an external application such as BBEdit, or a source-control environment, such as Microsoft Visual Source Safe. However, I know of no such application for Macintosh developers. While the ability to edit Lingo scripts outside of Director is a nice touch, I can't see many benefits – apart from large companies being able to work with multiple developers on projects, and without a stand-alone Lingo compiler with which to test scripts. Sounds good
One feature sure to find widespread use is D8's improved sound control, which allows greater control and synchronization of multiple sounds – including the ability to pan sounds from left to right. A number of new drag-&-drop behaviours make it easy to control and sync sounds. This will make Director even more appealing for those involved in the construction of sound toys, virtual mixing decks, and audio jukeboxes. The predominance of Shockwave as the primary delivery mechanism is emphasized by the Save as Shockwave command being renamed Publish. It offers a number of different Publish settings, defining whether a Java version is exported, or whether the HTML embedded code is included. A Preview in Browser feature resembles that of Fireworks or Dreamweaver. A couple of advances in Shockwave will provide a number of benefits to developers. The first of these is called Runtime Lingo – transition effects that are controlled by Lingo, and can be applied to individual sprites. These can be used to create complex graphics from a number of simple components – the idea being to save bandwidth. Another bandwidth-saver is the option to convert all bitmap graphics to JPEGs, and apply compression options. Shockwave movies are now scaleable – meaning they can be embedded into the full width of a Web page, regardless of how big the browser is, by specifying percentages. However, unless the movie is fully composed of vector sprites or Flash Assets, the need to avoid stretched bitmaps make it of little use to most developers. Perhaps the strongest new feature of the Shockwave Studio is not Director, but the updated Multiuser Server 2. In case you haven't discovered this tool yet, it's a server-based component that allows multiple users to use a Shockwave movie at the same time, and interact. Cue multi-player games, chat rooms, interactive environments and other multi-user capabilities previously only achieved using Java. A little bit extra
Version 2 is more robust, and now offers up to 1,000 simultaneous users, compared to the previous 50. If this isn't enough, third party Xtras can support hundreds of thousands of users simultaneously. Macromedia has set up a trial server to test your multi-user movies, but to deliver them you will need to install the server component on a Web server. The bad news for Macintosh users is that this is currently available only on the NT or Unix operating systems – understandable, given the tiny share of Mac-based Web servers. So what's missing in Director 8? Very little. It remains far and away the most complete multimedia-authoring tool available on any platform. And, its Xtra plug-in architecture mean that pretty much all the gaps have been covered, such as database functionality, 3D integration, and even DVD support. I'm sure support for the next generation of Internet devices, such as WAP, will be covered by a version of Shockwave as and when. Macromedia is well positioned to take advantage of advancements in multimedia and Web technology, and enable developers to distribute Director authored content on as many formats as possible.

OUR VERDICT

The interface enhancements of D8 are a welcome feature, and will speed-up project development, while the grids and updated alignment will provide accuracy more quickly. The new sound tools offer much better synchronization of multiple audio members. But aside from this, there's little that's new in Director 8. The exception is the Multiuser Server, which could have a massive impact on the way online communities are built.

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