Almost a year after the rest of the main Macromedia product-line was relaunched and rebranded as the MX range, the multimedia-authoring application Director has finally joined the fold. But with the rest of the MX flock forming an integrated studio of products, is Director MX the black sheep of the family?
The answer, inevitably, is yes and no. The rest of the MX suite – Dreamweaver, Fireworks, ColdFusion and Flash – offers a stunning set of tools for the design and deployment of Web content and applications. The fantastic degree of integration between the MX range means that they form a superb suite. In Director, the tools can be used for creating multimedia content for deployment across a range of media, including CD/DVD, kiosks, downloadable applications and more, as well as Shockwave Web applications.
Director MX is an upgrade from Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio, which was one of the most fundamental upgrades to the Director product. This upgrade is not as big, but has some important enhancements.
The most significant of these is that Director is OS X-ready, both for authoring and playback. However, there is a price to pay for progress: Director MX will not run on older versions of the Mac OS for authoring, though it can still be used to create applications that will run on Mac OS 8 or later. This is an inevitable step, and I’m sure many products will follow suit when they are next updated. However, before switching, developers should take care that any third-party Xtras they use are OS X compatible.
The next most apparent new feature is the updated user interface, which has been redesigned to match as closely as possible that of the rest of the MX range. This means that the deluge of floating windows that has always dogged Director is now more manageable, as they can be docked together and collapsed if required. You can dock the Property Inspector, Text inspector, Object inspector and suchlike, and also dock the Score, Cast, and Script and Text windows. It helps, but you’ll still be hankering after either a dual display or a 23-inch Cinema Display to leave some room to show the Stage, which is where presentations are displayed.
Some of the old windows have either disappeared or changed. The Message window now has two panes: one to type Lingo code directly into the movie; and another to receive the output from Lingo scripts. Lingo is Director scripting language – used to add interactivity and functionality to movies – and lies at the heart of Director. As Lingo has become more and more powerful, Director has become less and less the animation tool that it started as, and more a fully fledged multimedia-programming environment. The Watcher has gone, replaced with the Object Inspector – which can be used to track variables while a movie is playing, and also view sprite properties at a glance. A welcome addition is in the Debugging window, where Lingo scripts can be edited directly. Script editing has also been improved with the addition of line numbering and colour highlighting of recently changed code.
In a similar evolution to Director, Flash started life as a Web-animation tool and is now the ubiquitous tool for creating Web applications and interactive Web content due to the advanced capabilities afforded by its programming language, ActionScript. Director and Flash may appear to be in competition, and while there is a large degree of crossover between the two, Flash movies can be imported into Director, giving the best of both worlds. With Director MX, you can now import Flash MX movies, and directly address Flash objects from Director, giving a greater degree of integration than was previously possible. While ActionScript and Lingo have different nuances, there is enough similarity for them to communicate more easily and powerfully than before.
It is now also possible to launch-and-edit a specified Flash source movie from the SWF file imported into the Director Cast. Double clicking the cast member launches the source FLA file in Flash MX, and when ready, automatically exports the SWF file and updates the cast member in Director. This round-trip editing feature can also apply to bitmap editing with Fireworks.
For multi-user Shockwave applications, Macromedia is promoting the use of the Flash Communication Server, a Personal Edition of which is included on the CD. Although this works for authoring on a Mac, a Windows-based server is required for deployment. This replaces the Multiuser Server, which is no longer supported, although a copy is also included on the CD. Flash remoting can be used to connect Shockwave movies to Cold Fusion applications for live database connectivity.
Besides all these Flash features, the only other new feature of note is the accessibility element. These are included to make it easier for developers to create code that is accessible to: the visually impaired through speech synthesis; mobility impaired through keyboard-based navigation; and hearing impaired through the use of captioning. Under Section 508 of US Government law, this is now a legal requirement for many US multimedia applications, but it’s also good practice for any developer. A new Text-to-Speech Xtra allows text elements to be spoken, using the built-in Mac speech synthesizer. Other behaviours are used to specify elements such as graphics or text that can be navigated to by the Tab key, and apply captioning, or speak a description.
This is an excellent upgrade for existing Director users. But Flash is all the rage, so Director’s attraction is limited. However, the power of Director and Flash combined in Director MX puts it firmly at the top of the tree for multimedia-authoring across a much wider range of applications than Flash alone.