At a Glance
Almost a year after Macromedia relaunched and rebranded many of its main products as the MX line, its multimedia-authoring application, Director, has joined the fold. But with most of the MX flock already so well integrated, will Director MX be the black sheep of the family?
Well, probably not. Macromedia's Dreamweaver, Fireworks, ColdFusion, and Flash do offer a stunning set of tools for the design and deployment of Web content and applications. And they constitute a unified suite, given the high degree of integration among them. But Director MX does something else: it gives designers tools for creating multimedia content that can be deployed across a wide range of media: CDs, DVDs, kiosks, downloadable applications, and the Web. Think of it as an all-in-one multimedia tool. If you're building content that may include text, hypertext, audio, high-resolution still images, digital video, animation, 3-D modeling, and Flash content, this is the application to use.
New Features and New Looks
Director MX is an upgrade from Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio, which was one of Director's most important upgrades: through the introduction of Shockwave 3D, Director 8.5 added new interactive capabilities for the design and deployment of streaming 3-D content on the Web. The Director MX upgrade is not as groundbreaking, but it does contain some important new features and enhancements.
First and most significant is that Director finally works with OS X for both authoring and playback. Users should note that Director MX will not run in older versions of Mac OS for authoring, but it can still create applications that will run in OS 8 or later. Before switching to MX, developers should make sure any third-party Xtras they use to add functionality to their Director applications are also OS X compatible.
Users should welcome Director's new interface: Macromedia has redesigned it to match the rest of the MX line as closely as possible. This means you have more control over the deluge of windows the program presents. No more floating Score, Cast, Script, and Text windows -- now you can dock them together and collapse them. You can do the same with the Property Inspector, the Text Inspector, and the new Object Inspector. Even with the elimination of clutter, you may still want either two displays or an Apple Cinema Display to leave room for the Stage, where Director shows presentations.
Speaking the Same Lingo
Macromedia has also brought changes to Lingo, the scripting language at the heart of Director that allows you to add interactivity and functionality to movies. As Lingo has become more powerful, Director has evolved from an animation tool into a full-fledged multimedia-authoring application. The Message window now has two panes: you use one to type Lingo code directly into the movie; the other receives the output from Lingo scripts. The Watcher is gone, replaced by the Object Inspector, through which you can see sprite properties at a glance and track variables while a movie is playing. One welcome addition is an advanced Debugging window, where you can edit Lingo scripts directly. The new line numbering and color highlighting of recently changed code makes script editing even easier.
Launch and Edit in a Flash
Like Director, Macromedia Flash started life as a Web-animation tool. Now, due to the capabilities afforded by its programming language, ActionScript, Flash is used ubiquitously for creating Web applications and interactive Web content. While some developers think Director and Flash present an either/or choice, there's a lot of crossover between the two, and using both, you can have the best of both worlds. You can now import Flash MX files into Director MX applications. You can also launch Flash MX files from within Director and directly control Flash MX objects with Lingo. While ActionScript and Lingo have different nuances, they now communicate much more easily and powerfully.
More Access for More Users
Director MX's tools enable you to build content for a wide range of media, thus helping you reach a wide range of users with varying physical abilities. The software now includes a set of accessibility elements, which make it easier for developers to create content that meets accessibility guidelines. Speech synthesis can read aloud multimedia displays for people with visual impairments, keyboard-based navigation provides access to those with mobility impairments, and captioning offers access to those with hearing impairments. One Xtra, for example, allows you to define text elements to be spoken via the excellent built-in Mac Text-to-Speech synthesis. With other behaviors, you can specify elements such as graphics or text so that users can navigate to them with the tab key, access captioning, or hear a description. Built-in accessibility is now a legal requirement for many multimedia applications in the United States (under Section 508), but it's also simply a good policy for any developer.
Macworld's Buying Advice
While this is not a revolutionary release in terms of new features, it's an excellent upgrade for existing Director users. Given that Flash is the current rage, however, Director MX is unlikely to attract many new users. That's too bad, because the combined power of the two puts Director MX firmly in the top spot for multimedia authoring across a wider range of media than Flash alone can address.
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