Director ($1199) has been given a fresh MX makeover and has added several key new features including smooth integration with Flash MX, improved Lingo programming, and built-in accessibility handling, all of which should help streamline your multimedia production process. If you are already using other products in the MX line, or if you are looking for a tool to handle multimedia production, you should strongly consider this program. If you are using an older version, you need to decide if the upgrade offers enough bang to justify the cost.
Director, the long-time anchor of the Macromedia multimedia development line, is the latest Macromedia product to experience the MX makeover, joining its Studio MX cohorts Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks (Freehand has yet to receive the MX treatment). Beyond the interface changes, other improvements include new built-in accessibility tools, smarter integration with Flash, and a much-improved Lingo scripting environment. Whether you'll be happy with these changes depends on how comfortable you were with the previous design.
Director remains one of the premier multimedia development tools on the market, allowing you to build multimedia content in a variety of formats. Although the Shockwave player doesn't enjoy the 98 percent browser penetration of the Flash player, it is still widely used on the Web. Nonetheless, beyond the interface overhaul, there are few truly dramatic changes, and you need to decide if the new design enhancements warrant paying for the upgrade. This review will concentrate on the PC version of the software (although most information applies to both products), but Mac users should be aware that Director MX is only compatible with OS X and will not work with earlier versions.
A New Look
Like its Studio MX brethren, Director boasts an entirely new interface with an integrated workspace replacing the old floating palettes. This means the entire program stays together in a single window. Long-time Director users—especially those not using other MX products—may need some time to get used to the new look (and finding the location of some features from previous versions). The familiar palettes have been supplanted by flexible panels, which contain sets of related commands or information. By default, open panels sit on the right side of the screen in a docking port. Within the docking port, you can show or hide panels as needed, drag and drop individual panels onto the Director work space, or even create your own custom sets of panels. If you make several changes, you can easily return to the default program layout. The flexibility and intelligence of this implementation is much easier to use than the old floating palettes and many of the old palettes have been incorporated into a more intelligently designed tabbed panel making it easier to get at information you need without cluttering the interface.
The new interface is much friendlier, but it is consistent with other MX programs; if you've used one of them, it should be easier (to some extent) to understand how Director MX works. Macromedia has maintained the old program metaphor of a stage, score, and cast. The Stage window includes the control panel at the bottom of the window, although you can detach it if you wish. The Cast with all of your project elements (known as sprites in Director) and the Score with the project timeline have been integrated into a single panel, but as with other panels, you can move the individual elements around if it's more convenient. If you truly cannot stand the new look, there is an option to use a Director 8-style layout if you prefer it, but this only affects the placement of program elements; the overall program changes remain in effect.
While they were overhauling the interface, Macromedia should have taken the time to add a multiple undo feature, which should be a given for a program that's been around as long as Director. Users should feel free to experiment and then have the ability to back out with an undo feature.
We Are MX Family
One of the benefits of using the MX family is the easy integration between products, and Director is no exception, allowing you to incorporate Flash MX and Fireworks MX content easily into your Director MX project. Macromedia has done a great job of integrating Flash and Fireworks. You can import Flash movies, then edit them in place, accessing Flash MX directly from within Director. By double-clicking the file, you open Flash where you can edit the file. When you click Done Editing from Director, Director imports the changed file automatically. What's more, you can edit the Flash movie properties in a Lingo script, providing you with direct control to change the properties and methods of a Flash object. These new features should help streamline the editing process.
You can also create graphics in Fireworks MX, then double-click a graphic in Director to open Fireworks MX for editing. Unfortunately, when working with .png files, the Director Paint program launches first. It is only after you attempt to edit the file that you are prompted to use the external editor, and clicking the Launch External Editor button opens Fireworks. After you complete the editing process, you click the Done Editing from Director button and the file is updated automatically in Director MX (but you need to close the Paint program). By default, only .png files are associated with Fireworks, but you can associate other file types by editing the external editor preferences. It would make life easier if you could associate several file types (such as .jpg, .bmp, and .gif) with a single external editor in one step, rather than forcing you to do each one individually.
Developers who want to create interactive content such as games and distance-learning applications can take advantage of integration with the new Flash Communication Server MX. The Director MX package includes a personal server edition of Flash Communications Server MX, but you'll need to purchase the enterprise edition separately if you intend to implement any substantial projects.
Making Your Content Accessible
Many developers, especially those involved in government or education, need to make their multimedia content accessible under Section 508 (or other accessibility laws) for users with various disabilities including those who have trouble with seeing or hearing, or have mobility issues. Director MX includes a new Accessibility library containing various accessibility behaviors. You can drag and drop a behavior from the library onto the Stage, or if you prefer more control, you can use new Lingo commands to code the accessibility behavior yourself.
Director MX provides built-in accessibility, meaning that you won't need a third-party program to implement your accessibility features. This gives you more control over the accessibility behavior and makes it easier to implement. For example, when you design your accessibility option, you can control tab order from a drop-down list in the Parameters for the "Accessibility Group Order" dialog box, a feature not commonly available in third-party screen reader programs.
Each accessibility command in the library contains help text in a pop-up box that explains how to use it. While this pop-up provides quick access to the information you need to implement an accessibility behavior, the text is too lengthy for a pop-up box. It's an awkward implementation of on-screen help, especially for a company with the resources of Macromedia.
Better Lingo Tools
The Director MX scripting language, Lingo, has been greatly improved in Director MX, giving developers access to better debugging tools and a more streamlined design. Thus, it's easier than in previous versions for users to access commands and find problems. When Director encounters a script error, the Script Error dialog box appears. Clicking the Debug button opens the Debugging window. Among the new features in the debugger are line numbers and color coding of recently altered variables—hardly ground-breaking changes, but welcomed ones nonetheless.
Once you complete the debugging process, you can return to the script with a click of a button in the Debugging window toolbar. The Script window includes two new tools to make it easier to find the correct Lingo command. One tool lists the commands alphabetically and the other organizes them by category. If you ever spent time poring over the Lingo dictionary trying to find the right command, the addition of these two tools should please you and should make adding commands a much faster process.
Macromedia has also added a powerful new feature that detects any Xtras you are using, and lists any Lingo commands associated with the Xtras in your individual project in the Script toolbar. This makes adding Xtra-specific Lingo commands a snap and saves lots of time spent trying to find the correct commands.
To MX or Not to MX, That is the Question
Given that this is the first major upgrade to Director in some time, you might expect a bit more than the MX overhaul and a few new features. I can't help feeling that they should have done more for a major release. When all is said and done, you need to look at your own organization and decide if the upgrade is worth it to you. If you are in the market for a multimedia development tool, or if you have already upgraded to other Macromedia MX products, you should go with Director MX because it certainly contains enough ease-of-use features to justify the upgrade (or a new purchase), especially its smooth integration with Flash MX and (to a lesser extent) Fireworks MX. But if you're comfortable with your older version of Director, you may justifiably wonder if it wouldn't be better to just stand pat.