Jazzy Director Puts Wow in Web Sites

SAN MATEO (03/15/2000) - IF HEARING the words Macromedia Director and Shockwave make you think of electronic crossword puzzles, color-me-Elmo Web sites, and other childish applications, you are making a mistake. Director 8 Shockwave Studio is also a formidable tool for creating serious business applications. In the latest incarnation, several important improvements make Director 8 worth a close look from anyone in charge of a Web site, even a buttoned-down corporate site.

What was already a great product has been improved by an increase in flexibility and efficiencies. Simply, Director 8 can be used to create compelling Web-based applications that go far beyond finding the golden Cheerio. On public sites, it can be used to sell more by giving your potential customers a virtual look and feel of your products. Internally, it can be used to create powerful applications for communication between you and your suppliers, your employees, and your customers. And the improved efficiencies for the developer will cut down production time, as well as making it practical to deliver high-impact content to even the slowest-connected customers.

This latest batch of enhancements earns Director 8 Shockwave Studio a score of Excellent, and provides at least two compelling reasons why every corporation with a Web site should consider including it in its tool chest.

One of the biggest sleeper features in Director 8 is the inclusion of Shockwave Multiuser Server 2. In a nutshell, improvements in the way it handles and shares data make it ideal for building intranet and extranet applications such as shared whiteboards, chat rooms, and interactive presentations. In addition, the new server supports 1,000 users (far greater than the 50 supported by the last version). Support for even more users is available through HearMe, which offers an industrial-grade platform called POP.X Shockwave Server.

Macromedia has reworked Multiuser Server in a couple of important ways.

Intermovie messaging enables different Director applications, called movies, to exchange information, allowing you to create applications that let users talk to each other directly. Paging fellow employees via the company intranet would be an obvious, yet simple, use of this feature. Movies can share all the types of data that Director's built-in scripting language, called Lingo, supports, including strings, integers, floating point numbers, colors, dates, points, and lists.

Director 8 also boasts several new features that speed up development. The most noticeable is the property inspector -- a universal window that effectively does the job of several windows in previous versions. This saves valuable screen space while giving granular, organized information about every cast member and behavior. There is also a new cast manager, which gives a file systemlike structure to all the elements a developer uses to build applications. Although support for as many as 1,000 sprites in a single movie was offered in Version 7, the ability to lock them into place to avoid unintentional edits is new and applauded. And finally, developers now have the option to store scripts as external files, permitting authoring teams to use their preferred code editors as well as source-code management systems.

Macromedia has had a tough challenge in continuing to make Director's Web-based applications more compelling, while keeping them small enough to distribute via even the slowest modem connections.

The first solution is to make the files as small as possible. The developer can now use JPEG compressions on individual cast members, upping the compression for low-resolution images, as well as using JPEG compressions on the entire movie. Also, you can use Fireworks (included with Director) to optimize images in-line.

The other method Director employs for providing high impact over low bandwidth is to harness the processing power of end-users' systems. Using what Macromedia calls run-time imaging, Shockwave puts the viewer's processor to work, bringing relatively small, static objects to life.

Director has long been the leading tool for building interactive multimedia applications that entertain customers and demonstrate products and ideas to prospective buyers. It now can be considered a formidable tool for creating any Web-based application. Thanks to increased efficiencies and the inclusion of a powerful multiuser server, prepackaged behaviors, and a powerful scripting language for building your own behaviors, Director 8 Shockwave Studio is an excellent tool for developers of any corporate Web site or extranet.

Steve Jefferson (stevej@hawaii.rr.com) is a former InfoWorld Test Center editor. He has been writing about technology for seven years.

THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT

Director 8 Shockwave Studio

Business Case: By creating Web-based interactive multimedia and communications applications, this development tool can help you build a more compelling e-commerce site and provide better service to customers and partners.

Technology Case: Director 8 allows you to create interactive multimedia applications for the Web or as stand-alone executables. Improvements include an upgraded multiuser communications server and increased efficiencies for cutting down development time.

Pros:

+ Provides a greatly improved Multiuser Server+ Creates the most sophisticated motion graphics available for the Web+ Ships with Macromedia Fireworks and a basic sound editorCons:

- Expensive

- Requires knowledge of Lingo scripting language to build custom applicationsCost: $999; $499 upgradePlatform(s): Windows 9x/2000, Windows NT, Mac OS 8.1Macromedia Inc., San Francisco; (800) 457-1774; www.macromedia.com/software/director

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