Educator's Review: Director MX: Workflow Simplifies a Busy Set

By Joseph Boudreaux, University of Arizona

Macromedia Director has had an undeserved reputation for being hard to learn. On the University of Arizona campus, its younger sibling Flash had upstaged the multimedia development software to the point that I had to deny rumors of its demise. But with the release of Director MX in December 2002, it has made a strong comeback, being more powerful and easier to learn.

The new powers of Director MX include enhanced interactivity via a feature called "Behaviors," dynamically connecting to a database server via the XML standard, or talking directly to ColdFusion servers. But it is the new workflow that is paramount. Director MX can re-purpose materials already created for courseware. Word documents, audio, video, and images can be imported into a "Cast" window where everything can be seen at a glance. Director MX also imports PowerPoint, GIFs, and new file formats like Flash MX.

A new context-sensitive "Property Inspector" feature improves Director MX's workflow for importing or creating media, sequencing, and laying out media elements in a timeline. It also adds interactivity with simple or complex lingo scripts, and eliminates opening and closing multiple panels and windows. Central to the new ease-of-learning, the Property Inspector is a true smart widget, as it can always be on-screen reminding the developer of settings, what to do, or better yet, what can be done.

In authoring mode, selecting a graphic or text element instance with "Stage" or setting the timeline for the element with the "Score" feature lets users view and change the characteristics of the instance. For example, in establishing an element instance, Flash MX shows properties like scale and viewscale. Digital video Cast Member instances display framerate, cue points, duration, and more. Make a change to an instance via the Property Inspector and you can see it ripple and update in other open windows. Magic.

This improved workflow will seem familiar to Dreamweaver MX and Flash MX users because the programs share common interface elements like the Property Inspector. Interactivity is Director MX's strength, and it's integrated with relative ease via the drag-and-drop Behaviors feature: pre-done chunks of code and functionality to introduce sophisticated interactivity without the necessity of programming. Director MX will seem like PowerPoint on steroids for the newbie who can use Behaviors to create custom buttons, pull-down menus, slider interactions, simulations, or navigation without learning programming.

Yet programmers can script more sophisticated interactivity with Lingo, the built-in programming language. New Lingo users trying to remember what the exact syntax is of "if-then-else-maybe" logic incantations will appreciate the Scripting and Behavior Inspector's "fill-in-the-blank" capability. Seasoned programmers will appreciate the extensive math functions and property methods that can be accessed via organized menu groupings that are never more than two deep.

Flash MX comes with educational templates and interaction types such as True or False, Fill in the Blank, and Multiple Choice. Academic users of Director MX can import and use these, if they buy and learn both programs. Unlike Flash MX, you need both a PC and Mac version of Director MX to author cross-platform applications.

Director MX has several well-designed, new publishing options: an executable or a .dcr file to run in a target browser and plug-in version. You can also target specific Browser and plug-in versions with a Detect Shockwave option. The feature writes the HTML for you, along with JavaScript and VBScript to detect the Shockwave plug-in or ActiveX control.

Director MX and Flash MX are two overlapping halves of the same program. Each has different unique additional capabilities. Only Director has a true 3D engine, rich media control, and EXACT sync for sound. Flash MX has easier-to-work-with vector drawing tools. But you need both. You will want both. The best of both worlds is both. But if I were forced to choose between these programs, my choice would be the more powerful Director MX. That's because it is now easier to quickly create or prototype interactive multimedia simulations, courseware, simple slide show presentations, and instructional games.

Joseph Boudreaux (josephb@u.arizona.edu) is a senior support systems analyst at the University of Arizona's Multimedia Learning Lab.

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