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Director 7?

January 9, 1998
by Zac Belado

It's getting to that magical point in a Director developer's year when they start to think longingly to the features they want to see in the next revision of Director. I am victim to this as much as the next person but this time I want to make an exception and tell Macromedia what I don't want in Director 7. Quite simply, I don't want any new features.

If you started to doubt my sanity during the QuickTime licensing fiasco then this might confirm your impression of me. However, there is a very compelling reason why it would be in our best interests to have nothing new added to Director 7; usability.

If you read these missives of mine you will be aware that I believe that Macromedia is unique in that it has no competition in its product category. (Well they might have had if someone with two functioning brain cells had bought mFactory, but that's an entire issue all by itself.) Despite this, the managers that produce Director still operate in the same production model as a product that does have competition. They constantly add new features even though the product doesn't really need them. This "feature differentiation" is necessary, although for totally farcical reasons, in a competitive product category. Why add them, though, when you have the market sewn up?

May I have some more sir?

The typical industry excuse for the feature bloat that accompanies each new version of an application is that "the users demand it". This is, of course, a lame excuse and denies the developers, and the reviewers, culpability in training the market to demand more. Reviewers need something about which to write a review. There is really only so much you can say about an app that is exactly like the last version only more stable. And that was it. You can't make much money writing one-line reviews. It is also quite easy for a reviewer to rattle off a list of new features and much harder to live with an app, stress test its usability and then report on the real-world functionality of the product. Reviewers typically don't work with an app so they don't need to use it over the long-term. This is somewhat forgivable in your standard review but when critiquing a development environment like Director, it is almost terminal. So, in my dream world, if Director 7 came out with no new features then the reviewers wouldn't have a thing to write about.

And the product managers know this.

If it ain't broke.

It's a, now pointless, adage that "no-one got fired for buying IBM". It's equally true that no product manager lost their job for shipping a product with more features.

Now before I go on I must state quite categorically that I don't even know who is in charge of managing Director development. And even if I did this isn't meant as an attack on anyone's work or philosophical outlook. That having been said...

Product managers typically need something to make you either want to buy the product or to upgrade to the new version. The standard way to do this is to wave, carrot-like, a slew of new features in front of the users. And we tend to accept this, because, let's be honest, who doesn't like having new toys to play with. If Director 7 was released tomorrow and had no new features then most users would probably not buy it. Even though Director has a lock on the market, if there isn't a compelling reason to hand over a few hundred of the "hard-earneds" then people typically won't. This is, of course, the main argument behind adding new features to Director and it is flawed in its narrow appreciation of what a feature is.

One of these things is not like the others

Typical industry thinking is that a "feature" is a concrete element that you can either attach a UI element to or put on a menu item. There is no room in this thinking for terms like "elegance" or "stability. Is an improved UI not a feature? Is an application that doesn't crash every 20 minutes not more feature rich than the previous revision?

If you had to choose between ten new Lingo keywords and a more stable app, which would you choose? The comfortable, "not facing a buying decision" answer is the added stability. This is even more important if you make your living with Director. What about a more consistent and logical version of Lingo? What about no Paint Window and better integration with PhotoShop or Fireworks?

These are all important additions to Director but you can bet your last dollar that you'll never see them, and them alone, in a new release of Director. Not unless someone decides to market a more stable, easier to use Director as a set of features.

Marketing from a user's point of view

I imagine that it would be difficult for a marketing department to run a series of ads that said their new app was less buggy than the last version.

This isn't to say that Director is more prone to crashes, or has more bugs, than any other product. In fact, Director is quite stable. Especially when you consider the potential for chaos that things like objects and the actorList propose. But there are those annoying glitches. My current favorite is the MMX DLL "bug" that causes the display in the Paint Window to be less than optimal in some PCs. It doesn't cause my machine to crash, but it does make the Paint Window unusable unless I remove the MMX DLL (which makes the point of having an MMX PC rather beside the point). I'm sure that everyone has their favorite.

And wouldn't it be wonderful if, instead of a long list of new features, Macromedia presented us with Director 7 and a long list of "annoyances" that had been removed?

Director 7: the world's best multimedia tool just got easier to use.

Who wouldn't pay for that?

A beer mug with the D7 logo on it: "Fewer bugs, more stable".

Who wouldn't find that appealing?

Zac Belado is a programmer, web developer and rehabilitated ex-designer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. He currently works as an Application Developer for a Vancouver software company. His primary focus is web applications built using ColdFusion. He has been involved in multimedia and web-based development, producing work for clients such as Levi Straus, Motorola and Adobe Systems. As well, he has written for the Macromedia Users Journal and been a featured speaker at the Macromedia Users Convention.

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