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Looking at Lingo: Part 2

August 9, 1997
by Zac Belado

Leaving things unanswered.

Last week I ended my article with the following question:

Going back to Lingo brings this into focus. It also begs the question: how can Macromedia continue to appeal to both groups, the OOP programmers and the beginners, with a single program?

And this week I hope to actually answer that question in a meaningful manner.

The simple answer, to begin the discussion, is that it can’t. Here’s why.

Macromedia is in an unusual position for a software company. It doesn't really have a specific target market for Director. Director is used by people who describe a wide gamut of ability; from those who simply want to make a quick Shockwave animation of their company logo for the website to programmers who really wish they could create a subclass of a “projector” object to create some really keen applications. That's a hell of a wide range of users, more akin to the breadth of users one would see for an OS not an application, and it makes the task of advancing and changing the feature-set of Director difficult to execute.

Too many powertools for the programmers makes the app too difficult for novices to use. “Dumbing down” Director for new or novice users creates the possibility of losing the programmers. This of course leads to features like behaviours, which were designed entirely to take the thunder away from mFactory’s “drag and drop” behaviours, being billed as a beginners tool. As crazed as that sounds, Macromedia really has to do that type of marketing; add new features for the geeks but bill it as a feature for new users. Any other process runs the risk of antagonizing one group or the other.

The one thing that has really made this difficult path much easier for Macromedia to tread, in fact made it even possible at all, is that Director doesn’t have any competition. mFactory might have actually pulled quite a few Director users away from the fold if it could have shipped a bug free (or relatively bug free) product. But by the time the company finally got around to fixing the most glaring and problematic bugs and adding absolutely critical features (like text handling) they had really lost the opportunity to make any inroads against Director.

Other applications do exist, like Icon Author and Toolbook, but they are really fringe market, PC applications that really don’t have the cross platform appeal that Director does. In almost all the companies I’ve seen or worked in, the only real alternative to Director has been C++. (And just for a second think about how poorly that reflects on the rest of the multimedia market when C++ is the only meaningful alternative to anything!) Macromedia has this market sewed up as tightly as tightly as Photoshop has the image processing market captured.

Which means it has the room, especially now that mFactory is a dim memory and Adobe still hasn’t gotten its own multimedia application out to market, to do something truly daring; split Director into two products.

Its two, two, two mints in one.

Now, before you think I’ve gone truly insane, have a listen.

The two applications would allow Macromedia to address the particular needs of both of its main user types without having to worry about conflicts between the divergent needs of these groups. The first “light” application would be used primarily for animations and “scripting” as opposed to programming. It would ship with a large number of behaviours for things like rollovers, timers, scrollbars and the like. Users could, if they so desired, even write their own behaviours but only through the existing behaviour inspector. This application would export to Shockwave, Director and Java file types. It would be more of a “drag and drop” type of user experience where the user takes existing tools, or modifies them slightly, to achieve tasks.

The second “developer” edition would be the Director we all know and love but without the additions that Macromedia made to Director, and more importantly Lingo, to ease new users into the applications. No more “set”, no more gems like objectP returning TRUE for a list. The entire object model could be opened up in a way that Macromedia currently can’t without overwhelming new and novice users with excessive technical gobbledy-gook they don’t need. The compiler could be written more intelligently so, perhaps, projectors might be able to fit on floppies again. In short Macromedia could move Director into being an actual multimedia programming environment. Need an application? Need a Shockwave movie? Need a Java applet? Director could do it all...of course with all this new functionality it would need a new name.

Always end with a concise conclusion.

But is this all really necessary? I think so and it will become even more of an issue as Director expands and adds new capabilities. When Director 6 first arrived I was rather shocked by the extent of the new commands and I must say that there are still quite a few new keywords an concepts that I still haven’t gotten my head around. Now imagine the situation if you’re entirely new to Director? Shock doesn’t begin to describe it.

Microsoft already attempts this sort of gradual increase of complexity in Visual Basic. VB5 now ships in three different versions; Learning Visual Basic, Professional Edition and Enterprise Edition. Each successive version adds new features and a more complex view of the overlying object model that VB (and Win32) uses. The Learning version introduces you to using ActiveX components and the Professional version lets you build them. All within the same user experience.

Macromedia should take the opportunity that their current market positions affords them, a luxury that few companies really ever have, to try and create, if not separate products, some way in which users can gradually become proficient with Director without overloading them with tools, keywords and concepts. The days when a few weeks with Director was all you needed to get a grasp of a majority of the application are long gone (although we now have more than 24 sprite channels so...) and its to Macromedia’s long term survivability that these issues are addressed.

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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