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Is Director Dead?

March 6, 2000
by Alan Levine

"Rumors of Director's demise might be [mildly] exaggerated. Sort of"
-- Anonymous

Have you heard the buzz?

"Is Director Dead?" ... "Everything is moving towards Flash, that's where all the work is" ... "At MacWorld, Macromedia CEO Rob Burgess rattled off 'Flash', 'Dreamweaver', 'Fireworks' but never mentioned Director" ... "How many Director Engineers have leapt off the mothership?" ... "Is Director Dead?" ... "All the clients want is Flash"... "80% of web browsers have it" ... "Is Director Dead?" ...

The sum total of information from rumors is <void>. We do not know the strategic planning / inner decision making / coin flipping processes of Macromedia, Inc, and neither do the rumor mongers. But it is fun to speculate!

What I do know is that my current copy of Director 7.02 is working, and will continue to be functional software even if a meteor fell on 600 Townsend Street or AOL decided to buy MACR and turn it into a chia pet portal.

For that matter, my copy of Director 5.0 is still operational, and occaisionally is used quite well for tweaking older projects. Even the old 3.0 projectors run (although they seem to want a lot more application memory then they first asked for). A couple of old utility projectors still do their job as well as they did in 1997. A recent poster on Direct-L said he was still using Director 4 (!) because he could make projectors that still fit on a floppy disk.

I even have a crude program, that as a student, I wrote in MacFORTRAN in 1987, that still runs on my 1999 G3. All of my HyperCard stacks from the early 90s still do their thing.

The March 2000 issue of Wired features (once you slog through the 45 front end shiny Lexus and bony Kenneth Cole ads plus the 24 page spread on bicycle stuff... wait, I liked that spread!) an article on entire throngs of people that clutch on to their legacy Altairs, Commodore 64s, and TRS-80s, even managing to use them to surf the web or crank out Word-like documents.

The worst reason to get the latest version of any software is because it has just been released. I hear some that religiously avoid X.0 versions and wait for the cleanups of X.1, x.02, or some decimal thereof.

And we could not pass without mention the kingpin of Bloatware, MS Word. Probably 4.0 was the last version of Word that I can recall comfortably knowing how to find most commands combing aimlessly through 12 dialog boxes in vain.

Old software does not necessarily die with the next version nor does it mean the demise of the company that sold it. Sure, you may no longer have customer support, but quite often that is nothing new! You bought it, you own it, and you can continue to use it, until lightning strikes or the power surge from your lava lamp fries your hard drive and your dog on the pile of the backup Zip disks.

Look at the last Director-Killer, mTropolis, bought and later abandoned by Quark. I never used it but I imagine the software still is operable. And there is still an active user community that even runs a web site support group, selling shrink wrapped copies for under US$200. People still out there code with it.

People still hang on Apple hope for HyperCard, pitifully posting petitions. Personally, I hung up my stacks quite some time ago, but now and then I open them up for nostalgia.

I am not saying there is never a point that you should move your development to another tool, but even if the rumors come true, you can still be productive with the software you have. To repeat myself, "It's the craft, not the tools".

Given the immense popularity of Director (still a leading seller at Beyond.com), its wide use in developing interactive applications (rather than eye candy), an active user community (that includes the rabble rousers on Direct-L), and no real competition, Macromedia would have to be strategically moronic to "kill" it off. Suicidal. Nutso-bonko-delusional.

At least that is my guess.

Director Ate

And of course the leading indicator that Director is alive and healthy is the soon to be minted release of Director 8.0, which feature-wise, Zac has provided some excellent teasers elsewhere on the DOUG site. The thought of new features is enticing, almost alcoholic.

Stop and think about that. Eight versions is quite a history. PhotoShop is in its 10th year and truly has no peer (ducking). Evolution suggests that some scrappy rodent should come along and knock off dinosaurs such as Macromedius Directorcus, but it is hard to really see that little scrappy feller yet. And besides, the lumbering giant has not just been standing around munching leaves, he has been growing wings and new limbs.

D8 has a lot of worthy features, but remember also that with more features comes more complexity. It will ship with bugs... er, I mean "quirks" because we all know Dowdell's law states that "Bugs do not exist". D8 will ship with documentation that does not document. You will find obscure things that just do not make sense. There will be whispered undocumented Lingo. And easter eggs. You will find a conflict between some Hungarian font and some database XTra that only shows up when QuickTime 4 is installed over Quicktime 3 in an NT release pack 4 environment.

The same old sage advice applies this time around on upgrades -- do not be jumping up a version unless there is a compelling reason to do so. The worst possible thing to do is ratchet up during a project midstream, but reading the lists it seems pretty common. In fact, if you are being productive in Director 7,6,5,4 right now, just keep humming along.

There. Proof that I get no commissions on sales. Heck, I do not even get t-shirts.

At the same time, do scan those feature sets. There will come a time when you find a functionality unmet in one version. For example, I created a CD in Director 5 that was fine as is and had no reason to move to 6 when that came out. However, last year we decided that we wanted to tack on a post survey to the application that would allow the person using the program to submit their results via the net, or to save it as a text file for printing or emailing. Director 7 allowed us to take the responses to the survey items and zap them to our web server via postNetText, which we could not do prior. (Sounds like a future column topic unless you want more Lingo-less rants)

The trick was to run the app through its paces with mostly D5 lingo and see how it flew as a D7 projector.

It did.

There are good reasons for moving up a version, like getting past some of the odd printing issues of D7. Perhaps to take advatange of scalable shockwave (but do not cry when you see the jaggies -- you are often scaling pixel based media). Perhaps to truly control sound via all of the new sound channel Lingo. Perhaps you can dwell your way through the new imaging Lingo to dynamically alter cast members (do you miss the old days of having 20 copies of a graphic just to rotate it?).

Of course the main reason to upgrade is the fear of coding in an obsolete environment. Compounded by the fear of not being able to learn all of the new stuff before Bruce Epstein writes another Nutshell book or the Howdy guy fills up a Direct-L digest.

Kid Flash Steals My Thunder

Flash is the sleek juggernaut. It seems to be everywhere -- rotating orbs, throbbing, sliding, fading, glowing, tossing out the party beat music. It loads so quick the average Jane Websurfer never even notices that a plug-in has loaded. Even when she is poking along on a modem.

It's the rage of all the corporate sites. Try NBCi.

Will kid Flash knock off Old Man Director? Well let's see what industry magazines write. According to the Spring 2000 issue of 3D magazine, an article about "the Myth of 3D on the Web" purports:

While Macromedia has not developed a web-based 3D application, a quick visit to www.shockwave.com will reveal how 3D animation has found a useful delivery mechanism in Flash. Try a game of 3D pool on the site, and you will see how far we have come in the last couple of years (figure 2).

Sadly for the misguided author, figure 2 shows a shot of RealPool, authored in Director, powered by 3D Groove. Sadder yet, if you visit the magazine's web site, all you will find are the titles to their articles, and an email address for their editor bounces back. Would it really hurt to place the text of past issues online? Hello? (Saddest yet in all of this is what ever happened to 3DGroove? Are they crazy or savvy beyond our perception?)

Maybe since Flash has the mindshare of name space, we might see "Shockwave" even downplayed as a brand. "FlashWave"? "ShockFlash"? "Flashrector"? "Flingo?" Or just "Flash"

How's that for an unfounded rumor?

Out on my thin limb here, I cannot remotely see how Flash will encroach on the domain of Director and just shake my head at people who do not see the immense differences between these tools. In its present version, Flash is an incredible delivery platform for mostly linear content through an agonizing interface. For making Eyecandy. Okay a bunch of ActionScripted buttons can provide branching, but the "programmable" brains behind is miniscule compared to Lingo. And the script environment will send you screaming into the night.

There is a place in your toolbelt for all Flash, for Flash in Director, and all Director and it is silly to pit them against each other in some sort of Authoring Death Match.

Not to mention the little Adobe contestant sneaking in the back door.

In previous presentations I have talked about the notion of knowing your tools but do not get stuck married to them. It is this type of co-dependency that creates DOS advocates and leaves that tight little band of mTropolis survivors.

New Media Missed my Last Column

Speaking of industry mags, do you remember New Media? In the past they provided decent coverage of the multimedia development business, with fair product reviews and coverage of next age hardware. Then around 1997 they discovered the web, and suddenly all articles were about web business, as if we need another Fast Company telling us the rules have changed (They did publish my complaint email).

Several months have passed without any paper delivery and now they pop on the scene as a web only "publication". Where did they come up with this format? Their "content" pops up in a puny unsizable browser window, with un-intuitive scroll bars, it all takes eons to load all of the DHTML, all to present their "stories" in a space the dimensions of 1.0 QuickTime movie stamps.

Once again, some deeply secluded brain trust came up with the idea that the look of content was much more important than the content of content.

Don't fall into the same trap.

That's All Folks

In the end, I continue my love/hate relationship with Director. When it misbehaves, I want to kick the box from here to Kansas. When it crashes for no reason besides the passing of the moon, I curse its existence.

However, I know it so well, that I can build things thinking in my mind not in English, but in Lingo. It is not quite clutching Director with my death grip, but close. I will take the devil I know... rather than what is behind door number 2.

At the same time I will learn some Flash. I will get over the fear that I could not fathom reading one line of new code written by Andy White. And ultimately, I may pass on the upgrade to Director 19. Maybe.

Next time: We take a fat behavior to Jenny Craig and come out with a real drop-down menu.

Alan Levine is an Instructional Technologist at the Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction at the Maricopa Community Colleges. Among other random things, he tries to maintain the DirectorWeb, does side work as dommy media, and not often enough, mountainbikes in the desert.

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