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-- by Lynn Ginsburg
Thanks to the Web, there's a surge of popular interest in creating original multimedia content, including animation, graphics, sound and video. Macromedia is sitting pretty with two of the most popular applications for adding multimedia to Web sites: Director for multimedia authoring and Shockwave for multimedia playback. With Director 6, Macromedia makes its authoring program more accessible to those who want to create Shocked multimedia, which is delivered from Web sites more quickly than non-Shocked files. The program's enhanced usability and powerful new features earn it a spot on our Winlist of recommended products, replacing version 5.
The beta version we tested incorporated several new features that make learning to use the program just a bit easier. While novices probably won't be creating Hollywood-style productions overnight, they will appreciate the many tasks-such as creating multistate buttons and applying behaviors to objects-they can perform with Director without writing a line of code. Experienced Director users will also welcome new support for power features, such as streaming Shockwave files.
Since Macromedia was one of the companies responsible for launching the Web multimedia revolution, it's appropriate that the latest release of Director shows the greatest innovation with its new Web tie-ins. Streaming Shockwave is a straightforward but crucial new feature. It allows Web site visitors with a Shockwave plug-in to start playing Director movies before the entire file downloads. Although a huge Director file won't play immediately, streaming Shockwave does play files faster. In our testing, we still experienced a lag before the file started playing; nevertheless, the movie started twice as fast as it did without streaming Shockwave.
You can also play Java applets in Director 6 files, which is important, since incompatibility between the two platforms was a major inconvenience for developers working with both.
One of the biggest changes Macromedia has made to Director's core functionality is the new and improved Score (the workspace in which you combine various multimedia elements). Director's implementation of Sprites (individual multimedia elements) in the Score is now object-oriented, making it much easier to edit, manipulate and assign attributes to entire Sprites rather than tediously editing Sprites channel by channel. (Channels store different kinds of information within the Score, such as sounds, palettes, transitions, scripts and Sprites.) The new Score also significantly improves navigation with its support of zooming and simultaneous multiple Score windows. In addition, the Score now supports up to 120 Sprite channels, more than double that of the previous version.
Director novices and veterans alike should appreciate the new Button Wizard, which automates the creation of multistate buttons (buttons that visually indicate if they've been pushed) without using Lingo, Director's scripting language.
Script-phobes will also like the new Behavior Inspector, which serves as a library for common Sprite behaviors organized into the categories of Actions and Events. Examples of Sprite Behaviors include controlling when and for how long a sound is played, changing to a customized palette, changing the Sprite's location and going to a Web page. You can create your own Behaviors and add them to the Inspector or apply any of the more than 30 prescripted Behaviors that come with the program.
In the previous version of Director, you had to script a Behavior; with the latest release, you can drag the Behavior onto the Sprite or apply it via the Behavior Inspector in the same way you might apply a stylesheet. You'll love this feature if you hate writing Lingo; even Lingo pros will find this approach a much easier way to manage scripts.
Although Director has improved usability significantly, newcomers to the program won't be churning out sophisticated Director movies without first putting in some serious study time. While you should anticipate a learning curve, you'll find that, once mastered, Director 6 is now more than ever the most powerful and practical tool for creating original multimedia content on the PC.