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And My Magic 8-Ball Says...

Divining Director's future with Adobe in the picture

Director has three things going for it that are unique in both the Macromedia and Adobe product lines: Imaging Lingo (or JavaScript), Shockwave 3D, and DVD support

It's the middle of summer, and it's particularly hot this year. I suppose the same could be said of multimedia content tools. I've seen a ton of new products this year, each of which looks interesting in its own way. In prepping for this issue, our editor-in-chief asked each of us to do the impossible: predict where our products will be going given the merger of Adobe and Macromedia. Well, let me be the first to tell you, I don't have a clue, but I can make some educated guesses. Through several contacts at Macromedia and others in the industry, as well as my own work, I'm going to attempt the impossible: gaze deeply into my crystal ball and predict the future development of software in a volatile marketplace. Wish me luck!

Director Isn't Going Anywhere
I'm sure that by the time you read this, Studio 8 will have launched, and it won't contain Director bundled in. This will spark a series of e-mail-threads and bulletin-board topics about "Director is Dead! No, really, this time it is! See?!?" At last count, Director has died at least six times. The truth is, there are plans for a next release, with some significant feature development.

Future Directions Are Being Discussed
It was done quietly, but then publicly announced that Macromedia had formed a Director Advisory Council (DAC) composed of users who have used the product at various levels. Most of them have been using Director for a long time, and have some idea of where they'd like to see it go. Macromedia has also been making on-site visits to customers to understand their needs and their Director-related wish lists better. If you feel your voice is critical to this discussion I would point out that the DAC is composed primarily of folks who have been involved in Director beta programs. So if you want to participate you should become a beta tester and then apply to participate at www.macromedia.com/support/programs/beta.html. For more information on the DAC, see Tom Higgins' blog at http://weblogs.macromedia.com/thiggins/archives/general/index.cfm. He's Director's technical product manager. Take the opportunity to get involved in the community!

What About Adobe?
Ahhh, yes, Adobe, the great unknown. What will Adobe do with / for / about Director? I've read just about every opinion out there so far: "Adobe will kill it!" "Adobe will save it!" "Adobe will merge it with Flash!" I think the thing to do in this situation is to look at history. What does Adobe's product line-up have now, and how does Director complement it? Currently Director has three things going for it that are unique in both the Macromedia and Adobe product lines: 1)Imaging Lingo (or JavaScript), 2) Shockwave 3D, and 3) DVD support.

Imaging
So let's look at each of them. First off Imaging Lingo. It doesn't seem like the most glamorous of features, but real-time image manipulation enables a great deal of interactive feature development. This is why Flash8 has new imaging features. Some say that makes Director less important, but from what I've seen so far the two products actually complement each other quite well. Not nearly all of the ink effects in Director are implemented in Flash. Likewise, Flash has some new stuff that I can't wait to get my hands on like filters, blend modes, advanced gradients and FlashType. I predict that we'll see some incredible imaging apps that harness the power of Flash plus Director.

Now where does Adobe come into play? Imagine using the programming power of Actionscript and JavaScript to manipulate pixels and the like in Photoshop documents or specific Photoshop layers. I predict that support for .psd files will be infinitely improved soon (no big leap of faith there) - and that programmatic control of the format through Director and Flash will enable some really great imaging stuff.

Shockwave 3D
Next up, Shockwave3D. It's truly the feature that sets Director apart, a real-time Web-enabled 3D engine that can be scripted with complete control. Adobe tried to hit this market with Atmospheres, and Atmospheres was very interesting, although it didn't succeed. It was unique in attempting to give people a template for creating Web 3D - all you had to do was drag pre-built pieces into place. Shockwave3D is often criticized for going too far the other way and being too oriented to the programmer, not the designer. If these two products come together somewhere in the middle, I predict we'll see what could be the most complete solution to 3D authoring for the Web. There's an interesting twist on this discussion in that Adobe may not have been considering Director when it acquired Macromedia, but it now probably has the best-known and most widely recognized Web 3D content creation tool on the market today. The market, as they say, is "theirs to lose." Competition is there, and gaining steadily, but currently Shockwave's install base dwarfs its rivals'. I'm giving Adobe the benefit of the doubt in recognizing this opportunity for what it is. Embedding interactive 3D directly into PDF documents would personally help me out to a degree I can't even express - there's a market for that as well, mark my words.

DVD Authoring
Finally there's DVD authoring. Adobe has products that do a better job authoring DVD's core, from film production to the Encore product line that deals with formatting and compression. Combining Director's support for menuing and its interactive driven interface with Adobe's digital video tools is clearly a win.

The Future
It's odd trying to predict a product's future, particularly bring a developer. I've been around the block enough to know that I'll be wrong at least half the time, because I don't think like a business analyst. But from the developer's standpoint, Director still has a lot to offer. Ironically, Adobe, with its Hypercard history, may be in a better position to recognize this than Macromedia. I create content in Shockwave 3D every day that I couldn't do in any other package, and would take me roughly 10 times as long to build from scratch in C/C++. There's an asset there, and beneath all the Studio hype and all the glamorous announcements about the merger, I'm actually feeling pretty positive about the future of our beloved product. And having met some of the Macromedia team, I predict that our little environment will live on, and be enhanced in the future.

More Stories By Andrew M. Phelps

Andrew M. Phelps, a member of the Editorial Board of Web Developer's & Designer's Journal, is in the Information Technology Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY (http://andysgi.rit.edu/).

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