Price: £799; upgrade £279 plus VAT
Another year, another release of Director. Version 7 was a superb product, and Macromedia will have done well if it can improve upon the features of Director 7 that made it such a great product, such as the greater Internet capabilities, vector shapes and embedded fonts. Director 8 lacks any new feature as useful as these, and feels more like a number of minor enhancements that add up to a recommended upgrade rather than an essential purchase. With version 8, Macromedia continues to focus Director primarily as a Web content creation tool. The Director Shockwave Studio, containing the Multiuser Server 2, Fireworks 3 and a sound tool (SoundForge XP on the PC, Peak LE on the Mac) as well as the main Director application, is aimed first and foremost as an Internet media tool with other multimedia applications playing a distinct second fiddle. This is underlined by the old Save as Shockwave command now being called Publish, and there is even a Preview in Browser feature, assuming you’ve got the latest version of the Shockwave Player installed. The most obvious changes to the user interface in version 8 are the new Property Inspector and the revised Cast window. The Property Inspector let you see and adjust the parameters of a Cast Member, Sprite, or multiple objects. It provides a much more consistent way to access Sprite properties, making many dialog boxes redundant, and helping to streamline the authoring process. The revised Cast window now gives you to option to switch from the conventional thumbnail view to a list view, which not only saves screen space but enables you to sort by media-type, name, and creation date. You can even add notes. This makes it much easier to manage assets, especially when you have large casts with many different media types scattered throughout. The Stage has also been given a few new twists, including finally, guides for accurate placement of elements, and the ability to distribute sprites evenly as well as align them. You can now also lock sprites to prevent accidental editing. A nice touch is the ability to zoom the Stage in for close editing or out to save screen space. This feature, together with the cast list capability, make Director 8 less of a screen hog than previous versions. However, all these are essentially workflow enhancements, and while they might free up a developer’s time to be more creative, have no direct impact on the end-user’s experience of the results. Features that will be apparent to users are slightly thinner on the ground. The most obvious of these is what’s called Runtime Imaging, which allows you to control sprites on screen through Lingo, for instance to apply graphic transition effects, and composition effects. The aim of this is to allow you to combine graphics effects to create complex graphics from smaller, simple graphics, saving file size and precious download time. Shockwave movies are now scalable, which will allow developers to create full browser area movies and create a more immersive experience. The Publish command, which outputs a Director file as a Shockwave movie, can convert bitmap files to JPEGs for greater compression, and can automatically create loader movies that play while the main movie is downloading. The Shockwave Multiuser Server is one of the most exciting new developments from Macromedia, allowing the creation of multi-user online environments such as games, chat rooms and virtual communities. Version 2 of this server based Xtra is more robust, and allows the connection of up to 1,000 users simultaneously. Expect to see a lot more chat engines and multiuser environments built with Shockwave in the future. The only other new feature of note is the incorporation of the Sound Xtra, which allows much better control over sound, including synchronization of multiple audio streams and panning control. This makes Director even better as a tool for creating audio toys, interactive mixers, and audio jukeboxes. While Director 8 contains features that power-users will welcome, beginners and occasional will perhaps see little benefits of this new version. For the serious developer, the time saving and workflow benefits that Director 8 brings will make this an invaluable upgrade, but for beginners or lite users who are still discovering the potential of Director, there is little here to makes this an essential upgrade. Still, Director remains an unstoppable force for delivering interactive online content, with it’s only competition coming from Macromedia’s other interactive Web-design tool, Flash.