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Adobe Director 11

By Kevin Schmitt

In the spirit of the four year hiatus between versions (and accompanying uncertainty as to the dead/not dead status of the product), it's only fitting I let almost a year roll by between the announcement/release of Director 11 and finally getting around to reviewing it. In any event, Director is back from its long slumber, so let's take a look at what the eleventh release of the former king of the multimedia hill brings to the table.

Unsolicited Perspective

Not too long ago, I had a thoroughly enjoyable conversation with Allen Partridge, Adobe's Director Evangelist. (In the shameless plug department, that interview is available by clicking this link.) If you know anything about Director, then you are already familiar with how completely it dominated the multimedia landscape in the 1990s, and Allen was on the scene for a good chunk of that time. However, as the world shifted away from physical media and onto the Web, the meteoric rise of Flash has coincided with the decline of Director. Sure, the Shockwave browser plug-in for Director is at about a 60% penetration rate, which is pretty good, but you can certainly get around online without needing it. Meanwhile, try getting along without Flash, especially if you want to watch Web video. But I digress. For a long time, it wasn't clear if there would ever be a new release of Director, and while the Director developer community is still quite viable, I suspect the world of online multimedia would have moved along just fine without ever seeing another release of Director.

But here we are with Director 11. During my conversation with Dr. Partridge, he told me that Director is really being positioned where there are significant differences between it and Flash, namely real-time 3D, extensibility in the form of Xtras, and, to a lesser extent, those with a need for protected code. It was also mentioned that Director is in an active development mode, with an eye toward putting Director back into a leadership position in the multimedia industry. However, after taking a detailed look at Director 11, and coupled with the deafening silence out of Adobe as to when updates and enhancements will be coming (even in this era of public betas and prolific blogging at Adobe), I have a hard time seeing how exactly Director's return to glory is going to happen. While I love Director and have a soft spot in my heart for the product, what's clear to me after seeing Director 11 in action is that its heyday is long past. We'll talk more about what specifically is going on in just a bit.

In any event, it makes me feel a little better knowing that someone with the multimedia chops and a passion for Director like Allen Partridge is the one spreading the word these days, but Director has a tough row to hoe even to stay relevant, much less regain any semblance of its once-dominant leadership position. I wish him luck. He's got his work cut out for him.

One more thing before I get to the roundup of what's new: Director 11 shipped in March of 2008, meaning that a full ten months have passed (as of this writing) between the product's release and this review. I'll spin the delay thusly: the passage of time in this case gives us some added perspective and allows us to see how Director fits into the fairly-freshly-released CS4 landscape, in addition to giving us the ability to look back and see what has happened in the months since the product shipped.

New and Notable

It really saddens me that there isn't more to talk about in terms of new features. The best way to characterize Director 11 is as a maintenance release; a shoring up of the foundation so that future enhancements can be made. At least I hope that is the case. For the most part, however, Director 11 is a collection of tweaks punctuated by a scant few noticeable enhancements. Let's go around the horn:

Interface. While Director's overall interface is a holdover from the bygone Macromedia era, there are a some tiny tweaks. The most noticeable addition is the ability to dock the Stage and the Score together (fig. 1), which is a small but nice change. Another notable enhancement is how the Script panel can appear as a tab in the main Score and Stage window, a welcome development for those of us who quickly ran out of workspace in previous versions.

Figure 1

There's also the ability to float or unfloat tool windows, a feature which will prove useful to those with multiple monitors or want to be able to see tool windows in the background when Director isn't active.

However, none of these tweaks can be considered huge changes to Director's interface by any stretch of the imagination, which I think is really unfortunate. Once you've seen the very much improved CS4 Design interface (as featured in programs such as Photoshop and Flash), the old-school Macromedia interface still sported by Director looks positively ancient by comparison. I'm thinking specifically of Fireworks CS4 as an example of what an interface refresh does to the usability of a legacy program, and I'm inclined to believe that Director 11 would have greatly benefited from similar treatment. I realize such a crossover may not have been feasible considering the respective development cycles for Director 11 and the CS4 lineup, but I would have taken even a CS3-like refresh, which did wonders for Flash CS3 Professional.

Text. Director's beleaguered text engine gets a little less so with this latest version, most notably through the addition of Unicode text support throughout the program. For example, if I have a Cast Member that I wish to name "Where is the nearest restaurant" in Chinese, I can now do so (Fig. 2).

Figure 2

Also, Director now boasts what Adobe calls improved font shaping and rendering through the addition of the Bitstream font engine, though in pulling up older projects in Director 11 I couldn't see any noticeable difference. Your mileage may vary.

Filters. A long time in coming, Director 11 now sports many of the same filters Flash users have enjoyed since version 8. Live effects such as glows and drop shadows can finally now be added on the Stage inside Director itself (fig. 3), rather than having to be pre-rendered in an external program. If I may turn this section into "Quick Tip Corner" for a moment, if you apply a filter to a text field, make sure to set the inking to Background Transparent in the Sprite properties, or else the filter will be applied to the field's bounding box.

Figure 3

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Related Keywords:adobe, director, director 11, multimedia ,real-time 3D


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