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Screentime mProjector 4 for Mac and Windows

Flash application builder packs in all the bells and whistles By Kevin Schmitt

Flash wrappers, as I tend to call the genre of software Screentime's mProjector belongs to, have been around almost as long as Flash itself. Whatever the reason for their rise (the decline of Director, needing offline access to online content, etc.), there are still several options out there for turning your Flash content into desktop applications. And while Adobe's own AIR technology seems to get all the press, there is no reason why mProjector shouldn't be considered one of the top dogs in cross-platform Flash desktop app creation.

I've had a chance to work with several Flash wrappers over the years, and they've generally come in very handy. As I mentioned, there are still several choices in that space, even after Adobe entered the fray with AIR, because when all is said and done AIR is a framework which requires a 20+ MB download and the Flash Player to be previously installed before your apps can be distributed. Flash wrappers can create completely self-contained Flash-based apps (the good ones, anyway), requiring no resident player or frameworks to be present. They can be downloadable or packaged up for distribution on physical media. In short, there are good reasons why several choices still exist. In any event, it's mProjector's turn under the microscope, and in order to speed things along, let's see how well it answers several questions:

  1. Is it cross-platform?
  2. How well does it extend the platforms it runs on?
  3. What is the development environment like?
  4. Does it create truly self-contained executables?
  5. What kind of performance can you expect?
  6. Is it worth buying?

What a convenient list. In fact, I'll just go through these in order to make things easier on everyone. Let's proceed, shall we?

1) Is it cross-platform?

As the title of this piece may have suggested, the answer is yes. mProjector 4 creates executables which run on Windows 2000 or later and Mac OS X 10.4 or later. (The latest and greatest -- Windows 7 and OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" -- are definitely included in the "or later" portion of the previous sentence.) However, it's worth noting here that you need to purchase a version of mProjector for the platform you are targeting. If you are targeting Windows, you have to buy the Windows version. If you are targeting Macs, you have to buy the Mac version. You need to purchase both if you want to produce cross-platform executables, or in other words, you make Windows projectors from Windows and Mac programs from the Mac -- you can't build Windows projectors from the Mac (or vice-versa), though mProjector's native .mproj files can be read from either program. The pricing model reflects this: individual platform versions are $249, and buying both will set you back $399 (a cool Benjamin off of buying both separately).

However, on the authoring side, you don't have to have cross-platform versions of Flash or Flex just to get things done. Now, I'm not a Flex developer (Flash Pro all the way), so this particular point and all development-related comments henceforth will be from that perspective. We'll get more into the nuts and bolts of the overall environment a couple of questions down, but suffice it to say for right now that the mProjector Flash component takes care of a great many things, including access to the full set of mProjector classes for either platform. So, for example, you can write all the code needed to have mProjector interact with the Windows registry from your Mac version of Flash, and mProjector won't bat an eye (fig. 1). You'll still need to build the final executable via the Windows version, but you don't need to write the code on the OS you're targeting. Testing becomes an issue if you're doing things this way, but more on that later.

Figure 1

2) How well does it extend the platforms it runs on?

The word I'd use to describe mProjector's OS integration is "pretty darned comprehensive." OK, so that's three words, but you get my point. Plus, for the most part, what is available on Windows is also available on the Mac, which was not the case in other Flash wrapper programs I've tried in the past. Of course, there are certain methods like showOnTaskBar and setDockIconBadge which only make sense on Windows and Mac, respectively, but the vast majority of mProjector's functionality works on both. I know, I know... I already answered the cross-platform question, so let's get to a few examples of the things you can do with mProjector. First and foremost, you have the packaging of your SWFs, which the standalone mProjector application is for (fig. 2).

Figure 2: Mac on left, Win on right, SWF at the gooey center of each.

The folks at Screentime boast that the main mProjector application is itself created using mProjector, which is the very definition of "eating your own dog food." That fun fact aside, the mProjector app lets you choose your main SWF, application icon, whether to include the Flash Player, additional files to bundle into the app, application window options, etc. Of note here is the fact that you can publish to what mProjector calls "Flash-shaped" (or windowless) mode, meaning all the usual OS window chrome is eschewed in favor of the shape of whatever is on your movie's stage (including drop shadows and blurs, as shown in Figure 3). Combine this with the ability to hide the menubar and Dock icons on the Mac and the taskbar entry on Windows, and mProjector can be used to create true-cross platform widget apps.

Figure 3: mProjector does a nice compositing job on both platforms with Flash's native filters in windowless mode.

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Related Keywords:flash, flex, swf, mprojector, screentime

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