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Prodigal Mac: What Have You Done for Me Lately?

In Macromedia's case, not a whole heckuva lot By Kevin Schmitt
Here I was, thinking I was all clever with the original title of this week's column, which was "Let's Put The Mac Back In Macromedia." While I was sitting around, patting myself on the back, some other columnist at some other site put my title out of play by naming his piece something oddly similar. While I had to come up with a new title, the content of my thoughts remain the same, and it boils down to the following: I've been more than a little peeved at Macromedia for a while now.

While I'm fairly certain that Macromedia will eventually do what they initially promised and bring their entire remaining lineup of existing Mac products over to OS X (which, as I might remind you, is still EVERY PRODUCT THEY MAKE except for Freehand), it's what they're doing in the interim that is pouring gasoline on my already blazing fire. Let's go back a little ways to find out just what in the hell I'm already ranting about only a scant couple of sentences into this week's installment.

For me, Macromedia's product offerings begin and end with Director and Flash. I know a lot of you swear by Dreamweaver, Freehand, or Fireworks, but I suspect my ravings will touch on a lot of your concerns as well. That said, I go a long way back with Director. Let me put it like this: When I was first introduced to (then) MacroMind Director, some guy named Bill Clinton had just beaten down the first George Bush to claim the presidency. I was in a college Intro to Digital Media class, and I instantly fell in love with Director as an animation tool. To hell with the interactive stuff it could do (which I didn't even know about at the time): I just saw a powerful frame-based animation program running on a Mac. After a whole bunch of sleepless nights in the Mac lab, I had put together a six-minute animated feature that dealt with the incredibly original and deep subject matter of spaceships blowing each other up. Director was, to put it mildly, freaking awesome, and it was one of the sparks that actually got me excited about post-college life and made me realize that it was possible to make a living doing fun stuff instead of toiling in an office while wearing a tie for the rest of my life. So I have a very special place in my heart for Director. Over the years, Director and I have grown together, and it's still the only choice for heavy-duty interactive authoring as far as I'm concerned.

I remember when I first saw Director running on Windows. Director 4 on Windows for Workgroups 3.11, to be exact. Those were the days of the OJ trial and the Contract With America and when the Mac platform was starting to enter the Dark Times (though we hadn't realized it yet). Man, do I remember the dread I felt. Not that Director was running on Windows at all, because I could finally deliver Director titles to Windows users without a whole lot of extra coding, but I dreaded that I might some day actually have to use Windows as my dominant creation platform. My uneasiness turned out to be completely founded, as I had to abandon the then-sinking Mac ship for Windows NT a couple of years later, but life went on, and at least I was still able to work in Director. And for some reason, even though I knew a lot of the Director projects I did were never going to be seen by anyone on a Mac, I still tirelessly went through the motions of making sure my CD ROMs worked just as well on Macs as they did on Windows. I noticed something during this process. I think it might have been around the time Director 6 came out, but it was pretty clear by then that the Mac version of Director didn't run nearly as fast as its Windows counterpart. Not just in the projectors, but in the Director authoring environment as well. I mean, the "Save and Compact" function absolutely flew on Windows, and took what seemed like a year on the Mac, even for the smallest of projects. This disparity has seemingly gotten worse over time and has spread to a lot of Macromedia's product line (Flash in particular), and it's really obvious to me now that Macromedia just doesn't put the care and feeding into optimizing their products for the Mac platform they put into their Windows counterparts.

What a bloody freaking shame, and barring a slew of immediate announcements, the situation ain't fixin' to look much rosier anytime soon.

Just look at where we are today. While the entire line of Macromedia products runs just beautifully on Windows (and the company was positively salivating over Windows XP for some reason), what do we Mac users get? We get a version of Flash that was more or less unusable until 5.0a was released MUCH later. We get downright stinky Flash player and plug-in performance, especially when compared with the lightning-quick Flash playback Windows users currently enjoy. We get equally bad Director and Shockwave performance when compared to much lesser Windows machines. On the Mac OS X side, we get thrown the proverbial bone right off the bat with Freehand X, but it's getting on a year now with nothing out of Macromedia except for, "OK, fine, here's the Shockwave Player, now shut yer yaps." In a nutshell, what we get is a token effort, and I'd almost rather have no effort at all than a token one. I'm sure you Dreamweaver and Fireworks users have more issues to tack on here, but you get the idea.

Aside from Macromedia's Mac problem, there are a couple of other platform-agnostic things bugging me:

  • Just what is the point of maintaining two separate, proprietary scripting languages (Lingo and ActionScript), with little to no crossover between the two?
  • Why don't they just start over with the Flash interface and do it right?
  • Why do I have to own Director for both platforms in order to distribute my Director projects on Mac and Windows machines, especially when Flash lets me do it with only having to own one version?
  • Why do I have to buy the Director Shockwave Studio with all that stuff I don't want or need instead of just having the option to buy Director by itself?

But silly me. I'm sure Macromedia is smack-dab in the middle of "carefully executing their sound business strategy while responding to market conditions and the expectations of their shareholders." I made that quote up, by the way. I'm sure that Macromedia's $10 million loss last quarter was just a fluke. Surely the fact that there are no new Mac OS X versions of their products couldn't possibly have anything to do with the loss. And while we're all sitting around, doing nothing, patiently awaiting Macromedia's next moves, I'm positive that the announced-and-soon-to-be-released OS X-native versions of GoLive and LiveMotion couldn't possibly eat into Dreamweaver and Flash sales, respectively. I'm just being ridiculous here.

Please, guys. You were once a Mac-only outfit. Don't forget where you came from. Adobe took a lot of grief from us, but at least they've gotten off their rumps and boarded the X Train. Make sure you jump on soon too, or you just might find yourselves persona non grata in the Mac Universe. Your offerings aren't THAT irreplaceable, and believe me, some of us are starting to look.

Do it for us, your faithful, (irrationally) loyal base of creative professionals. Because "Winromedia" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Kevin Schmitt has been a working with just about every aspect of digital design since before it was called digital design. An award-winning multimedia producer, artist, and animator, he is currently the Digital Design Director for StudioAPCO, a creative shop housed at a communications firm in Washington, D.C. By all means, drop him a line at kschmitt@apcoworldwide.com.

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Though the fame, riches, and notoriety of being a DMN contributor are both tantalizing and substantial, Kevin Schmitt still stubbornly insists on continuing his work as the Director of Interactive Services at EFX Media, a production house located just outside of Washington, D.C. Feel free to follow his updates and contact him through Twitter if you have something to share - he's ready to believe you!
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