First off, if you are a Flash developer, we aren't suggesting you drop it in favor of Director MX. If you are a Director developer, we aren't going to play the "Flash is better" game. In some respects they are quite similar, and if your needs involve nothing more than simple tweening?the new timeline effects in Flash MX 2004 are something else?or basic interactivity, then using Director MX would be, as one author is fond of saying, "Using an atom bomb to light your BBQ." If you are a Director MX user and your needs encompass interactive streaming media capabilities or database connectivity without the use of expensive plugins, then a Flash sprite on the stage is the solution. Still, there are some differences to consider.
If you live in the United States or Canada or reside in a member community of the European Union, accessibility is becoming a jurisdictional issue. There are federal legislative standards dealing with this issue, and for those residing in the United States, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which deals with web accessibility and disabled Americans, is still reverberating through the U.S. If you want to do work for the feds, you meet their accessibility standards. Though there are federal guidelines around this, the message is getting out, and soon the private sector and the educational sector will be insisting on accessibility.
Flash is getting there, but its accessibility features are still rudimentary. For example, if you want to check your Flash movie for accessibility, you select Commands, Detect Accessibility, and you will see the dialog box shown in Figure 14.1. Essentially, Flash enables you to add or hide features that can be detected by screen readers.
We get deeper into accessibility issues in Flash MX 2004 in Chapter 19, "Debugging and Testing," but if accessibility is a fundamental issue, then Director MX may be the solution.
With Director MX's Text-To-Speech feature using the Speech Xtra, captioning, and other accessibility behaviors, you can build your own screen reader that is independent of the browser.
The Speech Xtra simply adds special commands to Lingo that "read" the text on the stage. Keep in mind that you must add it to the movie's list of Xtras. Follow these steps to add the Speech Xtra:
Select Modify, Movie, Xtras to open the Xtras dialog box (see Figure 14.2).
Click the Add button to open the Add Xtras dialog box.
Scroll down to the Speech Xtra and click OK to close the Add Xtras dialog box.
The Speech Xtra will appear in the list in the Xtras dialog box. Click OK to close it and save the movie.
If you are curious as to whether the Speech Xtra will work on your computer, open the Message Window?Control-M (PC) or Command-M (Mac)?and enter the following:
Press the Return/Enter key. If the result is 1, the Speech Xtra is working. If the result is 0, you may not have text-to-speech software installed on you computer.
Until the release of this version of Flash, video integration was in Director's court. This current release of Flash has moved this issue to a position squarely on the fence.
Prior versions of Flash either resorted to rotoscoping?frame-by-frame video captures and playback?or were limited to roughly two minutes of video in any one Flash movie. Exceed that time limit, and there was a noticeable performance and quality degradation. This is no longer the case.
This new version of Flash contains a Video Import wizard and external FLV (flash video) support. The wizard, when importing video clips, provides additional control over the frame ranges you want to import, reusable encoding settings, and new capabilities for cropping color correction. The most important change is that you can now play FLV files back from disk directly (without the need to pack video into a SWF). This eliminates file duration limitations and optimizes delivery so that long videos can be played back with limited RAM and without having to download the entire file from the web server. We get deeper into both of these new features in the next chapter.
Finally, the FLV format has now migrated to the industrial-strength digital video editing applications, such as Avid and even Media Cleaner Pro. The implication is that the video producers who long kvetched and whined about the lousy quality of their work in Flash can now be told, "So do it yourself, if it's so lousy."
Director, being the grand old man, approaches the Flash news with a "Yeah, so?" The application supports QuickTime for Windows and Macintosh, AVI, QuickTimeVR, and RealMedia. In fact, many animators preparing Flash animations for broadcast will import the entire .swf file into Director for subsequent output to videotape.
Extensibility makes Director the winner by a long shot. The application has hundreds of free or commercially-available Xtras. Still, Flash has suddenly become extensible as well. The current release of Flash also gives third party commercial vendors and developers the ability to offer a number of components for use in Flash. This means developers no longer have to rely on Macromedia for these components.
Flash developers tend to look down their noses at Lingo. The reason is they regard Lingo's dot syntax as being somewhat clunky and old-fashioned. Director developers attach a joystick to their machines and ask their Flash counterparts, "Can ActionScript do this?" Our response is, "Who cares?"
As you saw in Chapter 12, "Flash Communication Server MX: Moving Dynamic Data Through Director MX and Flash MX 2004," the two languages can talk to each other, if there is a Flash sprite on the Director stage. Unfortunately, it doesn't work the other way.
Even so, as you have seen, Director MX now supports ColdFusion MX, Flash Communication, and Flash Remoting. The implication is that another dimension has been added to Director MX. It can be used as an application-building tool in the same manner as Flash MX 2004.
We regard this one as a "sucker question." There is no correct answer, and no matter how you answer it, you leave yourself open to debate over arcana, not substance. In many respects, it is an internecine debate along the lines of the useless Mac versus PC debate that has been going on for years. Look at them as tools and decide which one best solves the task at hand.
For the majority of web tasks, Flash is all you need. It's is a lighter version of Director, thanks to vectors, it's simpler and easier to use, and the Flash Player has a larger installed user base. This isn't because it's better than Director. It's because Flash is a widely-adopted web application and web site development tool.
When your needs stretch the limits of Flash and you need to develop a specialized interactive web application or game, then Director is the tool for the job. Add to that list such needs as 3D, full screen video, or input devices, and then Director, again, is the tool.
Move outside the web, and not choosing Director is a fatal error. For example, CD, DVD, or kiosk applications almost demand you use Director because the information is "self contained" and doesn't require a Shockwave plugin. Even then, Director includes some pretty nifty ways of accessing the web from these media.