Saturday, April 06, 2002

Wow. I started this blog earlier this week, more as an experiment than anything else. Now I'm going through a search on "macromedia" at Daypop and seeing that I'm completely and totally outed. Well, learn something new every day, I s'pose.... ;-)

Folks at Macromedia I've spoken with also feel that there's something here, but we don't know the final form... this is still definitely a personal experiment. I haven't even purchased a commercial license for Blogger yet because I'm not sure if I *am* commercial, or if we'll use this for multiple people, or what... everything's tentative. One of the big goals of my group in developer support is to help people make the jump to richer and more usable web applications. It sure smells like this is a necessary component, but I'm still getting my bearings here -- definitely just early explorations.

There's a personal account of FlashForward at Unrealistic Expectations (who?). Goes into the distinction between talking about what you know, and what the listener wants to hear about. Speech as a usability issue... principles of design applied to communications...?

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Matt Liotta writes in, "What is this magic technology that allows developers to build GUI applications for every major desktop OS without worry about platform specifics?"

I'm with him on the usefulness of this client-side part of Macromedia MX. I'm a little leery about comparing it with other web technologies (maybe I'm just over-sensitized because of last week), but I'm glad he sees value in having a runtime with wide realworld distribution, which works on a range of devices and operating systems.
Pedro Ornelas has a new rev of XML-RPC Flash Lib... offers an easier interface to creating client-side web applets which use Remote Procedure Calls to invoke functions on distant machines. Even after the upcoming MX gateway arrives I think this will remain valuable, because XML-RPC is a way to talk with an arbitrary distant system.
News bookmarklet: Use this to search the beta Google News for recent items related to Macromedia. Or select text in current page (or type in different search term) to go directly to a news search on that item.

  1. Make a new bookmark in your browser.
  2. Give it a name like "Macromedia News" or whatever.
  3. Paste the following in as the location:
    javascript:Qr=document.getSelection();if(!Qr){void(Qr=prompt('Search Google News:','macromedia'))};if(Qr)location.href=''+escape(Qr)+'&num=10'
Notes: This bookmarklet doesn't read selected text in framesets; I've seen other handlings which do. I don't know of current browsers this doesn't work in, but I haven't tested 'em all. You can easily replace the "macromedia" in the bookmarklet with other terms. Watch for linebreaks or other copying errors; try pasting to a text editor first to be sure.
T.D. Waterhouse has a new SWF ad on Yahoo, a basketball ad that starts with a ball bouncing across the court and a shadow trailing. Court and ball are bitmaps (the ball a series of bitmaps), and I think it's a vector shadow. Not much interactivity, but visually it caught my eye.
Excellent article from CHris MacGregor, What Would Wal-Mart Do? These marketers do think every little detail through... they're not always right, but they do find many effective practices. "If a Wal-Mart was built like a stereotype Flash site, the parking lot would be ten blocks from the front door... must watch a commercial before being able to enter... to get from one department to another you have to go back to the front door," more. It can be very valuable to think through a piece of work through a wildly different metaphor like this.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Useful infographic from Associated Press on Afghanistan caves. It's big, at 250K, but it's a way to control the presentation, to see how the pieces relate to each other. continues to find SWF infographics in the press... I've got a language difficulty with these two sites, but from what I can understand it seems like they're attempting useful work.

Niklas Gustavsson is doing some interesting work rendering SVG by SWF. SVG can be a useful file format, no reason to not read it in. I'd like to see this project go forward, myself.

I'm not sure who writes random($foo), but there are some good questions about Flash MX there. The writer is a little skeptical of the initiative, but the questions themselves are good solid ones, and there's no buy-in to that fake "swf vs htm" debate.
David Burrows gave his two cents on what this week's c|net article missed, and linked to Dave Winer's comments on the same subject. I'm glad to see the energy these folks expend in trying new things. I believe once we get more examples working it will be easier for folks to see how HTML and SWF can complement each other.

During the FlashForward keynote, Kevin Lynch specifically pointed out parts that are stronger as HTML document, parts that are stronger as SWF application. I could see that he wanted to say something about the next version of Dreamweaver, but even he can't pre-announce stuff.... ;-)

Just came back from the Flash Forward conference in Herbst Theatre, San Francisco. Walking up, there was a big crowd milling outside... heard they sold out the place. Coupled with the New York Times saying that "the web is boring" these are good signs that things are turning around.... ;-)

One of the things I like best about FlashForward is how people come from all over the world... for me, it's very important that these advances be available to people in a wide range of cultures, places and situations, so I'm glad that developers find it worthwhile to attend. (Another thing I like about FlashForward is that the music is usually roots music instead of techno.... ;-)

Kevin Lynch and Jeremy Allaire did the keynote, and the key theme was that the web still has a long way to go in being both easier to use, and easier to develop. Interfaces need to be faster and more predictable to use, and the Macromedia Flash Player can definitely help with that. Production costs in developing and sustaining web publishing and applications also need to drop, and the tools and servers in Macromedia MX are aimed at helping with these parts two.

Components got big play during Eric Wittman's demo. These reduce development costs by being encapsulated high-level functionality, so creators can spend more time on the app-specific parts of the work instead of reinventing the wheel. Standard components will also help make it easier for consumers to learn a new web application. But the ability to skin and customize a component means things can be tailored for specific presentations, too.

Even though I've seen the Flash MX demo a few times already, it's always fun to watch how new audiences react to different parts, to watch when people nod towards each other when there's something new shown that can help them in their own work. That's the acid test of an engineering investment, and it's great to get that feedback that something can actually make a difference for someone.

Live webcam communication was shown, running off a beta communications server, but there wasn't additional detail yet about features, implementation, or estimated release date. The live video feed was also shown in a "directed viewing" application, where a speaker is shown in live video feed to a distant audience, and where the speaker can control the playing of slides in each viewer's browser, with text-based chat going back to the speaker.

New for me was seeing the Nokia Communicator in action. This is a phone with a fliptop screen & keyboard, already wildly popular in Europe and due to hit the US later this year when the networks are implemented. I was big on early devices like the Casio 64, but was into a minimal-metal lifestyle in recent years. I could see working with something like this Nokia, though.

... hmm, the Nokia Communicator demo was for pulling up current weather in a distant city. You could do this with a regular phone, assuming you knew a phone number which provided this service, but the query-entry would be a pain via verbal/keypad control. Viewing the results would also be a pain if you had to wait and listen to someone tell you "broken clouds in Cairo now, 65oF" or whatever. Besides being easier to use, it's also less of a drain on the server to serve just the requested data, rather than to stream down a whole verbal interface for each request.

Anyway, there was a good buzz at the conference, and I'll link here to other reports I find throughout the next few days.

Monday, April 01, 2002

There are some technotes in the queue for Flash MX:

  • details on Unicode support, ways to work with multiple character sets
  • details on shared objects and local connections
  • in some configs printing can be reversed or upside-down, and there are also reports that using the ActiveX Control inside PowerPoint can also result in reversals
  • there's an issue with rollovers outside the bounds of the SWF in some Mac browsers
  • apparently if you start a stream (new SWF, XML?) it won't automatically abort if you decide you don't really want it and go somewhere else... I don't know how this does on the some-or-all qualifiers (for browsers, handlings, types of streams etc), but some F5 movies didn't get tested on the Developer Release. Engineering is researching. [added April 3]

I don't have details on the above myself, but I know these technotes are near release... these and other recent documents will be on the list of recent technotes.
Odd c|net article today which re-runs that "SWF vs HTML" theme. I'm still not sure where people get that -- maybe it's just because Flash MX is the first part of the MX family, that's my best guess. Last week I wrote a column on this issue, but my turnaround is slow. Maybe keeping a public log will ease up on some of the retyping I do for each mailing list.... ;-)

SWF search tidbits: