Macromedia’s "Design in Motion Suite" Reviewed

September 1998 — Volume 3, Number 3

Macromedia’s "Design in Motion Suite" Reviewed

Jim Duber

UC Berkeley
<jim@duber.com>

I’ve been a fan of Macromedia software for quite some time now. Long the recognized leader in cross-platform authoring software for CD-ROM productions, most notably with Director and Authorware, as of late Macromedia has been putting significant resources towards expanding their toolset to include software of interest to website developers. They now boast several highly touted applications specifically designed for such work. In addition to selling a wide variety of tools with very specific purposes, among them: Dreamweaver (a visual HTML editor), Fireworks, (a web graphics editor), the company also distributes several different bundle packages. The "Design in Motion Suite" is one such bundle, which pairs Macromedia Flash, an interactive animation/web presentation tool now in its third version, with Freehand 8, a versatile design, illustration and page layout package, and InstaHTML, a utility for instant conversion of a Freehand layout into a web page.

My interest in reviewing the Design in Motion Suite was to examine the package to determine its value for development of online instructional materials. The bottom line: I was very impressed with Flash 3 (especially after being rather underwhelmed by the first two versions of this software). I found the learning curve of Freehand 8 a bit steep, though I can certainly appreciate the power of this professional design tool. And, I was a bit puzzled by Macromedia’s decision to present "InstaHTML" as a third product in the suite rather than a built-in part of Freehand (besides which, I don’t see much value in InstaHTML).

Flash 3 is a great tool for adding streaming animation, enhanced interactivity, and audio to web pages. Visitors will need to have the Shockwave Flash plugin installed in their browsers–it’s a free download from Macromedia, and a relatively small one at that. (The Flash player is also included in recent versions of the Shockwave Director plugin.) The streaming capabilities of Flash allow the files to begin playing right away so there is no long wait while downloading the files. The manual and tutorials are concise and easy to follow; together with the sample files included, they help to quickly bring the beginner up to speed on the basics of the tools in Flash for drawing, animating, and adding sound and navigation features to a Flash movie. With a click of the mouse, the Flash movie can then be exported as a Shockwave Flash file for display on [-1-] the web. Just as quickly, you can also create cross-platform stand-alone players that can be distributed to users for offline viewing. You do need to create the stand-alone players on your target platforms, however. These include Windows 3.1/95/98 and Macintosh 68K and PPC.

Teachers who like to design web-based interactive activities will find it very easy to create multiple-choice questions, though for other types of questions other methods must be used. For example, there are no text entry fields in Flash. For those types of questions, I suggest using regular HTML forms, which could be augmented by a Flash presentation.

Click the thumbnail image below to see an example of a multiple-choice item I created using Flash:

Sample Multiple-Choice Flash Quiz

Flash is very easy to learn. I made the sample item above on the first day I opened the software. After spending an hour reading the manual, I dove right in. The text tool lets you easily create onscreen text in any font, size, color and style that you want. Because the text is turned into a graphic item on exporting the file, you don’t even have to worry about whether or not your users have installed the fonts you used. The animated bird and buttons are clipart items that were included with the package. I just resized the bird and placed it in the scene where I wanted it to appear, and labeled the buttons and assigned actions so clicking them would lead to a new scene–where I placed textual feedback. All by dragging and dropping text and graphics along a timeline and using simple menus to create the interactive features.

It’s also very easy to create external links and target multiple windows using Flash. For an example, choose letter C ("He’s flopping them"), and then in the feedback for that choice, click on the small red button. This will launch a separate window and take you to entry for "flop" in the Newbury House Online Dictionary. This was done by assigning a "Get URL" action to the button using a simple pull-down menu in the Flash design environment–no programming necessary.

My experience with Freehand didn’t go as smoothly. Whereas Flash is a multimedia authoring tool (and I must admit that I have quite a bit of experience with software of this genre), Freehand is an illustration tool. And, alas, I am not an illustrator. I draw just as poorly with pen and paper as I do with a computer. Nevertheless, I was very much heartened by the tutorials in the manual, as they led me through the paces in the use of the drawing tools. Using the images supplied and following the numbered steps in the tutorials, I was able to assemble very nice graphics and create special effects (such as transparent objects and shadows). Unfortunately, because of my own shortcomings, I found it next to impossible to apply these concepts to an original project. [-2-] Someone with drawing or illustration skills will probably find this tool to be extremely powerful.

Luckily for me, Freehand comes with a large supply of clipart images, which are fun and easy to work with. It also imports and exports a truly impressive variety of file formats, including Photoshop, CorelDRAW, EPS, GIFs, JPEG, PICT, TIF, bitmaps, Windows metafiles, and others. It exports, among others, PDF files, QuarkExpress, RTF, and ASCII text files, in addition to many of the import options. I also discovered you can use it to help convert Excel tables into GIF images. All users can appreciate this flexibility.

Then there’s InstaHTML. The way it’s packaged in the bundle gives the impression that it’s a separate product altogether. Not so–although it comes on a separate CD-ROM, it requires just under 300K of disk space and could very easily be included on the Freehand disk. Its only purpose is to convert a Freehand design into a webpage. The designer selects a series of menu choices (via a wizard-like interface) and then the design is converted to web-ready format.

However, this is clearly not the best way to design a web page. Freehand is not particularly suited to designing web pages. It’s a much better design tool for use in creating illustrations for print media. Macromedia Fireworks, on the other hand, is specifically intended for designing and optimizing graphics and pages for the web.

Of course, for those who don’t want to be troubled with writing any HTML (and who prefer not to use an HTML editor), then Freehand/InstaHTML might be an attractive alternative to using Microsoft Word’s Save-As HTML, or the like.

Back to the bottom line: the estimated street price of the Design in Motion Suite is $499 U.S. Separately, the estimated street prices are as follows:

Flash: $299
Freehand: $399
InstaHTML: $99

The bundle at justunder $500 is obviously a bargain when compared to the nearly $800 it would cost to buy each package separately. However, if the purpose is to create instructional materials to be delivered on the net, then the Suite will probably be more than what you need.

Resources:

Product Information:
Macromedia’s Home Page: http://www.macromedia.com [-3-]
Design In Motion Suite Home Page: http://www.macromedia.com/software/freehand/productinfo/designinmotion/
Flash Home Page: http://www.macromedia.com/software/flash/
Freehand Home Page: http://www.macromedia.com/software/freehand/
InstaHTML Home Page: http://www.macromedia.com/software/freehand/productinfo/instahtml/
Dreamweaver Home Page: http://www.macromedia.com/software/dreamweaver/
Fireworks Home Page: http://www.macromedia.com/software/fireworks/

Demonstration Software (free 30-day trials):
Flash: http://www.macromedia.com/software/flash/trial/
Freehand: http://www.macromedia.com/software/freehand/trial/
Dreamweaver: http://www.macromedia.com/software/dreamweaver/trial/
Fireworks: http://www.macromedia.com/software/fireworks/trial/

 

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