tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

Macromedia training day in Brighton

Today Macromedia had a training day in Brighton today, and I was along for all three talks.

The three sessions, presented by John Harris and Steve Burnard, covered Breeze, a corporate-level training and communications tool, using Flash for 'rich internet applications,' Dreamweaver MX 2004 and some concepts behind building dynamic websites via Dreamweaver, Flash and ColdFusion. (Macromedia Products page)

I've been using Macromedia products for a while. I received some training on Dreamweaver v3 about four years ago when I worked for Eurolink, and have used Ultradev/v4 on and off over the last couple of years. However, I've generally found hand-coding pages to be better, although DW is great for mocking up pages and layouts.

DW has 'Behaviours' - pieces of pre-built code to let DW create pages that can access databases and return what you want. They have improved a great deal over the versions I knew of, I can see that it's actually become a very useful tool that will let you build basic dynamic websites without needing to know all of the server-side code to do the database access. Seeing someone who knew the package well demonstrate by putting together a basic application revealed how powerful DW now is as a website building tool.

Breeze was very impressive, a training system delivered to the client through the practically-ubiquitous Flash player. Breeze integrates with Powerpoint to help create training documents, and as it works through Flash player can integrate audio, video and streamed media. It can add quizzes to the documents so the creator can tell who has responded and how well the training has gone. It even has built-in hassling to e-mail people who should be using the training regularly until they have completed it.

The corporate-level pricing - hosted by Macromedia for about £10,000, brought me down to earth a little, but overall Breeze looks very good and I can see a lot of high-medium to large enterprises using as soon as they see how useful it will be to them.

Also demonstrated was the new version of Flash: MX 2004. It now has Behaviours as well, and we saw a quick web service built using Flash and ColdFusion. Very neat. The accessibility of Flash was covered in it's own sub-segment, with a demonstration showing how Flash content is read via the screen reader Windows Eyes.

Various 'rich internet applications' were demonstrated, all showing how Flash can be used to make dynamic parts of a website, some within HTML pages, others as the whole application. As you'd expect from the people who sell Flash, they had some extremely good sites to show us. John seemed particularly keen to point out how well video through Flash is now doing - smaller for the same good quality, and Flash player has a higher installed base than any other video player. Expect more and more video to be in Flash format in the coming months as the bandwidth advantages can be seen by people who adopt it.

As an aside, Steve demonstrated two other products from Macromedia - Flash Paper, which publishes any document in to Flash .swf format and comes as part of Contribute 2. Robodemo 5 is a development of a product/company Macromedia bought which effectively videos what you do inside any application and lets you set up the video as a training document with captions and voice over. All delivered through... Flash player, of course. The only bad thing about Robodemo is it's Windows-only, and they couldn't give any information about that changing in the future.

All in all, a very interesting day. The talks were full of useful information, and gave a very good indicator of where Macromedia is going with their products. They have a set of products that can cover every angle of creating content for the web and for web-based delivery, and they look really good.
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