Macromedia & The Common GUI

Since Jakob Nielsen, the famous danish usability-guru wrote that Flash was 99% bad, Macromedia has been focusing on improving usability, not only in the way Flash content is shown on the web, but also in the GUI (Graphical User Interface) in their line of products.

Whether or not they succeeded with Flash content, is for another article. This one will be about the “common” user interface in their suite of web authoring tools…

When Macromedia Flash was version 5, Adobe sued over the use of “tabbed palettes”… something they had appearantly patented. Adobe actually won the lawsuit, but didn’t manage to stop Flash 5, which at that time was already released.

It did, however, make Macromedia rethink their user interface for their MX suite, released a year later. It resulted in the sort of “accordion” interface we now see in all their products. Suddenly they seemed commited to “unifying” the use of Macromedia products, so they all worked the same.

While I personally liked the new UI better than the hordes of tabs in the old one, I still to this day think they failed miserably in truly making a COMMON UI. As such, Flash works differently from Dreamweaver, and Director doesn’t work at all.

The GUI differences

In Flash, you have only to click anywhere on the titlebar of a palette, to collapse it. In Dreamweaver, you actually have to click the title text, as though it was a hyperlink! The Flash way would obviously have been the way to go.

In Dreamweaver, each palette, can have sub-tabs, which is nice, especially since Dreamweaver has many palettes. This is seemingly not Adobe-patent-infringing, because one has to click the small palette options button in the upper right corner, and select “Group with”, rather than just dragging the tab like in Adobe apps.

While the way of organising is not as userfriendly, the ability to group palettes this way is awesome. Now why can’t Flash, Fireworks or Director do this?

In Director, you cannot drag palettes outside the work area… the work area being the actual size of the program itself. This is unlike both Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks, which all allow this!

At work, I have two monitors beside eachother, and I use this feature in Flash, every day, to have the actions palette on one screen, and the timeline & stage on the other screen. It’s a great feature! But why can’t I do this in Director? To achieve something of the same, I have to manually scale the Director application to span two screens, completely covering the desktop. Not cool.

These are all infantile bugs that seem to be minor, but grow to be major issues when one works with the app every day. What’s worse is, they should have been fixed long ago, at the very least in Macromedia’s MX 2004 releases! Not the case. The same bugs are still there, but now with a glassy OSX like look to them.

Why this rant?

Because I actually love Macromedia’s applications. I’ve used them for years, and I use Flash and Dreamweaver on a daily basis. With this in mind, I was so looking forward to seeing these issues fixed in the MX 2004 products. As mentioned, not so.

So please, Macromedia, fix these things! They make all the difference.