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Ellipsis - The second fix

July 27th 2004 | Jens C Brynildsen



Ellipsis - The second fix

Ellipsis is the second fix for all the bugs that shipped with Flash MX 2004. Some years ago, Macromedia took a supposedly huge risk. They broke away from their 1,5 year development cycle to do some important re-engineering of all their products. During this, the shareholders had to endure a long period without big product announcements. The MX strategy really paid off for Macromedia. Sales were booming.

Flash MX was a really solid piece of software compared to Flash MX 2004. The only problem with long product cycles is that investors don't care about "the long run". They just want profit fast. When Macromedia launched the MX 2004 line of products, Flashmagazine hinted that the products were rushed to market, based on our initial hands on experience. We couldn't really prove that the product was rushed, so we removed that comment at Macromedias request.

As soon as you tried working with either Flash MX 2004 or Dreamweaver MX 2004, you understood that something was wrong. The program wasn't stable, panels didn't stick where they should and weird things happened while working. The program more or less got in your way while you worked and most users went back to using their old Flash MX license. Dreamweaver really wasn't usable at all until after the first update. The program would crash every other time you used it and it would gobble away all your machines resources before crashing it. Sales figures clearly showed that the market didn't trust that this was indeed good software, so Macromedia delivered updates for all major products.

Poor product = poor sales
We cannot say for sure that the release of unfinished software was due to shareholder pressure. And whatever the reason for pushing the release, was it worth it? Many in the Flash community lost trust in Macromedia, especially in the designer camp. Why should they upgrade to buggy software that didn't offer substantially new features to them? They had all they needed in Flash MX, so why jump the bandwagon? By betting it all on the RIA-horse, Macromedia lost many of the designers, but gained a new following in the coder camp.

When sales still didn't take off despite the first bug fix, Macromedia started surveying the Flash community for what was wrong. The surveys probably told Macromedia very clearly that the Flash IDE still wasn't trustworthy and another important thing: the coders they had been aiming for felt that the quality and amount documentation was poor.

Macromedia really should have figured this long before the community started doing Macromedias job. That the Flash community drives Macromedia and vice versa is really nothing new. You could learn a lot more from lists such as Flashcoders than from Macromedias documentation. The lists has an additional advantage, they allow you to ask questions also. The archive of the Flashcoders list is actually so good that Macromedia supposedly use it to find bugs in Flash.

Grumpiness aside, Ellipsis will solve most bugs
Ellipsis is the code name of the second bug fix to MX 2004. All bugs that affect a lot of users have been fixed. Some bugs still remain. These are not fixed to avoid changes to the underlying code base. Any change here could produce new bugs. The list of issues fixed is really long, but Macromedia is to be commended for their openness around the issues. These last weeks, the Flash Team has told the community about some of the major bugs addressed in this update.

The first thing you'll notice after installing the Ellipsis updater is that after an initial slow launch, the program will start much faster. Compilation time is really reduced, especially for Form and Screen based applications. This alone should justify another shot at FMX 2004 for those that gave up. Several obvious things have also been addressed, like that addition of a standalone ScrollBar component. For some reason, this was left out in previous versions. Coders will also appreciate a new EventDelegate class that can be used to facilitate the handling of events broadcast by components.

Some things are not fixed due to the complexity of the issues. A good example is the problem that Library panel does not remember its position. In order to fix this, the underlying panel management code would need changes. Doing this could introduce new bugs, so this has been postponed until the next major release.

The best thing about Ellipsis is a complete review of all documentation. Now there are a lot more and better code examples. According to Macromedia, "The percentage of entries with examples has grown from 43% to 98%" and the addition of "21 new documentation example FLA files demonstrating common application functionality" will surely help. In total, the amount of documented features is up by 85%. The existing docs have also been reviewed, so over 2000 bugs (from sources like LiveDocs, beta lists, direct customer feedback, and reviews by the development team) have been corrected.

Ellipsis also gives you documentation of the JavaScript API (JSAPI), via the Flash Javascript Dictionary now available from the help menu. There's 2 new chapters about working with Components, plus 2 existing chapters on the topic have been rewritten. Styles are also better explained. Flash Lite 1.1 documentation and the Flash Lite Bundler also comes with Ellipsis, if you have not already downloaded this. When Macromedia understands how to make real, searchable, commented documentation (that is merged with old entries rather than restarted once a new version comes along), the docs can take another leap forward.

What really brings our hopes up for the standard of future documentation, is a statement from Mike Chambers, Product Manager for Developer Relations for the Flash Platform (!). Macromedia has "Moved one of our engineers to a permanent position on the documentation team".

Just today, my review copy of Essential Actionscript 2.0 by Colin Moock arrived. Just in time for a Flash to be fixed so that most ActionScript 2 will compile properly. We have heard from readers of the book that it has lots of advice on how to get around bugs. It's a real pity that it was necessary to put those bugs in writing.

Changes at Macromedia
This is the first time Macromedia have had to release a second updater for Flash. The rushed launch of the MX 2004 products may have learned Macromedia an expensive lesson. Rushing products to market before they are finished will cause more work and less profit in the end. We have restructured internally to "ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again that made the two updates to Flash MX 2004 necessary.", according to Mike Chambers.

"One of the reasons that made Ellipsis necessary in the first place was that we had lost some touch and focus with our current customers, and as a result, the quality and direction of Flash suffered. We have made sweeping organizational changes across the teams with the goal of institutionalizing communication with users, in order to ensure that we do not make these mistakes again.

To resolve this, we created a new Technical Product Manager position on the team. The goal of this position is to institutionalize customer knowledge on the team and ensure that the wishes and needs of our existing customers are translated into features and changes in the authoring tool. Mike Downey, our former Flash evangelist has stepped into the new position. Mike has been working with Macromedia for nearly four years, and has worked very closely with Flash users during that time. In his new position, Mike will ensure that there is a balance between what existing users want and what advocates for new features directed at new users want."

The Flash team is also under a completely new management, with Carol Linburn moving into the product manager position and Doug Benson (a 12-year veteran of Macromedia) leading up the development and QA teams. Macromedia employees are now on tour to talk and listen to customers and their needs.

Having been part of the Ellipsis beta and used it daily, I now find the program to be stable and without most of those annoyances that was there. Having Ellipsis installed is like getting a new program - the program that should have shipped already, but didn't until now. If you've given up on FMX04 before, install Ellipsis and try again. Macromedia has promised a sort of "return to the roots" for the next version and that designers will get what they want. A good example of what designers want, could be the "Create transparent Button Command". I think Macromedia now are headed in the right direction, with an open mind and listening for community input.

Read More:
What is the Significance of Ellipsis
Flash MX 2004 Documentation : Responding to Users
Introducing the JavaScript Flash File API
Using the new mx.utils.EventDelegate Class
Skinning Flash MX 2004 Components

Download the Ellipsis updater here


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