MatchWare Mediator 8 EXP review

£499
Price when reviewed
Mediator 8 EXP is MatchWare’s latest attempt to muscle into the professional multimedia authoring market currently dominated by Macromedia Director MX 2004. It’s produced in Standard and Pro versions, but it’s the flagship EXP version that’s of most interest to serious developers.

Mediator is a drag-and-drop authoring tool in which objects can be dropped onto a page in a similar way to creating a PowerPoint slide. That’s about as far as the similarity goes however, since Mediator allows all objects to respond to Events by taking Actions. A Mediator Event might be a right mouse-button click or a page turn, whereas Actions range from a simple Show (which makes an object visible) to the Timeline action (which allows a sequence of Actions to be arranged by time). Mediator projects can be distributed on the web in HTML or Flash form, but Mediator’s natural territory is in creating CD-ROM and DVD-ROM content.

The traditional downside of drag-and-drop authoring tools is that developers are limited to the built-in feature set. Since version 6, Mediator EXP has shared two features in common with Director aimed at bridging this gap: scripting and ActiveX controls. Using VBScript or JavaScript, developers can add features or control Mediator objects in code. For example, it’s possible to create a Flash SWF player in Mediator, controlling navigation by using code attached to buttons.

ActiveX controls may be dropped onto the page and controlled using script. Although ActiveX is a relatively old technology now, its longevity means there are thousands of pre-created controls on the market. For example, it’s possible to use the Common Controls ActiveX to display Open/Save and Color Dialogs among many others. All of a sudden, you’re able to create simple dynamic applications in Mediator.

The most obvious change in version 8 is an overdue facelift. The new interface is slicker and more efficient, bringing Mediator’s look and feel bang up to date, complete with dockable, customisable toolbars and a scrollable workspace. Disappointingly, though, Mediator still doesn’t support a dual-monitor setup – it would be incredibly useful to work on one screen while viewing the results on the other.

Version 8 of both Pro and EXP support multi-user editing, meaning a number of users can edit a document concurrently over a network, as long as they don’t try to edit the same page. This feature is likely to be most appreciated in the school setting, where Mediator has proved popular, but it’s also useful for large commercial projects.

With this latest version of EXP, you can access script functions directly from Mediator expressions. For example, you might have written a function to return today’s date in a particular format; you can now access that function directly from a Set Property Action to have it displayed.

However, the most useful development is the facility to temporarily disable individual Actions. This makes debugging simpler, as you can now comment out Actions one at a time to narrow down the source of any problems.

For professional multimedia productions, Mediator 8 EXP offers a balance between ease of use (and therefore productivity) and power. There aren’t enough new features in this version to compel users of EXP 7 to upgrade, but this application nevertheless deserves to be in the toolkit of all professional developers creating disc-based multimedia content.

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