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3 - Analysis of the Industry

To substantiate my claims that cross platform compliance is a real headache for the designer, and provide a firm backbone to the report, I devised a questionnaire aimed at multimedia designers. The questionnaire itself can be found in Appendix A, along with the responses it generated. The online form is still available and can be found here. This chapter analyses the results of the questionnaire during the period up to the hand in date of the printed report last January.

“Multimedia is at the mercy of corporate market forces.” (entry 14, Appendix A)
Charles Colquhoun, final year multimedia student, Staffordshire University.

I decided to produce an electronic questionnaire, because it was much easier, quicker, and cheaper for the recipient to respond. The questionnaire was drafted in early October and incorporated into my website here. I then publicised it through postings to the comp.multimedia, comp.sys.acorn.announce, and comp.sys.acorn.misc newsgroups (try Deja News for web access to Usenet if you are not subscribed to newsgroups), the Convergence International and Geocities SiliconValley News websites. I also e-mailed directly to companies in the UK, through the use of the Yell! search engine.

From this, I received 18 replies. Of these, 3 of them were resends, making a total of 15. One of these resends was intentional, due to the sender wishing to add more points than the previous posting. It was a somewhat modest return, but enough to form a generalization of the experiences that are encountered during cross platform development in the industry.

1) Do you wish to remain anonymous?

Only two people requested anonymity — a facility included to let the user give their opinion freely in the knowledge that they would not be traced.

4) How old are you?

The greatest number of recipients were in the 25 to 34 age group — people who have been in multimedia since perhaps graduating from a design course of some kind.

Figure 10 Figure 10

3 of the recipients were under 25, while 2 people were between 35 and 44, with 1 person being from the over 45 category, which is somewhat unusual, considering that multimedia is a relatively new profession populated by young adults. Perhaps it was a second career for this man?

9) Are you self employed?

All but two respondents were employed as part of a larger design agency or multimedia developer house. It is perfectly feasible for a multimedia artist to be self employed, although the start up costs for doing cross platform work would be quite high, as the designer would have to fork out of three different machines. One of them was the over 45, which could be interpreted as being somebody who worked for an agency in an earlier phase of his career, before going it out alone. In contrast, the other respondent, a 25-34 year old, was actually a design student at Staffordshire University!

11) Whereabouts are you based?

I asked this question in an attempt to find out if there was a differing opinion of the subject from particular parts of the world, especially the United States, as most multimedia software originates from this part of the world. In the end, I received only 1 entry from America. I also received one from Malaysia, the remainder coming from UK developers.

12) What machine do you own?

Since many respondents listed more than one machine, I decided to count how many times each platform was mentioned. The results are shown in Figure 11, and from this, it is clear that PCs and Macintoshes are far more numerous, and could be attributed to software choice on each platform, or the personal choice of the respondent.

Figure 11 Figure 11

13) What machine do you or your employer develop multimedia for?

The answer to this question was determined in the same way as the previous one, a count of the times each platform was mentioned by respondents (see Figure 12). It is odd that the Apple Macintosh has come up level with the PC, but some companies put the PC first, and the Macintosh second in terms of market. They develop for both platforms, but the most numerous platform comes first.

Figure 12 Figure 12

14) What multimedia authoring software do you use?

The software being used is quite wide. Most senders listed a unique piece of software which appeared only once in the entire collection of feedback. However, Macromedia's Director package proved its stature as the number one authoring package. In second place came another Macromedia product, Authorware. This is another authoring package, but its basis is more on program structure, rather than the time based approach that Director employs.
“It annoys me to find pages describing what can and can't be used on different packages. None of these problems are insurmountable as far as I can see.” (entry 10, Appendix A)
Robert Colton, Alchemy Graphics Ltd.

One sender was unique in stating that they use their own in-house software for producing multimedia titles. The company was Sherston Software, who create educational titles for the Acorn, PC and Macintosh market. The software used, Playbook, is written on the Acorn platform. Once the software has been tested, it is transferred to the other two machines in a matter of minutes, for it uses its own graphic and sound formats to run without question, but video must be done separately, due to the difference in quality between the three platforms. Playbook is only for the Acorn platform, so in answer to question 15; Does your authoring software have versions available on other platforms/machines? they answered No, the only respondent to do so.

16) How do you rate your authoring package’s cross-platform conversion abilities (if any)?

This question asked what the sender thought about the cross platform conversion process of their most used piece of software. Most of the senders stated that the process was very good, while only two people said it was excellent (see Figure 13). These senders are very likely to be users of Director, and looking through the results proves this conclusively. Director has excellent cross platform support, arguably better than any other product on the market. More tellingly, four people, almost a third of the returns, stated that the process was merely average. This could be down to the level of cross compatibility between software designed for the PC and Macintosh platform.

Figure 13 Figure 13

17) How much alteration is required by yourself to maintain cross-platform compatibility?

The results of this question were rather worrying. Only one person stated that no alteration to their project was required in order to run across more than one platform. 6 people revealed that some alteration was required, and 4 people stated that a lot of alteration was required (see Figure 14). This indicates that the process of developing across different computers still requires time and effort.

Figure 14 Figure 14

18) How much time do you personally spend on cross-platform testing, debugging and/or alteration?

The amount of time spent on testing and tinkering across platforms varied from less than a day to several days (see Figure 15). Two people each revealed that they spent a week, or over a week respectively in testing. One of these senders was self employed, and may therefore have had to do all the testing himself.

Figure 15 Figure 15

In stark contrast, the other sender was Sherston Software. They put a great emphasis on ensuring that their products worked properly across all three platforms, and therefore have extra resources and staff to make this possible. It would be very damaging to the company if a mass produced product had to be recalled due to a bug that was missed during the testing stage.

19) Please list, in order of magnitude, the most annoying and/or frustrating issues of cross-platform multimedia (max. 10 items, most to least)

Figure 16 lists the exact comments made, and as you can see, it appears quite extensive. To summarise, there were frequent moans about the low specifications of most PCs on the market (probably aimed at the number of machines that still run Windows 3.1) and having to develop for them, the lowest common denominator in the market; the three character PC extension that must be added at the end of filenames in order to transfer across platforms; and the differently laid out colour palettes on the PC and Macintosh. This is how graphics from another platform can appear in the wrong colours on the other.

Figure 16 Figure 16

20) Do you think hardware and software manufacturers are properly addressing the issue of cross platform multimedia?

These answers proved very rewarding for this report, for they resolved one of my most searching questions, making a valuable backup to my case. Two thirds of responders said that multimedia developers are not addressing the issue of cross platform compatibility (see Figure 17).

Figure 17 Figure 17 (click to enlarge)

It is not clear why companies still adopt the one platform, to hell with all the others approach. Macromedia appear to be the only company making any effort to ensure that their Director software can be totally transparent to the platform it runs on. But with a multi million dollar turnover, they can afford the immense amount of testing, programming and development that a package such as Director requires. Companies like Microsoft however, are rigid to the PC market, and have a half hearted approach to Macintosh conversion, although their $150 million purchase of Apple shares in 1997 may change matters.

“Of course, I’d really rather have a system that runs flawlessly, that never corrupts a file and never quits unexpectedly. But let's face it, there isn’t a computer out there — regardless of the platform — that doesn't experience its share of problems.” (page 121, Schorr)
Joseph Schorr, author, Macworld Mac Secrets (IDG Books Worldwide, 1997)

21) What file formats do you have most trouble with across different platforms?

Like the previous question it boiled down to the respondents personal experience, but the feedback in this question basically went down to how file formats and movie files are moved across platforms. The PCs AVI (Audio Visual Integrated) movie format and Apple's Quicktime movie format were the bain of many respondents, meaning that in this area at least, cross platform compatibility is the least promising of operations.

“The problem for me is when doing a multimedia project on several platforms is that the Mac is generally quicker and better, so technical considerations can get in the way of design. All designers would like to have a standard machine to work for, but market forces will never allow this to happen.” (entry 12, Appendix A)
Andrew Lindsay, final year student in multimedia, Staffordshire University

22) Do you think that cross platform independence is a viable reality?

And now, the report question. Is platform independent multimedia possible? According to my results, two thirds of the responders spoke a resounding yes, while three people said it was not, with one unsure and one unfilled reply (see Figure 18).

Figure 18 Figure 18

In conclusion, my questionnaire proves that there is a tide of opinion in the industry that the state of play regarding the portability of files across different computers is still a time wasting exercise in “trying and hoping for the best.” With so much money being spent on software and hardware development, it is a shame that the companies responsible for this are not paying enough attention to the immediate problems of cross compatibility - a real problem that can only get worse with ignorance.

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