Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Evolt Article: Macromedia's Struggles

Surely this requires comment from Joel and the JOS posse (aka The Wiener Boys) -

Summary: what are Macromedia doing and who are their products aimed at? Was the transition to the MX platform wise or should they have kept on the path they were on before?

Walter Rumsby
Friday, October 11, 2002

I use and am (intimately!) familiar with most of their products... There key platform used to be CD's. Then when the web came along they had to do the fast switch, because it was obvious (to them anyway - not many others) that this would replace CD's as the medium to distribute 'media'. They did this switch, nay, leap of faith, pretty successfully imo.

So then around 2000 it became pretty clear dot.coms were all going bust, and html wasn't going to be worth much money. People still would use 'multimedia' for things of course, but probably in a more 'application centric' way. So they have shifted gears again. The fact that they aren't yet bankrupt (like most of their customers), says something.

The problems they have are probably typical of comapnaies taking the first steps in a new world. They have to stress 'OO' programming for apps, but the languages/tools/processes they offer don't really support it. You don't even have actual 'classes' in Flash, and worse things too. The other problem is their users don't understand most of this. It is very hard to explain as well, because there are no standards, and it doesn't really even work all that well if you do it 'right'. App building is hard enough already, even with good tools.

Perhaps their biggest problem might be that they aren't the only ones with thier core business getting gutted this time, and they aren't the only ones jumping on the web-app wagon. The others, MS, Sun, IBM, etc have tons of experience in app development tools, so it will be a trick.

I suspect the niche they are aiming for in the end is the one that has always been their strength - communicating 'media' (sound, graphics, simple coding..). I suspect by next version they will get that right, and leave most of the big pie to the big players. Sure they can grow a bit by being the first with a good web app solution, but they can't beat the other in this area, mostly because they aren't that good at it and it requires more resources than they have. They seem to know this I think, which is a good sign.

It seems they have been all over the map in the last 15 years, but really they have always been doing the same thing (multimedia), its just the world has been all over the map. They are smart to recognize their skill is in multimedia and not confuse that with the technology it seems to be tied to this week (CD's, web, c/s apps..). That requires some pretty strong focus, and tough decisions. Not to say they are assured of success, but the idea that dreamweaver sales are down shouldn't suprise anyone that hasn't been in a long coma.

They do seem to have pissed off a lot of their long time users, including me, esp with their beta program. I suspect that has a lot to do with the changes, layoffs, and plain old corporate stupidity. There is a very strong community around their products, and it is always tricky dancing among that kind of thing, it can turn on you too. Lots of big egos on all sides.

Time will tell, but I bet they still own multimedia in 10 years, and grow to whatever level it grows (or shrinks) to.

Robin Debreuil
Friday, October 11, 2002

Why do people like to pick on Macromedia so much? Linux and HTML bigots (such as Jakob Nielsen) dis Macromedia loudly. Even the company's own users are notoriously vocal about every company misstep. Given this hostile environment, I think Macromedia has done a pretty good job of being open and receptive to its user community.

Now that the company's books are back in the black (barely), I think we should see some interesting new MX products over the next year. I think even Macromedia is trying to figure out how "MX" is supposed to all fit together.

Zwarm Monkey
Friday, October 11, 2002

In the brief time when I looked at ColdFusionMX, I thought that they did the right thing by going the Java route.  I think that they are trying to make all of their products interact into one whole platform, which isn't easy to do.  They are targeting a unique user profile which are users that know multimedia but don't really know programming (and don't want to).  The other companies focus on the programmer first.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Reasons to diss Macromedia (and Allaire).

1. Cold Fusion and CFML as a development platform.

The platform does not scale to large apps very well and they conceeded this by moving the product to be a templating language on top of J2EE. This is potentially problematic because there are SO many templating languages for J2EE and even though they've gotten onside with the big end of town (Weblogic, Websphere, etc) many of the alternatives to JSP are gaining popularity because they minimise the amount programming logic in templates - they've hopped into a busy space and gaining market share might be tricky.

2. The feasability of RIA

The Rich Internet Application seems to assume everyone is connected with fast connections (discussed recently) and I can't help feeling that Macromedia is trying to replace the Internet with its set of agreed upon standards and protocols with their plug-in. I don't believe that they can do a good enough job and they don't have the resources to pull this off.

The whole high bandwidth/rich experience thing seems to me to be an attempt by people familiar with print and TV to turn the web into print and TV, which generally irks me. Let the Internet be good at what it's good at (it's gotta be doing something right if you keep coming back for more Joel - and I really doubt seeing Joel's heading bouncing around the screen in a Flash piece would make this site more enjoyable/interesting/sticky/whatever).

3.  Previous "run-ins" with Cold Fusion and Dreamweaver

As the number one WYSIWYG HTML editor Dreamweaver cops a lot of flack because it doesn't (didn't - in previous versions anyway) do it right. WYSIWYG is the wrong way to go about producing web pages IMO and furthermore it isloates web developers from understanding what they're doing.

C'mon people! This is why Joel is praising Danny Goodman's book - if you're working in the web space understand HTML it's not hard! It's another example of cutting corners, not taking time to learn something and trying to do things they way they are done for other media.

I'm sure there are other reasons too.... and my intention is not to "diss" Macromedia... although I have serious doubts about how well they'll be able to pull this off (even though I'm impressed they took the path I predicted in '98 and hopped on the Java bus).

Walter Rumsby
Friday, October 11, 2002

for most people out there, wyswig is the way to design web pages. They just want them to look purrty.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Also, especially if you know HTML well, Dreamweaver is a handy tool that saves time because you don't have to type all those silly tags by hand, and you're less likely to make mistakes. In my experience, those that insist on writing their HTML manually are not the best web designers nor the best programmers.

Frederik Slijkerman
Saturday, October 12, 2002

Well, do you mean we have to deal with postscript, LaTEX, etc. directly? WYSIWYG html editor is just the same thing. It is just a tool to make tedious repetitous work easier.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Macromedia is one of those companies that expend more energy than they need to.  Maybe they're trying too hard not to be like Adobe, master of their niche, unable to grow.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

"In my experience, those that insist on writing their HTML manually are not the best web designers nor the best programmers."

Really? Or do you mean "designers" and not "WEB designers" - there is a very important difference, one which I believe is at the crux of the dot com bomb, what Macromedia is trying to do, etc?

Is (was) an example of good WEB designer or is a better example? Why is it that search engines are moving away from portal-like designs to Google-like designs, etc?

It depresses me that I'm regarged as an HTML "expert" in the places I have worked when all I've done is read a few standards and rationales and know how to use CSS (and because I know that there is much I don't know). THIS is why Joel is recommending you all go out and buy or at least read "Dynamic HTML: The Definitive Guide".

Some more reading for you -

Note the quote:
"In each of these cases, a developer using a WYSIWYG editor was the culprit. Having spent many of my years as a web developer cleaning code spit out by these editors, I've gotten used to recognizing much of the specific syntax and style that they use."


Walter Rumsby
Sunday, October 13, 2002

I never get these arguments - so someone didn't know beans about the tool they were using and hardcoded the placement of every paragraph. So blame the tool? And is that to say that they wouldn't have suddenly known how things looked on other machines if they didn't use the tool?

A tool like dreamweaver isn't about ease of use, it's about productivity. It is easier to write a simple program in notepad than in Visual Studio - there is nothing to learn other than the language you are dealing with. Of course your productivity is awful and it doesn't scale, so people bite the bullet and learn a tool, which makes them more productive. Even people who swear off ide's, if you look closely, they probably have created thier own with vi, macros, cvs, build scripts, etc etc.

The fact that you can find people who used a tool without learning it means nothing. If a person doesn't know how to drive and hits a tree, does that mean cars are useless and we should all walk to town next time? Does the author think you can't flow paragrahs in dreamweaver? The whole argument sounds like someone who invested heavily in learning html (if that is possible), and would rather rest smugly on their laurels than make a second investment in increasing their productivity.

Robin Debreuil
Sunday, October 13, 2002

"In my experience, those that insist on writing their HTML manually are not the best web designers nor the best programmers."

In my experience, those that write HTML manually like to have control over their code, especially when adding in DHTML/ASP/etc.  I'm all for WYSIWYG, but they all munge your code up so much it becomes a nightmare trying to maintain pages that need just a line of code here or there.

Even CityDesk does this (My main complaint), but atleast CityDesk is good about not injecting superfluous table tags for every damn element on the page.

Lucas Goodwin
Sunday, October 13, 2002

The fact that WYSIWYG makes creating web pages easy and bad designers use them to create crappy web pages, does hardly imply that WYSIWYG tools are useless.

Sure, good designers need to know their HTML, CSS, etc and of course they need to check their pages in a variety of browsers, operating systems, font sizes, screen resolutions. However, a good WYSIWYG editor will fasten the tedious trivial parts and allows switching to the text editor when required.

The problem used to be that most HTML WYSIWYG editors messed around with the HTML tags so much that you could not switch between ASCII and WYSIWYG. Frontpage was one of the most notorious ones. Hopefully MS improved this in the latest versions.

The strong point of Dreamweaver has always been that it leaves your hand coded tags alone and allows you to work in WYSIWYG and text mode simultaneously. I would recommend anyone still using ASCII only editors to give Dreamweaver MX a try. It will make you more productive.

Jan Derk
Sunday, October 13, 2002

The basic problem Macromedia is facing is twofiold.

Firstly a lot of its customers have gone bankrupt and many more simply do not have the money to upgrade.

Secondly there has been a shift in what is involved in web programming. Previously the in-thing was to be a designer writing cool code with neat animations. The result was that a web-designer could come in from the graphics or media world without any knowledge of programming whatsoever. Unfortunately many of the "cool" dot.coms have gone broke (often for reasons not at all unrelated to the design of their site) and the demand now is for web sites that actually do something, and for database linkage.

This means that the designers now find they are expected to be programmers (and often programmers are finding that they have to be designers - look at the half-dozen complaints on this site about how programmers are now expected to have much to wide a skill set ("before I used to write code, now they want me to design a UI/web page").

Greenspun calls programs that help you write websites "middleware". Now a WYSIWYG web editor is a useful productivity tool, but Greenspun is right that "middleware" programming tools will never take off - true programmers will hate it because it means they must learn another language just for one program, and the designers will hate it because it means they will have to learn a language in the first place.

The only piece of successful middleware I know is the Lingo language in Macromedia Director, but that is because the users are likely to be either designing a lot of multimedia CD's, or experts in their particular field and prepared to make the sacrifice in order to produce their masterpiece.

Incidentally why does everyone say Front Page messes up code? In FP 2000 there is the option to leave your code alone, and it works. In fact FP respects your code so much that I use it as an HTML text editor. The only time I turn to the WYSIWYG interface is when I want to edit the text on the page!

Stephen Jones
Sunday, October 13, 2002


I agree with you about the use of IDEs, but the tools I prefer (IntelliJ IDEA for Java, Macromedia [yes!] HomeSite for HTML, Bradsoft TopStyle Lite for CSS) are tools that improve my productivity because they let me get on with my job without (incorrectly) guessing what I'm trying to do.

We've all experienced it when Microsoft Word decides to capitalise letters for us that we want to be in lowercase (type in lowercase, Word updates, delete, retype, pray Word leaves it alone) and I think Dreamweaver has been guilty in the past of such over-helpfullness (say inserting pixel widths for elements when I want to specify percentages).

In their attempts to be user-friendly these products are assuming that the user is wrong ("no no, you want that to be in uppercase", "hey I can judge pixels alot easier than percentages").  Instead of telling me what I want HomeSite offers me choices - and I prefer that style of interaction, for one I know I don't have to go over the generated code and clean it up later on. 

It highlights an interesting issue in user interface design - how far do you go to help your users and at what point does helpfullness become hinderance?

Walter Rumsby
Sunday, October 13, 2002

I thinki it becomes a hinderance when you can't turn it off. A good tool has to be customizable for different uses. I turn off auto-cap in drawing programs because I often want to use lower case words. In Word I might not have bothered because I usually want that, but certainly its easy to stop. In fact I suspect the whole animated helper thing is just a way to show users they have the power to adjust their enviornment ; ).

Same with dw, you can specify percent by just adding '%' in the properties, but isn't that pixel thing about the NS4.x resize bug..? I don't remember, it has been a while since I dealt with all that, but I do know a lot of dreamweaver/fp's quirks were actually trying to get around browser problems too... If you have the luxury of ignoring gen4 browsers now (and that is probably true) I'm sure the job can be done much cleaner (probably even in the dw generated code if you turn off v4 support).

I'm all for help, as long as it comes with control and a well thought out set of defaults, which most tools do these days.  But it is an interesting point you raise...

Robin Debreuil
Monday, October 14, 2002

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home