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Revamped Macromedia site irks customers

Macromedia's redesigned home page is drawing criticism from customers, partly because it locks out some Web browsers, including Apple Computer's new Safari.

A redesign of software maker Macromedia's main Web site is attracting criticism from customers because it doesn't work with some browsers, including Apple Computer's much-hyped Safari.


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The dizzying redesign of
Macromedia's site has
some fundamental flaws.

Macromedia launched a beta, or test version, of the revamped site last week, aimed partly at spreading the company's message about using its Flash animation software to create more attractive and useful sites. The new site is built entirely in Flash, allowing it to use sophisticated animation for navigating menus and other tasks.

While eye-catching, the new site is drawing complaints in online forums, partly because the site won't work with some Web browsers, including Apple's Safari and the increasingly popular Opera browser.

Safari incompatibility is a particularly delicate issue, because design professionals who use Macromedia's products represent one of Apple's most important core audiences.

"This is, according to some, the best browser ever developed and the future of browsing from a Macintosh-platform standpoint," Dylan Hamilton, a Des Moines, Iowa, Web developer, said in an e-mail interview. "To not amend the site and/or work with a browser development group to correct the compatibility issues would seriously undermine Macromedia's credibility in that development arena in the future."

Joey Janisheck, an Austin, Texas-based Web developer, agreed that the lack of Safari support is a glaring omission. "I definitely believe that Macromedia is alienating their core developer superstars with their latest Web site offering," he said. "It is too slow, a bandwidth hog and doesn't work with a browser that many of these Flash developer superstars are using. Whether this is 'a lot' of people I'm not sure, but surely they are the alpha developers that so many of us read and trust."

Al Ramadan, an executive vice president at Macromedia, said company representatives are scheduled to meet with Apple developers Wednesday to iron out Safari compatibility issues. Macromedia is also working with Opera to support that browser. He noted that the Macromedia site does work--but very slowly--with those browsers, which represent less than 5 percent of traffic to the site.

"Safari and Opera aren't perfectly optimized with Flash--we understand it, we know it and we're working on it," Ramadan said. "I expect to get resolution on this in the next couple of weeks."

Others object to lengthy waits for their browser to load the home page, confusing menus and other navigational issues. Macromedia has stressed Flash's ability to improve such "usability" issues, but the company's site shows just the opposite, said Hal Pawluk, a Los Angeles advertising consultant.

"Right now, the site is 'All Flash, no dash,'" he said. "The pages need to load much, much faster. I'm on a cable modem...I was not able to use the link I wanted to use for 37 seconds. Most surfers, including many developers, are still on dial-up lines, so multiply those times by at least a factor of five."

"The Flash content slows page presentation and does not add anything," Pawluk continued. "It looks nice, but Macromedia doesn't seem to realize that they're not an entertainment site. Most visitors to their site will be people trying to get a job done, not just looking for eye-candy."

Tony Lopez, executive producer at Macromedia, said that while the company's developers are working to improve initial load times for the home page, initial usability tests show the site is doing its job. Improved menu structures and inventive use of Web applications allow customers to complete common tasks--such as downloading software extensions or purchasing products--much faster.

"The initial download might take a little longer, but the process of going through there and finding what you want is a lot faster," Lopez said. "The total experience is much faster."

Opening access
Other site visitors have expressed concerns about accessibility--how easily the site can be used by people with disabilities who need to use adaptive technology. Macromedia's solution is to offer a version of each page in plain hypertext markup language (HTML), the basic language of the Web. But Diana-Marie Travis, a southern California Web designer, said it's hard to find and difficult to use the HTML pages.

"My daughter is disabled and does not use a mouse to navigate the Internet--she would never be able to navigate this site," Travis said. "The HTML version does work properly, (but) the link to it is minuscule. The load time is so long I gave up trying to find anything. I realize Macromedia's need to advertise Flash, but this goes beyond advertisement and borders on irresponsibility."

Lopez said a link to the HTML version is clearly displayed on each page of the Macromedia site. Accessibility experts were involved in the site design from early on, he added.

"I think we're better than the vast majority of sites when it comes to accessibility," he said. "It's incredibly important for us."

Ramadan said the majority of Macromedia customers have been positive about the redesign, and most dissenters just need time to adjust.

"When you move from an HTML world into a much richer desktop-oriented world, that's a big change, and people just have difficulty with change," he said. "Any time you change a Web site, there's an initial week or so where people don't feel comfortable yet and you hear a lot of feedback."