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Living in Multiple SMIL Worlds

All this talk of specification versions, modules, profiles, and deprecation may have you asking the ultimate SMIL question: Whom do I author for and with what approach?

Any kind of Web multimedia carries with it inherent risk and responsibility. For too long, Web multimedia designers and developers carried a self-righteous attitude about making content available for their visitors. If a viewer did not have the right browser or version of a player to interpret the media, they were doomed to put up with glitches, at best, or no content, at worst. In the lightning growth days of the Internet as a new medium, this attitude was tolerated as the norm.

Today, a designer or developer with that kind of attitude is best referred to as a fool. No company or organization hosting a Web site can afford to turn away potential customers or supporters, and any authors worth their salt will endeavor to meet the parameters set by their visitor's hardware and software. After all, every visitor can bring a sale to the bottom line. Over time, those little sales add up.

So how does Web multimedia fit in given all these potential constraints? Our suggestion is to use it with care and to consider the implications caused by the visitor who cannot see or hear what you create. Every authoring choice should help the site reach its objective or goal. If your Web presentation is mission critical, be sure to ask this question: Is Web multimedia the best way to deliver your content?

Likewise, think carefully about which version of SMIL you use. As we write this book, RealNetworks' RealPlayer and Apple's QuickTime offer solid SMIL 1.0 support, and playback using those players is relatively dependable. However, RealPlayer SMIL does not necessarily work with QuickTime SMIL. As for SMIL 2.0, formal adoption is on the horizon. Microsoft's Internet Explorer on the Windows platform supports some aspects of SMIL 2.0. RealPlayer and QuickTime support is right behind. But even as these new players become available, a large number of people on the Web will still be sticking with their older players for the time being, so SMIL 1.0 still presents a viable option. In any case, you will inevitably excite and motivate some viewers with the multimedia authoring choices you make. And you will leave others behind.

Although we certainly are not discouraging the use of Web multimedia, we do encourage exercising some common sense. For example, when considering viewer accessibility and authoring for a training-department intranet (with control over the access machines), the limitations of using SMIL 2.0 in Microsoft Internet Explorer may not problematic at all. On the wide-open Internet, however, you would not want to limit your viewers to those using Internet Explorer on WinOS machines. RealPlayer with SMIL 1.0 support is currently common across multiple platforms and boasts a large number of users, so this may be the most practical authoring environment for your presentation. At the very least, you should provide multiple paths to your content so that unequipped users do not feel left out. True, they may not get the compelling Web multimedia touch that you have crafted for your luckiest visitors. But those left out are not as likely to leave your site frustrated or annoyed, either.

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