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Review Direct Email

Added on 2/5/2003


D7 D8 D8_5 D9 Mac PC Shockwave

Required Xtras:


Author: MediaMacros (website)

DirectEmail is a cross-platform, easy to use Scripting Xtra for Macromedia Director, Authorware and Shockwave that provides applications with the ability to reliably send e-mails, send faxes as well as validate e-mail addresses. Emails can be sent in either plain text or rich HTML format, in various languages, and can include file attachments. DirectEmail Xtra provides applications with the most reliable way to send e-mails. The Xtra does not depend on any other external application and can send e-mails with or without relaying through a mail server as long as there is an active Internet connection. Furthermore, the Xtra provides applications with precise error information in case of any failure in the e-mail or fax delivery, allowing applications to act appropriately hence insuring that no e-mails or faxes will get lost.

There are a number of ways to send email through Director (I can think of 6 off the top of my head) and each has its pros and cons. Much of the decision of which route to take depends on your skills with other programming languages (for using CGIs) and how you want your application to interact with the user.  There are many ways, including some good Xtras, to open up an email in the default mail program but sometimes you may want an internal mail form or to send something without allowing the user to edit the content first. For this DirectEmail is for you.

While you can write CGI scripts to handle mail from Director there are some drawbacks.  First you need to have a server to install the script on and proficiency in that scripting language.  Then you are at the mercy of the system administrator as to whether or not this works, mail settings, and future changes.  Also debugging takes longer as you are dealing with 2 languages and you have to properly configure everything, and then make sure the page never gets moved on the server or your deployed application will stop working.

DirectEmail provides 2 ways to get around this problem.  The first and easiest is to provide it with a mail server.  If you have a server that allows you to relay, or to log in and relay messages, then you can send email directly.  If you do not have a mail server to use you can let the Xtra try to send for you. In this way the Xtra acts as a virtual server, connecting Directly to the recipient's mail server and sending messages. This is not a guaranteed slam-dunk every time but gets around a lot of relay issues.

So if its not fool proof, how can it help? Well, while no solution is perfect, DirectEmail takes a lot of the difficulty out of sending mail. It can report errors in sending allowing you to try multiple methods of sending if one fails.  You could even prompt the user if all else fails for their server information to use their mail account. The primary strength, in my opinion, is the asynchronous operation of the sending commands.  By allowing you to instruct Director to send an email and then go on to other tasks while it waits to see if it was successful, you don't cause your application to have to wait around for the process to finish before allowing the users to explore other parts of your program.

Because of these issues its usability is a bit lower than some Xtras. No discredit to the Xtra itself, but advanced mailing and relaying involves learning a little bit about how email works. We all use it every day, but understanding the system of how email functions is a deep subject. While a new developers could pick up the commands pretty easily using their own mail server, more advanced routines like error checking or sending with the current users mail account takes more time and careful planning. Along with error messages you also have the ability to validate an email address before sending.  This limits the possible errors you might receive and is good practice in general when creating any mailing program.

A very big strong point is that the Xtra is both Cross platform (PC, Mac, and OSX compatible) and Shockwave safe. DirectXtras has a reputation for making solid Xtras that span all uses of Director making authoring worry free as you port to various systems and delivery methods. Free Shockwave packages are included with all licenses as well.

The Xtra also promises the ability to Fax.  While this is true, it's really not due to anything in the Xtra itself.  Using a service like Efax, any email can be turned into a fax.  I think its an important item to note, but should not be interpreted as a specific feature of this Xtra, and you will need an account with a 3rd party email /fax service.

Calculating value is a bit trickier with this Xtra. It does what it promises, and quite well, but it depends on your skill level as to how useful it is.  For example, it makes creating and sending HTML email quite easy, something that takes some degree of expertise with server languages like PHP or ASP; However, if you are well versed in writing CGI or working with Multi-user Server and SMTP then some of these features may not be necessary for you. Basically there is not anything in this Xtra that can not be done other ways, but when you consider the time to develop custom scripts, and the hassle of keeping track of where scripts are installed, issues with CGI errors, and backup methods in case of errors, DirectEmail simplifies your work as a developer and in the end, saving time is saving money.

At $199 for single user/single platform and $349 for single user/cross platform it's a fair price for what you get, but probably not for the one time. If you do want fast and easy integration into Director it is worth picking up, especially if you can work this into a project budget, making all future emailing in Director a snap.

One item of note, Direct Xtras also offers SMTP accounts for use with the Xtra for $35 a month for anyone that does not have access to a mail server but wants to ensure a permanent relay for their mail. This is an extra fee but is a great asset to have direct support from the company on all aspects of the emailing process. Their customer service is top notch and they are always ready to help with any problems involving their products.



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