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Moving multimedia into the mainstream

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In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams' main character's claim to fame is that he coded a facility into his employer's business software to convert the contents of a spreadsheet into a music score and then play it back via MIDI.

This addition to the application turned it into a bestseller as large corporations used it to create company songs based on their yearly accounts. While this is pretty frivolous it does illustrate how a multimedia feature could give a product an edge in a crowded marketplace.

It's been over 10 years since multimedia facilities were incorporated directly into the core of Windows and Macintosh operating systems, so where are the multimedia features in commercial applications?

This might seem to be an odd question if you think of your average spreadsheet or word processing application, but we've had the "Windows, Icon, Mouse Pointer" human interface model on our PC's desktop for more than two decades. So why hasn't any of this touchy-feely philosophy leaked into the programs that we use to run our businesses and write our code?

Perhaps the slow take-up was originally due to the lack of "rich media" resources. There's no point in having a database that can handle video if there's no footage available. However, this no longer holds - the tools to actually create the light fantastic and the cheerful noises are now freely available. In fact, it's never been easier to create video, audio or high quality graphics and photography.

So regardless of whether you use the latest high technology digital video camera or the recorder you find in your mobile phone, there are a large number of media production applications with varying levels of complexity available at affordable prices – or even for free.

There are plenty of paths into adding multimedia features to applications, either using the built-in features of the standard operating system API or by using the services of third party vendors. On the mobile device front, companies like Tao Group provide a middleware platform and an SDK to help applications developers.

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