Monday, June 9, 2008

Off-topic: Microsoft Movie Maker and making software for the masses

I recently made my first DVD viewable on my TV through my DVD player. The process took nearly a year.

In going through it all, I found myself frustrated at Microsoft for the same reasons I'm always frustrated with them, and wondering why so few people are mentioning the problems I saw (and why there doesn't seem to be a solution through Movie Maker!?).

So the short of the story, we have a miniDV camcorder and I was able to easily bring my video recordings of Disneyland and Birthdays from a single 60 minute tape over to my computer. I thought I was half done in taking my movie from the camera screen to the big screen...but boy was I wrong.

The next step was easy enough, I used Movie Maker to splice up my movie, at cut effects for transitioning and even add some music at different spots to liven things up. I then tried to burn the movie to DVD. You have one option to do this in Movie Maker with not ability to control the quality of the output...and so I burned a DVD and watched the movie and it was, in my personal opinion, horrible. It was agonizing to watch the tape through the camera and see a crisp picture on the screen and then go to Movie Maker and have the movie turned into refuse. I gave up the project for 9 months and started back into it last week...6 hours of web searching and trial and error later I finally had my movie.

So let's get back to where my problem was. It isn't how Movie Maker makes amovie. In fact Movie Maker makes great movies! If you save the movie to your hard drive at a high-quality setting (for some unknown reason you only have that option WHEN saving to your computer) you will find that it comes out looking like a champ. Using Windows Media Encoder 9, you can even create your own profile and save the movie in HD and it will look fantastic. (seriously!)

...but if you try to have Movie Maker save the movie to your DVD, it lowers the quality...and there is simply no-way around it (short of swapping the files that Movie Maker writes to the DVD...while it is writing, a horribly stupid process!).
Using Movie Maker to make your DVD will ruin the perfectly good video you made by lowering the quality with pixelation and somewhat washed out colors. You can't change the save to DVD settings, there is no options to choose or ability to change it. Microsoft wants you to do it a specific way and you will do it the Microsoft way!

This lead me to another tirade about what I call Microsoft's Communistic Commands. Often in the name of helping customers out, Microsoft will decide there is a best way to do things...and then absolutely force that on the customer. For example, ClearType in IE7, which can help the Internet be more readable on monitors using DVI. It is turned on by default despite causing huge problems for anyone not using DVI (I was ill after upgrading and was looking quite desperately for a solution...). Microsoft nonetheless forced this option to be enabled by default in IE7 fearing that if they didn't turn it on by default, people wouldn't know it was there. My opinion has always been that if what you are doing is really valuable, they'll find out about it and use it. At worst an option could have been given during the upgrade process that enabled it by default, but gave the choice to turn it off.

Of course my opinions often don't matter when it comes to the way Microsoft does things. When a communistic command comes down, I can fall in line or get another program (which I have been doing increasingly often). In Outlook, for example, only certain attachments will come through your email. When you get an email with a non-allowed attachment, Outlook will happily tell you that it blocked the attachment, like a dog looking for applause after digging in the flowers. Outlook won't give you any option to access that attachment, even if you were waiting for it desperately. It will just tell you it blocked it and show you the attachment icon for the email that no longer actually has an attachment. You can't go into your options/settings and make it allow that attachment the only solution is to go into your registry and manually allow the attachments.

So when I found that I couldn't change the quality of the output to DVD, I was frustrated...but unfortunately not all that surprised. To reach wider audiences, you have to simplify the interface of programs. For example, giving the customer no options after they click save to DVD. However, when the option to save at different quality levels IS available if I choose to save to the computer, I'm just at a loss.

In the end I was able to make a higher-quality DVD using DVDFlick and ImgBurn after first making the movie in Movie Maker and then saving the high quality version to my PC.

The long process to burn to DVD frustrated and fascinated me as I consider what making software for the masses entails...and what it should entail!