Director vs. Flash
> Macromedia's Director was the more fully featured system with a "proper" programming interface and language,
Not really - it was no more sensible than earlier versions of Flash.
> and it was pretty good for its time if I remember correctly.
That it was. I miss programming it.
> Unfortunately the simplicity of Flash meant any designer could use it, whereas Director required a bit more programming nous and so faded into obscurity.
Sorta maybe - Director was still pretty open to producing the sort of simple useless animations which made Flash unpopular.
> The time since then has been spent bending and twisting Flash's Actionscript into something that resembles Director but is infinitely more annoying to use thanks to the timeline metaphor
No! Both Director and Flash are based around a timeline metaphor. The other thing they have in common is that no one past a certain level of programming ability actually *uses* the timeline because it's a pain in the ass.
Actually the timeline has some uses - namely for artists to do layout and pass it on to programmers - but it's certainly not the way to write an application. One of the good things about both Flash and Director is that they make it possible for artists and programmers to communicate - vital for all except those one in a billion freaks who are skilled in both fields.
> (at least until Flex arrived, I've not had a chance to play with that).
Sine Adobe has made the command line compiler free, you can make Flash apps - using the Flex libraries or not - for nothing. If you want to use an IDE there's a pretty decent one for Windows (sorry) called FlashDevelop - sadly there is no equivalent for Mac or Linux - but a bit of command line work won't kill you.
For a good starter on making flash/flex from the command line using free tools, look at http://www.senocular.com/flash/tutorials/as3withmxmlc/ - very good way to get started.