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Product Review: Macromedia gives boost to RoboDemo

Macromedia Captivate
Macromedia San Francisco
800-470-7211
www.macromedia.com/captivate

Review Summary

DESCRIPTION Macromedia Captivate enables virtually anyone to record on-screen activity to create software demonstrations and interactive simulations in Flash. It allows users to edit content, add media applications, and provide visual screen instructions. It’s based on eHelp’s RoboDemo desktop recording software.

BOTTOM LINE A simple-to-use, highly intuitive, full-featured demo-making machine. A must have for anyone who needs to create rich, complex tutorials, simulations, and demonstrations.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS Windows Macromedia Captivate: Authoring
• 600 MHz Intel Pentium III processor or equivalent
• Windows 2000 or Windows XP
• 128 MB RAM (at least 256 MB recommended)
• 100 MB available disk space
• Minimum resolution 800 x 600 (1024 x 768 or higher recommended) Software and Accessories: Publishing and Recording
• Internet Explorer 5.0 or later
• Flash Player 6 or later
• Microphone to record audio
• Speakers and sound card

You might think of Macromedia’s newly released Captivate as old wine in new bottles, because it’s based on eHelp’s popular RoboDemo desktop recording software. However, Macromedia has enhanced Captivate with great new features that add power and ease of use to an already solid tool.

Captivate is designed to enable virtually anyone to record on-screen activity to create software demonstrations and interactive simulations in Flash. The tool allows users to edit content, add media applications, and provide rich, visual screen instructions.

The first thing you notice with this release is how easy it is to use. Clearly, Macromedia has done everything to make this tool accessible to nearly anyone who might want to build training simulations, assemble e-learning materials, or create demo support movies. I found the Getting Started demos to be a quick way to familiarize myself with the basics of the program.

Basic functions Captivate’s basic functionality is divided into a three-step process: record, edit, and publish. To create a movie, I clicked on Record New Movie, which launches an options box that displays a list of actions: New, Movie from Template, and Menu Builder. Then, I selected New, and Captivate presented me with options for creating a movie from an open application, which causes the recording to resize to the area of the application’s window, or from a custom-sized movie, which allowed me to set the movie size and force the demo application to fit the movie dimensions.

If I click the Options button, I can customize the recording process with a number of recording mode options, including:
• Demonstration, which automatically includes captions, highlight boxes, and mouse movements
• Simulation, which automatically includes click boxes with a failure caption in the auto recorded movie (but no mouse movements)
• Training, which automatically includes click boxes with hint and failure captions (no captions or mouse movements)
• Custom, which allows me to choose the objects (captions, highlight boxes, click boxes, etc.) to be added automatically to the movie.

With the recording mode option selected, I can hit Record and proceed with the demo.

Audio integration I can integrate audio during recording or add it while editing. The new Visual Timeline Edit View allows me to drag-and-drop audio (as well as objects and captions) exactly where I want them in the demo.

Once I have the recording, the Edit View allows me to preview the screen captures as slides or storyboards, much as I would if I were to scroll through a PowerPoint presentation. I can preview a slide, groups of slides, or the entire recording. Edit View allows me to change the order of the slides, add content, adjust the duration of a segment with the Timeline, and edit or add objects (such as captions, highlight boxes and mouse movements).

The Timeline is one of the most powerful features of this tool. It’s a straightforward, intuitive, and easy-to-understand feature that will make the editing process accessible to a range of users with varying degrees of programming skills.

Publishing options Publishing the demo in Captivate is also straightforward. The Publish button gives me access to six output format options: Macromedia’s FlashMX 2004 (SWF), Macromedia Breeze Presentations for online meetings, Stand Alone PC or Mac demos for CD distribution, Microsoft Word for printed training materials, e-mail, and FTP. The default output format is SWF because more than 98 percent of all computers already have Flash Player, according to Macromedia. That’s probably true, but it’s nice to have the options.

Other standout new features include smart full-motion recording, which eliminates the need to toggle between recording modes, and the audio editing tool, which allows users to edit errors and attach sound effects or narration to individual objects. Captivate also supports key e-learning standards such as SCORM and AICC.

My complaints about the product are nitpicks. It runs on Windows machines only, which, given the Microsoft platform’s dominance on the desktop, is a minor limitation, but one that Macromedia will want to correct in upcoming versions. It can miss keystrokes during recording if I type too fast. Maybe I’m a penny-pincher, but the $500 full-version price tag and $300 for an upgrade (from RoboDemo 4 and 5) seem a little steep.

There’s a lot to like in Captivate, and not much to complain about. It’s a simple-to-use, highly intuitive, full-featured demo-making machine. Its ease of use, thoughtful features, and flexibility make it a must for anyone who needs to create rich, complex tutorials, simulations, and demonstrations—even if you’re not a programmer.

PROS&CONS

PROS:
- Extremely easy to use; virtually no programming skills required.
- Captures windows to the size of the application and of the capture window.
- Powerful Timeline feature allows pinpoint drag-and-drop editing.
- Point and click to add text captions, narration, and other content.
- Publish to multiple formats.

CONS:
- It runs on Windows only.
- Some customers may find it a little pricey.
- Can miss keystrokes during recording if the user types too quickly.

Editor’s note: Product Reviews are written by software developers ADT hires to give readers an overview of the tools and technologies they use.

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About the Author

L.J. Cohen is a freelance programmer based in Los Gatos, CA.

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