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A Comparison of Three Visual Help Authoring Tools


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Presented by Neil Perlin at Documentation and Training Life Sciences, June 23-26, 2008 in Indianapolis.

The last few years have seen the rise of visual authoring tools like Adobe Captivate that let us create tutorials, simulations, web-based product demos, even eLearning, for marketing, training, and tech support. These tools are easy to learn and use, and cheap (well under $1000). All these tools do the same thing –-- create “movies”—–but they offer different feature sets and design philosophies that may determine which one you choose.

This slide deck looks at three tools—market leaders Camtasia and Captivate, and a new entrant named Mimic—to examine how they work and how to choose the best one for you.

Published in: Business, Technology
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A Comparison of Three Visual Help Authoring Tools

  1. 1. Three Visual Help Authoring Tools
  2. 2. Who Am I? <ul><li>Neil Perlin - Hyper/Word Services. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In tech. comm. since ‘79 at DEC. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Creating hypertext since ’85, WinHelp since ‘90. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Using HTML since ‘91. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Training/consulting on HATs since ’95. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Training/consulting/using visual help authoring tools since ’93 (Lotus ScreenCam) and ’99 (RoboDemo/Captivate, Mimic). </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Overview of These Tools </li></ul>
  4. 4. What Are These Tools? <ul><li>Screen recorders that let you: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Record a series of screens as frames in a movie – like chaining together screen shots. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Annotate the frames with text captions, high-lights, and other effects for enhanced learning and explanation. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Add testing – informally through “dead-end” quizzes or formally using eLearning. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Publish the result. </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Why Use These Tools? <ul><li>To create: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Software training – demonstrations and simulations. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Role-playing simulations. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“Recordings” of software usability tests. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Other things – PowerPoint presentations that can be run from a server, games, anim é , etc. </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. For What Purposes? <ul><li>For: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Training – Teach new users to use software. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tech support – Create movies that answer common questions. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Marketing – Show off your product’s features. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(Pre)Sales – Offer demos of your software from your web site. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Business continuity – Make disaster recovery training available online from a server . </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Why These Tools Instead of… <ul><li>Traditional eLearning/simulation tools? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cheap – $699 for Captivate, $299 for Camtasia, $299 for Mimic, vs. $2795 for Toolbook or $2999 for Authorware. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Quick to learn – Become functional in two days of training. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Quick to use – Create movies in hours rather than days or weeks. </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Some Quick Movie Demos… <ul><li>Software demonstration/simulation. </li></ul><ul><li>Role-playing simulation. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Purpose of This Presentation <ul><li>Look at the development model, features, and apparent direction of three such tools: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Adobe Captivate – Long-established, one of the market leaders, very full-featured. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>TechSmith Camtasia – Long-established, one of the market leaders, very full-featured. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>MadCap Mimic – New, fewer features than the first two but more options per feature and some unusual features. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Development Model? <ul><li>Defines the tool’s initial design and its strategic direction. </li></ul><ul><li>For example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Captivate started simple but trending toward eLearning, with growing complexity and cost. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mimic started simple but programmatically tied to other tools in its suite, now trending toward supporting eLearning. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Affects cost, features, development “feel”. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Why These Three (Only)? <ul><li>They’re mainstream tools. </li></ul><ul><li>I support Captivate and Mimic and know them well. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>But this is NOT a sales pitch for either one. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Time limitations. </li></ul>
  12. 12. High-Level Commonalities <ul><li>Cheap. </li></ul><ul><li>Quick to learn. </li></ul><ul><li>Quick to use. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>But it’s important to define whether this means record only or record and annotate. </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. High-Level Differences <ul><li>Captivate and Mimic use a slide metaphor; Camtasia uses a video metaphor. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>So Captivate and Mimic have a fixed unit of content while Camtasia’s is variable. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Captivate and Camtasia look simpler to use than Mimic – subjective, of course. </li></ul><ul><li>Captivate and Camtasia have predefined feature options; Mimic does not. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mimic 2 may add predefined options. </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. High-Level Differences <ul><li>Captivate and Camtasia offer quizzing and eLearning features; Mimic does not. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You can create quizzes in Mimic by adapting other features. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mimic 2 likely to add quizzing and eLearning. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Captivate and Camtasia offer LMS support; Mimic does not. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mimic 2 likely to add LMS support. </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. High-Level Differences <ul><li>Captivate and Camtasia will import/record PPT files; Mimic does not. </li></ul><ul><li>Mimic offers variables; Captivate and Camtasia do not. </li></ul><ul><li>Mimic is more integrated into its authoring suite than Captivate and Camtasia. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mimic’s interface resembles Flare and Capture. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mimic shares variables with Flare and Capture. </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. High-Level Differences <ul><li>None of these tools can import each other’s projects. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>So it’s important to pick the right tool the first time. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Camtasia can record specifically for iPods. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Captivate and Mimic can create movies sized for the iPod but not specifically for the iPod. </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>A Brief Look At the Tools… </li></ul>
  18. 18. Captivate <ul><li>Main Storyboard screen. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Captivate <ul><li>Main Edit screen. </li></ul>
  20. 20. Captivate <ul><li>Main branching screen. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Captivate – Strengths <ul><li>“Light” interface. </li></ul><ul><li>Predefined values for features like text caption boxes makes it easy to get going. </li></ul><ul><li>Similarity of Captivate and Flash timelines. </li></ul><ul><li>Supports video, closed captioning. </li></ul><ul><li>Supports eLearning, LMS. </li></ul><ul><li>Outputs to SWF, Word, Adobe Connect, others. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Captivate – Weaknesses <ul><li>No functional integration into related tools – e.g. can launch Captivate from RoboHelp but that’s about it. </li></ul><ul><li>Some features not clearly documented. </li></ul><ul><li>Some features – text-entry boxes, playbar positioning, menu-on-skin – are a bit flaky. </li></ul>
  23. 23. Mimic <ul><li>Main edit screen. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Mimic <ul><li>Link browser (e.g. branching) screen. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Mimic – Strengths <ul><li>Integration into MadPak: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Interface similarities. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sharing of variables with Flare and Capture. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Nested builds – building a Flare project with an embedded Mimic movie builds the movie also. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>More options for its features. </li></ul><ul><li>Can create “palettes” of reusable objects. </li></ul><ul><li>Relative similarity of Mimic and Flash timelines. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Mimic – Weaknesses <ul><li>More complex interface. </li></ul><ul><li>Offers Madcap Movie as an alternative to SWF, but requires users to have a viewer which may limit this format on thin-client or zero-footprint installations. </li></ul><ul><li>Only previews in Madcap Movie format. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Camtasia <ul><li>Main editing screen. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Camtasia <ul><li>Storyboard screen. </li></ul>
  29. 29. Camtasia – Strengths <ul><li>Extensive assistance built into the interface. </li></ul><ul><li>Predefined values for features like captions and callouts makes it easy to get going. </li></ul><ul><li>Supports quizzing, LMS. </li></ul><ul><li>Supports video, closed captioning. </li></ul><ul><li>Wide variety of outputs – MP3, iPod, SWF, AVI, Silverlight compatible WMV, Quick-Time MOV, others. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Camtasia – Weaknesses <ul><li>No functional integration into related help authoring tools. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No equivalent to RoboHelp or Flare. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Variable-length units of content – e.g. video clips rather than slides – makes a more difficult mental model for some authors. </li></ul>
  31. 31. <ul><li>Conclusions </li></ul>
  32. 32. Consider Captivate If… <ul><li>You need extensive eLearning and LMS support. </li></ul><ul><li>You don’t need features like variables. </li></ul><ul><li>You consider yourself non- or minimally techie. </li></ul><ul><li>You need a large pool of contractors. </li></ul>
  33. 33. Consider Camtasia If… <ul><li>You need the eLearning and LMS support. </li></ul><ul><li>You don’t need features like variables. </li></ul><ul><li>You consider yourself non- or minimally techie. </li></ul><ul><li>You need a large pool of contractors. </li></ul><ul><li>You need a wide range of outputs, including handheld devices like iPods. </li></ul>
  34. 34. Consider Mimic If… <ul><li>You want a wide range of options with very precise control. </li></ul><ul><li>You want a tool that’s programmatically integrated into its authoring suite. </li></ul><ul><li>You want variables. </li></ul><ul><li>You want a consistent interface across your major authoring tools. </li></ul>
  35. 35. Thank you... Questions? Hyper/Word Services 978-657-5464 [email_address]
  36. 36. Hyper/Word Services Offers… <ul><li>Training • Consulting • Development </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Flare • RoboHelp • RoboInfo </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mimic • Captivate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>XML </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Single sourcing • Structured authoring </li></ul></ul>