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Software Review: Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2 — Captivate 4 From Adobe Systems

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This is the last in a series reviews that will cover what is contained in the Adobe Technical Communication Suite 2. Unlike the Adobe Creative Suite, the Technical Communication Suite is geared for technical communicators, help authors, instructional designers and training professionals. The suite contains five products; FrameMaker 9, RoboHelp 8, Captivate 4, Photoshop CS4 and Acrobat Pro Extended. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and provide information of what the new version brings to the table. Please note that some of these products have been reviewed in other suites and I have provided the links above.

First, let me provide an overview about the Technical Communication Suite 2 in general. This suite is meant to be an end-to-end solution for authoring, reviewing, managing, and publishing technical information and training content. Through the use of interactive 3D models, rich media, multilayered images, demonstrations, and embedded SWF movies, you can create and maintain technical documentation, user assistance programs, knowledge bases, simulations, software demonstrations, and much more.

What do you need to run Adobe Captivate 4?

  • 1.0GHz or faster processor
  • Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 2 (Service Pack 3 recommended) or Windows Vista® with Service Pack 1 (certified for 32-bit editions)
  • 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
  • 1.5GB of available hard disk space
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • 1,024×768 screen resolution

Adobe Captivate 4 is a key member in the Technical Communications Suite 2 inCaptivate 4 that it provides the solution for the creation and publication of learning systems. It utilizes screen captures and, unlike many of its contemporaries, allows for interactive responses as opposed to just generating screen recordings.

With Adobe Captivate 4 you can build and edit simulations and then post them to a Web site, to an intranet, set them up as an online help system, e-mail them, or even generate a PDF document with media clips.

So what is new with Adobe Captivate 4?
SWF commenting lets you accelerate content creation cycles with real-time reviews in Adobe Captivate Reviewer. Reviewer is an Adobe AIR application that lets reviewers add comments to your SWF files while executing them. What is really great is that they don't even need Adobe Captivate installed to work with. All of the comments will be imported to the appropriate slides in your project.

Professional project templates provide you enhanced templates that make it easy for subject-matter experts to contribute instructionally sound content without compromising structure.

Customizable widgets give you the ability to create more compelling learning experiences for your users by including various widgets such as games, question types, and other content into your project. You can create widgets in Adobe Flash Professional and easily share them via Adobe Exchange.

Roundtrip PowerPoint Workflow lets you leverage existing Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 (PPTX format) slides in your projects. You can import slides and easily update the imported content from Adobe Captivate. This allows you to keep your PowerPoint and Adobe Captivate files in sync with the linked import option.

Table of Contents Aggregator will enable your learners to easily navigate through content and track their progress with a multilevel Table of Contents. You can also use the Aggregator to combine multiple content modules to create a complete e-learning course. This Aggregator is really an enhanced table of contents that compiles multiple projects in to a full course giving you the ability to create reusable modules.

Text-to-speech functionality helps to keep your learners tuned in to your content thanks to automatic voice-over functionality that turns text to high-quality speech. This can be important when you need to comply with 508 accessibility standards. There is a male and female voice available. The resulting WAV file can be edited using SoundBooth CS4. When you need to change the text, you just need to click once to update the audio.

Captivate 4Variables and advanced actions give you the ability to use variables to personalize the learning experience by using learner-provided data — such as the learner’s name — throughout a scenario. You can use Advanced Actions to further configure and modify the user experience by enabling conditional actions, or more than one action in an interaction.

Expanded output options let you embed Adobe Captivate movies in Adobe PDF files to enrich your text-based instructional content. You can embed your movies in Adobe Flex content using Adobe ActionScript publishing. You can also output AVI files for streaming on the Web or publishing to YouTube.

Adobe Photoshop layer options give you the ability to preserve layers in imported Adobe Photoshop files so you can easily edit or animate individual image areas for the effect you want.

Streamlined workflows and enhanced usability includes inline editing of text captions, templates to standardize the look and feel of projects, panning to optimize viewing on small screens and devices, support for right-clicking in simulations, drawing tools and image editing, and improved accessibility features. There is even a recording workflow that provides all recording options in a convenient place.

Adobe Captivate 4 remains a complete professional software product to author e-learning multimedia courses and to create demonstrations, knowledge bases, and simulations. You do not need to have programming experience or even multimedia development experience to use this product, although one would benefit from this knowledge.

Captivate 4Along with being part of the Adobe Technical Communications Suite 2, it also comes bundled with the Adobe e-Learning Suite which includes additional programs like Adobe Soundbooth, Adobe Dreamweaver, and Adobe Flash.

The highlights to me in this release are Table-of-Contents improvements which were virtually nonexistent in the prior release. Now you have much more control over the look and feel of the TOC. The Aggregator is also a big plus as you can now modularize your content into reusable pieces that can be recycled in to other projects.

The PowerPoint import is also a welcome feature as in prior versions you only had limited support. The Captivate Review feature is also very useful for gathering input and having it all available for revisions.

Keep in mind that while Adobe Captivate 4 is easy to use, there is some learning curve once you get to the some of the more complex projects. That said, with a little work and some help from online resources, you can be creating truly professional learning experiences in no time. I highly recommend Adobe Captivate 4.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.