Thursday, April 24, 2008

Captivate: Seattle User Group Annual Gathering

If you haven't had the opportunity yet, you need to check Silke's latest post about the Seattle User Group Annual Gathering. She shared a presentation that covered Tips and Tricks in Captivate; and the good news is that the demo was created in Presenter, so you've the added benefit of watching exactly what Silke presented on. The presentation also includes an embedded Captivate movie on slide 10, which demonstrates the ability to incorporate additional content while developing a Presentation in PowerPoint.

Silke's blog is located at

and the presentation she made available is located at

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Integrating Captivate 3 movies with Presenter Part II

In the first part of this series that I'm calling Integration between Adobe Captivate and Presenter, I described the problem of how Captivate files, when published using it's default settings, can cause playback performance problems when incorporated in Presenter content.

What I'd like to do here is outline a drawback of that procedure and I'd also like to offer some other thoughts on how to approach the integration between these 2 products, so here we go...

I provided a tip to overcome one possible problem and that meant having to save all of the Full Motion Recording files in the resources directory of a published PowerPoint deck. If you choose to copy and paste the FMR's into the resources directory of your Adobe Presenter content, then you're going to have to come to terms with the fact that every time you publish, you're going to need to copy/paste the FMR's back into the resources directory all over again.

The alternative approach is to take a different look at how Captivate works with files. Here's what I mean: After speaking with Silke Fleischer, Product Manager for Captivate, what we were able to determine is that you can take the full motion recordings and insert them into your Captivate project as flash objects (afterall, they're swfs!!!)...but just make sure that you insert the FMR swfs on new, blank slides. Then go back and delete any slide that has the camera icon (which denotes where the full motion recordings took place to begin with). If you republish, again without borders, you'll end up with one swf that can be incorporated into PowerPoint using the Adobe Presenter plugin.

But there's a drawback here as well: What I noticed after using this method is that there was a very brief "flash" of white at the beginning of every FMR. I recently attempted to use a static screen shot of the interface that I was recording, and used that screen shot as a background image for the entire project. It looked better...only to the degree that I no longer had flashes of white, BUT now the movie had more "jump cuts" as the swf progressed from one slide to another in the Captivate movie. Tolerable up to a point, but then again, it'll depend on what kind of screen capturing you're doing and how much clicking and dragging is necessary.

That said, a couple other things to keep in mind:

  1. Set up your environment as best you can to reduce the amount of FMRs that would result from the recording process. Pre-sizing windows as they are needed will go a long way to controlling how much movement needs to happen. A corollary to this is to practice your setup if possible. This means opening panels, dialog boxes, etc so as to "pre-script" the recording session as best you can.
  2. Remember that Captivate records captures based on screen changes. When it comes to things like scrollbars, an easy method to reduce FMR's is to NOT scroll with the mouse, but rather click inside the scrollbar's trackbar to force your window to scroll up or down. Also in that same vein is to use keyboard strokes when possible. Example: rather than click/drag to select a word (let's say you need to change or edit text), try using Shift with your Arrow keys, or hold down the Shift key and left click with the mouse to select a word or words.
  3. If you have a situation where scrolling is absolutely necessary, I'd strongly recommend the following Tech Note that describes how to create smooth scrolling for Captivate recording.

The point in all of this is to come to a better understanding of how to better integrate these 2 products. As it stands right now, Captivate and Presenter don't exactly play well together. It's a bit of a wierd family dynamic; they both do extremely well for the tools that they's just that they don't communicate very well together. However, I hope that I've given you some insight as to what's causing these issues, and more importantly, I hope you've come away with techniques to overcoming them. Let me know what you think...and better yet, I'd invite you to consider showcasing your work!

Let's see what you've got, so post a link to your presentation on the Presenter Showcase board over at my forum!


Friday, April 18, 2008

Integrating Captivate 3 movies with Presenter

Okay, so this particular topic has been on my mind for quite some time now. In a perfect e-learning world, especially since Adobe owns all of these great products and applications, one would think that incorporating pieces and components from one application would fit neatly into the workflow of other applications.

Close....but no cigar.

Take Captivate for example. You've gotta love the fact that you can easily create learning material that has all the stuff you could possibly want: interactivity, quizzes & questions, the ability to include audio...the whole nine yards.

So what's my problem you ask? Integration. Pure and simple.

Here's why: In the early days of Captivate, when you published your content, you had the ability to create a single, contained .swf file. Usually output to flash player version 6, that swf file could easily be integrated into Captivate's cousin environment: Adobe Presenter.

Most Instructional Designers revelled in this because in addition to creating content slides in PowerPoint, you also had the abilitiy to drop a Captivate movie into Presenter content without any difficulty at all. The best of both worlds: learning content created in one environment, simulations/demos created in another environment...all coming together in one nicely packaged course.

Ahhh, those were the days....

However, with the release of Captivate 3, despite the enhancements that would provide levels of functionality that would blow the lid off of previous capabilities, there are problems with integration.

There are 2 specific areas that you need to pay attention to with Captivate 3, and unless you do, you will experience integration issues.

First, you need to watch how you record during the capturing process and second, you need to take a look at your publishing settings.

Why? Because of "Full Motion Recordings" during recording and the "_skin.swf" file that gets created by default when publishing. Both will create chaos...but both can be dealt with which will result in better integration between Captivate and Presenter.

Before I go into the fix (actually it's a hack!), we need to understand how recordings are handled in Captivate first. Believe me, this is important because understanding what happens in Captivate will go a looooong way towards avoiding these issues the next time you need to record/capture something.

When capturing screens, Captivate "listens" to changes in the Windows environment; mouse clicks, keypresses...and unfortunately mouse movement! The second you begin to click and drag with your mouse, Captivate goes into "full motion recording" by default. This is critical because as a result, you end up with a bunch of extra "_Fullmotion#.swf" files once you publish your session. When you play a Captivate movie after publishing, it'll run the "base" swf file and then dynamically load the FMR's at the point in which you started clicking and dragging. So again, the base swf plays and then it'll load the FMR's when needed.

Let's think about this for a moment...Captivate can run one file, but then load & run additional files dynamically. But Adobe Presenter on the other hand, only allows you to insert one flash file at a time on a single slide. Anybody see the problem here????

Bottom line, when you add a Captivate swf using Presenter's Insert--Flash function, the inserted movie (assuming that you inserted the "base" swf file) can no longer "communicate" with the other swfs that were created during Captivate's publishing process. That usually results in "blank spots" during the playback of a Captivate movie where the FMRs should have appeared in your Presenter content.

So what's the fix?

Actually, there are 3 that come to mind immediately.

  1. From within a PPT presentation, provide a link to an external Captivate movie. Yeah, I know, it's a bit of a cop-out, but it works. Some of us, however, can't take that approach because our content has to be zipped as one file, especially when posting to the Adobe Connect server.
  2. Before publishing in Captivate, make sure you turn borders off which will eliminate the "_skin.swf" file. That'll be one less file to deal with.
  3. As soon as you publish your PowerPoint deck, go to the data directory and open up the resources folder. Within that folder, what you need to do is copy/paste all the "_Fullmotion#.swf" files from the published Captivate project. Why? Because of how publishing works in Adobe Presenter. Each swf file you add using the Insert--Flash method ultimately results in swfs that are stored in the resources directory. And since Captivate uses dynamic loading to launch the FMR's at run-time, having everything in the same location means that the "base" swf file will be able to accurately call, and load, the FMR's appropriately.

    As an example, I set up a sample project here:

However, this assumes that you can publish your Presenter content locally. And even IF you had to publish to a Adobe Connect server, you could always publish locally first, add the FMRs into the resources directory, then zip the entire course and post on Connect or some other LMS.

In my next post, I'll go into the drawbacks of this approach AND I'll also offer some advice from Silke Fleischer, Product Manager for Captivate, on alternative approaches to integrating Captivate files in Adobe Presenter.